Montandon supporters cite rising enrollment

Lindsay Kessler believes a ‘baby boom’ in her neighborhood will help to bolster attendance at Montandon Elementary School. She also spoke of her support for keeping the school open during a March hearing on the possible closure of the school.

MONTANDON — The mother of a child who attends kindergarten classes at the Montandon Elementary School believes a “baby boom” in her neighborhood will help bolster the school’s enrollment.

A group of concerned residents — primarily the parents of Montandon students — met recently to outline the many reasons they believe the elementary school should not be closed.

Parents attending the meeting included Dr. Lara Dick, Lindsay Kessler, Carrie Beachy, Kent Strohecker and Mike Medley, along with West Chillisquaque Township Supervisor Vaughn Murray.

Milton Area School District officials have indicated a vote could be made during the June 25 school board meeting on whether to close the elementary school.

During a March public hearing on the matter, Director of Elementary Education Daphne Snook said the district estimates it will save $241,711 per year by closing the school. The students would be relocated to Baugher Elementary School.

Recently, Milton Area School District Superintendent Dr. Cathy Keegan said a feasibility study completed by The Architectural Studio estimates Montandon is in need of $4.1 million in renovations. White Deer Elementary School is estimated to need $4.7 million in renovations, while the proposal for Baugher elementary school calls for between $1 and $10 million in renovations.

One proposal calls for an eight-classroom addition to be built onto the current Baugher building to transform the school into the district’s elementary center.

Recently, Snook said just five years ago Montandon had two classrooms each for students in kindergarten through second grade. The school also had one classroom each for third through fifth-grade students.

Due to declining enrollment, Snook said Montandon now has just one class for each grade level.

Currently, Baugher has five classrooms each for kindergarten and first grade, and four each for grades two through five. White Deer has two classroom for each grade level, kindergarten through fifth.

Kessler and Medley both said they purchased homes in close proximity to the Montandon school so their children would attend classes at that building.

According to Kessler, the development her family lives in — SunLand Meadows — is newer, and currently has about 16 homes.

She said at least 12 children live in the neighborhood who are not yet old enough to attend school.

“It’s a baby boom in our neighborhood,” Kessler said.

During the March public hearing, Snook said only two students from that neighborhood currently attend Montandon, while two also attend the Milton Area High School.

In addition to the number of young children who live in Kessler’s neighborhood, Dick believes there are other signs that Montandon’s enrollment may be increasing.

Dick said she received information from the district indicating 23 students were enrolled in kindergarten at Montandon this school year. That’s up from 19 students who were enrolled for the 2017-2018 school year.

She had not yet studied data from the other grade levels.

Snook said recently that Baugher has a capacity of 650 students, while the current enrollment is 531. Montandon has a capacity to handle 275 students, while the current enrollment is 132.

At White Deer elementary, Snook said 240 students are enrolled, with a building capacity of 425.

Dick, who is a professor of math education at Bucknell University, said she has found a number of scholarly articles indicating schools with a smaller enrollment size are safer than larger schools.

“I am personally not concerned about student safety (with the current building configuration),” Dick said.

In addition to wanting to keep the small-school configuration in the Milton Area School District, the concerned residents also questioned potential uses for the Montandon building if the board opts to close the school.

“That location has limited zoning possibilities,” Murray said. “It’s a mixed residential development. Any type of commercial use of that building would need to go through a (legal) process (to receive special exceptions for use of the property).”

At a West Chillisquaque Township supervisors meeting, Murray said questions came up as to whether the township could be annexed into another school district.

“If the perception is Lewisburg is a better school district, what stops West Chillisquaque Township from saying ‘we want to be part of the Lewisburg Area School District than the Milton Area School District?’” Murray asked.

He said the township’s solicitor was not sure what process would need to be carried out to investigate the possible changing of the township from being part of the Milton school district to the Lewisburg district.

If the residents request the township investigate the possibility of switching school districts, Murray said it would be open to looking into that matter.

During a recent school board committee session, Keegan was questioned on whether a vote to close the Montandon school needed to occur in June.

She said if the board wishes to vote on whether to close Montandon for the 2019-2020 school year, a vote must be made prior to Aug. 1. By that date, she said the collective bargaining agreement requires all teachers to be notified which building they will be working in in the coming school year.

Staff writer Kevin Mertz can be reached at 570-742-9671 or email kevin@standard-journal.com.

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