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Fate of Coldbrook, Marion schools in hands of Chambersburg board

November 11, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- The future of Coldbrook and Marion elementary schools rests in the hands of Chambersburg Area School Board members, who are expected to decide Nov. 18 whether to close the schools.

Superintendent Joseph Padasak and the board discussed the possibility of closing the schools at Wednesday's board meeting. For months, outspoken parents and former students have peppered the board with questions about the plan, but Padasak said closing both remains his recommendation.

Coldbrook, which is near Chambersburg Memorial YMCA, enrolls 131 students and averages $84,000 a year in facilities costs. It needs a new, $700,000 heating system almost immediately and several other repairs in coming years, Padasak said.

Marion enrolls 140 students and costs $47,500 a year to maintain. It needs new windows and roofing repairs, the superintendent said.

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One plan presented in September would send Coldbrook students to Fayetteville Elementary School and Marion students to Benjamin Chambers Elementary School.

Because of parent complaints, Assistant Superintendent Catherine Dusman said the leading plan now involves changing attendance areas everywhere. That effort was already under way, but she said parents wanted Coldbrook and Marion children included in those changes if the schools closed.

"Monetarily it'd be less for us to move the attendance areas and send them to nearby schools. They wouldn't move as a group," she said, saying new attendance areas should be announced in February.

Chambersburg maintains an open enrollment policy that allows parents to choose which elementary school their child attends.

Cost-savings associated with closing the schools would largely be tied to personnel changes, Padasak said. The vast majority of teachers would move to other schools, but the need for support staff would be lessened.

Questions remain about transportation, Padasak said.

"We haven't decided definitely where these children are going, so we don't know the costs," he said.

"I think we've been misled that newer and fancier schools will cost less to operate," board member Fred Rice said.

Rice asked Padasak whether he'll return in a few years and say he needs more classroom space.

Padasak responded that he can't guarantee that won't happen, but he understands the district's tight finances prohibit building projects in the next five to 10 years.

"Building is out of the question," he said.

Board member Anne Boryan questioned whether the district would keep as many Lincoln Intermediate Unit 12 classes for special education students within its buildings. Padasak responded that holding onto them remains his intent because most of the students hail from the Chambersburg district.

The superintendent acknowledged that Coldbrook and Marion have good Pennsylvania System of School Assessment scores, but he did note they do not test subgroups like special education because the population of those students is low at each of the schools.

Board member Dave Sciamanna said he has concerns that closing schools could negatively affect "the fabric of the community," and asked about possible futures for the structures themselves. Padasak said potential buyers have already asked about Coldbrook, but he doesn't know how easily Marion would sell.

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