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Article published February 15, 2013
No haste on Har-Mer
This is in response to coverage of the public hearing on the proposed closing of Har-Mer Elementary School in Harrisville, and to the Butler Eagle’s Feb. 6 editorial on the subject. Some important information might have been missed. One point not mentioned is that, of the five schools in the Slippery Rock School District, Har-Mer is the only one that passed the mandated state testing. Should the reward for success be elimination? Another point is more involved. I have serious issues with the numbers that were included in Superintendent Kathleen Nogay’s presentation at the hearing. Every school district is required to submit enrollment numbers to the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Those numbers are available on the department’s Web page. The Education Department table shows that the district reported Har-Mer’s enrollment as 120 for 2011-12. Nogay’s presentation showed that number as 115. A number of years ago the district redrew its lines, which reduced the number of students at Har-Mer. Now the claim is that Har-Mer is under-used. Nogay presented an extensive list of “educational services” that the Har-Mer students would have access to, should they be transferred to Slippery Rock Elementary School. The first question is: Why were Har-Mer kids deprived of those services in the first place? There have been several school district families that wanted their children to attend Har-Mer, but the district denied their request. At least one family was told it was because Har-Mer was “too full.” Another factor being weighed is the cost-to-student ratio in the various schools. Of course, a big part of the ratio is enrollment, and the district’s numbers are suspect. A number of years ago, the school board decided to merge the Prospect and Portersville elementary schools into one school (Moraine Elementary). Later, a considerable amount of money was spent to expand Moraine, so it could handle the student load. A similar situation should not be repeated in connection with Har-Mer. Much money was spent expanding Har-Mer about 12 years ago. Now Nogay proposes to just throw that away. There also are some issues regarding loss of federal Title I money for Har-Mer for the current year. Some insiders believe that funding loss was due to a lack of foresight by the administration. Har-Mer has for years had a friendly, nurturing and healthy environment that promotes learning in our most impressionable students. Shouldn’t it be kept open to do the good work it’s doing? Balancing a budget is difficult in the current economy, but the board’s decision must be based on real, accurate, verified data. The board also must consider the effect that closing Har-Mer would have on students, the community and the district.