North Allegheny annual reports: Growing school enrollment strains capital projects budget

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Enrollment continues to climb slightly in North Allegheny School District.

And, although the district's 12 schools can handle the enrollment, capital projects will have to be done in order to keep the buildings in good shape.

District administrators presented their annual enrollment and capital funding reports to the school board Nov. 20. Administrators highlighted $11.4 million in capital and technology projects that are proposed for the next two school years.

Third-day enrollment this year is 8,237 students, an increase of 45 students from last year, and an increase of 176 students over five years, said Roger Botti, director of operations and transportation.

Enrollment is expected to increase to 8,316 in 2014-15 and possibly to 8,360 by the 2018-19 school year, Mr. Botti said.

The district bases most of its enrollment projections on county birth statistics, but board member Ralph Pagone said that they also need to talk to real estate agents as many families move into the area, particularly into McCandless.

"I feel as though there is data that is missing," he said. "For the first time in my life, Western Pennsylvania has seen an increase in people wanting to move back to this area."

Mr. Botti said that the district's buildings can handle the growth, although students will have to be moved to different schools to balance enrollment. Administrators are holding meetings on three proposed redistricting scenarios.

The capital funding and technology plans highlight proposed bus purchases, as well as construction projects and technology upgrades at the schools and athletic facilities.

Mr. Botti is proposing the district purchase seven large and two small buses, and one support vehicle. It currently has 11 full-size buses that have more than 140,000 miles or are more than 14 years old, he said.

Administrators also are studying the possibility of outsourcing the buses, or bringing routes now outsourced under district control, Mr. Botti said. He said, however, that there does not seem to be "significant" savings with outsourcing. Any move toward outsourcing would have to be made after the contract with the bus drivers expires in June 2015.

Board member Libby Blackburn said the low savings is not worth giving up control.

"You are better off having [bus drivers] in your employ," she said. "There is no amount of money that is worth risking the safety of our kids."

Administrators also highlighted $6.8 million in improvement to schools and another $388,000 in improvements to athletic facilities.

The most expensive projects are at schools that were built 20 or 21 years ago and never updated -- Bradford Woods and Marshall elementary schools and Marshall Middle School. Projects at those schools total $4.9 million.

Projects at all three schools include replacing the roof, fire alarms, public address systems and installing panic alarms. Other projects at Marshall Middle are replacing the gym parking lot, auditorium lighting and sound controls, stair tower doors and windows.

"The first ones out of the gate are bigger projects," said Rob Gaertner, director of facilities. "It's not going to go away, but we tried to spread it out."

Sandy Trozzo, freelance writer:

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