UPDATES & INFO: FROM JOE GRATA, BOARD PRESIDENT
Monday, March 30, 2020 – On behalf of the BVA Board of Education, I extend sincere thanks and appreciation to parents, students, staff and the community for your patience and understanding during this Covid-19 pandemic which has been upending our lives.Unfortunately, and understandably, none of us knows when and how this will end. Meanwhile, BVA has been going beyond the call of duty to provide continuing education for our young people and to assure that those who depend on receiving breakfast and lunch in our cafeterias do not go hungry.The district has been working diligently to communicate and update information through all means available to us, to respond to your questions, and to keep our education system functioning under challenging circumstances.Of course, much of what goes on is beyond our control and-or is dictated by state government. We keep in daily touch with surrounding school districts and public officials. We conduct necessary school business mostly through technology such as Zoom video communications and conferencing. We maintain facilities so when students return to school, we’ll be ready.The so-called “needle” keeps moving about resumption of classes, activities, arts and athletics. Be strong, be patient. Together, we’ll get past this and resume our goal of becoming “A Better BVA.” Again, thank you and stay healthy.
March 20, 2020 -- Belle Vernon Area School District has completed reissuance of a 2013 bond that will result in a long-term savings of $465,912, officials have announced. The amount far exceeds the $66,900 savings estimated by its bond counsel when the school board set a minimum threshold in a resolution passed last November.“The district’s timing was fortuitous as tax-exempt interest rates reached their all-time low in days before the pricing,” said Atty. Wayne D. Gerhold, bond counsel for the district.The bond reissuance was wrapped into a new money component that will provide $3.8 million for a capital improvements program that is to include long-needed window replacements at Marion Elementary and BVA Middle School, resurfacing parking lots and costs associated with repurposing the former Rostraver Middle School.As a result of the favorable investment initiative, the annual debt service will be $48,000 per year lower than initially estimated.Proactive reissuance of bonds began eight years ago, when the school district changed financial advisers. As a result, the school district has realized cumulative total savings of approximately $4 million.Meanwhile, Belle Vernon Area will also benefit from a $474,648 grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, also known as a “Safe Schools Grant.”That funding, obtained through the assistance of state Sen. Pat Stefano, state Rep. Bud Cook and former state Rep. Justin Walsh, will cover the costs of installing new security cameras in all BVA buildings, a public address system in Rostraver Elementary and BVA Middle School, and half of the $80,000 cost of a new public address system at the high school.“This is a huge boost for us for safety and security,” Superintendent Michele Dowell said.Moreover, the Safe Schools Grant frees up money that was part of the $3.8 million capital program, enabling the school district to move ahead with other proposed repairs, maintenance and improvement projects that had been on its “deferred” list.“The school board has been doing its diligence in updating our older buildings while placing minimum burden on taxpayers,” school board president Joe Grata said. “The idea is to extend the useful lives of the facilities while financially positioning the district for the future.”
March 16, 2020 -- Belle Vernon Area School District will be proactive during the mandated two-week closure of public schools, starting today.
For the next several days, teams involving custodial and maintenance employees will deep-clean and spray all buildings to ensure they will be fully disinfected and sanitized before students return. Areas will include restrooms, floors, locker rooms, gyms, cafeterias, offices and hallways.
All desks, chairs, tables and high-touch surfaces such as phones, railings and computer keyboards also will be wiped clean, using a special institution-grade solution that can kill off the coronavirus and other viruses.
The protocol involves completing buildings by sections and then locking them down, including wiping door handles as they finish.
Transportation employees will perform maintenance on buses and vans, as well as disinfecting and sanitizing the vehicles, in order that they, too, will be ready when needed.
A limited number of personnel will remain on duty to handle payroll, bills, maintenance of facilities and essential business matters.
Administrators will address matters such as coordinating Bag Brigade distribution and the availability of school lunches at a central location for at-risk students.
We understand the hardships and disruption associated with the coronavirus pandemic and government mandates. We will do what is necessary to minimize the impacts, continue to meet our educational obligations and responsibly prepare for the return of students and normalcy.
In addition, if director Michael Rozell is able to resurrect “Cinderella,” the school musical that the state mandate forced cancellation, we want to reassure students and community that we will find outside sources to pay for unforeseen expenses for such things as costume rentals and the production copyright.
