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Test scores worry Monessen parents

| Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, 7:11 a.m.

The Monessen School Board and its superintendent heard concerns Tuesday about the fallout from low test scores, but urged a handful of parents not to overreact.

After hearing from a pair of parents at an agenda session Tuesday, Superintendent Linda Marcolini and several board members said implications from low PSSA test scores should not be overblown.

On Friday, the Pennsylvania Department of Education released a list of elementary and secondary schools in the lowest 15 percentile of standardized test scores for the 2011-2012 school year. Monessen high school, middle school and elementary center made this list.

Monessen is the only school district to make the list out of nine covered by The Valley Independent – which includes Bentworth, Belle Vernon Area, Charleroi Area, California Area, Elizabeth Forward, Frazier, Ringgold and Yough.

However, more than a dozen western Pennsylvania schools also were listed, and more than 400 schools statewide ended up on the list.

“I think this caught a lot of schools by surprise … and a lot of those schools are faced with the same financial restrictions we are,” board member Lee Johnson said. “So I'm sure a lot of schools are scrambling right now, and we all have to hang in there together.”

Parent Shirley Baker asked about the possibility of Monessen merging with another school district – an idea Marcolini quickly shot down.

“Merging, right now, isn't even in my vocabulary,” Marcolini said.

“If we were to merge with another school district, that would be downright awful, and I'd be happy to list the pros and cons of a merger. … Everybody needs to be patient.”

Marcolini said $2.5 million in educational cuts by Gov. Tom Corbett undercut the district's ability to prepare for testing last year.

She said last week that the district has the equivalent of 7 12 fewer teachers this school year than last.

“I'm not reaching for excuses, but we just got Corbett's budget (proposal) today, and he's giving us no more money and actually cutting $3,000 from our special education budget,” she said.

“We've got our finances in shape. We're good for several years to come. … There will be no honors classes cut and no teaching positions cut.”

Marcolini said she hopes to quash concerns – starting with in-house district programs she said will lead to better scores for the April round of state testing.

Under Pennsylvania law, general popultion students in households earning up to $75,000 whose school districts made the list could be eligible to receive up to $8,500 to attend out-of-district schools.

Per state law, the district will send letters Feb. 22 detailing the specifics for transfers and will post the information on its website Feb. 25.

Monessen secretary and Pennsylvania School Boards Association liaison Donna Fantuzzi was quick to say that transfer is not always the best option.

“The scholarship for regular (education) is about $8,000, whereas the closest school in this area that would accept you is Charleroi. And I believe their tuition is $9,300 so you would have to pay that difference, plus transportation,” Fantuzzi said.

“For a parent to say ‘I'm going to pull my child out of the district,' they can easily say that. But when you look at the whole picture, there are costs involved.”

Brenda Rice, who has a son in eighth grade and a daughter in second grade, expressed concerns about a possible mass exodus from the Monessen School District.

“If (my son) gets to be a senior and Monessen is not going to be around, that's going to be more traumatic than if I move him now, and he can adjust to another district,” Rice said. “I'm just concerned if a lot of students make a mad rush to get out of the school district.

“Then, pretty soon, we're losing more money, and we get to the point, financially, where we can't stay.”

“I'm a firm believer that we're going to be here for awhile,” Marcolini replied.

“I'm not panicking because one year we made (the list) and the prior years we didn't make it. I feel confident that the scores will be up this year.”

Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbruni@tribweb.com or 724-684-2635.

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