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Leechburg Area fears going broke in 6 years

Brian C. Rittmeyer
| Thursday, March 8, 2012

Projections that Leechburg Area School District could be broke in six years has the school board considering moving the district to a half-day vocational-technical program and starting its own cyber charter school.

Going to a half-day vo-tech from the present full-day program at Lenape Tech is being touted as a way to cut spending, while starting a cyber charter school is seen as a way for the district to make money.

Business Manager Mark Lukacs said his multi-year budget showing the district running out of money by 2018 is based on current conditions continuing, including reduced state funding and annual retirement costs rising from $200,000 now to more than $700,000 in 2018-19.

The vo-tech question is not new to Leechburg Area, having arisen many times over the past several years. Board member Brian Ravotti stressed putting deadlines on actions to ensure this time something gets done.

First, the board wants to find out if the district is bound to Lenape and its full-day program.

Board President Terry Knepshield said Leechburg Area wants Lenape to produce the original articles of incorporation, or any document, that binds Leechburg to Lenape. To date, he said, no one has been able to produce that document.

The board discussed giving Lenape 30 days to do so.

If Lenape can not produce the document, "we are moving on," Ravotti said.

Business Manager Mark Lukacs the district could save $170,000 per year by changing to a half-day vo-tech, in which students would receive their academic courses at Leechburg Area.

"This is a no-brainer for me," board member Danielle Reinke said. "To me, I think we need to go to a half-day program. That's it. We really need to make some decisions, and they need to be made now."

Reinke said she would want to maintain the full-day program for students now at Lenape and this year's 10th-graders who could go next school year.

But after that, students would have to attend a half-day program. If Lenape can't offer that, the district should pull out, she said.

For a half-day program, the district has eyed the Northern Westmoreland Career & Technology Center in New Kensington.

Ravotti said Leechburg Area needs a half-day program, whether at Lenape or Northern Westmoreland.

"If Lenape can not give us what we need ... it's clear in here we can not afford this," Reinke said.

Board member David Matuscin said his concern would be cases where Lenape offers programs that Northern Westmoreland does not. He said Leechburg Area has asked Lenape to develop half-day programs.

"For our own sovereignty ... it's time to make a change," he said.

Knepshield said Lenape is geared to support the Armstrong School District, which sends more than 200 students, and not smaller districts like Leechburg Area.

"Trying to change this has been impossible," he said. "What we want is not what they want. What we need is not what they need."

Board members discussed Leechburg Area starting its own cyber school to bring students back from other cyber charter schools, which the district now must pay for students' education.

Knepshield said he would form a committee of board members to look into a cyber charter school and report back in a few months.

With many costs fixed, athletics and transportation were identified as areas where cuts could be made.

But Reinke expressed concern about making cuts in athletics.

"We're trying to make our district more appealing," she said.

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