Lehigh Valley

East Penn picks new superintendent: Dr. J. Michael Schilder

Board also picked a new bus company.

EMMAUS, Pa. - East Penn School District will begin the 2014-15 school year with a new superintendent and a new school bus company.

On Monday night the school board unanimously approved hiring Dr. J. Michael Schilder as its new superintendent.

Schilder retired in August 2013 after seven years as superintendent of the Bridgewater-Raritan School District in Bridgewater, N.J.

In an 8-1 vote, the board also selected a new company to provide its transportation services -- STA of Pennsylvania, Inc.

Schilder's appointment was made with no comments from the school board or public before the 9-0 vote.

But a representative of First Student, the company that now provides bus transportation to East Penn students, unsuccessfully appealed to the board to stick with his company.

"First Student was very disappointed to learn that, after 45 years of serving the East Penn School District, the administration is recommending the award of its transportation services to Student Transportation of Pennsylvania," said Randy Williams, area general manager of First Student.

"Even more disappointing is there is no economic advantage to do so. We believe STP's costs, over the life of the five-year term, are higher than First Student's."

Williams said Lynn Glancy, East Penn's operations director, rebuffed attempts by First Student representatives to meet with him to analyze and reconcile any cost differences.

"As a 45-year incumbent vendor, we would have hoped that the entire process would have been more transparent," Williams told the school board. "Our economic proposal and experience in the district are superior to STP's and make us the right choice to provide your transportation services.

"We are asking you, and the administration, to reconsider its recommendation and award to First Student."

While Williams presented the board with what he considered several advantages of East Penn sticking with First Student, no one from the administration or school board responded to his appeal during the meeting.

The 60-year-old Schilder will become East Penn's superintendent on July 1.

After the vote, Schilder shook hands with each board member and district administrator at the meeting, then said: "I would like to thank the board publicly for your faith in me."

He said he's impressed by the enthusiasm of everyone he has met in the school district. "That made me want to come here. I'm very excited. I can't wait until July 1."

Schilder said his goal will be maintaining the district's quality "and improving where we need to."

He will start out only as acting superintendent, at an annual salary of $165,000, because his state superintendent's certificate is "inactive.'

He will have until the end of the 2014-15 school year to obtain an active superintendent's certificate from the state Department of Education. If he does, he officially will become superintendent and his salary will jump to $168,500 a year.

But if Schilder fails to obtain that certificate by June 2015, the school board immediately and automatically will terminate his employment.

After the meeting, Schilder said he hopes it will take him less than a year to get that certification. "The sooner the better." He said he needs six credits or 180 hours. He plans to take as many on-line courses as he can, so he doesn't take time away from the superintendent job.

Schilder was one of two finalists

After the meeting, school board president Alan Earnshaw would not reveal how many candidates were considered to become the next superintendent, except to say Schilder was one of two finalists.

Earnshaw is convinced Schilder is the best because he has the experience, credentials, knowledge and passion "to lead our district going forward."

Schilder described his leadership style as candid and common sense. "I try to be as transparent as I can and I try to answer questions directly. If I don't know the answer, I'll simply say 'I don't know the answer, I'll look into it and get back to you as soon as I can'."

Schilder said financial issues are the most immediate challenge he will face as East Penn's next superintendent. He said another will be the potential for increasing enrollment with talk of more residential developments springing up in the district. A third challenge will be dealing with all the state mandates, "such as more and more testing."

Schilder will replace Dr. Thomas Seidenberger, who is retiring as East Penn's superintendent at the end of June.

Seidenberger also came to East Penn from a New Jersey school district.

He was superintendent of Brick Township School District in Ocean County, N.J., when hired by East Penn's school board in June 2007.

Schilder's last district, Bridgewater-Raritan, had about 9,000 students, making it slightly larger than East Penn, which has just under 8,000.

Schilder also was superintendent for eight years at Clinton Public School, a one-school district in Clinton, N.J.

He has never been superintendent in a Pennsylvania school district.

He began his career as a fifth grade elementary teacher in Central Bucks School District in Doylestown, where he later became an acting assistant principal and a guidance counselor.

Schilder intends to remain a resident of Milford, N.J., which he said is a 40-45 minute commute via Interstate 78 from East Penn's administrative offices in Emmaus.

He's married with two grown children. His wife is a school nurse in Flemington-Raritan School District in Flemington, N.J.

Schilder was born in Philadelphia and raised in Newtown, Bucks County.

Earnshaw said East Penn looks forward to Schilder's leadership, Then, referring to Seidenberger, Earnshaw said: "We don't discount the leadership we have today, which has been beyond outstanding."

Seidenberger told Schilder: "You are indeed a lucky person to be coming to this district."

STA wins over First Student

Three school bus companies responded to East Penn's request for proposals to provide transportation services from July 1 through June 30, 2019.

