One month after a student fight left 10 employees injured, led to four student arrests, and angered many residents, the Cheltenham School District wants to add eight “climate and culture” staff members at a cost of $648,503.
The school board also adopted a 1.9 percent tax increase — up from a 1.7 percent increase proposed earlier this year — to cover the new staffing costs. District officials had at one point proposed a 2.5 percent hike.
Five of the eight new positions will be at Cheltenham High School, where the early May melee took place. One position will be Cedarbrook Middle School; one will be at Elkins Park School; and one will be shared between Cedarbrook and Elkins Park.
The $648,503 will cover costs of hiring two safety officers, two in-school suspension coordinators, two positions for mental wellness, and two administrators for climate and culture, according to a presentation made before the school board on June 6.
Cheltenham is a racially and socioeconomically diverse school district just north of Philadelphia in Montgomery County.
When news of the fight spread in May, it stirred strong reactions among district residents. During a packed public hearing, many said administrators weren’t doing enough to ensure student safety or properly discipline disruptive students. Others complained the district hadn’t adapted its curriculum or hiring practices to reflect the student body’s increasing diversity. Just over half of Cheltenham students are African-American.
An anonymous teacher survey given to the Philadelphia Inquirer helped fuel the outrage. It indicated many of the district’s high school employees felt increasingly unsafe and uncertain about the school’s climate policies. It also showed that teachers heavily favored the creation of an alternative school for students with chronic behavior problems.