Allentown School District

ALLENTOWN, Pa. – The Allentown School District Board of Directors forwarded a request to borrow money for additional short-term cash during the Thursday night Finance Committee of the Whole meeting.

The district will decide later this month whether to acquire debt through a financial product known as a "tax revenue anticipation note," or TRAN, which the district maintains is "a financing tool to provide short-term cash flow relief."

In a memo from Harry Aristakesian, ASD's business manager, to Interim Superintendent Marilyn Martinez, due to "seasonal revenue cycle and the anticipated operating expenses of the district," the district wants to borrow money through the TRAN, which would provide ASD a lump sum of cash, on or around July 1.

ASD is seeking to borrow up to $26 million to cover its shortfall. The district is familiar with acquiring this type of debt. They've utilized the same financial vehicle each of the past three years to cover cash flow challenges. Last year, the district borrowed $30 million through a TRAN; the year previous, $25 million; and in 2018, $23 million. The district paid back the 2018 and 2019 borrowings.

"The upcoming school year brings a unique challenge to the district as additional expenses will be required to fund special initiatives to address learning loss and academic programs that will be implemented using general funds and subsequently being reimbursed using elementary and secondary school emergency relief funds," the district noted as the reason for the move.

"We take out a TRAN because we don't have a fund balance," said Director Charles Thiel.

"We need that little cushion to make it through," said Director Phoebe Harris. "...This is something we need and something that is necessary."

The district also received "a clean audit" for the school year closing out June 30, 2020. However, the district has a governmental activities net position deficit of $361 million, according to Deborah Bacon of Zelenkofske Axelrod LLC, the firm which performed the audit.

In addition, the district fund balance as of June 30, 2020, was $5.1 million. Four years previous, on June 30, 2016, the district's fund balance was $31.3 million.

Flexible instructional days

During the Education Committee of the Whole meeting, the board OK'd advancing a "flexible instructional day plan" for teachers and students. If approved at the regular board meeting later this month, the plan would allocate five flexible instructional days during the 2021-22 school year. The alternative instruction would be triggered in the event of an epidemic, a hazardous weather condition, a law enforcement emergency, the inoperability of school buses or a temporary circumstance rendering any portion of a school building unfit or unsafe for use.

New Chromebook cases

In other news, directors advanced the purchase of 16,500 "always-on" Chromebook cases for the district's technology investment. The Chromebook cases will "reduce the likelihood of physical accidental damage to the Chromebooks and thereby avoid the need for additional expenses and downtime," according to Jose Rivera, the district's network infrastructure manager. The cost for the cases is $312,675.

"They will protect our investment," Rivera told directors. "They protect the device against getting wet or overheating."

Mobile device management

In other business, the board forwarded a request to renew ASD's agreement with ePlus Inc. for the use of the Airwatch mobile device management system. The Airwatch MDM allows ASD to manage all Apple devices which run on the Apple operating system and is designed to assist the district in providing students with a device that provides learning "anytime, anywhere."

Updates to district policies

Finally, during the Policy Committee of the Whole meeting, the board advanced changes to official district policy governing various topics including sexual harassment of students and employees, foreign exchange students, reporting student progress, and promotion and retention.

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