As the Moon Area school board meeting continued into its sixth hour last Thursday morning, directors stunned those remaining in the audience by voting to close R. Hyde Elementary School in 2015-16 and directing superintendent Curt Baker to pursue a merger with neighboring Cornell.
It was expected that J.H. Brooks would be the targeted school. But the vote, which occurred around 1 a.m. and was labeled as a “bait and switch” by director Jerry Testa, was 6-2 to close Hyde. Michael Hauser and Mr. Testa voted against the closure. Sam Tranter had left prior to the vote.
“You threw a bomb — a hydrogen bomb — at one of our communities,” said Mr. Hauser about the switch to close Hyde instead of Brooks.
The decision was preceded by a multitude of failed amendments and votes with various agenda items being tabled. Moon police officers were on hand to “maintain an orderly process,” said solicitor Michael Brungo.
Initially, directors spent 20 minutes deciding the length of time for speakers, settling on three minutes each over an unlimited length of time. Most speakers exceeded the time limit.
Speaker Danielle Incorvati who said “it breaks my heart that our children are not first” stood silently for most of her three minutes, asking directors to look at her face. “Silence is power,” she said.
Rob Harper of Moon asked individuals to stand if they opposed a school closure and a majority of the audience responded.
Sharon Cisar urged directors to vote with their hearts. “Don’t play ‘I’m going to vote with my friends.’ That’s grade school mentality,” she said.
Anticipating a large turnout, the district to move the meeting into the high school auxiliary gymnasium.
After audience pleas to save all of the elementary schools, Director Laura Schisler suggested a merger with neighboring Cornell in conjunction with a closure. Directors turned down a proposal for a 45-day window for discussions between the districts, to merge instead of closing a school.
Some residents wondered if Mrs. Schisler‘s merger motion was a “smokescreen” to deflect attention from the possible closure of Brooks. She said the idea came to her as she listened to a former Cornell student talk to the board against the closure of Brooks.
At Monday’s school board meeting, Mr. Baker said he had contacted Cornell superintendent Aaron Thomas about the proposal and that Mr. Thomas would be providing that information to his board members.
Prior to the vote on closing Hyde, Mr. Baker had suggested the Hyde property could be sold, the site be converted into playing fields or form a partnership with Moon and Crescent to create a park or community center.
The proposal to close one of the five elementary buildings has been discussed over the years with a strong push in July 2012 when directors ordered demographic and feasibility studies as part of an elementary capital improvement plan.
The studies were prompted by the age of the buildings — Allard was built in 1968 and Hyde in 1971 — and empty classrooms, attributable in part to moving fifth-graders into the middle school in 2012-13. Mr. Baker estimated 78 percent of elementary classrooms are being used.
Various studies, presentations and public hearings prompted outcries initially in the fall from parents whose children attend Allard and who were against closing their school. and in the spring from Brooks parents who objected to the recommendations made on March 3 that Brooks be closed and Hyde renovated and expanded while Allard would be renovated.
In January, the district decided to spend a maximum of $43,000 implementing various educational initiatives designed to bolster Hyde’s Pennsylvania System of School Assessment scores. A presentation by Mr. Baker prior to the vote to close Hyde showed a marked improvement to the 2014 PSSA scores.
In addition to traditionally having lower standardized test scores, Hyde also has the district’s highest economically disadvantaged population, according to state Department of Education data.
“I’d like to apologize to the people of Hyde. You’ve been railroaded tonight,” Mr. Testa said after the vote.
A vote on adopting a K-2/3-4 grade configuration for the district was tabled until July 21 when Mr. Baker will make presentations to directors. If this model were to be implemented, Mr. Baker said redistricting could occur using University Boulevard to divide the district in regions.
The closure and any other changes must be approved by the state Department of Education. Administrators are planning renovations at Brooks, Allard and Bon Meade elementaries to be completed for 2015-16.
Sonja Reis, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.