School Construction

High-School Consolidation Could Force Teacher Furloughs

Construction on the new Wilkes-Barre Area High School in Plains Township, Pa., is nearing completion. According to updates from school officials during a board meeting last week, the work is about 84% done, and the new building is set to be furnished by mid-July. During the meeting, the board approved change orders of roughly $780,000 for the project, which cost $121 million in total.

The district plans to merge its three high schools (Memorial Junior/Senior High School, Elmer L. Meyers Junior/Senior High School, and James M. Coughlin High School) into the new building upon its completion. The consolidation could force as many as 37 teachers to be furloughed as a result, according to a resolution approved by the school board on March 1. The final count will depend on retirements and state funding allocated for the 2021-22 school year.

Seven employees are already set to retire at the end of the year, and four teachers have been recalled from furloughs accordingly, according to Superintendent Brian Costello.

Last week’s school board meeting was closed to the public due to the pandemic. Mike Komorek, teacher and president of the Wilkes-Barre Area Education Association, addressed the board over the phone. “I would like to express deep regrets both in the decisions that led to this furlough and in the message in notifying the teachers that were furloughed or potentially furloughed,” he said. “The emails lacked empathy toward professionals that have dedicated their lives to this district. We have received numerous accounts of the emotional distress felt by our professionals, even those who were recalled or otherwise saved through last-minute changes.”

The new high school is being built on a 77-acre former mining site in Plains Township. The district is considering selling the former Coughlin High School and Meyers High School properties. Memorial Junior/Senior High School, also known as GAR, will be converted into a middle school.

About the Author

Matt Jones is senior editor of Spaces4Learning. He can be reached at [email protected].