BLOSSBURG - The Southern Tioga School Board has heard many frustrated citizen comments over the past several months as it struggles to balance its ailing budget. Last night's board meeting also was contentious, with many citizens complaining about what they call the board's inconsistent position on district restructuring.
"Frankly, I'm fed up and really confused. Whenever one decision is made then something else comes up and it's reversed," Lynn Thompson, of Blossburg Borough said.
Last winter, the board voted to close Liberty High School and consolidate it with North Penn. With the budget still in crisis, they initiated a Section 780 hearing for the closure of Blossburg Elementary, too. But after learning the district would not receive state reimbursement for restructuring-related construction projects, the board decided to keep the Liberty and Blossburg schools open.
"The kids don't know where they're going to school from one day to the next. They don't feel safe or have a stable environment," Thompson said.
The board's latest decision is to remain status quo, keeping all six district schools open for the 2013-14 school year. To make up for the budget shortfall, Superintendent Keith Yarger suggested in a formal recommendation to the board to close North Penn by winter and invest in repairs to the buildings north and south.
"The north/south plan won't work and we'll end up consolidating any way. Don't waste our taxpayer dollars," Paul Howson, of Blossburg said.
"The board told us the future of our district is a centralized school. Spending money on anything but the future is irresponsible," Tim Martin, of Bloss Township said.
"If you close North Penn, that's the end of the central school," Janice House, of Blossburg said.
Citizens also voiced concerns over the unequal distribution of teachers and supplies between schools.
"Fair and equal across the board hasn't happened," Melanie Shatt, of Mansfield, said.
"Mansfield has always had more. If things are discarded, then they come to Blossburg or Liberty," Dorothy Norman, of Liberty Township said.
"Mansfield has a big entrance with a chandelier and Liberty is beautiful too. Have Blossburg's buildings been renovated recently? No. Did we complain? No. We waited patiently. The board made promise after promise but we haven't gotten anything. People deserve to get what they were promised," said Mary Poust, of Blossburg said.
"We should have had the guts to step up and do the right thing before time started running out. Now we're kicking the can down the road again and wasting taxpayer money. The administration needs to stand on notice that this has to end," John Martin, board member said and was met with raucous applause.
Yarger rebutted, blaming the state for throwing the administration a curve ball.
"Very many of us are upset that the state changed the game plan. We've gone back to the drawing board and presented the board with different ideas, only to be told to go back to the drawing board again. When is the board going to make a decision and go with it? Don't put this on the administration," Yarger said.
In addition to finalizing a decision to keep the status quo for next school year, the board also voted to rescind their approval to enter into a supplemental food service contract with Nutrition Inc.
"I believe rescinding this motion at this time would give our current support staff positions the opportunity to meet or beat Nutrition Inc.'s proposal," Yarger said.
The board also voted to rescind reorganizing the district athletic program, a decision made in response to the decision to close Liberty High School.
"The league has already set the schedule for basketball and Liberty wasn't on the agenda. It's very possible Liberty won't have a basketball team next year or will have to combine with North Penn," Yarger said.
The board will continue to struggle with the district's budget problems until a more permanent solution can be found.
"We as communities hope you will rise above and work together to fix the wrong," Howson said.