A steady decline in enrollment has Kutztown Area School District looking at reconfiguring the elementary schools, with the possibility of closing Albany Elementary."If the board chooses to redesign the elementaries because of declining enrollment, we believe the strongest education program we can provide for the children is to offer a learning community/grade level centers," said Kutztown Superintendent Robert Gross III.

There are currently four elementaries that serve half-day kindergarten to grade five. Gross presented to the Patriot the following reconfiguration options the board will review Jan. 20.

While Gross liked the philosophy of smaller class sizes, he said he also wants elementary class sizes to be more equal across the district, thus providing more equal education.

"The board asked us to study this, how we're going to handle the declining enrollment," said Gross. "We're giving them options based on data."

What are the most up to date options?

One option would be to do nothing to reconfigure the elementary schools, but the district would have to add 2.5 staff members for full-day kindergarten. The board approved full-day kindergarten Jan. 5.

Another option would be to close Maxatawny Elementary which would house the district office. Albany, Greenwich and Kutztown elementaries would serve kindergarten to grade 5, but and additional 2.5 staff members would be needed for full-day kindergarten.

Another option would close Albany Elementary. Greenwich Elementary would house kindergarten, first and second grade. Grades three, four and five would be at Kutztown Elementary. Half of the full-day kindergartners would be at Maxatawny Elementary, which would also house the district offices. No additional staff would be needed and staff reduction might be possible in the future as enrollment continues to decline.

"We were concerned from a curriculum standpoint with a transition between second and third grade with reading and math," said Gross. "It's a curricular issue and an instructional issue."

The last option would close Albany Elementary. All full-day kindergarten and first grade would be at Greenwich Elementary. Grades two, three and four would be at Kutztown. Grade five would be at Maxatawny Elementary, which would also house the district office. No additional staff would be needed and staff reduction might be possible.

"We know there's emotionality attached, but we need it to be driven by data and facts," he said. "That's not wrong or right; it just is."

How did the district decide on these options?

Creating these four options was a year-long process, said Gross

Last year, the district created the Building Utilization Task Force of up 70 parents, teachers and staff to review the elementary schools. In December 2007, they presented nine options, of which three were most supported.

"We took their information of those three options and updated it with current facts and extended their research," said Gross. "Overall, they did an excellent job."

Where did the district find the data?

Since then, Gross, district Business Manager Joe Pugliese and attendance staff reviewed enrollment numbers over a 10-year period and Pennsylvania Department of Education projected enrollment over the next 10 years, both of which showed a steady decline.

"My goal is to be as transparent as possible throughout this process and be as fact based as possible and so does the board," said Gross. "We have a responsibility to the students and the taxpayers."

Gross said they also found that live births for the KASD area have decreased from 133 in 1998 to 116 in 2007.

A 2007 yield study also proved that there are few to no residential developments planned for 2009 in the district's townships and boroughs.

While the district tracks its enrollment numbers monthly and reports to the state in October and February, he explained that the reason the data is focused on 2007 and not 2008 is that 2008 numbers outside the district have not been tallied yet.

Gross also noted that for the 2005-06 school year, all nine of the Albany kindergarten students attended Greenwich in order to "establish a class" of students. They returned to Albany for first grade with a class of 14. He said this happens almost annually at Albany because of under-enrollment.

He found that the district enrollment is decreasing by about 30 students a year. Compared to 2007-08 the 2008-09 enrollment is down 56 students with about 25 being elementary students.

"There's no question about it. Our enrollment's going down," said Gross.

How does reconfiguring the elementary schools affect students' time on the bus?

Gross said the time students spend on the bus is a concern.

"Many students already have lengthy bus rides," he said.

For parents who are concerned about their children having to ride the bus instead of walking to school, Gross said they have a legitimate concern.

"We have to look at the total district's needs," he said. "We have a responsibility to examine all options for the district's children and families."

Gross said the district will be looking closer at the length of bus time for the four options per school and grade.

Looking at the financials

"Over a period of several years hence, the district could realize hundreds of thousands of dollars," said Gross.

This assumes an inflation factor of between 2 to 2.7 percent, which Gross said is conservative considering the current economy.

He explained that if the district closes Albany Elementary, the district could save $160,000 in the first year.

Building savings - utilities, debt service payment and maintenance - he said is projected to progressively increase up to 2016-17. While bus expenditures would at first increase for the need for additional buses, the savings would increase as enrollment decreased, as projected going into 2016-17.

For more information, visit www.kasd.org.

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