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Mt. Ephraim School District Announces November’s Students of the Month

 

At their November 14 monthly meeting, the Mt. Ephraim Board of Education (BOE) recognized the students of the month for November.

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From back left: Mikayla Gavin, Principal Michael Hunter, and Annelise Schoudt. From front left: Leah Schiavo, Nisa Ozkan, Colin McMullan, Emma Speyerer, and Jaden Montero. (Not pictured are Kylie Hillman and Alyssa Beckett) (Photo provided)
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Mt. Ephraim Schools’ Contract Negotiations Ongoing

Negotiation meetings for the contracts for Mt. Ephraim’s teachers and administrators are ongoing, said Board of Education member, Carl Ingram, at Monday’s meeting. “Meetings have been taking place with the teachers and a meeting will be set up with the superintendent and the other administrators. Hopefully, everything will be done by September. That’s all I can say. I am optimistic.”

In other matters, school superintendent, Leslie Koller, noted in her report that the auditors were in-district during the last week of July and the audit process took one week.

She also noted that the first and third grades are “exceptionally large” this school year and have been divided into three classrooms.

With regard to instructional programming for specials for the upcoming school years, details were provided in the superintendent’s report:

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Screenshot from page 3 of the Mt. Ephraim Board of Education August 8 meeting agenda

The superintendent gave an update with regard to staffing. Ms. Koller said that the district had four professional positions to fill. Jennifer Immendorf was hired for first grade. Allison Riddle, from the Shining Star program, was hired as the band director. Both were approved in July. Danielle LaBella will be at Kershaw School in the capacity as a Special Education teacher at the seventh and eighth grade level. The World Language position is still open.

There was a question about RTI and Ms. Koller explained that RTI is just a structure for Basic Skills. It is required to be a part of every school’s curriculum and that the district has had it in place for three years. As for the funding, that money must specifically be used for only those students who are in Basic Skills/RTI, she said.

Board member, Mario Alibrando, asked about the students keeping the Chromebooks in school. Mrs. Koller stated that the district is in the third year of its plan. She said that repairs have been “enormous” when the laptops go home and there is less chance for breakage if they say in school.

Ms. Koller said that 67 Chromebooks stayed at school and were used by 122 students. There were two repairs in two years. Of the ones that went home, there were 140 Chromebooks used by 140 students and there were 82 repairs in two years. Next year when the laptops will be replaced, preliminary plans call for the laptops to remain in school and not be sent home.

Carl Ingram asked about increasing the insurance.

Ms. Koller stated that some repairs were covered by the insurance and some weren’t, but that the price on the insurance would be “too enormous.” When the new laptops are purchased, the district will purchase the three year plan, which covers normal wear and tear, but not breakage, such as drops or keys popping off. “Even if the district imposed a usage fee, it’s not a matter of what that fee would cover, the district doesn’t have the manpower to turn the laptops around,” Ms. Koller explained.

Board member Robbin Malinowski expressed a concern about students who would need to complete assignments. Ms. Koller responded that the district would be sensitive to those students who do not have technology at home.

There was also a discussion about shredding the district’s old records. Finance manager, Bill Gerson, said that shredding hasn’t been done since 2009 or 2010. The shredding process involves a company that comes in to determine what should be separated out for shredding and what should be part of the permanent record. The whole process is about $600.

Public Portion

During the public portion, a parent had a question about a Gifted and Talented Progam and if there was a screening process. Ms. Koller responded that she is going to work that out this year. “We have to identify a benchmark for Gifted and Talented and that’s up to the district to determine. We have to create that criteria.”

Board Approves Agenda Items

On the business side, all items on the meeting’s agenda were approved, including:

August 8, 2016 Regular Meeting Public Agenda

  • The August, 2016 bill list in the amount of $372,610.57
  • Various tuition contract agreements with the Audubon BOE for the period of September 1, 2016-June 30, 2017.

The BOE’s next regularly scheduled meeting is Monday, September 12 at 7:30 p.m. in the Mary Bray Media Center.

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Leslie Koller To Remain As Mt. Ephraim School Superintendent

Leslie Koller will remain as the superintendent for the Mt. Ephraim School District for the next three years. As for her contract, it automatically rolls over and terms will still need to be worked out and agreed upon.

Ms. Koller was absent from the Board of Education (BOE) meeting on Monday night. SJO asked Board Solicitor, Michael Pattanite, Jr. for a status of the superintendent’s contract after the meeting was over. He said: “Statutorily, the superintendent’s contract rolls over until her new contract is negotiated and agreed upon. Her previous contract will roll over and she will be the superintendent for the next three years.”

The superintendent’s contract did not receive the required five votes needed to either approve it or reject it when the matter was voted on at either the June 6 during the Committee of the Whole meeting or during the June 20 Regular Meeting.

In other matters, Board member Rocco Vespe gave a brief update about the status of the teachers’ contract because Carl Ingram was absent. Vespe said that another meeting will be scheduled to continue negotiations.

Board President, Pat Blaylock, asked about two board members [Mario Alibrando and Diane Vilardo] who are no longer conflicted and can now vote and participate in negotiations. “We have two board members whose spouses are no longer in the union and no longer work in district, so can they now vote because they are no longer conflicted?” she asked.

Solicitor Pattanite responded: “They will be able to vote on the teachers’ contract and also be involved in negotiations once the clause that creates the conflict is eliminated.”

Agenda Items Approved:

In other matters, all business on the meeting agenda was approved, with the exception of approving the establishment of a petty cash food service account. That item was tabled.

July 11 Regular Meeting Public Agenda

Other approvals included:

Payment of the July bill list in the amount of $47,685.58

An agreement with the Bancroft School for the period of July 1, 2016-June 30, 2017 on an as-needed basis. Fees are outlined in the contract.

A contract with Bancroft School for the period of July 1, 2016-June 30, 2017 for one student at an estimated cost of $67,502.92, with the final rate being determined after the completion of the 2016-17 N.J. Department of Education Cost Report.

Fiscal Year 2017 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Title I A Improving Basic Skills Grant in the amount of $78,708 for the period of July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017.

Fiscal Year 2017 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Title II A Class Size Reduction in the amount of $21,349 for the period of July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the New Jersey State Police, Office of Emergency Management (NJOEM).

Next Meetings:

The Mt. Ephraim BOE will meet as a Committee of the Whole on Monday, August 1 at 7:00 p.m. and again on Monday, August 8 for its Regular Meeting at 7:30 p.m. The meetings will be held in the Mary Bray Media Center.

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Mt. Ephraim School Board Has Yet to Approve Superintendent’s New Contract

The contract for Mt. Ephraim School Superintendent, Leslie Koller, expires on June 30 and the Board of Education (BOE) has yet to approve her new contract.

At the June 6 Committee of the Whole Board meeting, Ms. Koller’s contract was voted on and it did not carry.

Yes votes came from: Joan Greenwood, Lewis Greenwood, Sr., Rocco Vespe, and Carl Ingram. Diane Vilardo voted no. Patricia Blaylock and Mario Alibrando recused themselves. Robbin Malinowski and Nicholas Salamone were absent.

Five votes are needed to either accept or reject the contract.

Committee of the Whole Public Agenda 6/6/15

At Monday’s meeting when the contract was again brought to a vote, it did not pass.

Prior to board voting, Mr. Ingram stated that they were being given another opportunity to vote on the four year package with the terms being: 0% for the first year, 1.5% for the second year, 1.75% for the third year, and 2% for the fourth year. “If it is not approved, she [the superintendent] will automatically go back to her old contract,” Ingram said.

Voting yes were: Mario Alibrando, Joan Greenwood, Carl Ingram, and Rocco Vespe. Voting no were: Robbin Malinowski, Nicholas Salamone, and Diane Villardo. Lewis Greenwood, Sr. was absent and Pat Blaylock recused herself from the vote.

Mario Alibrando no longer needs to recuse himself from the vote since his wife recently resigned from her position as the superintendent’s secretary.

SJO will provide updates on Ms. Koller’s contract and if the BOE schedules a special meeting to re-vote.

The BOE also discussed the contract for finance manager/board secretary, William Gerson.

At its April meeting, the BOE approved the interlocal services agreement with Educational Information Resource Center (EIRC) in the amount of $104,496.

Through that arrangement, EIRC was acting as B.A. (Business Administrator) of record and Mr. Gerson was to handle the district’s financials.

Because of stipulations regarding his pension, if Mr. Gerson were to use his B.A. certificate in Mt. Ephraim, his time in the district would be limited to two years.

The individual from EIRC who had been providing B.A. services recently retired.

Mr. Gerson said: “My intent is to be here for the long term.” He added that since he came on board in Mt. Ephraim, he has been working long hours to get the business office back on track.

Gerson said he reached out to the Newfield BOE because they provide business services. “There would be no drop in services and the contract is essentially the same [as EIRC’s],” Gerson explained.

The BOE voted to rescind the contract with EIRC and approved a shared services agreement with the Newfield BOE for the period of July 1, 2016-June 30, 2017 for business services in the total amount of $104,496. The motion carried pending attorney review.

The BOE also had a discussion concerning the proposed $30,000 salary for the candidate for the position of secretary to the superintendent.

