New Castle News

March 10, 2013

Board members speak out

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — New Castle school directors expressed their sentiments about enrollment and how students will fit into the Lockley Early Learning Center.

The board learned last week that actual enrollment in elementary grades is higher than Pennsylvania Department of Education projections used in calculations for the new school, which will house all kindergarten through second-grade classes.

Some are skeptical of how the current administration and recently retired superintendent, George Gabriel, planned the project with the architect, David Esposito of Eckles Architecture and Engineering. Others say there is no problem and they trust the plans will accommodate the students. Here are some of their comments:

•David DiGiammarino, board president — “The board was presented with its first look at current enrollment projections for the new Lockley School on Feb. 26. The current projections showed an increase in enrollment compared to the information used to promote the consolidation in the past. This current presentation showed initial class sizes up to 28 children in first and second grades.

“This initiated an intense discussion on the project. How do we accommodate all the children if enrollment continues to increase or stay the same? Why are we just seeing these projections? What are the administrative recommendations to deal with these potential issues and class size? What is the financial impact of these recommendations?

“It appears that any potential financial savings in this project is slowly diminishing.

“At this point, there are more questions than answers. I was told that central administration will review all options and will present to the board in the near future.”

•Dr. Marilyn Berkely — “They’ve not told us true things before. Those numbers Stan (Magusiak, acting superintendent) gave us were pretty compelling and it really upset a lot of us.

“The architect told us that when the building opened it would be at 78 percent capacity, and there would be a lot of space left over. That’s a big swing at 28 or 29 per class. Those are pretty big numbers.

“The board is only as good as the information that’s given to them. We saw numbers and that’s what we can go by. When parents see these numbers, they’re going to say ‘Holy cow, what happened?’ We’re going to be $98 million in debt, too.

“It makes us leery about what’s real life and what’s happening. And what happens if enrollment goes up?”

•Barbara Razzano — “We were not told by the previous superintendent, Eckles or the administration that the building would not be able to hold all the students, as originally planned.

“Now we have to use the remedial rooms, etc. I thought the point in having these ‘specialized’ rooms was to give the children the ‘state-of-the-art’ construction. Now we don’t seem to need them.

“Lastly, was the issue with the George Washington building. I specifically asked last year Mark Elisco, the previous principal, about space and his response was ‘every room is being utilized.’ We could not possibly put any additional students there.

“All of a sudden, several months later, we have about 10 rooms available to house these third-graders. One board member walked the halls of George Washington recently (with permission of both principals) only to find that it isn’t in the shape we have been told.

“Again, a building was not maintained by the administration and more money needs to be put into that building.

“We have the highest taxes in the area. We can’t go any higher, so when people run on this premise, it appalls me. The reason for the large fund balance, in my opinion, is because we haven’t maintained buildings as they should have been, in the past.

“Why weren’t these buildings maintained under the previous administration in the first place? Why did we sell Ben Franklin? A lot of these issue/concerns were a big part of my decision in me voting no, and I still regret being forced to make that yes vote.”

•Stacey Fleo — “My concern was seeing those numbers with 28 in a classroom. I didn’t get nervous because Mr. Gabriel really knew what he was doing when it came to that building project.

“That’s why I was hoping he could have stayed on as the interim (superintendent). He knew those building plans inside and out. I think people were just panicking.”

•Karen Humphrey — I don’t see a big problem with the situation. Personally, I felt it was good news to hear our numbers aren’t dropping as rapidly as the department of education numbers had indicated. What I had read (in an email) from Joe (Ambrosini, district business manager) was that the building would be able to accommodate the additional number of students. We had to use the department of education numbers in the PlanCon process, but the actual numbers ended up being higher than were estimated.

“I’d rather have our numbers stay up. Maybe it’s a sign people are staying and are coming into the district, I look at it more as positive for the community.”

•Mary Ann Tofel — “I’m scared. I really am afraid. I have no idea in what direction we’re going to go financially.

“I have always wanted that (early learning center) building.

“I fought for it through every election. I knew the condition of the rest of the primary centers and they’re not good. I’m happy that it’s proceeding.

“I’m not happy about the class sizes, but if we can use the extra rooms to keep class sizes down, we’ll use them.”