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Vocational students address A.H. board

CLARKS SUMMIT- The students of Abington Heights High School who participate in the cosmetology program at Empire Beauty School explained to the school board they were not going to let their program be taken away without a fight.

The 16 students currently enrolled in the program were in attendance during the board’s monthly work session, held March 6.

The program is one of several cuts the district may make in the 2011-12 school year. The girls urged the board not to eliminate the program.

"We lose very few students at Abington Heights," said Abington Heights High School vocational counselor Lynne Spangenberg in regard to the school’s 99 percent graduation rate. "I believe we have kept many students in school, and kept students graduating, because we offer alternatives."

Current students, parents, a teacher from Empire Beauty School, Lori Karwoski, and graduates of the program echoed Spangenberg’s sentiments. They all spoke before the board Wednesday.

"Empire was a gift to us," said Abington Heights graduate Jessica Mirabelli, who participated in the program.

"Taking it away would be tragic. I seriously believe if it wasn’t for Empire Beauty School I would have dropped out of high school, and would be working at some minimum wage job. I don’t know where I would be without it."

Because of the program, Mirabelli was able to get a job at Lana’s in Scranton.

"I love my job more than anything, and it’s not just a job, it’s a career. It’s the best thing that happened to me in my life so far," said Mirabelli.

Members of the board said they understood the program’s value, but the decision to cut it is purely financial.

"What’s cutting these programs is that people have stopped sending us money," said Superintendent Michael Mahon. "We are getting, from the state of Pennsylvania, over 10 percent less money than we got last year."

The board approved a preliminary budget earlier this year that included a 1.4 percent tax increase, and the elimination of nine teaching positions, but it assumed there would be no change in state funding.

Governor Tom Corbett’s recent proposed budget calls for a decrease in state education funding. As a result, the board has been forced to look at a number of additional cuts.

In addition to the program at Empire, the board will also be looking at the list of retiring teachers, which includes Latin, art, science, reading and special education, four elementary, two computer and two librarians.

The board will be reviewing the positions, and possibly only filling the vacant art position for the 2011-12 school year.

Those in attendance said they understood the tough economic times the district is facing, but asked if there was any way the students currently enrolled in the program could be allowed to finish.

They offered to help the district find ways to alleviate some of the cost as well as suggestions for making the program more cost effective, including hosting fundraisers and finding alternative modes of transportation so the district would not have to provide it.

Currently the district is paying $5,200 for first-year students, $4,200 for second and third-year students and $35,000 in transportation.

Mahon said he would check with the district’s insurance provider to make sure there are no issues with the students providing their own transportation, and then discuss the matter with the board.

If the district can eliminate the transportation, the cost of the program would drop from $85,400 to $50,400 for the 2011-12 school year, and from $56,000 to $21,000 for the 2012-13 school year.

In other business, Mahon announced new lockers would be installed in the high school this summer.

The board approved and accepted a bid of $98,780 from Upright Material Handling for the purchase and installation of the lockers in July of 2010.

The district was uncomfortable beginning the project while the students were in school, and delayed it until this summer.

Board member Ken Heron suggested the old lockers be made available for purchase by the community. Mahon said he would consider it.

And, the board approved the reasons for denial and descriptions of deficiencies in the application of the proposed Howard Gardner School for Discovery Center. The board rejected a charter application submitted by the Howard Gardner School for Discovery during its monthly work session March 2."Essentially this is the legal basis as to why we feel this charter should be denied," said Mahon.

The board will meet April 20 Abington Heights Administration Building, Grove Street, Clarks Summit.