PLAINS TWP. — At a meeting that included approval of a substantially revamped attendance policy and spending another $300,000-plus prepping property the district does not yet own, the Wilkes-Barre Area School Board began with an initial dose of criticism including an admittedly unscientific survey that said 70 percent of respondents disagreed with high school consolidation.
Lois Grimm presented the results of a survey she conducted online, admitting several times it was unscientific, anonymous and rife with potential for misuse by those responding. But she also argued the findings were stark. Among 376 participants, she said 71 percent support preserving three high schools, 68 percent were unsatisfied with the district, and 71 percent were unsatisfied with the quality of communication with the school board.
Grimm did not explain how she got word out about the survey, but a link was posted on the Facebook page of Save Our Schools, an organization she does not belong to but which was formed expressly to preserve the three high school system.
Grimm did not defend the accuracy of the numbers but said the results should prod the board into spending some money to do a scientific survey and see how district residents, students and teachers feel about the plan to merge GAR Memorial, Coughlin and Meyers into one new building in Plains Township.
That plan took another step forward when the board voted to pay $284,264 to Stell Enterprises Inc. for earthwork at the site. The board also approved paying Geo-Science Engineering & Testing LLC for testing and inspection related to that work, which involves grading and dynamic compaction. The cost is $43,285 for 13 weeks, with an additional fee of $3,000 for each week after that.
Asked how the district can do work without owning the land — and reminded the district spent millions preparing Coughlin for demolition only to halt that plan after being denied a zoning variance from Wilkes-Barre to build the new school there — Solicitor Ray Wendolowski said the district has an agreement to purchase the property, and there are no zoning issues that can be challenged at the new site.
The board also continued to pay for repairs at the three high schools, this time by voting to pay $7,460 for corridor door replacement at Meyers. Wilkes-Barre has ruled that one set of doors must swing the opposite way, the result of loss of full emergency access from some rooms when an outside elevated walkway was shut down due to concerns the concrete was unstable.
The board also approved a new attendance policy that Superintendent Brian Costello said more closely aligned with state-recommended procedures. The previous policy barred a student from participating in extracurricular activities after missing more than 25 days even with legal excuses, though consecutive days could be “clustered,” meaning, for example, that five consecutive days for the same issue could count as one absence. The new policy does not limit legally excused absences, but bars a student from extracurricular activities after six unexcused absences.
The board also engaged in a bit of deja vu, at least for regular meeting attendees, by voting on a resolution authorizing borrowing of up to $150 million to pay for the new high school. If it seemed familiar, Wendolowski said that was because the board passed almost exactly the same resolution about three years ago. He said the district bond counsel and finance advisers recommended a new vote to change the dates on some potentially time-sensitive parts of the resolution.
The board also debated seating for the last football match-up this year between GAR and Meyers. Currently, Memorial Stadium should be able to hold about 3,000, Costello said, but interest has been high, with several people noting fans from as far as California and Florida are hoping to attend. Costello said the district will try to adapt plans if tickets sell out.
And board member Denise Thomas told of a problem accessing tennis courts at Kirby Park. The district has an apparently unwritten agreement to pay Wilkes-Barre $17,500 annually in exchange for using various city sports facilities, including those courts, but when the team recently showed up the gates were padlocked. Thomas said the athletic director was told that someone had arranged to control the courts and was demanding $50 for any use. Wendolowski said he is researching options.
Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish