My message this month again deals with what I would describe as “mis-information,” much of it erroneously circulating on social media as facts rather than opinion.
Much of the online discussion surrounds the issues of staffing, budget and a general cutting of our educational program. While I am not writing this to change anyone’s opinion, I would like to at least provide the public with the facts, to help you to develop an informed opinion.
Since the 2002-2003 school year, enrollment in the Bethel Park School District has slowly declined—from 5,252 students in 2002-2003 to 4,163 students to begin the 2017-2018 school year. That’s almost 1,100 less students than we had 15 years ago.
Of the 13,000 households in Bethel
Park, 4,000 of them have children, while 9,000 of them do not. The two most
common age groups in Bethel Park are middle aged people and retirees. We now
have more homes with empty nesters, senior citizens or couples without
children, which is the probable reason for the declining enrollment we have
been experiencing over the past 15 years, plus the fact that middle class
families as a whole are having fewer children.
Enrollment at the high school has
also declined from 1,900 students in 2004 to 1,520 students this year. Even
though enrollment has decreased by almost 400 students, we continue to offer a robust course selection guide with classes
applicable to prepare our students for the 21st century. While
some classes we offered in the past have changed to meet the changing needs of
our students, the overall selection offered has not.
Our new teachers’ contract enables all of our high school teachers to now teach more than five periods a day. They can teach a sixth and seventh period and be additionally compensated for doing so. This means that even though we have fewer teachers at the high school, all of the classes are being covered without cuts to the educational program.
When we had the eight building high school campus, we employed four principals, spread out among four of the buildings. Now that we are in one building, we still have four full-time members of the administrative team—two principals, a dean of students and an attendance officer. Although the dean of students and attendance officer positions were present in the past, they were half-time. We freed up the teaching schedules of the dean of students and the attendance officer to dedicate both individuals full-time to these administrative duties. With the changes to the state’s new attendance law, this new administrative alignment will help us to better keep on top of the new requirements regarding attendance and truancy.
It is true that the District has reduced the number of teachers over the years—from 405 in June, 2003 to 355 in June, 2017, which we have been able to do through retirements and resignations and not furloughs, and yet maintain a favorable student to teacher ratio. In fact, the ratio has slightly improved—from 13:1 in June, 2003 to 12:1in June, 2017, which is not only comparable to other area school districts, in many cases, it is better than what they are offering.
We hire educators based on a
number of factors, with certification areas being one of those factors. We have
every confidence that our educators do whatever is necessary to maintain their
certificates per state standards and Act 48 requirements. We hire them because
we have confidence in their ability to work with all children within their
certified areas and age groups.
The number of special education para-educators the district needs to employ varies every year based on students’ Individualized Education Program requirements. Each individual child’s education plan is reviewed, and we, as a District, meet the needs contained within that plan. We regularly adjust the number of para-educators based on individual student needs; therefore, the number employed by the District may go up or it may go down in any school year and from year to year.
The District is proud of its
Special Education Department, which works tirelessly to provide our special
needs students with whatever tools they need to be successful. We are also
proud that the Pennsylvania Department of Education recently informed us that
we continue to receive its highest rating in terms of meeting the requirements
for the Individuals with Disabilities Act, better known as IDEA.
As many of you know, salaries and benefits make up almost 80 percent of our budget, so it is incumbent upon this Board to take into consideration the financial aspects of any decisions that are made. But finances are only one factor, not the sole consideration. All decisions are made with the welfare of our students first and foremost. Some decisions may be termed “out of the box” thinking that require change, and we know that change is sometimes difficult to welcome. Not all decisions are fool-proof and all decisions need to be continuously monitored and evaluated. It is our responsibility as board members to provide an excellent education for our children and at the same time be fiscally responsible to our residents. We should always be open to making decisions that may differ from how we have done things in the past.
Please know that we are committed
as a board and administration to provide our children with the best teachers
and the best education programs that we possibly can. I understand that we will
not all agree with one another on every issue, but know that we thoroughly
weigh all options before making decisions that impact the future of our school
At this time, on behalf of the entire Bethel Park Board of School Directors, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of our Bethel Park families a happy holiday season and a prosperous new year. Let’s continue to work together to keep the Bethel Park School District a strong educational force that does a great job of preparing all students for their futures.
This message appears
in the December 2017 Bethel Park