EDITOR’S NOTE: Readers can view a summary of the pros and cons from eight of the night school directors as prepared by L.R. Kimball architects and Reynolds Construction Management officials for last night’s meeting by clicking here.
by Jonathan Weaver
To make the best decision, Armstrong school directors want all the facts.
During the latest special meeting in which Armstrong School District board directors met to narrow down eight architectural options of the future of the district, directors decided they needed a cost-and-savings analysis from school district administrators of building a 7-12th grade junior-senior high versus a 9-12th grade senior high before proceeding.
While directors didn’t narrow or exclude any options, the ones further analyzed include the District maintaining two high schools: a new site and West Shamokin 7-12.
As directed earlier this month, eight of nine board directors submitted their opinions regarding the options and were compiled by L.R. Kimball architects. At least five indicated ‘Option 1’ (which included building a new 7-12th grade junior-senior high and renovating Elderton K-12 to become K-6) should be further considered.
Board Director Larry Robb suggested administrators provide some more details before that option is ranked higher than others.
“For me to make a decision on any of these options, it’s going to be how much will it cost us, how much will it save us and whether or not we can pay the bond,” Robb said. “Because not only do we have the bond to worry about, we have the operating budget for next year that’s going to impact what we do for staffing this year. We have to look at how we’re going to make next year’s budget.
“For us to do our due diligence, I think we need to narrow it down, let the administration go out and do some work with costs and bring it back to us and then we can make some more decisions to go forward,” Robb added.
Board Director Paul Lobby, who was participating by speaker phone, indicated he was one of those in favor of Options 1 or 3.
“I think those two options are the most cost-effective. In our present economic situation facing an $8 million budget deficit next year and increases after that with our bond obligations, I think we really need to look at the most cost-effective way to utilize our current facilities and build a facility that’s going to allow us to reduce operational expenses so we can afford this bond payment,” Lobby said.
School Superintendent Dr. Stan Chapp voiced his opinion to build a junior-senior high school – Options 1 or 2 – to receive the most savings in-terms of busing, staff flexibility and course availability.
To satisfy those budget concerns for the 2012-13 school year and beyond, Board President Joseph Close said board directors need to consider operational cost reductions, including staffing.
“Staffing is the most-expensive section of our budget – it needs to be in the best way that we can control it. If we have staff we don’t need or are duplicated, then obviously it’s costing us a lot more money: bottom line. A few staff reductions can make a huge difference,” Close said.
“We can’t fix up a bunch of buildings and have the same operational costs,” he added, with the subject sparking a brief debate with Board Director Sara Yassem concerning the former renovation options that were dismissed last calendar year.
Close indicated that staff includes three head football coaches at a cost of $67,000. Under the two high school formula being considered, that number would be reduced.
Board Director D. Royce Smeltzer said that if building a 9-12th grade senior high is determined the best option, students from all attendance areas should have the opportunity to learn there.
“If we are spending tens-of millions of dollars, I want every student 9-12 to be able to attend that building,” Smeltzer said. “They should have that option.
“If we can pay for it, and prove to the public we can pay for it by reduction, I’ll support that, but we have to be able to pay for it and have that opportunity for all of our students.”
He questioned some board members’ concerns that a new school would affect the West Shamokin 7-12 attendance area. Architects determined before options were released that West Shamokin was best-suited for its current student range and location.
Board Vice-President Chris Choncek compared a possible-future West Shamokin to discussions the District had in regards to closing Elderton K-12 a few years ago.
“A school that’s operating at efficient numbers – meaning the classes are big, there’s enough students in those schools to provide different types of classes – a smaller school will not have those options, because if they have only -7,8,9, 10 kids, they might not have enough to offer an advanced class without maybe having to take it online,” Choncek said. “I’ve always thought it was real strange to have a new school that’s real efficient at 80-90 percent capacity, and then you have West Shamokin – which is a very beautiful school – but only has a third of the population.”
John Hummel suggested defining the West Shamokin attendance area would help settle concerns.
However, Chapp said board directors can’t focus on elementary consolidations until secondary students are mapped out.