Southern Tioga votes to close 2 schools

BLOSSBURG – In a surprise move, the Southern Tioga School District voted to not only close North Penn High School next year, but also to close the Liberty Elementary School and begin procedures to hold the required public hearings for both.

Board members Kyle Lefheloc and Dan Berguson, were not in attendance.

Following an update from interim board manager Brian Driscoll that was not good news, the board first discussed and then voted to close the North Penn High School.

According to Driscoll, the cumulative losses in the spread sheets he reviewed last month, “do not work” because they didn’t include cumulative losses from year to year for either option, either closing North Penn or closing Liberty High School, presented last month.

“In essence, the way the spread sheets were constructed relied on yearly differentials and the cumulative losses are not carried forward so it does not work. We also looked at other calculations and the revenues and expenditures projected do not present a full picture of the yearly revenues and expenditures, and there are underlying assumptions we have no way of fully validating,” he said.

According to Driscoll, the numbers apply to both proposals and are “playing out the same so I think it is apples to apples as to how it will impact the future financial standing of the district.”

“Given the numbers that are in these projections and impact on future standing, this is probably the first of many hard decisions the board will be asked to make. I would recommend this to be step one and that the board continue to look at savings opportunities for the district.”

According to new district business manager Kathy Ciaciulli, the unassigned fund balance remaining after debt service payments are made will be $358,000 at the end of the fiscal year in June.

“We have a debt service payment of $3 million, with revenue of $27 million and expenditures of $29 million, leaving a deficit of $1.6 million. With a prior year adjustment it rises to $1.9 million, and we would need to use the fund balance to cover that,” she said.

The following years are no better, she said.

“In 2004-15 there is no more unassigned fund balance and it just worsens in 2015-16 so it is clear something must be done,” she added.

Before the vote to un-table the motion, which was originally made at the September meeting, board member Barb Shull asked board president Ivan Erway “if this motion is approved, there is no reason to consider any other option, correct?”

“The board could add others at future meetings and create other 780 hearings,” he said.

Board member Frank Kollar, then asked if a substitute motion could be presented.

Board secretary Penny Crowell responded that “if no one makes a motion to take it off the table, it stays on the table and other motions can be made.”

“Only the one specified in the 780 process can be reviewed according to the board’s attorney,” Erway said.

Kollar then motioned to close the Liberty Elementary School as well.

That vote was four to three, with Kollar, board members Stephen Hall, John Martin and Erway voting in favor, and board member Sally Knipe, Shull and Jaquish voting against.

Before he made the motion to close Liberty Elementary School, Kollar hinted at what he wanted to do in a brief address to the public.

“For the last several years, we have had declining enrollment of about 100 students, amounting to about $500,000, and this year we have lost another 117 students, so keeping Liberty is another $500,000 to keep it open. That’s a million dollars; how do we recoup that money? If we continue down this road, we cannot fiscally be responsible and maintain what we are doing. My personal view is we need to close at least two schools,” he said, adding “we need to put all the buildings in the discussion and to go about it in a business fashion.”

Kollar’s motion was called into question by Harry Gerrish, of Liberty, who wanted to know what he had based it on.

“What criteria did you use to start a 780 proceeding for Liberty Elementary School?” he asked.

“Financial exigency and plans that were already set up,” Kollar responded.

“So in your opinion Liberty Elementary would save the most money by being closed,” Gerrish added.

“I can’t answer that because I don’t know how much it would cost. The plan was originally that Liberty Elementary School would go across the street to Liberty High School.”

“Where will the Liberty High School students be?” another resident asked.

“That is up to redistricting to be decided by the management team,” Kollar said.

“You are closing two high schools,” she said.

“No, I am trying to force an action. I am trying to get us off dead center. We have been doing the same thing for two years,” Kollar said.