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Bill would put school unification plan on ballot

| Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A Pennsylvania state legislator intends to introduce legislation to allow voters to approve a consolidation of small school districts into countywide districts.

In a press release issued Tuesday, state Rep. Timothy Mahoney, D-South Union, announced plans to introduce the legislation. The Fayette County lawmaker indicated he is seeking support from other lawmakers before proceeding with the proposal.

Under the proposed legislation, county commissioners would have the option of placing on the ballot a referendum seeking approval of consolidating school districts into a single countywide district.

Only fourth- through eighth-class counties would be eligible under the proposal. The consolidation process would begin only if at least two-thirds of voters approved of the measure.

Participating districts would retain their own school buildings, sports teams, mascots and individual identities. Consolidation would be for purposes of administration and taxing.

Should any districts approve of such a consolidation, county commissioners would then have the task of appointing three school directors to six-year terms. Directors would be limited to two terms, Mahoney said.

Mahoney claimed such consolidations will save tax dollars through lower operating costs, especially for small school districts.

School districts in Fayette, which is a fourth-class county, would be eligible to consider consolidation under the terms outlined by Mahoney.

Gary Brain, superintendent at Laurel Highlands School District, said the idea would be worth considering, especially in terms of its potential to cut costs.

"But you would need to see all of the facts on it, so to speak, of the actual benefits," Brain said.

Superintendents at three other districts that were contacted yesterday, Albert Gallatin, Brownsville and Uniontown, were unavailable for comment. Mahoney did not return a call seeking additional comment yesterday.

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