RIMERSBURG – Clarion High School principal John Kimmel was hired last week as superintendent of the Union School District, effective July 1.
He started his teaching career at Union, and now will return after a number of years to serve as the district’s new superintendent.
“It’s like coming full circle,” he said after learning he was hired unanimously by Union’s school board at their April 10 meeting.
“It’s definitely exciting for me — a new adventure,” Kimmel said.
After voting 5-4 in January not to renew the contract of current superintendent Jean McCleary, the Union School board voted 8-0 last week to hire Kimmel to a three-year contract.
While the school board took the action last week without any comments, board president Terry Rush later said that the board interviewed several great candidates and tried to choose someone who will be a good fit at Union and in the community.
“He understands this area, he understands the students,” Rush said of Kimmel. “I believe we made a very wise choice.”
The board president described Kimmel as “very intelligent and knowledgeable” as well as “transparent and willing to learn,” and said he has built up a good network of resources during his tenure at Clarion and Jeff Tech.
Rush said that while any new superintendent will have a lot to learn when he or she begins a new job, he expects Kimmel to be up to the challenge.
As far as the contract, Rush said the board agreed with Kimmel on a three-year pact but is still working out the other details before they can be made public.
Rush said the unanimous vote to hire Kimmel was also an important gesture from the board.
“It shows a unity there to get behind the person,” he said.
Kimmel said his family moved to the Clarion area when he was two years old, and he attended Clarion schools through his graduation in 1997. He then went on to Clarion University, graduating in 2002 with his teaching degree.
During his time at Clarion University, Kimmel did his student teaching at Union. After moving to Maryland to teach for a period, he returned to teach science at Union from 2004 to 2008.
“I’ve always had a fondness in my heart for Union,” he said. “It’s a great community.”
After his time at Union, Kimmel worked as principal of the Jeff Tech vocational school in Jefferson County for six years, and was hired as Clarion High School’s principal in March 2014, a position he has served the past five years.
Kimmel earned his master’s degree in 2007 from Scranton University, and his superintendent letter in 2013 from Gannon University. He is currently working toward his doctorate at Gannon.
While he still has a job to do at Clarion and doesn’t officially begin at Union until July, Kimmel said he plans to use some of his days off to visit the Union schools and get acclimated as much as he can with the staff and students.
“You need to know where you are,” he said of the importance of learning the lay of the land.
Kimmel said that as Union’s superintendent, he plans to get involved in the community. He also said one of his first priorities will be to review as much as possible so that areas for change can be identified. He noted, however, that his approach to change is that it needs to be slow and deliberate, and should only be made when there is a real purpose for change.
In looking forward, Kimmel said that as superintendent, it will be important to show staff and students that they are a valued part of the district, and that he wants to promote a culture in which everyone feels welcome as part of the Union family.
“My goal right now is to exit Clarion as positively as I can, and enter Union in the right way,” he said.
Kimmel resides in Hawthorn with his wife, Amber, and two children, ages 13 and four.
RIMERSBURG – During a school board meeting that ended with many actions begin denied or tabled due to cost concerns, one Union School Board official spoke out about what he sees as a budget crisis headed for the local district if changes aren’t soon made.
While moving through the agenda of the April 10 school board meeting, member Steve Wiencek time and again questioned proposed expenses, asked that items be tabled until more information could be provided, and voted against a number of items that would cost the district money.
At the start of the agenda, Wiencek asked the board to table approval of the district’s 2019-2020 general and art supply purchase with Kurtz Bros. in the amount of $12,674, which was more than $2,000 less than this year’s cost. He noted that the amount needs to be cut in half.
He also then convinced the board to table a motion to renew the district’s membership in the Pennsylvania School Board Association at a cost of just over $5,000.
“They don’t need that money,” Wiencek said.
The cost concerns continued into the personnel section of the agenda, with the board barely approving the positions of musical director and assistant director for the new school year. Wiencek, Jeff Shirey and Jeff Kriebel voted against hiring David Gibson as musical director at a salary of $2,068, as well as Cindy Culp as assistant director at a rate of $1,247. The motions squeaked through by a 4-3 vote, with members Terry Rush, Brade Guntrum, Mark Rummel and Melissa Ford voting in favor.
