Pinelands High School Closing Adds Consequences

Custodians Laid Off; Days Start Earlier for All Students
By RICK MELLERUP | Jul 31, 2018
Photo by: Pat Johnson

There is hardly any doubt that Pinelands Regional High School has to be closed for the 2018-2019 school year as the school’s crumbling brick face is replaced, not to mention its interior being ripped up for renovations.

Anybody driving by the site can immediately see there would be problems with dust, dirt and possible contamination if students and staff occupied the building during the renovation. After some parents screamed – literally, in some cases – at members of the Pinelands Regional Board of Education last year over similar issues, there really is no alternative but a closure. Yet there are additional consequences springing from the decision to close the building for the school year. Several became evident at the board’s July 18 meeting.

For example, five custodians will be laid off for the 2018-2019 school year.

“Whereas, the Pinelands Regional Board of Education has temporarily closed the Senior High School for the 2018-2019 school year and as such will have a reduced number of Custodians,” stated a resolution by the board, “Now therefore be it resolved by the board, that good cause does exist to reduce in force/layoff five custodian positions based on reasons of economy, efficiency, organizational supervision, and other good cause.”

The resolution went on to say the custodians in question would receive 30 days notice and would also be offered employment next year when “the new school starts or earlier as needed.”

The vote on the resolution was unanimous, with no discussion, despite the fact that those custodians surely had a crazy year in 2017-2018, what with cleaning up the high school that had been temporarily closed due to concern about asbestos and other environmental concerns, likely putting themselves in more danger of contamination than administrators, teachers, staff and students.

The adult school will also be affected by the high school building closing, so much so that board president Susan Ernst said, “I guess there needs to be a discussion of where we’re going with this.”

Superintendent Melissa McCooley had researched the adult school figures, said Ernst, looking to see whether the numbers of adult school students had gone up or down. “Unfortunately, in most cases, they have been going down,” Ernst reported.

As one board member remarked, that was probably in large part attributed to the confused situation in the district over the last school year, thanks to construction. Still, where would the adult school program be headed this year and in the future? One popular program, a woodworking class, won’t be able to be held this year due to the inability to use the high school’s shop. And although the board had been assured there would be enough classrooms available at the junior high school building this year to accommodate adult education classes, it is possible to imagine that members of the public, accustomed to having their classes in the high school, would assume classes would be cancelled for the 2018-19 school year.

To top the entire situation off, the superintendent of the adult school had retired (to be replaced for the year by Will Sundermann, the district’s athletic director, for a $5,000 stipend), making it a perfect time to assess the situation.

Board vice-president Patricia Chambers recommended the adult school be shut down for a year while a thorough evaluation was conducted, and that it have a “grand re-opening” in a completed high school. But the sense of the board was that it should be continued this year. The board, however, agreed that an evaluation should be conducted.

Board member Stephen Kubricki said that the administration should investigate school districts that have “top-flight programs” so that they can be emulated. Ernst said she would like to see the adult school add a GED program. McCooley suggested an online survey to discover what members of the community would like to see offered.

Another consequence of the high school closing is a revised bus/school day schedule for 2018-2019. Seventh-graders will be especially affected. Their school day previously was 8:15 a.m. to 3 p.m. Now they’ll be at school by 7:25 a.m. and end at 1:55 p.m.

Students in grades 8-12 will also arrive earlier and dismiss earlier than last year. They shall now have to be in school by 7:15 a.m., with their classroom days ending at 2:05 p.m.

Kubricki eventually approved of the new schedule, but was worried that the official change in policy would permanently endorse an earlier school start. He has long argued – and backed it up by quoting studies – that early school starts are harmful to educational priorities. Students simply don’t perform as well in the early morning while they are still half asleep. The change in the Pinelands school day may be temporary for a year, but expect Kubricki to revisit the discussion next year.

The workday for many adults is from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., so why are school schedules different? Classroom days end early so students may participate in extracurricular activities, especially sports.

Kubricki also opposed the amount of raises given to High School Principal Shaun Banin and Junior High School Principal F. Eric Pschorr. Pinelands, said Kubricki, gives raises on a percentage basis. But considering teachers make far less than administrators such as Banin and Pschorr, their annual raises are much less – $1,000 to $3,000 – than for principals ($4,000). The raises given to the principals, said Kubricki, “far out-surpass what we are giving to our teachers, who are the lifeblood of this institution.”

Although Kubricki gained one other dissenting vote on the board, the raises for the principals were approved.

On another personnel matter, McCooley recommended the board approve two new “hires.” The two persons in question won’t actually be district employees but rather consultants.

The first would be Shelly Myers, whom McCooley said was a staff member at Stockton University and has an “extensive background in special education.” Myers, McCooley said, would conduct a “complete audit” of the Pinelands special education department to look for ways to improve it for “a very, very small amount ($1,000).”

The superintendent said she is concerned that her district has an “extremely high dollar figure” for out of district placements, and she hopes Myers’ audit will discover a way to cut that figure.

The second consultant is Trina Reigelman, who will be paid $20,000 this coming school year to serve as the district’s energy manager.

Since 2011, said McCooley, the Little Egg Harbor School District (where McCooley is also superintendent), has worked with an energy-usage company to reduce energy costs in that district. That program, said McCooley, had saved the LEHSD over $1 million since 2011 in energy cost avoidances. Reigelman had been associated with that effort, so much so, McCooley joked, she was known there as “the energy Nazi.”

Her job at Pinelands will be as a consultant and, like athletic coaches, will work after hours.

“She has to come in when there is nobody in the buildings,” said McCooley.

Reigelman will be looking for lights and air conditioners left on when nobody is in the building, that sort of thing. She’ll make sure the lights are off and refrigerators emptied, shut off, and left with their doors open before long weekends. In other words – cost avoidance.

“When I got here,” said McCooley, “I would walk into rooms with the air conditioning on, doors propped open and lights on and nobody had been in them all day.”

Reigelman will be able to use the energy company’s software for free to keep track of her efforts. She’d also, said McCooley, help introduce energy savings ideas into the classrooms. “She really teaches the kids about being ‘green’ too,” the superintendent said of Reigelman’s time at the Little Egg Harbor School District.

“I can tell you I am very passionate about this,” Reigelman told the board.

rickmellerup@thesandpaper.net

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