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Allentown School Board asks district for plan to tackle student homelessness

Allentown School District
Donna S. Fisher
For LehighValleyNews.com
This is the Allentown School District Administration Building in Allentown

  • Allentown School Board has approved a new plan to address homelessness
  • ASD may have up to 700 homeless students at any time
  • School board members also hired a new transportation director

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Allentown School Board has approved a resolution to do more to help homeless students in the district.

The issue was added to the agenda during Thursday's meeting because of its urgency.

The board directed the administration to review current and past data on homeless students, evaluate resources and community partners, and analyze costs and obstacles to mitigate the program.

"Homelessness in our school district is probably one of the biggest problems that we have. When we talk about gang violence and gun violence, I always refer back to 'Poverty is Violence."'
Allentown resident Paz Simpson

"Homelessness in our school district is probably one of the biggest problems that we have," Allentown resident Paz Simpson said. "When we talk about gang violence and gun violence, I always refer back to 'Poverty is Violence."'

Tiffany Polek, the district's executive director of youth, family and community engagement, said the data the district has and what the state reports are not the same.

She pointed to a lack of staffing and COVID-19 as reasons for not capturing the totality of homeless families and students in the school district.

A district spokeswoman told LehighValleyNews.com last October that at any time, there could be 600-700 homeless students attending school in the district. There are two homeless liaisons who work with district students.

'Looks like me, looks like you'

Board Director LaTarsha Brown said she is tired of waiting for the district to address this issue. She said even some staff struggle with homelessness and food insecurity.

"The average homeless person looks like me, looks like you and any one of you in this room."
Allentown School Board Director LaTarsha Brown

"Homelessness doesn't look like somebody that's sitting on a corner, holding a cardboard box in their hand saying 'Feed me, I'm homeless,'" Brown said.

"The average homeless person looks like me, looks like you and any one of you in this room. So the fact that this is taken very lightly, I'm so offended by that," she said.

Schools Superintendent Carol Birks said the district is taking the issue seriously. She promised to gather data, meet with community partners and leverage available resources before a future board meeting.

But she said coming up with a comprehensive plan would take more time.

"We can commit to we will put every effort into so many of the deliverables that you've said," Birks said. "But having a comprehensive plan in three weeks is just not a realistic thing."

Birks said the administration could provide a date for when a plan could be developed at the next meeting, either Oct. 12 or Oct. 26.

However, in a statement Friday, spokeswoman Melissa Reese said they still were reviewing the request from the board and will present the data and plan when they are ready.

Transportation, early learning positions

In other business, the school board also approved hiring a transportation director and creating the position of executive director of early learning.

The board approved hiring Andrew Krahulik-Knapp as director of student transportation at a salary of $117,500 a year.

He replaces the former transportation director, Randy Williams, who resigned after just a few weeks on the job. According to personnel reports, Williams' first day was June 1 and his last day was June 29.

Krahulik-Knapp previously was a terminal manager with Student Transportation of America, according to his Facebook page. He lives in Allentown.

District officials have said they want to bring school bus routing in-house and use school buses for ASD students, especially those who walk more than a half mile to school.

Under the plan, charter school students would use public LANTA buses, which some ASD students now use free, to get to school. Birks has advocated for the move as a cost-cutting measure.

The executive director of early learning position, which was also approved by the board, requires five years of administrative experience. A master's degree is preferred.

The person would oversee the district's new preschool program, from birth to 3-year-olds. The candidate for this position would build unity with community-based early learning programs and the district’s kindergarten to second-grade program.

The pay range for the new position is $113,504 to $158,905.