The school board was set to vote on whether to schedule a public hearing in March to discuss the closing of the junior high school and matters related to the district’s other facilities.
The district has been exploring the possibility of closing the junior high, which is in need of costly repairs. Before a school can be closed, school code requires a public hearing be held with 15 days advertised notice . At the conclusion of the public hearing, the board must wait a minimum of three months before making any decision
Knafelc said voting to have a public hearing on March 4 is not a vote to close the junior high. She said the hearing would have been a discussion with all the experts about the possibilities of school closure as well as the options concerning the district’s other buildings.
But those opposed to closing the junior high school said the vote would essentially start the clock because the board would meet the 90-day wait requirement in the school code to take a vote by June 4.
Economy resident Scott Setzenfand said the public hearing is the first to step to closing the junior high and there are many unanswered questions.
“Before we start the process to make that decision I think we need a lot more transparency as far as what the answers to those questions are for all parties involved.”
Among the questions, Jennifer Setzenfand asked, is how much will the district save on redistricting, how many students will be lost to cyber and charter schools and what will that ultimately cost?
She also wondered how a day in the life of a student would change: How will students in seventh- and eighth-grades practice sports if they are in two separate buildings? How will the day change for a student who lives near Highland and is bused to Economy Elementary, or how will seventh- and eighth-graders be kept separate from 12th-graders at the high school?
“You can’t start this process if you can’t answer the questions,” Setzenfand said.
Harmony resident Terri Mylan said the board is rushing to judgment without looking at major impacts, including short-term and long-term economics, busing, and studies on how it will impact the students. Mylan said the board is focused on whether students will fit in the buildings and not on whether the buildings fit our students and our schools.
“I believe this process is premature,” said Mylan, who also directed comments to individual board members. “…What I’m asking is to delay the decision.”
He said the district is currently faced with a $1.8 million shortfall in this year’s preliminary budget, even after raising taxes to the set limit.
“If you’re going to spend money, spend it on the education of your students.”
Mylan said she and her husband are software managers and executives and could live anywhere, but live here because they love it.
“We expect the same from you that were elected officials.”
Economy resident Nicole Pucci said her children are the fourth-generation of her family to attend Ambridge and she likes the feel of the neighborhood schools. She said students need the junior high as a stepping stone students need for an easier transition to the next chapter in their lives.“Do what repairs are necessary on the junior high building now to keep it open. Maybe develop a five-year plan so we can keep the junior high building, but not put the district in financial ruin. Make upgrades gradually as the district can afford.”
Board member Kim Locher suggested turning the matter over to the board’s education and technology committee to look at the feasibility of what could be done.
“After 60 days, after we have some of the answers, then we can come back and take a look at this issue of facilities.”
Knafelc said the discussion began four years ago and during that time, the board said they would wait. Last year, the board decided they couldn’t make a decision because they needed facts. The architectural firm was hired at about $15,000 to look at all of the buildings. Members from all sides were invited onto the citizens committee and came back with a recommendation last month.
She said the next step is to have a public hearing where the architect, engineering group, bus company, and financial officials would all be available for the discussion.
“If you don’t have this meeting, what you do is kick the can down again,” Knafelc said. “You just keep kicking the can.”