No financial figures were released regarding the board's decision to go with STA.

After the meeting, Earnshaw said it's a very complicated formula that includes many factors. He said one example is that STA buses hold more students - 77 compared to 72 in First Student buses - "so we can reduce the number of buses on the road. That reduces not only the cost of the buses but also the fuel costs."

Atty. Marc Fisher, the school board's solicitor, explained the school board was accepting one of the proposals received. He said the board will not approve an actual contract, which will be prepared and signed by the district and STA.

"We haven't negotiated the contract yet," said Glancy.

After the meeting, Fisher and Earnshaw said STA had what the school board considered the best overall proposal. "It was the whole package," said Earnshaw.

Board member Lynn Donches, who cast the sole negative vote, said the STA agreement should be for only two years, with an option to extend it, rather than five years.

STA is headquartered in Wall Township, N.J.

Representatives of STA of Pennsylvania were at the meeting, but did not address the school board.

STA will hire First Student employees

After the meeting, Timothy Krise, vice president of STA, said his company will hire employees locally when it sets up operations to serve East Penn. He said about 130 people will be hired, including drivers, maintenance staff, dispatchers, safety personnel and a terminal manager.

Krise said all current First Student employees now serving East Penn will have a chance to work for STA.

"Everybody will be interviewed that wants to be interviewed," he said, "and they will have first consideration before we bring in new employees. They know the routes and I'm sure they're good, safe drivers. Why wouldn't we take them?"

Krise said new credential checks and clearances will be run on those potential employees.

He said 120 buses, mini-buses and vans now serve the school district, not including spares.

"We offer new propane buses," said Krise. He confirmed STA's buses are bigger and all are equipped with GPS and digital surveillance systems.

"Every bus will have three cameras," he said, adding two will face the interior and a third will show the front view. He said that camera will show vehicles that don't stop for a bus when it is loading and unloading students.

The nearest school district served by STA is in Bangor, Northampton County. It also serves Perkiomen Valley School District in Montgomery County and Bristol Township in lower Bucks County.

Williams of First Student told the school board when STA started in Bristol Township this year, it cut drivers' wages $3.50 to $4.50 per hour and eliminated paid days off.

The third bus company that submitted a proposal to serve East Penn students was Krapf, according to STA reps at the board meeting.

Eyer teacher honored

Susan Bauer, who teaches science and math at Eyer Middle School, was honored by the school board for receiving the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching.

Seidenberger called it the nation's highest honor for science and math teachers.

Proclamations and letters of praise were presented to Bauer from the district, as well as from State Senator Lisa Boscola, U.S. Senators Robert Casey and Pat Toomey and U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent.

Bauer told the board receiving the award "fuels my dedication to develop unique and interesting opportunities for students to actively engage in learning science."

She received the award in Washington D.C.

"Meeting the President of the United States, and to have him thank me for my work in the field of education, was quite a surreal experience," she told the school board. She described that experience as "epic."

Earnshaw said Bauer taught his own children and "they benefited tremendously from her energy in the classroom, from her enthusiasm for her subject and from her clarity of instruction."

Interesting facts

Several interesting facts were shared during the board meeting.

In talking about future revenue coming to the school district, Seidenberger indicated each of the one-million square-foot warehouses planned in Lower Macungie Township will generate $667,000 more in property taxes to East Penn when completed.

"That's good news for you," Seidenberger told Schilder. "That's my gift."

"I'll take it," replied Schilder.

Seidenberger complained about huge cost increases for cyber and charter schools.

He said it costs $4,200 to educate one student in East Penn, but the district has to pay $9,100 per student for those attending charter or cyber schools.

"That is a net effect of $478,000 that our taxpayers are paying," said Seidenberger. "And I don't believe any of those programs match ours."

In a report to the school board, Dr. Thomas Mirabella, East Penn's director of student services, said East Penn has 30 homeless students this year, up from 22 in the last school year. He said they are students who lack a "fixed or regular night-time residence."

Mirabella told the board the district's Student Assistance Program is a multi-faceted program developed in response to increased substance abuse by students in the district. He said the program's goal is to keep students in school and ensure their academic success.

In response to a question from board member Ziad Munson, Mirabella estimated 100 to 200 East Penn middle school students are served by that program, adding an equal number of Emmaus High School students also are in the Student Assistance Program. He indicated no elementary students usually are in the program.

Dr. Linda Pekarik, director of special education, told the school board that East Penn's new comprehensive special education plan was posted on the district's website on March 10. She said the public can review and comment on that plan on the website until April 7, although the plan may remain posted on the site longer.

Pekarik explained the state requires such a plan to be developed every three years.

A detailed presentation on East Penn's special education program was made during the board meeting.

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