The nine-member Bald Eagle Area school board will vote Thursday night on a proposal that could affect classes at Howard and Wingate elementary schools.
The board meeting will be held 7 p.m. at the high school auditorium.
District administrators drafted and proposed five options for next school year, which, if implemented, could mean moving the kindergarten and third-grade classes from Howard to Wingate, and not filling a vacant teaching position.
The proposals come on the heels of projected low enrollment in the two classes.
On Tuesday morning, Superintendent Jeff Miles sat down with the Centre Daily Times to better explain the proposal.
Question: Can you name all the factors in this proposal?
Answer: The reason why this came about was because we get our registration numbers every spring, and any time you get a number that’s less than 10, it’s a huge concern because now we’re looking at a situation where we might have eight students (in a class). How do we justify having one teacher for eight kids? We want to make sure that there’s some comparability across the district the best we can.
Q: Talk about how much of this proposal is financial, and how much is academic-based.
A: Our goal is to prepare each child in the district the best we can to make them successful citizens once they leave the school. But there is also a financial responsibility. The state and federal government doesn’t give us 100 percent of that funding to operate our district, so we rely on our community. We want to put academics up there, but more importantly it’s about creating and making sure our students are well-rounded.
Q: How do you work with the state to help get more funding if the district is having a hard time financially?
A: We’ve had a couple opportunities to meet with our legislative officials, and met with (Sen.) Jake Corman (R-Benner Township) at his office, and met at State College with three or four local officials, and we talked about public education funding, transportation and those kinds of things to help them understand.
Q: Explain the numbers in terms of student registration.
A: We lost 58 elementary school kids from where we were four years ago as a total. When we talk about totals, we try to forecast where our numbers are and take a look at births in municipalities and see what we’re looking at. This year there should have been up to 132 kids registered for kindergarten. Right now, we’re at 107. That’s 19 percent of that group that haven’t registered. … Next year’s projection, with kids born in our district, is 117. You take 19 percent of that group, and that’s only 95 kids. It’s alarming, but I truly believe the best solution for us is to have an independent group or organization to say, ‘Hey, this is the Bald Eagle Area School District, and this is what has happened, this is where you are and this is what’s happening,’ and this will help guide us for the next five to 10 years.
Q: What do you think that would tell you?
A: We might find out 10 years from now that we have numbers that Wingate can support, but we don’t know about the finances and how transportation will work. We’re always looking for ways to save money, but also I think we do a better job than anyone else in the area of providing different activities for our kids to participate in.
Q: I know you say you can’t predict the future, but what have conversations been like about the long-term future of Howard, and any other schools at the district?
A: I can’t speak on (former Superintendent Dan) Fisher’s behalf, but when they did the (Bald Eagle Area/Wingate campus) renovations, I’m guessing he at least thought about it, and was futuristic in his thoughts.
Q: What about under your leadership?
A: We talked about it. We don’t know where we’re at, but if we need to, we can house all the kids at Wingate without even any renovations, so I think that’s a possibility. If you look at other districts with housing developments, you don’t get that at Bald Eagle (Area). That’s the reality.
Q: What is the district doing to attract more people to the area?
A: We’re meeting with Commissioner (Mark) Higgins to talk about possible housing options.
Q: How will Howard students and residents be notified if changes are made?
A: We’re going to have Thursday’s school board meeting in the auditorium because we’re expecting people to be there. So we will get that information out ASAP.
Q: What will happen to teacher positions in kindergarten and third-grade in the proposals?
A: We are letting go of no one. The only way someone would go is by retiring or attrition. If we decide to send kindergarten to Wingate, we would need another kindergarten teacher up there so we would have four (teachers) for 68 kids, instead of three for 60.
Q: If the kindergarten teacher just moves schools from Howard to Wingate, then why not just keep her at Howard?
A: The issue is there would be three teachers teaching 60 kids and one teacher teaching eight. That’s the comparability and equity thing. But that number is not eight anymore. … We now have 11 (registered for kindergarten) and expect another one.
Q: Has the district determined a minimum class size to stay at Howard, or any other class in the district?
A: No, there is no real hard number because sometimes it’s based on dynamics of the class.
Q: When the soon-to-be third-grade class was headed to kindergarten, were similar options discussed to move them to another BEA school?
A: No. Right now there are 11 kids in the class, but because one is moving out of the district and two are moving to Wingate, we will be down.
Q: If more kids sign up for kindergarten or third grade at Howard after a decision is made to move them to Wingate, will that decision be reversed?
A: We try to let the teachers know, because if they’re moving, then we want to allow them sufficient time to prepare for their next move, especially if it’s changing grade levels so they can become familiar with what they’re going to be teaching.
Q: If those kids move to Wingate, will they stay at Wingate for the remainder of their elementary school career?
Q: How much say does the community have?
A: They’re represented by their board member, so how much influence do community members have on the board? I’m not sure you can put a value on that.
Q: BEA offers school of choice. Ever think of getting rid of that option so Howard families who send their children elsewhere would instead be required to send them to their assigned regional school?
A: I don’t think that would be a benefit for Howard.
Q: How many kids in Howard’s service area attend other BEA schools?
A: Five (according to numbers from Howard Principal Skip Pighetti).
Q: What about those from outside of Howard area who attend the school?
A: Eighteen (according to numbers from Pighetti).
Q: How much does it cost the district annually to operate Howard?
A: About $1.057 million in the 2015-16 school year (according to numbers provided by district Business Manager Craig Livergood).
Q: Are there district savings anywhere among any of the proposals?
A: In Proposal 2, leaving all teachers at Howard except for one who is tranferring to Port Matilda, and combining classes — the savings would be whatever that teacher would be making. If we bring both kindergarten and third grade up to Wingate, it doesn’t change anything because we’re not getting rid of anyone. The only proposal that would have a price tag on it is if we decided to keep all the classes in Howard and rehire for a vacancy at Port (Matilda).
Q: What does it cost to hire a teacher?
A: A new teacher with benefits is about $55,754.
Q: If classes are moved from one school to another, how does that affect transportation? A shared bus among all students?
A: We do that throughout the district. Although it’s a concern, it hasn’t been an issue. We have kids right now who live a mile and a half from Port Matilda, and they get on a bus at 7:05 (a.m.) to ride with high school kids who go to Julian to switch buses to turn around to drive back up the valley to Port Matilda. We can do it because we’re on the same time with high school and elementary.
Q: How much would transportation cost the district if students are moved to Wingate?
A: It depends. The only cost would be if we decided to just have an elementary bus in Howard, as opposed to students riding with the high school kids. We’ve talked about it — if we’re bringing eight kids, and some of those kids are in the Wingate area anyway, but they go to Howard, then it might mean a van instead. But there are already similar routes (because of school of choice.)
Howard Elementary School proposals
▪ The first proposal is to move next year’s kindergarten and third-grade classes to Wingate Elementary School. Those are the classes with the lowest enrollment — 11 registered for kindergarten and eight students in next school year’s third-grade class.
▪ The second option includes keeping all students at Howard. Kindergarten to second-grade students would be in individual regular classrooms, while third- to fifth-grade students, a total of 38, would be taught by two teachers. A full-time reading specialist would provide extra support.
▪ The third option also proposes to keep students at Howard, but includes having two teachers teach kindergarten to second grade, and another two teachers who would teach students in third to fifth grade. A full-time reading specialist would provide extra support.
▪ The fourth option proposes that the kindergarten class move to Wingate, while keeping the third-grade class at Howard.
▪ The final option includes keeping all students at Howard and filling all teaching positions.
Source: district documents