Bovard Elementary School parents rally against closing
Parents of students who attend Bovard Elementary School are increasing pressure on members of the Hempfield Area School Board to avert the closing of the 35-year-old building.
School directors are expected to vote Jan. 14 on whether to shut down the school.
Parents have gathered 500 signatures on a petition that was presented to the board on Monday, said Tammie Lyons, secretary of the Bovard PTO.
“We're still getting signatures from many, many people in the area,” Lyons said. “I hope that wakes up some of them.”
The meeting will be held in the high school auditorium to handle what is expected to be a crowd of parents who have repeatedly expressed their concern to school directors and administrators over the possible closing and its potential impact on students and learning.
Board President Sonya Brajdic declined to disclose how she will vote.
Director Joe Lutz said he will oppose closing Bovard.
“It's never good to close a school,” Lutz said. “One of my great concerns is you almost never reopen it. I believe the parents have made a strong case to keep the school open.”
Lyons said she's not sure how the vote will turn out, but she does not believe closure is a certainty.
“In my heart, I don't believe that the vote is a done deal.”Lyons said administrators still are refining the district's enrollment numbers and reconfiguring how students will be shifted to other schools.
“It's December and they're still trying to figure out redistricting,” she continued. “They should be comfortable about it. They still don't have the data in front of them.”
That's because administrators also are looking at the realignment of middle schools, said Superintendent Andy Leopold.
Even though Bovard is the only area of the school district with an increase in students, business manager Jude Abraham said that's not a reason to keep the school open.
If that trend continues, he added, the district would have to spend millions to build an addition to Bovard or a new school to accommodate an increase in students.
Transferring students to other schools would create overcrowded classrooms, argue parents, and it could hurt academic performance because teachers will have more students per class.
“All our analysis shows we have capacity in other schools,” Abraham said. “It's not perfectly comfortable, but it's perfectly doable.”
“All you're going to get is parents who are frustrated because their children aren't learning,” countered Lyons.
The possible closing of Bovard has been spurred, in part, by increased annual contributions the district must pay to the Pennsylvania Employees Retirement System, Abraham said.
Hempfield's contribution will increase from more than 12 percent in the current school year to nearly 24 percent by 2016, he said. That translates to between $1.8 million and $2 million more the district will pay annually.
“That's nothing we have any control over,” said Brajdic. “That's because it was underfunded by the state.”
Taxes also will be increasing — albeit slightly, Abraham added.
The school board has backed off plans to seek an exception to the tax ceiling that limits any tax hike in the district to 2.1 percent. Abraham said that will mean a 1.5-mill tax boost rather than as much as 6 or 7 mills, as had been predicted.
Closing Bovard will require administrators to transfer students to other elementary schools.
Bovard students would transfer to Maxwell and West Point elementary schools. To make room for the incoming Bovard students, some Maxwell students would shift to Fort Allen. Others would transfer to West Hempfield. Some West Point students also would transfer to Maxwell, according to a redistricting study.
Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or firstname.lastname@example.org.