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Belle Vernon Area superintendent to pitch reconfiguration

| Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, 8:21 a.m.
“I hope people know I care,' said Belle Vernon Area School District Superintendent Dr. John Wilkinson. 'I had a calling to be an educator and leader, and it was a strong one.'

During the 1999-2000 school year, student population in the Belle Vernon Area School District was 3,031. As of Dec. 26, the number had dropped to 2,587 students.

“Think about it – that's like a class and a half,” Superintendent Dr. John Wilkinson said.

On Jan. 9, Wilkinson will lead a public presentation on his recommendation to reconfigure the district's buildings. Closure of one building is a possibility, Wilkinson acknowledged.

Wilkinson said all of the buildings are in acceptable condition.

If his plan goes through, one school building likely will be closed, said Wilkinson, adding that “everything's open for discussion.”

The superintendent declined to say which building could be closed, only conceding it would not be the high school.

There are five academic buildings: the high school; two middle schools, Bellmar and Rostraver; and two elementary schools, Rostraver and Marion.

Marion Elementary was constructed in 1939 and underwent renovations or additions in 1958, 1971, 1994 and 2008. Rostraver Elementary was built in 1958 and was renovated or expanded in 1967, 1989, 1994 and 2008, according to the district's website.

Bellmar was constructed in 1964, with updates in 1984, 1989 and 2001. Rostraver Middle was constructed in 1955 and updated in 1968, 1989 and 1994.

After Wilkinson makes his presentation, the public will be able to ask questions about the proposal.

He said the school board likely will take a couple months to study the proposal. He expects the board to vote on the matter by April. If approved, the plan would be implemented in the 2013-14 school year.

“I think the sooner the better, but everybody needs enough time to think about the changes,” Wilkinson said. “This is going to be a big change, but it's what's best for the future of the district and for our kids.”

Wilkinson said money saved through the reconfiguration plan could be used to further education.

“The money we save from being smart about what we do here is money we can spend on the students,” Wilkinson said. “That's money we can spend to buy algebra books or laptops, for example.

“But this isn't a money-saving issue. This is about how can we provide the best opportunity for our kids. This is not making change for change sake.”

While teachers might have to transfer within the district, Wilkinson said he does not think it would affect jobs.

“Last year, when we had furloughs, we right-sized the district,” Wilkinson said.

“We still have the same number of kids.”

Wilkinson said he has spoken with state Department of Education officials about the protocol for the process.

If approved by the board, the proposal would be submitted to the Department of Education for approval.

Board member Joe Grata said previous discussions, held when Stephen Russell was superintendent, centered around the possibility of closing Rostraver Middle School.

Grata said that if any buildings are closed, he would like district officials to explore the possibility of future public or public/private use for them.

“If any buildings are to be closed and the grades reconfigured, he needs to make a compelling case to the board, the parents and the public for the changes or reconfigurations,” Grata said.

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or