Elementary schools safe from closing

BLOSSBURG – Six schools in the Southern Tioga School District will remain open for the 2013-14 school year, following a unanimous vote at Wednesday’s board meeting.

“Whatever school you’re assigned to right now you will be attending in the 2013 school year,” school board President Ivan Erway said.

Furloughed professional employees will have their furloughs revoked and the district will run on the same schedule as it did last year, according to Superintendent Keith Yarger.

The board also is expected to reject the closure of Blossburg Elementary within the next week.

“The board wants to keep a school within each community, form a central high and close two schools within two years,” Yarger said.

On the chopping block now is North Penn High School. The superintendent recommended holding a school closure hearing for North Penn in September and officially closing the school before the winter holiday.

“The board will then be able to give out furloughs for the building closure next year to meet all of the laws required for furloughing professional staff,” Yarger wrote in a formal recommendation to the board.

It is not certain that the same positions furloughed for the closure of Liberty High School will be furloughed for North Penn, due to varying school sizes.

“We talked about the possibility of the same positions being furloughed. That may be true, that may not be true. Now we have to look at schedules for those two particular high schools,” Yarger said.

“We are the board of education, not the board of finance. We’re not going to solve all our problems with any one decision, and no matter what we do there will be elements that you or I aren’t happy with. But we need to ensure that our students are put first,” board Treasurer Dan Burgeson said.

Board member Susan Jaquish expressed concern that school closures will raise class sizes.

“I’m not sold on the idea that a larger school will give the quality of education for each individual,” Jaquish said.

“Even if we combine all of our schools into one, according to Pennsylvania Department of Education, we’re still a small school. You’d have to combine the entire county before we’d even reach the top of the small school classification,” Erway said.

The initial cost for transporting North Penn students to Liberty or Mansfield high schools is in the range of $218,000, with reimbursement each subsequent year taking the cost down to about $74,120, according to Yarger. The North Penn auditorium would remain open for community use but the two-story structure of the current high school would be demolished, according to Yarger.

Sports using North Penn as the point of consolidated origin will continue to use the Island Park facilities, although Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association guidelines would not permit teams to keep the North Penn High School name. The demolition of portions of North Penn also would give the marching band a larger field to practice on after school, according to Yarger.

“The cost of this would not raise the transportation costs for after-school activities as the buses are currently already running these routes,” Yarger wrote.

Other recommendations made by Yarger include using some of the district’s bond money to put a new roof and floor on Blossburg Elementary and repair Liberty schools. The total cost of Yarger’s recommended repairs is in the range of $2.4 to $2.6 million.

Board member Frank Kollar noted that the architect will charge four or five times the price of a local contractor. Erway explained that repairs to the roof or floor could be incorporated into the internal budget, not the architecture budget.

The board unanimously voted to review the superintendent’s recommendations with legal counsel and architects, to work with architects to identify areas needing repairs in buildings and prepare bid documents for board consideration as soon as possible.

The board will hold a special meeting to consider the rejection of Blossburg Elementary closure at 6:30 p.m. June 3 at the North Penn High School library.