Board report: L-S could have turf as early as 2017; board discusses buses and budgets

Turf is one step closer to becoming a reality at Lampeter-Strasburg.


At its May 16 meeting, the L-S School Board unanimously approved a proposal to authorize an architecture firm, Architerra P.C., to move forward with plans to begin the bidding process for contractors to redo the football field into a synthetic turf field.
The School Board met last evening; it was the final meeting for senior student representative Chelsea Hancock, who will be replaced by Dylan Grau next year
The Board did not, however, approve plans to move forward on adding synthetic turf to the soccer field, deferring that discussion to its June meeting to which Dave Horn, from Architerra, will be invited to review alternate possibilities for that field.


Discussion on the proposal centered around cost and safety.


Dr. Doreen Packer reiterated her concerns over inconclusive scientific data as to whether certain types of turf cause cancer. She pointed to a recently commissioned study by three government agencies on the subject as evidence that the issue is not settled. Nevertheless, she ultimately voted in favor of moving forward.


On the cost issue, several board members suggested that it is worth strongly considering the potential savings in doing both fields at one time.


Mr. Jim Byrnes noted that originally, he was not interested in turf at all, but now would suggest doing both fields now.


"Something needs to be done at field two (the soccer field)," he stated. "We've put this off for such a period of time … we absolutely need to move on with field one and look at field two."


Mr. Dave Beiler, a construction professional, urged the Board "to give strong consideration for moving forward with design for both fields." Based on his experience, he believes the pricing estimates from Architerra are fair and competitive.


Mrs. Patricia Pontz, however, drew the line at spending an estimated $2.5 million to add turf to the soccer field; she suggested the possibility of redoing that field with natural turf, an idea that drew little traction from fellow board members, most of whom seemed keen on moving forward.


Mrs. Melissa Herr, the acting chair of the board meeting and the board member who has led the steering committee on turf since its beginning a few years ago, said, "I feel very comfortable moving forward … This is the right move knowing that the final decision is still to come."


It is worth noting that two board members were absent.


Board President Jeffrey Mills, one of the two absentees, stated at the last meeting that although he sees value in extracurricular activity and thinks something needs to be done with the fields, the amount of money in question here is quite a large chunk that "will not teach anyone to read".


Conversely, Mr. Scott Kimmel, chair of the finance committee and parent of two L-S athletes, was adamant at the last meeting that it is time to move forward with turf given how far behind other districts L-S has fallen.


For now, district business manager Mr. Terry Sweigart will work with Horn to begin the land development process for the football field, on which construction could begin as soon as the summer of 2017. Hypothetically, should the Board approve turf on field two at its June meeting, that construction could happen in 2017 as well. However, that seems to be a tougher sell for a Board with rising costs elsewhere. Either way, there is no guarantee turf will be installed on either field as the Board has yet to solicit bids and even when it does, could reject them.


Budget


Speaking of costs, the Board preliminarily approved an operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The budget includes a $757,000 deficit between projected revenues and expenses, but Sweigart noted that $400,000 of that money will come from a pension stability fund established in years' past to help the district cover a spike in its required contribution to the state pension fund for educators. Additionally, the budget allocates $400,000 in unappropriated funds in the event of unforeseen expenses.


As such, it is possible that the District will not need to tap into reserves during the upcoming fiscal year. The district's annual operating budget is approximately $48 million.


This year's budget includes a 1.9% tax increase as the millage rises from 19.8683 to 20.2458, which equates to a $70 tax increase on a property assessed at $175,000.


Busing


The Board also reviewed new administrative guidelines on busing, which stemmed from administrators' concerns at the elementary level, but will apply K-12. Moving forward, except in extenuating circumstances, L-S students will not be allowed to go anywhere except their originally assigned stop. Administrators called this a painful but necessary move to ensure student safety that became necessary largely due to changing demographics that have caused confusion and concern among guardians. Superintendent Kevin Peart noted that common sense will be utilized, for example, on unscheduled early dismissal days, but "we don't consider a birthday party an extenuating circumstance."


Spahn and Pontz expressed sadness at the change with Spahn noting that she "gets it", but is concerned that the district is going straight from a "carte blanche" approach to a "rigid" one.


Bathrooms


Once the floor was opened for public comment, two community members spoke on the issue of President Obama's recent directive on access to school bathrooms by transgender students.


It is too early to know exactly how that will affect school districts such as L-S, but that did not stop Mr. Clinton Martin, a district resident with children who are not yet in school, from denouncing the President's "proclamation" and urging the board not to "fear" losing federal funding by refusing to comply. He suggested that while it is important to treat transgender students with respect, it must be done without putting "the 99.9 percent of students" not struggling with their gender identity "at risk". He called President Obama's directive "an affront to modesty, decency, and safety."

The Board took no action on the subject, which was not an agenda item.

Just last week, L-S community relations coordinator Anne Harnish told LNP that the district is "carefully following the legal and social landscape as it is evolving on this topic."

--Benjamin Pontz, LSNews.org Editor-In-Chief

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