North Allegheny school board approves moving students to balance schools

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The student population of the North Allegheny School District is such that the elementary schools in the center of the district are at capacity or are overcrowded while there is ample space in schools on the northern and southern ends.

School directors voted Wednesday to make that more even by approving a controversial redistricting plan that takes pressure off three of those buildings — Franklin and McKnight elementary schools and Ingomar Middle School.

The plan, which was approved 7-2, moves fewer than 200 elementary students and allows current fourth- and seventh-graders to stay in their schools. It was introduced by the administration last month to take into account comments from residents about three previous plans, all of which moved more students and did not allow children to remain in their current schools.

Under the plan, 95 students will move from Franklin to either Bradford Woods or Ingomar elementary schools; 37 students will move from Ingomar to McKnight Elementary; 90 students will move from McKnight to either Peebles or Hosack; and 126 students will be moved from Ingomar Middle School to either Carson or Marshall.

The number of students actually moving will be smaller, said superintendent Raymond Gualtieri, because the numbers include current fifth- and eighth-graders, who will be moving on to other levels, and current fourth- and seventh-graders, who may choose to remain in their school.

Forty-two residents spoke during the nearly five-hour meeting. Twenty-one people, most of whom have children who will be affected, opposed the proposal. Most of the 18 people who spoke in favor of the plan were members of the Save NA Schools group, which last year pushed redistricting as a way to lower class sizes and save Peebles from closure.

Parents opposing the plan cited longer bus rides, removing children from their Franklin/Ingomar community, moving only a few children per grade level, concern about the adjustment of special education students and the emotional toll of moving middle-school students.

Parent Dale Fogg said his third-grader has done well in Franklin’s student assistance program. “If she has to change, her education is going to be lacking. All of her friends from preschool are staying,” he said.

In one of the more colorful analogies, Mr. Fogg likened education to the game “Angry Birds” where birds are shot at walls with either a solid or looser foundation, much like some students.

“If this redistricting is the bird throwing the rocks at it… the ones with a solid foundation, they’ll be fine. The ones with the blocks missing, they won’t.”

David Nehnevajsa said his neighborhood is so close to Ingomar Elementary that he can hear the children at recess. But the children are being sent to McKnight. “I live 600 feet from Ingomar Elementary and you are redistricting me. To me, it just absolutely does not make sense,” he said.

Parents contended that neither Franklin nor Ingomar Middle were particularly overcrowded, even though assemblies at Ingomar have to be done twice and parent programs done at the high school because not everybody fits into the auditorium.

Several board members said they visited both schools and walked around with the principals to see the overcrowding.

Board members Tara Fisher, Joseph Greenberg, Kevin Mahler, Ralph Pagone, Scott Russell, Thomas Schwartzmier and President Christopher Jacobs voted in favor of the redistricting plan. Mrs. Fisher, Mr. Mahler and Mr. Russell were elected to the board in November; all had been active in Save NA Schools.

Libby Blackburn and Maureen Grosheider opposed it, both criticizing the plan for creating “islands” where one neighborhood will go to one school and the closest neighborhood to another, and splitting the Hickory Hills neighborhood in McCandless between Peebles and Hosack.

They also said the proposal did not move enough students to avoid redistricting again in a few years.

“We are moving too few students to correct a true problem,” Mrs. Grosheider said. “I don’t believe we serve our children well when we may be moving one or two children in a grade level.”

Mr. Schwartzmier, the only board member who lives in Franklin Park, also believed the redistricting should have been more extensive and Hickory Hills should not be split.

Still, he said, Franklin Elementary and Ingomar Middle need relief.

“We have seven elementary schools feeding into three middle schools that are not the same size, and Ingomar is the smallest,” he said.

Not attending the closest school to your home is not new, he said. He said he attended the former Espe Elementary, even though both McKnight and Ingomar were closer. His children attended Marshall Elementary, even though Bradford Woods and Ingomar were closer.

“We have to deal with the hand that we have,” he said.

Other board members who voted in favor of the plan said that moving the least number of children was the priority.

“We’re kind of at the same place we were a year ago,” Mrs. Fisher said. “We are still overcrowded at Franklin, Ingomar and McKnight.”

She said balancing the enrollment at the seven elementary schools will make it easier to manage class sizes and keep them lower, and was recommended by a consultant in 2012.

Mr. Mahler addressed the “community” issue. “Each one of our schools is unique and special … but I reject any assertion that any part of the district is better than another,” he said. “In the long run, they all end up in the same place, and they make friends based on interests and activities, not common ZIP codes.”

North Allegheny last moved students in 2006, again to relieve overcrowding at Franklin Elementary School.

The transition plan began immediately with letters to parents of children who are slated to move. Parents who don't want their fourth- and seventh-graders moved must submit a form to the district by March 7. Parents must provide transportation for any child remaining at his or her current school.

Other transition events are scheduled throughout the rest of this school year, including pen pals, visits, shadowing and meeting with the principal and counselor of the new school.

Because of the large number of students moving in and out of the district each year, “we do a lot of these things currently,” said assistant superintendent Robert Scherer. “This is not something that is uncommon. We’re obviously doing it on a larger scale because of redistricting.”


Sandy Trozzo, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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