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Blairsville-Saltsburg school board considers early Friday dismissal

| Thursday, March 14, 2013, 4:33 p.m.

The Blairsville-Saltsburg School Board last week discussed a proposed change in the instructional schedule that would send students home 2 12 hours early every Friday, embedding two hours of professional development for teachers at the end of each week.

“There are only two days currently embedded in the schedule for professional development,” Assistant Superintendent Ian Magness said, noting the district's teachers work a collectively-bargained 184 days per school year. “I know this board values professional development and I know this board has made that a negotiation piece, but it's kind of difficult to get more work days in the contract, and obviously that costs money. We need to come up with creative ways to get all the stuff that we need in.”

Under the proposed schedule change, Friday class periods would be shortened to 30 minutes, Magness said. Also, four instructional days would be added to the calendar as the district eliminates embedded Act 80 teacher in-service days, when students don't attend classes.

“Our students only attend school 176 days a year…” Magness said of the current calendar configuration. “We take the max number of available Act 80 days by state school code, which is four… What we would do is give back to the state all of our Act 80 days so then our kids, finally, for the first time, would go truly 180 days of school.”

The plan would, according to Magness, offer a total of 70 hours of embedded professional development time throughout the school year.

Savings would be achieved, as the district could cut meal service at the high schools on Fridays and combine breakfast and lunch offerings at the elementary schools into one hot brunch option.

The district would also see savings in substitute teacher wages on Fridays, as the early dismissal would count as a half-day.

Total projected savings would range between $15,000 and $30,000.

Magness said he will give a more complete presentation about the proposal at an upcoming board meeting.

The board also heard from district business manager Eric Kocsis on the projected 2013-14 district budget, totaling $30,504,043 in revenues and expenses. For the fifth straight year, Kocsis said, the district will avoid raising taxes.

In other business, the board:

• Learned of a proposal from a land developer requesting a temporary tax exemption from the district for the planned development of 91 lots on 76 acres of undeveloped land in Burrell Township. Kocsis said Derry Area School District offers a similar tax break on new construction and estimated the land, once developed, could generate roughly $1,900 per lot. The board asked for more details and a presentation from the developer.

• Approved the purchase of universal trainer fitness apparatus for the Blairsville weight room at a maximum cost of $3,800.

• Approved the 2013-14 ARIN Intermediate Unit 28 budget, with a district contribution of $56,429 – a one percent increase in the district's contribution rate.

• Nominated board member George Rowley as district representative to the ARIN board of directors for a three-year term beginning July 1.

• Approved, at the request of the district's athletic directors, a change to allow a $20 monthly cell phone stipend toward their personal phones while eliminating their district-provided cell phones, which cost $60 each per month.

• Approved the retirement of Saltsburg Elementary teacher Becky Stiffler at the end of the 2012-13 school year.

• Approved John Harsh as an assistant softball coach, and Thomas Okopal, David Oswald and Janel Prinkey as volunteer softball coaches.

Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913 or greinbold@tribweb.com.

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