A motion to approve 15 extra paid days at the end of the school year for Union High School guidance counselor Judy Rupp to work on scheduling and other duties, failed 3-4 with Wiencek, Shirey, Kribel and Guntrum voting in opposition. A request for five extra days in the summer for school nurse Jacob Kosker was reduced to just one day.
The board also rejected two staff conference requests — one costing $70 and the other $60 — by a vote of 1-6.
While all student trips and sports-related hirings were unanimously approved, one final sticking point was a motion to provide transportation for the district’s annual Summer Academy program for elementary school students. Noting that he is not opposed to the program, Wiencek asked to table the matter until it could be determined if a van could be used at times rather than a more costly school bus.
So why all the fuss over district expenses? Wiencek, a longtime school business manager who was appointed to the board late last year, was asked to give a rundown about his review of Union’s financial situation.
“Our budget is out of balance by $1.6 million,” he said, noting that the imbalance isn’t due to construction costs or one-time expenses, but rather reoccurring costs that will continue to chip away at the district’s reserve funds until they are soon depleted.
At the end of the 2017-2018 school year, the district had a fund balance of roughly $2.6 million that is unassigned to any particular expenses. Wiencek said that $460,000 was used last year from that fund to balance the budget, and if the district needs $1.6 million to balance the current budget, only $1 million will remain.
He did note that the district has historically inflated its spending in its budgets, and that it typically does not need to dip into the reserve fund as much as it predicts at the start of each year. However, he said, this practice has also cost the district thousands of dollars over the years because the school’s fees that it pays for students to enroll in outside cyber schools is based on the budget expenses.
The budget is inflated 6 to 10 percent each year, Wiencek explained, and because of that, the district is paying 6 to 10 percent more than it should be for cyber school tuition.
Without using the reserve fund, Wiencek said the district has two ways to balance the budget: raise revenues and cut costs. Even if Union raises property taxes to the maximum this year, he said that would only generate an additional $51,000.
“You have to increase revenue somewhere or you have to make cuts somewhere else,” he said.
In looking at cost cutting, Wiencek questioned why Union is operating three school buildings when student population is half of what it once was.
“That needs to be in serious consideration here,” he said of the idea of closing one of the schools.
Wiencek said that about 70 percent of the district’s budget goes toward staff salaries, benefits and retirement expenses, and that the amount will continue to grow each year.
He called on the administration to look into staffing cuts that can be made.
“The class sizes we have are unheard of in similar districts,” he said, noting that even with small class sizes, Union’s test scores still are poor compared to other schools in the area. “It appears that what we have been doing isn’t working.”
“We’re on the heavy side of employees,” he said, noting the need for the board to look closely at all hirings.
Wiencek said one budget saver will come with utilizing a fund balance that had been set aside a number of years ago when the district added the second gymnasium. While it has not been tapped to pay off that debt, he said the board plans to use about $325,000 each year from that reserve account until the debt is paid off.
“That will help, but even so, that’s not enough,” he said.
“There are things that can be done,” Wiencek concluded. “And the message is, they have to be done.”
He urged the board to hold a special meeting to go over the budget. A meeting has been called for April 25 at 6 p.m.
“I’d like to go over every line [of the budget],” Wiencek said.
• To fill the board vacancy created by last month’s resignation of Mike Graham, the board unanimously appointed Brenda Brinker to finish out the term, which expires in November. Brinker is also a candidate on this year’s ballot for one of the school board positions.
• Scott Kindel was hired as the summer behind-the-wheel driver education instructor at a rate of $25 per hour.
• The board approved the resignation of speech-language pathologist Danielle Taylor, effective at the end of the school year, and agreed to advertise the opening.
• The following sport-related contracts were approved: Allyson Kepple, head girls varsity basketball coach, $2,940; Lacey Magagnotti, assistant girls varsity basketball coach, $2,160; and Brent Saylor, head varsity boys basketball coach, $2,800.
