District begins elementary school’s end

BLOSSBURG – In a split vote, the Southern Tioga School Board voted Monday to begin the process that could end with the closure of the elementary school here in the fall.

Voting for the action were Sally Knipe, Frank Kollar, Kyle Lefheloc, John Martin, Ivan Erway, Barb Shull and Sue Jaquish. Voting against were Dan Berguson and Stephen Hall.

Before taking the vote, the board discussed the action at length, hearing from several members of the community who asked the board not to close the elementary school.

Some members of the public also asked the board to again be “transparent” in its plan to make North Penn a consolidated high school and eventually close Mansfield as well.

Lefheloc said the board needed to “consider that option now,” and make sure the high school has room for all the students.

“Maybe we need to eliminate one of the gyms and make an extra science lab,” he suggested.

Berguson said before the vote that he “has a problem, I don’t know where we are going.”

“We can disagree on concept but we need to agree on design as to what we are looking for,” he said.

Knipe simply noted the board needed to make a decision because it had voted to close Liberty High School and those students “need a place to go.”

Jaquish agreed, noting that Superintendent Keith Yarger was “clear in presenting to us that we can provide for both students at Liberty and North Penn by closing Liberty High School and moving them to North Penn, and the advantages to closing Blossburg Elementary, and how that would get us to 2015 in the black, so we have had this discussion. We need to get on the stick and make some decisions. We do have a long-term plan, to have an elementary school in Liberty and Mansfield and a high school in Blossburg and Mansfield. We have gotten on that bus.”

Shull noted the vote was not to definitely close the school, but rather “to have the administration gather information.”

A public hearing on the matter is tentatively set for Feb. 4 before the board’s regular work session.

The board also voted to authorize Quad 3 group to develop a plan for renovation and reconstruction for the district building project capped at $16 million using best design practices.

In a related action, the board voted to authorize R.L. Baird Group and Sinon and Rhodes to re-designate the 2010 bond money for the district project, not limited to the North Penn project only.

The board also:

*Voted to create a temporary position of district re-organization facilitator starting Feb. 12 to help Superintendent Keith Yarger with the transition of moving Liberty Elementary School students to a renovated Liberty High School and the displaced high school students to a renovated/reconstructed North Penn High School.

The person will be a teacher who will begin Feb. 12 and be paid a $5,000 stipend in addition to his or her negotiated pay to compensate through the end of June.

*Voted to advertize for interested community members to sit on a tax study commission to consider changing the tax collected from an earned income tax to a personal income tax.

The board decided in favor of the action after hearing from Kollar about how the district has changed since 2007 with the influx of the natural gas industry activity and natural gas wells being paid to some landowners.