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.
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
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.