West Shore residents speak out on future plans
West Shore School District officials were put on notice by more than 20 residents, who voiced concerns, preferences and outright rejections over the final options of a district restructuring plan.
More than 75 residents attended the three-hour public meeting held Monday night at Crossroads Middle School in Lewisberry.
West Shore Superintendent Todd Stoltz and district director of management information systems Brett Sanders facilitated the forum.
Residents were afforded the opportunity to comment or question Stoltz and Sanders on the two feasibility options the district has decided to consider.
West Shore residents were mailed a district newsletter alerting them of initiatives going on in the district, including the upcoming 2017-18 budget and an update to the feasibility study commissioned in May 2015.
The feasibility study has not been completed, according to the newsletter, but an update to the board in September 2016 showed the district has “several buildings in overall poor condition,” and that they “do not meet our current needs and a shifting student population.”
Among the findings were some basic maintenance updates. Six of the district’s 14 aging schools have heating systems more than 30 years old, and seven schools lack air conditioning.
After seeking input from community members in an online survey, the district’s board of directors narrowed a list of plans to three, and the Feasibility and Facilities Committee struck one of the proposals down.
Two options: The two remaining options have different goals.
The first option, a “feeder” school concept, would close four schools and change the school structure to four levels: an elementary K-4, intermediate schools for grades 5-6, middle schools for grades 7-8 and two high schools. During opening remarks, Sanders announced a new grade 5-6 intermediate school would open near Red Land High School under the first option.
The estimated cost for the first option is set at $218 million to $247 million.
The second option would “focus on consolidation” and would keep the current three-level structure of elementary, middle and high schools. However, Lower Allen Elementary, Rossmore Elementary and New Cumberland Middle schools would all be vacated under the plan.
In addition, Cedar Cliff High School will be turned into a large middle school, leaving the district with Red Land High School as its sole secondary school. In all, the option would decrease the number of schools in the district from 14 to 11. The second option would have a cost of $213 million to $242 million.
Under each plan, the property tax rate would go up approximately 2.9 percent each year for the next 10 years.
Residents speak: Nearly all of the comments made were against option 2, which would combine the district's high schools.
Residents said a single high school with as many as 2,600 students would be a strain on the building and the community and a danger on the road, with some expressing concerns about the increased flow of inexperienced drivers on Interstate 83 to make it to the single school.
“I love the idea of having a school for the fifth and sixth graders,” said Lewisberry resident Carolyn Carter, who has a daughter in third grade. “I’ve heard that that’s worked really well in other school districts, like Downingtown.”
Carter said she is concerned with the possibility of both high schools merging, as it could cause a severe strain on local roads.
“I know it’s only for a certain time of the day, but it’s still doubling (traffic) on the road here,” she said.
Carter's daughter attends Fishing Creek Elementary School.
“It’s not falling apart,” Carter said, but she said her daughter gets hot in classrooms and brings extra water to class.
Timing: One parent spoke about the concerns she had regarding the need of choosing a plan at all.
New Cumberland borough resident Bridget Casher said she believes there are many people in the district that have “no idea” that the restructuring plan and its accompanying tax increases are happening. She also said she doesn’t believe the need to add air conditioning to the schools is critical at the moment.
At the end of her remarks, she requested the district “put (the decision) back off the table and wait until next year,” which was met with applause from the audience.
Stoltz and Sanders told residents the process has been years in the making, and the time to make a decision is finally nearing.
Stoltz told residents that “there is no foregone conclusion on any option tonight” and remains confident that the Feasibility and Facilities Committee, with some of its members in attendance at the meeting, will come to the right recommendation.
The Feasibility and Facilities Committee will meet Wednesday, and a recommendation from the committee to the school board will be made public on Friday.
The final option selection will occur during the district’s school board meeting May 11.