Our opinion: Nibbling at the plan

It is clear that the Warren County School District administration is enlisting the support of parents of Learning Enrichment Center students to keep the former Allegheny Valley Elementary School building open.

Seldom, if ever in recent memory, have parents been given an administration-led tour of a building as a “potential” site for their children’s education.

There just must be something about AVES.

It’s complicated, of course, involving the retention of the current location of the district’s computer server farm and some other financial consideration that, frankly, challenge the math involved.

But something else came out of the tour last week, that gives us even greater pause.

During the discussion, someone asked about the $250,000 a year it would cost to keep the facility operating, apparently trying to square that figure with the $70,000 a year it costs to maintain the LEC where it is now. The quarter-million figure was remembered from the closing hearing for AVES and part of the fiscal rationale for “The Grand Plan,” the master facilities plan in which the cost of maintain four high schools was justified with the closing of a number of elementary schools, including AVES.

In response to the question Buildings and Grounds Director Norbert Kenneknecht pinned that number on a former school superintendant and tossed water on it. “That’s not necessarily how we operate,” Kennerknect said, adding that keeping it open could be as little as half that amount. Is this not information the building and grounds director could have offered when he was present at the closing hearing and providing input for the master facilities plan?

What other “soft” numbers were used to justify the plan for which Warren County taxpayers are on the hook to the tune of $20 million in bonds? And that’s just the money to convert Eisehower and Sheffield middle/high schools to K-12 facilities.

And, it begs other questions. Since the school board turned down more than $100,000 it was offered for the former South Street Early Learning Center, is designing a long-term use of the Russell Elementary for a Central Office facility, and considering moving the LEC to AVES, doesn’t that mean that half of the elemtentary facilities slated to be closed won’t be?

Even if one of these buildings is envisioned for temporary use – say a year or so – to shuffle students during subsequent renovations at Warren Area High School, shouldn’t that expense have been figured into the aforementioned master facilities plan justification?

It seems to us that the district is nibbling away at a plan that significantly changed the face of educational facilities in Warren County, a plan that was not without serious questions at the time it was adopted. Ultimately, the plan was adopted to satisfy some powerful political influences, but justified with numbers.

Now, after the point of no return, more and more of those numbers are looking “soft,” and the board and the administration at least appear to be patching holes in the plan as they appear.

When you place a county under a total debt of more than $40 million – include improvements to Beaty-Warren Middle School and Warren Area High School – there shouldn’t be as many holes as we are seeing now.