MANSFIELD - Change is coming to the Southern Tioga School District.
District Superintendent Keith Yarger said after Monday's school board meeting that if he had it his way, a decision on closing schools would be reached before the district went on its winter break in December. Whether that happens or not, a decision on school closure is expected to be made at some point during the upcoming school year.
There was discussion on closing at least one school after a presentation of the district's feasibility study by Scott Vencil, of Crabtree, Rohrbaugh and Associates of Mechanicsburg.
"What we are trying to achieve here with this feasibility study is improving educational environment ... and number two, fiscal responsibility," he said.
Vencil showed that there has been a steady decrease in student population since 1970. By 2020, Vencil projected a 2.6 percent decrease in students.
Currently, the three elementary schools - Blossburg, Liberty and Miller - are closer to capacity than the three district high schools - Liberty, Mansfield and North Penn.
The three high schools are at an average of 57 percent full, while the elementary schools are about 84 percent full. The state Department of Education states that a school building should not exceed 90 percent of capacity.
"Essentially what that is telling us is that (the high schools) are half full," Vencil said.
After going over this information, previously presented, he offered the board two options - keep all buildings open or close at least one building.
Vencil said at least half of the buildings' engineering infrastructures have reached the end of their lives. He would not endorse remaining "status quo."
"Can the district afford to keep all buildings open in light of enrollment projections and budgetary implications?" Vencil asked the board. "Based on our assessment ... the answer is simple, no."
The second option - to close a school - wasn't as clear-cut as the first. Vencil presented several options for the board to consider. The options did not simply close a building, but converted others from their current use, as well.
Vencil said it would "easier" to justify closing a high school compared to an elementary school because of their lower capacity rates.
Vencil also noted that if a building is closed, it doesn't mean position cuts would be made as the district would still need to teach the same amount of students.
By 2013 - the earliest a building could close - only the combination of North Penn and Liberty high schools couldn't accommodate students in grades seven through 12 without an addition. This combination would exceed the 90-percent capacity rate at 97-percent.
The first closure would have Liberty Elementary students move to Liberty High School. Liberty Elementary then would be closed.
Although the move would be better to accommodate more students, Vencil said a kitchen addition would be needed at the current high school because both schools use Liberty Elementary's kitchen to cook meals.
The second closing would see Blossburg students move to North Penn High School. Blossburg then would either be closed or have its second floor razed and using it as additional space for North Penn.
Vencil said those were short-term solutions, but looking long-term the district could consider the possibility of having only one high school for the entire district.
The projected 943 students in grades seven through 12 would not fit into any of the current high schools. Vencil said the district could explore taking grades seven and eight out the equation to drop the total population for a high school to 590.
In order to "find a new home," for the seventh- and eighth-grade students, the district would move them to the elementary schools.
Mansfield High School would be the only high school with the ability to accommodate the students, but would be at 92-percent capacity. Liberty Elementary School would again be closed in this scenario.
This option would put the three remaining kindergarten through eighth-grade schools - Miller, North Penn/Blossburg and Liberty High School at 87 percent of capacity.
"As you can see we're edging up the capacity of the elementary schools," Vencil said.
But by keeping Mansfield High School open, Vencil said it would keep a relationship with Mansfield University.
The project would cost the district somewhere between $27.2 million and $34 million. Closing Liberty Elementary would give it a yearly savings of $60,000.
Vencil called an option to make North Penn the only high school, "not appropriate," as it would be over capacity. But if a renovation project to Blossburg and North Penn that was put on hold earlier in the year was completed, North Penn would have enough capacity to fit all high school students, according to Vencil.
This scenario would be appealing to the district, Vencil said, because the school is centrally located in the district. Blossburg, Liberty High School and Mansfield High School would become kindergarten through eighth-grade schools, with Liberty Elementary and Miller Elementary closing.
This project would cost about $33.4 million, with a combined savings of $190,000 a year from the two building closures.
Vencil said the report was not final, but is something for the board and administration to consider.
"This report should be viewed as a starting point," he said.