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Districts could get more time on career center decision

March 15, 2007|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Many details of a proposal by the Chambersburg Area School District to take over operation of the Franklin County Career and Technology Center remain unclear, so the school board will likely push back an April 1 deadline for the other districts to accept or reject the plan.

"We've been unable to formulate a complete proposal" to present to the other five districts, said board member Stanley Helman, who also serves on the career center's Joint Operating Committee. Helman said the April 1 deadline set last year cannot be met and more time is needed.

Helman said that response to the proposal from the other districts - Waynesboro, Greencastle-Antrim, Tuscarora, Fannett-Metal and Shippensburg - has been "very favorable," but some board members said they do not know much about the plan.

"Has someone developed a business plan to show us what this means in dollars and cents?" asked board member Renee Sharpe. She said the board needs to first know if it can afford the plan, which involves Chambersburg taking over the center and having the other districts pay tuition for their students to attend.

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"I feel like the dog chasing the car. All right, we caught the car. What do we do with it?" Board President Thomas Orndorf said.

Orndorf wanted to know what the operational costs will be; whether the district can use bond money to improve a facility it does not own; and what will be included in the curriculum.

"I have to admit, we were a little naive on how difficult all these elements would be," Helman said. He suggested a final plan be presented to the school board in May and then be forwarded to the center's Joint Operating Committee at the end of that month.

The individual school districts would have until the end of June to vote on the plan, Helman said.

The board will vote on March 28 on pushing back the deadline.

"There are certainly a lot of questions ... This is an extremely complicated transaction," said board member David Sciamanna. Whatever course the district takes, including creating its own career center, entails risk, he said.

Orndorf said the cost of building a center on the district's Greenvillage property would not be justified.

Chambersburg this year created its own comprehensive program at the center, with its students attending all year and taking both career and academic courses. The other districts' students attend one semester at the center and one at their home school.

A feasibility study done by architects for Chambersburg estimated the cost of renovating and expanding the center into a comprehensive school at $47 million. Orndorf said the district needs to know if it can go forward with the project without having a budget approved by referendum under Act 1, Pennsylvania's property tax reform law.

The board voted in 2004 to incur $116 million in debt for school construction and has committed itself to a $70 million expansion of the high school. Orndorf said enough money might be left to expand the center, but that could mean sacrificing other projects.

If the plan is approved by all parties, Orndorf said the takeover would probably be phased in over a period of years.

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