Montrose Area Superintendent Chris McComb told school board members at the Monday, April 12, meeting that, “It has become increasingly more difficult to staff our buildings.”
A few years ago, the district increased the daily pay rate for substitute teachers, putting Montrose “right in the middle” of what neighboring districts were paying at $100 per day, McComb said. He also noted that a district had increased the daily rate for certified teaching substitutes to $150 per day.
He advocated that the board increase the rate for certified substitute teachers to match that. “I don’t know if it would be effective, but it could attract more certified subs to the district,” he said.
Board member Paul Adams asked how a rate increase would impact the district’s budget.
McComb said he believed the district could utilize the ESSER funding to offset those costs.
Although placed on the work meeting agenda as a discussion item, the board followed McComb’s suggestion to add it as an action item on the business meeting agenda. “To have any impact, the sooner we can act on it the better,” he said.
In addition to increasing the substitute rate for the remainder of the school year for certified teachers to $150 per day, the board also increased the daily rate for emergency certified substitutes to $125.
County Commissioner Alan Hall and the Progress Authority’s Chris Brown spoke to the board about the county’s broadband project.
“Broadband is one of the biggest handicap’s in the county,” Hall said.
He updated the board on the county’s work with Hunt Engineers to design dark fiber network loops to help bring highspeed internet access to the more rural and underserved areas.
“We run the middle mile,” Hall said.
Brown, who has been working on the project since its inception, provided a brief overview of the project’s history, as well as the current status.
He explained the main issue is the rural areas offer too few customers spread out over too many miles for a company to bring adequate broadband service to residents. The “middle mile” project bridges that gap, with the county placing the dark fiber for end providers to hook into in order to offer services to potential customers.
The project is through the design phase, with under- and unserved areas of the Montrose Area School District included in the first loop, including Choconut, Silver Lake, Franklin and Bridgewater townships.
Brown said, “There is already a fiber connection all the way to New York City, with back fed internet available for (last mile providers) to purchase.”
Brown also noted that the county recodnizes that there is no “silver bullet” fix for everybody in rural areas, and that other technologies will also come into play. But he said, “investing in fiber is tried and true.”
“It is the technology that gives the most adequate internet and the has the backbone to do it.”
Currently, the county is working to determine to cost of completing the first dark fiber loop.
Hall said the county estimates the cost for the dark fiber project to come in at around $12-$15 million, but noted there are some state and federal funding resources the county will continue to pursue to cover those costs.
Hall said Claverack is already looking to become an internet provider. “That already have a pot of money to spend in Susquehanna County,” he said, and noted the proposed fiber routes connect all of the Claverack substations. “They are most likely a candidate to do fiber for homes in the most economic fashion.”
Hall told the board he expects completion of the project within two years, with Brown adding that once pole attachment agreements are reached, two or three pole attachments can be completed each day.
The longest and largest part of the broadband project has been the planning phase, Brown said.
He asked board members to “get the word out” and said some municipalities in Bradford County – where construction of a similar project is already underway – have invested in the project to put in mobile hot sports.
He also asked that the board members share with the county the most poorly served areas and noted those could be incentivized for providers.
Hall spoke to the issue of internet affordability. “We know the only way is can be affordable is we have to do something with the middle mile. Companies can’t afford to run that middle mile and be affordable to rural residents.”
Director of Technology for the district, Craig Owens said, “I think what the county is doing is extraordinarily important to what we do as a school district.”
The board noted pending retirements from some longtime educators:
McComb said that while he was happy for the individuals that are retiring, he was also “sorry to see so many years of educational experience leave. That’s hard to replace.”
Those retiring include: William Host, Physics, Jr-Sr High School; William Walker, English, Jr-Sr High School; Jill Kimsey, Physical Education, Lathrop Street; and Karen Ricci, Lathrop Street Elementary Principal.
Remainder of the year
The district will remain on the four-day, in-person schedule for the remainder of the year, with Wednesdays continuing to serve as remote learning days.