Leechburg Area parents ask board to reconsider decision to leave WPIAL

Brian C. Rittmeyer
| Thursday, May 9, 2013, 1:01 a.m.

Parents want the Leechburg Area School Board to rescind its decision to move the district's sports teams out of the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League.

The school board voted in March to move the district from the WPIAL to the Heritage Conference, part of Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association District 6. Since then, the WPIAL Board of Control in April approved allowing Leechburg Area to leave, effective July 1, 2014.

The District 6 board of directors may vote to accept Leechburg at its meeting Monday at Hollidaysburg High School. The move would still need approval from the statewide PIAA, which meets May 22-23.

But Leechburg Area parents opposed to the move don't think it's too late for the school board to reverse course.

About 20 residents opposed to the move attended the school board's workshop meeting Wednesday. Only school board members spoke in favor of the move.

District officials have said that Leechburg Area teams would be more competitive against Heritage schools.

Parents' objections centered on the increased travel time and distance to Heritage Conference schools and how that would affect students' academics. They also faulted the board for making the decision without giving the public advance notice and an opportunity to weigh in on the decision before it was made.

“We were all blindsided by it,” said Melanie Knight, of Gilpin.

The parents' views were presented primarily by Etta Berry of Leechburg. Her 13-year-old daughter, in seventh grade, plays basketball, softball and volleyball.

Berry presented the board with a petition containing 240 signatures she said were collected in five days. She said the signatures include those of alumni, students, community members, teachers and coaches opposed to the move to Heritage.

“Our first and most important concern is the increased loss of class time for after-school games,” she told the board. “The students will have to be excused even earlier to go the extra distance to those games.

“It should not matter whether a student can handle or not handle losing more class time to participate in sports. It is very distressing to see the school district and school board willing to sacrifice and compromise educational time, which should be the top priority of a school.”

Board President Terry Knepshield said school board members asked the same questions and had the same concerns as residents. It was all discussed in public, he said.

“We did not do this with any nefarious reasons or to hurt anyone,” Knepshield said. “We did this because we believe it's going to be better for our student-athletes.”

Berry said her daughter is already exhausted traveling locally for games and may have to stop playing sports if it hurts her studies.

“I'd like my child to be able to put on her college application that she participated in sports,” she said. But, “It's going to be more important for my daughter to have good grades than participate in sports.”

Preliminary budget

The school board will vote Wednesday to approve a preliminary $12.9 million 2013-14 budget that carries no property tax increase.

That could change before approval of the final budget in June as the board considers introducing a full-day kindergarten option along with its half-day program.

If a full-day kindergarten class is created, business Manager Mark Lukacs said he would recommend a property tax increase to cover the additional $45,000 cost of an aide.

Superintendent vacancy

The school board is also expected to vote next week to accept the resignation of Superintendent James Budzilek.

Budzilek was hired Tuesday as superintendent of the Mars Area School District in Butler County. He will start there on Aug. 5.

Budzilek said his last day at Leechburg Area will be July 31.

Knepshield said the board is considering whether it will conduct a search for a new superintendent itself or hire a consultant. A decision could be made next week, he said.

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4701 or brittmeyer@tribweb.com.

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