Public Question on New School Construction ‘Not Permitted’

ASD School Board Vice-President Christopher Choncek calls the public to order for their regular monthly meeting last night. Choncek led the meeting - which included Solicitor Lee Price's update on a possible voting referendum -after President Joseph Close was absent. Board Director Amy Lhote was also absent from the meeting.

by Jonathan Weaver

An Armstrong School Director’s request to have a referendum on the November General Election ballot may have been denied before it was even submitted.

At last week’s school board open caucus session, Region III Board Director D. Royce Smeltzer requested Solicitor Lee Price investigate the process of adding a referendum to November’s ballot.

“I would like to get a feel from our taxpayers about this new building,” Smeltzer said June 7. “It (doesn’t) have to be a difficult question, but I think every (school board director) needs to know where our constituents are. I would like the question, ‘Do you support the new high school?’

However, Price contacted the Armstrong County Election Department on the request and said preliminary discussions indicate the voting question would not be allowed since it does not bind the District.

“If the referendum is not statutorily provided for by a law, they do not have to put anything on the voting ballot, and generally a non-mandatory referendum in Pennsylvania is in many ways no longer permissible,” Price said.

However, Price does have to talk with County Solicitor Chase McClister on the issue, and said if it is permitted, the referendum would be due 60 days – which on a business calendar falls at the end of August – before the election.

“I believe it’s not going to be permitted, even if (the school district) wants to do it,” Price reiterated.

The last referendum concerning financing a new comprehensive school and renovating Elderton K-6 was allowed under the Local Government Unit Debt Act. The referendum was contested by both school directors and the Armstrong County Court of Common Pleas on several occasions before being allowed.

Smeltzer said he wasn’t attempting to stop work performed by L.R. Kimball architects, who were authorized to continue geotechnical analysis and civil engineering later this month, but just to get public input. The new school construction was first discussed openly by the Board in February.

“We just started talking about this new high school and spending millions of dollars, and I think we need to hear from the voters of the County,” Smeltzer said.

Smeltzer has voted against many construction-related items since board directors indicated Elderton Borough, Plumcreek Township and South Bend Township students would not all fit in the new school.

Price said more information will be provided during the next school board meeting.

School board directors also agreed to pay more than $23,000 in textbook fees to provide materials for four courses.

The courses – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Mathematics, STEM Robotics, Advanced Placement Statistics and study skills were approved in December. Class materials for the STEM Mathematics course -which included 90 student editions, a teacher’s manual, training video and CD – proved to be the most expensive, costing more than $9,000 in-total.

Via Personnel documents also approved by the school board, the District commended 21 employees who retired at the end of the school year. That statistic includes Transportation Coordinator Charles Pepper, 10 teachers and five custodians, among other positions.

The resolution indicates the employees “contributed to the education of Armstrong School District students, performed their duties of their chosen professions with pride and dedication and have communicated expressively the goals and vision of the Armstrong School District.”

School board directors will next convene June 27 for a special budget meeting.