North Allegheny parents push for task force

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Some parents in the North Allegheny School District renewed their request to the school board to form a committee of residents to study ways to cut costs without closing an elementary school.

Others continued to protest larger class sizes, while two residents complained about district expenditures and taxes during the Oct. 24 meeting.

Parents of students, mostly at Peebles and Hosack elementary schools, requested a community advisory committee after a consultant suggested closing Peebles.

Tara Fisher said organizers had gathered more than 1,000 signatures in one month on petitions asking for the task force.

Board members did not act on the request, saying administrators are still following up on the demographics and feasibility study submitted by Thomas and Williamson in August. One report was given Oct. 24 and two more will be given this month.

"With all due respect, the nine of us sitting here are the community representatives, and we hear you," said board president Maureen Grosheider. "This is a massive undertaking, and we want one more month to make that decision."

If the board decides to close a school, the earliest a public hearing could be held is January, and a vote could not be taken until three months later.

Mrs. Fisher and other residents said the assumption that North Allegheny's enrollment will remain flat or decrease is incorrect. "We are seeing positive net migration to Allegheny County for the first time ever," she said.

Michelle Chetoka said one Franklin Park plan will have 350 homes, while another plan will have 50 to 75 homes. "People who move to this area either have small children or they are on the way," she said.

Stephanie Lucas suggested the district expand its cyber school to high school grades, privatize the bus fleet and offer textbook-free classes as ways to save money.

Mrs. Grosheider said only four children in grades three through eight chose to attend the North Allegheny Cyber Academy this year.

Privatizing the bus service has been studied in the past and will be studied again.

But, she said, it is only cost effective in the first year because the existing buses can be sold.

Although most of the district's new textbooks come with an online component, Mrs. Grosheider said the district does not have enough computers to go totally textbook-free.

Tammy Andreyko, assistant superintendent for advancement, added there are licensing fees to use electronic services that do not accompany textbooks.

Other parents continued to protest increased class sizes.

"Children in third and fourth grade at Hosack are not receiving equal education," said Bonnie Gentner. "These children are being robbed of their rights."

Another side of the budget picture was painted by Don Opacic and Ash Marwah, both of Franklin Park.

"There are seniors and retirees who simply cannot afford to write a check" for taxes, Mr. Opacic said.

He questioned the district's $121 million debt, including its $8 million deficit this year. Superintendent Raymond Gualtieri said the district will pay off $6 million of that debt this year.

"Six million, my friend, simply is not going to hack it. I cannot see how you can bail yourself out of debt," Mr. Opacic said.

Dan Hubert, chairman of the board's finance committee, said North Allegheny's debt is low compared with other districts.

Mr. Marwah suggested the district close Bradford Woods Elementary. instead of Peebles. "I wouldn't close a school in the populated area of the district," he said. He also criticized the district's per-pupil cost of about $15,000.

Mr. Gualtieri said the per-pupil cost divides the total budget by the number of students.

It does not take into account budget items t such as tuition payments to charter and cyber charter schools -- $1.4 million this year -- busing for private and parochial school students and outside services needed for special education students.

At Wednesday's meeting, for example, the board approved expenditures totaling $133,595 for four special education students.

In other action, board members approved retirements of six teachers and administrators with a combined 149 years with the district, including McKnight Elementary Principal Steve Parks.

They also approved a maintenance agreement with two residents who live adjacent to Bradford Woods Elementary School for maintenance of the shared right-of-way.

education - neigh_north

Sandy Trozzo, freelance writer:


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