LIBERTY - The Southern Tioga School District Board of Education attempted to keep the attendees at Monday's meeting from discussing the impending closure of a school and the controversial North Penn schools building project, but it ended up being discussed anyway.
According to district Superintendent Keith Yarger, the board was told by the attorney who moderated last week's the public hearing on closing a school that it had the right to require all comments regarding the school closure or building project in writing rather than at the microphone.
"With citizen recognition from here on, nothing should be said that has to do with the closure or project but rather needs to be in writing to go on the official record. So, at our board meetings and work sessions, we will only be entertaining citizen recognition for items on agenda or general questions," Yarger said.
Written comments need to be in either by mail or electronically to a special email address firstname.lastname@example.org by Oct. 4.
"We are still going ahead with the bid review Sept. 17 at North Penn High School at 6:30 p.m.," Yarger said, adding, "any comments need to be in writing instead of at the microphone, but anything else, will not be heard at that meeting."
Sean Bartlett, of Richmond Township, challenged the board for attempting to censor public comment at its meetings.
"Are you are telling me people are being censored from speech on this topic tonight? Are you telling me you are legally allowed to do this?" he asked.
"That's what we were told," Yarger said.
"Don't sue us, sue the lawyers," board member Frank Kollar said.
Despite that instruction, those who spoke during the citizen recognition portion of the meeting talked about the building project and the pending closure of a school, which some seem to think already has been decided and will be Liberty.
Leon Kocher, of Covington Township, was one of those.
The board still has about $18.5 million in the bank from the $19.5 million it borrowed for the project, according to Business Manager Laura Perry, with only $1 million spent so far on professional services such as architect fees, construction management firm fees and the bidding process.
"Since you have money in bank and can't recall the bonds for four and a half years, it is obvious you have to use that money for a capital project and you are going to build a new school. I think you ought to be more forthcoming to the community about that issue," Kocher said.
Liberty teacher Eric Broughton asked the board to focus on education.
"Building or no building project, a school is going to close and there will be a change in education. We have not heard anything about what this change is going to be, but we would like to be part of the process to set up the best educational framework we can," he said.
"There are flaws in our science curriculum. In the 12 years I have been there teachers have done a lot of work to get that and we have nothing to show for it. You talk about budgetary constraints. The newest biology book we have in our school is the one you saw at the meeting the other day. Nothing for science, gym and the history department. We have been on a shoestring budget here. We got 15 books in our library because of fundraising by our librarian. We need to put that money where we can prepare our kids for the world by getting them a better education," he said.
Brittany Zeafla, a student at Liberty High School, noted that new biology books Yarger said were being used in the district "aren't available at Liberty. Liberty gets whatever is left over and we consistently perform better than other schools in the district. How can you consider closing a school that performs better than the others?" she asked.