WILKES-BARRE — In a lengthy session marked by recurring debate, the Wilkes-Barre Area School Board made several votes on Monday night that could save money, and some that could cost a lot down the road.
The biggest potential cost could come from a decision by Board President Louis Elmy to launch a review of all school facilities and have a committee come back with a comprehensive proposal on what to do with buildings many consider outdated and too costly too upgrade.
Elmy made no mention of what he’d like to see, but the district has been down this road several times, particularly looking at consolidating all three high schools or at least shuttering one or two in favor of a new one, and the costs have always been prohibitive —up to $100 million just for two of the high schools.
First-year board member Denise Thomas moved to have the district implement in-house suspension for students in all schools, but several members questioned the cost for space and staffing, as well as the need to discuss the idea with the teacher union. Thomas and modified her motion to have Superintendent Bernard Prevuznak research the issue and come back with a report, but she noted current suspension “is like a vacation” to students.
And Ned Evans, also in his first year, proposed the district re-institute the positions of instructional support teachers eliminated as a cost cutting measure two years ago. He argued such teachers helped the district identify at-risk students and provide services to overcome problems early enough to avoid being put into special education.
Evans cited that in the last two years special education-costs rose by $4.7 million. He conceded he can’t prove those increases were due solely to the loss of IST positions, but said “that’s not a coincidence.”
But board members again balked at the idea of voting for the positions without knowing the costs and consequences, and the motion was modified to have Prevuznak work toward incorporating at least some IST positions into the upcoming budget, deferring the actual creation of the posts.
In a flurry of other business preceding those motions, the board:
• Approved a motion by member Dino Galella to spend about $240,000 on security camera purchases and upgrades, but Galella said it was a fraction of an initial estimate of $1.6 million when the issue was brought up initially.
• Voted to refinance two bonds set for final payoff in two years. The total due is $2,935,000, with interest rates of 4.5 percent and 3.8 percent; The move would pay off the bonds with a loan that would not increase the total owed while reducing interest to 0.65 percent for a total savings of about $95,000.
• Agreed to have a structural engineer assess cracks found in parapet work surrounding the inside walls of Coughlin High School. Prevuznak said the library below the parapets would be closed until that assessment is done.
• Renewed Solicitor Ray Wendolowski’s contract at the same rate as this year, $195,000 annually. Board Member Christine Katsock, long a critic of legal spending in the district, voted no.