James Buchanan High School renovation gets mixed reviews

September 04, 2008|By DON AINES

ST. THOMAS, Pa. -- Tuscarora School District officials said the ongoing teachers' strike and the proposed $35 million renovation of James Buchanan High School are unrelated issues, but some of the 200 people attending Wednesday night's town meeting on the project said otherwise.

In a few short days -- Tuesday, Sept. 9 -- residents of the district will vote up or down on the high school project in a special election made necessary because the anticipated tax increase to fund it likely will exceed a cap set by the state.

"That's a short-term problem ... They always get solved one way or another," Superintendent Rebecca Erb said of the strike that kept classes from starting on Tuesday. The renovation of the high school, she said, is a long-term issue affecting the district for the next 40 years.

"This is a small school district. The same people in charge ... are providing leadership in both instances," said resident William Little. He criticized the board for not reaching an agreement with teachers since the last contract expired in June 2007.


"There's only so much we can afford. We're about maxed out in a bad economy," Little said of the cost of the building project.

"I'm sorry to say I don't trust you, but we can still be friends," Little said.

Allen Piper, president of Citizens for Responsible Government, said the strike and the project are connected, since money for the teachers' salaries and the school will both be included in future budgets.

Others spoke in favor of the project.

"I'm going to vote yes on this. We've got to cooperate for the future," said Tim Rockwell, who once taught in the district. "I'm going to vote for those who don't have a vote. Our children and our grandchildren."

For some, the athletics facilities included in the project are less important than classroom improvements.

"I'd rather have my kids learning reading, writing, math and science," said Shawn Myers, a father of four. "If we don't need the track, don't do the track. If we don't need the pool, don't do the pool."

Myers said he did not know how he will vote next week, but that the school needs to be renovated.

Some residents said they lived on fixed incomes and the 7 percent or more increase they will see in taxes over each of the next few years would be an economic hardship.

Should the referendum be voted down, Principal Rodney Benedick said the district will continue patching and repairing the school. He and Erb noted the plan was developed over nearly two years.

School Board President Jane Rice said the district can neither advocate for or against the referendum under state law, or publicly discuss the details of contract negotiations.

The district serves students in the borough of Mercersburg and surrounding townships.

Another meeting on the project is scheduled for tonight at 6:30 at the high school.

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