AASD nearing capacity

Altoona Area Superintendent Thomas Otto informed community members in attendance at the board’s Monday meeting that capacity is tight to begin the first school year after closing two elementary schools.

In closing Wright and Washington-Jefferson elementary schools, the district has met its goal of utilizing its buildings for maximum efficiency, Otto said, but as of Aug. 12, there are no rooms available for further enrollment.

“We have received information that elementary size has increased by 100 students from the end of the last school year to this year,” Otto said.

Capacity at Pleasant Valley, Baker, Logan and Juniata Gap elementary schools are more than 90 percent utilized, Otto’s presentation showed.

Washington Jefferson, refurbished into the district’s pre-K center might have some rooms available if class sizes increase beyond current projections by the start of the year, he said.

“On the good side, we are making maximum use of building capacity, but there are not a lot of rooms available should we be faced with challenges that start the school year,” he said. “A particular concern for me is some of our upper grade levels have relatively high class sizes – 28, 29 [[students]. It’s certainly larger than we would like,” he said.

Average class sizes range from 19 students in some kindergarten classes to 31 students in some fifth grade classes.

Overall, Otto’s enrollment numbers show the district has 52 classes with 27 to 31 students and 120 classes ranging from 26 to 19 students.

Despite some classes being higher than he would like to see, he said “what is particularly positive, where boundary lines have been redrawn, is the relative equity of class sizes across the district,” Otto said.

Redrawn school boundary lines continue to be a sore subject with parents whose children have been assigned to different schools this year.

On June 11, the school board decided to close the two schools. On Aug. 5, parent notification was sent regarding boundary line changes for students.

Jaime Genovese-Peterson of Dysart Avenue shared her fears about her 11-year old walking to Penn-Lincoln. Her daughter attended Pleasant Valley prior to boundary changes. Genovese-Peterson lived on the line previously dividing Pleasant Valley and Penn-Lincoln, but now her entire street is Penn-Lincoln territory because it makes more sense geographically, the board has said.

“She has nobody in her neighborhood to walk with because all of the other kids in the area are on boundary letters – they are supposed to go to Penn-Lincoln, but they go to Pleasant Valley,” she added.

Boundary exceptions for students were originally supposed to be rescinded in the wake of the district’s plans to close schools and redraw boundary lines, but concerns of parents reversed that plan.

Board president Ryan Beers, who was absent for the meeting on Monday, had previously said the decision to allow boundary students to remain in their schools was made because they comprised the largest group of people affected by the districtwide changes.

The dozens of parents, including Genovese-Peterson and Brenda Dick whose school boundary lines have changed within the past few weeks, have sought boundary exceptions, but they were turned down because the board had resolved to not accept new boundary exceptions.

“You are telling me that I don’t have a choice, but letting boundary parents change the rules for their children, that’s a violation of my rights,” parent Jaime Genovese-Peterson said on Monday. She also was concerned with her children’s walk to Penn Lincoln.

Board member Dick Lockard said he has traced the one-mile walking route children must take from the former Pleasant Valley school boundary area to Penn-Lincoln.

“I agree, it is a long walk,” Lockard said.

He recommended to Otto that the children walk down Sixth Avenue because there are stop signs on each block.

Genovese-Peterson said the stress level for parents who work and whose children must walk to Penn Lincoln is “unbelievable.”

“How do I get my 11-year-old daughter to and from school safely?” she asked.

Otto responded to Genovese-Peterson during the meeting, admitting that he didn’t have an answer.

“I don’t know that I can guarantee any child’s proper arrival to school or home from school. It’s something that concerns all of us every single day,” he said.

“We try to follow state laws we are under and have concerns every day about all 8,000 of our students.”

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.