• Dr. Leonard and Associates was appointed to conduct sports physicals for the 2019-2020 school year at a rate of $8 per student. Physicals will be held from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on June 11 at the high school.
CLARION TWP. – A combination of larger farm machinery and many drivers who are distracted by texting promoted a group of local farmers and law enforcement officers to gather Monday to urge motorists to slow down and be aware of slow moving farm vehicles.
The Clarion-Venango-Forest County Farm Bureau held a press conference at the Robert Burns Farm in Clarion Township on April 15 for the start of Rural Roads Safety Week.
“We’re trying to bring attention to the public of just how dangerous it is,” farm bureau member Bud Wills said of this time of year when many local farmers are using public roadways to move equipment to and from their fields. He explained that a large piece of farm machinery may only be able to travel at 15 miles per hour, which means that a car going 55 mph will catch up to it in only seconds.
“Our equipment is big, but it’s slow,” he added.
Wills highlighted two bills moving through the state Legislature that, if passed, will be beneficial to farmers, but will impact public roadways. Senate Bill 738, he said, would increase the width of farm vehicles that can use the public roads from 16 feet to 18 feet. House Bill 413 would make it easier for farmers to transport larger equipment on public roads by allowing farmers to get one permit for the entire year, rather than a new permit each time they move equipment.
Those at the press conference noted that many small farms in the Clarion County area often farm various properties, sometimes miles apart.
Farmers now farm land all over, Wills said, noting that there is an even greater need to move equipment from one piece of land to another. And many small farms cannot afford newer equipment that folds up to take up less space on public roads.
Wills noted that in 2017 in Pennsylvania, there were 106 crashes involving farm machinery, with five fatalities.
“That’s five too many,” he said.
Robbie Burns, whose farm along Waterson Road hosted the event on Monday, said he’s noticed an increase over the years in the number of drivers distracted by their cell phones, especially young women.
“They don’t slow down,” he said. “They’re right on top of you.”
State Police Trooper Jonathan Miles agreed, saying that too many drivers today are looking at their phones instead of the roads.
“Nobody’s paying attention,” he said.
Redbank Valley farmer Nelson Smith also said he’s seen the problem grow, with drivers always in a hurry to get where they are going. He said he farms various properties in a 12-mile stretch and uses state and township roads to move farm equipment. He explained that with the volatile weather in the area, farmers only have a small window to take care of crops, such as hay.
“You’ve got to be cautious on the road,” he said.
Burns noted that his farm tries to move its largest equipment at night when there is less traffic, especially on township roads which are typically more narrow than state roads.
Wills noted that with today’s large farm machinery, many pieces of equipment will stretch from one edge of the road to the other on narrow township roads.
Those at the press conference also brought up issues related to the local Amish population which utilizes horse and buggies for road transportation.
“They don’t hold up well in a crash,” Wills said of the wooden buggies, which are often carrying multiple people, including children.
The Farm Bureau asks that motorists familiarize themselves with the reflective orange triangle that is used for slow moving vehicles, and to slow down immediately when they see that symbol. The bureau also asks drivers to be patient with farmers, and to pass with caution and only in safe areas. They also reminded drivers that the operator of the farm equipment often cannot see the traffic behind them, and that due to the noise of the equipment, they also cannot hear other vehicles.
For more information about Rural Roads Safety, visit www.pfb.com/ruralroadsafety.
NEW BETHLEHEM – What happens when you mix together a bright May morning, several young anglers with a collection of fishing gear and members of area law enforcement? You get the perfect recipe for New Bethlehem Police Department’s first annual “Cops and Bobbers” Fishing Derby.
On Saturday, May 11, area children of all ages are invited to New Bethlehem’s Gumtown Park to drop a line in the Red Bank Creek with members of the New Bethlehem Police Department and other local law enforcement agencies for a fun-filled day of free fishing, food and prizes.
