Dennis Murray's last year as Altoona Area School District superintendent is shaping up to be a pivotal one.
By October, he and the school board might have a decision on closing at least one of the district's 10 elementary schools.
Board discussions are brewing on school closures, possibly both Wright and Washington-Jefferson elementary buildings, in response to declining enrollment and financial stress.
If closures are approved, school doors would be shut in the 2013-14 school year - a year also slated to mark the first time in 28 years without Murray in the superindendent's office.
He's not backing away from tough decisions in the meantime.
"We need to know the student count and transportation information [before the board considers school closures]," Murray said in an interview earlier this week. "We are shooting for October to have everything in place."
Wright Elementary was coincidentally named one of the state Department of Education's lowest-achieving schools in July, despite meeting federal requirements for Adequate Yearly Progress.
That is an issue district Solicitor Dave Andrews said he is willing to pursue legally if the school sees an exodus of students from Wright by Tuesday, the first day of classes this school year.
Under school choice laws passed this year, students in a low-achieving school may transfer to a private school or another school district through a voucher system funded by tax credits.
School-choice legislation and flat state and local revenue are some of the concerns Murray has for the district's future as he prepares to enter retirement.
And with district challenges from possible school closures to financial effects of a state pension crisis ahead, passing the torch to his successor could be further challenging.
But if Murray waited to retire until the district's major challenges were solved, he might never be able to retire.
For example, if Murray were to lead the district through potential budgetary deficits because of increased district expenses owed to the Public School Employees Retirement System over the next four years, then he would be 77 years old at the end of that time frame.
And even then, current PSERS figures indicate school districts' rising contribution rates won't peak until 2020.
"I don't see any light at the end of the tunnel. I don't see that the [budgetary] problem is getting any better," Murray told the Mirror in November, when he announced he would not seek another contract after his term ended in June 2013.
Murray sent his retirement notice to the board in July, he said. But he was absent for last week's meeting during which the board shared the notice with the public.
Murray said he may have missed only one other board meeting in his tenure - an absence he said was purely coincidental.
He had a family issue, he said, and added he did not know board President Ryan Beers was intending to share his official retirement notification with the public that night.
"No, I didn't know," he said with a laugh.
But he thinks he knows why Beers chose to announce it then.
"Some people were under the impression I could be going for another term," he said. "I think that he was clarifying that I wasn't."
Even former Assistant Superintendent Norm Miller, a would-be candidate to replace Murray who has since been hired by Central Dauphin School District, speculated just days prior to the board's meeting that he believed Murray might "stick around longer."
That notion has been put to rest. Murray is retiring. The question the Altoona school community faces now is of his successor.
As the board searches for the superintendent of the future, Murray doesn't believe it's his place to influence that process.
"It's really a board decision," he said. "My role will be working with who they hire on the issues."