Wilkes-Barre Area School District

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Coordinates: 41°14′21″N 75°54′31″W / 41.239161°N 75.908629°W / 41.239161; -75.908629

Wilkes–Barre Area School District
Map of Luzerne County Pennsylvania School Districts.png
730 South Main St.
Wilkes-Barre, PA 18711

United States
Type Public
NCES District ID 4226300[1]
Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey T. Namey
Faculty 500.86 (on FTE basis)[1]
Grades K12
Enrollment 6,997[1] (2010–11)
Student to teacher ratio 13.97[1]
Language English
Phone Number (570) 826-7182

Wilkes–Barre Area School District is an urban, public school district located in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, in the United States. Wilkes-Barre Area School District encompasses approximately 123 square miles. The district includes the city of Wilkes-Barre as well as smaller surrounding municipalities. It serves:Bear Creek Township, Borough of Bear Creek Village, Borough of Laflin, Buck Township, City of Wilkes-Barre, Laurel Run Borough, Plains Township and Wilkes-Barre Township.[2] According to 2000 federal census data, the district serves a resident population of 62,749. In 2009, the residents' per capita income was $16,751, while the median family income was $40,336.[3] Per school district officials, in school year 2007–08 the Wilkes-Barre Area School District provided basic educational services to 6,696 pupils through the employment of 524 teachers, 244 full-time and part-time support personnel, and 33 administrators. Dr. Jeffrey T. Namey is the district superintendent.

The district operates 5 elementary schools, one junior high school and 3 high schools. James M. Coughlin Junior-Senior High School is the largest school in the district, housing more than 1,050 students (2010–11). Meyers High School houses 949 students (2010) and G.A.R has 1134 students (2011).

Academic achievement[edit]

In December 2010, G.A.R. Memorial Junior Senior High School was identified as a Tier II chronically, low achieving school, by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, in its application for the federal School Improvement Grant. Also identified as grant eligible were Dodson Elementary School – Tier III and Heights-Murray Elementary School – Tier III.[4] In December 2009, the Pennsylvania Department of Education identified six district schools as eligible for SIG funding due to chronically low student achievement, including G A R Memorial Junior Senior High School as a Tier III, EL Meyers Junior Senior High School – Tier III, Flood Elementary School – Tier III, Dodson Elementary School – Tier III, Heights-Murray Elementary School – Tier III, and Solomon Plains Elementary School – Tier III.[5] A Tier II school, that is included in their district’s application for School Improve Grant funds must implement one of four “school improvement” models. Districts were not required to apply for SIG funds. Wilkes-Barre Area School Administration did not apply for this funding in 2009 nor in 2010.[6]

Wilkes-Barre Area School District was ranked 412th out of 498 Pennsylvania school districts in 2011 by the Pittsburgh Business Times. The ranking was based on student academic performance based on the PSSAs for: reading, writing, math and two years of science.[7]

  • 2010 – 375th[8]
  • 2009 – 336th
  • 2008 – 225th
  • 2007 – 128th out of 501 Pennsylvania school districts.[9]

In 2009, the academic achievement of the pupils in the district was in the 15th percentile among Pennsylvanian's 500 school districts. Scale (0–99; 100 is state best)[10]

In 2008, the math proficiency of the students in the district ranked 8th out of 11 Luzerne County school districts. In reading skills, the district's students ranked 9th, in Luzerne County, for on grade level student achievement.[11]

In 2009 Wilkes‐Barre Area School District demonstrated the largest increases in reading scores in Luzerne County: fifth grade improved 21.9% and eighth grade reading skills improved 12.9%. The district's eleventh grade score in on grade level reading, declined 10.8% from its 2003 level. This was the greatest decline among Luzerne County school districts.[12]

College remediation[edit]

According to a Pennsylvania Department of Education study released in January 2009, 33% of Wilkes-Barre Area School District graduates required remediation in mathematics and or reading before they were prepared to take college level courses in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education or community colleges.[13] Less than 66% of Pennsylvania high school graduates, who enroll in a four-year college in Pennsylvania, will earn a bachelor's degree within six years. Among Pennsylvania high school graduates pursuing an associate degree, only one in three graduate in three years.[14] Per the Pennsylvania Department of Education, one in three recent high school graduates who attend Pennsylvania's public universities and community colleges takes at least one remedial course in math, reading or English.

