Elderton High School Will Close Permanently

Elderton High School students and taxpayers pleaded with Armstrong School District board directors last night to keep the school open, but apparently too late. Board directors voted 8-1 to permanently close Elderton High and 9-o to close Kittanning Township Elementary before the upcoming school year begins.

by Jonathan Weaver

One hour into last night’s school board meeting, the packed audience grew silent.

Armstrong School District board directors made the decision that students and families dreaded to hear, one that caused many students – including Elderton senior class president Taylor Eastlick – to leave in tears.

Elderton High School is closing – permanently.

Directors also made the decision shortly before to close Kittanning Township Elementary.

A half-dozen students and several community spokespersons pleaded with board directors to delay the closing until the new Manor Township high school is opened – tentatively scheduled for Fall 2015 – and Kittanning and Ford City high schools are also closed.

Eastlick was forced to attend Ford City High when the school board closed Elderton for the 2009-10 school year and rejoiced when it re-opened in 2010-11. She asked to graduate from her hometown school.

“I hate being pushed between buildings,” Eastlick said. “This year, I’ll be sent to West Shamokin where I will know no other students and once again be split from my best friends.”

Kim Blatt of Shelocta had many questions regarding the closure’s effects and how it will impact her children, including her 11th grader Danielle, who also spoke at the meeting. She said the school closing will put a lot of un-needed stress on her family.

“Too many questions and not enough answers,” Blatt said.

Solicitor Lee Price entertained a motion by Region III Board Director D. Royce Smeltzer to delay the Elderton closing one year, but Smeltzer did not receive a second to require a roll call vote. Fellow Board Director Stan Berdell said he understood Elderton student concerns, but said the financial constraint was too much to sway his vote.

Junior Kylie Minnich would have to transfer from Elderton to Ford City this fall due to the closure, but might not after all.

“How can all this moving around be good for our learning? I’m strongly considering cyber school as the choice for the rest of my high school career just so I can get some sort of stability,” Minnich said. “I don’t want to learn a new school or try to make new friends again.”

A cyber school meeting at Elderton Towne Hall will be held from 6-8PM July 18 for all interested families.

Bill Glover of Rural Valley called the school closings a mistake if school directors think they will save money. According to Acting Business Manager Sheldon Burk, the district will save $2.9 million on the school closings during the upcoming school year. $500,000 of that will go into budgetary reserve.

“You are going through this process to put forward an agenda that the board majority here has been pursuing for six years or so. You’ve been quite accomplished at doing a psychological hatchet job on the Elderton attendance area,” Glover said.

Region III Board Director D. Royce Smeltzer made one last effort to keep the school open until the end of the upcoming school year.

“The reason I’m doing this is for the proper planning and consideration for families and most of all the students. Sixty days is just not enough for families in our area to prepare for life-changing alterations,” Smeltzer said.

However, no Board directors seconded his motion to force a roll call vote. The words and the tears did not seem to sway school directors in their final vote, with Elderton closing by an 8-1 vote – with Smeltzer dissenting – and Kittanning Township was closed unanimously.

Smeltzer said students’ decision regarding cyber schooling or attending a different District school should be purely their own.

“It’s going to be a personal option from here-on-out, but we’re going to move forward,” Smeltzer said. “Certain courses of education are different for different families.”

Region III Board Director Stan Berdell said it was a difficult decision to make but asked for students to be patient in the process.

My suggestion is to give it a chance. I’m sure things will happen, but we’ll address them as soon as we can.”

Superintendent Stan Chapp said resident concerns relayed during the March 26 public hearing were heard and administrators will implement several additions, including a new lunch period at West Shamokin, an afternoon snack bar for students involved in activities and an update to the district's bullying policy.

Superintendent Stan Chapp said public concerns relayed during the March 26 public meeting will be addressed in several ways, including with an updated school bullying policy, a commitment to activity transportation and an afternoon food bar, as well as providing an additional lunch schedule at West Shamokin High.

“We made a serious and concerted effort to address those concerns,” Chapp said.

Principal Stephen Shutters will also transfer from Elderton to West Shamokin during the first few weeks to work with Principal Kirk Lorigan and Assistant Principal Joseph Treglia.

“I’m confident these three individuals know the parents and students extremely well, and can provide the support needed for the transition from the start of the school year,” Chapp said.

