I recently went door to door speaking with hundreds of Johnstown residents who voiced concerns relating to current Johnstown school district issues. Common concerns included the path taken to the grade-level grouping decision, increases in the district school budget and the effects of declining enrollment.
In a March 12, 2013, letter in The Leader-Herald, Greater Johnstown School District Superintendent Robert DeLilli advised, "Research found students entering middle school from a single elementary building perform better than students entering from multiple elementary schools." Mr. DeLilli further noted, "Some studies found negative correlations between grade-level school structures or student transitions and academic achievement."
The results of a 2010 Johnstown survey included 240 responses against the plan, and only 67 for the plan. Every current Johnstown school board member voted for the grouping plan, despite overwhelming resident opposition and objective evidence showing possible academic harm.
What truly matters? What will drive future decisions?
The 2009-10 school district budget was $27.4 million. In an article published April 11, 2014, in The Leader-Herald, Mr. DeLilli cited the 2014-15 requested budget at $30.3 million. What happened to the five-year, $4.9 million budget savings promised to residents following the proposed closing of the Jansen Avenue school?
In 2008-09, there were about 1,948 students in Johnstown public schools; 993 at the elementary level. On Feb. 28, 2014, there were 1,781 students, with 908 at the elementary level. Both enrollment numbers are down 9 percent since Jansen closed; why add six full-time teaching positions, as stated in the April 11, 2014, Leader-Herald article?
Johnstown will now use three elementary schools under the grouping plan. According to the district's March 6, 2009, Educational Impact Statement, these three schools can accommodate 1,325 students.
However, the educational impact statement asserts only two of the three schools are needed for up to 975 students. Johnstown's 908 elementary students total almost 7 percent below the two- school limit, with enrollment continuing to decline.
The March 6, 2009, impact statement indicates only two elementary schools are necessary. Further, Superintendent DeLilli identified an upcoming 2.47 percent tax-levy increase.
A significant number of Johnstown taxpayers do not have children in elementary school; why wouldn't the board at least assess potential cost savings from using two elementary schools? What district programs could benefit from the savings achieved through maximizing use of our elementary schools?