United approves exterior elementary work, hears science center proposal

| Thursday, April 11, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

United School Board on Tuesday approved some added work on the exterior of the district's elementary school as a project to renovate the building nears completion.

The board accepted quotes of $830 and $217 (per column) from contractor Mid-State Construction. The respective amounts, which are to be paid from a district construction fund, will cover water repellent for brick veneer and the per-column cost for filling gaps at the columns for the second-floor roof line.

In a related project item, a change order of $294.25 was approved for Mid-State for brick veneer repointing.

The board also approved a unit cost adjustment of $560 submitted by ArroActiv Inc. for reconfiguration of exhaust grilles and internal ductwork for the elementary computer lab as part of the renovation project.

Next month, the board is expected to consider bids for replacing the elementary gym floor, which has been damaged in areas where bleachers roll out.

It may also review plans for possibly moving the district administrative offices at the high school. Architectural firm HHSDR was granted a one-month extension to complete work on the plans.

In May, the board also will consider approving a tentative 2013-14 district budget and a request to provide initial start-up support for proposed development of a Challenger Space Science Center in Indiana County.

Based on a preliminary budget the school board approved earlier this year, United could face a deficit of up to $2.7 million in 2013-14 — a shortfall that could be offset by a combination of drawing upon the district's fund balance and raising the property tax rate, by as much as 9.8 mills if United would take advantage of exceptions it has requested from state officials.

Following Tuesday's meeting, President Don Davis noted the school board is working diligently — having met in a marathon workshop session Monday — to trim the budget and any potential tax hike.

“We're in the process of narrowing the budget gap,” he said, adding, “There's a way to go yet to get where we want to be.

“We adopted a preliminary budget a few months ago. At that time, we said we didn't want to do all the raising of taxes that we're entitled to do with our exceptions. We continue to work to make (the budget) as bare-bones as possible yet still provide the quality education United people expect.”

In light of those budget deliberations and to give board members a chance to review the proposal, Davis said United would wait until next month to respond to a request for support for the proposed Challenger Center.

The board heard a presentation from school directors from neighboring Indiana Area, Homer-Center and Blairsville-Saltsburg districts who are serving on a committee that hopes to develop the science center as a self-sustaining facility.

It would join more than 40 other centers, including one in Wheeling, W.Va., that aim to enhance students' math and science skills by taking them through a simulated space mission.

The committee asked United to pledge $1 per student — or about $1,100 — to help cover start-up costs for the venture. It was noted that Blairsville-Saltsburg and Homer-Center are contributing $1,712 and $970, respectively.

Committee members said they hope to raise the remainder of the estimated $3 million cost of developing a Challenger Center through government and foundation grants.

“There are unlimited possibilities of what we can do once we get the center,” said Homer-Center school board President Vicki Smith.

Reacting to the presentation, Davis said the committee members' “passion was contagious.”

But he added, “We don't want to make hasty decisions, especially in light of spending a lot of time on our budget.”

At Tuesday's meeting, the United board renewed an agreement with Frontline Technologies to continue subscribing to the Aesop system that helps match approved substitutes with openings that occur when teachers are absent. The subscription will cost $4,221 for 2013-14.

The board also amended an agreement with Catapult Learning, which provides reading and math instructional services to Title I-eligible students for a fee of $1,881.

United agreed to continue participating in cooperative purchasing programs through the ARIN and Riverview intermediate units as long as the district gains an advantage from doing so.

United also will participate in a summer feeding program for the Evergreen Boys and Girls Club that meets at the district. Costs of the program will be funded through a 21st Century grant.

The school board accepted a 2012-13 Capacity Building for Increasing Physical Activity mini-grant of up to $4,640 from Penn State University. The district agreed to participate in a research survey project Indiana University of Pennsylvania is conducting to study the prevalence of asthma and asthma-like symptoms in elementary school-age students in Indiana County.

United set June 5 as the graduation date for the Class of 2013 and accepted a $720 donation from William Lichtenfels for three athletic banners for the high school.

The following volunteer coaches or advisers were approved: Adam Magalich and Doug Van Hoose, baseball; Nathan Bevard, junior high basketball; Katherine Mehalik, junior high track; Katherine Kindrick, cheerleading and track; and Amanda Olmstead, chorus.

The board recognized the achievements of three high school band and choral students.

Stephanie  Walters just returned from the All-East choral festival in Hartford, Conn., which included students from 11 states. United instructor  Acey Gongaware indicated it was the first time in about a decade that United was represented at the event.

Next week, Walters heads to Erie for the state chorus festival.

Also earning nods were: Billie Sue Bracken, who will attend the state Bandfest for clarinet next week and also qualified for regional chorus; Craig Fry, who narrowly missed advancing to states for tuba.

The school board agreed to send Judy Shomo and Robert Penrose along with four students to the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science competition May 12-14 at Slippery Rock University. The trip includes costs of $1,230.

Brian Manges and Kristie Good will accompany students, if any are eligible, to the State Senior High Envirothon competition May 21-23 at Juniata College. That trip would cost $459.90.

The board authorized GeoSonics/Vibra-Tech of Warrendale to conduct an inspection of district buildings, at not cost to the district, prior to blasting for a coal mining operation planned nearby.

The board agreed to pay independent contractor Meribeth Brown $100 per day for services provided to a United student Feb. 11-15. The agreement was revised from one approved in March.

Darlene Tishock will be paid $35 per hour to provide homebound instruction for a third-grade student. Kayla Erwin was added to the list of instructors overseeing elementary afterschool detention at $20 per hour.

United Superintendent Barbara Parkins was granted permission to teach a course in educational statistics May 6-June 14 at St. Francis University.

Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or jhimler@tribweb.com.

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