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Blairsville-Saltsburg residents invited to weigh in on school calendar

| Friday, March 28, 2014, 2:09 p.m.

Blairsville-Saltsburg School Board has tabled action on a proposed 2014-15 school calendar that would retain a partial day of instruction for students each Friday.

The board postponed a decision on next year's calendar to allow district residents an opportunity to weigh in on their preference: Continuing with early Friday dismissals initiated this past fall; or returning to a more traditional schedule that will have a week of full-length school days with occasional late starts or early dismissals.

The controversial schedule with early Friday dismissals has drawn protests from parents. Some opponents have argued that the truncated 28-minute class periods on Fridays are ineffective for learning. Some parents of younger students have reported difficulty in obtaining child care now that their youngsters are not in school Friday afternoons.

Assistant Superintendent Ian Magness has noted the early Friday dismissals were intended to provide extra time for staff development and training as the district and its faculty work to keep ahead of changing student assessment and curriculum standards.

“The reality was the push for it was time ... We try to build in time for our folks to analyze data, get in professional development, things of that nature.”

“There are so many more things that teachers are required to do,” said school director Mary Whitfield. “We've got to fit it into that contracted time (during the school day) for the betterment of your children. It's not easy. It's a balancing act.”

At the school board's March 19 meeting, member Holly Gibson, who is a teacher in Greater Latrobe School District, spoke in favor of the early Friday dismissals and the valuable training time that schedule provides for Blairsville-Saltsburg faculty.

Gibson also maintained that the 28-minute classes B-S secondary students have on Fridays are worthwhile. “I can teach very well in 28 minutes,” she said.

Still, Gibson recommended that district residents be allowed to vote to indicate their preference for the existing calendar with abbreviated Friday instruction or a return to a more traditional schedule.

A majority of the remaining board members voted to support that motion. Residents can now enter their preference of school calendar in an online survey by visiting the district website at

At Gibson's suggestion, the school board also voted to have the proposed agenda for each school board meetings posted on the district website at least 48 hours before the start of the meeting. Gibson argued that residents might be missing an opportunity to view the agenda in advance and determine if they want to attend a meeting because past agendas have been posted as little as eight hours before each meeting.

In reorganization matters, Tim Canzano was named Blairsville-Saltsburg's primary representative to the Indiana County Technology Center Joint Operating Committee — a post that had been held by former board member B. Edward Smith before he recently resigned. Linda Brown agreed to serve as an alternate ICTC representative.

With one of its seats vacant, the school board voted 6-2 to notify Tammy Whitfield it intends to retain her as district superintendent for an additional 3 to 5 years, with terms of a renewed contract yet to be settled.

While Holly Hall and Rick Harper voted against the motion, George Rowley and Mary Whitfield, the board's new president and vice president, were among the majority approving the item.

“I'm voting yes, enthusiastically,” Mary Whitfield said. She praised Tammy Whitfield for helping to improve the district's hiring procedures.

“We're renewing something without a contract, and I'm not going to do that,” Hall said of her vote.

The vote also was split 6-2 on approving a $3,000 raise for Blairsville Middle/High School Principal Jeff Soles, added to his base salary retroactive to July 1. Hall and Gibson opposed the pay hike.

Hall suggested that pay increases shouldn't be considered “in between contracts.”

Mary Whitfield pointed out that Soles originally was hired as principal only of the middle school and took on oversight of the high school as well — initially without additional compensation, which saved the district about $120,000 over the course of seven months. She said Soles “has done an excellent job in every regard.”

“I know Mr. Soles does a great job, but so does every teacher in the building that has 20 some kids in the classroom,” Gibson commented.

The board agreed to reimburse business manager Eric Kocsis $40 per month for using his personal cell phone to conduct district business.

In other personnel matters, the school board approved early retirements for five faculty members at the district's Blairsville campus, to take effect at the end of the current school year: reading specialist Mary Hileman (hired in August 1988) and instructor Janet Lukacs (August 1990), both at the elementary school; social studies teacher Rick Lowman (August 1977), music teacher Alice Moore (September 1981) and family and consumer science teacher Janet Ross (August 1984), all at the high school.

At the same time, the district hired three new teachers — Sarah Blair, assigned as a librarian at Blairsville Elementary School; and Tara Powers and Jonathan Taylor, respective special education and tech ed instructors at Saltsburg Middle/High School. Each will be paid a starting salary of $50,882 prorated for the remainder of the 2013-14 school year.

Ashley Snyder was hired as a long-term substitute teacher, beginning about April 17 and continuing to the end of the school year. She will receive a prorated salary of $20,000 as she fills in for Jennifer Surratt, who was granted a Family and Medical Leave Act leave.

The board denied an unpaid leave requested by cafeteria aide Brenda Bracken.

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

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