Graduation Rate[edit]

In 2010, the Pennsylvania Department of Education issued a new, 4-year cohort graduation rate. Wilkes-Barre School District's graduation rate was 86% for 2010.[15]

According to traditional graduation rate calculations:

  • 2010 – 91%[16]
  • 2009 – 91%
  • 2008 – 91%[17]
  • 2007 – 91%[18]

High Schools[edit]

Dual enrollment[edit]

The high schools offer a dual enrollment program. This state-funded program permits high school students to take courses at local higher education institutions to earn college credits. Students remain enrolled at their high school. The courses count towards high school graduation requirements and towards earning a college degree. The students continue to have full access to activities at their high school. The college credits are offered at a deeply discounted rate and the state offers a small grant to assist students in costs for tuition, fees and books.[19] Under the Pennsylvania Transfer and Articulation Agreement, many Pennsylvania colleges and universities accept these credits for students who transfer to their institutions.[20] The Pennsylvania College Credit Transfer System reported in 2009, that students saved nearly $35.4 million by having their transferred credits count towards a degree under the new system.[21]

For the 2009–10 funding year, the Wilkes-Barre Area School District received a state grant of $26,964 for its dual enrollment program.[22]

Junior High School[edit]

Solomon Plains Junior High School provides grades 7 and 8. In 2010, the attendance rate was 93%. Th student achievement improved to making AYP status in 2010. In 2009, the school was in School Improvement level I status.[23][24]

Elementary Schools[edit]

In 2010, the district's elementary schools had mixed success. Two schools showed strong growth in student achievement. (Flood and Kistler). Dodson Elementary School and Heights/Murray saw a significant decline in student achievement. Solomon/Plains Elementary School had a slight decline.[25]

  • Dr. David Kistler – made AYP in 2010 – Report Card 2010[26]
  • Boyd Dodson School Improvement II AYP level[27]
  • Daniel J. Flood – made AYP in 2010 – Report Card 2010[28]
  • Heights-Martin L. Murray – declined to Corrective Action I in 2010. Report Card 2010[29]
  • Solomon Elementary School – made AYP in 2010, Report Card 2010[30]

Supplemental Education Services[edit]

Under the federal No Child Left Behind legislation, chronically, low achieving schools are mandated to provide the opportunity for state funded tutoring to low-income students in failing schools. Wilkes-Barre Area School District has three such schools: Boyd Dodson Elementary School, Heights-Murray Elementary School and G. A. R. Memorial Junior Senior High School.[31] The district provides a provider fair to facilitate parents' contacting tutoring providers.

Special education[edit]

The district administration reported that 1,215 students or 18.1% were receiving special education services in 2009.[32][33]

In 2010, the state of Pennsylvania provided $1,026,815,000 for special education services. The funds were distributed to districts based on a state policy which estimates that 16% of the district's pupils are receiving special education services. This funding is in addition to the state's basic education per pupil funding, as well as, all other state and federal funding.[34]

Wilkes-Barre Area School District received a $3,916,983 supplement for special education services in 2010.[35]

Gifted education[edit]

The District Administration reported that 148 or 2.15% of its students were gifted in 2009.[36] By law, the district must provide mentally gifted programs at all grade levels. Students identified as gifted, who are attending the high schools, have access to honors and advanced placement courses, and dual enrollment courses at local colleges. The referral process for a gifted evaluation can be initiated by teachers or parents by contacting the student’s building principal and requesting an evaluation. All requests must be made in writing. To be eligible for mentally gifted programs in Pennsylvania, a student must have a cognitive ability of at least 130 as measured on a standardized ability test by a certified school psychologist. Other factors that indicate giftedness will also be considered for eligibility.[37]

