PHILIPSBURG — More than 200 people logged on to their computers or participated via cell phone for Tuesday night’s Philipsburg-Osceola Area School Board meeting to discuss relocating the district’s fifth graders to the elementary schools.
The majority who participated in the 90-minute live stream meeting voiced concerns about the issue, but directors in a 6-3 vote made the fifth grade move official.
In November, Superintendent Dr. Gregg Paladina said he would consult with his administrative team, principals and parents on where fifth graders are best fit. It was then discussed in further detail at the March 10 board meeting as administrators gave a presentation. At that time, it was mentioned it was the first year the district had the numbers where they could make the move happen.
The proposal called for fifth grade students to return to the Osceola Mills and Philipsburg elementary schools, and middle school would then house grades 6-8.
Mostwho chose to speak felt the move was being pushed through rather quickly and that more research needed to be done. Other concerns raised included class sizes, empty classrooms, transportation, staffing and lunch schedules.
“This cannot be a decision made quickly or frivolously,” resident Jess Levonick said. “It seems ill-timed to consider such a major decision when students, classes and teachers have already been through great upheaval ... I don’t think at this time we should be creating more uncertainty for the following year.”
“If it’s not broken — which we all is certainly not — why are we fixing it?” resident Melissa Wood questioned.
Resident Cara Artiola said she would support whatever the board would decide and cited the district spoke to students and sent questionnaires.
“They’ve been talking about this over a year, it’s not something that was just decided in a month,” Artiola said. “And people are upset because it’s a change. Change is scary, but it can also be a good thing.”
Paladina said as far as class sizes, the fifth grade move has “no impact whatsoever on the class sizes” at both elementary buildings for any grade.
When it came time for the vote, board member Linda Bush said she “couldn’t grasp the rationale” of voting on the matter that evening.
“The U.S. is facing a crisis with the coronavirus and yet we are here tonight to push this through,” Bush said, adding the matter should wait until the spring or summer — or until public meetings are held again.
“If it passes then, so be it,” Bush said. “We can implement the change for the (2021-22) school year at that time if it passes.”
Bush said the focus should currently be on seniors and how they will graduate on time so they can perform summer jobs, leave for the service or go to to college.
Board member Rob Massung suggested a different proposal: Having grades K-2 at Osceola Mills, grades 3-5 at Philipsburg, grades 6-8 at the middle school and grades 9-12 at the high school. Massung said this would also get the fifth grade out of the middle school while also having other advantages.
“By having a unified school district, all grades would be under one building for the first time ever,” Massung said. “All the teachers would be in the same building and could collaborate with the curriculum and the programs. All of the field trips could be coordinated, too. I think it made sense on paper now and I could be convinced otherwise.”
Paladina said they have discussed Massung’s proposal before and he wouldn’t be opposed to that.
Board member Rob Miller said with more than 200 people in on the meeting, he feels that is reason enough to table the matter and do more research, especially after hearing Massung’s alternative proposal.
“I think it’s better to do it right than to do it wrong and have to go back and change it,” Miller said.
Board member Estelle Bowman asked what the costs would be to reunify the schools, and Massung said he didn’t have the answer currently.
Bowman asked if they approved the fifth grade move, could they then still look at Massung’s proposal.
“I think you could do both if you wanted to,” Paladina said.
Miller disagreed, saying he didn’t think you should make a change and then make yet another change.
“It should be discussed further,” Miller said. “We have options that we’re not even aware of now.”
However, with the motion still on the table to move fifth grade to both elementary schools, President Dana Droll asked for it to be seconded and it was made by Bowman. The board the approved the fifth grade move with Droll, Bowman, Jeffries, Nancy Lamb, Susan McGee and Ross Williams voting in favor. Voting against were Bush, Miller and Massung.