Senior Madison Davis called the Elderton attendance area ‘a family’ and said that will not change based on last night’s vote.

“That’s what we are and always will be,” Davis said.

Board President Joseph Close – whose vote to close Elderton has not changed since he voted to close it nearly four years ago – was inspired by Davis’ plea.

“It seemed to work out OK (in 2009). This time, we elaborated even more on some of the concerns,” Close said. “I think (Davis) had a good suggestion – that’s try to find the positive and move forward with it.”

While Kittanning Township’s closure forces students to attend Lenape Elementary in Ford City, Elderton’s closure causes it’s less-than 30 students to be split between the remaining District schools.


  • By Bison4ever, June 28, 2012 @ 9:23 AM

    If EHS had not been re-opened several years ago, these children would not have to be dealing with all this moving around once again. By now the children would have been a part of the school community that they attended. A wrong is being set right. It also sounds like the board is taking some of the concerns of parents seriously. Good for them.

  • By notsoshy, June 28, 2012 @ 10:01 AM

    Its about time. Im sick of my tax dollars going to support Elderton private Academy. And to the junior that dosent want to learn a new school or make new friends, good luck when you go to college. Get your panties out of their wad and get on with your lives people. And like stated in the article, if you dont want your child going to another school then Cyber school is always available. But seriously whats done is done . .get over it.

  • By Elderton Parent, June 28, 2012 @ 10:40 AM

    notsoshy – but its ok for MY tax dollars to pay for a new school that will not be available for MY children?
    Taxes were increased by 2% – why? If there is going to be such a great savings from closing these two schools why are taxes increasing?
    Under the plan of the previous board taxes were decreased with a renovation plan.
    Hold on to your wallets! This is the first of MANY, MANY increases. But that’s ok because you will have a new school, right? A new school with a view, right?

  • By JornJensen, June 28, 2012 @ 10:42 AM

    This school board has/had a business decision to make and they made it. I disagree with ‘using’ crying students to potentially help sway a board member’s ‘live’ vote. These students need about 5 year’s real world experience (mortgage, taxes, car payment, insurance payment, taxes, food bills, did I mention taxes?)to understand that a school board’s decisions have to be business decisions, not ‘soft’ decisions. I agree with Stan Berdell’s statement, “the financial constraint was too much to sway his vote.”

    Do I agree with what the board is doing? No.

    I still favor downsizing into some of what we have and fixing them up with the big loan – living within our means. But the last board’s attempt at that was so bungled that it has left a bad taste in everyone’s mind and some of them became a speed bump in the ASD highway.

    Here’s my guess at what happened going back through history – in some back room, Dr. Solak and Ms. Stitt might have made a deal – ‘you keep my school open and I’ll vote to re-open your school’ or vice-versa, and then the entire district was screwed from that point forward. Had they closed Ford City and kept open, or opened Elderton, they could have pulled it off. Combine Ford City and Kittanning into one high school, have Elderton and West Shamokin operational – end up with a triangle of 3 high schools. Distribute students to these 3 high schools based upon distance from each and then allow an amount of ‘transfers’ for the 101 good reasons for transfers.

    We’ll get the new high school now. Hope someone has looked at transportation costs. I’m thinking the Meyers boys will be laughing all the way to the bank.

    Wonder if there’s any Obama ‘shovel-ready’ money available? We’re soon ready for the shovels.

  • By mutchka, June 28, 2012 @ 11:00 AM

    I see where Gateway is getting rid of their athletic director and making sports a pay to play deal. They have more money than us and were building a new school and unless I haven’t heard we’re keeping all the nine million sports teams we have and the athletic director.

  • By scott_starr, June 28, 2012 @ 11:31 AM

    tell me why 60 days is not sufficient for Elderton Rocyce,but OK for Kttg. Twp.

  • By asdgrad, June 28, 2012 @ 12:08 PM

    notsoshy right you are. And I hate to say this but I also think the school board should not let that area leave the district! If they don’t want their children to attend WSHS then they can go to cyber school. but the rest of us should not have to pay for them to go to Apollo.

  • By dawgfood, June 28, 2012 @ 12:25 PM

    As if you would know anything about college.

