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Lawmakers tour Pa. school facing possible closure

March 19, 2009|by KATE S. ALEXANDER

Students and alums fight to save school

SCOTLAND, PA. -- Three key members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly visited the Scotland School for Veterans Children Thursday to put a face on a controversy that some say has united Harrisburg, Pa., lawmakers.

In his budget address in February, Gov. Ed Rendell proposed closing the 114 year-old school. Representatives of Rendell argued the state will save $13.5 million a year by closing the boarding school, which posts less-than-acceptable scores on state tests in reading and math.

Rep. Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin/Cumberland, who opposes closing the school, on Thursday welcomed two fellow lawmakers from across the aisle, Ronald G. Waters, D-Philadelphia, and Bryan Barbin, D-Johnstown, to his district to tour the school and meet the students and staff.

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Kauffman said he wanted key representatives to have a tangible argument for the school before they decide its fate in June.

"It's important that, to these representatives, the Scotland School is not just a line item on paper, but that it's a tangible issue," he said. "I wanted to put a face on this so they can see what is at stake here."

In a briefing, Superintendent Ronald Grandel told the legislators of the school's success, including making the final four in the state basketball championships this year. He also addressed its questionable test scores.

"Yes, we like to show off our athletics, but we also like to show off our academics," he said. "Our students were just as upset as the adults when we did not make AYP (adequate yearly progress) last year."

Scotland has had years where it met the adequate yearly progress standards set in the federal No Child Left Behind Act. It has also had years where it has not, Grandel said.

Supporters of the school have until June 30 to write the school back into the budget for fiscal year 2010, Kauffman said.

"If the school is not funded by the June 30 budget deadline, it will close," he said.

Waters, who chairs the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, said many of the students are the children of his constituents.

Meeting the children made keeping the school open even more pressing for Waters.

Isiah Anderson, a Scotland alumnus and member of the Board of Trustees, said for many of the students, the school is their only door to a better life.

Terrance Williams, 13, agreed in his essay, "What Scotland is to Me."

"It (Scotland School) gives students the chance to be anything they want to be," he wrote. "If you take this learning facility, home and once in a lifetime opportunity away from us we will just be that 87 percent (of children) that never make it anywhere."

Waters and Kauffman said they are optimistic the school will avoid closure for a second time since it opened in 1895, because it has transcended political barriers.

"This is truly a bipartisan issue," Waters said. "It is not about Democrats or Republicans, it is about the education of our children."

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