LOCK HAVEN - The Lamar Township Elementary School at Salona will be closing its doors for good in June, and while the new school year is distant, Keystone Central School District officials say they are already taking steps to insure a gentle landing for the pupils who will be attending Mill Hall Elementary School next year.
Mill Hall Elementary School Principal Mike Hall and Lamar Township Elementary School Principal Nick Verrelli and their staffs have been working for months to ease the transition.
"Just last week, we held an open house at the Mill Hall Elementary School for the Lamar Township and Sugar Valley students and parents," Superintendent Kelly Hastings said. "Over 100 people attended."
Hastings said parents who attended were acclimated to the school's facilities, told what's going to happen, where to drop off the kids, and "how to deliver notes and such. We wanted to make them feel comfortable and we showed them where the children will be attending classes."
The school board voted last November to transfer the Lamar Twp. students to Mill Hall Elementary School beginning in the 2012-13 school year. In an accompanying move, the board also voted to move the fifth grade at Sugar Valley Elementary School to the Mill Hall facility.
Hastings also said that the parents of those pupils involved in the transfers are receiving regular newsletters to update them on any activities.
"Mike himself is a Lamar Township parent so he has good insight," Hastings said. "He has a handle on the emotions involved in this type of thing."
The action will effect 16 Sugar Valley fourth grade students entering the fifth grade next year, and about 91 pupils from the Salona area.
"There are plans for a field day so the children can actually see where they will be attending classes," Hastings said. "At Salona, they ordered new T-shirts for them, and we want the kids to know that the young people they will be seeing in classes are the same kids they see at after-school activities like sports and tutoring."
The parents will be informed of bus routes, but at this time, Hastings said, no large changes are expected to occur in scheduling.
The actual closing of a school requires a 90 -day process outlined by the state Department of Education, but that step encompasses the actual closing of the physical structure and shutting down of all operations, along with sale of the property, and those formal actions are expected to occur at a later date.
Board members say the property will remain district property until some future vote is taken to take the school out of district control.
"I fully expect that we will be selling it," Hastings said. "There aren't any plans right now, but that will be my recommendation."
The school board members said the school fell victim to several factors, including a decreasing pupil population, state policies that have emptied the board of budget options, and expensive and unfunded mandates handed down from on high.
A series of budget and finance committee meetings in recent months suggest this decision was just one of series of painful decisions with heavy consequences to students, parents, teachers, administrators, taxpayers and the school district as a whole as the district faces reduced state subsidies and rising costs.
The closing of Lamar Township Elementary School was forwarded by Superintendent Hastings as a proactive response to the coming budget crunch.
The board expects to approve its preliminary budget on Thursday at Renovo, in anticipation of the state's passage of a financial package in July.
There has been some talk among parents about transferring to another school, perhaps a charter school in Sugar Valley, but Hastings said, "It's our intent to make plans that the kids will come to us ... We haven't heard about any transfers yet."
The plan calls for KCSD to maintain K-5 schools at Robb, Dickey, Mill Hall, Woodward and Liberty-Curtin, change Sugar Valley to a K-4 school, and close Lamar Township Elementary.
A related plan to relocate administrative offices from Flemington and Penn Center buildings to Central Mountain High School also was approved 8-1, with board member Butch Knauff dissenting. Knauff said he wanted more figures on the costs benefit before supporting this final piece of a cost-saving initiative.
Administrators have estimated the district will save $142,000 yearly on building costs including utilities, some $42,540 yearly in maintenance costs, about $102,633 in decreased yearly costs associated with support staff, and the elimination of two professional staff positions for a yearly savings of $89,665 each.