L. Salford Elementary recommended for closure
Superintendent Frederick Johnson recommended closing Lower Salford Elementary School at Wednesday’s meeting of the Souderton Area School Board operation committee at the high school before more than 100 residents.
District officials cited a study by the Pennsylvania Economy League and said that one of the seven elementary schools needed to be closed because enrollment is declining. The 100-year-old school requires about $3.5 million to bring it up to ADA requirements.
“Enrollment is declining over the long term,” Business Manager William Stone said.
Board President Bernard Currie said the process has been transparent and is fiscally prudent. He noted that administrators spent the summer studying all the elementary schools before coming up with their recommendation to the board.
Currie read a long statement at the start of the meeting, in part responding to a list of questions submitted by Lower Salford Elementary parents, who have banded together in an effort to save the school.
“I repeat there were no ‘behind the scene’ secret decisions by the board,” Currie said. “And no preconceived conclusions. This is a policy-driven decision.”
Currie noted that the board must come up with ways to pay for increasing employee retirement costs, health care costs and other expenses. Already, 31 staff positions have been eliminated and sports and musical instrument programs cut.
“Children should learn that change is inevitable and how to cope with it,” Currie said. “The administration has experience with redistricting. The ‘playbook’ will be updated with participation of community members. The children will be just fine.”
Assistant Superintendent Frank Gallagher said under redistricting, class size would go up from 20.2 in elementary schools to 21.6 pupils.
“One of our major goals is to maintain neighborhood consistency,” Gallagher said. “We’re constantly monitoring enrollment.”
The current proposal is to send all of the Lower Salford students to Vernfield Elementary and bus some of Vernfield’s current students to Lower Salford Elementary as “one logical option.” That would prevent a “domino effect” that closing E.M. Crouthamel or West Broad Street elementary schools would have, he
Stone said that closing Lower Salford would save $1.3 million next year and $8.1 PLOOLRn RYHU fiYH yHDUV. 1LnH teachers would be laid off.
Board member Matt Holliday has two children at Lower Salford.
“$UH wH JRLnJ WR NHHS D building that we no longer need or do what’s right for all the children in the district?” he DVNHG. “7R JR WR 9HUnfiHOG DnG NHHS DOO WKH NLGV WRJHWKHU, WKDW would be awesome. Kids are resilient.
“Programs getting cut. 7KLUG-JUDGH VWULnJV. 1LnWKJUDGH VSRUWV. ,’G UDWKHU WKH NLGV go to a different building and try to save programs.”
Committee Chairman William Brong said closing a school is “a very tough decision.”
One by one, parents told the FRPPLWWHH WKDW WKHy wRXOG OLNH them to consider other options to closing Lower Salford.
Home & School President Stephanie Heart said, “You’re closing the school for one year of relief.”
6WRnH UHVSRnGHG, “7KH GHFLsion is not for the budget shortfall for one year. It’s a prudent decision for our district.”
Parent Andrea Farina received strong applause for her impassioned comments.
“YRX WDONHG DERXW WKH VSLULW of stewardship and complete transparency,” she said to Cur- rie. “I have a question Mr. Currie. Do you believe extensively HxSORULnJ fiVFDO VROXWLRnV LV DJUHHLnJ WR WKH fiUVW RSWLRn SUHsented?”
Currie said the closure would yield savings “year after year.”
Farina also questioned the numbers of students who wRXOG DWWHnG 9HUnfiHOG DnG WKH fiULnJ RI /RwHU 6DOIRUG teachers.
“Your proposal is to cut nine teachers, it doesn’t seem OLNH HYHUyRnH LV JHWWLnJ Hquity,” she said. “Do you believe that? Carving away at teachers who are the heart and soul of any education system? I trust them. I rely on them. Nine teachers is way too many. Why in 2002 you needed to build a school to ensure educational equity and now you’re going in the opposite direction. I’m an educator. All I care about is my NLGV OHDYH WKLV GLVWULFW HGXFDtionally prepared. Fiduciary responsibility requires more foresight than one option.”
7RwnVKLS 6XSHUYLVRU &KULV Canavan has two children at Lower Salford and said that KH VSRNH IRU KLPVHOI nRW Ln Dn RIfiFLDO FDSDFLWy. &ORVLnJ Lower Salford would send NLGV IURP WKH PRVW GHnVHOy populated area to a sparsely populated area, he said. Meanwhile, Salford Hills “has very little growth” potential.
“Long term, from the planning perspective, Harleysville itself is a nice downtown,” he VDLG. “7KDW’V wKy PDny RI XV moved to this area.
“,W wRUNV wHOO WRJHWKHU DV a community center. We had )LUVW 1LDJUD [EDnN] PRYH out. We would have two very large areas closing.”
Another parent, Robin 0F/DXJKOLn, DVNHG WKH ERDUG if they had seen a state government study suggesting that school districts renovate older schools rather than build newer ones.
7KHy KDGn’W, RIfiFLDOV UHsponded.
She was also miffed that her suggestions had not been conveyed to Currie after a PHHWLnJ ODVW wHHN Ey WKH SDUents and administrators.
“You were told there were no ideas,” said McLaughlin. “I gave some suggestions and I will not be called a liar.”
Parent Ami Goodman suggested the district sell the fairly new building that houses the administration RIfiFHV. 6KH FKHFNHG DnG GLVcovered its value is $2.5 million. She also suggested that the district could bring more families into the schools by RIIHULnJ DOO-GDy NLnGHUJDUWHn.
Meanwhile, the board will have the school closure proposal on its agenda at its meeting Sept. 27. A public hearing will be held Nov. 27 and the board will cast its vote on the issue Feb. 28, 2013.
Lower Salford Elementary would then be closed as of the 2013-14 school year.