Bullying policy[edit]

The school district administration reported there were zero incidents of bullying in the district in 2009.[38][39]

All Pennsylvania schools are required to have an anti-bullying policy incorporated into their Code of Student Conduct. Wilkes-Barre Area School District has posted a Bullying/Cyberbullying Policy. It directs students to not fight back and to try being nice to the bully.[40] By state law the policy must identify disciplinary actions for bullying and designate a school staff person to receive complaints of bullying. The policy must be available on the school's website and posted in every classroom. All Pennsylvania public schools must provide a copy of its anti-bullying policy to the Office for Safe Schools every year, and shall review their policy every three years. Additionally, the district must conduct an annual review of that policy with students.[41] The Center for Schools and Communities works in partnership with the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime & Delinquency and the Pennsylvania Department of Education to assist schools and communities as they research, select and implement bullying prevention programs and initiatives.[42]

Education standards relating to student safety and antiharassment programs are described in the 10.3. Safety and Injury Prevention in the Pennsylvania Academic Standards for Health, Safety and Physical Education.[43]

Charter School[edit]

Bear Creek Community Charter School opened in 2004. This school is housed at the site of the former Bear Creek Elementary School, which the district closed in 2002. The school provides a K-8th grade program.[44] In 2010 and 2009, the school reported a 95% attendance rate. The school achieved AYP in both years. Report Card 2010[45]

Bear Creek Community Charter School received an extra $67,394 in ARRA – Federal Stimulus money to be used only in specific programs like special education and meeting the academic needs of low-income students.[46]

Bear Creek Community Charter School officials made an independent application for the Race to the Top federal grant which would have brought the school hundreds of thousands in additional federal dollars for improving student academic achievement.[47] The school's teachers agreed to support the effort.[48] Participation required the administration, the school board and the local teachers' union to sign an agreement to prioritize improving student academic success. In Pennsylvania, 120 public school districts and 56 charter schools agreed to participate. Pennsylvania was not approved for the grant. The failure of a majority of school districts to agree to participate was cited as one reason that Pennsylvania was not approved.[49]

School Board[edit]

  • Teresa C. McGuire, President
  • Joseph A. Moran, Vice President
  • Robert M. Corcoran
  • Lynn Evans
  • James M. Fisher
  • Christine Katsock
  • Philip B. Latinski
  • Maryanne W. Toole

The school board has received a D- from the Sunshine Review which evaluates school districts for their public release of budget and financial data in the district's web site.[50]

The board has been beset by corruption charges. Three school board members were charged with taking bribes in exchange for school district teacher hiring and contract awards. Former school board member Brian Dunn plead guilty to taking bribes and was sentenced to probation. Additionally, former board member Frank Pizzella was indicted by a grand jury on a charge of passing on a $5,000 bribe to a school board member to secure a job for a teaching candidate. Board member, James Height, also agreed to plead guilty to accepting a bribe in exchange for influencing the awarding of a contract.[51][52] Luzerne County Court appointed Dr. Mark Shiowitz to fill the vacancy on the Wilkes-Barre Area School Board created when Teresa McGuire resigned. The board failed to fill the position prompting a community member to ask the court to appoint a board member.[53]

Budget and taxes[edit]

In 2008, the district reported $7,416,565 in an unreserved-designated fund balance. The undesignated fund balance was reported as zero.[54]

In 2009, the district reported employing over 560 teachers with a salary range of $35,265 to $144,603 and a median teacher salary of $56,493 for 184 days worked.[55][56] Several hundred teachers earn over $60,000 per year. Teachers work 7 hours 25 minutes per day with a 30 min lunch period and a daily prep period. In addition to salary, the teachers' compensation includes: health insurance, life insurance, 2 paid religious holidays, 1–3 days paid bereavement leave, 10 paid sick days, 2 personal days, and do not receive reimbursement for college courses. Teachers receive one half their salary while on sabbatical leave. At retirement, teachers receive payment for unused sick day, taxpayer funded health insurance until age 65 and a minimal bonus based on longevity with the district. Teachers receive extra compensation for additional duties and for extracurricular advising and sports coaching. The teachers' union officers receive time off with pay to attend to union business and to attend conventions.[57]

