Board votes to build new schools in Pa. district

July 22, 2004|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - It was not on the agenda for Wednesday's meeting, but the Chambersburg School Board voted 5-4 to build a new high school for grades nine through 12, create two middle schools for grades six through eight and consolidate its 18 elementary schools at an estimated cost of $132,659,630.

The resolution, offered by board member Robert Helman, includes authorizing the administration to begin the process of purchasing land for the high school campus. Not decided, however, is whether that campus will be contained in one building for 2,800 students, or two buildings each containing two grades.

Under the plan, Chambersburg Area Senior High School and Faust Junior High School will become middle schools and Chambersburg Area Middle School would become an elementary school with four classrooms for each grade.


New Scotland, Hamilton Heights, Grandview, New Franklin and Fayetteville elementary schools would have three classes for each grade, and Buchanan, Stevens, Lurgan, Falling Spring, South Hamilton and Guilford Hills would operate as two-deep schools.

Sharpe, King Street, Gordy, Coldbrook, Duffield and Marion would close, according to the plan.

The vote came a week after the board held a special meeting to discuss building options that were developed over a series of meetings earlier this year with a 45-member task force and the Mechanicsburg, Pa., architectural firm of Crabtree, Rohrbaugh and Associates.

Quick criticism

Board President Stanley Helman criticized his brother for introducing the motion "without even the courtesy of a call or a request to place it on the agenda" before the meeting. The board had scheduled another meeting Aug. 18 to further discuss the building plan, he said.

"I thought that meeting was ... worthless ...," Robert Helman said of last week's discussion. "It's time for the talking to stop and the action to start."

"I don't think there's anything that's going to change between now and August or now and September," board member David Sciamanna said.

"We keep delaying the decision ... There is no perfect decision," said board member Lori Leedy.

Board member D. Eugene Gayman called the motion to include the item on the agenda "unconscionable." He particularly objected to a proposal to turn Chambersburg Area Middle School into an elementary school.

Gayman said that option was not mentioned until last week and suggested it had been the result of "undue pressure" on the architects.

"I don't make statements that I can't document," Gayman said.

Robert Helman was joined by Thomas Orndorf, Sciamanna, Leedy and Renee Sharpe in voting to include the item on the agenda. Stanley Helman, Gayman, Fred Rice and Craig Musser voted no.

The vote was the same on the building plan.

During the discussion, Robert Helman suggested a vote on the building plan could be tabled until Aug. 18. Musser, however, said the delay would not change anything and proposed the board go forward.

Superintendent Edwin Sponseller questioned if the vote was an effort to "circumvent the referendum," referring to school property tax reform legislation recently signed by Gov. Ed Rendell. The district would have to participate in the tax-reform plan to receive slot machine revenues for property tax reduction.

Voters, however, would have to approve by referendum school budgets that increase at a higher rate than an inflationary index set by the state. There are a number of exclusions, including one "for the payment of interest and principal on any indebtedness incurred prior to the effective date" of the legislation.

Business Manager Rick Vensel said that date is either Sept. 2 or Sept. 3 - 60 days after the law was enacted. Vensel asked if the board was directing the administration to prepare a debt resolution for action and submit a plan to the Pennsylvania Department of Education prior to that date.

The board did not address those issues, but Vensel said administrators from across the state are deciphering the legislation. Vensel said he recently spoke with a number of business managers from around the state and the implications are far from clear.

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