Tax max If EASD budget contains increase, it would be limited to 2.1 percent

By on December 26, 2012

By: GARY P. KLINGER Review Correspondent, Staff Writer

If Ephrata Area School Board passes a tax increase as part of its 2013-2014 school budget, the maximum it could raise taxes would be 2.1 percent.

But whether or not Ephrata School residents will see a tax increase is still very much an uncertain piece of school board business.

The purpose of a resolution passed Dec. 17 allows the district to follow minimal budget procedures, and dispense with the more complicated, expensive, and accelerated Act 1 budget requirements. Since the district is now certain next year’s budget can be funded without increasing the real estate tax rate by more than the index of 2.1 percent set by the PA Department of Education (and therefore will not seek approval for any index limit exceptions), it had to pass this accelerated opt-out resolution.

Prior to passage, board president Timothy Stayer discussed the resolution, an item on the board’s consent agenda.

"We are very conscious of the economic times in which we are living," said Stayer. "The district is in fairly decent shape and so we are going to opt out of any tax increase beyond 2.1 percent."

Stayer explained that had the district decided to "opt-in" it could have potentially raised taxes higher than the state set index of 2.1 percent. However, district officials do not feel that will be necessary.

According to district business manager Kristi Reichard, it is too early in the budget process to know if a tax increase will be necessary and if so, by how much. She explained that departments are in the early stages of creating their preliminary operating budgets.

A final budget will not be passed until June.

In other school news, assistant superintendent Dr. Brian Troop made a short presentation on the district’s new STAT program. STAT stands for Student Technology Assistance Team.

According to Troop, the EASD IT department and the high school administration have worked together to provide an opportunity for interested EHS students to assist with basic help desk services and protocols. The program is slated to begin during the second semester of the current 2012-2013 school year.

The plan for STAT is structured in four phases. During the first phase, initial training sessions will be provided by EASD IT staff members in key areas of the technical system. Training will include discussion of STAT roles and expectations, the ethical responsibility associated with STAT membership, customer service etiquette as well as specific instruction on hardware and software repair, preparation and hook-up. It was pointed out that trouble-shooting requires additional EASD IT support — some of which may be aided by students.

Upon successful completion of Phase 1 training, STAT members can then be deployed to attempt to resolve what are considered level one help desk tickets submitted by EHS staff members. Additionally, students will be assigned to work in a team to maintain laptop carts on a regular basis and, when appropriate, shadow EASD IT staff on routine service jobs throughout the building.

Troop explained that by Phase 3, interested members of STAT will meet with the EASD Coordinator of Instructional Technology and the EHS Principal to examine focused study options for credit.

"The emphasis will be to identify an area of student interest and develop a plan that includes a study proposal, the identification of available resources and an agreement on end-of-study evaluation," stated Troop. "The end result of this phase could be earned elective credits or the satisfaction of graduation project requirements, depending on the rigor and significance of the project."

By the time STAT students reach Phase 4, they will have served one semester as successful STAT members and will have been identified for optional deployment throughout the other buildings of the school district. These students could also serve as supports to teachers and other students in the application of available technology to promote further integration.

The new STAT program promises to benefit both the student and the school district. By providing real-life experience for students with an interest in technology, and presenting them with an opportunity to apply training in technical areas as well as communication skills, independent problem solving and customer service, the benefits to the students abound.

"This creates a positive option for students to be seen as responsible young adults," added Troop.

At the same time, the district will provide staff members with another avenue to address level one technology support while also allowing the district to more efficiently allocate EASD IT staff members to higher levels of technology support.

Troop discussed how the new program came about.

"This grew out of the combined conversations on the need to empower students and have them solve problems in real-time AND the growing need for increased technical support in our district," said Troop. "We are hoping to get a group of about 10-15 this first year."

According to Troop, this opportunity is currently being shared for interested students to get involved for the second semester this year.

Asked about the benefits to the students, Troop was enthusiastic.

"We are hoping that this is seen as a real ‘resume starter’ for students interested in continuing their studies in the technology field once they leave EASD"

Troop also discussed the costs of such a program.

"We do not anticipate a significant fiscal cost other than some basic supplies," he explained. "The investment in time from our technology services staff will be a cost on the front-end, but thanks to the structure of the program, this investment will pay off as students begin to apply their new skills to help maintain district technology.

This innovative new concept may cost very little but the gains will be significant even if no evident on a balance sheet.

"We are not looking at this as a cost savings item, but more of a value-adding program, added Troop. "The district is able to empower a group of students with skills, confidence, and experience — while we benefit from a team of additional tech supporters to help our educational technology function more efficiently."

School board reception of the idea was likewise warm. Board member Glenn R. Martin questioned Troop on system security and individual student privacy. Troop reassured Martin there was an ethical policy sign-off each student would need to complete, in addition to training in the rare event someone does see something they should not.

Martin and Troop agreed that today’s students are incredibly more tech savvy than most adults. Martin expressed concern that such know-how not be used to hack the district computer system. Troop, on the other hand, felt that harnessing that ability with proper training could be used to benefit both the student and the district.

"We want this program to serve as an example of what can be done when we empower our students and are willing to help them realize their potential in new and innovative ways," said Troop.

For additional information on Ephrata Area School District, visit Gary P. Klinger welcomes your comments, questions and suggestions via e-mail at More EASD, page A6

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