Board discusses closing schools

PUNXSUTAWNEY — The Punxsutawney Area School Board talked about closing schools, specifically Jenks Hill Elementary, during Wednesday’s meeting.

Dr. Keith Wolfe, superintendent for Punxsutawney Area Schools, said if Jenks was closed, its students would be transferred to Longview, Parkview and West End Elementary Schools.

"It wouldn't add any more bus runs and would actually decrease one bus run," Wolfe said, adding that the closure would save $10,000 to $12,000 alone for just that one bus run.

He said it is difficult to assess school closures because the district knows only how many kindergartners the district will have for the upcoming year.

"We don't know how many kindergartners we will have for the year that the district would be closing schools," Wolfe said.

He said enrollment is declining at the high school, while sixth- and seventh-grade class sizes are larger.

Wolfe said for the upcoming school year, the district will have 148 kindergarten students, 144 first graders, 139 second graders and 128 third graders.

He said the one problem is not knowing how large 2013-2014’s kindergarten class is going to be.

"If we move seventh grade to the high school and third grade to the current middle school, we could close two elementary buildings," Wolfe said, adding that the district could reconfigure the buildings and have one less double school.

He said if the middle school went up to sixth grade, one would have to consider removing family consumer science and shop classes and how many special teachers are needed at the middle school.

"There will be a cost savings, but I do need direction from the board on how I should proceed with this project," Wolfe said.

Gary Conrad, board president, asked Richard Britain, middle school principal, that if third grade was moved to the middle school, how would it affect his scheduling?

Britain said one bus and one arrival time would help greatly.

Currently, sixth and seventh graders are arriving at the middle school anywhere from 7:20 to 7:45 a.m.. with fourth and fifth graders coming in after that, Britain said, adding that having all of the students on one schedule and related arts teachers on one schedule instead of transferring over from one schedule to the other would be a plus.

Francis J. Molinaro, board vice president, asked if this is a better schedule, why hasn’t the district been following it all along?

Britain said that currently, it is not possible because of the sixth and seventh grades.

"If we changed, it would make it more efficient," Britain said, adding that the minimum hours of learning for seventh through 12th grade are much higher than for elementary students.

Wolfe said secondary students must have 990 hours of instruction per year, and elementary students must have 900 hours of instruction per year.

Jack White, board member, said the board should consider swapping the high school with the middle school and having the elementary students in the high school.

Wolfe said that in regard to keeping seventh- and eighth-grade students separate from the senior high students, he worked in a building like that for 10 years, and there were no major problems, with both wings separated except for lunch.

Pascuzzo said the district needs to return to a seven-period day as well, because students are losing too many hours of instruction time, amounting to 15 to 18 days per year, because the last five minutes of instruction was eliminated.

"The worst thing we ever did was creating that shuttle bus from Mapleview to the middle school," he said.

Conrad said the board agreed to have Wolfe continue with his study on closing schools.