Within the Council Rock School District, several buildings are in desperate need of repair. At Sol Feinstone, Hillcrest and Richboro elementary schools, there’s water leaks, unusable toilets and no air conditioning. There’s also the out-of-date turf field at Council Rock High School South, the renovation of which has been delayed multiple times.
Though all projects must be completed at some point, the district currently has a borrowing capacity of $24 million, which forced the board of school directors to make some tough decisions.
During their 4-and-a-half-hour-long meeting earlier this month, they approved upgrades at Hillcrest ($17.7 million) in a vote of 6-3, and a new synthetic turf field at Council Rock South ($3.1 million) in a vote of 5-4. Work at Sol Feinstone and Richboro will take place within the next two years, with all projects slated for completion by summer 2024.
While some board members, including Mark Byelich, were in favor of not approving anything out of fear it would cause financial harm to the district, others felt greenlighting at least one project was necessary. Edward Tate, who took a tour of Sol Feinstone recently, was shocked at the state of the dated building. Over the course of its 67-year existence, Sol Feinstone has been “patched around the edges,” but it desperately needs more.
“You can see leaks in a skylight in a wall by the gym. That school needs to be replaced,” he said, adding that the lack of air conditioning is “deplorable.”
Joseph Hidalgo, who toured Hillcrest, reflected on classes being taught in converted storage rooms, ventilation systems consisting of pipes and fans sticking out of windows, and such high enrollment that teachers struggled to walk among the desks.
“I didn’t observe that environment in any other school,” he said. “Buildings don’t teach students, but teachers do, and if we build these buildings and we’re unable to keep all of our teachers teaching, then it was for nothing.”
Michael Thorwart, a fierce advocate for the Council Rock South turf, was pleased at the outcome.
In other news, Superintendent Dr. Robert Fraser shared that, after a “tough year” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, things are looking up for the fall. Pfizer is testing its vaccine on kids ages 12 and older, and Bucks County Health Department Director Dr. David Damsker has hope students will be vaccinated before the start of the 2021-22 academic year.
Fraser added that high school graduation ceremonies will be held in-person on Thursday, June 10, at Walt Snyder Stadium.
Motions were made to amend the health and safety plan. Thorwart recommended the district implement Damsker’s “modified quarantine,” which allows staff and students who were exposed to COVID-19, but aren’t showing symptoms, to continue attending work/school unless they test positive. The district has been following the CDC’s guidance that exposed individuals must quarantine for 14 days. This was approved unanimously and is expected to start no later than Monday, April 26.
Thorwart then introduced a motion that would direct the administration to draft a formal policy guaranteeing all students a scheduled lunch break, even with an early dismissal schedule. Though students are given a bagged lunch each day, many aren’t able to enjoy it until they’re home. Since there’s social distancing of less than 6 feet in some classrooms, they’re not permitted to take off their masks.
“If we were employers, at five hours we would have to give minors a chance to take a break, eat and drink,” said Thorwart. “They’re in school for more than five hours.”
This was also approved unanimously.
Finally, in a vote of 8-1, the board voted to bring in an outside team of experts from the University of Pennsylvania Delaware Valley Consortium for Excellence and Equity. The team would study Council Rock’s practices surrounding student equity and provide a report on its strengths and weaknesses.
Hidalgo was the single “no” vote.
“I believe this kind of work is something we can do,” he said, expressing concern over how the cost may impact the district’s budget deficit, as well as if the district will be obligated to implement changes that the team proposes. “I’m a little worried.”
“I think this is a fantastic, creative, innovative approach to looking at how we deliver education,” countered board member Denise Brooks. “By the very nature of trying to address these issues, this is not something we can do ourselves. We do need the benefit of expert, objective, professional people who have an area of expertise to look at this and make sure that we are delivering our recommendations, that we are approaching program planning in the most equitable and inclusive way. If we could’ve done it ourselves, we would’ve done it already.”
Visit crsd.org for more information and updates.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com