  • By Kittanning Lady, June 28, 2012 @ 12:36 PM

    I suggest that when the new school is built,and they close Ford City High School and Kittanning JR and SR High Schools they also at the same time close WestShamokin(as they have planned and turn into an Elem)and have the students walk into the new school the same day and on the same level so as to have everyone on equal terms.Thus not having any one area claim the new school as their own.This is the opinion of many.

  • By Jerri, June 28, 2012 @ 1:14 PM

    notsoshy-maybe many people are sick of their tax dollars being spent to support a new school in the Kittanning area. We already spent $26 million on the most ridiculous looking building in the school district..the precious West Hills. The people in Elderton were a community that worked hard to make a difference in their community. They don’t sit around and say “poor me, gimme gimme” like the new school supporters do. I say “poor me, quit stealing from the rest of the district to give the Kittanning area all it wants.”

    Jonathon-Are you getting your information from the Leader Times? It seems like the Kittanning Township area is being completely ignored. First by the school board. Foolish, people from Kittanning Township thought they at least had Smeltzer on their side but he showed his true colors when he voted to close KT last night. And the Leader Times keeps touting all EHS kids will go to West Shamokin which isn’t true. EHS kids are being divided in half once more (Lord knows that would never happen to a Kittanning kid) and the Kittanning Township kids (who are as much a part of that high school as the rest of them) are being moved into an entire different community. And how can their be an entire 30 kids moving when there was almost 30 kids in just the sixth grade class at KT this year? Meaning, those will be seventh grade classes next year.

    The vote only happened because you only have Smeltzer that is from the Elderton area and NOT ONE director representing Kittanning Township. And now Kittanning Township is moving to Ford City and can’t even vote for a representative from their area. Nice job, Judge Valasek. I agree with what I read on another website asking if Valasek was ” wacko, stupid, or corrupt”. I vote for “all of the above”.

    This vote was not about saving tax dollars nor was it about better education. EHS was the ONLY school in this district to be awarded nationally for academics. This was simply the last hurdle to clear the way for the precious Snyder High School. And the rest of us get to pay for it.

    I am still waiting for clear numbers on how much this school is going to end up costing us. Mr. Sheldon Burk (acting business manager–from Ohio no less) says closing EHS will save 2.9 million BUT what about the extra busing? What about the fact that new jobs have been created to save jobs (DZ..talking to you Mr. Guidance Counselor, among others). What about the South Bend debacle? We are going to pay tuition for their kids to go to Apollo? Why? Just because ASD and AR say they support secession means nothing unless you have corruption involved. There are a number of PA districts that have been fighting for years and are still waiting (some already recently denied). What makes South Bend so special? And besides the tuition money we will be paying, how much for lost subsidies also? AR will get all that money. And we pay transportation to boot!!!

    Looking at the ASD budget online, there is no reason this board needs to raise taxes as they just did. They raised 2%! That’s more than was given back last year! The last board kept schools open, redid transportation, cut 60 unnecessary positions, and predicted a $5 million fund balance AFTER giving back 2 mils ($1 million). Looking at the 2011-2012 ACTUAL budget online, the previous board actually left close to $8 million for this board to start with. So where’s the money? The Leader Times article brushed it off saying staff increases and insurance were the problem. First of all, it was the Choncek, Rearic, and Close that voted for that big teacher contract (bound to be worse next time with the addition of Linda Walker) and second, those increases are nothing unusual and happens every year. I doubt if they used up the whole $8 million plus. No, my guess is that they’re banking that money so when they open the new high school, they can put in the paper they didn’t raise taxes. West Hills all over again. I hope the voters recognize this garbage by next election.

  • By cherok29, June 28, 2012 @ 1:24 PM

    “And to the junior that dosent want to learn a new school or make new friends, good luck when you go to college”. My thoughts exactly. Actually, my thought was “What are you going to do when you go into the REAL world and begin work at a new job where you know NO ONE?” Yeah, as a teenager, I’m sure it sucks to be split from your friends, but adapt- make new friends. Life is all about change!

  • By rfullerton, June 28, 2012 @ 7:27 PM

    Nice move! I am however, wondering what the breakdown of the 2.9 million in savings includes?

    Also, does there really need to be 3 principals at WSHS?..seriously….even if it is only for “several weeks” for the transition…then what? That would be 84,000+ savings to eliminate that principal position. I would think that the two principals currently at WSHS could handle the transition…really…what do we pay them so much money for…not to mention there is a principal at Dayton Elementary and Shannock Valley that could aid in anything “extra” that the transition may entail.

