Another stalemate: Options for school closures debated again

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Was it a mistake to close Mary A. Wilson Elementary School? One member of the Punxsutawney Area School Board said that it was at Wednesday's voting meeting.

Punxsutawney Area School District Superintendent Dr. Keith Wolfe asked the board if it wanted to continue the discussion regarding the possible closing of more elementary schools.

Wolfe said Roberta Dinsmore, board member, brought him information from the last school closing, which was when Mary A. Wilson was shut in 2009.

"I can get the information from the last time and have that updated and find out more information regarding the remaining elementary buildings in the district," Wolfe said.

"Do we want to continue the discussion on closing schools; do we want to move seventh grade up to the high school or have them stay where they are at the middle school?" he said.

Jack White, board member, said he is in favor of moving the seventh grade to the high school, which would make more room at the middle school for third grade.

Back when the district was realigned following the closing of Mary A., there were concerns with fourth-graders riding a high school bus, said Cheryl Repik, transportation director.

That's why the fourth and fifth graders were placed on the elementary bus instead of the high school bus bringing about the shuttle bus, she said.

Wolfe said students K-6 must have 900 hours of class time per year, while secondary school students beginning in seventh grade must have 990 hours of class time.

Repik said if seventh grade was placed on a shuttle bus, it would not have 990 hours.

Melissa Snyder, board member, said she didn't think the decision on realigning the district should be decided based solely on the convenience of the schedule.

Michael Guidice, middle school assistant principal, said you can't just say everyone in this building is going on the same time schedule without changing the bus runs.

Wolfe said that when he was principal of Brookville Junior-Senior High School, he didn't have a lot of problems with students from other grades crossing over into the junior high side of the building, which included seventh grade.

"The seventh-graders took up the end part of a hallway, and the eight-graders took up the middle part of that hallway. Then, the rest was (grades) 9-12," he said.

Wolfe said the students did cross over into each other's area when they went down to the gym, cafeteria or the band room.

There was crossover, but the majority of the seventh-grade classrooms were bundled together in one area, Wolfe said.

Pifer said as far as closing elementary schools she was in favor of it only if they would close two schools.

"I don't want to go through all of that again for just one school," she said.

Francis J. Molinaro, board vice president, said if you're not going to eliminate positions it's foolish to close anything.

Bob Pascuzzo, board member, said looking at the big picture the board should put additions on West End and the middle school so it has everything in town.

Wolfe said the board might be better off to wait five or six years before attempting to close any more schools.

Molinaro said there isn't any money available for Plancon construction projects, at least for this year.

"Looking back, it was a mistake to close Mary A. Wilson," Molinaro said, adding that it accomplished very little as far as saving money on staff.

Snyder said she is not in favor of moving third grade to the middle school.

"A smaller school is better for the students," Snyder said, adding that Mr. (Rich) Britten, middle school principal, and his staff did a great job of moving fourth grade up here," she said. "It's not difficult to manage 200 students under one roof instead of 600."

Molinaro said to save money the district might look at eliminating summer school which cost the district $90,000 to operate.

Once again the board agreed to table the school closing discussion until another meeting.