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Jersey Shore School Board work session revolves around closing schools

JERSEY SHORE — The goal of the district to provide the “best education possible” while still being “aware of the need to look at the community as a whole and what taxpayers can reasonably afford” was the task presented to the Jersey Shore School Board by President Mary Thomas, as they addressed whether to close one, two or no schools in the district.

“This is a work session to discuss potential changes to configuration of our school districts,” said Thomas.

“At this point, it is a fact finding

mission and not whether everyone agrees. You’re looking at possibly closing none or one or more buildings or reconfiguration,” Thomas told the board.

Thomas cautioned that this week’s work session may leave many confused and in need of more answers. She said that just because some things are on the list of items to discuss does not mean that the board will do them.

“That is all part of the research that needs to happen for the board to do its due diligence to what is best for the district,” she said.

During the courtesy of the floor prior to the discussion portion of the meeting, comments from members of the community ranged from not closing buildings to asking the board to be mindful of how difficult it is becoming to afford even basic necessities.

The board discussion tended to focus on enrollment figures and the costs involved with repairing the Avis and Salladasburg elementary buildings as opposed to closing one or both of those schools and moving all elementary students into the Jersey Shore Elementary School facility.

“I have constituents that are very upset that we are again revisiting these options,” board member Kayla Calhoun said, as she questioned why the Capital Projects committee had not been able to come to a conclusion about the issue.

“I’m very disappointed in the Capital Projects committee that this is where it had to come. It’s very heart-wrenching to think that the only thing that we hear is negative at these meetings,” she said.

Board member Wayne Kinley, was ready with statistics at the meeting, to back up the argument that the district, as well as the county is losing population. Enrollment numbers were also cited by Kinley to illustrate that the class sizes at the two outlying elementary schools are smaller compared to Jersey Shore Elementary.

“Almost every grade at Salladasburg and Avis are below the minimums and Jersey Shore they’re all within the range,” Kinley said, referring to the number of students in a classroom.

Whether class size numbers should be part of the board’s decision was a topic of debate, as was whether it was better to do some repairs on schools and wait to see if the numbers improve or go all out and close schools now.

The issue of students’ safety was noted by board member Michelle Stemler.

“It seems like from day to day as you get up and you look at newspapers and read different things that are happening, safety’s become I think one of the greatest needs,” Stemler said.

If it isn’t addressed, Stemler said, “we’re going to deeply regret that.”

“We already had said about looking into doing more than what we have done, and we could accomplish a lot more if we had all students for elementary school in one building — one place. It would solve class size issues. It would solve maintenance problems and money. It would solve a lot of issues,” she said.

Some of the issues were highlighted in a recent feasibility study done on district buildings. Questions were posed to the firm that conducted the study and the answers to those questions informed a lot of the discussion topics at the work session.

“You have to ask the question or a combination of questions and look at all the solutions that go with the question. So, right now to save money we’re talking about closing schools, but does it really save money with what we have to spend out to make the addition,” Thomas said.

She said that there’s more than one way to answer that question.

“It doesn’t have to be with closing schools. We’re not looking at the whole picture,” she said.

“If we look at the whole picture and we go the one direction, fine. But I don’t want to go back. I don’t want to go three months from now and say, why didn’t we look at this. We only looked at this one piece of the puzzle when there’s more than one solution,” Thomas said.

The next work session will be at 6 p.m. Aug. 29 at the District Administration Office, 175 A&P Drive.

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