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Keystone Oaks Votes to Shutter Neighborhood Schools

Consolidation plan angers district residents.

Despite the angry objections of the majority of the 100 or so in attendance, Keystone Oaks Board of School Directors voted to close Fred L. Aiken and Myrtle Avenue elementary schools to implement a school consolidation plan at a special meeting Thursday.

After presenting nearly 70 pages of their plan, and answering limited questions from the audience, the nine directors voted 5-3 with one abstention.

Voting for the plan were: Dennis Fuga, school board president; Thomas Nee; Marian Randazzo; Robert Brownlee and John Newhaus. Against closing the schools were: Evelyn Weaver, vice-president; Raeann Lindsey and Gary Alward. Robert Lloyd abstained.

Closing two of the district's three remaining elementary schools is the cornerstone of the consolidation plan. Gwen Walker, director of fiscal services/personnel, is projecting savings to the district of approximately $355,000 in operating costs and another $727,247 in personnel costs after implementation in the 2012-13 school year.

This potential savings represents approximately 3 percent of the school district's .

The plan would bus all children in kindergarten through grade four to and send all other students to the combined Keystone Oaks High School and Keystone Oaks Middle School building. There the middle school and high school students would occupy almost completely separate facilities within the schools.

District officials cited declining enrollment and loss of state funding for the need to cut expenses.

Watch Patch for more coverage of the school consolidation plan.

