No takers for Clairton school merger

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Following Gov. Tom Corbett's suggestion that financially struggling school districts seek mergers or consolidations with other districts, Clairton school officials sent letters to four neighboring districts asking to discuss a merger.

But so far, there have been no takers.

The West Jefferson Hills school board on Tuesday voted unanimously to reject the idea, and the South Allegheny School District on Wednesday sent Clairton a letter declining to discuss a merger. But officials from South Allegheny promised to share some transportation costs and look for other ways to share services.

Clairton Superintendent Lucille Abellonio said she has not heard from officials in the Elizabeth Forward and West Mifflin Area, the other two school districts to which she and Clairton board President Richard Livingston wrote April 20, asking to "explore the possibility of a future consolidation/merger of our school districts."

The letter cited the "major cuts in Gov. Corbett's proposed budget," which have resulted in budget shortfalls, curtailment of programs and staff furloughs as the reason Clairton would like to consider a merger with a neighboring district.

Clairton, a district of about 770 students, stands to lose about $1.3 million in state funds under the governor's proposed state budget, making it the fourth in the state among 500 school districts for the most funding lost per student. But some of those funds may be restored in a state House budget version that dedicates less money to the state Department of Welfare and restores some funding to the education budget.

However, Ms. Abellonio pointed out in an email Wednesday that the Clairton district now has a balanced budget and is solvent.

The Clairton board on Wednesday approved a $12.9 million preliminary budget that calls for no tax increase but would require the furlough of 16 employees. That includes a half-time English teacher and half-time music teacher, some paraprofessionals, tutors and permanent substitutes.

However, the budget is contingent on the district getting the extra money that is slated for education in the House version of the state budget. That plan would provide the district with an additional $560,000, which is about half of what it would have lost under the governor's budget proposal.

At the West Jefferson Hills meeting Tuesday, board President Shauna D'Alessandro read the letter from Ms. Abellonio and Mr. Livingston to the public before the board voted to reject the request. She said the board's vote reflects "the tenor of the community."

West Jefferson Hills' acting superintendent, Timothy McNamee, in a letter to Clairton officials wrote: "It is time for the governor and legislators to consider other available funding sources for public education before they elect to coerce school districts to consolidate because of financial inequities."

Mr. Livingston, the Clairton board president, said he was not surprised by rejections, saying:

"We reached out to our neighboring school districts. We knew we would be refused. We went in with our eyes wide open. We followed the governor's plan of action, and so far it has not been too productive."


Mary Niederberger: mniederberger@post-gazette.com or 412-851-1512.


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