Shed­ding light on school board’s suc­cesses

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - OPINION -

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

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