State College, PA - Centre County - Central Pennsylvania - Home of Penn State University

State College Parents Air Redistricting Worries

on February 15, 2011 8:23 AM

Eighteen State College-area parents appeared before the school board Monday night, all expressing some amount of concern with the district's tentative elementary-redistricting plan.

The district has developed the plan in order to eliminate geographic "swing zones," balance elementary-school enrollments and maximize use of resources, administrators said. They've suggested the redistricting take effect for the 2011-2012 school year; it would reassign 213  of the district's roughly 7,200 students.

But a number of parents at the Monday board meeting said the changes could be devastating and deeply disruptive for the families and children affected, including those whose friends would be reassigned. Some asked whether a grandfathering clause could be considered as part of the plan.

Several from the Chestnut Ridge neighborhood lamented that new elementary-school boundaries would split their neighborhood between the Park Forest and Radio Park elementary schools. Others questioned the fate of Corl Street elementary, which would lose 52 students to the nearly renovated Ferguson Township elementary next year.

That would cut Corl Street's enrollment to the 200-student range, one parent said.

"Corl Street might be an antique in the school system," but it's a gem of a school, parent and neighbor Joyce Porter said. " ... I wonder what is the ultimate purpose for Corl Street school. It makes me quite nervous that you have ulterior motives."

Porter asked the board: "Please: Think kindly on Corl Street."

Another parent, Kate May, of Patton Township, read for the board a letter penned by her fourth-grade daughter. She is a student at Park Forest elementary and would be redirected to Grays Woods under the redistricting plan.

"I don't think it's very fair of you to make us go to Grays Woods," the child wrote, according to her mother. " ... I don't want to leave. Please don't make me."

The public-review and board-consideration process has only just begun for the redistricting proposal. Jason Perrin, the assistant to the superintendent, said Monday that the district wants especially to create predictable geographic boundaries for each elementary school and follow the district's established guidelines for class sizes.

"You always want to maximize use of your resources," he said. District projections show that, if current boundaries go unchanged, a number of elementary schools would see enrollments notably different from their intended capacities.

That said, Perrin and Superintendent Michael Hardy also said a primary concern is how any changes will affect students and their families. They appeared open to revising the plan, which is at least a month away from any kind of board decision.

Starting Tuesday -- today -- the district will send letters to families of students who may be directly affected by the proposal. (Click here for earlier coverage, including details about the specific school boundaries to be shifted and the swing zones to be eliminated.)

Then, later this month, the district will hold open meetings to gather feedback from families. The school board is scheduled to receive an update on the matter Feb. 28. Then, on March 14, the administration will deliver another update on the community discussions, as well as a formal recommendation to the board.

Already, several board members have said they'd like to see the administration consider several potential changes. Chris Small suggested that perhaps the district could eliminate the current swing zones -- geographic areas where students may attend one of two elementary schools -- but not redraw existing geographic boundaries in the process.

That idea drew applause from some parents in the board room.

Meanwhile, board member Dorothea Stahl stressed her wish for flexibility and compromises through the process. Board Vice President Jim Pawelczyk said he wants to make sure that parents may seek district consideration for their personal, individual family needs. And member Jim Leous suggested consideration for a grandfathering option, to prevent kids from moving from their familiar schools.

"Children are first and foremost in every discussion," Hardy said. He also said the district is committed to maintaining transparency throughout the process.

In other news at the Monday board meeting:

  • The board approved a preliminary budget for the 2011-2012 school year. It tentatively sets expenses at $118 million, some $2.35 million more than anticipated revenues. Several board members they will not support ultimate adoption of any 2011-2012 budget that relies on one-time funds -- such as the sale of the Boalsburg elementary building -- to keep itself balanced. In addition, Pawelczyk recommended that the district cut five percent from its anticipated, overall salary budget for the next school year. That would keep total labor costs close to 2011 levels, he said. But precisely how expenses will be adjusted to keep the budget balanced remains to be seen. A committee is examining how the district can continue its cost-reduction campaign, a push now in its second year. Board members said some staffing may be eliminated through attrition; some programs that lack relative viability or student interest may be nixed, too. Specific cost-savings proposals are due before the board starting March 14.
  • The board adopted a school-year calendar for 2011-2012. It will start school on Aug. 30 and end it on June 7 -- unless snow days push the last day later. (Earlier calendar coverage is in this report.)
  • The board also agreed, without dissent, to have architects draw up final schematics for a Memorial Field overhaul. Any improvements at the facility will need to be done on a phased basis -- in order to make the process feasible for the district budget, board members said. First on the to-do list are immediate improvements to the Depression-era stadium's west side, part of which has been roped off due to safety concerns. Said Leous: "I think the phasing allows for ... addressing immediate problems immediately and pushing the other ones off until we have sufficient funds to do this without taxpayer money." The board has said it would like to make private fundraising a key source of support for the stadium improvements.

Earlier coverage

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