Whitehall school board votes for uniforms beginning in fall

 Messenger photo by Lori Smith

Students express appreciation to board

Colt Chrysler, a first-grader at Kae Avenue Elementary School in Whitehall, presents members of the Whitehall Board of Education with a letter he and his classmates wrote thanking them for making Kae Avenue such a wonderful place to learn. Other Kae Avenue students who attended the Jan. 10 meeting in honor of school board recognition month included kindergarten student Courtney Chrysler; second-grader Remington Chrysler; and fifth-grader Kacee Utterback. Schools from throughout the district expressed their thanks to the board in a variety of ways, including presenting the board with letters, artwork and gifts.

High school and junior high school students in the Whitehall school district will be required to wear uniforms starting with the 2008-09 school year.

At the Jan. 10 meeting of the Whitehall Board of Education, the board unanimously voted to implement a standard dress code at both levels. This replaces a stricter dress code the board implemented at the start of the 2007-08 school year.

"Our teachers and administrators were telling us the stricter dress code was very difficult to enforce," explained Superintendent Judyth Dobbert-Meloy following the meeting. "Our teachers were spending too much classroom time dealing with it."

After much discussion, the board decided to require students to wear white, black or gray shirts in either a turtleneck style or a style with sleeves and a collar; tan or black pants, skirts or shorts; black or brown belt; and solid white, black or brown shoes with matching laces.

The board considered utilizing some brighter colors, but Whitehall Police Officer Spencer Salyers, who is the high school’s resource officer, cautioned the board that many of the brighter colors could be associated with gang activity.

"Unfortunately in today’s society, that’s what we’ve got to look for," he said. "We have to be very specific in the colors that you pick – that way it doesn’t cause a problem."

Another safety issue is bulky clothes, Salyers noted. The new policy requires clothes to fit properly and allows for some sweaters, as well as crewneck or zip-up front sweatshirts.

Salyers cautioned the board against approving the wearing of sweatshirts because of the possibility of concealing a weapon.

"If you are covering yourself up with a sweatshirt, you are concealing your waistline," he offered. "Most sweaters are a little tighter."

Board member Ronda Howard agreed, saying "I like the sweaters. If you are trying to raise the bar … then you get rid of the sweatshirts."

Other board members balked at the idea of eliminating sweatshirts. They agreed to allow the sweatshirts, but they must be sized appropriately and be solid colored.

Following the meeting, Dobbert-Meloy said the new policy requiring uniforms/standard dress requires some financial contribution from the district.

Due to state law, many of the district’s students will be eligible for some financial assistance in purchasing the clothing. She estimated the district will spend $46,000 to help clothe students at the junior high and high school.

"That sounds like a lot, but in reality it is less than 1 percent of our general fund budget," she said. "It will be one of our budget priorities and we should be able to make that expenditure."

In other news, the board heard a presentation from Treasurer Tim Penton regarding the 2008-09 tax budget. He estimates that for the 2007 tax year (2008 collection year) 94 percent of the revenue will be from real estate; 3 percent will be from general personal property; and 3 percent will be from public utility.

The district used to get 14 percent from personal property taxes, Penton pointed out.

"It was very significant for us," he said. "Now we’re down to about $8 million, and next year it will be gone."

Regarding the district’s five-year forecast, Penton described the district as "stable."

"It’s a good place to be if we are going to start talking to our community about facilities," he said.

Although some projections have showed a need to return to voters for operating funds, Penton said state assistance – as well as careful spending – has helped the district stay on target.

"In the last three budgets we have benefited (from state assistance) tremendously," Penton said. "We have done our best to try to hold our expenses down. All that washes out and goes into the next year’s budget."

Howard noted, "I think our community members should be extremely proud about how you have stretched the money."

Dobbert-Meloy reminded all, "It is a team effort."

Also during the meeting, the board elected Walter Armes president and Howard vice president for 2008 and agreed to continue holding board meetings at 6 p.m. the second Thursday of each month. One exception will be the March meeting, which will be held on the first Thursday of the month.

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