Daniel Boone School Board members responded to the voices of a community scared for its future as it approved last night to cancel the hearing to close the Birdsboro Elementary Center (BEC) and unanimously tabled a vote to realign its students.
It also tabled the vote to replace two failing boilers at BEC.
Concerned residents, many of whom brought their children to the meeting -- some with signs to “save our school” -- filled the auditorium of the Daniel Boone Middle School and described to the board the love they have for their community’s school.
The crowd’s clapping was deafening at times as residents said BEC has been a pivotal part of their upbringing, and one they want for their children and their small town’s future.
Birdsboro Borough Manager Aaron Durso said there has been an elementary school on the current property, at 400 W. 2nd Street, since 1890.
Durso presented a framed document from the Library of Congress indicating the date and said it is a legacy which has taught millions and millions of students, and is a “stalwart in our community.”
“It is a legacy, a part of our community, a part of who we are,” said Durso, encouraging the board to not close BEC.
The school district will continue to pay a monthly rental fee of $550 for the use of one boiler to heat the school this spring.
Board member Andrew Basile said the district has $500,000 in capital reserves and $4 million in its general fund from which it can pay for two new boilers estimated at $385,000.
Although no one disputed the fact that heating is needed at BEC to keep the building functioning, a two-building or a three-building realignment were under consideration by the administration to retain BEC as a school.
Board President Richard Martino said the two building realignment would save the district $600,000 annually by closing BEC and redistricting kindergarten through second grade students to Monocacy Elementary Center (MEC) and third through fifth graders to Amity Elementary Center (AEC).
Martino announced at a Parent Teacher Council meeting on March 18, the recently conceived three building realignment with BEC.
He said that three-building plan was partially in response to BEC’s recent low test scores, which were 20 points below AEC and 10 points below MEC.
That plan would send all kindergarten and first grade students to MEC, all second and third graders to BEC, and all fourth and fifth graders to AEC.
Martino said the board should vote that night on one of the realignments.
“We should study the budgeting and benefits to the education,” said Basile. “Study from an educational perspective. Is it the best thing for our kids? We have an obligation to study it. This is the first time we’re seeing it [the three-building plan] as a group. I don’t know what a vote tonight accomplishes.”
Board member David Rathgeb agreed that he didn’t see the time-sensitive need for an immediate vote.
“The community is in full force here to ask for a partnership -- don’t close BEC and no realignment,” said Amy Hicks, president of the Daniel Boone Education Association. “If you approve, you are ignoring the wishes of the people in this room and it seems like you have a personal agenda. That may not be true, but the way it seems. This shows no evidence of educational research whatsoever.”
“It is by years of teaching that you close an educational gap,” said Hicks, adding, “not by moving the students to another building.”
Judith Loomis, Birdsboro resident as well as borough tax collector, said her research indicates that APC received renovations in 2010 (reported at the time to be $9 million), the High School Annex was built in 1971, the district has $35 million debt from building MEC, but BEC has never had a renovation or an addition since it was built in 1990.
“BEC is your one and only fixed asset that is completely paid off by the school district,” said Loomis. “You want to get rid of the one asset you have paid off. Do you want to go out of business? Is that what you are up to?”
Nicole Wagner, Birdsboro, said the realignment plan hasn’t addressed bussing and the length of elementary bus runs, or whether the left turn lane at Route 422 westbound and Monocacy Creek Road could handle mid-day kindergarten traffic.
Emily Olsen, a fifth grader at BEC, said more than 200 people supported BEC at a recent rally to save the school.
“Some kids think the classrooms are already crowded, and no one in their right mind could stay in a school district where it takes two hours to get to school. Before you decide to close, you should come to our school and see us trying our hardest.”
Board member Tamara D. Twardowski said that due to all of the public comments, the board should table the votes on the boilers and the realignment and study and discuss the issues at future meetings.
The board also voted 5-4 to rescind the motion to study moving the district offices to the High School; district staff will resume moving the offices to the former Amity Primary Center (APC).
Board member Carol Beitz voted against the motion, saying that the board should table it to continue studying the relocation to the High School, in order to find another leaser for APC.
“We can’t table it again,” said board member Suzanne Dungan. “It was wrong on my part to consider the move to the High School. It was a good thought that we might rent that space (APC), butt there are a lot of other empty rental spaces that aren’t being rented. We should be glad we have someone renting it now with River Rock Academy & Day Treatment.”
The board unanimously approved appointing Torchia to district superintendent, effective March 25, at a base salary of $136,000.
Her contract is effective through June 30, 2017.
“Thank you for your support and trust in me,” said Torchia after the vote. “I still believe this is one of the finest school districts in Pennsylvania. I am fully vested and believe I can make a difference. Thank you again for the opportunity to serve our district. It is such an honor.”
Sanker’s termination as Acting District Superintendent was unanimously approved effective March 25.
She will continue as Educational Consultant through the length of her contract with the district.
Loren Small was unanimously approved as the district’s new business manager for a period of one year, at a beginning salary of $110,000, effective May 1 through June 30, 2015.
Scott Matz, computer technician, was unanimously approved as Director of Educational Technology, effective March 25, at an annual salary of $75,000.