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District hears public’s opinion

November 21, 2008
By MICHAEL ANICH, The Leader-Herald

JOHNSTOWN - Concerns about state aid, busing and future timelines were raised Thursday night during the Greater Johnstown School District Board of Education's "community forum" on possible district restructuring, which could include the closing of one of the schools in the district.

About 40 people attended the forum.

The forum followed a presentation by interim Business Administrator Robert Munn at the board's meeting at Johnstown High School. He gave a similar presentation two weeks ago to the board at Pleasant Avenue Elementary School.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan

Greater Johnstown School District interim Business Administrator Robert Munn gives a PowerPoint presentation about proposed restructuring of the district in the lecture hall at Johnstown High School Thursday.

The board has its own internal Restructuring Committee headed by John David Praught, but is now looking for members of the public to join. The new panel will have 17 members and include a cross section of the community. The newly revamped panel is being developed to provide input as the district determines a plan of action regarding declining student enrollment and is due to meet again at 6 p.m. Dec. 11 at JHS.

During questions after Munn's presentation, Johnstown Teachers Association President Kathryn Zajicek asked if state Expanding Our Children's Education and Learning aid would be available to the district for restructuring.

Munn said such aid "no longer exists," although there may be other types of state aid available related to capital projects.

Munn alluded to the possibility of a "$1 million" savings related to restructuring in the district, but was not specific about whether that might result from closing one school. He couldn't be reached this morning.

Throughout the discussion, district officials noted there has been nothing resolved yet.

"We are here for the best interests of this entire community," Praught said.

Another public speaker - Johnstown resident Pat Levin - asked the board if it has looked at busing issues related to restructuring, specifically closing of schools or moving of students.

"That's one of the charges to the committee," Munn said.

Levin also asked district officials how they will judge "one school against the other" in future decisions, and again Munn answered by saying the committee will make final recommendations.

"I would hope they would have a prioritized list," he said.

Munn said the idea of restructuring in Johnstown has been considered for several years. Some of the suggestions in the past have been to close Knox Junior High School, move that school to Warren Street Elementary School and move Warren Street students to other schools. Other suggestions have included closing Jansen Avenue Elementary School, and moving those students to the other elementary schools.

Munn said if the district decided to close a school, the effect on personnel could include losing six to eight classroom teachers, a principal, specialized teachers and non-teaching staff. There also would be energy savings to the building, Munn said.

District officials made available Restructuring Committee applications to the public. All applicants must reside in the Greater Johnstown School District and be available to attend mandatory Thursday meetings on Dec. 11, Jan. 8 and Feb. 12.

Another public speaker was Johnstown resident Dick Baker, who asked if it would be difficult for the district to make any changes by September 2009. He asked if the district might be better off putting off restructuring until after that.

Munn said it might make sense to take it slow so the district can obtain state project reimbursement that might be available. Some of the project would involve renovations.

Praught said the district has not made up its mind on restructuring.

"Honestly, we don't have any preconceived notion," he said.

Munn said enrollment in city schools declined from 2,571 in 1978 to a projected 1,802 students by 2012-13. With state aid likely to stay flat or decrease, restructuring may be an option to cut costs, he said.

Praught said there "is an understanding that something must be done" because of dwindling enrollment. He said applications to be on the committee can be picked up at JHS or the Johnstown Public Library, and must be be submitted to the district by Dec. 2. The new panel is expected to be picked by Dec. 4.

"This will give us a solid representation of the entire community," Praught said.

He said the district may hold multiple forums on restructuring and may not be able to get anything finalized by September.



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