Armstrong School District to decide on charter school's fate
It'll be a tale of two schools on Monday evening when the Armstrong School Board is faced with decisions about its soon-to-be built high school in Manor Township and the proposed Everlasting Elderton Charter School.
Since the founding board of the charter school made its presentation to the board during a public hearing in late December, solicitor Lee Price said the Pennsylvania Department of Education gave ASD from Feb. 10 to March 12 to make a decision.
“You will be voting on Monday night to either approve or deny the charter application,” said Price. “Under Pennsylvania law, if you approve the charter, all you need to do is say you approve it. If you would vote to deny it, you have to give reasons.”
Discussions about Everlasting Elderton first began last spring as ASD began plans to close Elderton Junior-Senior High School.
The proposed charter school is billed as a free education program for any interested K-12 students in the state, however the bulk of the financing would fall to host district ASD.
During a budget meeting in January, ASD business manager John Zenone said the district would owe the state only $339,000 next year for charter school programs if this charter is denied, but approximately $2.4 million if approved.
During that meeting, Chapp said, “They say it's a free education. But, no, it's a bill for Armstrong School District. Plain and simple.”
Catherine Ernest-Fouse, president of the charter school's founding board, said Everlasting Elderton would be based on an individualized approach to students and hands-on learning rooted in the MicroSociety curriculum in which each student plays a particular role in the school community.
Price handed out information on the proposed school to directors during Thursday evening's open caucus session and told them to provide comments to Superintendent Stan Chapp prior to Monday's meeting.
“We're going to formulate a final decision one way or another that night,” said Price.
During the same meeting, however, the board also will be saddled with an important, albeit less controversial, decision. Kirk Lorigan, principal of West Shamokin High School and co-chair of the committee geared toward choosing the name, mascot, fight song and more for the district's new high school off Buffington Drive in Manor Township, said the board will approve the school's official colors on Monday.
Lorigan said the committee — which includes students, administrators and teachers who are also parents in the district — surveyed the student body and narrowed down its choices to two color palettes that would be easily accessible and affordable for uniform designs: black and light blue; and royal blue and orange.
“Sixty-three percent of the students chose the royal blue and orange as the new school colors,” said Lorigan. “So it is the recommendation of this committee that the new high school colors be royal blue and orange.”
Lorigan also said the committee has made progress in choosing a school mascot. He noted that the committee decided not to use any names of cats or mascots from any current or former ASD schools and have come up with 10 tentative choices: the Blitz, Miners, Raptors, Renegades, Riverdogs, Riverhawks, Storm, Thunder, Vipers and Warhawks.
“None of those were unanimous choices,” said Lorigan. “So we still believe we have work to do with that.”
In the meantime, project manager Brian Hayes of architecture firm L.R. Kimball said the district is set to turn in project accounting for the new school based on bids accepted for construction to the Department of Education.
Hayes said the district will not need to have an Act 34 referendum on the building because the current construction costs of $42.6 million are $30 million below the Act 34 limit of $72.8 million. He said ASD also will not need to have a second public hearing on the construction because the bids came in $9 million under the figure that would have necessitated another forum.
In other news:
• Jon Fair, director of student transportation, child accounting and safe schools, said the administration has been working closely with state police and local agencies to bolster ASD's security. Fair said there have been revisions made to existing policies that will now mandate everyone who enters a district school to show photo ID for admittance. Fair also showed the board an active shooter reference card distributed by the Department of Homeland Security which contains instructions for teachers and students in the event of an emergency. A card will be in each classroom districtwide. Fair said ASD is also requiring all staff to complete an online active shooter training program developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
• Fair also unveiled proposed changes to this year's school calendar, moving an in-service day from Friday, March 22, to Tuesday, March 26, making March 22 and 25 snow make-up days. This would allow students the maximum number of continuous days off for the school holiday. Weather permitting, the last day of school would remain June 4.
• Lorigan said the Armstrong School District Foundation is preparing to launch a campaign to help raise funds for the athletic facilities at the new high school which are not presently included in the cost of the school. “This is a significant undertaking,” said Lorigan. “But we're very excited about taking off and running with this and seeing what we can accomplish to help get those facilities in place.”
• Director Linda Walker said she had been hearing rumors of poor conditions at West Shamokin High School in Cowanshannock and after a trip there, she reported no truth to those rumors. “It's fine,” said Walker. “It has no mud, no flooding, no water. It isn't sinking into a swamp. I don't know why these rumors persist.”
Tim Karan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303 or firstname.lastname@example.org.