North Allegheny parents blast idea of closing Peebles Elementary
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Cost-cutting moves made or being considered by North Allegheny School District continue to draw fire from parents.
Parents of students at Peebles Elementary School asked board members to keep the school open during the board's Sept. 12 work session. Other parents decried higher class sizes in elementary schools.
Consulting firm Thomas & Williamson recommended last month that Peebles be closed to cut costs and to equalize elementary enrollment in elementary buildings. Peebles was recommended because McCandless is not growing.
"The board has not made any decisions at all on whether we close a building or not close a building. This is a process," said board President Maureen Grosheider.
The process must begin with at least one public hearing, advertised in the newspaper at least 15 days in advance. The board cannot vote for at least three months after the hearing.
Parents from Peebles and Hosack elementary schools told board members that McCandless has what Bradford Woods, Franklin Park and Marshall do not -- affordable homes for young families -- and that will provide a stable, if not growing, enrollment for the schools there.
"I understand the significance of an $8 million budget deficit. I also believe that closing Peebles is not the answer to that $8 million deficit," said Tara Fisher. "My consulting advice to you is to not close a top-performing, recently renovated school in a stable part of the district. McCandless counts for over 50 percent of the district's enrollment."
Approximately 80 residents attended the board meeting, and 12 spoke, most on the Peebles issue.
Diane Collery, president of the Greybrooke Homeowners Association, said she has seen "bidding wars" for homes in their neighborhood.
"We wanted a little school. Our Realtor used that as a selling point for us," she said.
Susie Holmes, an agent for Northwood Realty, said Mc-Candless remains a popular option for home buyers.
"People are coming to Mc-Candless because of its affordable, established neighborhoods," she said. "It's a really desirable area. It's more affordable than some of the other neighborhoods. I see a lot of older families moving out and a lot of younger families moving in."
Doug Watkins gave board secretary Rose Mary Ryan a plastic bag filled with currency and coins, the proceeds of a "Save Peebles bake sale" held recently by students.
Mr. Watkins said Upper St. Clair School District closed an elementary school in 1982 because of declining enrollment -- then had to bring in trailers, and add on to remaining schools, when enrollment grew again.
"My neighborhood in McCandless is very similar. Dozens of older families have moved out," he said. "It just seems like history repeating itself."
Anthony Berarducci asked board members to appoint a citizen task force, as was done before the district closed Espe Elementary School. Mrs. Grosheider said they will consider the request.
"We do need a lot more data before we make any decisions. The administration is working on that," she said.
Hosack parent Lou Flores suggested the district outsource its transportation department to a private contractor to save money, as is done in Shaler and North Hills.
Mrs. Grosheider said that, although "everything is on the table," the district previously looked into outsourcing transportation and the savings "wasn't there."
She noted that the district reduced its staff by 94 people over the past two years. "Because we are a labor-intensive organization ... if you really want to make significant cuts in your bottom line ... the only way you can really do it is to cut people and that has been what we have done over the last two years," she said.
Joy Gaetano, director of human resources, said an additional 30 employees are due to retire before the next school year under the early retirement incentive program.
But some parents are upset about the higher class sizes that have occurred because of the staff reductions. Hosack parent Michelle Chiu said her daughter is in a third-grade class of 31 students and is complaining that the class is so noisy she cannot hear the teacher.
"If NA engages in cost-cutting initiatives ... our homes become less desirable," said parent Kevin Mahler. "Take school closings and larger class sizes off the table. Please look at alternatives for obtaining a balanced budget while preserving school quality."
Mrs. Grosheider and board members Beth Ludwig and Linda Bishop told the parents about the tough issues facing public schools in Pennsylvania.
Mrs. Bishop, chairwoman of the legislative committee, said "massive cuts in state funding" plus state mandates "just don't mesh.
"You need to see the bigger picture. This isn't just about whether we are going to close Peebles Elementary School. ... It is about a larger funding issue that we are facing."
She urged parents and residents to read her reports on proposed state legislation and other state-mandated changes that affect public schools. The reports can be found on the district's website under the minutes from the board's voting meetings.
"We have our backs against the wall with what the state has done to us for the last couple of years. We are doing everything we can," Mrs. Ludwig said. "Public education is under attack. There are people in our Legislature [who] do not want public schools to succeed and they keep getting voted in."
First Published September 20, 2012 5:38 am