Northeastern open to alternatives for elementary plan amid few concerns

Northeastern School District presented an early proposal for redrawing its elementary school boundaries at an April 23 town hall. This map from the April presentation shows dots that represent students within each of the four elementary school lines. Dots that differ in color from the circled areas represent students who would be moving to or registering at a new school.

Northeastern School District has so far received little feedback about its proposed elementary reconfiguration plan, but those who did speak out at recent meetings have said district officials haven't been forthright about the proposed reshuffling of students.

The plan would transfer groups of students in the district's Conewago and York Haven elementary schools to Orendorf and Mount Wolf elementary schools next year to prevent class sizes from pushing capacity and allow for expected growth.

It was first presented to the public at an April 23 meeting, and Superintendent Stacey Sidle said the three community members who spoke all raised questions about transparency. The plan was presented to the board again May 6.

David Zambito, a parent who spoke at both meetings, submitted a Right to Know request for alternative options discussed in the district's subcommittee of parents, board members, school officials and transportation staff.

RTK officer and Director of Operations Brian Geller said he's planning to release the alternatives soon after redacting student-identifying information. As for the committee meetings, he said, under the Sunshine Act, subcommittees are not public because they do not have a quorum of the board.

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"The goal was never to be secret," said Sidle, who said she sent a message to all parents and requested feedback. She hasn’t heard any concerns from the Mount Wolf or York Haven areas, she said.

The Conewago Elementary PTO declined to comment because the school board is still in the process of making a final decision.

Bob Schoch, a consultant who helped form the proposal, was at the May 6 meeting to address questions he had heard, such as why southwestern Conewago Township students would have to be bused so far to Orendorf Elementary under the new plan.

It would cost about $85,000 for two buses to move Conewago Elementary students living within walking distance of the school to Orendorf versus using existing buses to move students who live further away, he said. Sidle added that these students would end up at the Orendorf campus at one of the intermediate schools in fourth grade regardless.

Lloyd Douglas, of Conewago Township, questioned whether the district should consider spending money on a new elementary school if space is needed rather than a high school renovation project, which would be up for a vote this spring.

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"People buy houses for a reason,” to be able to send their children to certain schools, he said.

Zambito also asserted that the plan consolidates mobile home parks, low income housing and low income rural areas into the Orendorf zone in order to obtain Title I funds. But Sidle said Title I funding is districtwide, so moving students would not affect the funding received.

Deciding to reconfigure schools was not easy, Sidle said. “Do we do it once? Do we do it slowly? Do we kind of rip off the Band-Aid and move kids?” she asked. 

But she said she’s not tied to the proposed plan and is open for community members to bring an alternative forward.

“I don’t know why they feel it’s a done deal,” she said.