Residents vocally disapprove of district merger

News photo by Emily Thiel The discussion of budget for a merged Antietam and Exeter school district brought out many concerned citizens Wednesday, March 26.
News photo by Emily Thiel The discussion of budget for a merged Antietam and Exeter school district brought out many concerned citizens Wednesday, March 26.

The consideration of merging the Antietam and Exeter school districts brought parents, teachers, students and citizens out to hear how a combined district would operate financially.

The meeting, held Wednesday, March 26 at the Reiffton school, left for standing room only, as every seat was filled.

The districts of Antietam and Exeter have been in merger talks for decades, but the consolidation has yet to go through.

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District business managers Tracy Detwiler, Antietam, and Anne Guydish, Exeter, worked for four months on the summary of both school districts’ budgets and combined budget projections. A model for a single district showed the 2016-17 school year as the first year a sole district could be in operations.

The numbers left more questions than answers, and merger costs were excluded.

“This does not paint a pretty picture,” Russell Diesinger, Exeter school board member, said.

As a merged district, projected revenues for the 2016-17 school year were listed at $88,527,274 and expenditures of $92,816,845; for 2017-18, projected revenues were listed at $91,051,216 and expenditures at $95,920,304.

To fill the gaps, the district would see a decrease in the remaining fund balance at the end of each school year.

“When you aggregate [the two districts], the cost of the combined entity actually goes up.... You have revenues going down and expenses going up,” Tim Tumera, Exeter director, said.

District millage rates would either be equalized between both districts current rates, or one millage rate would be adopted.

Antietam teachers would receive Exeter salaries, which also provides more opportunities for the teachers to move up the pay scale by taking additional classes.

Staffing changes of eliminating the equivalent of 28.5 full time jobs, including 12 teachers, two principles and a superintendent, results in a projected savings of $2,366,027.

With the model for a single district, both Mt. Penn and Jacksonwald elementary schools would not be at capacity, and could be closed due to an enrollment decline at the elementary level.

Enrollment at one single high school for the 2016-17 school year was listed at 1,579 students and 1,531 students for 2017-18 school year.

The closing of two schools was a high concern for parents, students and also members of the board.

Patricia O’Brien-Pieja said she is concerned about the projection with two empty schools because charter schools have the first option to purchase former school buildings. “I do not want, and I don’t think you do either, two brick and mortar charter schools in our district,” O’Brien-Pieja said.

The numbers left more questions than answers, and brought a line of residents up to tell the school boards what they really think.

Emotions ran high, causing Exeter Board President Bob Quinter to stand to his feet in response multiple times throughout the night.

“We moved here for Exeter Township School District, not a combined district,” Christopher Riley, Exeter Township, said at the podium. Riley said he moved so his children could go to Exeter Township schools with Exeter Township teachers.

The majority of the crowd was in opposition to the merger, as shown by the raise of a hand.

Comments against the merger were greeted with applause from the audience. Hunter Ahrens, 18, a senior at Exeter Township Senior High School, Reading, voiced his support for the merger and encouraged Exeter to “extend their hand” and not just turn away at helping their neighbor.

Some who opposed the young man’s views spoke over him during his time at the podium, saying to come back when he pays taxes.

Visit the Exeter Township School District’s website to view of the proposed budget.

Both district school boards set to make a final decision by June.

About the Author

Emily Thiel

Emily Thiel is the editor of The Southern Berks News and is the Community Engagement Editor for Berks-Mont Newspapers. Emily joined Berks-Mont in March 2013. She graduated from Kutztown University in 2011 with a degree in English with a concentration in Cultural and Media Studies. Emily is a native of Allentown, Pa. Reach the author at ethiel@berksmontnews.com or follow Emily on Twitter: @sthrnberksnews.