Parents voice closing concerns

Parents whose children attend particular Altoona Area schools through boundary exceptions gained some hope that the school board might consider closing two elementaries without uprooting hundreds of other children across the district.

Since a March 11 public hearing on closing Wright and Washington-Jefferson elementaries, a revised proposal has been in the works to close the schools but maintain boundary exceptions for the more than 700 students at the other seven elementaries across the district.

Parents previously have received permission for their children to attend certain buildings to make it more convenient for their families.

The original proposal from the board’s architect called for eliminating the boundary exceptions to help balance class sizes districtwide.

“We’ve asked [architect] Vern McKissick and transportation directors to see if there is a more viable option to keep boundary letters intact,” school board President Ryan Beers said Tuesday night.

At least a half dozen parents of children from Pleasant Valley, Logan, Washington-Jefferson and Juniata Gap schools addressed the board on Tuesday in front of a crowd that filled every seat in the William P. Kimmel Board Room.

They delivered heartfelt comments that at times were accompanied by tears.

Donita Hord, a Pleasant Valley parent, was concerned that revoking boundary exceptions could lead to increased instances of low family income if some adults in two-income households quit work to ensure children can go to and from school safely.

“Working families request boundary letters to assist them with their employment,” said Hord, director of Begin with Us Child Care and Preschool.

“I appreciate that you give your time to make our community a better place,” she said to the board, but she echoed the sentiment of parents who addressed the board earlier that night.

“I really feel the situation needs to be investigated further, because in the long run, the kids affect the entire community. I appreciate what you [Beers] said, that you are continuing to investigate,” she said.

Parents of Wright and Washington-Jefferson students said their children have been saddened by seeing their teachers pack up their personal things from their classrooms as Acting Superintendent Mary Lou Ray recommended.

Steve Keiser, whose children attend Pleasant Valley Elementary but are not boundary students was sympathetic, but matter of fact – “Reality is we can’t afford it.”

“My personal opinion is you can’t continue paying wages that public unions are fighting for. You can’t continue to run a school district with the expenses – salaries and pension plans on the state level,” he said, noting the city’s declining tax base. “Until you start to address it with the people who can make these changes, this is where all districts are headed.

“I feel the pain that each one of you with kids has and the disruption. But this is where we are, and school closings have to happen,” Keiser said.

Following parents’ comments, board members assured parents that they are not taking the issue lightly.

“I wake up in the middle of the night, thinking of ways to accommodate. … I want you to know we work hard at this,” board member Cheryl Rupp said.

One Wright Elementary School student, Mya Lockard, addressed the board Tuesday night.

“I know these are hard times for a lot of people right now, but I ask you from the bottom of my heart to reconsider because this is affecting the people I have grown to love as my family.”