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Connellsville Area School District: Parent/teacher group protests informal proposal to close school

| Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2004

A large contingent from Connellsville Township Elementary School's parent/teacher group protested an informal proposal Tuesday that suggested closing the facility to lessen taxes imposed on Connellsville Area School District property owners.

According to Beth Means, president of the parent/teacher group, 668 people signed a petition to oppose the closing of Connellsville Township Elementary. She said many parents are concerned with busing children on Route 711 to Springfield Elementary School, where the displaced students would likely attend.

"How would you feel if your child or grandchild was bused up over the mountain every day to school?" Means asked.

Kim Regish of Connellsville said she bought a home near Connellsville Township Elementary so her children could attend the small school.

"I refuse to let my child go over that mountain to school," she said. "Raise my taxes again before you close our school."

Denise Higbee of Connellsville also said she considered the school's size when she bought her home.

"If you want to save money, cut some fat off the top," she added, "instead of compromising these kids' education."

Notwithstanding the fervent outcry, the board never considered or even discussed Vice President Charles Wilson's proposal.

"I don't think there is any consensus here to close Connellsville Township Elementary," school director Richard Galand said. "You are talking about a statement by one board member."

Indeed, an impromptu vote conducted by Sherry Hosfelt, a resident of Connellsville, showed a 7-1 return against closing the school. Directors Loretta Lint, Francis Mongell, Kevin Lape, Jeffrey Harvey and Galand said they would not vote in favor of the measure if a motion was set forth at this time. Tom Dolde and board President David Goldblum said they would never vote to close the school. Kenneth Nicholson was absent.

"It's a good school and a close-knit community," Goldblum said. "As long as I'm on this board, I will not vote to close Connellsville Township Elementary."

Wilson stood firm.

"I have not changed my position," he said.

At a Sept. 14 meeting, Wilson suggested the board become more fiscally responsible by cutting overhead costs. His idea was to begin by closing Connellsville Township Elementary before downsizing district employees.

"My suggestion was to close a building that is way outdated," he said. "We have to look after all 5,800 students."

In unrelated business, board solicitor Linda Cordaro reviewed legislation to see if the board could lawfully allow residents to pay taxes on an installment plan. She said it is a feasible measure. If passed, residents could pay beyond the tax deadline by committing to an installment plan. However, the board cannot change the deadline.

"There are a lot of considerations the board will have to look at before this could be enacted," Cordaro said.

Superintendent Gerald Browell will look at the options and report to the board within the next few months.

In other business, the board:

= Approved a change order to pay Walter Mucci Construction an additional cost of $4,184 for work at Springfield Elementary School. Harvey and Mongell cast the only dissenting votes.

= Voted to purchase a John Deere garden tractor from the Pennsylvania State Bid List with capital reserve funds at an approximate cost of $5,500.

= Decided to use the services of the Fayette County Assessment Office in conjunction with RBA Professional Data Systems Inc. for the mandated taxpayer mailings associated with the Homeowner Tax Relief Act 72 of 2004. The mailing will cost the district $1.22 per parcel for the first mailing and $.92 per parcel for the second. The total mandated cost to the district will be more than $40,000.

= Announced an open house at Springfield Elementary School for residents, parents, students and teachers from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 17. There will be a short program followed by a tour of the new facility.

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