On the agenda, the salary amount to be approved was listed as $30,000 and members of the BOE expressed concerns about “being fair” and “for hiring off of the salary guide.”

The BOE voted to approve the candidate for hire if she accepts the salary of $28,000.

Ms. Koller indicated in her report that she received approximately 30 applications for the position of Administrative Assistant and that she interviewed 11 candidates.

In other matters, Mr. Ingram stated that negotiations are ongoing for the teachers’ contract. He said: “Hopefully, that will be wrapped up shortly.”

On the BOE’s agenda, among the items that were approved were:

BOE Regular Mtg 6/20/16 Public Agenda

The bill list in the amount of $560,834.60.

The creation of new position part-time District Band/Choral Director/General Music Teacher and approving Alison Ridle in this position for the period of September 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017 as BA Step 1: 0.5 salary of $25,733.

The creation of a new position “0.5 World Language Teacher as it conforms to salary guide.”

In other matters, retired teachers Laurie McCloskey (32 years), Colleen Waters (28 years), Sharon Eichman (31 years), and Mary Manion (22 years) were recognized for their many years of service to the district. The teachers received a standing ovation.

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School superintendent, Leslie Koller, second from left acknowledges teachers: Laurie McCloskey, Colleen Waters, Sharon Eichman, and Mary Manion for their many years of service to the Mt. Ephraim School District.

 

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Mt. Ephraim BOE Discusses Potential Cuts; RIF Notices

Members of the public addressed the Mt. Ephraim Board of Education (BOE) Monday night to ask about rumors that “everything” is being cut from the budget and that district teachers have received reduction in force notices, or RIF. Several members of the public expressed their concern about program cuts and voiced their concern in support of all art, music, and world language programs.

Board President, Pat Blaylock responded: “All of the rumors are not true. Everything is not being cut. It is a matter of trying to decide which programs, what we can afford to keep, and what we can’t afford to keep. We know how important the programs are. I don’t like seeing all of the cuts, but we have to face that everything can’t stay. We can’t afford all of the programs. Do we have final answers yet? No.”

She continued: “Unfortunately, the budget is due now. We will not know the full extent of our funding until August.”

She also spoke of recent meetings that had taken place about the budget: “Two weeks ago on a Friday night, the personnel committee met and discussed our options. Last Friday night, the finance committee met and we went through the budget again to see if we missed anything and to see if there is anything else we can do. Every meeting, everybody comes out and speaks on the programs. We don’t want to cut, but our budget will not allow us to keep all of the programs. We have to decide which programs we are keeping.”

As for the RIF notices, Ms. Blaylock said: “They are done as a precaution. Nobody wants to do that, but we are required by May 15 to do that in case there is a chance that somebody may not have a position.”

Ms. Blaylock also responded to the question concerning the number of teachers who are retiring and how that will help the budget.

“As you have heard over the past month to six weeks, the number was significantly higher before those teachers put their retirement notices in. That saved a huge amount of money and saved jobs. We weren’t talking two positions, we were talking eight positions,” she said.

A parent asked how things got to this point and if there was a major crisis.

Ms. Blaylock responded: “When we look at the financials – in last year’s budget, we used over $500,000 in surplus. It was not earmarked to all be used last year. Unfortunately, had we not followed that advice, we would have had more money for this year, but we would have had to make cuts last year. So last year, we got away without having to make any [cuts] so we don’t have that $500,000. As [finance manager] Mr. Gerson explained, we earn surplus every year. Some has to be saved for the following year. We used more last year than we should have. We spent our savings account and now we don’t have it to spend.”

Bill Gerson added: “To clarify, each year that a surplus is generated, it doesn’t get used for that year, it goes in the year after. So any surplus we generate this year, we would use for the 2017-18 school year. That is how it works.”

Superintendent Leslie Koller said: “When the issue came up about six weeks ago, one of the things that’s been said and it’s worth repeating: There has been instability in the business office for several years. It is not about blame at this point. I know everyone wants to know how it happened and how we can prevent it from happening again. One of things that Mr. Gerson is doing is providing stability in our business office. He is getting our finances in order and we need to maintain that so this does not happen again.”

Board member Carl Ingram stated: “Our tax rate has pretty much been stable on the school board end. We chose to do that to help save the taxpayers money. In hindsight, that has come back to hit us. But if we would have used our bank cap, we could’ve used up to 6% last year, I believe, but it would’ve been a significant hike for the taxpayers. This is not a fun thing for anyone involved.”

