Blue Ridge moves forward with staff cuts

The Blue Ridge Fifth Grade Boys’ Select Chorus performed music inspired by railroads at the March 21 board meeting. From left: Connor Gaughan, Luke Updyke, Hunter Conklin, Hunter Renwick, Charlie Randall, Cameron Perrington and Brenden Walker.

BY STACI WILSON

Nearly half of the Blue Ridge teaching staff attended the Monday night school board meeting but left with little additional information about their job futures.

Board President Alan Hall did indicate the district had pulled back from making cuts in the math, English and music departments at this time.

Blue Ridge plans to cut a total of 13 staff positions. Three retiring teachers will not be replaced; two cuts are expected to come from support staff positions, leaving eight teaching positions on the district chopping block.

Hall said the furlough list had been narrowed down, “It has been a very difficult two to three months.”

He said the cuts, hopefully, would allow the district to operate in a fiscally responsible manner.

The board approved the Superintendent Robert McTiernan’s recommendation on professional staff furloughs and accepted the non-renewal of temporary professional employee contracts.

Temporary professionals are teachers who have not yet reached tenure.

The board will petition the state Department of Education for approval on the staff reduction measures.

McTiernan also address the district’s lagging graduation rates. “The graduation rates is less than we would like to see,” said the superintendent.

According to new graduation rate data, Blue Ridge has the lowest four-year graduation rates in northeastern Pennsylvania. Less than 74 percent of districts students complete high school in four years.

McTiernan said some measures to decrease the drop-out rate have already been put into place and more are to come.

High School Principal Matthew Nebzydoski is now conducting exit interviews with students who wish to drop-out of school.

He also said courses have been designed to be more responsive to student needs and a truancy elimination program is in place.

McTiernan would also like to form a graduation task force comprised of educators and community members; expand the work release program; and set up a system to identify students at-risk for not graduating in the four-year time frame.

“The (graduation rates) do not take into account the number of fifth year students. They are not factored in. Actually that number is used against us,” McTeirnan said.

Hall provided an update regarding teacher contract negotiations.

He said both parties are meeting with each other.

“The sides are distant but both are optimistic we can bring this together and it will be something everyone can live with,” Hall said.

The board also approved the NEIU budget tabled at the March 7 meeting.

McTiernan explained the discrepancy in the NEIU’s numbers came from a clerical error.

Blue Ridge will pay NEIU $17,008.90 for the 2011-12 school term which is the same amount paid to the intermediate unit by the district for the current school year.

The next meeting of the Blue Ridge School Board will be held April 4, at 7:30 p.m. in the elementary school cafeteria.