In 2007, the district employed over 449 teachers. The average teacher salary in the district was $56,329 for 180 instructional days worked.[58]

In 2008, Wilkes-Barre Area School District reported spending $12,252 per pupil. This ranked 247th among the 500 school districts, in the commonwealth.[59]

The Wilkes-Barre Area School District administrative costs per pupil in 2008 was $1,071 in 2008. This ranked 48th among the highest in Pennsylvania public schools. The lowest administrative cost per pupil in Pennsylvania was $398 per pupil.[60]

In 2009, the district reported having over $38 million in outstanding General Obligation Bonds debt.[61]

In November 2010, the Pennsylvania Auditor General conducted a performance audit of the district. Significant findings were reported to the school board and the school district administration[62]

In 2011, the board was ordered to reimburse overpaid taxes from 2008 and 2009. The district is dealing with many tax reassessments that have meant a loss of local revenues.[63]

The district is funded by a combination of: a local income tax, a property tax, a real estate transfer tax of 0.5%, coupled with substantial funding from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the federal government. Grants can provide an opportunity to supplement school funding without raising local taxes. In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, pension income and Social Security income are exempted from state personal income tax and local earned income tax regardless of the individual's level of wealth.[64]

State basic education funding[edit]

In 2011–12, the district will receive $23,326,892 in state Basic Education Funding.[65][66] Additionally, the district will receive $358,978 in Accountability Block Grant funding for all-day kindergarten. The enacted Pennsylvania state Education budget includes $5,354,629,000 for the 2011–2012 Basic Education Funding appropriation. This amount is a $233,290,000 increase (4.6%) over the enacted State appropriation for 2010–2011. The highest increase in state basic education funding was awarded to Duquesne City School District, which got a 49% increase in state funding for 2011-12.[67]

In 2010, the district reported that 4,421 pupils received a free or reduced-price lunch due to their family meeting the federal poverty level.

For the 2010–11 school year, the state basic education funding to Wilkes-Barre Area School District was increased 7.56% for a total of $25,613,340. The highest increase in Luzerne County was awarded to Hazleton Area School District at 12,61%. Sixteen Pennsylvania school districts received an increase over 10%. One hundred fifty Pennsylvania school districts received the base 2% increase. Among Pennsylvania school districts, the highest increase in 2010–11 went to Kennett Consolidated School District in Chester County which received a 23.65% increase in state funding.[68] The amount of increase each school district receives is determined by the Governor and the Secretary of Education through the allocation set in the state budget proposal made in February each year.[69]

For the 2009–2010 budget year the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania provided a 4.34% increase in Basic Education funding for Wilkes-Barre Area School District a total of $23,791,061. The state Basic Education Funding to the district in 2008–09 was $22,801,569.96. The highest increase in BEF for the school districts in Luzerne County was awarded to Hazleton Area School District at a 13.36% increase. The highest increase in Pennsylvania went to Muhlenberg School District of Berks County which received an increase of 22.31 percent. Sixteen school districts received an increase in funding of over 10 percent in 2009.[70]

In 2009, the district reported that 3,510 students were eligible for a federal free or reduced-price lunch due to low family income.[71]

Accountability Block Grants[edit]