Brice September 09, 2011 at 04:59 PM
CONTINUED FROM MY LAST POST.....My support for liking this vote stems from the idea of culture and of school community. School communities are shown to be what drives success in schools and keeping the three communities apart until middle school, to me, doesn't seem to allow for growth in the school culture. Not to mention the benefit of having all school resources in one place for our students instead of shared among building. Just my 2 cents...If nothing else its nice to see that the people in our communities care so much about education that we are wiling to have these conversations..that has to be a good sign for our children's future, whatever the outcome
Brice September 09, 2011 at 05:05 PM
This is one of the best solutions I have heard in a while and one of the major reasons KO is in the mess they are in (being spread out over 3 communities). Not sure what other Districts would say about doing something like this but I would guess, given Mt Lebo's and Bethel's new schools and increased taxes because of that, they would welcome the extra tax base.
Jon September 09, 2011 at 05:38 PM
Brice and Julie G....... Im going to assume that you dont have a residence in the either community? Im going to assume that your kids ( if you have any) are not in these schools........Im going to asume you dont understand the implications of shutting these schools will have on property values, as well as a decline in families looking to purchase housing in these neighborhoods. KO has mismanaged the budget FOR YEARS and now Im forced to bus my two kids 30 minutes to get to school? PLEASE dont comment or feel the need to give your all so wise opinion if you have no vested interest. MANY people I talk to in the community are thinking of relocating......people that together are the current backbone of activities, sports and things of that nature. I can honestly say I will be right there with them. Castle Shannon will turn into a rental community with lots of transient families.......SOUNDS GREAT! Idiots
MSgt. John DeLallo September 09, 2011 at 05:48 PM
Brice-My guys graduated in 1988 and 1990, and we moved from Dormont to Johnstown to pursue a career move in 2000. I do have a horse in this race, though, as I live in Bethel Park. New school, loads of parking, great athletic facilities, etc., and I can't imagine Castle Shannon parents would complain. This is not a new idea. The KO merger has been beat on badly since its inception. The worst thing about it is that the merger does not engender a sense of community school spirit. I go to Bethel Park's football games, and the home games are packed, and the fans travel well. There is community involvment. I was president of the KO Football Boosters years ago, and the prevailing attitude was "the stadium is in Dormont, attending booster meetings is a pain in the rear, so you Dormont guys handle it." There was little, if any, participation from Greentree parents or Castle Shannon parents. With sincere apologies to those parents who DO follow the KO team.
Charlotte September 09, 2011 at 07:16 PM
This is the most logical and rational comment I have read so far. Has the topic ever been discussed by the board. I can't imagine the residents of those communities opposing this type of plan.
Robert McKenna September 10, 2011 at 01:32 AM
Brilliant idea! As I understand it, both districts must want this to happen. We need to think of this from the perspective of the other school districts. What advantage would CV gain in accepting the Greentree students? What about Bethel Park in taking the Castle Shannon students? Mt. Lebanon and our kids? That would be interesting. Urban legend has it that Dormont was supposed to be part of the Mt. Lebanon school district but they didn't want "those Dormont kids." Perhaps they would think differently now! I hope the new school board would approach those other districts. I think it's a great idea!
Julie G. September 10, 2011 at 03:18 AM
Jon. if you read my posts it is obvious I am asking for more information. I do not have kids in school, and I do live in dormont. the article makes consolidation sound attractive yet I know there must be more to the story. i simply want more info and do not quite know where to get it or who to believe. press the article and my post again.
Julie G. September 10, 2011 at 03:28 AM
Jon. if you read my posts it is obvious I am asking for more information. I do not have kids in school, and I do live in dormont. the article makes consolidation sound attractive yet I know there must be more to the story. i simply want more info and do not quite know where to get it or who to believe. read the article and my post again,i too think of relocation, but love my home and my neighbors, I simply stated I am uneducated on the subject. name calling is unnecessary. don't assume anything.
Joe Hartnett September 10, 2011 at 05:25 AM
For those of you interested in learning more about informed opposition to this consolidation, may I suggest checking out previous articles on this site. If you look to the right of the comments on this page there are links to many previous articles in the "See more on Patch" box. The comments that accompany those articles should shed some light on the drawbacks of consolidation you may not be familiar with. Also, there is an SOS Facebook group page that is very informative as well: http://www.facebook.com/groups/sos.Aiken.Dormont.Myrtle/ You don't need to have a Facebook account to see all the postings. But if you do wish to join the group it is open to all, even if you have a dissenting view. I applaud anyone's desire to be more informed on this subject. KO needs more of this. I myself was guilty of not paying attention for years, like many others, and that is why our District got used to operating with no one questioning their fiscal mismanagement. We all have to keep our collective "eyes on the ball". One last clue for Patch users - if you click on the screen name of a comment poster, you can see their posts from other articles. Clicking on "Dan Domalik" , "Dave Hommrich", and "Joe Finucan" will lead you to the best informed opposition to consolidation.
