Shedding light on school board’s successes
Editor, In 2015, I ran my campaign for a seat on the Hazleton Area School District Board of Education. My campaign slogan was simple: Accountability, reliability and responsibility. While campaigning, I spoke on the need to stop frivolous spending and engage in thinking outside the box to resolve issues and overcome the challenges facing our school district
Recently, while meeting with supporters of that election, it came to my attention that many of them were unaware of the efforts made and focus placed on addressing these goals. That discussion made me realize it might be beneficial if I outlined some of the achievements of 2016 during my tenure as vice president of the board. This letter is the beginning of that process.
The challenge I found in my first year as a director was the need to garner support for the ideas I had to bring accountability to district operations. Unfortunately, private agendas foster a mentality which breeds factions; that is, a majority versus minority attitude among board members.
I believe this past year has seen considerable success in doing what was best for the students, staff, parents and all taxpayers of our district. Yes, we did have to deal with a major setback, regarding the school bus transportation issue and, of course, our need to implement halfday kindergarten. However, in all fairness, budget constraints made it absolutely necessary to make these tough decisions.
Frivolous spending was tackled head-on in 2016. For example, when a water heater failed in Freeland Elementary/Middle School, the initial push was to quickly do an emergency replacement at a cost of over $100,000. By thinking outside the box and reassessing the problem, the final cost of the project was under $20,000.
A second example was when the high school’s gym floor needed to be repaired. Again, the first solution pushed was to make emergency repairs based on the preliminary assessment of damages with estimates ranging from $90,000 to over $300,000. Again, thinking unconventionally and by carefully re-examining the problem with a view to obtaining the most appropriate repairs, the work was completed for under $25,000.
In these and other instances I estimate we saved $500,000 in capital projects alone.
Some of the other initiatives passed, initiatives that demonstrate commitment to responsible leadership, are: a policy prohibiting cell towers on school district property, a non-fraternizing policy for supervisors and other employees, a fixed hiring list for teachers based on interview scores, and review of all positions opened in the district to evaluate their relevance.
To enhance transparency, I requested the business office publish, on the district website, all monies spent monthly. The public is now able to go online and review every invoice paid by the district without having to resort to filing for this information under the Right to Know Law. The monthly school district police statistics are also available from the district for the first time.
Spending was trimmed by cutting the outsourced maintenance work by thousands of dollars, and purchasing district vehicles from state auctions, saving thousands on every vehicle. Operating costs on the Alternative Education program were cut while making the program compliant to state standards.
Achievements may begin with one person planting a seed, but cannot cultivate without the support of other board members. The students and taxpayers of our district need to know that their school directors work diligently toward the betterment of the district. It was an honor to serve as vice president to Clarence John, past president of the board. I look forward to working with Marie Kay, current president, and the entire school board in 2017.
Vincent Zola, director, Hazleton Area School District