JERSEY SHORE - Less than a year after deciding not to close an elementary school, the Jersey Shore Area School District presented a four-year plan at Monday's board meeting that included possibly closing one or more schools.
After requesting more time to complete a comprehensive plan for the district the past two board meetings, Richard Emery, superintendent, this week presented a year-to-year plan for the district for the next four school years.
Emery said with budget restraints at the state and federal levels the past few years, the district needs to do something to keep its programs.
He added that the district is at a point where it doesn't have "anywhere to go," but to look at cutting programs. The district tried to cut art and music programs at the elementary level but they were spared late in the budgeting process.
Enrollment, facilities, curriculum, staffing and financial reality were the five "influencing factors," Emery cited for the decisions of the administration team.
The first step of the plan already is under way as the district is going forward with a $13 million renovation and addition project to the Jersey Shore Elementary School. Emery said the renovation and addition of four kindergarten classrooms will take the building's capacity from 650 to somewhere between 875 and 925.
After discussing the possibility of moving fifth-grade students from all elementary buildings to the middle school for the past month, the move was included in Emery's plan for the 2013-14 school year.
On Tuesday, Emery said the decision to explore moving fifth-grade students to the middle school came after realizing the building could handle more students.
"We have space available at the middle school. The direction we took was to utilize building capacity and we have space available at the middle school to do that," he said.
The district would hold an orientation for those entering the fifth grade, as they now do for sixth-grade students, and would keep them together in the building. Emery said the fifth- and sixth-grade students would be separate from the two older grade levels.
With the added capacity created by moving a grade level out of Jersey Shore Elementary and the additional space, the school could take on more students. If the elementary school construction project is complete by the start of the 2014-15 school year, Emery said the district would look at closing Nippenose Valley Elementary School and moving those students into Jersey Shore.
Emery said Nippenose Valley was selected to close because it is the smallest school population of the elementary schools and can fit in the borough school.
"When we look at the numbers enrolled, that school becomes the small school ... when we move the fifth grade out," he said.
According to Emery, the district's enrollment has been declining since 1978. He said the student population has decreased significantly since then, making the need for six buildings unnecessary.
Although the state Department of Education has projected an increase in enrollment the past few years, the numbers begin to decrease in the coming years.
Emery said it also is a concern that the actual enrollment figures were lower than the projection the past few years. The 2011-12 school year saw 10 of the district's 13 grade levels come under PDE projections.
Emery said in the past the district needed more space to hold its students, but now having so many buildings is costing the district money.
Although nothing is planned for the 2015-16 school year, Emery said the district could look to create a one-campus concept for the district. The district would have one building for kindergarten through third-grade students, one building for those in fourth through seventh grades and one building for eighth-grade students through 12th.
"The one campus makes us much more efficient as a district. (We are) better able to utilize staff. Maintenance would just have three buildings to take care of," Emery said of the proposal.
Dr. Dorothy Chappel, assistant superintendent, said if all teachers of a grade level were in the same building it would allow them to better align the curriculum and meet together.
Emery said the plan now is only a concept and nothing is finalized. He only said he hoped to give the board direction for the district, as he was instructed. If the board would have told him it didn't like the plan, Emery said the administration team would've come up with a new one.
But that wasn't the case Monday as the board showed support for the plan.
"I am willing to support this concept," said John Shireman, board member.
Emery said in order for it to work, the district needs not only the board, but students, teachers and, most importantly, teachers to support it, as well. He told the audience at the meeting that the "negative (to the plan) is change. This is change."
"That's going to be the key," Emery said on getting the community to stand behind the idea. "Change occurs sometimes whether we want it or not."