The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

March 1, 2014

Warrior Run bucking trend to merge, save

Consolidation of schools pays off, ed officials say

By Ashley Wislock
The Daily Item

— MIFFLINBURG — While Warrior Run nixed a plan to reconfigure its elementary schools, a move expected to save up to $300,000 as a $900,000 budget deficit looms, other Valley districts are reporting financial success from recent consolidations.

At their Feb. 17 board meeting, Warrior Run directors rejected a consolidation plan that would have created a primary center in one of its two elementary schools, and house third through fifth grades in the other. While the proposal would have saved costs, support “wasn’t there,” board President Todd Moser said.

However, five Valley districts — Danville, Line Mountain, Midd-West, Mifflinburg and Shikellamy — projected savings associated with closing a total of 12 schools since 2010.

$500G for Mifflinburg

Mifflinburg shuttered Buffalo Crossroads, Laurelton and New Berlin elementary schools prior to the 2012-2013 school year. Mifflinburg Intermediate was expanded to include third through fifth grades, and Mifflinburg Elementary became a primary center, with kindergarten through second grades.

The closings and consolidations were expected to save the district $500,000, Superintendent Dan Lichtel said.

“It was more economical to bring those students in,” he said.

Lichtel said he could not specify actual savings to the district, adding that much of the projections included repairs to facilities that would not have to be addressed.

“It’s hard to put that together because the savings involve facility-related savings based on projected future liabilities that were avoided,” Lichtel said. “There were repairs that were needed to those buildings.

“That’s hard to dollarize because we haven’t had to do them.”

Overall, the transition to the new elementary education system has been smooth, Lichtel said.

“We were fortunate in how it worked,” he said. “It was very helpful to have everyone working hard to make the transition work.”

M-W saves $760G in pay

After the 2011-2012 school year, Midd-West closed two neighborhood elementary schools and consolidated two middle schools. Perry-West Perry, in Mount Pleasant Mills, and West Beaver, in McClure, were shuttered to save money, interim Superintendent Daphne Snook said.

At the time, Midd-West faced a $1.8 million budget deficit and closing the schools “was projected to reduce building operation costs by $143,900 and about $630,000 in payroll due to administrative, professional and support staff reductions,” district business manager Lynn Naugle said.

While it’s difficult to estimate actual savings regarding building operations, staff reductions saved more than expected, Naugle said.

“We saved about $760,000 in payroll, which is more than the estimate because the estimate was figured on starting salaries and not everyone who was cut was at a starting salary,” she said. “This figure is also affected by the pay freeze that the professional staff took a year prior to the consolidation, retirees who were replaced, not cut, by someone at a lower pay scale, and employee turnover.”

While the moves required renovations — such as when West Snyder Middle School was converted to an elementary building — the projects were successful, Snook said.

“With proper planning, the transition can be very smooth,” she said. “We needed to complete work on some of our classrooms at the old West Snyder Middle School, simply because it was a middle school, even a high school years ago. Our science labs needed to be changed to accommodate elementary classrooms, as one example.”

Danville closes three

Facing a $2 million deficit, Danville closed Riverside, Mahoning-Cooper and Danville elementary schools in 2011, and transferred classes to Danville Primary School. Consolidating the schools were projected to save $700,000.

Shikellamy closed C.W. Rice and Sunbury middle schools in 2011 as a result of a $3.8 million spending plan shortage. The closings at the time were projected to save $800,000.

Line Mountain shuttered Dalmatia and Leck Kill elementary schools in 2013 and transferred classes to Trevorton Elementary, which was renamed Line Mountain Elementary School.

The cost to combine grades K-4 into Line Mountain Elementary and grades 5-12 into the junior-senior high school was projected at $7.4 million.

Directors said the cost to build new centralized school near Dalmatia would have been $8 million.

Representatives from the Danville, Line Mountain and Shikellamy school districts could not be reached for comment last week.