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State College Graduates Urge Board not to Relocate Delta Program

by on January 13, 2014 11:40 PM

A few graduates of the State College Area School District asked the school board Monday night not to relocate its alternative education program.

The board is in the process of considering the relocation and expansion of the Delta program that offers a classroom alternative to the traditional high school experience, including opportunities to take courses at Penn State.

Currently the program is located downtown on Fairmount Avenue in a building the district says is aging.

Leslie Ratan, a Delta graduate who spoke on behalf of several other graduates, says relocating the Delta program from downtown State College to the high school campus on Westerly Parkway, would have a negative impact on the program.

Specifically, she says the move would discourage students from participating in courses at Penn State, prevent the ease of community involvement, and hinder what is already a unique, educational experience.

"If the program becomes too large or more a part of the traditional high school I feel some of these benefits will be lost," says Ratan.

Amanda Kankel of Ferguson Township graduated from Delta in 2000. She says the location of Delta on Fairmount Avenue enabled her to go to work between classes, attend courses at Penn State and ultimately secured her full-time employment after graduation.

"Please keep that in consideration," she says. "Without Delta I may not be sitting here today."

Another graduate of Delta, John Erickson, also urged the board to keep the program as is.

"Delta enabled me to figure out who I was at a time when I was still growing up and it made it safe to experiment with different identities or try on different ways ... Having Delta downtown was very helpful, to go for a walk and blow off steam or think about my life ... being downtown, it gave us access to a lot of facilities that may not have been available," he says.

Relocating the program remains under consideration as part of the district's larger plan to renovate State College High School. If the program is relocated to the high school campus, it will be located on the north side while all other traditional high school courses will be held at the south campus, says Board President Penni Fishbaine.

Additionally, the board says students would have input in terms of the design and set up of Delta at its new location.

While the board is considering relocating the program, that measure was not before the board Monday night. What the board did discuss in detail was expansion of the program.

Currently, the Delta program is available to students between grades 7 through 12. The board is considering a proposal to expand the program to add grades 5 and 6 starting this fall.

Jon Downs, director of education alternatives, says expanding the program to include 5th and 6th graders is part of an effort to make the district more attractive to parents who currently send their children to charter schools.

Downs says the expansion would also allow students more flexibility in terms of selecting courses based on performance. For example, 7th or 8th graders would have more course options if they're not yet be performing at the high school level.

Under the expansion, the Delta program would be separated into two sections, a "middle" section for grades 5 through 8 and a high school section for grades 7 through 12. More capable students would have opportunity to go to upper level courses, Downs says.

The board is expected to vote on the expansion measure during its Jan. 27 meeting. The expansion would include adding at least one additional teaching position based on enrollment.

Currently, the program has an "open campus," allowing students to leave school for lunch or work. However, Downs says "open campus" would not apply to 5th and 6th graders without supervision.

The middle and high school enrollment is operated on a first come, first serve basis.

In other action, the board reviewed a draft referendum question related to the planned renovations at State College Area High School.

In December, the board narrowed down the maximum amount it will ask taxpayers to sign-off on for improvements to the district's two high schools.

Voters within the school district will ultimately decide if the district can incur the debt for construction and renovations to the high schools. The board is expected to vote on a final referendum at its Feb. 10 meeting.

The draft question reads:

"Shall debt in the sum of $85 million dollars ($85,000,000.00) for the purpose of financing the construction of additions and improvements to the State College Area High School be authorized to be incurred as debt approved by the electors?"

The wording was developed under the direction of 501 Group, the district's referendum consultant. In addition, this draft will be reviewed with the county elections office. Any revisions or suggestions from the county will be brought to the board at a future meeting.

The Centre County Board of Elections must approve the ballot question. The question cannot be longer than 75 words.

The question would then appear on the ballot during Primary Election on May 20. Any registered voter can vote on the referendum, regardless of party affiliation.

The total project cost is estimated at $115 million with a 5.3 percent interest rate and a term of 30 years. The district will take $10 million from a reserve fund to put toward the project.

Under the $85 million proposal, compared to the $75 million proposal, the tax rate would increase by $22 in 2016-2017 and continue to increase by $20 annually until the bonds are paid in full.

If voters approve the referendum, the related tax would remain in effect until the debt for the high school is paid in full, which is an estimated 30 years.

The referendum tax would show up as a separate line item on a taxpayer's bill and be in addition to the regular school district tax rate.

The board also agreed by a 7-to-1 vote to limit any tax increase for the 2014-2015 school year to the rate of inflation, which would be 2.1 percent for the district. Board member Laurel Zydney voted against the measure. Board member David Hutchinson was absent.

Act 1, a state law, requires school districts to limit tax increases to the level set by an inflation index unless voters approve the tax increase in a referendum.

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for StateCollege.com. She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government.
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