Headed to court

LEWISTOWN – Oral arguments are slated to take place at 11 a.m. on March 5, in the Mifflin County Court of Common Pleas to address a lawsuit in which the fate of the Mifflin-Juniata Career Technology Center hangs in the balance.

The CTC is a vocational educational center built in 1968 in Mifflin County where several programs are offered to high school students in both counties. Some of the programs offered at the CTC include Agriculture Technology, Auto Mechanics, Building Trades, Culinary Arts, Cosmetology and Medical Sciences.

Mifflin County School District terminated a long standing agreement with Juniata County during a school board meeting on July 26, 2012. The Board of Directors passed the resolution by a 7-0 vote.

Shortly thereafter the Mifflin County School District, by and through its Board of Directors, filed a lawsuit asking the court to award the district ownership of the land.

The possibility of Juniata County School District filing a petition with the court requesting an injunction to stop the CTC closure, still remains.

At present, Mifflin County School District owns roughly 71 percent of the land, while Juniata County School District owns roughly 29 percent of the land. In addition, 75 percent of the approximately 400 students attending the CTC are from Mifflin County School District, which also incurs 75 percent of the costs, according to court documents.

Since July 2012, both parties have attempted to resolve their differences through the drafting of new “Articles of Agreement,” but cannot come to an agreement and as such the CTC will not be able to operate beyond June 30, 2013, court documents indicate.

In November 2012, Mifflin County School Board approved a motion to look into the feasibility of reopening the Highland Park Elementary building and housing the CTC at that location. The district’s architect, Vern McKissick, presented the board with two concept sketches at their Dec. 20, 2012 board meeting. The Highland Park building measures 67,000 square feet and has a capacity to house the 10 programs currently offered at the CTC. Preliminary costs under the first option would be $7.8 million, with an additional $1.3 million in soft costs. Under a second option, the district would house all its administrative personnel at the building in addition to CTC programs, which would eliminate the current administration building, at a cost of $8.7 million and additional soft costs that could bring the total to over $10 million.

In a letter dated July 9, 2012 and addressed to Juniata County Superintendent Richard J. Musselman, Mifflin County Superintendent James A. Estep writes the Mifflin County “School Board believes that it is in the best interest of our school district to independently pursue the career and technical education needs of our students. As such, the Mifflin County School District will not renew or extend the Articles of Agreement beyond the current term.”

“We (Juniata County School District) feel that it’s illegal. It’s a forced withdraw,” Musselman said. “The Articles of Agreement clearly state that both school districts need to agree if there’s to be a withdrawl.”

The dissolution of the partnership doesn’t make sense fiscally, he said. Both districts have invested money in the CTC to ensure quality vocational education for students. While educational goals haven’t changed for either district, Musselman said times are tough as far as money for public education and the decision to cease joint operation directly affects students who will be entering the workforce.

Estep reiterated the fact that he Mifflin County board of directors is not interested in renewing an agreement with the Juniata County board regarding the shared use of the CTC.

Estep cited “educational and philosophical” differences between the two school districts as one of the reasons not to continue with the agreement past June 30.

“(We) decided it’s in the best interest of Mifflin County students … we desire to use the facility independently of Juniata County,” Estep said.

Estep explained that ultimately the court will decide who will retain the property and if either party should be compensated.

Administrative Director for the CTC Daniel Potutschnig said at this point they are in a holding pattern as they await the outcome of the lawsuit. “Right now it’s just a waiting game.”

In addition to the March 5 hearing, the court will also hear more arguments and or testimony on May 9 and 10.