MILTON — After hearing from five members of the community opposed to closing the Montandon Elementary School, the Milton Area School District school board voted 7-2 during its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday to shutter the school, effective July 31.
Board members Kelly Everitt and Dr. Leocadia Paliulis voted against closing the school. Voting in favor were board President David Edinger, Vice President Brett Hosterman and members Kevin Fry, Andrew McNeal, Eric Moser, Christine Rantz and Dr. Alvin Weaver.
Following the meeting, Superintendent Dr. Cathy Keegan said administrators will now begin looking at the process of transitioning Montandon staff and students to Baugher Elementary School for the 2019-2020 school year. Bus routes will also be examined.
Daphne Snook, the district’s director of Elementary Education, said at a March public hearing on the possible closure of the school that the district is estimating it will save $241,711 per year by closing Montandon.
She noted that Baugher has the capacity to accept the 132 students enrolled at Montandon, which had one classroom for each grade level, kindergarten through fifth grade.
During the May 7 board work session, Baugher Principal David Slater said his school has eight empty classrooms, six of which would be filled if Montandon students would be moved to Baugher.
Mike and Kara Medley, along with Rachael Glasoe, Vaughn Murray and Carrie Beachy each asked the board members on Tuesday to carefully consider the consequences of closing the Montandon school.
“I think the decision is a little hasty and quick minded,” Mike Medley said prior to the vote to close the school. “The decisions that aren’t fully thought through are going to affect the children directly.”
Glasoe, an attorney by trade, told the board she has found research which indicates smaller schools have better academic and safety results than larger schools.
Beachy had similar comments.
“I haven’t found an elementary school in Pennsylvania with 900 students that’s performing well,” Beachy said. “I feel our talking is falling on deaf ears. Is it worth $200,000 to bring down the scores for a school district that’s already struggling?”
Rantz asked Cpl. Chad Lehman, a member of the Milton Police Department who was on duty at the meeting, to respond to the concerns about school safety. Lehman said he would have to direct all inquiries on the matter to Chief Curt Zettlemoyer.
During a previous discussion, Edinger said Zettlemoyer indicated to the board that due to its geographical location in the borough, officers would have a quicker response time if an incident occurred at Baugher, as opposed to having to wait on law enforcement to arrive at Montandon or White Deer elementary schools.
Edinger read a lengthy statement prior to the board’s vote to close the school.
“The school board has been tasked with an incredibly difficult situation,” Edinger said. “Montandon elementary, while near and dear to the hearts of many, has consistently seen lower attendance numbers and a host of building issues.”
He said some opposed to closing the school have been spreading false information through local news media and social media outlets. According to Edinger, the individuals have provided false information and claimed they couldn’t obtain information from district leadership.
“These accusations are absolutely false,” he said. “As an elected body of concerned leaders in education, we pray and hope that our community members do their diligence, research and communicate truths when engaging their fellow community members.”
Edinger said the board members are “ready and willing to represent the wishes of our district and our community.
“We’ll do it honestly, transparently and in the best interest of our most precious resources, our children,” Edinger said.
Later in the meeting, Edinger said he has the utmost respect for all board members.
“We worked through a difficult time, with the idea of possibly closing Montandon,” he said. “I appreciate you (board members). This is one of the finest boards I’ve been associated with.”
Edinger noted the board will likely be calling a special committee meeting in July to address a host of issues that remain on the district’s plate.
Among the action items approved on Tuesday, the board agreed to contract with The Architectural Studio, of Emmaus, for renovations to the district’s athletic facilities, Baugher Elementary School and high school.
Following the meeting, Keegan said the motions have paved the way for the board to now determine the scope of potential renovations to those two buildings, as well as the track.
The Architectural Studio recently completed a $59,200 feasibility study outlining potential renovations needed in the district.
During a board work session, John Howard of The Architectural Studio, said Baugher is in need of between $1 and $10 million in renovations. One proposal also calls for an eight-classroom addition to be built onto the current school in order to transform the building into the district’s elementary center.
It was also noted that Montandon was in need of $4.1 million worth of renovations, while renovations to White Deer Elementary School were estimated at $4.7 million.
Hosterman previously said financial advisors informed the board the district could borrow up to $20 million for a renovation project without having an impact on the taxpayers due to a debt restructuring, which would take place in conjunction with the borrowing.
The board on Tuesday approved a motion to authorize administrators to work with PFM Financial Advisors to secure rates to potentially borrow $30 million over a three-year period for a capital plan. The motion stated that $10 million would be borrowed in 2019.
During her presentation to the board, Melissa Hughes of PFM Financial Advisors, said she would report back to the board in July on what the interest rates would be if the board approves moving forward with borrowing the funds.
Staff writer Kevin Mertz can be reached at 570-742-9671 or email email@example.com.