AP NEWS

Hazleton Area Mulls Proposal To Hire Extra Teachers To Fill In

May 2, 2019

HAZLE TWP. — Costs for substitute teachers are so high — exceeding $35,000 some weeks — that a member of the Hazleton Area School Board proposed hiring extra teachers year-round just to fill in. “We’re spending so much money on these services, we could look at hiring a few subs in each building and rotating them,” board member Robert Mehalick said during a budget meeting on Tuesday. School district Business Manager Robert Krizansky said bills from Kelly Staffing Services of $35,000 a week or more include substitute teachers, secretaries and other school employees. The district started hiring through Kelly in February 2018 and hoped the agency could recruit more substitute teachers, who are in demand nationwide. District officials thought retired teachers might agree to substitute, but that generally hasn’t happened, so Mehalick proposed offering year-round jobs as substitutes to newly certified teachers. The district spends about $136 per substitute teacher, which includes the teacher’s daily pay of $100, $25 in payroll taxes and $11 in fees for Kelly. To cut down on substitutes, Krizansky proposed giving teachers a cash bonus or entering them in a raffle if they go through the year with perfect attendance. Mehalick said some taxpayers might regard bonuses as paying teachers extra to do their jobs, and added that once a teacher gets sick, the incentive disappears for the rest of the year. Malinda Knipfer, a parent at the meeting, was familiar with schools in Australia that paid teachers bonuses every quarter for perfect attendance. In the budget for 2019-2020, Krizansky proposed increasing the amount available for substitutes by $235,387. He and other administrators have been working with the board this year to chip away at a budget deficit, which dipped to $5.8 million from $7.1 million the previous month. Expenses in the budget total $163.8 million, and the district expects to end the year with a fund balance of $4.3 million. Through property taxes, Pennsylvania allowed Hazleton Area to reap $1.1 million next year beyond the 3.2% by which the board can raise the millage without a referendum. During the past month, district officials trimmed the deficit by rescheduling teachers rather than hiring six elementary teachers for classrooms being created from swimming pools. The budget doesn’t replace a librarian or four high school-level teachers who resigned. Also, the budget excludes $600,000 for interest on a $10 million bond that would continue building plans. Without that new borrowing, the district will pay $14.3 million, up $214,287 from this year, in debt service. Medical insurance costs rise $1.4 million, as will payments for employee pensions. “Some years you just get trounced, and last year was one of them,” Krizansky said of costs that the district pays for its self-insured medical plan. Anthony Ryba, an assistant superintendent and former business manager, said new contracts give employees incentives to shop for better prices on health care and might reduce the district’s costs. The contracts also contain pay raises. Payments for tuition of district students who attend charter schools rise to $2.7 million from $1.7 million next year, but even the increase of $1 million isn’t enough, Krizansky said. On April 25, the board backed state bills that exempt districts offering cyber schools from paying tuition if their students attend another cyber charter school. Superintendent Brian Uplinger will ask the board to expand Hazleton Area Virtual Academy from kindergarten to 12th grade. Currently the district’s cyber school offers classes for grades six to 12. Contact the writer: kjackson@standardspeaker.com; 570-501-3587