Hempfield crunches numbers on possible Bovard Elementary closure
By Richard Gazarik
Published: Monday, Sept. 17, 2012
Hempfield Area school board will vote within the next two months on whether to close Bovard Elementary School.
“We would like (to vote) either in October or November, as soon as we can finalize boundary lines,” Superintendent Andy Leopold said.
Administrators have been reworking those lines because students who attend Bovard would be transferred to Maxwell or West Point elementary schools in the event of a closure. It is possible some Maxwell students may have to transfer to West Point to make room for incoming Bovard students.
Hempfield, like other districts, faces financial strains caused by decreasing state subsidies. Closing Bovard could save the district $1.3 million annually.
“Sadly, I think it's a done deal,” said Kellie Nagy, president of the Bovard Parent Teachers Organization. “They said it was low-hanging fruit that should have been plucked before.”
“I don't think it's a done deal,” said Sean Sieg, who has two children attending Bovard. “I'd like to think they would actually consider (keeping it open). I'd like to be optimistic. ... It's going to be very challenging to keep the school open.”
School director Jeanne Smith said a shutdown of Bovard is not a foregone conclusion.
“It's never a done deal until the votes are taken. People can change their minds. We are going to continue looking at numbers until we make a decision.”
Board President Sonya Brajdic said the decrease in state funding, increased pension costs and unused classrooms in other district schools may necessitate closing Bovard.
“Is it a done deal? I can't answer that,” she said. “It's not an easy decision.”
Although the Bovard area is growing in population, the district can't keep dipping into surplus funds to keep the elementary building open, she said.
“There's been a steady decline” in the overall school population, Brajdic said. “It's down a couple of hundred each year. Bovard is the only building where we've seen an increase. We certainly understand that. It's difficult to put that financial burden out there on all the taxpayers.”
According to figures from the state Department of Education, total enrollment in the district is 6,277 students, with 2,208 elementary students.
District officials said enrollment figures for the 2012-13 term will be finalized in October.
Several parents of Bovard students recently met with administrators to make their case for keeping Bovard open.
“They were very open,” Sieg said. “One thing I feel very strongly about ... I do not want to see a school closed for financial reasons.”
He said the district needs a long-term plan before it begins closing schools or making other cuts.
“You need a three- to five-year plan to save money,” he said. “They need to think long term. They have very tough decisions to make, and this might be one of them. I don't believe we're in such dire straits that we have to close the school. I don't want to hear (closing) is in the best interest of the students.”
Nagy said the district added a third kindergarten class because of the enrollment increase at Bovard, which now has 283 students.
“Logically, if I could see there was a reason to close, I could agree with it,” Nagy said. “They're still crunching enrollment data because they're not even sure of the data they have.”
Smith said administrators have factored all the costs into their financial evaluation.
“We still save $1.3 million a year. It's not even one year — it's every year,” she said.
Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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