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The Progress Home >> Friday, February 22, 2013 - DASD considers closing Highland Elementary School

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DASD considers closing Highland Elementary School
Friday, February 22, 2013
By Josh Woods Staff Writer
DUBOIS - The cost of salary and benefits has caused DuBois Area School District to gather information on closing one of its elementary schools as it prepares its 2013-14 budget.
Assistant Superintendent J. Mark Heckman announced at last night's DuBois School Board work session the district is gathering information on closing Highland Elementary School. A motion to advertise for a public hearing on the closure of the school would appear on Wednesday's school board agenda.
"As we do every year, we're looking at ways to try and trim the budget," said Heckman. "There's lots of things we can do, but the things we do make a minimal impact because a lot of our budget is based on salary and benefits.
"We've found ourselves at a crossroads, and with potential retirements and things this might be the ideal time to investigate, to do a building closing."
Heckman said school code outlines several reasons the district may choose to close a building. They are small enrollment, condition of the building, better organization of the district, or other reasons determined by the board. A vote to close the school for the 2013-14 school year would have to occur at least 60 days prior to the start of school, Heckman said, because the district is required to let it's staff know by that time.
A public hearing on whether or not to close Highland would likely occur on March 18, Heckman said. Once a public hearing is held, the board of directors would consider public comments, budgetary constraints and any other information it receives.
In an interview with The Progress, Heckman said the district would save approximately $495,000 in salaries and benefits if the school were closed. Potentially, the district would not replace three classroom teachers ($300,000), one full-time secretary ($50,000), one full-time custodian ($65,000), three part-time food service workers ($20,000), one full-time health aide ($40,000) and three part-time teacher aides ($20,000). Because next year is projected as a retirement year, the district wouldn't need to furlough any teachers, Heckman said.
Closing Highland would allow the district to streamline administrative support, save on travel expenses and promote student growth, Heckman said. It might allow the district to relocate its MIS department and administrative, transportation and student services, he said. Heckman also envisions using Highland as a professional virtual learning center for teacher training and school board meetings.
The attendance boundaries of Oklahoma and Wasson Elementary Schools would expand to envelop the Highland Elementary School area, Heckman said. Part of the impact of expanding the boundaries would be its affect on the first grade level. Currently, the first grade level at Oklahoma contains 75 students.
"If we were to take the first grade from Highland and move them between Oklahoma and Wasson it would actually be too big for the Oklahoma class," said Heckman. "We do have a thing in place where parents are allowed to take their students from their home school to an out of attendance school with the understanding that if the class size is too big they have to go back to their home school again.
"There are 11 students in this year's kindergarten class/next year's first grade that are out of attendance. There are six students from Penfield, two from C.G. Johnson, two from Wasson and one from Juniata that we would ask that they go back to their home schools. That would make that class size manageable."
Superintendent Timothy Deluccia announced Wasson Elementary is no longer among the state's top 150 low performing schools. None of the DuBois or Clearfield County schools is listed in a February report listing the state's lowest performing schools, he said. Wasson Elementary was previously listed among the worst performing schools in a list published by state department of education officials.
In other business, Deluccia testified at a Feb. 13 senate hearing before the senate education and Veterans affairs and emergency preparedness committees. Sen. Joe Scarnati, R-25 of Brockway invited Deluccia to speak about the issue of school safety and DuBois' student resource officer program, he said. Republican Senators Lisa Baker, Mike Fohner and Scarnati chaired the hearing in Harrisburg on improving school safety and providing grant funding for hiring and training armed guards.
Deluccia testified the school district has SROs at its high school and middle school. The SRO program was originally developed in 1999 with grant funding from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, he said. When the funding was eliminated, the administration recognized the importance of the SRO program and remained committed to supporting it through the allocation of district funds, he said.
"There are many positive outcomes from having school resource officers in buildings," said Deluccia. "Not only are they the police officer but they are members of our school families. They nurture a positive culture with our students in the classroom, hallways, cafeteria and stadium."
Deluccia said the SRO officers promote student safety through drug and alcohol education and use their expertise in the mathematics classroom to educate students on measuring the distance of tire marks after traveling at certain speeds. Deluccia said he would welcome the opportunity to expand the program to DuBois' elementary schools.
When considering school safety the senate committee should consider the design of buildings and needed technology, Deluccia said. Recent renovation projects at DuBois have focused on building design changes, relocating offices and updating the locking mechanisms on classroom doors and outside entrances, he said.
"However, there are other buildings that were constructed and designed in the 1970s that have office areas located in a section of the building that make it difficult for school office staff to positively identify the individuals entering the building," said Deluccia. "In addition, some of the classrooms were constructed without doors and with portable walls between the rooms as part of the "open classroom" concept. This has been addressed where possible but still remains a concern in some buildings today."
Deluccia said DuBois committed nearly $500,000 to a state-of-the-art security camera system for its middle and high school facilities. In its elementary buildings, security camera systems are up-to-date where renovation projects have taken place and antiquated and need to be upgraded in other buildings, he said.
Through grants obtained by the SROs and additional local funds, the district utilizes a software program called V-Soft at the secondary level. V-Soft is a web-based program that utilizes databases to track visitors through a driver's license swipe. It alerts staff when sex offenders attempt to enter, he said. Unfortunately, DuBois' elementary schools don't have the V-Soft technology, he said.
"While school safety has always been a priority among all of us, the horrible incident in Newtown, Connecticut has not only heightened awareness of school safety among students, parents, educators and community and school and government leaders," Deluccia said. "It has school boards and administration assessing the safety of our schools and coming to conclusions about what it is that we are doing that's on target and what it is that we need to do differently."
Board member Lloyd McCreight was absent from the meeting.
The next meeting is Wednesday at 7 p.m.
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