Consolidation issue on hold

BY DIXIE CASSELBURY
WYALUSING – The on-again off-again discussion about possibly consolidating the Wyalusing Area elementary schools, including one at Laceyville, is now on hold.

At the end of an almost 2-hour Wyalusing School District board meeting Monday night, a motion was made by school board member Tari Trowbridge and passed unanimously to form a new committee to revisit the matter.

The committee would consist of one administrator, specifically elementary principal Joe Darrow, and two board members, to be named at a later date, in order to look into any additional options which would bring the price tag for consolidating or renovating the four existing elementary schools serving the Wyalusing School District into an affordable range for the district.

Trowbridge informed Scott Vencil, architectural coordinator for Crabtree, Rohrbaugh and Associates, that neither of the options offered presently were “going to happen” and “we need to scrap both ideas – clear the board and start over again.”

Vencil began his presentation and synopsis of the projects by first noting that “this is your program and (it) has been designed to meet your curriculum and functions using the information that was provided to us.”

In August of last year, a “wish list” as characterized by Lynn Welles, Wyalusing elementary school teacher who spoke out during the meeting, was forwarded to the architects.

“They asked us what we would like – of course, we would like to have all these things. The reality is that we can’t afford them,” Welles explained.

The two options studied by the architects and presented at the Oct. 23 meeting were to consolidate the Laceyville, New Albany, Camptown and Wyalusing Elementary Schools which would cost the district somewhere between $21.9 million to $26.8 million, spiking the millage rate at a maximum to an additional 14.04 mills over a 3- year period.

The second option presented was to renovate the four schools at a cost of $19 million to $23.2 million, potentially increasing the millage rate after three years up an additional 11.69 mills.

One mill equates to $55 of taxes for each $1,000 that a property is assessed in Bradford County, said Trowbridge.

(In the Wyoming County part of the Wyalusing School District, a mill represents $46.879 for every $1,000 that a property is assessed.)

Through investments the school has accumulated $3.2 million that could possibly be used towards either the $11.2 million dollar renovation project at the high school that has already been approved by the board or either one of the options for the elementary schools.

Both options would include a $3.9 million state reimbursement. The reimbursements for renovating would only be available if the district chose the maximum ($23.2 million) renovation option and in the case of constructing a new building, the plans would need to remain at a capacity level of 863, K-6 grade students in order to get the full reimbursement.

Board Member Tracy Keeney said that he felt a new building, presently planned at 120,000 square feet was much larger than what he felt the district needed or could afford even if the growth rate spikes over the next 20 years.

As of July 2006, Vencil said that the district stands at 750 students, which includes about 80 students who utilize an alternative schooling. Cyber school students cost the district about 80 percent of state subsidies per student.
Superintendent Scott Fleming ended the evening by stating that the district spends 52 percent of the district’s budget on salaries and an additional 19 percent towards benefits. He added that the district’s co-pay charged for benefits are one of the highest in Pennsylvania and the situation is “going to only get worse if things keep going the way they have been.”

By building a new school the district would likely eliminate eight teaching positions, said Trowbridge.

“This is clearly not a construction problem – it is a staffing issue,” Trowbridge said about the expenses.

“We spend a lot of money on salaries and benefits and that’s really the bottom line,” she added.

There was no timeframe mentioned to when the issue that has troubled the district for nearly a year and a half will be addressed again.

The next board meeting is scheduled for Nov. 6 at 6:30 p.m.