District reaffirms intention to close South Street school

“Publicly, we’re stating at this time that we are going to close South Street (Early Learning Center).”

That’s the message that Gary Weber, the Warren County School District’s director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, brought to the school board’s Curriculum, Instruction and Technology Committee meeting on Monday night.

“We’re working to plan out the transition,” he added.

Superintendent Brandon Hufnagel made the proposal earlier this month. He said the closure will save the district $500,000 in 2013-2014, with additional savings to be found in the future in decreased facilities maintenance costs.

While concerns about the proposal, including transportation and space exist, the district’s administration is not prepared to address them publicly yet.

“The administration will address those specifically at the next committee meetings,” Weber said. “(We) will lay out a plan as to how that is going to happen. It’s important to remember there are other aspects we have to review. (We) will have to look at changes county-wide if that is going to happen.”

He explained that Hufnagel brought South Street principal Ann Buerkle and Warren Area Elementary Center principal Ruth Nelson together before Christmas to discuss the possibility of the shift.

“This isn’t just a hunch or hasn’t been casually tossed around,” said Weber. “It is a very feasible option at this point.”

The board will ultimately have to approve the closure.

The first step of the process, a closure hearing, was held last June and covered South Street as well as the elementary schools in the eastern and northern attendance areas.

Board Vice President Donna Zariczny asked whether the administration could prepare a schedule of the different events that must occur prior to the vote.

That includes notice to employees.

“In the event a school board shall determine prior to the beginning of the next school term to close any school or department, sixty (60) days’ notice, in writing, prior to the closing of any school or department, shall be given to all temporary professional and professional employees affected thereby, unless such action shall advance the orderly development of attendance area within an approved administrative unit and has been approved by the Department of Public Instruction,” according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Another piece of the puzzle that must fit to close South Street is moving sixth grade from Warren Area Elementary Center back to Beaty-Warren Middle School. The grade was shifted to WAEC for this academic year to accommodate renovations at Beaty.

“One of the things that Brandon (Hufnagel) and Norbert (Kennerknecht) have been working on is making this happen,” Amy Stewart, director of administrative support services, told the committee. “We can say publicly that sixth grade is going back to Beaty.”

She said that administration is “coming up with plans as we speak on how we want to make that transition and how it is going to look when they return.”