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Moon Area board reconfigures elementary buildings, votes again to close school and explore merging with Cornell

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Monday, July 21, 2014, 11:18 p.m.

The Moon Area School Board on Monday night repeated its action to close Hyde Elementary School and explore the possibility of a merger.

“I encourage you to fight on, fight on, fight on,” school board member Michael Hauser said to upset parents.

During a contentious meeting at which parents yelled out their displeasure, the board voted 7-2 to approve an elementary grade reconfiguration that will put students in kindergarten through second grade at only Brooks and Bon Meade and those in third and fourth grade at McCormick and Allard after school renovation projects are finished.

“Enjoy your seats up there, because you're getting voted out next election,” yelled Moon parent Melissa Biggerstaff.

The school board voted 8-1, with Hauser in the minority, to rescind a June 25 vote to close Hyde, renovate Brooks and Allard schools, and authorize Superintendent Curt Baker to explore the possibility of Moon Area merging with Cornell School District.

The board had approved those issues in one vote.

Baker said that it would take years to explore the matters related to merging districts, and the elementary building closing and renovations would have been completed.

So the items were voted on separately: the board voted 7-2, with Jerry Testa and Hauser against, to close Hyde and renovate Allard and Brooks by the 2015-16 school year, and 6-3, with Testa, President A. Michael Olszewski and Vice President Denny Harbaugh Jr. voting no, to authorize Baker to explore the district merger.

There is excess elementary classroom space because the transfer of fifth-graders to the middle school in 2012 left nearly two dozen empty classrooms, the district has said.

The needed school renovations have been discussed for years, board Secretary Gia Tatone said.

For months, some opponents have petitioned the board to maintain the five-school, kindergarten-to- fourth-grade elementary model to avoid what they say would result in longer bus rides for children, siblings going to different elementary schools, increased property taxes and reduced property values.

On Monday, attorney Jack Cambest said he had suspended a plan to seek an injunction in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court on behalf of Hauser and Testa and five Hyde parents who claimed the public had not been given an opportunity to comment on the motions before the vote in June.

At the June meeting, the board was expected to decide on a plan, which was on the meeting agenda, to close Brooks and spend $25 million to renovate Allard and expand Hyde, based on administrators' recommendation in March.

Cambest's group claimed the board violated the Sunshine Act because the closing of Hyde and Cornell merger were not on the meeting agenda.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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