Keystone Oaks seeks school consolidation task force

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Keystone Oaks school directors on Thursday approved the formation of a community task force to study alternatives to closing two district elementary schools.

The vote came moments after Janet Domalik of Green Tree told directors the deadline set for the proposed task force -- it would have 30 days from Sept. 1 to make a recommendation regarding the possible consolidation of schools --- was unfair.

She said it was "laughable" to believe a task force would be able to sift through the information and prepare a report in two weeks when a professional consulting firm had two years to prepare its recommendations.

The directors also filled a void on the board, appointing John Neuhaus, of Castle Shannon, to the seat relinquished by David Dristras, who resigned this month to pursue a job in Tennessee. Mr. Neuhaus' term will run through the Dec. 5, 2011.

A districtwide building use study recommends merging three elementary schools and housing fourth through 12th grades in the high school/middle school complex. The study was completed to help reduce expenses and address declining enrollment.

The recommended plan, conducted by L. Robert Kimball & Associates, would consolidate Green Tree's Aiken Elementary and Castle Shannon's Myrtle Elementary into Dormont Elementary.

Board president Marian Randazzo said letters would be mailed to Green Tree, Dormont and Casle Shannon borough offices to apprise officials of the makeup of the task force, which will include one parent of an elementary student, one parent of a secondary student, one senior citizen and one council member from each municipality. A Keystone Oaks school director from each community also will be part of the task force.

The district asks that the names of individuals appointed to the task force be submitted by next Friday. The motion called for Superintendent William Urbanek, director of fiscal services Gwen Walker and solicitor Ira Weiss to serve as advisers to the task force, which will be asked to provide a preliminary report by Sept. 15 and a final report by Oct. 7.

The meetings will not be open to the public.

Director Thomas Nee, who cast the sole dissenting vote regarding the formation of the task force, said he believed the decision should be made by the board itself, not a task force.

"We are the elected officials," he said. "We have to make tough decisions on controversial issues."

Mrs. Randazzo, though, said she was confident that the task force could be formed in a timely manner, and that the closed-door-meeting format would allow for a candid exchange of ideas among all involved.

"I feel it will be a more productive setting," she said.

District spokesman Jim Cromie said he believed the time frame set forth by the board was not insurmountable, and that the diverse nature of the group will help give a more well-rounded perspective to the process.

"We're not asking people to be engineers or architects or demographers," he said. "We just want them to look at the data and hopefully come up with a solution that helps Keystone Oaks come up with real solutions that make a difference."


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