“We hope this event will help kids see us as something other than cops writing citations or arresting people,” New Bethlehem Police Chief Robert Malnofsky Jr. said Tuesday of why he decided to organize a community-wide fishing derby in New Bethlehem. “We want to show them that we are just like them, but at the same time are tasked with enforcing the law.”
According to Malnofsky, “Cops and Bobbers” is a trademarked program offered by the Cops and Kids Foundation of Wisconsin, a non-profit organization which strives to promote collaborative partnerships between law enforcement officials and the community they serve.
“I had done other programs at my previous department and thought it would be a good idea to try something similar here,” Malnofsky said, noting that a fishing derby seemed like the perfect event given New Bethlehem’s proximity to Red Bank Creek.
“I grew up outside,” he continued, explaining that he believes children in today’s technology-centered society are losing the sense of adventure that once existed. “There’s a wealth of opportunity here for all kinds of outdoor activities. I want to show kids that there is a whole world outside their door.”
As part of the “Cops and Bobbers” fishing derby, Malnofsky said officers from the New Bethlehem Police Department as well as officials from several other area law enforcement agencies — including the state Game Commission and Fish and Boat Commission, Clarion County Sheriff’s Department, Clarion State Police and Jefferson County Probation, which will have its police dog for a meet and greet — will be on hand all day to help young anglers bait, cast, hook and release fish beginning at 9 a.m. on May 11.
“We opened it up to all branches of law enforcement in our area,” he said, noting that invitations were also sent to the Manor Township Police Department, Brookville and Clarion borough police departments, and the Jefferson County Army National Guard as well as the local magistrate and the Clarion County District Attorney’s Office.
Fishing derby participants will be divided into age groups, and several prizes will be awarded to children in each group up to age 17. Children will need their own fishing poles, bait and tackle (although a few loaner poles and bait may be available), and children over 15 years old must have a fishing license. Event organizers will stock the creek with fish just prior to the start of the fishing derby.
A hotdog lunch will be provided at 11:30 a.m. Boy Scout Troop 403 will also be selling snacks as a fundraiser.
Malnofsky said fishing derby participants must pre-register before April 30 and be accompanied by an adult. Registration forms are available at the New Bethlehem Police Department, Sport Shack in East Brady and online at www.newbethlehemboro.com/police.
“There’s no ending time set [for the derby],” Malnofsky noted.
Although plans for the fishing derby are coming together, Malnofsky said the police department is in need of monetary donations to buy fish to stock the creek and food for the event.
“Fish are expensive,” Malnofsky said, explaining that good-sized trout cost at least $4.50 a piece. “I want to be able to get nice-sized fish to make the derby memorable for the kids.”
In addition, Malnofsky said that fishing equipment donations for prizes are also being accepted.
Cash donations can be dropped off at A-Plus Mini Mart in New Bethlehem; Northwest Savings Bank in New Bethlehem and Rimersburg; the New Bethlehem Presbyterian Church (P.O. Box 214, New Bethlehem, PA 16242); Sport Shack in East Brady; and the New Bethlehem Police Department.
Rods and reels for prizes can be dropped off at the New Bethlehem Police Department or J&K Service Center in East Brady.
“We need the public’s support,” Malnofsky said, noting that he hopes to build on the fishing derby in the future and even offer different events throughout the year. “I hope to implement a lot of programs, but we need help from the community.”
In fact, Malnofsky said he hopes the fishing derby and other events will help strengthen the relationship between the local police department and the communities it serves.
“We need the public in order to be a good police department,” he said, explaining that local police rely on the eyes and ears of residents to help report incidents. “If we don’t get support we won’t be a good police department. We’re only as good as our community.”
EAST BRADY – Among the events planned to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the incorporation of East Brady Borough, council officials recently announced that the milestone anniversary will be commemorated with a special ornament.
According to East Brady Borough secretary Susan Buechele, the ornament, created by Wendell August Forge of Grove City, is a repeat ornament that was first introduced to East Brady residents several years ago.
“We found an ornament from Wendell August with ‘the Bend’ on it from many years ago, and we thought it would be nice to see if we could get them made to commemorate our 150th anniversary,” Buechele explained last week.
