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Kiski Area votes 7-1 to close Laurel Point Elementary in Parks Township

Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch - Kelly Klingensmith, mother of Laurel Point Elementary School 3rd grader Evan, wipes away tears as she listens to supporters plead to school board members before a final vote to close Laurel Point Elementary School on Monday, May 5, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Erica Dietz |  Valley News Dispatch</em></div>Kelly Klingensmith, mother of Laurel Point Elementary School 3rd grader Evan, wipes away tears as she listens to supporters plead to school board members before a final vote to close Laurel Point Elementary School on Monday, May 5, 2014.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch - Kiski Area School Board President Keith Blayden listens as members of the public speak to in support of keeping Laurel Point Elementary School open during a meeting at Kiski Area High School on Monday, May 5, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Erica Dietz |  Valley News Dispatch</em></div>Kiski Area School Board President Keith Blayden listens as members of the public speak to in support of keeping Laurel Point Elementary School open during a meeting at Kiski Area High School on Monday, May 5, 2014.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch - Kelly Klingensmith, mother of Laurel Point Elementary School 3rd grader Evan, bows her head as she listens to school board members vote to close Laurel Point Elementary School on Monday, May 5, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Erica Dietz |  Valley News Dispatch</em></div>Kelly Klingensmith, mother of Laurel Point Elementary School 3rd grader Evan, bows her head as she listens to school board members vote to close Laurel Point Elementary School on Monday, May 5, 2014.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch - (front row, left to right) Judy Yount, Laurel Point Parent Teacher Organization President Gina Artman, and Elaine Shetler-Libent, all parents of students at Laurel Point Elementary School, listen as opponents to the Laurel Point's closing make final attempts to sway the school board before their vote to close the school during a meeting at the Kiski Area High School auditorium on Monday, May 5, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Erica Dietz |  Valley News Dispatch</em></div>(front row, left to right) Judy Yount, Laurel Point Parent Teacher Organization President Gina Artman, and Elaine Shetler-Libent, all parents of students at Laurel Point Elementary School, listen as opponents to the Laurel Point's closing make final attempts to sway the school board before their vote to close the school during a meeting at the Kiski Area High School auditorium on Monday, May 5, 2014.

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Tuesday, May 6, 2014, 1:21 a.m.
 

As expected, Laurel Point Elementary in Parks Township will close at the end of the school year.

The Kiski Area School Board voted 7-1 on Monday to close Laurel Point, which last year was lauded by the U.S. Department of Education as a National Blue Ribbon School.

Its closing occurs as part of a districtwide reconfiguration that officials agreed to in 2010 to streamline costs and consolidate its declining student population. Along with two other elementary schools, officials said, Laurel Point's closing was a necessary step to keep the district afloat.

But many Parks residents fear what its closing means for their community.

Since the school board held a public hearing on Laurel Point's closing in January, dozens of Parks residents have flocked to the board's bi-weekly meetings to voice their opposition.

Among the most common concerns are how the school's closing will impact their property values, “tight-knit” sense of community and children's educations.

Karlin Miller, 40, whose son attends the elementary school, asked the board on Monday to postpone its decision until an independent study was done to determine how much the district would lose in tax revenue.

“The school closes, and Parks Township property values go down,” said Miller, who had submitted a 236-signature petition to keep Laurel Point open. “That's less revenue that the district is collecting from the taxpayers there. No one has looked into that issue.”

Another Laurel Point parent, Elaine Shetler-Libent, questioned why the board would “dilute their model for education” by closing its award-winning elementary school.

Board defends decision

In response, the board and district officials invoked the “long, diligent and transparent” process by which they arrived at Monday's decision, which they declined to postpone.

“This has not been an easy decision to make,” board member Ann Marie Nagy said. “But in the best interest of the students and quality of our education, I think we arrived on the right decision through the right process.”

Before undertaking the reconfiguration, the district employed a committee of teachers, administrators, residents and board members to conduct a feasibility study.

After presenting 23 scenarios, the committee found that the most cost-effective and educationally beneficial decision was to designate the former North Washington Elementary as an upper elementary school to house all fifth- and sixth-graders.

As part of the plan, Bell-Avon, Laurel Point and Washington Elementary would close. Students from those schools would attend the district's three remaining elementary schools, which were converted to primary schools for kindergarten through third-graders.

The board's lone dissenter on Monday, Elizabeth Kovach, who lives in Allegheny Township, expressed frustration with Parks residents for their last-ditch efforts to reverse a decision that dates back to 2010.

“This has been an ongoing process for the past four years,” she said. “I've been opposed to the plan from the beginning, but none of (the Parks Township residents) came to voice their concerns until this year.”

No district employees will lose their jobs as a result of Laurel Point's closing, Superintendent John Meighan said. The school's five teachers will be transferred next year to Kiski Area East Primary in Vandergrift with its 100 or so students.

“The board was put in the unenviable position of having to make this tough decision,” Meighan said. “No matter how the vote would go, you have to respect that these tough choices have to be made. They made them in the best interest of the entire district.”

While recognizing the board's efforts, Shetler-Libent said she was disheartened by the ultimate decision.

“It's very sad,” she said. “I just hope that one of these schools in their new system warrants a national award like Laurel Point did.”

Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or bashe@tribweb.com.

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