Beginning in 2004–2005, the state launched the Accountability Block Grant school funding. This program has provided $1.5 billion to Pennsylvania’s school districts. The Accountability Block Grant program requires that its taxpayer dollars are focused on specific interventions that are most likely to increase student academic achievement. These interventions include: teacher training, all-day kindergarten, lower class size K-3rd grade, literacy and math coaching programs that provide teachers with individualized job-embedded professional development to improve their instruction, before or after school tutoring assistance to struggling students, For 2010–11 the Wilkes-Barre Area School District applied for and received $974,357 in addition to all other state and federal funding. The district used the funding to provide all-day kindergarten (516 students) for the sixth year and to provide preschool (16 students) for the sixth year.[72][73]

Classrooms for the Future grant[edit]

The Classroom for the Future state program provided districts with hundreds of thousands of extra state funding to buy laptop computers for each core curriculum high school class (English, Science, History, Math) and paid for teacher training to optimize the computers use. The program was funded from 2006 to 2009. Wilkes-Barre Area School District did not apply for funding in 2006–07. In 2007–08, it received $745,360. The district received $136,238 in 2008–09 for a total funding of $881,598.[74]

Federal Stimulus Grant[edit]

Wilkes-Barre Area School District received an extra $7,751,132 in ARRA – Federal Stimulus money to be used only in specific programs like special education and meeting the academic needs of low-income students.[46] The funding was for two school years 2009–10 and 2010–11.

Race to the Top grant[edit]

School district officials made an incomplete application for the Race to the Top federal grant which would have brought the district several million additional federal dollars for improving student academic achievement.[47] The teachers' union would not agreed to support the effort.[48][75] Participation required the administration, the school board and the local teachers' union to sign an agreement to prioritize improving student academic success. In Pennsylvania, 120 public school districts and 56 charter schools agreed to participate. Pennsylvania was not approved for the grant. The failure of a majority of school districts to agree to participate was cited as one reason that Pennsylvania was not approved.[49]

School Improvement Grant[edit]

In the summer of 2011, the district had five schools which were eligible for applied for the school improvement grants. The school district did not apply for the funding. The grant stipulates the funds be used for improving student achievement using one of four federally dictated strategies. The strategies are: transformation, turnaround, restart with new faculty and administration or closure of failing schools. The state awarded more than $66 million to eligible schools to improve students achievement.[76]

In 2010, Pennsylvania received $141 million from the federal department of education, to turn around its worst-performing schools. The funds were disbursed via a competitive grant program.[77] The Pennsylvania Department of Education has identified 200 Pennsylvania schools as "persistently lowest-achieving," making them eligible for this special funding.[78] Pennsylvania required low performing schools to apply or provide documentation about why they had not applied. The grant required the funds be used, by the district, to turn around schools in one of four ways: school closure, restart – close the school and reopen it as a charter school. The other two options involve firing the principal. One would require at least half the faculty in a chronically poor performing school be dismissed. The second involves intensive teacher training coupled with strong curriculum revision or a longer school day.[79]

While the district had 6 schools eligible for this extra funding in 2009 and 4 schools eligible in 2010, the Wilkes-Barre School District administration did not apply for the grant in either year.[80]

Common Cents state initiative[edit]

The Wilkes-Barre Area School Board decided to not participate in the Pennsylvania Department of Education Common Cents program. The program called for the state to audit the district, at no cost to local taxpayers, to identify ways the district could save tax dollars.[81] After the review of the information, the district was not required to implement the recommended cost savings changes.

Real estate taxes[edit]

The school board levied a real estate tax of 15.0819 mills in 2010–11.[82] A mill is $1 of tax for every $1,000 of a property's assessed value. Irregular property reassessments have become a serious issue in the commonwealth as it creates a significant disparity in taxation within a community and across a region. On the local level, Pennsylvania district revenues are dominated by two main sources: 1) Property tax collections, which account for the vast majority (between 75–85%) of local revenues; and 2) Act 511 tax collections, which are around 15% of revenues for school districts.[83]

  • 2009–10 – 14.8319 mills[84]

In 2008, Luzerne County conducted a county wide property value reassessment. The previous county wide assessment had been done in 1965[85]

  • 2008–09 – 310.0000 mills[86]

Act 1 Adjusted index[edit]

