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1st round of Cornell, Moon merger talks set

| Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The Cornell School Board on Monday will discuss the possibility of a merger with the Moon Area School District for the first time since Moon Area proposed talks in June.

“I think I could say at this point, my board is not against anything,” Cornell Superintendent Aaron Thomas said.

The Cornell board hasn't met as a whole since June 19, a week before the Moon Area board authorized its superintendent to approach Cornell. The meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. in Cornell's library.

Eight of the nine Cornell board members did not return calls for comment. One member, board Vice President Karen Murphy, declined to comment before receiving more information.

Some residents say a merger between Cornell and Moon Area would benefit Cornell more because of its small size.

Moon Area's 2014-15 budget of $63.6 million is more than five times larger than Cornell's, at $12.2 million.

In the 2013-14 school year, Moon Area had 3,723 students from Moon and Crescent enrolled in seven schools, while Cornell had 646 students from Coraopolis and Neville in two schools that share a building.

A potential merger is drawing a mix of comments from parents, Thomas said.

Coraopolis resident Christopher Rolinson has two sons, 7 and 6, who attend school in the Cornell. He said he favors a merger for several reasons, including that the communities making up the two districts are connected.

He said he's heard parents in the districts object to a merger because of concerns about decreased property values and a loss of independence, but the focus should be on giving children the best education possible.

“We're competing with China and Russia … and we're sitting here talking about the difference between blue and gold for Cornell and red and white for Moon, and why we don't want to mix those colors,” he said.

Cornell is on sound financial ground, and it has sufficient building space for its students, Thomas said.

Some people have said the drawbacks of a merger for Cornell would be more competition among students for slots on sports teams, while advantages could be more elective classes, such as music and art for high school students, Thomas said.

While merger talks between the school districts came up about 15 years ago, the most recent discussion came about as a surprise move by Moon Area.

During a contentious Moon Area meeting on June 26 where the board considered closing a school, board Treasurer Laura Schisler brought up the idea of a merger.

The Moon Area board voted to close Hyde Elementary School, renovate Allard and Brooks elementary schools by the start of the 2015-16 year and authorize Superintendent Curt Baker to approach Cornell about a potential merger. The actions were tied together — if the districts approved a merger, Hyde would remain open — but on July 21, the board voted to separate the merger from the school closing and renovation plans because a merger could take years to complete.

Thomas and Baker last talked about a merger on July 23, but both districts need to study the impact it would have on collective bargaining contracts, busing, building space and other areas, they said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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