We will do everything possible to see that the lights do not go out on “BVA Broadway,” one of our most popular, well-attended annual school events showcasing the artistic talents of more than 100 students.
Meanwhile, the board of education plans to cancel Tuesday’s workshop session and combine it and the agenda session with the scheduled monthly regular meeting next Monday, beginning at 6 p.m., subject to compliance with public legal notice requirements.
BVA does not have the ability to provide online instruction at this time, but many school districts in surrounding counties are in the same situation.
Belle Vernon Area administrators will continue to monitor and react to the situation and announce any changes and updates to our current plans.
March 13, 2020 -- After more than a year of often long and sometimes contentious meetings, all nine members of the board came together last night to reach a unanimous, five-year tentative agreement with the Belle Vernon Area Education Association.
Terms of the agreement will be disclosed pending finalization of language and related details and after ratification by the school board and BVAEA membership.
Meanwhile, the school district can move forward with its academics, arts, athletics and activities programs without interruption, pending impacts that may be caused by the coronavirus situation.
The board’s goal was to achieve a contract that was fair, practical, reasonable and affordable to stakeholders, including teachers, students, taxpayers and the overall community.The board has met that goal while continuing to carry out a mission of creating a strong, competitive and respected school district.Personally, I want to thank the administration, legal counsel and state Bureau of Mediation for its time, patience and diligence; fellow board members for staying focused and supportive; and members of the BVAEA executive committee for demonstrating that we are all partners in building a better BVA.
Feb. 5, 2020 -- News headlines across the state have announced that Gov. Tom Wolf is once again seeking a major increase in public school funding in his proposed 2020-21 budget.
For the second consecutive year, however, the increase would fail to provide enough additional money to cover Belle Vernon Area School District’s higher share of employee pension costs for the next fiscal year.
Preliminary information shows BVA would receive $9,885,137 in Basic Education funding, an increase of $36,584 over the current year, and $1,711,079 in Special Education funding, an increase of $24,016 over the current year, for a total of $60,600.
Our Ready-to-Learn Block Grant funding would be $444,788, the same as the current year.
A $60,600 increase in state funding would be a virtual drop in the bucket in an operating budget of nearly $39 million. It would not begin to address inflation, legacy obligations or expectations of employees bargaining for new labor contracts.
On behalf of the board, I reached out to state Sen. Pat Stefano and state Rep. Bud Cook, who represent us in the General Assembly. (The seat until recently held by state Rep. Justin Walsh, who is now a judge, will be filled in an upcoming special election.)
Sen. Stefano pointed out that the governor’s proposal is just the beginning, but “honestly,” he said, the final state subsidies aren’t likely to change much in view of how budget negotiations take place in Harrisburg.
Sen. Stefano said he understands BVA’s predicament and has asked for a breakdown of costs and revenue “so I can accurately portray them to the Appropriations Committee” as an example of how the state budget impacts some districts such as BVA.
Jan. 8, 2020 -- As school board members, we hear this question often: “How does the district decide two-hour delays or cancel school because of snow?”
We’ve been lucky not to have been disrupted by bad weather so far during the 2019-2020 academic year. Nevertheless, luck is likely to run out before winter ends.
When snow and icy road conditions are forecast, Transportation Director Dave Bashada starts at 4 a.m., using his computer and watching media reports to check on highways and see what other districts are doing.
He calls Tom Godzak, who heads the Rostraver Township Roads Department, and local PennDOT maintenance supervisors, for their opinions. He contacts Jason Zadrozny, BVA’s Director of Buildings and Grounds, to determine progress on clearing school sidewalks, steps and parking lots. He calls neighboring school districts to determine their status and plans and then he heads out to check road conditions himself.
After gathering the information, Bashada calls BVA Superintendent Dr. Michele Dowell around 5:15 a.m. to discuss the situation and “make a call” no later than 5:30 a.m., so the district can implement procedures for delaying or postponing classes ASAP.
BVA informs students, parents and its approximately 250 employees via Pittsburgh television stations, using its “School Messenger” site and posting on our website, www.bvasd.net.
When school is delayed or postponed, the district realizes this can cause inconvenience.
BVA covers an area of 42 square miles and embraces five municipalities. While it may be snowing heavily in Van Meter or Collinsburg in Rostraver, there may be little or no snow at all at the other end of the district around Fayette City or Belle Vernon, given the fickle nature of weather.
