Washington Township Elementary School closing hearing a ho-hum affair

| Friday, Jan. 18, 2013, 8:19 a.m.

In mid-April, Kiski Area School Board will vote on closing Washington Township Elementary School, but on Thursday heard no pleas to keep it open.

The board held a required public hearing to give district citizens a chance to provide input on the forthcoming decision. But an audience of fewer than 10 residents did not do that.

“We were hoping for more feedback,” board member Ann Marie Nagy said.

“It's not what you would normally expect,” Solicitor Ron Repak said.

Superintendent John Meighan said usually in such situations, district residents step up to give reasons why a school should stay open or be closed.

But the questions and comments from the audience centered more on what the effects would be if the school is closed.

What the district has proposed is a $30 million school consolidation that involves closing Washington Township and Bell-Avon elementary schools at the end of the current school year and Laurel Point Elementary after the 2013-14 school year.

The students attending those schools would be moved to the district's four remaining elementary buildings, all of which will be renovated and/or expanded. Students in grades K-4, based on where they live, will attend three primary centers for those grades: Kiski Area East (Vandergrift Elementary); Kiski Area North (Allegheny-Hyde Park Elementary); and Kiski Area South (Mamont Elementary).

All students in grades 5 and 6 will be housed in Kiski Area Upper Elementary School, now North Washington Elementary.

Meighan and Business Manager Peggy Gillespie cited declining enrollment, the condition of the buildings, improvements to the educational program and cost savings as the reasons for closing the schools.

Meighan went through a PowerPoint presentation of a study done by architect Canzian/Johnston & Associates, touching on those factors.

District-wide, he said K-6 enrollment as of the third school day in 1991 was 2,458. It dropped to 2,326 by 2000 and then plummeted to 1,877 by 2012, an overall decline of 581 students or 24 percent. The district-wide, year-end enrollment figures were: 2,352 in 2000, which fell to 1,949 by the end of 2012.

Meighan said the year-end enrollment projection for 2021 is 1,450, an additional decline of 321 students from 2012 and a total drop of 902 students since 1991.

For Washington Township Elementary, enrollment in grades 3-6 in 2000 was 257. By the end of 2012, it fell to 142, a decline of 115 students or 45 percent since 2000.

The capacity of the building is 500 students and its present enrollment in grades 3-6 is 160. If it was made into a K-4 center in 2013-14, the enrollment would only be 178 students, according to the study. At the same time, Gillespie said the district has spent $1.45 million on renovations to the school but an additional $4.3 million would be needed to fully renovate it.

Meighan said the reconfiguration would reduce the instructional staff from 100 to 86 but said much of that has already been achieved through attrition with the staff now at 89. Along with six teaching positions, five support staff and two food service employees would not be needed, saving the district a total of $829,000 per year. However, a school nurse and an additional counselor would be hired, Meighan said.

From an educational standpoint, he said the Upper Elementary building will greatly enhance a science-technology-engineering-math curriculum while the primary centers will focus on literacy.

Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or tyerace@tribweb.com.

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