Now that North Allegheny Superintendent Raymond Gualtieri has recommended that the district close Peebles Elementary school, parents opposed to the idea want to know what role they will have in the decision-making process.
A group called Save NA Schools has asked repeatedly for the formation of a community task force to participate in the process, but up until now, the board has not addressed the question directly at any of its meetings.
"I don’t think the board has ruled it in or ruled it out, frankly," school board President Maureen Grosheider said Thursday. "I think if we convene any type of task force, I wonder what its charge will be. What will it be expected to accomplish?"
Fellow board member Beth Ludwig echoed those sentiments.
"Nobody has said no to the idea of a community task force, but I think we have approached the concept in a different way," said Ludwig. "We have made all of our research and decision-making very transparent, both at the board meetings, and on the district web site, that way the entire community is involved rather than a select few."
Ludwig insists the many expressions of concern over closing an elementary school have been heard.
"These parents concerns are not being ignored," she said. "We have listened to them and have directed the administration to study the issues they have raised."
However with the district facing an $8-million deficit, Ludwig cautions that the board can't put off a decision infinitely.
"I think it is wrong to kick this down the road," she said. "Some parents are fighting to keep a building open, and I understand their concerns. However, in our current economic climate, I am fighting to preserve all the high quality programs that make North Allegheny the excellent district that it is; music, art, academics, athletics, and reasonable class sizes. I have to look at the big picture."
Gualtieri suggested that the board hold a public hearing on the proposed closure in January, and schedule a vote in April.
A group of parents presented the board Wednesday with a 32-page report outlining their reasons for not closing any of the district's elementary school. (see attached .pdf) The parents argue that:
- Closing an elementary school will force the remaining buildings to operate more classes than they were designed to accommodate.
- There will be little room for expansion should enrollment increase at the elementary level.
- The five-year enrollment projections prepared by the administration have consistently understated actual enrollment for the past 13 years.
- The conclusions reached in the demographic portion of the Phase 2 report contain a mathematical error, which suggests the population of McCandless is declining, when it is projected to remain stable.
- The Phase 2 report does not acknowledge or analyze the impact of the McCandless Crossing complex.
As for the question of a community task force, Grosheider said a decision will eventually be made.
"I think the board will decide one way or another, but I’m not sure when," she said. "It could happen at the next meeting on December 19."
"Unfortunately, no matter what we do, we are not going to make everybody happy," added Ludwig. "But we were elected to make these decisions."
For more information on parent's efforts to form a community task force about the proposed school closings, click www.saveNAschools.com.