Feedback requested from community for school expansion
MUNCY – Muncy School District officials and school board members came together on a snowy Saturday morning, April 9, to receive input from their community on the current state of the district’s facilities, and to address the future needs of the district.
Dr. Craig Skaluba, School Superintendent addressed over 100 residents with an overview at Myers Elementary School before walking tours were given at both the elementary school and the high school. Blank note cards were handed out to everyone as they were encouraged to take notes throughout the morning, make suggestions and comments, and provide their feedback which will be taken into consideration and posted on the district’s website, informed Skaluba.
“Your input is extremely valuable and we want to be as transparent as possible.” Skaluba who collected the cards at the end, said that these comments can also be sent to those interested by e-mail by signing up on the website. “These responses will be used to develop a fact sheet to view.”
According to principal Frank Jankowski at Myers Elementary, enrollment is pretty steady, close to 600, averaging 70 to 80 students per grade. District wide it is 1,050. The elementary school was built in 1957 and renovated in 2003 with upgrades to the electric and heating systems. “We have an extra grade level here,” Jankowski added.
Several of those who attended the open tour said they went to school when all grades were in the high school building. Emmie DeWald remarked that she spent all 12 years there before graduating in 1958. Her husband, Tom graduated in 1954 and lived in Muncy his entire life said, “The building needs some work.”
Many comments were directed to the weight room and the boys wrestling practice room located in the downstairs of the high school. “We need a new gymnasium at this school,” said the DeWalds. Many commented on making improvements to the gymnasiums. The high school students are running back and forth between the 2 schools to use the gymnasiums. The elementary gym has inadequate locker space while the high school gym has too little practice room. Tom DeWald who serves as a crossing guard sees this on a daily basis and called it a “safety issue.”
“When basketball and wrestling are at the same time, there is not enough room for practice,” said Amy-Ruth Swart whose kids attend the school. “I have seen 70 to 80 kids in there at a time.”
Meanwhile the district has looked at bids for a feasibility study at a cost of $17,000. The last one was done 16 years ago. The bids will be looked at for a recommendation at the next board meeting on April 18, and the state will only reimburse the district a small percentage of the study. The possibility of a second gym is under consideration. This was brought up with a facilities committee that was formed in 2010 to identify areas for improvement. In June of 2015, 7 or 8 different options were presented to the board for a newer full size regulation gym with additional facilities.
According to former board member Tom Gardner, the committee structure was changed and now there is a new board present as of December 2015. A shift was taken to identify all district needs and how programs and services are addressed. Skaluba said the report is 107 pages long and is available for viewing on the district website.
In summary it is a plan for the next 5 years hoping to improve student aid, engage students more in the learning process and integrate technology into the 21st century. “This is a 20/20 vision,” explained Dr. Skaluba with upgrades in academics, athletics, a pre-K program, extracurricular programs, unified arts, more storage and community engagement for adults.
“There are no plans of getting rid of this building or the front,” he said despite the rumors. He would like to make the high school library more of a multi-media center as well as adding more classroom space.
Students were also asked for input. “The kids took this very seriously,” Skaluba said they had 550 responses. Kevin Good, a senior said he would like to see more availability to students to participate in extracurricular activities which is often a requirement for job placement and college.
During the opportunity to address the board after the tour, several Muncy residents expressed concern over the budget and the funding. Set on payment of up to $20 million with the possibility of raising taxes, the cost would be prohibitive to those who live on fixed incomes.
Former board member Bill Schneck told the board that the largest tax base comes from elderly residents. “In addition to the bond rates being low,” he said, “your tax base income is also suffering with minimal returns and scraping to get by.” He felt this was the worst time to take on such a project. “A lot of industry is pulling out, and we are seeing people get laid off from their jobs.” He also said there is some unused storage space under one section in the elementary building. “Does lack of space mean lack of opportunity?”
Jeff Smeal said everything is going up and reminded the board 40 percent of residents live in the flood zone and are already appealing for tax dollars.
Nicole Meyer, President of OPT is concerned for the safety of the students and Cliff Good from Muncy gave credit to the teachers and asked the school district to be more inclusive. “Hiring new teachers exceptionally benefits the school district,” he said and suggested federal funding. Bill Poulton asked how long it would take to pay back the $20 million debt to the average homeowner assessed at $113,000. “What is the life of this loan?”
Another parent said they could see nothing focused on music as students are currently using the hallways for practice. “We can’t focus on one thing. It has to be the total picture and who is going to be footing the bill? What is critical and what needs to done positively and what can be cut?”
Another young mother stood up and said, “We need a draw for new businesses, a larger tax base to draw younger families to the area. Improving the school would be a good draw to improving the community.”
Tom Springman asked for statistics on rankings with other schools in the county or state comparable to size and said there is no benefit in waiting. “What can we do within the community to raise funds?” he asked expressing a need to gain in the athletics and the arts.
Business manager, David Edkin said, “Any funds the district is not able to obtain through bonds will be paid from one of the district’s funds.”
Before ending the feedback session, Dr. Skaluba replied, “All input will be shared before any informed decisions. The power of the school is everyone coming together.”