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Armstrong School District to move administration to West Hills

| Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012, 1:27 a.m.

It'll be like the first day of school all over again next year for Armstrong School District administrators.

The school board approved a resolution Monday night to sell the aging administration building in Manor to Sheetz Inc. for $412,000 and to move the approximately 35 employees and operations of the administration staff to West Hills Primary School in East Franklin.

“The administration building has served our district very, very well,” said Superintendent Stan Chapp. “But we do have an opportunity to put some money back into the general fund and, at the same time, make use of all available space in the district as we consolidate buildings.”

The board voted, 7-1, in favor of the relocation, which Chapp said likely will take place during the summer. He estimated the project will cost about $300,000 to complete, but that the district should benefit from the fact that renovations at West Hills will be mostly cosmetic.

“All we're going to be doing is putting up stub walls and wall board,” Chapp said. “We project that we should be able to put about $100,000 or more in savings back into the general fund.”

Although there were few residents at the sparsely attended meeting at West Hills Primary who seemed opposed to the move, Dave Dunmire of Manorville posed a question.

Dunmire's son is a student in the autistic support class that was forced to relocate from Kittanning Township Elementary to Shannock Valley Elementary in Rural Valley when Kittanning Township Elementary closed before the school year.

Dunmire said he had been told there wasn't enough space at West Hills Primary for the program, while the life-skills support program was moved to the West Hills complex — which houses a separate school for grades four through six.

“Seeing that all the other special-needs classes were (at the West Hills complex), I thought it probably would've been a better fit to have that class here also,” Dunmire said. “If there was no room last year for approximately eight to 10 students, three aides and a teacher, why is there all of a sudden room for 35 administrative personnel?”

Matthew Pawk, coordinator of special education, replied that the decision to move the autistic support class to Shannock Valley had nothing to do with available space.

“We needed a K-6 building to house that program,” Pawk said. “Right now, we have students (in the autistic support class) in kindergarten through second grade. But anytime you move a special-education program, you have to plan for three years because you're not allowed by state law to make another change within that time frame. So if you're thinking about second-graders, they're going to be fourth-graders within that three-year span and we would need an additional teacher in a setting like West Hills Primary where you have (grades) K-3.”

Pawk said the confusion could have stemmed from there not being enough space for the autistic support class at Lenape Elementary in Ford City, where most of the students were moved from Kittanning Township Elementary. He also said that the four life-skills classes were moved to the West Hills complex because there were more students in those classes who required more pre-existing staff.

The school board is next set to meet for its open caucus on Jan. 10.

Tim Karan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303 or tkaran@tribweb.com.

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