North Allegheny parents plead for all schools to stay open

November 21, 2012 4:55 am
By Sandy Trozzo /

The third-day enrollment in the North Allegheny School District was higher than projections, but administrators say the increase is not enough to drop their proposal to close one of three small elementary schools.

Enrollment on the third day was 8,212 students, with 3,531 of those students in elementary school, according to the annual enrollment and facilities update presented to the school board last Wednesday. Last year, the third-day enrollment was 8,215.

But parents who are fighting the proposed closing of Peebles Elementary School in McCandless say the data shows that the district is still growing, not remaining stagnant, and all seven elementary schools should remain open.

Jamie Karlovits said she called all of the elementary schools and learned that another 35 students had enrolled after the third day of school — 10 each at Peebles and Franklin, eight at McKnight, four at Hosack, two at Bradford Woods and one at Ingomar. No additional students enrolled at Marshall Elementary.

“The elementary schools in McCandless have more new students than the others,” she said.

Peebles, McKnight and Hosack all draw students primarily from McCandless, and McCandless parents contend that enrollment will increase in those schools as older homes are sold to young families.

Amy Lilienthal said eight of 13 homes on her street have changed hands, several of them sold by the original owners.

“These homes have not contributed children to NA in 20 years. Now, there are 15 children,” she said.

“Just because there is not new construction in McCandless does not mean there is not significant growth.”

Reports from the administration and consultant Thomas and Williamson disagree with that.

In 2006, the last time North Allegheny redistricted students, Hosack’s enrollment was 407. It now is 336, said Roger Botti, director of transportation and operations.

“We lost almost 100 students at Hosack. We really need to address that issue,” he said.

The report also tracked enrollment since 1986. Enrollment peaked at 8,461 students in 1997. The lowest recent enrollment was 8,038 in 2006.

Mr. Botti presented redistricting scenarios including closing Bradford Woods, Hosack or Peebles or leaving all seven schools open but moving children to equalize enrollment and class sizes.

Keeping all seven schools open would require moving 264 students, while closing Bradford Woods would require moving 1,031 students. Closing Peebles or Hosack would involve moving 500 to 620 students, depending on how the attendance lines are drawn, he said.

Tara Fisher of McCandless said that closing a school would result in crowding in the remaining buildings.

“It will be more crowded in the classrooms, more crowded in the hallways, more crowded in the bathrooms, more crowded in the cafeteria. In all cases, it means less square footage to deliver these classes,” she said.

Mrs. Fisher and Laurel Schreiber said they pored over the proposed floor plans presented at the Oct. 24 meeting for various redistricting options and found several items of concern, including converting an audio-visual storage room at Bradford Woods to space for communications art support, which is small-group instruction.

“Support services that are critical to the curriculum are going to storage space,” Mrs. Fisher said.

The Ingomar Elementary orchestra would be moved to a mechanical room under the proposed floor plans, while the hearing impaired program, which would move to Hosack if Peebles were closed, would be put into a new space carved from the receiving area, they said.

“If there was ample space, it wouldn’t be this hard. We wouldn’t even be getting cost estimates of putting hearing impaired into a receiving area,” Mrs. Fisher said.

The two women sent a letter to each school board member last week, outlining their concerns.

Board member Thomas Schwartzmier said that directors recently toured Hosack, Peebles, Marshall and Bradford Woods schools.

The “storage closet” is 400 to 500 square feet with a window, he said. “I don’t believe we are putting students in substandard space,” he said.

Robert Gaertner, director of facilities, said that classrooms have to be at least 660 square feet, and any special education resource rooms must be at least 28 square feet per student and have to be in the “ebb and flow” of the school.

“It’s not like we willy-nilly pick spaces,” he said. “We do not believe that we have done anything detrimental.”

Several factors complicate the process, including that both Bradford Woods and Marshall elementary schools need to be renovated. Estimates for Bradford Woods renovations range from $8 million to $10 million.

Another factor is the concern about dwindling state funding and increasing pension costs. Superintendent Raymond Gualtieri said closing a small elementary school would save $500,000 to $1.5 million.

But Mrs. Fisher contended that the proposal to close a building “should not be tied to the district’s budgeting issues.”

A third factor is that class sizes have increased this year as the district did not replace many retiring teachers. Parents from Hosack Elementary, in particular, have complained about class sizes of 31 students in some third- through fifth-grade classes.

Mrs. Karlovits said the average third grade at Hampton is 24.3 students, while an average third grade in Pine-Richland is 21 students.

“That is a six-to-nine-child difference. How can we compete with those districts” she asked.

Board member Beth Ludwig noted that any of the redistricting plans would add sections.

“I don’t know how we are going to provide those scenarios. I don’t know how we are going to do it with the budget that we have,” she said.

“I don’t know how Hampton and some of these districts are getting away with the class sizes they have, but they are losing or will lose something educationally that we are holding onto for dear life.”

Sandy Trozzo, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com

First Published November 21, 2012 4:55 am

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