BOYERTOWN — The Boyertown Area School Board on Tuesday made the unpopular and controversial decision to close the Pine Forge Elementary School at the conclusion of the 2019-2020 school year.
The board has studied the possibility of closing the school for the past two years, and it has been a recurrent theme at most board meetings.
Only six board members approved the motion to close the school, with Clay Breece, Christine Neiman and Ruth Dierolf casting dissenting votes.
In late July, the board approved a resolution to consider closing Pine Forge, with the same three board members opposed.
As a legal requirement, the board conducted a public hearing in late August, when about 125 community parents protested the proposal. The public school code required that 90 days pass after the hearing before the board could vote on the matter.
The district had been working with Montgomery Education Consultants Inc., which projected continued declining enrollment at Pine Forge.
At the start of the school year, Pine Forge had 215 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, a number the district said continued the annual decrease every year since 2013.
The administration believes closing the school could save the district between $1.9 million and $8.7 million because of what it would have cost to modernize the building, which dates to 1928.
Breece said the board’s action was politically motivated.
“I certainly think it’s a political maneuver,” Breece said. “I don’t believe this board should vote on this. The five new members (who will be seated next week) were voted in to save this school. The new board should vote for this and not this one.”
Board President Steve Elsier disagreed.
“As a board member not returning for another term, I could not burden this decision on a new board that would take months to get up to speed,” Elsier said. “This is a veteran board and it’s time to make a decision one way or another.”
Ellen Martignetti identified herself as a parent of students who went through Pine Forge.
“One thing that has been bothering me is the cost of renovating Pine Forge is between $1 million and $8 million,” Martignetti said. “That is one huge gap. What are those costs? That has never been really outlined and that is a huge deficit in my opinion.”
Former board member John Landino told board members they can’t ignore the demographics that the school is 30% empty.
“I get the emotions behind this vote,” he said. “What you need to keep in mind is closing Pine Forge will not take away from the pride and history of the school.”
The district plans to use the 19 professional employees and 16 support staff to fill vacant positions in one of the other nine school buildings in the district.
4-year teachers deal
In other business, the board approved a new four-year teachers contract. Elsier announced at the start of the meeting the district and the education association had reached a tentative agreement.
But he also said it would only be sustainable if the board raises taxes every year of the contract to the state index level, and if it makes tough financial decisions, such as the closure of Pine Forge.
In year one of the contract, teachers will receive a $250 increase to base salaries. In year two, there will be a 3.15% increase, in year three a 2% increase and in year four a 3.02% increase.
“I want to thank the association and the administration for doing what is in the best interest of the students and the district,” Elsier said.