Parents, directors want to reopen discussion of school merger in Moon

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Five parents of the Moon Area School District and board directors Michael Hauser and Jerry Testa planned to file for an injunction to reverse a June 26 vote that approved the closure of R. Hyde Elementary School and the commencement of conversations to merge Moon Area with nearby school district Cornell.

The target of the injunction is to reopen for discussion the plans to close Hyde in order to give community members a chance to voice their opinions before an official decision is made, according to Mr. Hauser and Mr. Testa.

The public was blocked from speaking at the first meeting after the motion was amended and the vote took place and again at a June 30 meeting. The two directors expressed hope that the public be allowed to speak at a meeting tonight.

However, Mr. Testa clarified that this would not prevent the filing of the injunction, as the community has to be able to address the board before it settles on a decision.

At the start of the June 25 board meeting, there existed a motion to close J.H. Brooks Elementary School at the superintendent’s recommendation, Mr. Testa said. After a brief recess, during which Mr. Testa and Mr. Hauser remained on the floor while the other directors went elsewhere, the board subsequently made a motion to jointly close Hyde instead of Brooks, while opening discussions for the merger.

The vote, which took place after midnight, passed 6-2, with Mr. Testa and Mr. Hauser dissenting.

The directors reconvened June 30 to address any remaining items. Although the public had been barred from speaking at the June 25 meeting, the directors defeated Mr. Testa’‍s motion to allow the approximately 50 audience members from commenting on non-agenda items with a 7-2 vote.

Mr. Testa described the board’s actions as “deceitful,” and said the closure of Hyde would have a huge impact on the children and homeowners in the area. He said he knew of many individuals other than Hyde parents who opposed the decision.

“I want to give the public the opportunity to speak,” he said. “We were left with no choice but to file the injunction.”

Although he considered the first mention of the merger proposal at the June 25 meeting a “smokescreen” to distract from the controversial school closing, Mr. Testa said he was uncertain about where he stood on the issue. He said he believes the Cornell district is opposed to the merger, but if talks commence and both parties are able to benefit, he would approve of it.

Mr. Hauser spoke similarly of the merger, clarifying that the emphasis of the injunction was on Hyde’‍s closure.

“I have not heard of any backlash talk regarding the idea of at least discussing the possibility of a merger,” he said. “I think the majority of attention, at least by members of our community, has been on the decision to close one or the other of our elementary schools.”

Elsewhere, the idea of a merger between the two school districts appears to be picking up steam. Earlier this month, the Coraopolis Council and Neville Commissioners separately approved resolutions supporting the proposed merger talks. Coraopolis manager Ray McCutcheon and Neville manager Cindy Alexander said the merger would allow Cornell students, totaling 650 from grades K-12 and educated in one building, access to expanded resources.

“We know that we have a limited number of students, so it’s very hard for our school to give the advanced chemistries, trigonometry, calculus,” Mr. McCutcheon said. “The kids that really want to do well ... they need to be able to take advanced courses.”

Ms. Alexander said she has spoken with some local parents about the topic, and they have largely supported a merger between the two districts.

She and Mr. McCutcheon plan to attend the board’‍s next workshop meeting Aug. 11 to express support for the merger discussions.

Cornell superintendent Aaron Thomas could not be reached for comment, but he previously expressed hesitation over the merger.

A merger between the Moon Area and Cornell districts has previously been proposed in 1992 and 1998.

Wesley Yiin:, 412-263-1723 or on Twitter @YiinYangYale.

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