Scranton Board To Consider Moving Fifth Grades, Changing Pre-k Enrollment

January 29, 2019

SCRANTON — The Scranton School District will consider moving fifth grade from elementary schools to intermediate schools, a process that could close two schools and save $4 million.

With a state financial recovery officer on the way, Scranton school directors faced at Monday night’s work session an overwhelming update of ideas to save money, improve academics and move the district’s pre-kindergarten program into federal compliance. The compliance issue could change which Scranton students attend pre-kindergarten and the process in which they are enrolled.

The state Department of Education placed the challenged district in financial recovery earlier this month. As early as the spring, a state-appointed financial recovery officer will present a comprehensive plan designed to move the district toward solvency. If the board does not approve the plan or fails to follow it, the state could take control of the district.

Before the district entered recovery, it had already begun a process of finding savings. Consultants from PFM, the financial firm the state appointed in 2017 to monitor district finances, presented the district with several options Monday.

If fifth-graders attended the city’s three intermediate schools instead of the elementary schools, the district could redraw boundaries and close two elementary schools, officials said. Specific schools were not discussed during the meeting. A copy of the report was not immediately available Monday night.

PFM has also worked on a needs assessment and found $144 million in capital investments needed. Of that, $53 million is identified as critical, and $7.3 million

must be addressed as soon as possible.

The firm recommends the district develop a multiyear capital plan and closely monitor the $12.3 million energy savings program entered into in 2017 with energy company Constellation. Savings are only guaranteed if the district maintains the equipment.

PFM also found the district is understaffed in the maintenance department, which has led to employees being unable to fully maintain buildings. The firm also has looked at transportation savings and found the district could condense routes and eliminate at least one van and bus. Additional savings could be forthcoming.

The district has also undergone a review of its federal Title 1 programs and is out of compliance with its pre-kindergarten program, according to PFM. With federal monitors scheduled to arrive in May to examine how the district spends its federal money, the district must create enrollment guidelines for pre-kindergarten. About $2 million of the $4.9 million in Title 1 funding — given to schools with a large number of low-income students — is dedicated to the program for 3- and 4-year-olds.

Students should be admitted to the program, provided at no cost to families, based on academic and economic needs. A strict enrollment calendar must be followed, and students need to attend the program within their neighborhood boundaries, according to PFM.

Parents currently reserve spots for their children at the schools of their choice, sometimes before children are born. The district must determine what to do with enrollment requests already received for upcoming years.

Director Paul Duffy

, whose son would be eligible for preschool next year, reserved a spot for him when he was a week old.

“It’s a lot to take in,” Duffy said of the preschool and other issues. “I’m looking forward to thinking all of this through and examining it more.”

As part of the statewide school director recognition month, directors participated in the meeting with balloons tied to their chairs and flowers on their table — purchased by the superintendent, not using taxpayer money. Directors Bob Lesh and Gopal Patel

were absent, and President Barbara Dixon

listened by phone.

Directors spent little time discussing financial recovery Monday, saying only that they would not appeal the state’s decision.

The next board meeting is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 4, at 7 p.m. at West Scranton High School.











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