Southern Tioga School Board narrows options

LIBERTY – Still lacking a solution to the budget deficit, the Southern Tioga School Board voted Monday to initiate an impact study to consider two dramatically different district restructuring plans. The plans were proposed by Superintendent Keith Yarger and North Penn High School Principal Albert Lindner.

Yarger’s plan would close the North Penn High School program and bus students north and south to Mansfield or Liberty until a permanent consolidation becomes practicable. Lindner’s plan would consolidate Liberty and North Penn High School programs in the initial phase and absorb the Mansfield program in phase two. Both plans involve additions or rennovations to existing buildings.

“If we take our limited resources and invest them in the two ends of our district, we’ll never have a consolidated school,” Lindner said, referring to Yarger’s plan. “You can’t put kids on a bus for a 40-mile run every day both ways.”

“The long-term goal that Lindner presented would educationally be the best for the district but I have to hold firm in my recommendation. It’s not that I don’t want to get to a centralized high school but I don’t think we’re financially able to do that at this time.”

One advantage of. Lindner’s plan is educational equality, since the phase one consolidation would expand course offerings currently unavailable to Liberty and North Penn students.

“The students in our two smaller high schools aren’t able to take the courses available at Mansfield. Dual enrollment is ruled out a Liberty because of the distance,” Lindner said.

A disadvantage of Lindner’s plan is increased transportation costs.

“The cost of transportation alone comes to close to one million dollars,” Yarger said, referring to Lindner’s plan. “At this particular juncture, the north/south option will be the most cost-effective. I’m not saying it’ll be the most equitable.”

The impact study will provide the school board with data comparing the building, staffing and transportation requirements and bugetary impact of both plans. The study will also consider each plan’s effect on the district’s bonds.

“The bond issue is complex and this data will go a long way in helping the board make a decision. This doesn’t lock the board into anything,” Christopher Lantz, district solicitor, said.

Discussion prior to the vote indicated division among board members.

“The more we invest in the ends, the less our opportunity to move forward for the future. I want my kids to have the best educational opportunities and if I have a choice, I’m sending them where those opportunities are. Any parent would,” said board member Dan Berguson, referring to the likelihood of North Penn parents sending their children to Mansfield instead of Liberty if Yarger’s north/south plan moves forward.

“Those opportunities are there now,” board member Susan Jaquish said.

“They aren’t,” Berguson replied.

Board member Sara Jane Knipe noted that technology is expanding students’ access to course offerings.

“They can take the classes they want online. It may not be the best way to take a class but it’s a way to get the basics,” Knipe said.

Berguson requested Yarger elaborate on the long-range aspects of his plan, specifically those that move the district towards a centralized high school. He agreed to present the information at a later date.

“We’re an extremely large, rural and poor district,” Lindner said. “When you put those factors together, we’re in the position for a perfect storm.”