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Why are you watering the Willow Lane Elementary School fields during a rainstorm?

What you're seeing is a water dispersal system. When too much water accumulates in the detention basin, a pump moves the water onto the fields to prevent an overflow. It works kind of like a sump pump in a home's basement, removing water before it becomes a problem. But it sure does look funny watching it operate during a serious rain storm!

Did you install a heated track at the high school?

No. We installed an all-weather track. It has a rubberized surface, allowing it to be used immediately after (or even during) rain. The cushioned surface reduces the chance of injuries. Annual maintenance costs are significantly lower than the former cinder track. The surface will need to be reconditioned after 8-10 years and replaced in 16-20 years. A generous grant from the Rodale Family Foundation ($400,000, given in $100,000 annual increments) paid for approximately half the cost; the balance of the cost was paid from the district's Capital Reserve Fund. There has not been any direct budget impact from the new track. The track has been made available to the public, and it was completed in time to use for the Borough of Emmaus' 250th anniversary celebration.

Do you support the proposal to consolidate school districts across the state, perhaps to one district per county?

For some small school districts, consolidation makes sense. The Monaca and Center Area school districts in Western Pennsylvania recently merged, and the results should be positive for both districts, since they were already sharing a high school. The rationale for consolidation is normally reducing costs, especially administrative costs. These costs are only about 5% of East Penn's budget, and more than half of that is spent on building principals and assistant principals, which would not go away. After having looked at the data, we think we could, at best, remove 1% of our administration costs and 1-2% of other costs through consolidation. (We already participate in a consortium with seven other school districts for purchasing health insurance, and we take advantage of many other cooperative purchasing opportunities for a wide variety of supplies.)

Many of our other costs would likely go up. When it comes time to negotiate a consolidated teachers contract, do you think the union would start negotiating at the lowest or highest salaries from the former districts? Parkland owns their own bus fleet, East Penn outsources to First Student, Salisbury outsources to Paragon Transit, and Allentown only buses their special education students. Consolidating bus practices and potentially expanding bus service in Allentown could add significant costs. Also, districts are required to transport students to private schools within 10 miles of the district's border. If a county-wide school district were formed (or even just a suburban district), non-public school transportation costs would increase dramatically because of the expanded borders.

East Penn has just completed a major building program that started 20 years ago. Allentown is in the early stages of a building program that is estimated to cost $250 million. In a consolidated school district, the funds for that program would almost certainly come from the suburbs, leading to substantial and sustained tax increases for many years to come.

There are nine Lehigh County school districts, and they all have different tax rates. East Penn's are the fourth lowest. In a consolidated district one tax rate would apply to the entire district, making it near certain that high tax rate districts like Northern Lehigh would have significantly lower tax bills, and lower tax rate districts like East Penn and Parkland would experience rate increases.

Bottom line: Minimal cost efficiencies, potential increases in other costs, potentially high integration costs, and shift of tax burden from other districts to East Penn residents. Since our district is already one of the highest performing in the county, it is unlikely education would improve. In short, any forced school consolidation would probably have no benefit and lead to higher taxes for our residents, so I do not support the concept, at least for East Penn.

Is the district planning to build a new high school?

At some point, we may need to build a second high school to serve the needs of the students. The middle school and high school student populations have been relatively stable for the last few years, which has reduced the urgency to build a new high school. Our last economic study, prepared by the Pennsylvania Economy League, predicted a slight increase in student counts over the next few years followed by steady declines. If that holds to be true, we will not need to build another high school in the district.

If we do at some point need to build another high school, the board has land available, which was purchased in 2007, West of Route 100 and South of Quarry Rd. in Lower Macungie Township. The parcel is suitable for another high school, two elementary schools, or an elementary school and a middle school. The land is currently used for agriculture.

Do you support charter schools, specifically the new Seven Generations Charter School in Emmaus?

Charter schools are the right environment for some students and the right choice for some parents, and I support the right of families to make those decisions. The Seven Generations Charter School in Emmaus has some innovative ideas, and I applaud the organizers' vision and drive in chartering the school. Results at the school have been mixed, especially with their somewhat abrupt decision to discontinue their middle school program during the summer of 2016. After their initial three year charter, the board conducted a thorough review and determined the school was not entirely meeting the provisions of their charter, so we approved a conditional five-year renewal. When their charter again comes to the board for renewal, we will be looking closely to ensure they are serving the needs of their students, meeting the requirements of their charter, and fulfilling the conditions imposed at the previous renewal.

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This web site contains the personal opinions of Alan Earnshaw, not the official positions of the East Penn School Board or the East Penn School District.
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Last updated: 13 December 2015