Education

Zerbe Recommends Delaying Vote on School Closures to December 2015

5b9629d0cd7c89f84911_Photo_Mar_11__7_36_48_PM.jpg
The Methacton Board of School Directors took the the front row of the Arcola Intermediate School's auditorium Wednesday night to hear the updated recommendation from Superintendent Dr. David Zerbe. Credits: Melissa S. Treacy
62912a2350e244a71f8c_Photo_Mar_11__7_37_13_PM.jpg
Dr. David Zerbe presented slides along with his three-prong recommendations, which included closing Audubon, delaying a vote until December 2015, and the formation of several committees to gather facts. Credits: Melissa S. Treacy
2f346961339931c78559_Photo_Mar_11__7_40_04_PM.jpg
1ede663fdf78419334cc_Photo_Mar_11__7_41_56_PM.jpg
53f15f5249ab18ab11c6_Photo_Mar_11__7_42_53_PM.jpg
a440f0b675277813a4fb_Photo_Mar_11__7_43_02_PM.jpg
c9547eeb817a1b953ee6_Photo_Mar_11__7_43_39_PM.jpg
8b2b09e4122c7589863a_Photo_Mar_11__7_44_20_PM.jpg
38af5a026cbd43c55810_Photo_Mar_11__7_44_52_PM.jpg
35e2e57c7f2a820bb6eb_Photo_Mar_11__7_45_36_PM.jpg
b87f3b4895c2a8d4d14a_Photo_Mar_11__7_45_41_PM.jpg
a2ec369291b679182b28_Photo_Mar_11__8_49_17_PM.jpg
Concerned citizen, John Andrews, of Lower Providence Township, spoke to the board regarding its decision to delay a vote on school closures. Andrews has presented the board enrollment projections, free of charge, since 2005 with a high level of accuracy.  Credits: Melissa S. Treacy
5b9629d0cd7c89f84911_Photo_Mar_11__7_36_48_PM.jpg

Superintendent Dr. David Zerbe changed his tune slightly as he made an update in his recommendation to the board. While he still thought Audubon Elementary was best suited for closure, he told the directors, along with the public, during a special meeting that instead of making a decision for the 2015-16 school year, the board should instead wait until December to vote on any action.

In the meantime, the superintendent suggested forming several committees comprised of administration, staff, and community members to gather information on the matter.

The Methacton School District’s board of school directors gathered in a special meeting on Wednesday night to discuss the potential closure of one or more schools in the district for the coming school year. Previously reported by LP TAP, Zerbe recommended to the board to close Audubon Elementary School, in order to bring enrollment predictions and capacity reports to a closer alignment. This came after seven different options were presented.

Sign Up for E-News

Hundreds of parents poured out to two public hearing dates on Feb. 23 and 25 to show support for the elementary schools on the chopping block. Many protested that the statistical figures presented by the Pennsylvania Economy League (PEL) about the district’s enrollment. They also had many questions around the professional architectures’ opinions of the buildings’ states and capacities, stating they were far off base. The data used and methods applied were questioned by the public repeatedly, forcing more than seven hours of public testimony to be taken into the record.

As explained in the previous hearings by the district’s solicitor, Frank Bartle, Methacton’s board may not move on the idea to close any school or realign school mappings until at least 90 days had passed since the close of the hearing (Feb. 25 was the hearing’s close, forcing a decision to be postponed by state law until at least May 25). Furthermore, the solicitor told the public, no action on such a decision could take place until 60 days after that, meaning no closure would take place until July 25 or later.

After Wednesday’s meeting, however, the board voted unanimously (8-0 with Herbert Rothe not in attendance) to adopt a new timeline. Now, newly formed committees will soon be assembled and convene until reports are due to the superintendent on Nov. 15, 2015. Following the findings of the reports, the board will take action at a date “no sooner than” December 2015. Any action would now not take place until the start of the 2016-17 school year.

Zerbe recommended adding the following committees to research the potential closing of Audubon Elementary School. They are to include, but are not limited to, committees on:

·      Enrollment, Capacity, Education and Alternatives

·      Student and Staff Transitions

·      Redrawing of Attendance Areas

·      Finances

·      Communication

Each committee was created with an administrative head, but noted “community and staff members” as making up the remainder of the committee. No timeline for the formation of the new committees was presented, nor a method for volunteers to enlist. Instead, President Christian Nascimento said that information will be relayed to the public as soon as possible.

While many in attendance at the meeting thanked the board for slowing down the process, several questions were still on the table. Ashley Wilkerson, of Audubon, wondered what “question” the board was still trying to answer by closing the local school.

“I still don’t know the problem that we are trying to solve,” she said during public comment on board action items. “I don’t know if it is budget, because we have not see much there. I think there are plenty in this room that will tell you there is no actual capacity issue. Maybe if the problem was identified, there are a lot of really smart people out here, and maybe we can find something to fix what the problem is.”

Though she’d requested it, Wilkerson said that she had not yet been granted any itemized list of repairs needed to Audubon Elementary. Instead she cited a 2014 document presented by Zerbe that estimated necessary updates to the school would cost around $285,000.

“Compared to the fields project, that’s chump change,” she said.

Other concerned parents questioned the timing of the new vote.

“This is an election year,” said Andrea Rees, mother of Woodland Elementary School children. “Is that vote before the new board is sworn in or after the new board is sworn in? I’m curious about the November/December timeline of the motion.”

Larry Rice, of Audubon, asked the board if it would be working on increasing transparency to “make up for the perceived deficit in public trust” with the board. Michael Ryan, also of Audubon, noted similar concerns.

“Don’t let these committees be for show,” said Ryan. “There have been a lot of Right To Know requests [filed], and that should give you an idea of how flawed this process was. We wouldn’t have to inundate Angela Linch, scrambling to find out all we can.”

Many others asked if the committee findings would be kept transparent and accessible to the public, or if it would not be until the Nov. 15 deadline that the pubic would be permitted to see the recommendations until that time. Some recommended using online resources to keep files public.

As the committee sign-up and meeting schedules are released, LP TAP will post the information to the public.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Lower Providence

Upcoming Events

Police Blotter

Press Releases

Columns