Dan Domalik September 10, 2011 at 09:08 PM
I see a lot of new names posting in this thread, and I think that's great. As someone who's been following this issue closely for 3 years now (and ran for school board because of it), I'm always glad to see people getting involved in this discussion. To the question about the timing of consolidation....Fall 2012 at the earliest IF it isn't reversed by a subsequent vote. But it is very likely to be reversed by the next board who is seated in December. Public backlash to this plan has been strong and widespread (and exists in all 3 boroughs). The more people learn about this plan, the more outspoken the opposition becomes. The reasons are numerous and many can be found in other discussion threads on the Patch. I encourage folks who care to read the other KO articles on the Patch and read the comments. You'll see a mix of facts and rumors, but read enough and you'll get a better picture. Any of the SOS candidates (Dan Domalik, Joe Finucan, Lisa Cancelliere, Dave Hommrich, and Raeann Lindsey) can answer questions about this topic.
Dan Domalik September 10, 2011 at 09:20 PM
Here is an example of the financial facts that are very relevant to this discussion, but never mentioned by the current Board. KO spends $5 million of our tax dollars every year to service $60 million in debt. That $5 million is about 14% of our total budget. Much of that debt has been refinanced repeatedly, meaning it is taking much longer to retire than past boards ever expected. That $5 million in annual debt service is $5 million in taxpayer funds that we can't spend on teachers or education programs. Now keep in mind that KO projects only $530,000 in annual 'savings' from closing 2 schools. That 'savings' is only 10% of what we spend on debt service. Think about it this way - If KO could have restrained itself to incurring 90% of the current debt total, we would have saved the same $500,000 as closing two schools. (I'm convinced the actual consolidation savings will be much less, but that's another post...). There are many, many ways to 'save' this same amount that don't require firing teachers and closing buildings and driving kids to charter schools. Electing board members who carefully manage our budget and debt is the first step. If we don't, we eventually run out of students to lose and buildings to close. Some of our current board members seem resigned to that fate, but I think KO is too good to lose.
Robert McKenna September 10, 2011 at 10:56 PM
Skip the rhetoric of the SOS Facebook group. Better yet, attend the meetings and listen to some of the comments these fellas make. Really listen! For example, at last week's meeting, the statement was made, "We'd rather have a Blue Ribbon School than Title I Reading classes." The Blue Ribbon thing is quite an honor. You can learn more about it like I did on the US Department of Education website. And as I understand it, Title I Reading classes are for struggling readers. So the speaker wants awards over academics? I believe there was a stenographer at the meeting so i plan to contact the district and get a copy of the transcript to let you know which candidate made that statement. It's looking more and more like SOS does stand for Sizzle Over Steak.
Shannon McGee September 10, 2011 at 10:56 PM
Don't forget about 3.5 million to fix a football stadium. What does that tell you about how they think? If I ran my business like them I would go belly up . Everone that disagrees should hold their taxes toward the school. Watch how fast they would listen then!!!!!!!!!
Dan Domalik September 11, 2011 at 10:41 AM
This is an interesting theoretical debate, but the idea of splitting up KO eventually runs into some awkward facts. Fact #1 - The state would never allow 1 school district to break into 3 separate districts. For years the state has been pushing to consolidate districts, not split them into smaller ones. Fact #2 - If it happened, it would mean building new school buildings in each borough and higher taxes to pay for them. Fact #3 - KO recently approached CV to talk about a merger, and CV said no way. See the article at http://dormont-brookline.patch.com/articles/keystone-oaks-joining-carlynton-in-merger-talks. Would CV be interested in Green Tree only? That may be a different question - GT offers a huge tax base, smaller number of kids, and a Blue Ribbon school. Fact #4 - KO has $60 million in outstanding debt. A share of that debt would be assumed by any district who absorbs part or all of KO. No district wants to take on the mountain of debt that KO foolishly created for itself. Fact #5 - If the 3 boroughs all joined adjacent districts, Dormont and Castle Shannon residents would incur huge tax increases from KO's 22.03 millage to Mt. Lebo's 26.63 and BP's 24.97. On the flip side, Green Tree would get a tax decrease if they went to CV (millage there is 19.88). So that move would be a disaster for Dormont and CS taxpayers. So in answer to WOP2's question - yes, this idea has been "thought through" and for many reasons, it is very unlikely.
Dan Domalik September 11, 2011 at 10:58 AM
@ McKenna - Be advised that KO uses their solicitor to delay information requests to the 35 day maximum allowed by law. Then they charge you per page to copy the information to paper. So if you want the transcript, be ready to wait over a month and then write a check to KO. Let me save you the trouble - I'm the person who discussed Title I funds. You don't need the transcript for that...my name was on the agenda. All you needed to do was pay attention at the meeting. Since you obviously misunderstood my comments, allow me to elaborate. Dormont and Myrtle already receive Title I funds. So consolidation offers no Title I advantages to those schools. Aiken does not receive Title I funds because Aiken doesn't qualify as having a need for them. Well over 95% of Aiken students test proficient or advanced in Reading on the PSSA's. For the tiny handful of Aiken kids who would benefit from extra help, Aiken already offers learning support and after school reading support so those kids are well served. Blue Ribbon status is a clear sign that Aiken is not in need of more funding or a revamped ed program. Aiken kids at all ability levels are very well-served by the current arrangement, and no Green Tree parent would trade it for something that isn't even needed. Your "awards over academics" comment is silly - The Blue Ribbon award is FOR academic achievement. Academics is first and foremost, and the award signals the current configuration works well for all and shouldn't be changed.
