MIDDLEBURG - Midd-West School District will have two fewer schools next year.
With a couple hundred people watching Monday, the Midd-West School Board voted to close West Beaver and Perry-West Perry elementary schools.
The school board members narrowly split, voting 5-4 in favor of closing the buildings. Opposed to the consolidation were Victor Abate, Ronald Hoffman, Shawn Sassman and Ronald Wilson.
Next year, children in the western part of Snyder County will attend West Snyder Middle School in Beaver Springs, which will become a school for pupils in kindergarten through grade five. Middleburg Elementary School also will house students in grades K-5. Eighth graders will move to the high school, and all sixth- and seventh-grade students will attend Middleburg Middle School. The district also will reduce its staff by about 30 positions.
This option, one of three presented to the board, saves the most money for the school district without cutting programs. The board approved Option 3, splitting 6-3.
A second option, Option 2, would have cut elementary art, music and physical education, library, business education and other programs, but kept the two buildings open. The other option, Option 1, which administrators favored, would have closed the two buildings and grouped grade levels by schools, sending the youngest pupils to Middleburg.
Board President Nancy Kroh said state budget cuts will have a ripple effect for the next three to five years. If the board did not cut its budget this year, the district would be in even worse shape next year, Kroh said.
"We were left to two choices, close schools or cut programs," Kroh said. "I could not in good conscience vote for anything that would be harmful to students' education."
Director Dana Kemberling said she voted to close schools because she wanted to save programs and jobs. She said the two closing schools have technology issues that would take a lot of money to fix.
Option 3, Kemberling said, still keeps children closer to their communities and reduces the amount of time on the bus for young children.
Opposing the vote, Director Ronald Hoffman referred to the school board's history of closing buildings, beginning with two in Beavertown and Penns Creek. Later, its members voted to consolidate the two high schools, and then voted for building projects for the high school and Middleburg Elementary, he said.
"Now we're consolidating," Hoffman said. "We're closing schools that are important for their communities as well. I think we've made a mistake."
Director Shawn Sassman said he supports community-based education over a centralized system.
"By leaving community-based schools, each school could address issues as they wanted to and identify what was important there rather than treating everyone uniformly," Sassman said.
Director Victor Abate said administrators could have done more to reduce the budget in other areas before considering school closures.
"There was an overwhelming outcry across the school district to keep the schools open, ... and there are more than 850 signatures on petitions," Abate said. "I would have voted for Option 2 (program cuts), but it was not brought before the board."
Director Richard Aucker countered that some signatures on the petitions were duplicates. He said many of the people he spoke to wanted Option 3.
Closing the two schools is the result of a $2.3 million budget deficit for 2012-2013 at Midd-West.
Though the proposed $31 million budget was presented Monday, it failed to pass after seven school board members voted against it. The board must approve a final budget by June 30. The current budget includes a tax increase of about 4 percent.
Before the vote, Business Manager Lynn Naugle gave a brief report of the expense and revenue increases in the past decade.
Salary costs have risen by about 2 percent each year, but benefit costs have gone up about 6 percent annually, she said. Overall, expenses have increased by about 4 percent every year, she said.
Similarly, revenue from local, state and national funding also has gone up about 4 percent every year, she said.
Major factors contributing to school district deficits across the state this spring are employee pension increases, reductions in state funding and insurance costs.
Before the vote, Superintendent Wesley Knapp promised that administrators will make work what ever the school board decides.
"I pledge to you that education in Midd-West School District is going to be really fine," Knapp said. "We'll make this as good as it can possibly be."
There is no perfect solution, Knapp told the board. The school district is only as good as its teachers and programs, he said.
Noting the large crowd, Knapp said he was glad to see so many people interested in what is happening at Midd-West.
Also discussed Monday were the number of modular classrooms needed for next year during the construction project at Middleburg Elementary.
Administrators proposed using 11 modular classrooms for the students, but several board members asked if the number could be reduced by putting fifth graders in the middle school.
Knapp said they will explore the issue. He also said they can eliminate some of the modular classrooms by increasing class sizes.
Also during the meeting:
* The Midd-West Future Farmers of America received four agriculture grants. Three of them were awarded to individual students to further their agriculture projects and careers. The fourth, a school and community garden grant, is being used to plant a vegetable garden on the high school grounds. Students are maintaining the crops, and plan to donate the harvest to the Grace Covenant Food Bank. Produce also will be used in home economics classes.
* Architect Jeff Straub presented the high school with its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design plaque for energy efficiency. The district received $460,000 in additional reimbursement for its LEED certification and will save about $100,000 per year on energy costs, he said.
* Knapp said the football boosters have agreed to pay additional funds to support Midd-West football players who co-op with East Juniata High School. A booster club already paid the additional money for the East Juniata players, he said; and the boosters agreed to pay Midd-West's share of $7,000.