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Special Palisades committee recommends benchmark for enrollment status


Concluding its latest response to concerns about resource allocation in the face of declining enrollment, a special Palisades School District committee has recommended leaving the status of the present five schools as is, with the matter to be revisited should the total enrollment of its three elementary schools fall to 50 percent of capacity.

The recommendation was one of several made in the final report from the Ad Hoc Resource Allocation Committee, which presented it at the district’s Jan. 18 public board meeting.

Based on current projections from the Pennsylvania Dept. of Education, the district would fall to 51 percent of capacity by the 2031-2032 school year. Leaving the five schools as is, and basically including their staffing, was also the recommendation of a similar district committee convened in 2016-2017.

Comparing enrollment to capacity reflects student-teacher, student-administrator, and student-support staff ratios, that have been linked to educational quality (“the-lower-the-better”), by a variety of parents and officials during the last decade, as the enrollment decline became more evident.

Last September, the committee noted comparisons to 12 other school districts in Bucks County, regarding student-teacher ratio, where Palisades was lowest; and student-to-administrator ratio, where it was next to lowest. Regarding student-to-support staff ratio, excluding bus drivers, and with four of those districts partially or fully outsourcing food service, Palisades was again ranked lowest in the county.

As one of its recommendations to address the enrollment decline, the committee called on the district to “remain open to discussions with contiguous municipalities if they are interested in joining Palisades School District.” The district added Riegelsville about 10 years ago. While noting the district couldn’t solicit more joiners, Haycock Township was mentioned during discussion as an example of another contiguous municipality.

Among other recommendations, the committee called for “increasing communication with local (district) municipalities regarding the board’s desire for (additional) attainable housing in the district,” and continuing to “bring back students from charter schools,” an effort that was noted during the Jan. 18 presentation as having had some recent success.

During the resource use discussion last September, Superintendent Dr. Bridget O’Connell noted that the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s projection for current kindergarten enrollment in the district had been exceeded by 17 percent.

During the Jan. 18 discussion, human resources were noted as the largest among district resources, as reflected in the annual budget.

The new, three-year, collectively bargained agreement, ratified by the school board and the Palisades Education Association (PEA) Dec. 21, calls for teachers to work 193 days annually, including not only instructional days, but also professional development, conferences, back to school night, and participation in one other evening or weekend district activity.

Average salaries for teachers, and others among 142 professional staff positions, are to increase between 2.7 percent and 2.9 percent for each year of the 2023-2025 contract. Employee health care contributions will increase by 1 percent, to a total of 21 percent, on the highest level plan offered. By the end of the contract, employees on the second highest plan will increase their contribution from 13 percent to 17 percent. Tuition reimbursement will be suspended for the 2023-2024 school year.

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