Robert McKenna September 11, 2011 at 10:20 PM
Fact Mr. Domalik - KO did NOT contact CV to talk about a merger. Carlynton did. Read the article you posted again. Now I would ask that you do what you've asked of others on this site. Correct or delet your post.
David N. Hommrich September 12, 2011 at 01:56 AM
@Mr. McKenna. If Dan made an error I’m certain he’ll acknowledge it and correct it. Dan is a straight forward and honest guy. You’ll always get the truth from him. To those of you who think secession is the right move…..you might want to do some homework first. Once you start something like this, you may not get that genie back in the bottle. You might be shocked / displeased at the outcome, but it’ll be too late. In Mt. Lebanon, you’d be guaranteed of a tax increase…their rate is 26.63 mills. That’s assuming there is interest there, which I have no idea. Mt. Lebanon’s tax rate is around 4 mills higher than KO’s. I’m assuming a tax increase would be received poorly in Dormont, right? On the other hand, there’s the Pittsburgh Public Schools. Their millage is 13.92……about 60% of KO’s. How about that? You could cut your taxes by 40% by joining Pittsburgh Public Schools. Something to consider, if you think that district might be interested. How about the 80% of Dormont residents I always hear about (the ones with no kids in the schools)? They would love a 40% tax break, right? Give them a whiff of that, and how are you going to explain NOT joining the Pittsburgh School District? My point is this. You can’t unring a bell. Keep this up, and you may get an outcome that you NEVER dreamed could happen. Maybe it would be better if we all worked together to make KO a success. Just a thought.......
Dan Domalik September 12, 2011 at 04:43 AM
@ McKenna - Thanks for the post. The 'formal' merger talks were with Carlynton not CV. I am glad to make that correction. I recall being in a KO committee meeting where a variety of merger options were discussed, and not just Carlynton. That's why CV specifically said they weren't interested in merging with anyone which is the point I was making. But back to your original post - Do you really want hit Dormont taxpayers to with an increase of more than 4 mills by merging with Mt Lebo?
Joe Hartnett September 12, 2011 at 06:09 AM
@Mr. McKenna - The SOS Facebook group can hardly be categorized as rhetoric. In fact, it's made up of hundreds of members who post, discuss, and opine on numerous topics involving the KO School District as a whole. While the preservation of our neighborhood schools is a common thread, an honest summation of the group would explain that the idea of "Save Our Schools" extends to the entire District. Specifically, a great deal of attention is spent on figuring out why the High School test scores have been underwhelming the past several years. I invite you to join the group and post your dissenting views, others do, including John Neuhaus - a KO School Board member, and nobody starts marching with torches and pitch forks. With regard to your suggestion that people go to the meetings to "and listen to some of the comments these fellas make" ... I couldn't agree more. I am a regular attendee and wish more residents would do the same. But I have heard Dave Hommrich, Dan Domalik, and Joe Finucan speak countless times at these meetings, and their posts on the Patch and Facebook mirror their comments at the meetings. To portray what they say in person as somehow different or salacious does not reflect the truth. And people are welcome to see that for themselves at just about every meeting.
Ed M September 12, 2011 at 11:05 AM
Being a Blue Ribbon school is nice but the be all end all! Has anyone in the KO district filled out the application to be a Blue Ribbon school? Considering the low test scores and 2010 academic status of the high school, is being a Blue Ribbon school even possible? Why didn't the district apply for the Race to the Top Grant that could have brought the district hundreds of thousands of dollars? Is closing the schools really going to save the district much cash? How will this effect the education the elementary kids receive? Will Dormont Elementary be overcrowded in the near future? Is the real reason to close the schools declining enrollment or poor management by the school board?
Shannon McGee September 12, 2011 at 12:00 PM
You are missing the point about wasting money on sports or putting it towards our childrens education.
David N. Hommrich September 12, 2011 at 12:21 PM
@ McKenna. This is in response to your Blue Ribbon post earlier. From time to time you post something that makes me believe you are a thinking man. But then you post something that clearly isn't based in reality. For example.....you posted the following in reference to Aiken Elementary winning the Blue Ribbon award. "So the speaker wants awards over academics?" Are you intentionally trying to distort things, or do you not understand how the Blue Ribbon awards work??? Your post is just ridiculous, Mr. McKenna. It’s like someone saying to the Pittsburgh Steelers....."So you want to win the Super Bowl over being the best team in the NFL?”. Or saying to an honor student…..”So you want the honor roll over getting good grades?”. One thing is in recognition of the other. Do you understand? I have a suggestion. Next time you are ready to hit “Submit” on a post, hold onto it for a day. The next day when you read it, if it seems like it makes sense, then go ahead and post it. Might help you think things through a bit.
Jon September 12, 2011 at 03:02 PM
