BEA public meeting unveils Howard Elementary School options

Bald Eagle Area School Board President Thomas Letterman answers questions during a public meeting the board hosted to discuss classes at Howard Elementary on Thursday, May 25, 2017.
Bald Eagle Area School Board President Thomas Letterman answers questions during a public meeting the board hosted to discuss classes at Howard Elementary on Thursday, May 25, 2017.

Bald Eagle Area School District administrators, in partnership with the nine-member school board, are looking into five options for next school year that could impact Howard Elementary School classes.

The proposals come on the heels of projected low enrollment in two classes and a vacant teaching position at Howard that might not be filled for the 2017-18 school year.

A special public meeting was held Thursday night to unveil plans and receive public feedback.

“We do have the best interest in Howard, but we do have the best interest in BEA, which is what we have to do,” Superintendent Jeff Miles said. “There are low kindergarten and third-grade classes and that causes a problem because when you look at the entire district, having a teacher with eight kids, while another 5 miles up the road has 20 — it’s about equity.”

The first proposal is to move next year’s kindergarten and third-grade classes to Wingate Elementary School.

According to projected numbers from the district, nine students are registered for kindergarten, and eight students are expected to be in next year’s third-grade class.

The second and third options are to keep all students at Howard, but with different provisions.

According to a document from the district, the second option would include keeping kindergarten to second-grade students in individual regular classrooms, while third- to fifth-grade students, a total of 38, would be taught by two teachers.

Howard Principal Skip Pighetti said he prefers the second option.

The third option would include having two teachers teach kindergarten to second grade, and another two teachers would teach students in third to fifth grade.

That would mean there would be 39 students in kindergarten to second grade, and 38 students in third to fifth grade, according to the report.

Pighetti said a full-time reading specialist would provide extra support with both options.

The fourth option proposes that the kindergarten class move to Wingate, while keeping the third-grade class at Howard.

Board member John Rougeux said there is no anticipated cost savings because the kindergarten teacher at Howard would also be moved to Wingate.

And the final option, which got the most public support, includes keeping all students at Howard and filling all teaching positions.

A student to teacher ratio at Howard hasn’t been established in order for Howard to keep the classes, said board member Timothy Nilson.

While several board members said there are no current plans to close Howard, many parents and Howard-area residents said they’re not convinced.

“I’m just looking out for the welfare of the Howard Elementary School and community, because I believe it will lead to the closure of Howard,” said Jason Penland, whose children attend the school. “My concern is that if we start shipping our kids off to Wingate, they’re going to be among a giant conglomerate of students, and that will be the trend.”

Another public concern includes transportation issues that could mean longer bus rides and a mix of primary and secondary students sharing a bus.

Board President Thomas Letterman said the financial cost of annual transportation would be similar to the cost of at least one teacher, but wasn’t specific with the figure.

A decision will be made by the board next month.

2017-18 projected enrollment

Kindergarten: 9

First grade: 16

Second grade: 14

Third grade: 8

Fourth grade: 15

Fifth grade: 15

Total projected student enrollment: 77

According to a report from the district, 18 students who attend Howard Elementary School go there because of school choice that allows families in the Bald Eagle Area School District to choose which school their child attends within the district.