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State College School Board Expands Delta Program

by on January 27, 2014 10:02 PM

The State College Area School board agreed unanimously Monday night to expand an alternative education program.

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

The Delta program offers a classroom alternative to the traditional high school experience, including smaller class sizes, an "open campus," and opportunities to take courses at Penn State. The program is located downtown in the district's Fairmount Building.

The board approved the measure with a provision that the program be evaluated on an annual basis.

"As we see there's a need and a wish to do these things I think it's great that we are trying to offer these things through the traditional system," says board member Laurel Zydney.

Administrators say the motivation behind the expansion is to improve the Delta experience for grades 7 and 8 by creating a more comprehensive middle grade approach appropriate for younger students' developmental level.

Jon Downs, director of education alternatives, said at the Jan. 13 board meeting that the expansion would allow students more flexibility in terms of selecting courses based on performance. For example, a 7th or 8th grader would have more course options should they 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. However, more capable students would have opportunity to go to upper level courses.

Additionally, by expanding the program to add younger students, school administrators believe it would cut district expenses related to charter schools and meet the community's desire for a smaller school without having to send students to charter or private schools.

By law, the district has to pay costs associated to students attending charter schools. In the 2012-2013 school year, the district paid more than $1.5 million to charter schools for students between grades 5 and 8. Next school year, the district expects to pay more than $1.6 million to charter schools. The figures do not include transportation costs.

There are three charter schools for middle school students within the district – Learning Community Charter School, Nittany Valley Charter School and Young Scholars of Central Pennsylvania. At the same time, the district does not have any charter schools for high school students. Administrators believe the Delta program meets that need.

Before the vote, resident Jean Morrow told the board the expansion proposal appeared to be more about saving money than offering a better education for students.

Morrow, who previously worked at one of the local charter schools, questioned whether the district has fully thought out the education model for middle school students. Instead of creating a brand new program, she suggested the board address the issue of 7th and 8th graders struggling to excel in high school courses by cutting 7th and 8th graders from the program.

"Maybe the 7th and 8th graders should look elsewhere in the system," she says. "There are schools already in place that are doing it well and have been for a really long time. The charter schools that are working very well, they've all got something really special about them, to make it in a town with such a good school district already, they have to offer something really special."

The middle and high school enrollment is operated on a first come, first serve basis. The program and related staff will expand based on interest in the program.

As for pending renovations and expansions at district's high school campus, two architectural firms have presented cost estimates.

Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates Architects estimates the project will cost roughly $115 million. The Alexander Collaborative estimate ranged between $118 million and $124 million. The largest differences in estimates were in costs for renovation and site work. Both estimates are preliminary and expected to change as details for the project are finalized.

The board is not expected to increase the established project cost of $115 million.

Under the project, the South Building will see the demolition of 97,000 square-feet, 385,000 square-feet of new construction, and renovations to 92,000 square-feet. At the North building the project will include demolition of 137,000 square-feet, renovation of 101,000 square-feet and new construction of 20,000 square-feet.

The project is contingent upon funding approval from voters during the Primary Election on May 20. The ballot will feature a referendum question asking voters to approve a tax increase for a total of $85 million.

Voters who are not registered as a Republican or Democrat will still be able to vote on the referendum.

The board is expected to vote on a final referendum question during its Feb. 10 public meeting. The Centre County Board of Elections must approve the ballot question. The question cannot be longer than 75 words.

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 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.

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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. jenn.miller@statecollege.com
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