The Berks-Mont News (http://www.berksmontnews.com)

Albany Elementary closing, Kutztown School Board voted 5 to 4


By lmitchell@berksmontnews.com">Lisa Mitchell, Patriot Editorlmitchell@berksmontnews.com

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Albany Elementary will be closing for the 2013-14 school year.
Kutztown School Board member Randy Burch motioned to close Albany and relocate the K-1 students to Greenwich Elementary. Motion was seconded by Al Darion.
Closing the school passed with a 5 to 4 vote. Jim Shrawder, Amy Faust, Caecilia Holt and Craig Schroeder voted no.
“It disturbs me that i’d be on a side I never thought I’d be,” said board member Darion, who said he is often for saving programs and now he argued for saving money and reducing staff.
“What I have trouble with is trying to justify keeping a building open... for the equivalent of one teaching position,” said Darion. “Which is more important? A building or our teachers?”
Darion asked which they would rather have, an extra teacher or a building that serves only two grade levels?
“I know under Act 1 constraints, it’s either this or that, not both,” said Darion.
Board President Carl Ziegler also found it ironic that several board members who are often the strongest advocates for saving money yet they find it prudent to continue spending money on Albany. He said there are several school districts closing elementary schools that have larger student populations than Ablany’s 120 students.
“It’s not cost effective to have that small of a school,” said Ziegler. “If we choose not to close Albany again, it becomes very difficult for me as a board member to continue to support reductions in other areas to compensate for the money we continue to spend inefficiently at Albany, it defies logic.”
Closing the school is estimated to save the district about $100,000, which would include staffing and transportation savings.
“We were cautious in our estimate because we don’t have our numbers regarding heating, electricity and so forth,” said Superintendent Kathy Metrick.
Board member Jim Shrawder asked about capacity at the schools if Albany was closed.
Metrick didn’t have specific numbers, but said, “We will not be at bursting point.”
Responding to Shrawder’s concerns that they would have to build if there was growth in the future, Metrick said that if there is an enrollment increase, the district still has Maxatawny and Albany if they needed to use them again in the future.
Shrawder sees closing Albany as the first step into selling the building. He said they need to look at a 10-year time frame, not just one year.
“Last year we looked at this, administration told us we’d save $300,000, this year it’s $100,000,” said Shrawder.
Shrawder noted that when the district’s enrollment was at a peak, there were building expansions and renovations. Now he says the district is in a trough in enrollment.
“If we close a building at a trough, I think we’ll look as foolish seven years from now as the decision to build out those buildings looks today,” said Shrawder.
Ziegler noted that the district has benefited for 14 years from those renovations to the buildings.
Burch said also to keep in mind that at that time, 14 years ago, there was the discussion whether to close buildings or renovate.
“And people voted to keep those schools open, which then in turn created $4 million extra per school to renovate,” said Burch. “There’s no sense in throwing stones about decisions that were made 10 years ago... we have to stop looking back and pointing fingers. What we need to do is look at what we have now and do what’s right for the kids now.”
“This conversation is missing one major factor, our kids,” said board member Amy Faust, who wanted more research and didn’t want to move the kids again in the future.
Faust is in favor of having K-5 all at Greenwich, even though it would be tight, because she saw the benefit of a K-5 curriculum.
Burch noted that the administration’s recommendation is based on more than just cost savings on the budget. While the budgetary concerns are important to consider, he said the recommendation also deals with the fact that classes in the northern tier are split, not an ideal situation.
“The idea of closing Albany and moving the kids to Greenwich so that they’re all together really would appear to be the most viable option,” said Burch.
Administration agrees with closing Albany, according to Metrick.
“Leaving Albany the way that it is now, is neither pedagogically sound nor fiscally responsible,” said Metrick. “Having K-1 there doesn’t do the kids any good, nor the budget.”
Faust agreed there is a need for change.
“I don’t think it should stay as it is, I don’t think it’s to the best advantage for our kids,” said Faust.
Audience members wanted to see more research and better cost saving figures before the board opted to close the school. One parent questioned the accuracy of the enrollment predictions.
Pam Heid, a Title 1 teacher for the district, wanted to see the Primary Learning Centers remain intact, rather than going back to K-5, with one grade level per building.
“It would be a step backwards,” she said, noting that the PLC has been a benefit to both students and teachers, offering learning teams.
The board also discussed an elementary reconfiguration. The proposal was for the elementary schools to house kindergarten through fourth grade and move the fifth graders to the middle school which many were against.
There was a motion to keep the elementary system the way it was by keeping Greenwich Elementary Kindergarten through fifth grade.
“If we did not move 5th grade to the middle school, there would be room for the gifted to move to the middle school,” Faust said, who believes that the gifted program should be moved back into Kutztown because parents who are in the Northern Tier are used to having their kids bussed around, while parents in Kutztown are not.
“There are a lot of parents that aren’t comfortable with their kids going up 737,” Faust said
If fifth grade is moved to the middle school the health and physical education teachers would have to share a room and the TV studio that is in the middle school would have to be converted back to a class room.
However if fifth grade is not moved to the middle school, there would be a chance for the gifted program to move into the middle school.
Darion motioned to keep Kindergarten through fifth grade at Greenwich Elementary and Kutztown Elementary for the 2013-14 school year,but asked administration needs to look at all options and make a recommendation. The motion was seconded by Dr. Kurt Friehauf.
“We spend the first quarter of next year studying the impact so that we can make a decision for 2014-15,” Darion said.
As a vote was about to take place Caecilia Holt called for the vote to be tabled until next meeting. Shrawder seconded the vote.
The vote to table the issue passed 5-4. Darion said wanted more information on moving the fifth grade to the middle school before the next board meeting.
Patriot intern Dan Clark contributed to this story.