AlliedNews.com - Grove City, Pennsylvania

January 30, 2013

Har-Mer hearing set for Monday, Feb. 4

By Monica Pryts/Staff Writer
Allied News

SLIPPERY ROCK — Questions still remain about the future of Har-Mer Elementary School and the public and board will soon have a chance to hash out the details.

A hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 4 at the Slippery Rock High School auditorium, a decision the board made Monday night after some back-and-forth about the process needed to determine whether Har-Mer should remain open.

"We need to make sure whatever we do is in the best interest of the students, board member Diana Wolak said.

Har-Mer is in Harrisville and houses kindergarten through fifth grade students, one of five school buildings in the Slippery Rock Area School District.

Enrollment has been declining over recent years and stands at roughly 115 students, low enough to prompt the board to look at possibly closing Har-Mer this fall and moving the children to one of the other buildings.

The board needs to bring closure to the issue, especially for the families who live there -- and those residents are prepared to deal with whatever the board decides, Superintendent Dr. Kathleen Nogay said.

The middle school needs "major work" and the board should look at all of the buildings before deciding on the fate of Har-Mer, said Kenneth Speer, board member and chair of the committee that's been studying Har-Mer.

"We owe it to the community," he said.

Wolak agreed with him but said Har-Mer needs addressed sooner to make sure the students get the services they need.

Nogay assured the board Har-Mer students are getting a good education but some ancillary services like nursing and an on-site principal are not on the same level as the other schools because those positions are shared among several buildings.

The hearing needs to focus on just Har-Mer, board member Polly Shaw said, with Nogay adding the board is required to have at least one hearing before voting on whether to close the school.

If the board has more than one hearing, the last one must be 90 days before the board votes, she said.

"The hearings need to start happening now if the board wants to close the building," the Rev. Michael Scheer, board president, said of one of the options.

The board doesn't necessarily want to close Har-Mer, said Wolak and board member David Hutner, with Speer saying he thought it was too soon to schedule hearings.

Board member Greg Angerett made the motion to schedule the hearing for Feb. 4.

The motion passed 6 to 1 with Speer voting against it. Board members Kirby Lotz and Mark Taylor were absent.

Scheer brought up the high school, saying the building is at the end of its life and perhaps those grades can be housed in the middle school, especially since voters rejected the November referendum that asked if the district should take on $38 million in debt for renovations at the high school and Moraine Elementary, leading to a tax hike.

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In other business at Monday's meeting:

Paul Cessar, board secretary and the district's business manager introduced a "very preliminary" budget for the 2013-14 school year, saying the current deficit is $850,000, which is equal to 6.5 mills.

Under the state's Act 1 index, the district is allowed to raise property taxes by 2.3 mills, which would bring in $300,000. There's $6.1 million in the general fund and $1.5 million in the capital reserve fund.

Act 1 limits how much a district can raise property taxes without needing voter approval or permission from the state.

It's very early in the budget process and changes will be made, but the board needs to start thinking about how to cover the deficit, Cessar said, adding the current spending plan doesn't include any staff cuts or additions, retirements or changes in building use.

Current tax rates are 89.15 mills and last went up by 2.43 mills for the 2011-12 school year.

Published Jan. 16, 2013, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.