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Leechburg Area residents want a school merger, not school renovations |

Leechburg Area residents want a school merger, not school renovations

George Guido
| Thursday, October 12, 2017 12:11 a.m
Jack Fordyce | Tribune-Review
Leechburg resident Janine Remaley speaks out during the Leechburg Area School Board meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017 at the district's administration building.
Jack Fordyce | Tribune-Review
Members of the Leechburg Area School Board walk out of the meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017 at the district's administration building.
Jack Fordyce | Tribune-Review
All but one Leechburg Area school director walked out during their board meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017 at the administration building after they took criticism about borrowing millions for building repairs.
Jack Fordyce | Tribune-Review
Bob Kepics speaks out during the Leechburg Area School Board meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017 at the district's administration building.

More than 50 years ago, the Leechburg Area School District was supposed to be part of a five-school district consolidation plan that failed.

Now, a number of angry Leechburg Area residents want the issue revisited.

About 20 residents attended Wednesday’s school board meeting, many to voice their opposition to a $7.7 million bond issue that the board approved last month.

District officials plan to use the money to fix the school roofs and curbs, and update shop equipment, the technology classrooms and athletic facilities, among other items.

When the public comment session of the meeting began, Solicitor Trish Andrews said that speakers normally get 15 minutes, but since the speakers who signed up for Wednesday’s session would all deal with the same topic, speakers were limited to four minutes each.

Janine Remaley of Gilpin said she was going to go over the four-minute allotment.

When she did, the school board called a recess and most left the meeting room at the Parker Baker Building amid shouting and catcalls after another scheduled speaker said she would allot some of her time to Remaley.

The others who spoke after the majority of the school board left also voiced a desire to dissolve or merge the school district, which currently serves 749 students in grades K-12. None mentioned a neighboring school system that Leechburg Area should join.

A police officer from the Leechburg and Gilpin departments arrived in the hallway outside the meeting room, but told a Tribune-Review reporter that no arrests would be made and that they were only taking information.

State Act 561 of 1961 mandated that small, community school districts merge with neighboring schools.

One plan had Leechburg Area, Freeport Area, Ford City, Apollo Area and Elders Ridge consolidating to form South Armstrong County.

But Freeport took the issue to court in 1966 and won, thus killing the plan.

Ford City then became part of Armstrong School District; Apollo and Elders Ridge merged, and Leechburg Area and Freeport Area were left intact.

During her allotted time, Remaley said the school district shouldn’t have sought the bond issue.

“The public doesn’t want $7.7 million spent on a dying school district,” Remaley said. “We’ve not graduated more than 60 students (per year) in the last 10 years. It was a great school district for a lot of years, but we’re done now. We have to bow out.”

With fewer than half of the board present, Bob Kepics of Gilpin said, “Pride is one thing, reality is another thing.” He said he agreed with everything Remaley said.

School board member Neill Brady told residents that Leechburg Area is borrowing the money “like you’d take out a home equity loan to fix your roof.”

Brady also told residents that a merger would take “four of five years to get done.”

Julie Batiz, a former school director, said she “would be dead by the time the bond is paid off” in 2043.

Leechburg Area Business Manager Brad Walker said property taxes wouldn’t go up because of the new bond issue.

Walker also said the $500,000 budgeted for the bond issue that is about to be paid off from 1990s renovations will now be targeted to pay off the new bond.

George Guido is a freelance writer.

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