Addressing a declining enrollment, Fleetwood Area School District considers closing Richmond Elementary as part of a district-wide K-4 consolidation which could go into effect at the start of the 2019-20 school year.
A public hearing will be held on Feb. 12 at 7 p.m. in the Fleetwood Area High School Board Room offering the community the opportunity to comment. The School Board anticipates voting at the May 14 meeting.
“One of the things that came up in different conversations with the board was what are we going to do about enrollment and what does the future hold,” said Fleetwood School District Superintendent Greg Miller.
In spring 2018, Thompson Associates Architects, with the Pennsylvania Economy League, conducted a district-wide study of enrollment. Presented to the board in December, the study shows Fleetwood’s enrollment declined 9 percent over the past 10 years and projects a decline of 14 percent over the next 10 years.
“The biggest indicator that they came back to was decreasing birth rates, houses just not having as many kids,” said Miller, noting this is not unique to Fleetwood. “But that coupled with not a lot of new construction going on throughout the district to off-set that sort of puts us in that perfect storm of decreasing enrollment.”
Fleetwood had an enrollment of about 2,700 students 10 years ago and saw a decline to 2,458 in 2018. It’s projected to decline to 2,114 in 10 years.
“We have a lot of open space in our buildings,” said Miller.
Willow Creek is at about 63 percent capacity while Andrew Maier and Richmond are each at 54 percent capacity. With a total enrollment of 837 elementary students, there is a total excess capacity of 588 students. Closing Richmond would reduce the excess capacity to 338.
Community forums held in October and November encouraged the public to discuss options, including no change, a K-5 consolidation with 6-8 Middle School or a K-4 consolidation.
The K-5 consolidation would move fifth grade from the middle school into the elementary schools.
“Certainly that would fill the elementary classrooms, but then we would have a middle school that’s half full. Then, we explored the concept of taking the 9th grade down from the high school into the middle school. In all those scenarios, all they do is move around the empty space. The bottom line is the empty space still exists,” said Miller. “That’s what then leads us to an elementary consolidation.”
The K-4 consolidation closes Richmond and moves Richmond's 135 students to Andrew Maier and Willow Creek.
Richmond is in need of close to $2 million in renovation costs while Andrew Maier has brand new mechanicals. Willow Creek is the district’s newest building and also serves the district’s largest number of elementary students. Also, the district has the highest concentration of families that reside in the Blandon area near Andrew Maier while many of the Richmond students live spread out in rural areas.
On Jan. 8, Miller and Assistant Superintendent Amaal Awadalla presented to the school board what the K-4 consolidation looks like and the impacts.
“By no means am I ever saying that closing a building is what’s best for everybody because certainly it’s going to impact the kids it’s dealing with. Our goal is to lessen that impact and then use that closure and the staffing from that closure as an opportunity to ensure that we’re giving an equal opportunity to all of our students.”
Richmond students residing in the Meadow Brook area would attend Andrew Maier and the remaining students would go to Willow Creek. Students currently attending Willow Creek and Andrew Maier would continue to attend those schools. There is no anticipated change to the number of bus runs.
“From a class size perspective, our goal is to be able to offer a similar class size to what we already have in Andrew Maier and Willow Creek. Richmond has certainly had much smaller class sizes in some grade levels,” he said. “We are looking to have that consistent smaller class size across all classrooms at the elementaries.”
Currently, average class size is 21 at Willow Creek and after the consolidation it would remain 21. Andrew Maier is currently at 19 students and after the consolidation is estimated to be 20. Current average class size at Richmond is 17 to 18.
Also, the district anticipates a cost savings of about $56,000 in annual operational costs and $314,000 in staffing, compared to its current operational expenses of $74,500 and staffing budget of about $1,687,689.
“We anticipate being able to do any staff reduction through attrition and through retirement replacements and moving people around,” said Miller. “Most of the staff continues to exist… If I have 20 first graders at Richmond and I move them to another building, I still need a teacher to teach those students.”
When looking at the resources that are divided among Andrew Maier, Richmond and Willow Creek, he said there are some discrepancies. For instance, currently there is one school counsellor for 500 students at Willow Creek, one counsellor for 135 students at Richmond and one counsellor for 197 at Andrew Maier.
“By having the ability to move staff around, we believe by reducing to two buildings, we could equalize some of those supports for students. (School counsellors) is just one example but the same is true in some other areas.”
The public is encouraged to comment at the K-4 consolidation public hearing which is scheduled to be held on Feb. 12 at 7 p.m. in the Fleetwood Area High School Board Room. The Board of Directors will vote on the elementary consolidation at the May 14 school board meeting. State law requires a public hearing be held to allow the public the opportunity to comment, followed by a three-month waiting period.
The final report by Thompson Associates Architects is available on the school district website.