    As far as the bullying goes, Chapp should certainly be on top of that as he is the biggest bully in the district. Kittanning Lady was correct when she stated that people were called into the admin office and “warned” about posting on the KP she just failed to mention that it was not the current board that was directing that it was the FORMER board and their henchman, who now interestingly enough has fallen out of favor with the Elderton crowd after they were singing his praises not to long ago…hmmmm…

  • By VerySpecialPerson, June 28, 2012 @ 9:09 PM

    I do not have a problem with a new school IF we can see significant savings… not just a million or two but perhaps 10 or 20 million!

    I have two problems. #1 – Why not close Kittanning Jr High? It has been stated over and over that the kids will fit into the high school. So why not realize some more savings? I can tell you why. Because Mr. Choncek doesn’t believe the jr high kids of Kittanning should be put in with the sr high kids of Kittanning. Now it is fine with West Shamokin or Ford City, but not Kittanning. He has stated that it is not good educationally, however that is private school thinking. If the kids at WSHS and FCHS can make it, then why not Kittanning?

    #2 – The Board is adopting the same philosophy as Commissioner/Coroner Bower. Say as little as possible during the election, then stay out of the limelight as much as possible during your tenure so you can’t be criticized for anything. Don’t tell the public any more than you have to because they will make waves and you will have to deal with it. This school board is doing the same thing.

    A final thought about “business” people getting into politics. They are used to making money through capitalism. But once they are in a position of having a pot of money, they tend to forget how it got there since they “HAVE TO” spend it. And there is little risk on their part since they have no responsibility ten years down the road for the decisions they make today. Most of them will retire, probably move to their vacation resort, and Armstrong County will be left to fend for itself.

    @Jan – You keep saying that they don’t know all the costs yet, so they can’t release them. That is unbelievable! Would you go to build a new house, secure a loan from the bank, and not have any idea as to the total impact that home will have on your budget? You have to factor in the taxes, the higher utilities for a bigger home, and most important – an exit plan for your current home (unless you are wealthy enough to keep it and play with it in the market). ASD school board – please give us your exit strategy or are we going to be stuck with more crumbling property like Shannock Valley High School?

    The last board did what they thought was right. They published projections at every turn. They gave the public the information. Their mistake: They misread that the public wanted renovations. Although the public had just pay $50 million in renovations for two elementaries (Lenape and West Hills) (most of the public wasn’t aware of the full costs), the public didn’t want an $80 million debt at this time. But at least the previous board put out facts and figures. We reciprocated by teasing Solak every time he brought out a piece of paper. Now we wish this Board would bring out a few pieces of paper with their TOTAL projections. The previous board showed no tax increase in their plan. Can this board show the same? That should be easy to show since this new school is going to consolidate other schools and isn’t that the reason we have to get rid of the other schools – to save money???? (sarcasm for those of you who will miss the point!)

  • By scott_starr, June 28, 2012 @ 9:10 PM

    ASD has run business using local folks and look at the mess we are in!

    I would be all in favor of having a bunch of outsiders with fresh eyes, no agendas, and no bias come to ASD and give an assesment of what needs to be done, and follow that assesment.

    You never know the outsiders may say “Break up the district” and kids will go to all different schools.

  • By scott_starr, June 28, 2012 @ 9:19 PM

    OK, folks, please don’t get on the kids case who are upset.

  • By asdgrad, June 28, 2012 @ 9:49 PM

    want KJHS closed? Push for! The same for the sports. no need for three sports teams in the district!

  • By JornJensen, June 28, 2012 @ 10:24 PM

    Scott – I’m totally in favor of your idea to have an outside opinion, but only if it would result in some form of action as a result.

    Do you know resumes’ of these school directors? Whom of them has run a business? I’m not talking about an office with 1/2 dozen people – I’m talking about at least several million dollars gross sales and a substantial workforce.

    Maybe I don’t understand your business statement – maybe it means that we don’t have business people running the ASD and, therefore, look at the mess we’re in.

    One thing for sure – don’t have academia run academia – that’s a sure recipe for failure.

