Log In

Reset Password

Mars Area joins state school board association

ADAMS TWP — After a round of debate Tuesday, May 9, Mars Area School Board voted 5-4 to join the Pennsylvania School Boards Association for the 2023-24 school year.

“The district hasn’t been part of PSBA for quite some time,” superintendent Mark Gross said. “Administratively, we are recommending the district reconsider joining just because of the policy management that they have, the various trainings that can occur.”

Gross emphasized that the association provided substantial policy materials to members, allowing the district to more efficiently implement policy without “starting from scratch.”

“As policies come up, as initiatives come up, they send those out,” Gross said. “We can screen them, and we also have an opportunity to tweak those.”

Membership in the association was available for the district at two tiers. Standard membership, including policy maintenance, was available for $18,321.21, plus a one-time reentry fee of $2,500. The all-access package was available for $20,296.21, plus a one-time reentry fee of $3,500.

Business manager Debbie Brandstetter said the all-access package included policy maintenance, as well as unlimited live and online training events, a board and superintendent evaluation package, a legal subscription, and discounts on educational conferences.

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but this would also possibly save us money in the long run because either we’re going to pay an hourly rate for (solicitor Michael Hnath) to create the policy from the ground up,” board member Megan Lenz said, “or we would be able to utilize these policies, have Mr. Hnath review them and, in turn, it would be a cost-saver in the long run, probably.”

Hnath agreed, saying it would “definitely” save on costs.

Board member Sallie Wick disagreed.

“We do have a pretty extensive policy manual, and one of our focuses as a board is to review the policy and have our solicitor review the policy — we can’t rubber-stamp a policy just from the PSBA,” Wick said. “So, for me looking at the budget that we’re looking at, I don’t see that the cost warrants what we’re getting for it.”

Lenz said she did not believe the process would involve “rubber-stamping.”

“I think it’s having the groundwork to not completely start from scratch,” Lenz said. “Not to mention, this is what they do on the state level, and I think it protects us legally, because anytime that there’s going to be a case law or special education law, they’re going to be right on the cusp of that, and although we have a good policy manual, that has to be reevaluated consistently.”

Board member Anthony De Pretis said the board did a full review of its policies before he was a member, and that the current board has been regularly reviewing them in turn.

“Do you see this as a one-year fee and we’re going to aggressively go through the entire manual and see what we need and try to update ours and be done at that point,” De Pretis asked, “or do we see this as ‘well, we have access to them and over time we’ll just join each year?’”

Gross replied that, while he was not personally making the request, joining the association would help the district proactively look at new policies and new legislation that it may have been unaware of otherwise.

“One of the things that prompted this: we were supposed to have specific Title IX policies in place, and, you know, we didn’t necessarily realize that — I know (Hnath) advised us very early on, ‘You know, you need to get those policies in place,’” Gross said. “The good news is that districts that had PSBA were able to get those in draft form and get those adopted rather quickly, where we’re compressing time to do that.”

Lenz motioned the board join the all-access package for the cost it would save on mandatory training, in addition to its policy maintenance assistance.

Board members Kevin Hagen, Lee Ann Riner, Nicole Thurner, Jennifer DiCuccio and Lenz were in favor. Members John Kennedy, Justin Miller, De Pretis and Wick were against.

Other business

The board also appointed Jessica Semler as full-time principal at Mars Area Primary Center, beginning in the 2023-24 school year.

“Just a big thank you to all the school directors, Dr. Gross, (Assistant Superintendent Elizabeth McMahon), and all of my colleagues and the staff in the district for all of your support,” Semler said. “I am so happy to be staying at the primary center as your school principal, so I can’t thank you enough — and thank you to all the community families as well for your support.”

Semler has been serving as the school’s substitute principal for the last year, and she previously served as assistant principal for the Mars Area High School during the 2021-22 school year.

The board also heard comments Tuesday from district resident Marcia Semper concerning the Mars Area Elementary School’s chiller.

Marcia, who moved to the district in June 2018, said she represented a number of residents near the school who took issue the noise produced by its cooling system.

“In August of our first summer, we were sitting on our porch listening to what is like a jet engine noise that we hear from the elementary school chiller, which is the air conditioner for the school,” Marcia said.

She explained that, under the recommendation of residents, the school installed a louvered fence around the unit in 2019 and planted spruce trees to act as a buffer.

Both efforts were ineffective, she claimed, so she asked that the concerned residents be involved with the district’s potential expansion of the elementary school.

“There’s going to be a need for air conditioning for a much larger square-footage, and I don’t want to even think about what might happen then,” Semper said. “We know that there has to be a professionally engineered noise-reduction system.”

Sign up to Receive Daily News Updates

* indicates required