Moon Area parents discuss proposed school closing

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After hearing Monday night from more than 30 parents sharing concerns about Moon Area’s plan to close one of its five elementary schools, board President Michael Olszewski reminded everyone that his 6-year-old son attends J. H. Brooks Elementary — the school recommended for closure by administrators.

“I don’t take this decision lightly, but I want to do what is best for the school,” said Mr. Olszewski, who told the approximately 175 attendees that directors are in the “middle of a process” and a final decision will not be made until June 23.

Moon Area School District administrators have recommended closing J.H. Brooks Elementary, renovating J.A. Allard Elementary and expanding R. Hyde Elementary under a $25 million proposed plan. This year, 336 students are enrolled at Brooks in grades K-4. Hyde has 180 students.

The proposal, part of an elementary capital improvement plan to address aging buildings and poorly used space, is expected to save the district about $500,000 annually in operating costs, according to superintendent Curt Baker.

The plan also would help to balance “inequities of class size” by reducing class sizes to 20 or smaller, said board member Denny Harbaugh.

The majority of parents addressing the board talked about class sizes as large as 25, the desire for Moon Area to remain a district of neighborhood elementaries and to leave grade configurations as is.

If the recommendation to close Brooks while renovating Allard and expanding Hyde is approved, superintendent Curt Baker said he would pursue at K-2 grade configuration at Hyde and Bon Meade and a grades 3-4 structure for Allard and McCormick. The plan would cost $25 million.

“In a $62 million budget saving $500,000 is less than 1 percent,” said former board member Mark Scappe, who said the topic had been discussed many times and that previous studies showed a need for a five-school system.

Parents also said they are concerned about longer bus rides redistricting would cause and the extra traffic that would result from the enlargement of Hyde by about 27,000 square feet. Hyde is in a residential area and is accessible only on neighborhood streets.

Many worried the move would result in lower standardized test scores because Hyde results show students to be struggling while all other Moon Area schools are excelling.

“The performance at Hyde is abysmal and no one is talking about it,” said Kathleen Emmerling, who said she moved to Moon Area “for the outstanding results.” She asked directors to solve the problem and to “not just dilute it with our children.”

Others defended Hyde, stating many of the students attending there were those with the least resources available to them.

Parent Kelly Burgan said Hyde is a unique school where officials “can’t use the same yardstick” to measure performance.

“It’s not the classrooms, it’s not the buildings,” said Jessica Lavrince, who wants the district to focus on increasing test scores because she said closing any of the elementaries would be detrimental. “Focus on the kids; focus on their young minds.”

Director Gia Tatone assured parents that programs are already in place at Hyde to improve the educational environment, and results are promising.

Sonja Reis, freelance writer:

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