L. Sal­ford El­e­men­tary rec­om­mended for clo­sure

Souderton Independent - - FRONT PAGE - By Linda Stein

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

said.

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.

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