MIFFLINBURG — Final approval of a 2021-2022 spending plan was approved Tuesday night by Miffilinburg Area School District directors.

The $13 million budget was passed by the full board without a dissenting vote.

Real estate millage, approved at a previous meeting, increased by 0.52 mills to 13.84 mills. The owner of a property assessed at $100,000 will pay an additional $52 in the upcoming fiscal year.

Other tax rates were also previously approved including per capita ($10), earned income (1.55% of 2.05%), real estate transfer (1%) and per capita tax under the School Code of 1949 ($5).

Tom Caruso, business administrator, noted that changes were made since the previous meeting. He said federal money coming under Title 1, Title 2 and Title 3 were adjusted but had no impact on the final document.

Caruso added that insurance rate renewals for 2021-22 went up a little bit. Property and casualty rates went up because of an increase in cyber security and the added value of district property due to a recent building project. However, Caruso added that there were a number of worker’s compensation expenses.

An extended discussion of Newsela, an online provider of news articles for educational purposes, ended Tuesday night with the tabling of its renewal.

Mifflinburg Area School District directors voted 6-3 to table a proposed $14,550 contract which would pay for a Newsela subscription renewal for the high school and expand paid-for service to the middle school.

Dr. Sandra Mattocks, director, explained the service has been in use for a number of years, with a paid version available for the high school. Mattocks noted the paid version of Newsela offered more material but its use was not required.

Citizens expressed fear prior to the vote that a “progressive agenda” was permeating the Mifflinburg Area School District curriculum. Some connected Newsela with what has been called critical race theory, a body of thought which examines society for evidence of oppression by some at the expense of others.

Robert Blankenship, who claimed to have registered more than 300 new voters, called for critical race theory and facial masking mandates to be stopped.

Elizabeth Snook said she initially tried to disprove that critical race theory was gaining favor in the district. However, she claimed the opposite has been proven true based on what her children say they heard in special classes. Snook claimed teachers and parents would abandon the district over time should the trend continue.

Barbara Heintzelman said one of her son’s Newsela readings was for Spanish class and encouraged dropping gender from pronouns in that language. Heintzelman asserted that gender was a fundamental part of basic Spanish.

Comments by teachers were also read during the citizen comment portion of the meeting.

They included Amber Mowery, who said Newsela was not a curricular stable but used to enhance student understanding of many topics by way of nonfiction articles. Carl Clemens noted the paid version of Newsela permitted use of added readings and activities in world literature classes and public speaking classes.

Beth Faunce noted they have not asked for new English language arts texts in 20 years and students need to read more nonfiction material. Faunce said Newsela could be more cost effective than buying new texts.

Director Amy Wehr, who introduced the motion to table, sought additional input from teachers. While sympathetic to the critics, she saw value in the material teachers were actually using.

Directors Wehr, Janell Weaver, Mindy Benfer, Tom Eberhart, Francis Gillott and Wendy McClintock, board president, voted to table. Dennis Keiser, Bob Mulrooney and Tom Hosterman voted against.

Audience members were repeatedly admonished by McClintock for interrupting the meeting.

Staff writer Matt Farrand can be reached at 570-742-9671 or email matt@standard-journal.com.

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