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Hempfield might cut deeper to whittle $2.8 million deficit

| Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012, 9:02 p.m.

If Hempfield Area school board decides to close Bovard Elementary School, it would be the first in a series of cost-saving measures officials may be forced to undertake to offset a looming $2.8 million deficit, Superintendent Andy Leopold said.

The board is considering eliminating Crossroads, an alternative school program for troubled students, he said.

“I'd hate to start a panic but it would be unfair just to look at Bovard,” Leopold said. “It's just one piece of the puzzle.”

Administrators explained to parents Monday that closing Bovard may be necessary to offset a deficit as the district begins the 2013-14 school year.

Even with closing Bovard, program cuts may be needed, Leopold said.

He said he would prefer to investigate other cost-cutting measures before deciding whether to eliminate educational programs.

“My philosophy has been to start (cutting) as far away from the classroom as possible,” he said.

“Even with the closing of Bovard, however, educators are cognizant of the fact that additional cuts to programs will be likely to reduce our current deficit,” said Dr. Barbara Marin, assistant superintendent for elementary education.

“Our concern is we're going to see education programs suffer,” she said.

“Closing Bovard would offset future, deeper cuts,” added Leopold.

District officials reorganized the class structure of its three middle schools to save $750,000. The board saved another $50,000 by eliminating the Road Less Traveled program, which helped chronically truant students to graduate.

Officials are beginning to mull over the possibility of leasing Hempfield's bus garage to generate additional revenue, Leopold said.

Hempfield finds itself in the same position as school districts across the state.

Over the past three years, districts have closed 169 schools, according to the state Department of Education.

The Gateway School District in Allegheny County, Ligonier Valley and Derry Area districts in Westmoreland and Ringgold in Washington County have recently closed schools, which prompted an increase in charter school enrollments, according to Leopold.

Other districts that have been forced to close schools to save money include Pittsburgh, Penn Hills, West Mifflin, East Allegheny, Highlands and Wilkinsburg in Allegheny County.

The Ellwood City School District, which includes students from Lawrence and Beaver counties, and the Somerset Area School District in Somerset County also have closed buildings.

In Hempfield, closing Board will result in the elimination of 15 positions. That includes 8.5 teaching slots, although educators may be able to move into other slots within the district, depending on their seniority area of certification, Marin said.

Business Manager Jude Abraham said the district would save between $1 million and $1.1 million by closing Bovard, although some parents questioned the accuracy of his estimates.

“These are pretty conservative figures,” he said. “We would never be below $900,000 (in savings) with this project.”

The district has backed off plans to test the ground beneath Bovard to see if it would be feasible to build an addition there. Leopold said the cost of the tests was exorbitant.

After receiving initial estimates of $10,000 to $15,000, he received a price of $29,900 Monday. That prompted the school board to nix the plan since building an addition to Bovard never was a serious consideration.

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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