School board approves furlough of 2 teachers

Back to Article
Back to Article

School board approves furlough of 2 teachers

Several community members throughout the night shared their concerns about the furloughing of the two teachers and changes with the prevention specialist positions.

Several community members throughout the night shared their concerns about the furloughing of the two teachers and changes with the prevention specialist positions.

Several community members throughout the night shared their concerns about the furloughing of the two teachers and changes with the prevention specialist positions.

Several community members throughout the night shared their concerns about the furloughing of the two teachers and changes with the prevention specialist positions.

Cade Skuse and Baylee Stewart

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

On June 5, the Freedom Area School District board of directors voted 7-1 to furlough kindergarten teacher Kelly Hospodar and fourth-grade teacher Amanda Whitworth and eliminate two existing instructional coach positions in a meeting attended by more than 100 teachers and community members. The meeting, which lasted for more than two hours, consisted of more than a dozen public comments in opposition to the furloughs.

After a motion by board member Gerald Inman did not receive a second, board president Mary Ann Petcovic proposed and facilitated a roll call vote. Voting in favor of the furloughs along with Inman were board members Harry Gilarno, Alan Colorito, Lori Pail, Dawn Greene, Lorraine Rocco and Petcovic, with Julie Leindecker voting in opposition.

The June 5 furloughs were the second series of furloughs since 2015 after the district had not furloughed a teacher since the 1980s. One noteworthy change that has taken place since the 2015 furloughs is the way by which furloughs are established.

Prior to November 2017, according to district policy, in the event of a furlough, the “checkerboard” model is employed to minimize staff cuts regardless of the number of moves it takes to fill other openings as long as each teacher ends up in an area for which he or she is certified.

A revision to the Pennsylvania Public School Code in November, however, prohibited the checkerboarding model, basing furlough decisions instead upon three criteria–certification, performance ratings and seniority, in that order. For example, if a position is eliminated from a particular academic department, performance ratings based on classroom observations are reviewed, and the staff member with the lowest performance rating would be furloughed, regardless of his or her years of employment. Two or more staff members from the same department with equal performance reviews may only then be selected based on years of employment with the least senior employee being selected first. Temporary professional employees within a certification area where downsizing occurs may be subject to furlough before any of the above criteria is considered regardless of observation rating.

A few hours prior to the meeting, Superintendent Jeffrey Fuller posted a letter to the school website concerning the budget for the upcoming 2018-2019 school year. In this letter, he addressed the reason as to why the furloughs were occurring.

“Over the years, the District has worked very hard to maintain our staffing levels and manage class sizes through attrition without having to furlough members of the instructional staff, even when many other districts across the county and state were doing just that. Our projected kindergarten enrollment is only 76 students. Even with a reduction of one kindergarten classroom, our average class size is only slightly larger than it was during the last school year,” Fuller stated in the letter.

The main reason as to why the school has chosen to furlough these teachers and cut these positions is due to budgetary concerns. However, many people in the community disagree with this, as the school currently has multiple ongoing projects that are costing the district a lot of money.

According to Freedom Area Education Association (FAEA) president Tom Hickey, rumors began circulating in March that teachers would be furloughed due to budget cuts. After following up with Fuller, Hickey was assured furloughs were “not on the table,” with cost savings expected with the proposal of an early retirement incentive.

The district’s proposal was rejected by the FAEA, which presented a counter-proposal. After the board rejected the counter-proposal, convinced that an agreement could not be reached, the FAEA presented its second counter-proposal. Fuller presented the second counter-proposal to the board, who voted to reject it, rescind the original offer and moved to proceed with the two furloughs.

Although teachers had been permitted to address the board previously, Solicitor Matt Hoffman reviewed district policy regarding public comments, stating that in order to give a public comment, you must be a taxpayer or resident of the Freedom Area School District. As Hospodar and Whitworth are not residents of the district, they were not able to speak at the meeting. As Hickey is also not a resident of the district, Gifted Coordinator Sara Miller shared Hickey’s prepared statement on behalf of FAEA.

“Maybe we were naive to think that an early retirement incentive would be the magic bullet, but we made a good faith effort to find common ground only to find that the offer was just a mirage,” Miller said.

Following the vote to furlough the teachers, the school board unanimously approved an early retirement incentive for district administrators 55 years of age or older with 15 or more years of service. The incentive provides the administrator and his or her spouse with five years of health care coverage and reimburses $40 per unused sick day. A resignation letter must be submitted by June 11, and the eligible administrator must retire on or before June 30 to qualify.

In conjunction with the furloughs, the school board also announced that Elementary Prevention Specialist Stephanie Stewart and High School Preventional Specialist Barb Martz will no longer be serving the entirety of their employment within the district and will instead be rotated to other neighboring districts. This meant that now prevention specialists would only be at the school for one day a week. This decision was not made by the school board, but rather by a policy that the Prevention Network put in place. Fuller, Martz and Stewart are fighting so that they can stay in Freedom every day, rather than having to go to other districts.

During the meeting, several community members raised concern about the increase of the student-to-teacher ratio in each classroom with two teachers being furloughed.

“Please stop handicapping [the teachers] with 26 students per class. Please stop handicapping them with fewer teaching aides. Please stop handicapping them with an extreme lack of support and chaotic inconsistency,” community member Lynn Patsiga said in her address to the school board during public comments.

In a response to these concerns, Fuller stated that when compared to other student-to-teacher ratios across the county and state, Freedom’s rates are lower than the average of 17.2 students for every teacher in the county and 15.1 students for every teacher in the state.  

“As always, the administration will continue to monitor enrollment and will make any necessary staffing recommendations to the Board should a significant change in enrollment be seen,” Fuller stated in his letter.

The next school board meeting is set to take place on June 12 at 7 p.m. in the middle school library.