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Valley News Dispatch

Leechburg Area students to continue half-day Lenape Tech schedule

| Wednesday, April 26, 2017, 11:57 p.m.

Students in the Leechburg Area School District attending Lenape Technical School will continue doing it on a half-day basis.

With three board members absent due to work or illness, the board voted 5-1 Wednesday night to keep students on a half-day basis.

Those voting to retain half-day attendance were: Megan Hamm, Jean Stull, Neill Brady, Angelique Richards and Joseph Michadick.

Anthony Shea was the only member to vote against it, favoring the full-day option.

Absent were Terri Smith, Helen Yurjevich and Kathryn Vargo.

The vote came after about 15 or 20 people out of a crowd of at least 80, spoke to the board.

Most of the speakers, including teachers, students and residents, appeared to favor the half-day option — the less expensive of the two options.

Those championing the full-day choice said too much time is lost for the students because of the daily bus trips to Lenape, along with scheduling conflicts.

Those opposed to the full-day proposal argued that the cost would drive the district to financial ruin. Opponents claimed it would force cuts in programs such as arts, music and athletics, as well as reductions in the teaching staff.

Currently, Leechburg Area pays Lenape $435,700 for 52 students in grades 10-12 to attend the Manor school on a half-day basis.

Tenth-graders would be eliminated from attending full-day sessions, bringing the total down to 39 students.

Business Manager Brad Walker said Lenape's current cost of full-day tuition is $13,500 per student. The cost for half-day students is $8,400, about 60 percent of the full-day rate. For special education students, the cost is $20,300 per student.

For 27 students attending Lenape at the standard, full-day rate the cost would be close to $365,000 and about $240,000 for 12 special education students. That would be a total of $608,000.

The total difference between the full-time and part-time costs comes to more than $170,000 more for full day, according to Walker.

Walker said the cost of attendance in the Leechburg Area schools is about $11,900 per student.

“Just because a student goes to Lenape, that cost for us doesn't go away,” Superintendent Tiffany Nix said.

Walker affirmed that saying that if the 39 Leechburg Area students went to Lenape for full-days, the district would lose the state subsidy for those students and Lenape would gain that money.

Nix asked him to project each scenario and its impact on the district five years into the future. Either way, the path appears challenging for a school board trying to make ends meet.

According to Walker, based on current numbers, to keep students at Lenape on a half-day basis would put the district into a deficit of $4 million if there were no tax increases.

Taking the full-time option and again, figuring in no tax increases, the district would be looking at a financial hole of $5.5 million, he said. “If (Leechburg Area's) Lenape students are not offered full day, all of them are prepared to leave your district,” said Janine Remaley of West Leechburg, whose daughter attends Lenape.

Speaking for the other side, Julia Olshansky of Leechburg said, “If Lenape goes full-day, Leechburg goes bankrupt. Are you willing to sacrifice the needs of 700 students for the needs of 39?”

Shea said he is confident Nix will turn the district around so more opportunities will be available to students in the future, including those at Lenape. But Shea said he was concerned about the students there now.

“I looked at this as a stopgap until Ms. Nix gets her plan going,” Shea said. “They (Lenape) are going to raise their part-time tuition, and we are going to revisit this.”

Board vice president Jean Stull said she has been on the board for 7 12 years and the issue has come up three times. She said the last time it happened she voted to offer the full-day program at Lenape, but this time was different.

“To me, the numbers spoke volumes,” Stull said.

Stull believes the program cuts and teacher furloughs that people referred to would be a very real possibility had the full-day program been approved.

She echoed Shea's confidence in Nix and her plan to expand opportunities for students but she doubts that will include full-day attendance at Lenape unless the tuition at that school starts coming down.

Tom Yerace is a freelance writer.

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