  • By saber, June 29, 2012 @ 6:41 AM

    @ VSP,

    Please don’t make blanket statements “however that is private school thinking” – that is why we can’t have people who aren’t in education making decisions about education. Do you have any idea what a middle school student is like? Yes, looks great on the outside like at Ford City – doesn’t it? Studies have been done on both combined and not – do your research instead of spouting off nonsense.

  • By Jen16226, June 29, 2012 @ 8:10 AM

    @ Scott

    An independent study of our district is what should have been done a long time ago, that is for sure.
    There was even an editorial that had touched on that.

  • By whoknew, June 29, 2012 @ 8:45 AM

    If Kittanning and FC want to combine into a new school so be it. Why do the other areas have to be destroyed for that goal to be met? I agree with Mr. Jensen and Lisa. What would be wrong with a triangle of three highschools? Redraw attendence lines to better balance student population and maybe then we would not be looking at losing southbend township. Whose to say if southbend goes that others on the outskirts of the district won’t attempt the same thing. I agree with Mr. Starr , please don’t attack the students they were only sharing their feelings.

  • By VerySpecialPerson, June 29, 2012 @ 2:02 PM

    @saber – Let me state my statement about “private school thinking.” This is when we think we should have the benefits of private school in the public school setting. I agree that it is better to isolate the groups. It is also better if all the class sizes were about 12 to 1 teacher. That is also in the studies. Smaller schools are better educationally (general statement – there are specific exceptions). But when it is public dollars, we can’t produce private education. We can’t have one teacher for 12 kids. We can’t have kids partitioned off according to their emotional needs (whether they be 12 or 18). There are people who have made this same statement about Elderton and called it a private public school because of its size and teacher to student ratio. Finally, I am for EQUAL opportunity in PUBLIC education. If you can separate Kittanning into a separate junior high, then separate the other schools as well. Otherwise, bring them all together.
    Oh one last thing to ignite another fire: Remember that reports on emotional health in schools comes from agencies that tend to benefit if the government coughs up more money because of a problem. Amazing how many kids have AD/HD today (not saying it doesn’t exist, but the numbers went UP when the situation for specialized curriculum was FUNDED! There is a correlation.) Now let’s start the fire burning on that one!

  • By Kittanning Lady, June 30, 2012 @ 8:58 AM

    @ whoknew,There is already a movement taking place in the WSHS area, they are concidering a move to Redbank school district.

  • By asdgrad, July 1, 2012 @ 12:55 PM

    Just looking around the district website, so if it is up to date, maybe the reason they are also keeping Mr. Shutters, for only a few weeks at WSHS, is because Dayton’s principal is only a fill in, so maybe the plan is Mr. Shutters to take over as the principal at Dayton.

  • By saber, July 1, 2012 @ 9:58 PM

    @ VSP,
    Since you have restated it, I do tend to agree with you. However, there are so many people against private schools, I wouldn’t want to see the spark turn to fire because of how something is stated. Remember that the studies done on Middle School consolidation and segregation (done mainly in CA) show both the pros and cons of each different configuration. These were in public schools. The only reason private schools have small class sizes is because most people are unable to or don’t want to send their child to one. Your first statement was a bit misleading to think this is a “private school” idea. Which it is not, it is a private school reality. All your other points, including the last one are pretty good. Realize too that if you have a child with a “disability” you can also receive SSI for them. Interesting . . .

  • By krazykrileys, July 2, 2012 @ 9:47 AM

    Good for Southbend Township for taking the stand! I am sure happy Sugarcreek Township took a stand back during the years of Armstrong School District last attempt to combine the schools.

    Why do you think these areas want to succeed from the the Armstrong District?
    Because they want stability for their children.
    My husband and I are blessed to homeschool our children and make this decision. We are sending our youngest to public school.
    Why? Because I know the Lord has had plans for us to do this all long, not to mention the amazing Kindergarten teachers Karns City Schools have! There is different opportunity education and I encourage families to look to the Lord to make your decisions concerning your children. You listen to Him you will benefit from Him. Trust in Him. He is our strength always. All things are possible through Him.
    Good for Danielle! She is looking to her future educational opportunities. Why criticize her for taking a stand on her education? She is looking at this beyond her years. Yes, she seems like a bright young lady with a great head on her shoulders. Cyber-School is a great opportunity for some students. If they have parental support, self-discipline and can better prepare them for independent studies for college.