Julie, You state in your previous post that other than "sentimental reasons", why not consolidate? I will start by saying that when you have children in a school that have formed bonds, made frienships and are comfortable in a setting you as a parent will be passionate about keeping that enviroment thriving. I grew up in the South Hills and wanted a small, tight knit community for my children to grow up in and Castle Shannon seemed to fit that bill. The fact that we have a neighborhood school only made the decision easier to purchase a house in this area. My kids have made great frienships during the time they have spent at Myrtle, as well as playing sports witht the same kids. My wife and I have also made great frienships with parents that are involved witht he school and the CSYA. Shove all these kids into one building and that sense of community is going to dissolve. On top of that, I am in no way comfortable with sending my Fifth grader on a bus to the highschool. Kids that age are not ready for the same types of things high school children are. Part of the plan is to combine fift and sixth grade( may be seventh too) into the middle school building at the high school complex. Are you telling me that they will have no contact wth upper classmen? Will not happen. Imagine you have a fifth or sixth grade child riding the bus with a high school sophmore ( by the way, they tell us this will not hppen, but it will eventually).
Jon September 12, 2011 at 03:09 PM
(continued) You get kids together witht that much of an age gap and things will happen. Do yourself a favor, look around on the websites mentioned by Joe Hartnett and others......they provide the best informaton on the subject. I will apoligize if I offended you but remember, I posted in reply to your post the day after something that I feel very strongly about went south. I have attended countless meetings, joined blogs and discussions, all to make sure that the vote that happened never did. Its a huge mistake and as I said before, will drive property value down and push out people that thought they had a good place to raise a family
David N. Hommrich September 12, 2011 at 03:18 PM
@ Jon / Julie. Jon......I'm really glad you thought to post on this topic. We spend nearly all of our time talking about finances, and very little talking about what is best for the students. We aren't shopping for the lowes cost auto insurance here. We are talking about the education of our children. Henry Ford taught the world years ago that large factories are the most cost-effective way to make cheap automobiles. But we aren't making cars.......we are educating our children. The ones who will run our communities in the future. We have three school that all do REALLY well right now in their PSSA scores. Why would we want to mess with such obvious success. The parents are happy, the kids are happy and they do quite well when tested. Our school board hasn't presented any information that would be worth risking what we have today. Especially when the projected financial benefits are so small.
Jon September 12, 2011 at 08:02 PM
@DormontMOM......I couldnt agree more. Sports and youth activities are an essential part of the community. Both of my boys have participated in sports from an early age.....anything from soccer to baseball to swimming. The friendships they form with other children involved are invaluable. And since they have been involved, I too have been involved wether it be cheering for them or coaching, and got to meet some of the best people and formed some great frienships myself. It also teaches the kids teamwork, social interaction, and shows that hard work will pay off. It is needed in any community. Dont get me wrong however, its just a part. A solid educational enviroment were the children feel secure is just as important to the development of our kids as activities are.
Robert McKenna September 13, 2011 at 12:51 AM
Help us to understand your thinking Mr. Domalik when discussing the Blue Ribbon award. . . ". . .and the award signals the current configuration works well for all and shouldn't be changed." All? As in ALL students? ALL buildings? Aiken receives an award and that's a good thing for the Myrtle and Castle Shannon children? Aiken receives an award and that's a good thing for Dormont and Myrtle? Aiken receeives an award and the board shouldn't consider consolidation? Why not? Are you running for the KO school board or the Greentree school board? Let's suppose for a moment that something special happens ONLY at Aiken. Why deprive ALL of the district's elementary children of that? Wouldn't consolidation address that? As a school board candidate shouldn't you be an advocate for ALL chrildren in the district - regardless of where they live? I heard a lot of education benefits presented at last week's meeting. Where do you stand on those? Perhaps you too should follow the advice of your running mate Mr. Hommrich. . . " Next time you are ready to hit “Submit” on a post, hold onto it for a day. The next day when you read it, if it seems like it makes sense, then go ahead and post it. Might help you think things through a bit."
David N. Hommrich September 13, 2011 at 01:34 AM
Something special does happen at Aiken, Mr. McKenna. Same for Myrtle and Dormont. All three schools do really well. And this year, Aiken will be recognized. Maybe next year it'll be Dormont or Myrtle.....right? I'm proud of all of our elementary schools. That's why I aim to make sure they are around for a very long time. They are community assets, and should be treated that way. Good news is, this will all be over in a few months. When consolidation is dead Mr. McKenna, what will you have to post about?
Robert McKenna September 13, 2011 at 01:52 AM
I hope to be posting comments about the wonderful job you and your running mates are doing as school board members for ALL the children in the district. I hope to be pleased with all of the wise decissions you and your running mates will make. And I will remind the readers to pay close attention to how you and your running mates conduct yourselves - with dignity and class. Yes, I'm looking forward to brighter days once the SOS fellas are on the board. And will you be answering all questions posed to your running mates then too?
David N. Hommrich September 13, 2011 at 02:19 AM
That'll be great. I look forward to it.

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