Mt. Laurel board of education welcomes community voices at Aug. meeting

District responds to parent, employee questions about school reopening

The Mt. Laurel School District Board of Education met virtually Aug. 25 for its last regular session before the pandemic-modified school year begins.

In his report, Superintendent Dr. George Rafferty announced the recent release of the district’s “A Path to Reopen 2020 Plan,” and thanked the many school and community individuals who developed the plan.

“I just want to tell everyone in our community how grateful we are for your support and understanding,” he said. “We appreciate you working with us in partnership with everything we have to do to get ready to reopen our schools.”

The superintendent also reminded parents and guardians that the district has released a narrated PowerPoint presentation to accompany its plan for the benefit of caregivers and faculty. In addition, the email address mtlreopen2020@mtlaurelschools.org is specifically for questions many families may have about the 2020-’21 school year, which begins Sept. 8.

Rafferty also asked that any households with outstanding Chromebooks return them to the schools as quickly as possible for inventory and repairs so each student has the technological tools for remote learning. The school will maintain its 1:1-student-to-Chromebook ratio for the upcoming school year.

With reopening on the horizon, Rafferty reported that the school district currently enrolls “just over 4,000 students.” He said a more accurate number will be available once classes have begun.

Assistant Superintendent for Business/Board Secretary Robert Wachter discussed several capital projects, including the nearly completed paving project. He anticipated the district’s solar project to be “almost 100-percent” operational by Aug. 31, with all eight schools to be outfitted with solar panels by the end of September.

Wachter emphasized the project’s proven and expected fiscal benefit, and recognized the effort that went into seeing the cost-saving measure through.

“From June 1, 2019, to May 31, 2020, we earned $178,000 in SRECs (Solar Renewable Energy Certificates) monies,” Wachter explained. “The board should be commended for the way this was funded: We did this strictly on our own. We did it through a capital lease … so that total income is the school district’s, not to mention how much money we’ll be saving on actual energy.”

Wachter also discussed how recent storms have proven the district needs augmented plans for major power outages and the conversations they had inspired among technology staff. While the schools have generators, the administration building needs a backup power source to facilitate services such as district buses.

Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Christina Fletcher read comments submitted by the district’s households, school employees and community members who wanted their voices heard during public comment.

One of those comments was a letter co-signed by Mt. Laurel Education Association (MLEA) President Doug Bozarth, Vice President Len Barker, Treasurer Chris Bowman and Secretary Emily Garcia, all of whom comprise the association’s executive committee.

The MLEA recognized the difficulties so many face with an all-virtual learning model, but emphasized that going fully remote would be “an opportunity to do what’s right … for our members, as well as the students of Mt. Laurel.”

“We … implore the Mt. Laurel leadership to temporarily hold the district’s plan to return to in-person teaching in September 2020,” the letter began. “At this time, the Mt. Laurel Education Association does not believe it is safe for our members to return to school.”

The letter stated that an MLEA survey of members revealed nearly 70 percent of them do not feel safe returning to school buildings at this time.

A number of parents also voiced their concerns about students in advanced math classes not receiving the instructional time accelerated learners need to stay motivated and challenged.

Rafferty and board President Diane Blair said the board will compile a list of questions asked and issues raised during public comment to address them in full.

Those interested in watching the 41-minute meeting can visit bit.ly/3hHSlCY.

The board’s next regular meeting will be Sept. 22. Visit mtlaurelschools.org for more information.