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Parents react to proposed school closing

May 12, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

ROXBURY, Pa. - Students at Letterkenny Elementary School and their parents will have to wait until less than three weeks before school starts to learn if it will reopen in 2004-05.

The Chambersburg Area School District held a public hearing Tuesday at Lurgan Elementary School to allow comment on a proposal to close Letterkenny. Under the Pennsylvania School Code, the hearing must be held three months in advance of a vote, said Jan Sulcove, the district's solicitor.

The vote is scheduled for Aug. 11, school Superintendent Edwin Sponseller said.

"School starts Aug. 30. Are you moving too fast?" asked Lisa Horton of Orrstown, Pa, who has one child at Letterkenny and another at Lurgan, the school the Letterkenny students will be transferred to if the board votes to consolidate.

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A task force studying the district's building requirements has yet to finish its work, Horton said.

"How can you make a responsible decision ... unless you have all the information?" she asked.

Built in 1954, Letterkenny has 85 students in first through fifth grades, said Rick Vensel, the district's business manager. Closing it would save the district about $130,000.

"That's $21,000 in utilities, $29,000 in other building costs and $81,000 in positions," Vensel said Tuesday morning.

The positions to be cut include a secretary, a library aide and a custodian, he said.

Letterkenny Parent-Teacher Organization President Billie Reed of Upper Strasburg, Pa., said the amount of money to be saved does not justify closing the school.

Reed said education has become less about children than about "money, politics and buildings." She said the students, parents and staff of the small school are "one big family."

Letterkenny shares a regional principal and art, music and physical education instructors with Lurgan, Grandview and Sharpe schools, said James Taylor, the assistant superintendent for elementary services.

Lurgan has 174 students in kindergarten through fifth grades and three classes for neurologically- and hearing-impaired students, Taylor said. Not including the impaired students, Taylor said the combined regular class enrollment of the schools will be 233 next year.

Built in 1958, Lurgan was expanded in 1969. There is one class for each regular grade now, but the school has enough rooms to go two deep in each grade, Taylor said.

"Bigger is not better," said Christine King of Pleasant Hall, Pa.

Steve Gayman of Pleasant Hall said students from small schools perform better in secondary school.

Twice over the years, Letterkenny students were brought to Lurgan - once when Letterkenny had its roof and boiler replaced and again when its well ran dry, he said.

In February, the board approved a $2.2 million improvement project for Lurgan that will include a new heating and air-conditioning system and energy-efficient windows.

Closing Letterkenny will leave the district with 17 elementary schools, Taylor said.

Six people spoke at the hourlong hearing and all but one were against consolidation. About 50 people attended, including school board and faculty members.

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