Hempfield school board to vote on closing Bovard in January

| Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

The Hempfield Area School District did an about-face Monday and said it will not test the ground beneath the Bovard Elementary School and likely will vote on whether to close the school in January, said Superintendent Andy Leopold.

The school board met Monday to present parents with its plan to close the elementary school and to discuss the impact the closure will have on district finances, students and academics.

Leopold said Friday the district would conduct soil sampling to determine the amount of mine subsidence at the site, but said cost estimates received Monday are twice that of initial estimates, although he did not reveal the figures. He said core sampling would not impact the decision whether to close the school because building an addition to Bovard is not an option the school board is considering.

“At this point ... I'm not recommending that (the soil tests),” Leopold said. “We have to look at the greater good for the near, mid and distant future of our district.”

The meeting was held at Bovard to give parents a chance to ask questions following a detailed presentation by Assistant Superintendent Barbara Marin regarding student transfers to other schools. At one point, the meeting became a bit contentious, prompting a warning from board President Sonya Brajdic.

“It's either ‘question-and-answer' or the board leaves,” warned Brajdic, who wouldn't allow school directors to answer any questions.

Marin said if Bovard closes, the following transfers will be made:

• 160 students would transfer from Bovard to Maxwell Elementary School.

• 61 students would shift to West Point Elementary School.

• One student would transfer to Fort Allen.

To make room for incoming Bovard students, students at Maxwell and West Point would be transferred to other elementary schools. According to Marin:

• 27 students at Maxwell would transfer to Fort Allen.

• Another 44 Maxwell students would shift to West Hempfield.

• 35 students at West Point would transfer to Maxwell.

Leopold tried to allay parents' fears that the transfers would create overcrowded classrooms and affect the quality of learning.

“The numbers we have are very healthy and conductive to high-quality education,” he said.

He said administrators believe the quality of education will not be affected.

The school board is weighing whether to close Bovard in order to save between $1 million and $1.1 million to offset an expected $2.8 million budget deficit in the 2013-14 school year, said business manager Jude Abraham.

Several parents questioned whether the district will actually save that much money and questioned what other costs will be incurred in closing Bovard. Abraham said the district will have to spend between $20,000 and $30,000 annually to maintain the building.

Dr. Jeff Antimarino estimated the district's savings will not exceed $700,000.

“I think you're going to be sorely disappointed going into the next year,” Antimarino said.

Matt Rosendale said since the Bovard area is growing in population, he asked what will it cost the school district in the future if it needs to reopen Bovard at some future point.

Beth McCabe wanted to know what additional costs, such as transportation, will be since more students will be riding buses.

Kellie Nagy, president of the Bovard PTO, wanted the administration to guarantee that educational programs will not suffer because of the district's pending financial problems.

“Eventually, the board will have to look at cutting programs,” Nagy said. “These questions should have been answered a long time before now.”

Leopold couldn't offer a guarantee. He said closing Bovard “would offset future deeper cuts.” He said the district needs to shut down Bovard “to keep us fiscally solvent. This is not a great situation.”

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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