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Hearing held on CASD school closures
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
By Jeff Corcino Staff Writer
A sparse crowd turned out for last night's Act 780 hearing to discuss the possible closing of the Clearfield Middle School, Centre Elementary School and Bradford Township Elementary School.
The school board is considering a proposal to close the three schools and expand Clearfield Elementary School at a cost of up to $10.6 million to house all of the district's K-6 classrooms.
Before any school can be closed an Act 780 hearing must be held to give the public the opportunity to voice their opinions. The board then must wait 90 days following the hearing before making any decision to close the schools.
However, only about a dozen people from the public showed up for the meeting and only four people spoke. The meeting was held in the middle school auditorium.
Superintendent Dr. Thomas Otto explained the rational for the school closings. He said the board explored a multitude of options but rejected them all due to their cost.
Last year the board then began looking at the possibility of consolidating all of its classrooms into a two building campus by expanding and renovating the high school and Clearfield Elementary School and close the middle school, and the three other elementary schools.
The high school would house grades 7-12 and CES grades K-6.
The board already approved a $35 million project to renovate and expand the high school and construction is underway.
The project to expand CES is expected to cost between $8 million and $10.6 million depending on whether the board decides the school's kitchen needs to be enlarged, Otto said.
The board voted last June to permanently close Girard-Goshen Elementary. The school hadn't been used since October of 2010 when structural issues with its roof were discovered. The school district is currently engaged in litigation with the contractors of the building, which was built in 2002.
Otto said the board also looked at the possibility of keeping the Centre and Bradford elementary schools open, expand CES and only close the middle school but said for that option it would cost $6,215,000 to expand the CES, and cost $1,168,000 to renovate Centre Elementary and $1,990,000 to renovate Bradford Elementary for a total cost of $9,373,010.
And he said these are only the bare minimum renovations to Centre and Bradford and only include such things as making the buildings ADA compliant, installing new boilers, demolishing the collapsing addition at Bradford etc. and do not include other things the schools need such as new windows.
Plus, by closing the three schools it is estimated the district would save $1,405,615 a year due to lower personnel, maintenance, and utility costs.
The district's debt service payments to finance the expansion of CES would increase by about $700,000 giving the district a savings of about $705,000 per year under this option, Otto said.
However, the district is looking at adding four additional bus runs at a cost of $35,000 per year to keep all the elementary students bus rides under 50 minutes, which would push down the savings to $670,000 per year.
Otto said there is a wide divergence in costs to educate students in its various schools under the district's current arrangement of having five separate school buildings. According to Otto, it currently costs the district $6,427 to educate a student at CES, $9,305 per student at Bradford, $9,895 at Centre, $7,047 at the middle school and $9,248 at the high school.
Plus by consolidating the schools, the district would be able to better equalize class sizes, and minimize the need to add additional teachers Otto said.
Currently, class size varies considerably from school to school and grade to grade, class size at CES varies between 17 and 24, Bradford 17-28, Centre 17-25 and the middle school has an average class size of 27 in fifth grade and 26 in sixth grade.
Otto said the consolidation plan is important because the district has to find ways to cut costs to offset substantial increases in the district's required contribution to the state's retirement fund for school employees and increased costs for cyber-school.
And Otto noted that they are not asking the district to cut any academic programs or art, music and athletic programs because he said he believes these are important.
When asked by the media if the district had an estimate on the number of jobs that would be eliminated due to the consolidation, Otto said they did but declined to give out that number.
When asked whether the these jobs would be eliminated through attrition or through layoffs; Otto said they would like to avoid any layoffs and would prefer to eliminate them through attrition but couldn't make any guarantees and said there could be staff layoffs due to the consolidation.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, C. Alan Walker of Clearfield, who is also the secretary of the state Department of Community and Economic Development, spoke out against the district's proposal.
Walker said with the decline in manufacturing in the area and the impeding closure of the Shawville generating station in 2015, which in addition to the direct job losses would also result in shutting down half of the remaining coal industry in the area.
He said with the district already undertaking a $35 million expansion to the high school, and increasing pension costs, it would be unwise for the district to take on an additional $10 million in debt to expand the elementary school.
Instead, he recommended moving grades 4-6 back to Bradford Elementary and Centre and reopen Girard-Goshen, which would eliminate any need for additional classroom space.
Walker said the area is likely to lose several other employers in the coming years in addition to the Shawville generating plant and said the district's estimates for enrollment in the coming years could be overly optimistic.
Walker said instead of constructing new classrooms, the district should invest more in its teachers.
"From my years in a three-room country school in Bigler, which had seven grades, I know it's the teachers who make the difference in education, not classrooms. Should we be fortunate enough to operate with a surplus over the next few years, let's invest in our teachers and teacher training so they can motivate our students to excel," Walker said.
Thomas Daub of Clearfield spoke next. He said the district should eliminate programs it no longer needs or uses and instead focus on fixing what it has instead of new construction.
His wife Penny Daub also spoke. She said she has two sons who currently go to Centre Elementary and is worried that bullying would increase if all the elementary students were placed in one school.
Plus she said teachers and administrators know her and her children by name and asked the board if they could guarantee this would continue under the new system.
Jessica Wallace, also spoke out against the proposal. She said her children go to Bradford Elementary.
She said it is a nice country school where the principal down to the secretaries know her and her children by name.
And she said putting all the elementary students in one school would cause more mix-ups and mistakes.
When asked on how he thought the meeting went, school board member Larry Putt said he was disappointed in the turnout because it is important that they get as much information as they can before making a decision.
Board President Dave Glass also said the more public input the board gets, the better.
Residents who were unable to attend the meeting can also submit their comments in writing to the school district.
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