Montour district to close Ingram school
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Montour is taking action to combine all students in kindergarten through fourth grade under the same roof by closing one school, restructuring two others and considering the possible construction of a single elementary building.
For 2012-13, all children in kindergarten, first grade and second grade will attend Forest Grove Elementary in Robinson, while all third- and fourth-graders will attend Burkett Elementary, also in Robinson.
Ingram Elementary School on Vancouver Avenue will close. School officials said reasons for closing the school included comparatively low state test scores, declining enrollment and decreasing revenues.
The changes are expected to trim $2 million from the district budget.
Board members voted unanimously May 24 to explore building a new elementary building at three potential sites -- the high school campus in Robinson, the David E. William Middle School campus in Kennedy, and the Forest Grove site. Gateway Engineers will perform site surveys for about $10,000.
According to a feasibility study completed by Architectural Innovations LLC of Pittsburgh, construction of a new school, at $42 million, would cost about $8 million to $9 million less than comprehensive renovations of the Burkett, Forest Grove and Ingram buildings.
The school plans have a direct impact on the $58-million proposed budget, approved May 24 by school directors. It would hold the tax rate at 18.9 mills for the seventh year for property owners in Ingram, Pennsbury Village, Kennedy, Robinson and Thornburg.
The Ingram building, a historic landmark built in 1914, will be reused as a community library and resource center, accommodating adult, alternative and supplemental education programs. The school's library recently was revamped through a $100,000 anonymous donation.
Board member Dean Caliguire said despite his emotional ties to the Ingram school he had attended, he thought the merger made sense from educational, social and financial standpoints.
"We're trying to do this for the betterment of the kids," he said.
At least 75 people attended the board meeting, and parents said they were upset about the lack of communication regarding the elementary school changes. Sharon Stetz, president of the Ingram PTA and a member of Ingram council, said she and other parents had no idea the district planned to close the Ingram school.
"We have the ideal school," she said. "Why do you have to take our community schools away?"
Seven board members voted to establish the so-called "learning centers" at Burkett and Forest Grove, effective July 1.
Thomas Barclay voted no, saying while he supported the center concept, he had campaigned earlier against closing Ingram and was not given enough time to review the proposal.
Cynthia Morrow abstained from voting because she missed prior meetings about the issue.
"I just have a sick feeling in my stomach about how quickly this is happening," she said.
Superintendent Donald Boyer said students will attend the learning centers for about three years, until construction of a new school is complete.
He plans to hold town hall meetings over the next few months and to select a new school site by the end of July.
Currently, each elementary school contains K-4 classes.
Mr. Boyer said combining all students in the same grade levels would ensure consistent instruction, equal opportunity, balanced class sizes, access to the same resources and a smoother transition to the middle school.
"That is the proper thing to do in both the educational interest of the students and the financial interest of the school district," Mr. Boyer said.
Curriculum director Christopher Stone said third- and fourth-grade scores on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment reading and math exams are 15 to 20 percent lower in Ingram than in Burkett -- one of the largest achievement gaps in Allegheny County between buildings in the same district, Mr. Boyer said.
And while Forest Grove test scores are declining, he said, Burkett scores are among the highest in the county.
"We'd like to expose everyone to the same strategies and programs that are used in Burkett," Mr. Boyer said.
The district currently enrolls 993 elementary students. Mr. Boyer said 139 pupils registered to attend Ingram this fall, making the school the smallest in the county.
Overall elementary enrollment is expected to decline by 64 pupils next year, he said.
Mr. Boyer said the grade-level centers were discussed two years ago with public involvement, but "for political reasons, it was killed."
In December, the school board transferred $8 million from its $24 million fund balance into a fund dedicated to elementary school improvements.
The proposed budget for next school year eliminates the elementary Spanish program and saves $40,000 by cutting field trips.
A new in-house cyber school -- which the school board approved last week -- is expected to generate $100,000 in tuition.
The overall budget increased by $5.68 million due to salaries, benefits, construction debt payments and contributions to the Pennsylvania Public School Employees' Retirement System.
Final budget adoption is scheduled for June 28.
First Published May 31, 2012 5:41 am