Southern Tioga nixes requiring super majority to close schools

BLOSSBURG – An action item to approve the second reading of a change in the Southern Tioga School District’s policy to close a school – requiring a two thirds or six out of nine vote if the vote would result in leaving no school in the community – was voted down 5-4 during Tuesday’s board meeting.

Voting against the change were board members Barb Shull, Susan Jaquish, Sally Knipe, John Martin and Dan Berguson.

Voting for the change were board members Ivan Erway, Stephen Hall, Kyle Lefheloc and Frank Kollar.

Before the vote, Erway noted that the district’s solicitor said there was no case law that corresponds to what they were trying to do.

“We are doing a brand new thing in Pennsylvania. We have nothing that says yes or no, so it is really on us,” she said.

Lefheloc tried to make the case for changing the policy by pointing out that “removing one school from a community is big, removing all schools from a community is huge.”

“This makes it so you have to have a better case. Whenever that time comes to remove that last school from the community the pencil has to be a little sharper,” he said.

Berguson said he was concerned “we are stepping into uncharted territory and setting ourselves up to be that case law.”

“The reality we are all facing is we have to move away from serving the communities of the district to serving the students of the district and making sure we have every option available to them,” Jaquish said. “We can’t tie the hands of future boards coming on that could very well elicit a challenge resulting in court costs.”

Members of the community seemed to agree with the decision, asking the board before the vote to reconsider.

Steve Guilliaume, of Liberty Township, said the policy change included wording that needed clarification.

The condition that to keep at least one school in each community in the district it must be “financially viable” had never been defined by the board.

“What does that mean, you haven’t defined that so future boards know what that means,” Guilliaume said.

Guilliaume noted that the closure of the two schools voted on at last week’s special meeting was about finances, “and unless we become proactive the next school closure will be financially motivated, too.”

“It could mean no sports, no music, and that is not a proper education in my opinion,” he added.

Sean Bartlett, of Richmond Township, agreed, noting that the board’s decision to pass the policy change was unfair to future boards, in effect tying their hands in regard to future school closings.

“It can mean either you are afraid the future boards won’t agree with you or you don’t trust them,” he said.

In other business, the board heard from Superintendent Keith Yarger that the Oct. 1 enrollment numbers totaled 1,799 reflecting 23 less students attended than were counted on the third day of school when there were 1,822 students in the district.

By school, the numbers were:

Blossburg Elementary School: third day, 314; Oct. 1 314.

Liberty Elementary School: third day, 205; Oct. 1, 197, drop of eight.

W.L. Miller Elementary: third day, 455; Oct. 1 454, drop of one.

Liberty High School: third day, 218; Oct. 1 206, drop of 12.

Mansfield High School: third day, 388; Oct. 1 385, drop of three.

North Penn High School: third day, 242; Oct. 1, 243, increase of one.

A public Act 7-780 school closure hearing will be held Nov. 6 at 6:30 p.m. at the North Penn High School auditorium.