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Southmoreland board plans Act 1 vote

| Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Southmoreland School Board is expected to vote tonight on a motion that any tax hike that might be imposed for the 2014-15 school year not exceed 2.9 percent of the district's current millage rate.

Under the Act 1 Taxpayer Relief Act of 2006, school districts must limit tax increases to the level set by an inflation index calculated by the Pennsylvania Department of Education unless the tax increase is approved by voters in a referendum or the district obtains referendum exceptions from the Department of Education or a Court of Common Pleas.

If the motion is passed that means the most the district could raise the millage would be from 71.0759 mills to 73.121 mills for Westmoreland County and from 14 mills to 14.406 mills in Fayette County.

“We're going to fight hard to keep it the same or certainly stay within that index,” said Business Manager James Marnell.

Marnell also informed the board the district's annual financial report for 2013 revealed the district to show a positive variance between expenditures and revenues of $200,667, which will be added to the 2013 fund balance. That brings that total to a shade more than $6.1 million. Marnell said those numbers could change, pending the results of the district's audit.

“All levels of the organization from administration on down were very prudent in their expenditures, so they certainly stayed within their budgetary allocations,” Marnell said.

Also, a representative of the Eckles Group of New Castle to attend tonight's meeting to address the restoration of Russ Grimm Field. The Eckles Group is serving as the architect on the project.

“I spoke with Eckels and asked them if they might be available to come and talk to you in somewhat greater detail and they are,” said Superintendent John Molnar.

August storms severely damaged the field, rendering it unplayable. Insurance will pick up the tab for restoration of the field, minus a $25,000 deductible.

Molnar did say the Eckels group is recommending the district prepare two sets of bid specifications for the project, since most companies that handle the installation of turf surfaces offer two types of turf, one of which would be a higher grade than the other.

Molnar further explained that Eckles also is recommending the district put out bids for repairs of walls around the stadium and barricades.

“When looking at the field they noticed that some walls against the grandstand (are in need of repair),” he said.

Molnar hopes to see a bid on the project awarded in February with an eye on having the field completed by the end of May.

Academic performance statistics from the state Department of Education show the high school to be a shade under the desired the desired performance level, but continuing to display improvement.

The school performance profile showed the high school's building level academic score to be 69.8 percent, slightly below the targeted level of 70 percent.

One area of improvement came in reading/literature, where an performance level of 81.05 was reached on the Keystone exam.

“It's the first time within the last decade that we've hit that mark,” said Dan Krofcheck, high school principal.

Other highlights included an 84.62 percent proficiency by vocational technical students in industry standards-based competency assessments and 94.12 percent in cohort graduation rate.

“Our programs are growing,” Krofcheck said. “We need to grow and improve more.”

The school performance profile is a relatively new method of determining a school's performance in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

“The real benefit to the School Performance Profile lies in that it now contains many more measures, multiple measures, to be able to grade an individual school or determine how an individual school is performing, much moreso that the old model, which essentially dealt with simply PSSA achievement for the most part and some attendance and participation data,” explained Timothy Scott, assistant superintendent, at the Jan. 2 meeting. “This is much more comprehensive.”

School Director Ken Alt expressed concern about the high school's overall number.

“I'm really angry. This is the third year in a row that we have a failing high school,” Alt said. “You can take all the little positives and sugarcoat them all you want, but this is not an acceptable score, not for the third year in a row.”

Krofcheck explained there are methods to address these concerns, such as expanding the intervention time between students and teachers from 70 to 203 minutes a week. There also is a change in the system of classes at the high school level, beginning with the ninth grade this year. Before, there were separate requirements for academic and college prep courses. Now, most of the academic requirements have been dropped in favor of those for college prep.

“We continue to push kids to get to higher levels of learning,” Krofcheck said.

The high school had been displaying numbers on recent Pennsylvania State School Assessment exams that did not meet certain targets under Adequate Yearly Progress under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Molnar is optimistic that steps are being taken in the right direction at the high school.

“I feel confident with all the things Dan Krofcheck explained that we're doing, we're going to get there,” Molnar said. “We have a team of people working very diligently at all of all schools, especially the high school, on an improvement plan to strengthen the whole experience for kids.”

Molnar added that is the goal for himself, fellow administrators and the staff and faculty at the high school.

“They all understand what needs to happen and are committed to making it happen,” he said. “I'm very pleased with what they're doing up there.”

Paul Paterra is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-887-6101 or

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