De­ci­sion on open­ing Edge­wood put off

The Community Connection - - FRONT PAGE - By Evan Brandt ebrandt@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @PottstownNews on Twit­ter

POTTSTOWN >> The Pottstown School Board is not yet ready to de­cide on re-open­ing the for­mer Edge­wood Ele­men­tary School.

Re-open­ing the school, last used as a Pottstown School build­ing in 2014, is just one of a num­ber of ma­jor — and po­ten­tially ex­pen­sive — de­ci­sions the board faces.

The de­ci­sions and op­tions are all in­ter-re­lated in such a way that any de­ci­sion made af­fects sev­eral oth­ers.

Per­haps the most ur­gent is­sue driv­ing the need to act is the un­cer­tainty of whether the 40-yearold boiler in the ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ing on Beech Street will last

an­other winter.

Although an al­ter­na­tive has been iden­ti­fied if the boiler fails, its pend­ing demise un­der­lines a num­ber of is­sues at the for­mer Washington School which could ul­ti­mately cost as much as $4 mil­lion or $5 mil­lion to re­pair and/or re­place, ac­cord­ing to early es­ti­mates.

If the board de­ter­mines the cur­rent build­ing is too old to be worth the in­vest­ment, it drives a whole cas­cade of ques­tions, such as where would the ad­min­is­tra­tion move?

The an­nex build­ing on North Franklin Street is not large enough. Other sug­ges­tions have in­cluded space in the high school, which might leave PCTV, which has its stu­dios there, with­out a home.

An­other op­tion is us­ing space in Edge­wood, ei­ther as a fifth-grade cen­ter and ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ing; or even as a full ele­men­tary school.

The de­ci­sion to close Edge­wood, the dis­trict’s new­est build­ing, and ren­o­vate the re­main­ing four ele­men­tary schools was made in 2012 af­ter many years of pro­pos­als, counter pro­pos­als and in­de­ci­sion.

Cur­rently, the build­ing is rented out to two ten­ants — Head Start and Cot­tage 7, a pri­vate special ed­u­ca­tion school to which pub­lic schools send stu­dents in need of emo­tional sup­port ser­vices.

Add in the grow­ing con­sen­sus among the ad­min­is­tra­tion that mov­ing the dis­trict’s en­tire fifth grade into Pottstown Mid­dle School, where be­hav­ior prob­lems con­tinue to frus­trate teach­ers and ad­min­is­tra­tors alike, may have been a mis­take, and the po­ten­tial in­ter­ac­tion of de­ci­sions be­comes even more com­plex.

How­ever, re-open­ing a school has a fixed time­line and at the Sept. 20 board meet­ing, Su­per­in­ten­dent Stephen Ro­driguez wanted to make sure he un­der­stood the board’s will.

“In or­der to make Edge­wood any­thing by the 2019/2020 school year, which would be 11 months from now, cer­tain ac­tions would im­me­di­ately have to take place and this board would be in the un­com­fort­able po­si­tion of mak­ing de­ci­sions very quickly, prob­a­bly as soon as next board meet­ing,” said Ro­driguez.

“I want to make sure that I heard that at this time, while we do want to look at our struc­tures closely and care­fully, we are not ready to make the de­ci­sion to open Edge­wood by the 2019/2020 school year,” Ro­driguez said.

“In or­der to have Edge­wood open by Au­gust 2019, many things would have to hap­pen to get that build­ing ready. It feels like a long time, but if you ac­tu­ally look at it, board meet­ing by board meet­ing, it’s not that long and that de­ci­sion would have sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on taxes and the bud­get and those de­ci­sions would have to be made by Oc­to­ber,” he said.

“There is ur­gency with re­gard to some of our is­sues, but the board felt there is no way it could make a quick de­ci­sion on that with­out more in­for­ma­tion in terms of what it would cost, and the pub­lic de­serves a chance to weigh in on it,” he said. “If this the un­der­stand­ing that I need to walk away with, all you need to do is stay silent. If I am in­cor­rect, you need to cor­rect me now.”

The board re­mained silent.

But Robert Decker did not.

Head of the Pottstown High School math depart­ment and an of­fi­cer in the Fed­er­a­tion of Pottstown Teach­ers, Decker ex­pressed dis­ap­point­ment at the de­lay in mov­ing for­ward with any change that would im­prove the sit­u­a­tion at the mid­dle school.

For two years the dis­trict has strug­gled with teacher and par­ent com­plaints about dis­ci­pline prob­lems at the mid­dle school. Last March, more than 20 stu­dents and par­ents stood be­fore the school board and said some­thing has to change. New mea­sures were put in place, but con­tin­ued com­plaints sug­gest they have not been en­tirely suc­cess­ful.

“I’m con­cerned about Mr. Ro­driguez’s state­ments about the de­lay in look­ing at Edge­wood for next year,” said Decker.

“I un­der­stand there are sig­nif­i­cant time is­sues, but I also need to re­it­er­ate that some kind of ac­tion is needed to re­duce the is­sues with the stu­dent pop­u­la­tion at the mid­dle school,” said Decker.

“The fed­er­a­tion, like the ad­min­is­tra­tion and the board, all made a de­ci­sion, which seemed like the cor­rect de­ci­sion with the in­for­ma­tion we had, to move that school to a 5/8 con­fig­u­ra­tion. It seemed like the right de­ci­sion, but I think now, I think most of us or all of us would agree that it didn’t quite play out the way we ex­pected it to. And although snap de­ci­sions are not good things, we do need to do some­thing about that,” said Decker. “And that sit­u­a­tion needs to be looked at and ad­dressed, for the good of ev­ery­one.”

The next joint meet­ing of the fa­cil­i­ties and fi­nance com­mit­tees, where these mat­ters will con­tinue to be ex­plored, is sched­uled for Oct. 11.

DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA FILE PHOTO

A par­ents group from Edge­wood Ele­men­tary School, along with Edge­wood stu­dents, protest­ing the Pottstown School Board’s de­ci­sion to close the school in 2012.

DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA FILE PHOTO

Cur­rently oc­cu­pied by two ten­ants, the Edge­wood build­ing was last used as a Pottstown Pub­lic School build­ing in 2014.

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