As a parent in the district, I am walking through the education system as my children grow. I have had nothing but great experiences with Hempfield Area educators and staff. They truly are the backbone of our district. In my role as school board director, I would encourage policies that promote support for our educators and staff. When they don't get the support that they need, our kids' education suffers. In particular, I would like to see policies that can help reduce class sizes so that they are more manageable. Once classes sizes start moving toward the mid- to upper-20s, especially in elementary education, it becomes more difficult to make sure that all students get the attention they need.
We must also acknowledge that the classroom does not look the way that it did 20 years ago. There are increasingly more students that need necessary accommodations so that they can succeed in the classroom. Larger class sizes plus increased accommodations plus an understaffed special education program results in teachers that are simply spread too thin. As a result, the average Hempfield student also does not get as much attention as they deserve. We need to reinvest in educational initiatives that better support our educators and staff which will ultimately lead to providing better support for our kids; this is especially important when addressing the knowledge gap as a result of COVID-19.
One of the most common concerns that I hear from community members regarding finances is the high school revitalization and its potential impact on the budget. I am very impressed that our current board has developed a comprehensive strategy for addressing the $128,000,000 loan with a 0 millage rate or no increase in property taxes. Considering rising costs in general and inflation, there is a real concern about the project staying on budget while not skimping on quality or cutting cost from other sources/programs/projects if money becomes thin. If I were to serve on the board, I would work to the best of my ability to keep the high school project on track within the projected budget so that there continues to be no need to raise taxes due to the project. The high school needs to be renovated as there has not been enough investment in upkeeping the building over the years.
Unfortunately, property taxes are the largest portion of funding for our school system (roughly 55%-60%) and schools are expensive to run. We are also facing a teacher shortage and hyperinflation which means that there will be additional costs in the upcoming years, especially for capital projects that are tied to upkeeping other school buildings (besides the high school) in the district. If I were elected to the board, I would do my best to reallocate available funds toward education and necessary facility upkeep. I would be responsible when considering the finances of the district, taking into account that there are many people on fixed incomes in our district. I would also want to work with the administration to find additional funding lines and opportunities that could relieve burdens on the tax payer.
One of the major complaints the community had about the middle school consolidation was the lack of or unclear communication provided by the administration and the district. In addition, it was a lengthy process to even get answers to basic questions. Our district sometimes forgets that there are a lot of full-time working families in the district and that evenings are often taken up with our kids' activities. I would like to see school board meetings broadcast over Zoom or another online platform so that there is more accessibility for parents, guardians, and community members. This would also be helpful for those with disabilities as well as those who have caregiving responsibilities.
In addition, I would like for the district to take up town halls (maybe every month or two) where community members could submit questions that they would like addressed. Many are frustrated with the three minute comment structure of meetings when in many instances, people simply want to ask questions and obtain additional information about a topic or concern. Town Halls or some other forum where people could submit questions might better provide a dialogue with community members and improve communication.