State College considers expanding Delta Program

mmorgan@centredaily.comJanuary 13, 2014 

— In anticipation of a Jan. 27 vote, the State College Area School District administration presented the school board with a proposal Monday night to expand the Delta Program to fifth- and sixth-grade students.

The Delta Program is currently offered to students in seventh through 12th grades, providing them a separate, smaller school feel and allowing them to also pursue Penn State classes, independent learning courses, community service and career internships. The program began in 1974, and is currently capped at 200 students.

Director Jon Downs said there has been interest from the community in expanding the program and that the administration expects that it will draw some additional people from the district’s other brick-and-mortar charter schools.

“It’s pretty obvious that residents of this district are seeking a smaller offering for middle level students,” he said.

If the plan passes at the next board meeting, the district expects to implement the change for the 2014-15 school year if it gets enough interest.

The district would allocate between two and four staff members to the new program, based on enrollment numbers. One new teacher would likely be hired and the others would be reallocated from existing positions, Superintendent Bob O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell said that the timing of the decision in January would provide enough time for district families to consider the opportunity and decide if they would like to enroll students.

The new program would create a more defined middle level experience for the fifth- through eighth-graders, transitioning them better into the system, Downs said. It would allow for more mentoring opportunities for the older Delta students, he added.

Board President Penni Fishbaine said this expansion would let more students get into Delta sooner, creating a better environment for the younger students.

“I see this as an opportunity to do what’s already valued with Delta, just to bring it on a little sooner,” she said.

The program is currently held in the Fairmount Building, but if the district passes its high school project referendum, the board expects to move Delta to the high school North Building on Westerly Parkway. All core academic classes would be held on the south side of the street, so Delta would still be separated from the rest of the school.

But some Delta alumni expressed reservations in the public comment section of the meeting Monday about moving the program.

Delta alumna Leslie Ratan said she heard from about two dozen other alumni and parents through social media, and the majority said that moving Delta to Westerly Parkway would be a negative.

She said that the proximity to downtown and Penn State’s campus provides students with opportunities they might not have if the program is moved farther away.

She said the open campus policy downtown is important for the students.

“The location of the program right now is fundamental to the success of the education,” she said.

The board also passed a resolution 7-1 to commit to holding to the inflation-based Act 1 index for the tax increase for the 2014-2015 school year. The district will not apply for additional exceptions that would allow it to raise taxes above that level.

Last year, the district included an exception to help fund increased Public School Employees’ Retirement System costs, but Business Administrator Randy Brown said they expect to be able to balance the budget this year by including about $500,000 from PSERS pre-funding reserves.

The index for 2014-2015 is calculated by the state Department of Education at 2.1 percent.

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