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It's Official; Elementary Schools Going Up for Sale

The school board went about the formal business of closing the Wyalusing Elementary School Monday night—the last of the four in the district for which this process hasn't been completed. That doesn't take effect until the end of the current school year, since all of them are currently educating students, but it clears the way for selling the buildings and properties in Camptown, Laceyville, New Albany and Wyalusing.

The total appraised value of all four properties, according to Superintendent Ray Fleming, is no more than $1 million.

The Wyalusing Area School Board's meeting Monday at the high school cafeteria, a combined work session and special meeting, started out with a public hearing for the closing of the Wyalusing Elementary School. This has to be done, as it was with the other three elementary parcels, before the district can proceed with whatever plans it has for the properties beyond the current school year.

All elementary students in the district, some 850 of them, will be moving into the new consolidated elementary school adjacent to the high school at the start of the next school year. That's on the calendar for Sept. 1, with teachers reporting on Aug. 29.

The formal hearing, complete with a stenographer, started with an explanation, for the record, of the history and need for construction that led the district to this juncture.

It concluded with the opportunity for public comment. There was none. One neighbor of the school building attended because she had seen the legal notice for the closure procedure in the newspaper but left after the brief hearing was adjourned and before the start of the work session. It was an anticlimactic ending to a process that began with such heated debate and even led to a couple of school directors being unseated due to their pro-consolidation stances.

No Use Keeping Them

During the work session, there was more discussion of how to proceed with the elementary schools. None of the directors was in favor of keeping any of the properties, other than retaining mineral rights, and it was agreed to proceed with a general advertisement that these properties will be for sale. At least one party has shown an interest in the properties, Director Vince Amoroso noted, but the purpose of advertising their availability is to determine what kind of interest there is out there. No realtor will be involved in the process at this stage.

Discussion in the impending budget process revealed that the appraised value of the elementary schools is barely half of the budget gap the district faces for the coming school year. Fleming stated that they are currently looking at revenues about $1.8 million less than what they will have to spend. That's about the amount of their current fund balance, and they are not about to clear out that account to balance one budget. Fleming explained that the options they are looking at now could take about $600,000 out of the fund balance.

Even though that $1.8 million budget gap is about the same as it was last year at this time, the difference, according to the superintendent, is the state will not be as generous with its subsidies as it was last year when the district actually got a little more than anticipated.

Fleming says the school district is receiving about $1 million more from the state than it did when he took over as chief administrator in the 2003-04 school year.

State Funding Cuts?

For the first time, he says there will probably be less coming from the state than the previous budget year.

There are going to be some things that have to go, he told the board, and that includes dipping into the fund balance for a few hundred thousand dollars.

Director Tari Trowbridge, whose expertise is finances, commented that she found it hard to believe that overall projected expenditures have gone up 10 percent. In response, Fleming mentioned a 10 percent increase in health care and about 3.5 percent in salaries, not counting attrition and retirements. The biggest hit on the district budget over the last few years, he said, is in special education funding.

March will be a critical month for the budget as the entire board will be meeting as a committee of the whole to make some tough decisions on spending and potential revenue sources.

In other school board business, aside from approving some travel requests, the school directors:

—accepted the resignation of long-time elementary aide Dianne Bennett from her position at the end of this school year. Director Chad Salsman, who said he remembers Mrs. Bennett as an aide when he was a student, recommended that in accepting the resignation the board offer its sincere thanks for her service;

—approved the BLaST general operations budget for 2011-12 at $1,920,983, with a district assessment of zero dollars, and

—approved the calendar for the 2011-12 school year. That calendar may be viewed at the school district website (wyalusingrams.com) by going to the agenda for the Feb. 28th meeting and the link for the attachment with the item on adopting the calendar.

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