ALLENTOWN, Pa. - The Allentown School Board of Directors approved the district's mandatory new uniform policy effective for the 2013-2014 school year, but only after a contentious debate about cost during Thursday night's regular board meeting.
Packed and jammed school board meetings have become the norm as Thursday night's gathering spilled out into the foyer area where the evening's happenings were shown on a wide screen television.
The crowd was treated to yet another insinuation by a board director about a lack of transparency on the part of the administration.
The rift began when Director Julie Ambrose wanted assurances that the policy would not cost the district a dime.
Susan Lozada, director of Community and Student Services reiterated that the policy would not cost the district money.
Ambrose was not satisfied with the answer and continued to press the issue.
Superintendent C. Russell Mayo noted that he "believed that there would be no cost to the district."
As the conversation continued, Director Scott Armstrong noted that, with all due respect to his colleague, that she was asking for a "figure that is impossible to come up with."
To which Ambrose replied that since the school district is in precarious financial straits and looking at proposed budget that would lay off 144 teachers and feature cuts to the related arts, the district did not have the luxury of hoping things would turn out OK.
"We need to be able to calculate," she said at one point. "…To me it is ridiculous."
At least one other director agreed. Director Joanne Jackson motioned to table the policy. It failed.
Armstrong then began speaking about the merits of school uniforms. Many of the teachers who regularly attend board meetings to vent their displeasure at potentially being unemployed, began to raise their voices and talk over him. At this Armstrong replied.
"Let's have some decorum in here," he said.
He continued, and noted that anything to "improve the academic environment" in ASD, such as school uniforms would, in his estimation, be much needed.
At this Jackson chimed back into the fray, and said that she was initially in favor of the school uniform policy, but that many "hidden details" were emerging and as such, could not support the measure.
Ambrose then began a verbal spat with President Robert Smith. It was Smith who noted that Lozada had just told them the policy would not cost the district money.
Ambrose said that was not enough to take the administration's word for it, that it should be in writing.
After further discussion including a comment from Director Andrew Weiss who acknowledged "there is going to be a lot of pushback" on the policy, the board finally voted and the measure passed, 6-2, with Ambrose and Jackson dissenting.
The adoption of the policy was the culmination of months of discussion and adaptations. At its core, the policy is designed to "foster an equitable learning environment for all students and to promote a positive image of students," according to the stated policy purpose adopted Thursday night. A total of 10 program requirements were in the approved document.
Highlighting those requirements provide flexibility for seasonal clothing, working with donors to make sure all students will participate regardless of ability to pay, the maintenance of onsite uniform clothing banks, that clothes purchases would be made from multiple vendors, and that exceptions would be made for spirit-based activities or special events.
The uniforms feature polo shirts with khaki pants for boys, with the options of capris, jumpers and skirts for girls.
Following the conclusion of the second year, the administration will review the program.
In other business the board approved the Lehigh Carbon Community College budget, with Jackson dissenting and Ambrose abstaining.
The directors also approved the hiring of Christina Mazzella to a three-year contract as the district's executive director of human resources. The new administrator will receive a salary of $103,000 per year, with salary increases in years two and three not to exceed 3.9 percent.
Allentown, PA 18102