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Foes of Peebles Elementary School closing voice opinions

| Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, 12:05 a.m.
Parent Mat Dubinett of Allison Park expresses his concern over the possible closing of Peebles Elementary School during a public hearing at Carson Middle School Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013. Heidi Murrin | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Scores of North Allegheny residents let district officials know on Wednesday night that they are unhappy about efforts to close Peebles Elementary School.

The public hearing is a precursor to a decision by the school board on whether to close the McCandless school, which could be made as soon as April 30.

Before the start of the hearing at Carson Middle School, 108 residents signed up to speak. By 9 p.m., not one speaker expressed support for closing Peebles.

Susie Holmes of McCandless said her children's classes are already too crowded.

“My boys are both in classes of 32,” she said. “They are not being challenged. They had been in classrooms of 24. We can do better than what's being offered.”

Residents angrily questioned the school board's decision to move toward closing Peebles, the board's financial oversight and its refusal to set up a task force of residents to study the closing of schools, which many people have advocated.

Some speakers even questioned the district's elementary school enrollment figures, which have declined since 1999, according to Superintendent Raymond Gualtieri.

“Elementary school enrollment has increased every year for seven years,” said Tara Fisher of McCandless. “We are moving to a model where we will be wed to higher class sizes.”

The meeting attracted some residents without children, such as Naseem Wahlah of McCandless.

“I don't know why it's in anyone's interest to close Peebles. It would clearly result in lower property values,” said Wahlah, who graduated from North Allegheny.

Two consultants have offered different recommendations as to which elementary school to close.

Architectural Innovation of Ross recommended closing Bradford Woods Elementary School, which it said needs $14 million in repairs.

A study by the construction consulting firm Thomas & Williamson of Ross, which is favored by a majority of board members, recommends closing Peebles.

Board members Ralph Pagone and Christopher Jacobs voted last month to cancel Wednesday's hearing because they feel the district is rushing the process. Pagone said parents and residents should have more say and that the administration might be relying on incorrect enrollment estimates.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or rwills@tribweb.com.

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