By the time the clock read 11:04 p.m., the Methacton School Board had heard exactly 112 different persons explaining why they should not close any schools in the district. With 48 residents on Monday followed by the 64 on Wednesday, not a single one of them thought the district was doing the right thing. But by far, the biggest question on each speakers’ mind? Why The Rush?
The crowd brought the “WTR” catch phrase to life, as most all speakers stated it at the end of each three-minute testimony, in addition to donning shirts and holding signs with the same three letters.
Residents, teachers, students and homeowners took to the podium Wednesday to reiterate points many made on Monday. Speakers were against large class sizes, lower home values, rushing into a decision and, most of all, closing any of the district’s schools.
Andrea Rees, mother of three children at Woodland Elementary, including twin boys, listed the many red flags she’d stood by watching the current board raise, alarming her with each decision. From cancelling Transitional First (T-1), to outsourcing cafeteria workers and transportation, to sharing specials teachers, and utilizing the Substitute Teacher Service (STS), Rees said at least five major red flags concerned her.
“I watched the above red flags, waiting for the other shoe to drop, and now it has,” she said.
As an educator, she urged the board to have some of the inside knowledge she, as a teacher, understood.
Brad Kershner, father of two children at Audubon, proudly wore his parent volunteer badge, joking he hoped it would not soon be a “collector’s item.”
“One quarter of the enrollment was born outside of the state,” he noted, showing that not all enrollment figures could be based on birth rates.
Erica Savinski, with a son already at Audubon and a daughter she hoped was on the way next year, said she hopes the board understands that space is often needed for special needs children, and that consideration did not seem included in the Capacity Report by James Thompson and his architectural firm.
“That room might look underutilized, but it is used the exact percentage it needs to be,” said Savinski.
Sandy Fischer, a Kindergarten teacher at Arrowhead Elementary School, shared her input not only as an educator but as a student who survived the prior closure of Audubon Elementary School in 1984.
“I was in fourth grade, and I had to go to Woodland to finish [elementary school],” she said. “My energy and thinking at times were more focused on a new, unfamiliar place.”
Her own negative memories made her worry about her students today.
“As a teacher, I am extremely concerned about current class sizes,” said Fischer. “The early years are so critical, and we should be considering coming down to 18, and not increasing to 25.”
Though Charles Waters, of the Pennsylvania Economy League (PEL), used the first few minutes of the evening to testify to the study on enrollments’ accuracy, many parents still questioned the methods, graphs and statistics used in the report.
Katia Figaroa, who said she’s had a child in Audubon Elementary School for the past 12 years straight, said that, though she was not a statistician, the numbers made sense.
“I do know that if you increase the capacity of a school district by 1,025 by building another building [Skyview], of course your elementary schools will show under-enrollment,” she said. “Which leaves me to wonder, what’s the rush?”
Father Michael Katz, who has three children in the district, made his own charts to show the comparisons between area school districts.
“We are in an 8-percent decline,” said Katz. “Six other school districts have had an increase, while two remained flat. Are we sure there is not something unique happening at Methacton? If this is a demographics problem, why are we not seeing it in the surrounding areas?”
Diana Kernop co-president of the Methacton Education Association (MEA), said she struggled with what to say during her three-minute testimony. But, she wanted residents to know that the teachers were just as worried as parents.
“Like you, we don’t have all the information, and like you, we want to have the information,” she said. “I know how much this hurts the students, and how long it takes to heal.”
This was not the first time she’d been through bumps in the road with Methacton.
“I was here when Eagleville had 1,700 students, with 14 modular classrooms, and mine was the furthest out,” said the Methacton veteran, who has worked for the district since 1976, who noted she too had been through closures, re-openings and changes. “In every one of those instances, in every change you have made here, in everything that has happened, you’ve had a committee, and brought the community along with you. They might not have liked the outcome but, they knew where you were going, and they were a participant. And, we’ve done it backwards this time.”
Mother Fung Zhe, of Collegeville, said she was worried because her daughter, being at the end of the alphabet (by last name), is always “last” in the school list.
“For four years in a row at Eagleville, her number in the system has been greater than 24,” said Zhe. “Now, it is 27. If you close two schools, I don’t know how far her number will be.”
Maddy Simard, a fourth grader at Audubon, courageously took the podium to give her testimony well into the night.
“My teachers taught me to double check my work, especially my math,” said Simard. “My teachers taught me to be fair, kind and honest. I hope you learned to double-check your math. If not, maybe you should have gone to Audubon.”
Simard was joined by fellow students Madden Lutz and Avishi Gupta, who echoed her sentiments. Even a first grade student took the mic to beg for her school back.
Maggie Hopson Baker urged the board not to close a school, which became a second family to her two Audubon children when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Tiffany Richardson said the same of her Audubon-based, autistic son Chase, who relied on his staff of teachers to help him through first grade.
“This would completely rock his world,” said Richardson.
Vikrahm Rhodi asked the board if they’d considered the influx of immigrants, a figure that seems to be growing in the district. Using the school’s directory only, noting “no need for extensive analysis,” he measured the growth to be by grade level.
“In the fourth grade, there are 12 percent immigrants. In the third grade there are 15 percent,” he said. “In the second, it is 14 and in the first 23 percent. In Kindergarten it is 27%.”
Rhodi did not stop there.
“In my country there is a saying, ‘things done in haste are things done for evil,’” he said. “What evil is being done here?”
Two Woodland parents, Lisa Chaya and Kim Larcinese both noted the pace that Upper Merion School District, as well as other neighbors, were taking making the same type of decision.
“In 1999, Tredyffryn Easttown commissioned a report by PEL,” said Larcinese. “They were unsure of the numbers. When it came time to do it again, they decided to hire a new firm.”
Chaya said Upper Merion started its discussions with an architectural legal firm in September, but in total will hold at least eight public meetings to discuss options.
“They do not plan to end the process until possibly Spring of 2016,” said Chaya. “Upper Merion felt it needed two years to decide what Methacton condensed into two weeks.”
In the end, no responses were given by the board, administration or solicitor. Instead, Methacton Solicitor Frank Bartle said that further questions, comments or information could be obtained by emailing the board.
“In respect to the questions for the professionals, submitted this evening, answers will be posted on the site [methacton.org] so that all will have an opportunity to review,” he said. “The board will have an opportunity to read all of the information and materials presented here.”
No timeline was given for when the board may answer questions. No timeline was given for any future action or response from the board, nor administration. By law, as explained by Bartle, no action can take place involving a vote on closures for at least 90 days from the hearing’s close (May 25). From there, no closure may take place until 60 days following that (July 25).
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