Crestwood

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superintendent and, in April, hired Joseph Gorham, who had been superintendent of Carbondale Area. Gorham was one of 23 applicants.

Energetic and enthusiastic, Gorham spoke highly of Crestwood after being hired, saying, “I want to let the people in the community know the excellence that is here under these roofs. It’s the sleeping giant and it deserves to be in the spotlight of excellence.”

As the school year began, Gorham initiated an early literacy problem, in the hopes of increasing the reading and phonics skills of children entering kindergarten. The first step in his plan, the implementation of an online program called “Teach me to learn at home,” happened in November with a parent and child workshop held at Fairview Elementary.

Step two involves professional development, that is, advising teachers how to better educate students in reading. The goal is that kindergarten teachers are trained in this area this year, then first and second grade teachers in year two, and third grade teachers in year three. The final step will be inviting pre-K providers and daycare workers to the elementary schools to collaborate with educators.

At the end of the 2015-16 school year, discussion was had of eliminating the kindergarten program at Crestwood as a way of closing the gap on a $2 million budget deficit. Gorham stated then that, while the district didn’t want to remove kindergarten and other programs, finding ways to trim the budget was necessary and inevitable.

“No one wants to have these difficult conversations, but the district is in financial dire straits,” he said. “We’re dealing with children, families, and taxpayers that deserve the best education possible. But, when you go to the well and it’s dry, difficult decisions have to be made.”

The board did not eliminate kindergarten, but did choose a new transportation company as a way of cost savings. The move caused much controversy and, in the end, was repealed.

It all began in May, when the board hired accountant Kevin Foley and his newly-created Mountaintop Bus Company, creating a five-year contract in excess of $10 million. With the district’s transportation cost at roughly $2.6 million per year, the contract with the new company would have saved the district half a million dollars in total.

While Scott Henry, on behalf of Rinehimer Bus Co., the district’s transportation company for 40 years, submitted a RFP for the transportation contract, he asked for a 3-percent increase over the state’s reimbursement rate for the first three years of the contract and a 5-percent increase for the last two. Foley had asked for no increase. The cost savings and Foley’s promise of new buses is what caused the board to create the contract with Foley, rather than Henry, board members said.

When Foley was awarded the contract, Rinehimer drivers continuously vowed that they would remain loyal to their boss, Henry, and never work for Foley’s company.

At the Aug. 18 school board meeting, Foley admitted that, while he had a fleet of new buses, he only had 17 drivers. He needed a minimum of 25 and, to run the same bus routes that Rinehimer had for years, he needed 34. He stated he thought the Rinehimer drivers, being offered more money, would eventually agree to work for him.

A parade of frustrated parents spoke at that meeting, asking the board how the operation will be successful and what the district will do if it’s not. Board members didn’t give clear answers, only noting that a contingency plan was in place, and that they were confident in Foley and his operation. The vote was then unanimous to approve Foley’s bus runs –dramatically different than previous years, but never released to the media or public.

Then, on Aug. 25, just four days before the first day of school, the board held a special meeting where it terminated its contract with the Mountaintop Bus Company and Foley, and then entered into a five-year contract with Rinehimer Bus Lines. This move came because Foley could not get enough drivers to run a successful operation.

Rinehimer’s new contract, now in effect, gives Henry a 3-percent increase in the reimbursement rate over all five years, making it slightly less than what he originally asked for. Per the new contract, Henry will also provide some newer buses, 10 now, and about seven more by January of 2017. The new contract is costing the district roughly $60,000 more per year, which will come this year from the fund balance.