C-M parents get answers on redistricting

March 31, 2014
Members of Canon-McMillan School Board listened last month to a presentation from Assistant Superintendent Scott Chambers on a proposed redistricting plan that would affect 50 students. - Emily Petsko / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

CANONSBURG – “Band-Aid” has been the buzzword on everyone’s lips in Canon-McMillan School District lately. They’re referring, of course, to the proposed redistricting plan devised by administrators to curb overcrowding in schools – a plan many parents have opposed since it was presented to school board members three weeks ago.

At an informational session held in the high school auditorium Monday, parents argued the plan to transfer 50 elementary students to neighboring schools would do little to alleviate the ever-increasing population. The district’s population has grown by 1 percent, or about 50 students, over the past school year. This has led to disproportionate class sizes, with some schools squeezing 27 desks into a room, while others have fewer than 20 students per class.

“We’re getting new students, but they’re not evenly spread throughout the district,” said Assistant Superintendent Scott Chambers.

The proposed “micro-redistricting” plan would transfer a group of first-, second- and third-graders from Cecil Elementary to Hills-Hendersonville; from Muse Elementary to Cecil Elementary; and from Borland Manor Elementary to South Central Elementary. Roughly 20 kindergarten students also would be affected by redistricting.

Chambers acknowledged the plan is immediate and short-term, but he said it is a necessary first step in a larger conceptual facilities plan that could involve the construction of a new school. The district hired an architect last October to begin looking at options.

In addition to transferring students, administrators hope to transfer teachers to Cecil Intermediate School’s sixth grade and to North Strabane Intermediate School’s fifth grade. The plan also would account for growth in Wylandville and Hills Hendersonville schools, which are both expecting an influx of children from the incoming residential developments.

Administrators said redistricting would eliminate the need to hire six-and-a-half additional teachers at an average cost of salary with benefits at $68,000 per teacher. The district also could avoid the implementation of portable classrooms at a cost of about $60,000 per unit. Chambers pointed to the $750,000 already being paid this school year for repairs to deteriorating school facilities.

“I think if you add teachers and portable classrooms, and you continue to dump money into facilities that are deteriorating, that’s not a Band-Aid – that’s opening the wound larger than it already is,” Chambers said.

Students affected by the plan would be able to attend a visit and summer orientation at their new schools. The district would also provide a support group for those students.

However, parents worry about the consequences of uprooting children who have already made friends and built a rapport with teachers in their current schools. Others said it doesn’t make sense for children to take a 30-minute bus ride to school when they can currently walk to class.

And parents have not taken a back seat in the conversation. A Facebook page called “Canon Mac Redistricting” created March 14 already has garnered more than 250 “likes.” A petition is also making its rounds, stating that “removing the children from their current schools on an individual basis will cause unnecessary stress.”

School board members will likely vote on the redistricting plan during the April 14 meeting. Superintendent Michael Daniels said administrators will consider all comments from Monday’s meeting and will present any revisions to the plan a week before the voting meeting.

Emily Petsko joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in June 2013. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor's degree in journalism and global cultural studies.

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