DuBOIS — As the DuBois Area School Board continues to review options concerning the district’s buildings, a city resident and future director asked several questions at last week’s Building and Maintenance Committee meeting.
“Our schools exist for one reason, the children,” said David Schwab, a retired district teacher who recently won the Region A seat on the board as a write-in candidate. “There are a number of questions we should ask. Are our schools overcrowded? If they are, why did we just close the four buildings? If they’re not, then why are we considering a building program?”
Secondly, Schwab asked what is the best solution for the children, educationally.
“Several options presented, with some being the re-arrangement of grade levels,” Schwab said. “Children are not marbles that can be stacked into any box just because they fit. They are like eggs that need to be nurtured and brought along until they mature.”
He asked whether eighth-graders are emotionally mature enough to be in a high school with seniors. This option was discussed at the Building and Committee meetings held this month as part of a study conducted by Mike Kelly, of KCBA Architects, as part of an Educational Facilities Master Plan for the district.
In the report from KCBA, Schwab said averages are used for class size in the elementary.
“These numbers are skewed to the low side due to the limited numbers of emotional support classes,” Schwab said. “If you have emotional support class of 10 and the average is 24, that means you’ve got 14 that could be added to the 24, in another class you could have 38. Averages don’t work unless you eliminate, or you put aside, those low number of classes, low students in classes. Oklahoma has six emotional support (classes). Wasson has seven emotional support. This lowers the average for the whole school and leads to incorrect conclusions.”
Thirdly, Schwab asked what is the best economically for the taxpayers if the district decides that a building addition is needed.
“A teachers’ contract cannot be settled because of economic issues that represent 3 percent of the money that the report projects for renovations and additions,” Schwab said. “How can this plan even be considered until current obligations have been met?”
He noted that the KCBA report on renovations states that 26 million was saved by closing the four schools. Two years ago, he said, a KTH Architects report stated that three schools would be a savings of $5.3 million.
Schwab was referring to details released in the master plan on Nov. 2 as follows: In 2012, Highland Elementary School closed and 143 students went to Wasson Elementary. Earlier this year, Sykesville Elementary School closed and 93 students were sent to C.G. Johnson Elementary in Reynoldsville. Penfield Elementary closed and 34 students were sent to Juniata Elementary while 37 students were sent to Oklahoma Elementary. Luthersburg Elementary also closed in 2017 and 94 students were sent to Wasson Elementary. Renovations savings as a result of consolidation is listed at $26,428,241.
“Which numbers are we to believe?” Schwab said. “If we look at most recent additions and renovations in the various schools, our school, with the exception of Wasson, are the top 20 percent for age in the state. Many issues must be studied extensively before any move can be made on this issue.”
More Public Comment
Another resident, Glenn Schuckers, of Luthersburg, asked when the board is going to tell the owners of the district – the taxpayers and the parents – what the master plan is.
“If you have a master plan now, let’s hear about it,” Schuckers said. “Let’s tell the people who pay the bill, who own, because they’re not your schools, they’re our schools. They belong to us, the taxpayers. Let us decide what’s going to happen to them. What’s your plan for C G Johnson? Haven’t heard much about it. We’ve heard about Oklahoma. When there is a master plan, please don’t tell us you haven’t made up your mind yet. We’ve heard that song before. And we’ve heard an awful lot from your efficiency expert (Kelly), from my old stomping grounds, down in Bucks County. Talking about the efficiency of schools, what about the quality of schools? When our kids graduate, the military, the colleges, the employers are not going to ask them how efficient their school system was. They are going to ask them what was the quality of your education?
“And I am all for efficiency too, but not at the cost of quality,” Schuckers said. “It is your responsibility and you are the ones that voted to create some of the situations that exist now and based on the report that was given a month ago, some of those situations are not good – children meeting under stairwells, classes meeting in storage rooms. What happened to the things that were in the storage rooms? Were they not needed, were they stored somewhere else? Were they dumped, and you know, a class meeting in the storage room? No, that’s not a way to create quality education. So, when you are rushed to create efficiency, please do not kick quality off to the side and say, ‘We have to be more efficient to keep our schools going.’”
“There’s nothing pre-conceived that I know of that we’re going to do,” Director Ben Haugh said. “This is the second time I’m having this discussion. That’s the truth. I’m not making that up. I know people think that we have all kinds of meetings behind the scenes, this is the second time I’m having this discussion.”
“We’re trying to do our homework as we have done in the past, the last couple of years that I’ve been on the board,” said Director Mark Gilga, who is also the chairman of the Building and Maintenance Committee. “When you look at what’s going on around us, I think this board is trying to take the right steps to keep the kids in elementary schools and not like other areas. It’s just like any project you do at your house, you do your homework before you dive right into it. That’s basically what we’re trying to do here.”
“We have a whole lot of options and we’re trying to narrow it down to half as many options,” Director Randy Curley said.
Superintendent Luke Lansberry said in early summer, surveys were taken and information was gathered from all building level administrators to answer a whole series of questions that Kelly started to compile for the study. That was then followed up with several meetings with the district leadership team before it was brought to the building and maintenance committee to start to explore options.
“Options come out of facts and knowledge based from the people on the front lines,” Lansberry said. “The storyline started there and evolved to here. The end result would be of all the options that the building and grounds committee are talking about. What, if any, are worth taking to the full board for consideration and more exploration? That’s the process. I thought I made that clear at the last meeting. All the numbers that we are kicking around. All that information as given to Mike way back last summer, all those numbers was asked and spent a lot of time giving him that information to be able to develop all the information that is being shared. He (Kelly) creates options for us to think about.”