Franklin Regional school board awards $48.62 million in contracts for Sloan project |
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Patrick Varine

After three years of planning, multiple town hall meetings and mounting opposition from residents, Franklin Regional school board members this week agreed to spend $48.62 million for the Sloan school project.

The board voted 8-1 to award bids for renovating Sloan Elementary School and converting it into a lower elementary while building an elementary school on the Sloan property for grades 3-5.

The vote came at the end of a 2½-hour meeting Monday in which board members and citizens voiced their opinions.

Board member Paul Scheinert cast the lone dissenting vote.

The vote came on the heels of a primary election that saw two incumbent board members fail to make it onto the general election ballot. Project opponents cast the primary as a sort of referendum.

“The people have spoken again. They spoke in writing,” said former board president Dick Kearns, referring to an 1,100-signature petition opposing the project, presented to the board in March 2018. “And they spoke by going to the ballot box. They want change. They want a new board.”

Murrysville resident Ron Cowell viewed the primary results quite differently.

“Among the successful primary candidates, none was supported by more than 15% of eligible voters,” Cowell said. “It’s fair to say that the primary did not represent a massive uprising among the citizens of the Franklin Regional School District.”

School board candidate Ed Mittereder, the only candidate to win a spot on both Democrat and Republican tickets in the fall, made it clear he and fellow Republican primary winners — who campaigned on a slogan of “Restore Taxpayer Trust” — were not going to stand idly by if they prevail in the general election.

“We are putting the district on notice that our first item of business will be to exercise our rights as board members to cancel the Sloan project,” Mittereder said. “Regardless of what actions this board takes between now and December, if we are elected in November, the Sloan project will end.”

Board member Gregg Neavin characterized the majority of opposition to the Sloan project as a “not-in-my-backyard” situation among nearby Murry Woods residents — many of whom expressed concern over the past two years about the effect the project would have on traffic and safety — that eventually spread beyond the neighborhood.

“And when we didn’t ‘kiss the ring,’ it became threats about there being an election coming up,” Neavin said, noting even if all five “Restore Taxpayer Trust” candidates prevail in the general election, he will remain on the board along with three other current board members.

“It’s not exactly a ‘new board,’ ” Neavin said.

Scheinert, in explaining his vote, said the primary result “is significant and can’t be ignored.”

Tower thanked the residents who have attended meetings and made their voices heard and said the real lesson she took away from the roughly three-year planning process is that “we really do rely upon the community to be actively engaged, informed and involved.”

Board member John Koury, who took the lead in laying the groundwork for the Sloan project, summarized the major steps in the three-year process. In particular, Koury pointed to a districtwide facilities assessment that projected district officials may be required to spend up to $32 million over the next decade to keep its elementary schools in their current condition.

“That’s what people still fail to realize, or fail to want to address, is that if we do nothing, we will still spend $32 million (on building improvements), and the students won’t get any additional benefit,” Koury said. “Trying to ‘get by’ with antiquated school buildings is not a long-term recipe for success in any community.”

Unlike many previous board meetings where the Sloan project was discussed, Monday’s meeting also included a sizable number of project supporters.

“Despite what some may claim, there has been no referendum,” resident Jeannine Brentzel said. “We have an election that is to take place in November. You are the voice of the people, and you were elected to represent us for a full term.”

Kearns put the opposition’s position plainly.

“We don’t trust you, because you don’t talk to us,” he said. “You don’t answer our questions. You just sit there.”

Kozlosky made his position clear.

“The bottom line is, we need to find the solution that, long-term, creates the most options for our students,” he said. “The future boards that come in here will not be able to find anything better or safer, for less than a 5-mill tax increase, than we have found today.”

Board member Jane Tower, who did not seek re-election, said voting in favor of the Sloan project “is a vote that is among the proudest I will make.”

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