The Act 1 of 2006 Index regulates the rates at which each school district can raise property taxes in Pennsylvania. Districts are not allowed to raise taxes above that index unless they allow voters to vote by referendum, or they seek an exception from the state Department of Education. The base index for the 2011–2012 school year is 1.4 percent, but the Act 1 Index can be adjusted higher, depending on a number of factors, such as property values and the personal income of district residents. Act 1 included 10 exceptions, including: increasing pension costs, increases in special education costs, a catastrophe like a fire or flood, increase in health insurance costs for contracts in effect in 2006 or dwindling tax bases. The base index is the average of the percentage increase in the statewide average weekly wage, as determined by the PA Department of Labor and Industry, for the preceding calendar year and the percentage increase in the Employment Cost Index for Elementary and Secondary Schools, as determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the U.S. Department of Labor, for the previous 12-month period ending June 30. For a school district with a market value/personal income aid ratio (MV/PI AR) greater than 0.4000, its index equals the base index multiplied by the sum of .75 and its MV/PI AR for the current year.[87]

The School District Adjusted Index for the Wilkes-Barre Area School District 2006–2007 through 2011–2012.[88]

  • 2006–07 – 5.2%, Base 3.9%
  • 2007–08 – 4.6%, Base 3.4%
  • 2008–09 – 6.0%, Base 4.4%
  • 2009–10 – 5.6%, Base 4.1%
  • 2010–11 – 4.0%, Base 2.9%
  • 2011–12 – 1.9%, Base 1.4%

The Wilkes-Barre Area School Board did not apply for any exceptions to exceed the Act 1 index for the budget in 2011.[89] In the Spring of 2010, 135 of 500 Pennsylvania school boards asked to exceed their adjusted index. Approval was granted to 133 of them and 128 sought an exception for pension costs increases.[90]

Property tax relief[edit]

In 2011, the Homestead/Farmstead Property Tax Relief from gambling for the Wilkes-Barre Area School District was $211 per approved permanent primary residence. In the district, 13,762 property owners applied for the tax relief.[91] In 2011 within Luzerne County, the highest reported amount went to Wilkes-Barre Area School District set at $211 per approved homestead. The property tax relief was subtracted from the total annual school property tax bill for each property. Property owners apply for the relief through the county Treasurer's office. Farmers can qualify for a farmstead exemption on building used for agricultural purposes. The farm must be at least 10 contiguous acres and must be the primary residence of the owner. Farmers can qualify for both the homestead exemption and the farmstead exemption. Pennsylvania awarded the highest property tax relief to residents of the Chester-Upland School District in Delaware County at $641 per homestead and farmstead in 2010.[92] Chester-Upland School District was given $632 in 2009. This was the third year they were the top recipient.

Additionally, the Pennsylvania Property Tax/Rent Rebate program is provided for low income Pennsylvanians aged 65 and older; widows and widowers aged 50 and older; and people with disabilities age 18 and older. The income limit is $35,000 for homeowners. The maximum rebate for both homeowners and renters is $650. Applicants can exclude one-half (1/2) of their Social Security income, consequently individuals who have income substantially greater than $35,000, may still qualify for a rebate. Individuals must apply annually for the rebate. This can be taken in addition to Homestead/Farmstead Property Tax Relief.[93]

Property taxes in Pennsylvania are relatively high on a national scale. According to the Tax Foundation, Pennsylvania ranked 11th in the U.S. in 2008 in terms of property taxes paid as a percentage of home value (1.34%) and 12th in the country in terms of property taxes as a percentage of income (3.55%).[94]


The school district offers a wide variety of activities, clubs and sports. Eligibility to participate is determined by school board policy

By Pennsylvania law, all K-12 students in the district, including those who attend a private nonpublic school, cyber charter school, charter school and those homeschooled, are eligible to participate in the extracurricular programs, including all athletics. They must meet the same eligibility rules as the students enrolled in the district's schools.[95]


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