Students in the Canon-McMillan School District are preparing to end the school year, but only 50 elementary students will be gearing up for a new beginning in a new school this fall.
Those students, selected by the administration, will relocate to neighboring elementary schools for the 2014-15 school year as part of a redistricting plan to curb class sizes and eliminate additional costs. Affected students will have orientations in their new schools by the end of the school year and will have the opportunity to attend another orientation in the summer.
After many lively discussions and debates within the district, the school board approved the redistricting plan with a 6-1 vote at its meeting Tuesday evening. Board members Mark Dopudja, Maureen Helinski, Paul Scarmazzi, Darla Bowman-Monaco, Manuel Pihakis and Joseph Zupancic voted in favor of the motion. Board members Zeffie Carroll and Eric Kline were absent.
Michael Caporizzo was the sole board member who voted against redistricting. Caporizzo said the plan “just didn’t feel right,” but declined to go into further detail.
The “microredistricting” plan will 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 will be affected by redistricting. Students were selected based on their geographical location.
The district’s population grew by 1 percent, or about 50 students, over the past school year. Administrators said the move is necessary to reduce overcrowding in classrooms and to sidestep additional costs of up to $500,000 for renting portable classrooms and hiring additional teachers.
While the administration defended redistricting ever since introducing the plan to the public in early March, a large and vocal group of parents continued to attend meetings to speak out against the plan.
Nicole Pawlos, a parent whose two children will be relocating to Hills Hendersonville from Cecil Elementary, helped distribute a petition that garnered about 200 signatures asking the board to vote against the redistricting plan.
Prior to the board’s vote, Pawlos said the “data doesn’t make sense,” and questioned why 50 children needed to be uprooted to open up a small number of classroom seats.
Michelle Jendral also asked the board to vote against redistricting.
“The district admits this is only a band-aid solution that does not give way to any long term solution,” Jendral said. “What it does give way to is a great deal of emotional trauma that a young child should not have to endure. These few select kids are going to be ripped away from all they have known as far as a school family.”
After listening to comments, board President Paul Scarmazzi said the board empathized with parents.
“We’ve had children that have gone to this school district, and if we were in your seats we would be just as passionate, too,” Scarmazzi said. “But we do believe this administration has integrity and intelligence and accurate information.”
Also during the meeting, a Pittsburgh-based architect gave a presentation on a potential plan for the district that would include the construction of a new elementary school.
J. Greer Hayden, an architect from HHSDR, said the firm rated all elementary schools in the district as being in “poor” condition, with the exception of South Central. Hayden said these building structures are not necessarily failing or unsafe, but “major improvements” would be needed to improve the rating.
The conceptual facilities plan calls for the creation of one large elementary school to replace Muse Elementary. Cecil and First Street elementary schools also would be closed if the administration goes forward with the plan.
The project, estimated to cost close to $30 million, would construct a new K-4 school on the Muse Elementary site, with a target occupancy date of 2016. The building would include 8 kindergarten classrooms, 26 regular classrooms and additional special needs classrooms.
Scarmazzi said the district has put a lot of thought into a conceptual facilities plan over the past year, which presents “some exciting things and challenging things, as well.”