Purchase Line to close North Elementary|
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
By Dianne Byers Staff Writer
COMMODORE - At the end of the current school year, Purchase Line School District will be one fewer elementary school. At last night's special meeting, with a 7-2 vote, Purchase Line School Board voted to close North Elementary School with a majority of members citing low enrollment and financial concerns as their main reasons for supporting the action.
The school located along U.S. Route 219 between Mahaffey and Burnside was attended by children who, for the most part, resided in Bell Township and Mahaffey, Burnside, New Washington and Newburg boroughs. Those children will now be bused to South Elementary School located near the high school at Commodore.
According to the resolution that accompanied the motion approved by the board, the decision "shall allow for a more thorough and efficient school system and at the same time permit the school district to continue to meet its obligations under the school code and its implementing regulations."
Voting to approve were James McMullen, John Nichols, Matthew Pearce, Mary Ann Pittman, Kevin Smith, James Stiffler and David Syster, board members. Members Scott Gearhart and Tom McCracken voted no.
Following a roundtable prior to the vote, board members were asked by Tina Hazelett to voice whether they supported permanently shutting North's doors.
Gearhart said he had both visited the North school and contemplated his action last night both through research and prayer. He said he was not convinced the district is in as precarious financial position as some of the board members and administration have said it is. He said in recent years the school district did not spend as much in operating costs as what had been projected and he did not believe the coming school year would be any different. "I can't come to a conscious decision to close the North at this time. I'm not saying it's not coming, because it is, but not at this time."
McCracken said "We have looked at this budget material until it is coming out our ears ... If we are truly interested in education, as we proclaim to be, then we need to spend the money (and keep North Elementary open) ... I can't go along with the class sizes and I believe we are talking out of one side of our mouths. We say we want to take care of the taxpayers but our number one job should be to see our kids get the best education they can. Our schools, (South Elementary and Purchase Line Junior and Senior High School) have failed to make adequate yearly progress (on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests) and now we want them to get in even deeper. I don't know all the answers but I know one answer is not to close the North Elementary right now. We may have to close it eventually but I think we have time and we shouldn't jump the gun. We need to hang in there and educate our kids."
The board also reviewed a plan to reconfigure and furlough professional staff when the two schools are combined. Although Pearce said last night the board will decide at a later time which specific instructors will be let go, the plan is to reduce the amount of elementary instructors by three and eliminate a special education instructor at the junior/senior high school. The elementary librarian will not be replaced and the elementary school and junior/senior high school will share a librarian and library aide. The physical education instructor at the high school will have their job hours increased from part-time to full-time.
The cafeteria staff at the new consolidated elementary school will be reduced by one position and a position with 7.5 hours will be cut to 5.5 hours per day.
The custodial staff will have two 8-hour and two 5-hour positions eliminated and one secretary and one nurse's aide will be furloughed.
The changes in staffing will save the school district nearly $624,000.
More than 100 people attended last night's meeting but only three of them spoke. They were in favor of keeping the North School open. Several board members also noted during the 30-day public comment period following the public hearing in late February, the board received less than 25 letters and emails asking it keep the school open but more than 280 letters, emails and comments requesting it close.
During public comment, Jodie Kauffman of Mahaffey presented a petition last night with 444 signatures requesting the board keep the North School open. Roy "Butch" Markle of Mahaffey, former board member, urged the board to "be a team leader not a team follower" and to not take positions of both the superintendent and business manager in regards to closing the North School and not rehiring James Klyap as athletic director.
In other business the board:
• tentatively approved the 2012-13 proposed budget with no tax increase. The spending plan expects revenue of $17,091,264 and expenses of $18,339,654. A withdrawal from the district's reserve of $1,248,390 will balance the budget.
• millage rates will be adjusted using a formula provided by the state's Tax Equalization Board. Clearfield County rates will increase 1.43 percent and Indiana County rates will not be raised for the coming year.
The budget will be adopted at a special meeting June 29.
• tabled a one year contract with Metz Culinary Management, expiring June 30,2013, to oversee the district's food service at a cost of $55,219 for the on-site manager's wages and benefits, a $9,308 management fee and $11,664 in administrative costs.
Several board members said after reviewing information about the nearly $160,000 deficit projected in the 2012-13 cafeteria budget and getting no firm information from the company as to what could be done to reduce spending, they want to explore returning the cafeteria's management to district employees. Metz's contract will be on the June 29 meeting agenda.
• hired Isaac Solak of Philipsburg as the district's athletic director at a cost of $5,000 annually. Hazelett said Solak has a degree and did an internship in athletic management.
The board will meet June 11 at 7 p.m. for a special meeting, June 18 at 7 p.m. for its work session and June 29 at 7 p.m. for its monthly business meeting. All meetings will be held in the administrative offices' conference room.