  • By Lisa, July 2, 2012 @ 11:27 PM

    The idea of having a triangle of 3 high schools and redrawing attendance lines was one option that the current board could have explored before deciding on this new school that only Ford City and Kittanning students can attend. However it was not the only option. There are other options that the current board majority has ignored that maybe would have been more equal for everyone. For years the fight between attendance areas has been about each not being treated equal. The current board had a chance to look at options that would have brought this district together as one. In the past several people had asked that the ASD consider building a central high school for all ASD students in grades 9th through 12th. When this was asked we were told that there wasn’t any central ground to be found. Four years later we find out that there was indeed central ground and this same property is still available today. I believe it was even going to be “free” if there is such a thing as “free”. This property is along 422. Why was this property and idea of having all the ASD 9th through 12th grade students under one roof not explored in more depth? This idea would have unified the district, cut teaching staff and administration costs, along with sports staffing and bulding inventory. It would have kept some elementary buildings open in each attendance area within the ASD to help keep those areas attractive for growth. It also would have been equal for all. There would have been sacrafices made by each attendance area for the good of the entire district. Instead we are now looking at a “small high school” and a “large high school” with 1000 student difference. There is still time for the current board majority to buckle down and look into this option if they really wanted to. I do not believe for one minute that building this school or any school will make people move here. It is really all about what Armstrong County or neighboring counties have to offer. Shutting down the outlining attendance areas and leaving them without any type of school, meaning elementary buildings, along with the theory of a “small high school” and a “large high school” will not help with the current situation that the ASD or Armstrong County is faced with today.

  • By JornJensen, July 3, 2012 @ 10:11 AM

    Lisa – Agree. A triangle of 3 high schools would not cut most costs as much as two high schools would, and again, not as much as one centrally-located high school would. Bussing costs might be the exception. You have to put all of the costs, those going up and those going down, into a matrix and see which choice is most cost-effective while providing improved education for the district.

    All three scenarios (and maybe more) COULD be good alternatives as long as they serve the entire district equally. So, would they?

    The white board exercise was much too brief. Back then, I had hope. This board acted much too quickly on this decision-making process. That is how accusations come around that it was a pre-conceived plan. Then the other accusations of the white board thing being a farce. Then my questioning if this board is qualified to be in the position that they are in. And so forth….

    Again, don’t forget bussing costs and ‘time-on-the-road’ with every less bulding count that you end up with.

    This challenge for the ASD is a real dilemma. I don’t care for their solution.

    I’m convinced that this board doesn’t want to hear from us, nor do they want to communicate. The silence continues.

  • By futureconcened, July 3, 2012 @ 10:44 AM

    Well said Lisa. But this whole mess from the start was never about being fair. It was about a new high school and quad A sports for the Kittanning area. After all, the solution to a fenced-in football field is not to buy some more property around the field, but to build a Qyad A school. Hence the reason for the 1000 student difference. Again – Rayburn twp students that live at least 10 miles closer to West Shamokin are being moved away from their friends at WS to make room for Elderton Students. This school board is working with blinders on.

  • By cartman, July 3, 2012 @ 9:19 PM


    Three high schools. You have to be kidding!

  • By JornJensen, July 5, 2012 @ 6:40 AM

    cartman – I’m the one that brought up the ‘triangle’ of high schools by closing one of the two ‘closest together’ schools. I should have done some research – did that – hard to get latest figures off the internet (the ASD website doesn’t have it, that I could find), but, for 2010, ASD apparently graduated 313 students, but had a 10th grade class of 493 – so, if all 10th graders made it to graduation, 2012’s graduating class would have been 493 (minus those going to Lenape Vo Tech and minus dropouts).

    These are low numbers to maintain/justify 3 high schools. Definitely low numbers to maintain 4 high schools. Two high schools? Probably okay with a graduating average class size between the two of from 150 each to 250 each.

    I was in a graduating class of 112 – the last year that Arnold high school graduated a class under the combined name of Valley high school. The next year, Arnold high became Valley middle school oe something like that. So, back then, it was even hard to justify keeping a high school graduating 112 students.

    Leechburg Area, with which I was involved in closing schools back in the 70’s/80’s, is today graduating 50 to 70 per year. Time to look at joining up with Kiski Area and give it up. Leechburg has also lost most of it’s industrial base of ‘financial’ support. They struggle just like this area does.

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