The front side of commemorative ornament features an image of the bend in the Allegheny River, Buechele said, while the back carries the phrase “East Brady Borough Est. 1869.”
“They make high quality merchandise,” she noted of Wendell August. “We also liked the fact that they are somewhat local and certainly made in the USA.”
“It’s something that’s long-lasting,” borough council president Barb Mortimer added of the metal ornament. She said the piece serves as a great reminder of East Brady — especially for those who have moved away but still have a fondness for the town. “It’s a great way to keep East Brady close.”
Ornaments can be purchased in the East Brady Borough Office in the community center, and they will also be available at the East Brady Area Development Corporation’s Chicken BBQ on Saturday, May 25.
The cost is $15 per ornament, and Buechele noted that proceeds from the sale will go toward the revitalization of the community center.
“We continue to make repairs to the roof and other parts of the building, and this will help in that effort,” she said.
After weeks of solemn reflection during Lent, the joyous celebration of Easter is finally at hand.
The Christian faithful will rejoice in the resurrection of Christ the Lord this Sunday, April 21.
We wish everyone a very blessed and happy Easter.
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As the holiday nears, one of the area’s great traditions — the annual New Bethlehem Easter Egg Hunt — will return this Saturday, April 20, to Gumtown Park.
Youngsters are welcome to take part in this free event, hosted each year by the New Bethlehem Lions Club. The hunt begins promptly at 10 a.m., so be sure not to be late as the kids move at lightning speed to collect all the eggs in a matter of seconds.
Participants will be divided into the following age groups: toddler and preschool, first and second grades, and third and fourth grades.
Be sure to check back with The L-V next week for photos from the event.
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Monday, April 22, is Earth Day, and what better way to pay tribute to Mother Nature than to take care of one of her most important creatures: the honey bee.
Local beekeeper Dan Lynch reminds everyone that if they see a bee swarm, or find bees at work on building a hive in their home or garage, do not spray the bees to kill them.
Instead, make a quick call to Lynch at (724) 545-6720 or another area beekeeper so that they can come and remove the bees safely and relocate them to a proper apiary where they can continue to pollinate our local farm crops, flowers and more.
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If you’re itching to get out and enjoy the springtime weather, we have just the thing for you.
Next week’s issue of The Leader-Vindicator will include our annual Trail Guide — a special section featuring articles, maps and photos about our local trails, including the Redbank Valley Trail, Armstrong Trail, Rail 66 Country Trail, the Allegheny River Trail in the Foxburg area, and new this year, the Mahoning Shadow Trail in Punxsutawney.
Be sure to pick up your copy of The L-V next week for this great resource.
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With the deadline to register to vote for the May 21 municipal primary fast approaching on April 22, state officials are reminding Pennsylvanians the Online Voter Registration (OVR) is the quickest and easiest way to register.
On May 21, voters who are registered as Republican or Democrat will choose their parties’ nominees for judicial and local government positions.
In addition, all registered voters in the 41st Senatorial District, which includes Armstrong, Butler, Indiana and Westmoreland counties, will cast votes in a special election for the state Senate seat.
Voters are encouraged to use the state’s OVR site, whether they are registering for the first time or updating an existing registration with a change of name, address or party affiliation.
Even applicants who do not have a driver’s license or PennDOT ID card may complete their registration online, thanks to a feature that allows users to easily upload a digital copy of their signature.
Eligible voters also can register by mail or apply in person at a county voter registration office; county assistance offices; Women, Infants & Children (WIC) program offices; PennDOT photo and drivers’ license centers; Armed Forces recruitment centers; county clerk of orphans’ courts or marriage license offices; area agencies on aging; county mental health and intellectual disabilities offices; student disability services offices of the State System of Higher Education; offices of special education in high schools; and Americans with Disabilities Act-mandated complementary paratransit providers.
Applications for new registration, change of address or change in party affiliation must be postmarked or received in county voter registration offices by April 22.
For more information on voter registration, call the Department of State’s toll-free hotline at 1-877-VOTESPA (1-877-868-3772) or visit votesPA.com.