Finalist says two high schools needed in Chambersburg

November 08, 2005|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The first of four finalists for the job of Chambersburg Area School District superintendent to face the public said Monday that a demographic study of the district indicates to him that two high schools are needed to accommodate a burgeoning student population.

"Thirty-one hundred students is too many" for one school, Eric Michael, the district's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said following a one-hour question-and-answer period with district residents at Faust Junior High School. That number is how many secondary students in grades nine through 12 the district will have by 2015, according to a Pennsylvania Economy League study of district growth patterns, he said.

"I think that's not practical, even with new architectural designs," Michael said of a school that size. Michael said he favors renovation of the existing high school and construction of a second school.


The school board, however, has a building plan calling for a 2,800-student high school, Business Manager Rick Vensel said. The board has also discussed converting the existing 50-year-old high school and Faust into middle schools.

"It comes to a numeric conclusion, not a programmatic conclusion," Vensel said of the growth study, which will be the subject of a meeting of the district's Curriculum and Instruction Committee on Wednesday, Nov. 16.

"It is very enlightening," Vensel said of the study.

"It will take more resources to run two individual high schools" Michael told the group of about 50 residents, board members and school officials. Students, however, would have more opportunities to participate in sports and other activities at smaller schools, he said.

Dividing the district between two high schools presents other challenges, one of which is making them as demographically equal as possible so there is no perceived disparity, he said.

"With the potential of referenda mandates coming up, are we going to be able to swing the cost of two high schools?" board member Thomas Orndorf said afterward. The cost of two schools over one for the same number of students is significantly higher, he said.

A property tax relief plan approved by the Pennsylvania General Assembly and Gov. Edward Rendell was rejected by Chambersburg and most of the state's other 500 school districts last year. A revamped plan being pushed by Rendell would still require taxpayer approval of budgets raising property taxes above an inflationary index set by the state.

"Each candidate is going to have their opinions based on their beliefs ... the high school situation being one of them," Board President Craig Musser said.

An assistant superintendent since 1999, Michael told those attending the meeting that he is a lifelong resident of the district and a graduate of its school system. That gives him insight into the system and the community that other candidates would have to acquire.

The public forums for the candidates continue Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Faust with West Shore School District Superintendent Richard Domencic, followed by Windber Area School District Superintendent Joseph Padasak on Thursday and Fannett-Metal School District Superintendent Dana R. Baker on Monday, Nov. 14.

The board intends to vote on who will replace retiring Superintendent Edwin Sponseller at its Nov. 30 meeting, Musser said.

After today's election, the board will have one or two new members when it reorganizes in December. Musser said the current board will make the decision on a new superintendent because the members are experienced in the issues facing the district.

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