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New Kensington-Arnold board proposes 21 furloughs

| Thursday, April 28, 2016, 11:05 p.m.

The New Kensington-Arnold School Board proposes to furlough 21 teachers at the end of the school year.

The board cited declining student enrollment and the consolidation project that closed two schools two years ago as reasons when they unanimously approved the tentative furlough list Thursday.

Teachers union President Connie Vita expressed frustration that the board was announcing furloughs but couldn't yet say what programs would be eliminated or classrooms closed.

Superintendent John Pallone said the board couldn't say for certain what changes would be made until the 2016-17 budget is finalized.

Pallone said the board is required to give the union notice by May 1 if furloughs are planned, which means they must notify staff before they've finalized programs for next school year.

Board President Bob Pallone said there is a possibility some teachers would be recalled once the board has a better idea of the state funding picture for both the current and 2016-17 school years.

“We over-egged the omelet,” was how Pallone described the furlough process.

The board followed the same procedure last year, announcing in the spring that 24 teachers would be furloughed but ultimately bringing back all but three by the time classes began in August. The same thing happened in 2011.

The board warned furloughs likely were coming in summer 2014 when the consolidation plans were announced, but no teachers were cut for the 2014-15 school year.

The ongoing threat of furloughs frustrated high school English teacher Erika Felack-Bucci, who questioned whether there would ever be a school year when her job is not on the chopping block.

“Do you understand how I feel?” she asked. “I want to go home and cry.”

Felack-Bucci is one of 16 teachers on this year's furlough list who also was threatened with a furlough last year.

More than half of the teachers on this year's list have taught at New Kensington-Arnold for two years or less. Five more teachers have worked for three to four years.

The two most senior teachers on the list — high school history teacher Jaron Minford and science/gifted teacher Kathy Jo Sagwitz — have at least seven years of experience.

Regina Namey, a retired teacher and former school director, said she is concerned about the number of special education and arts teachers on the list.

Five special education teachers and three educators who teach art or music are threatened.

“I have major concerns,” Namey said, particularly relating to special education. “How do you justify that?”

Bob Pallone said existing staff would be realigned to fill vacancies.

“We are not cutting special education,” said board member Kathy Clarke.

“We are not cutting the arts,” Bob Pallone added.

John Pallone said elementary teachers may be asked to teach “special” subjects such as art and music in their classrooms, an option Namey didn't support.

Realignment

At the same time teacher furloughs were announced, the board agreed to create or restructure several administrative positions and hire a maximum of 10 temporary summer maintenance workers.

The board agreed to create a dean of students position to oversee disciplinary issues at the junior-senior high school.

Also to be added are an elementary assistant principal and a temporary assistant principal at the secondary level.

No action was taken Thursday, but board members acknowledged in response to a parent's concerns that they are considering moving Roy A. Hunt School Principal Pat Nee to the junior-senior high school, which has been without a full-time principal for at least two years since Jon Banko was promoted to assistant superintendent.

The board also agreed to create a director of special education position as part of a restructuring of the special education department. Although technically a new position, the job would not result in the district having an additional employee since the department has a vacancy with the recent resignation of a school psychologist.

The board noted the new position will alleviate some of the duties that have been placed on school psychologist and Director of Pupil Services Shaun Sperl.

Finally, “director of security” was removed from the job description of Athletic Director William “Muzzy” Colosimo. Instead, He will be assistant director of buildings and grounds, assisting with facility rentals.

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