Pat Blaylock said: “Mr. Ingram is right: On the bank cap issue, last year, the county superintendent came and encouraged us to raise the taxes to the maximum that we could. We made a decision as a Board not to do that. You have so many years to use that 6% and then it is gone. Had we used it, it would’ve raised the base of our budget higher for every year. We would have more money coming in, but it would’ve been too much of a burden on Mt. Ephraim to raise the taxes that much. Should we have raised it? I don’t know. Our base would’ve been higher, but we didn’t think it was the right thing to do.”

A parent asked about data, cost benefit, and investment of RTI, if it is an extreme expenditure, and what the growth and acceleration are for RTI.

Mrs. Koller responded: “RTI is basic skills. There is a line item in the budget for basic skills. In no way is RTI an excessive cost because we would be having basic skills anyway.  RTI is costing us a reading specialist and a math specialist. We’ve cut the reading specialist and the math specialist at Kershaw in this budget. We’ve maintained the reading specialist and math specialist at Mary Bray. The only cost of RTI is the benchmarking. The reading specialist and the benchmarking are mandated. We have to have those. We don’t have to have math specialists but our district is choosing to have a math specialist.”

She continued: “The reported data is the progress from the benchmarking that the student has made from September to January to May and also any students who are progress-monitored in between. As far as the data for students improving overall, I don’t know whether it’s because we are totally standards based on common core, if it’s because we have all new curriculum, technology, or the RTI. All of these things went into place at the same time. I can give specifics from Star reading and Star math.”

Mrs. Koller said that the most recent data she has is for last year. “I am waiting until the last benchmark comes in June and I will do it over the summer. I do have the data from last year, which I presented in last year’s budget hearing and then I added it over the summertime,” she said.

A question was asked about a gifted and talented program and if one side of the spectrum is being catered to and not the other.

Mrs. Koller responded:  “We do not have an overall gifted and talented program. The State mandates that you have to have it. That is on the list and we just haven’t gotten there yet.”

All business on the Board’s agenda was approved, with the exception of the superintendent’s contract, which was tabled.

The BOE voted to approve the 2016-17 budget as follows. The district’s user friendly budget can be found here.

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Approvals included:

  • Accepting the retirements as of June 30, 2016 of music teacher, Mary Manion; general education teacher Colleen Waters; and general education teacher Laurie McCloskey.
  • A non-renewal of an employee effective June 30, 2016.
  • Re-appointment of tenured teachers, teachers acquiring tenure in 2016, and non-tenured teachers.
  • Re-appointment of Administrators – principal and CST (child study team)
  • Reappointment of School Choice Coordinator, nurse, paraprofessionals, and nurse.
  • Payment of the May, 2016 bill list in the amount of $542,166.30.
  • Contracts for July 1, 2016-June 30, 2017 with Invo Health Care Associates for physical therapy (reduce fees by 2.5%); Dense McGuckin for occupational therapy (fees not increased); and Insight Workforce Solutions for substitutes (increased rate by 1.5%).
  • Professional contracts for July 1, 2016-June 30, 2017 with no increase in fees for Holman, Frenia, Allison, P.C., as auditor; Lenox, Socey, Formidoni Law Firm LLC as solicitor; and Fraytak, Veisz, Hopkins, Duthie, P.C., as architect.
  • Contract for July 1, 2016-June 30, 2017 for School Messenger to provide unlimited notification service in the amount of $948.15.
  • Contract for July 1, 2016-June 30,2017 for OnCourse Systems for Education, LLC to provide student information systems in the amount of $20,954.80.
  • Contract renewal for July 1,2016-June 30,2017 for Brown and Brown Benefit Advisors for AmeriHealth (Increase of 5%); Benecard Rx (Increase of 14%); and Delta Dental (increase of 2.76% – two year renewal).

The BOE also approved an addendum to the agenda, which was to approve the sick leave buy out, upon retirement for Laurie McCloskey, in the amount of $16,016.50. Board member Diane Vilardo voted no on this addendum.

Regarding the superintendent’s contract, it was not voted on and was tabled.

Board members Rocco Vespe, Nick Salamone, Lewis Greenwood, Sr. were absent from the meeting.

In other matters, the Audubon BOE budget and tax levy from their May 4 Budget hearing was included in the Mt. Ephraim’s board meeting agenda:

 

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The Mt. Ephraim BOE will meet next on June 20 at 7:30 due to the 2015-16 calendar change and eighth grade graduation.

Principal Michael Hunter also honored the May students of the month.

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Mt. Ephraim’s Students of the Month with Principal Michael Hunter, from left: David Smith, Thomas Barrett, and Assunta DiGenni. Front row from left are: Matthew Call, Jeanne Rabeau, and Gavin Rountree. Absent were: Benjamin Hamilton, Ryan Sutton, and Charlie Grady.