Hempfield Area board votes to shut Bovard

| Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The Hempfield Area School Board on Monday, by a 7-2 vote, decided to close Bovard Elementary School.

The decision was made despite a number of parents passionately urging the board not to shutter the 35-year-old school.

Board members Sonya Brajdic, Diane Ciabattoni, Michele Fischer, Randy Stoner, Doug Lawson, Mike Kusma and Jeanne Smith voted to close the school.

Bob McDonald and Joe Lutz voted to keep the school open.

The vote means the school will close at the end of the 2012-13 school year.

Superintendent Andy Leopold recommended the closing, calling it “a proactive step in securing a sound financial future” for the school district.

The district wanted to close the school in order to save approximately $1 million.

“Your passion has been heard and felt,” Leopold said.

He said he does not believe closing Bovard will solve all the district's financial problems.

“It's only one piece of the puzzle,” Leopold said.

Business manager Jude Abraham told the more than 150 parents gathered in the high school auditorium that the district will have to raise taxes over the next three years and continue to dip into its $12 million surplus to balance the budget.

During the past several years, the district has been forced to use some of its fund balance to offset a budget deficit, Abraham said.

Nevertheless, Abraham said, the district will have to raise taxes a total of 3.7 mills over the next three years.

For the past three years, the district has debated closing Bovard, which is the only area of the school district where population has been increasing.

Leopold said the issue came to the forefront this year because of “unprecedented limitations on public education.”

Kellie Nagy, a member of the Bovard PTO and an advocate of keeping the school open, said that the district eight times has attempted redistricting of students, but some of the classes at the other schools will be close to or slightly over capacity.

“I respectfully request you vote not to close Bovard tonight,” Rob Ritson said.

He said the school board needs to address the growing population in the northern part of the township and either build an addition to Maxwell Elementary School or build a school.

Ritson said past school boards had no problem spending money to build a field house, referring to the athletic complex near the high school.

“Your legacy will be a fractured community and broken hearts if you close this school,” Ritson said.

Tom Hardin, a teacher in the district who has a son in Fort Allen Elementary, asked the board to consider allowing the public to decide whether to close Bovard.

“Has the board considered a referendum and let voters decide what will happen to Bovard? I ask you to at least consider that,” he said.

Barbara Marin, assistant superintendent for elementary education, said when the school closes, 158 students from Bovard will transfer to Maxwell; 61 Bovard students will transfer to West Point; 69 students at Maxwell will attend Fort Allen; 42 students from Fort Allen will move to West Hempfield; and 31 West Point students will transfer to Stanwood.

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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