WILKES-BARRE — Proposals from companies willing to do a feasibility study of Wilkes-Barre Area’s three high schools haven’t even been submitted yet, but the School Board voted Monday to expand the study to cover all district buildings.
The board also approved a new agreement granting most administrators annual raises between $800 and $1,400 through the 2015-16 school year, an offer Board Member Christine Katsock criticized. She noted the preliminary budget, sure to change before final passage later this month, had a $3.7 million shortfall despite a proposed 2.9 percent property tax increase.
Fear of falling debris from loose facades prompted emergency fencing and entrance closures at Coughlin and Meyers high schools last month, and the board voted to put out requests for proposals for a feasibility study on either repairs of those buildings and GAR High School, or construction of a new high school.
A “pre-proposal meeting” with prospective contractors is scheduled for this morning.
But at the end of Monday’s meeting, Board Vice President John Quinn said he would like to have a feasibility study done on all district buildings — 13 in total, counting unused buildings such as the closed Mackin Elementary School. Katsock voiced concerns an expansion of the study would pointlessly delay a report on the three high schools, and the motion was worded to make the studies separate.
“For years the previous boards fumbled and just went on and on” without fixing building problems, Quinn said. “There hasn’t been another group that had the courage to step up to the plate and do the right thing.”
Even as they look for a long-term solutions, the board was acting on immediate issues, voting to have Leonard Engineering, already set to draw up plans for other repairs, to come up with one for a wall at Memorial Stadium. Superintendent Bernard Prevuznak said there is risk of bricks falling down, and two lanes of the track have been closed.
The condition of the two high schools is reverberating elsewhere. The board also voted to cancel a contract for resurfacing the track at Solomon Plains School.
Solicitor Ray Wendolowski noted district property near Solomon is to be considered as a potential site for a new high school during the feasibility study, and that it made sense to delay any work until after the study is done.
By state law, the Act 93 plan covers administrators except superintendent, business manager and human resource director. Unlike other contracts negotiated with unions, Act 93 plans are “meet and discuss,” with the School Board having ultimate authority to craft the plan.
The new deal runs from July 1 of last year through June 30, 2016. Wendolowski said it increases the number of employees covered by the plan, bringing in positions that previously were covered by none of the other contracts, including school resource officers, the assistant purchasing agent and a human resource associate.
The plan breaks employees into four tiers: central office administrators, building administrators, administrators not requiring state certification and assistants not requiring certification. Annual raises are $1,400 for the top tier, $1,200 for tier two, $1,000 for tier three and $800 for the rest.
Wendolowski said the plan brings health insurance coverage and other benefits more in line with the teachers union, which recently accepted insurance coverage that has higher deductibles but does not require paying part of the premium.
The board got a bit of good news near the start of the meeting when Frank Pasquini, a volunteer helping reactivate the long-dormant school district education foundation, reported the foundation had raised nearly $20,000 in contributions and grants, much of which was used to purchase new laptops and computer pads for school programs.
The foundation returned $2,500 the School Board had provided in “seed money” to get the non-profit foundation up and running, and said the foundation is seeking permission for more equipment and supplies to supplement a high school program in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM subjects.