Transportation is a big part of the school district, which uses 25 buses and 14 vans not only to take young people to and from the Rostraver and Bellmar campuses but also to transport special needs students as far as Bridgeville, parochial students as far as Monongahela and career-and-technology students to New Stanton and Speers.
Dec. 16, 2019 – School Board committees and representatives have been appointed for the 2020 calendar year.
Several committees have been restructured or re-set in order to best address needs, carry out policies and provide for the orderly operation of the Belle Vernon Area School District.
Executive Group – Joe Grata, board president; Dan Engstrom, board vice president; Dr. Michele Dowell, school superintendent. They will met as needed to assess ongoing issues and overall performance; provide oversight on finances, personnel and contractual matters; direct matters to committees; and confer on emergency and discipline measures requiring immediate attention.
Committee of the Whole – Consisting of all members of the board of education, coinciding with the monthly “workshop/agenda planning” meeting held each month. Members may convene in “executive session” on matters permissible under state law.
Governance, Finance and Operations Committee -- Discontinued. Matters will be taken up by the Committee of the Whole in order that all board members will have an opportunity to participate in discussions and decisions relating to budget, policy, operations and other items relating to school business.
Personnel Committee -- This succeeds the Human Recourses Committee, which also is being discontinued. Because the committee will deal with personnel issues not subject to public discussion, members will convene in executive session.
Meeting dates for these following committees will be publicly advertised in the spirit of transparency, according to law, and in order that all board members can attend, if desired. Committee members will be charged with conducting the meetings and carrying out committee functions, including gathering information, making assessments and recommending board action. Committee chairs, in consultation with the superintendent, may request appropriate staff personnel to attend meetings as well as to prepare information helpful to participants.
Each committee shall designate a member to take notes of proceedings, capsulizing information and/or recommendations and sharing same with all board members.
Mr. Grata has asked Mr. Engstrom, as vice president, to oversee and coordinate the work of the committees.
Facilities, Grounds and Transportation Committee – Joel Whiteko, chair; Dan Kovatch, Stacey Livengood, Justin Kosanko.
Athletics and Activities Committee -- Dan Kovatch, Chair; Kathy Forte, Rob Harhai, Michelle Callaway-Rodriguez.
Personnel Committee – Kathy Forte, Chair; Stacey Livengood, Michelle Callaway-Rodriguez, Dan Engstrom.
Curriculum, Technology and Arts Committee – Dan Engstrom, Chair; Kathy Forte, Rob Harhai, Justin Kosanko.
BVA Representative to Westmoreland Intermedite Unit – Michelle Callaway-Rodriguez
BVA Representative to Central Westmoreland Career and Technology Centre – Stacey Livengood.
COLA (Legislative Liaison) Representative – Stacey Livengood.
Dec. 3, 2019 -- Congratulations are in order for our newest colleagues, Rob Harhai and Justin Kosanko. Last night, they were sworn into office, becoming part of a hard-working, decision-making team responsible not only for the education of our young people but also for actions that will impact the future of Belle Vernon Area School District and its five component municipalities.
It is noteworthy that three other board members have been here less than the one year but have proven themselves worthy of appointment to board vacancies earlier this year: Dan Engstrom, Dan Kovatch and Stacey Livengood.
Congratulations are extended to them as well for having been duly elected to full terms of office, along with incumbent Joel Whiteko, now second in seniority on this board of “newbies,” compared to me.
We are fortunate to have such public stewards, along with Michelle Callaway-Rodriguez and Kathy Forte, who put the best interests of students, staff and community at the top of their agendas.
Major challenges await this new, proactive and determined board, including resolving labor contracts with our unionized employees, finding ways to fund needed maintenance and facility upgrades, reckoning with fragile operating budgets, improving academics, the arts, activities and athletics and, lastly, gaining public support.
This board has already been instrumental in making major changes by resetting the administration, finances and overall operations to continue the mission of creating “A Better BVA.”
Besides five new faces on the board, here’s a partial list of what else is new:
Superintendent, business manager, bond counsel, high school principal, assistant high school principal, Marion elementary principal, Marion assistant principal, school psychologist, coordinator of student services, cafeteria manager, school resource officers, security measures, five-year strategic plan, state performance and board leadership.
I believe I speak for many, and that I can say with confidence: It’s A New Day at BVA!