State College Area school board looks to educate voters on referendum

mmorgan@centredaily.comFebruary 24, 2014 

— With less than three months left until the community weighs in on the State College Area High School project in a referendum vote, the district is ramping up efforts to educate voters.

In the last two weeks alone, school board members, district officials and community engagement action team volunteers have had 18 events explaining the project to groups, Scott Thomas, the team’s co chairman, told the board at its meeting Monday night.

They have also made three house calls to people, who wanted some people to come to them and answer questions in a more informal setting.

“What we’re trying to do is educate the voting community,” Thomas said.

He said it will be integral to educate the people on the issue and try to get them out to vote on May 20. Anyone wishing to vote in the primary must register by April 21.

The district will be asking the community to vote on an $85 million referendum to make significant renovations and new construction to the building on the south side of Westerly Parkway and some smaller changes on the north side. The proposal would locate all core academic classes on the south side of the street, using the North Building for uses like gymnasiums and the pool.

The total project would not exceed $115 million, and the district would fund the remainder through capital projects money and borrowing.

Superintendent Bob O’Donnell said it will be key to continue to get out in the community in the next few months and speak to some of the counties larger employers.

He said he has had talks with Mount Nittany Health CEO Steve Brow about engaging in conversation with the employees there.

One issue has been breaking through with Penn State, which is by far Centre County’s largest employer. He said they are still working through strategies to talk to as many university employees as possible.

O’Donnell also plans to meet with the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County board soon.

Some board members have taken it upon themselves to go door-to-door and speak with people personally. Board member Jim Pawelczyk said he is now up to 110 homes.

Board member Laurel Zydney added that it’s important for people to ask questions about things that they don’t understand, whether it be at a meeting or community forum, through email or through the district’s website.

“We can’t answer questions we’re not asked,” she said.

The district’s next community conversation will we held at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Park Forest Elementary all-purpose room. Board Vice President Amber Concepcion said they have circulated about 400 paper invitations to homes in the Park Forest area.

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