Board considers consolidating schools

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By Stephen Guilfoyle

GREAT FALLS – Chester County School District is making plans to handle a severe state budget cut.

Nothing has been decided, though some people believe a decision has already been made to close the schools in Great Falls and send those students to Lewisville schools.

School trustee Jim Stroman said the board heard a presentation about consolidation as a budget option from district staff.

District officials aren’t sure what target they are aiming for, Stroman said. District administrators and finance officials will attend an upcoming meeting of the Olde English Consortium, a group of schools in several local counties, and get more data about the upcoming cuts.

The state is facing significant budget troubles.

In December, school board member Dr. Richard Hughes said the district was able to  handle earlier budget cuts from the state in the past year.

The next one, though, was expected to be bigger and more of a problem, he said.

The district has already absorbed $2.5 million in state budget cuts, school Superintendent Dr. Larry Heath said.

Out-of-state travel was eliminated for district staff and instructors. Only essential, in-state travel has been allowed.

Heath said he is not going to a superintendent’s conference.

The district has also withheld part of the money it allocates to each school.

The school board discussed the budget problems at the recent school board meeting. A meeting scheduled for Tuesday was canceled because of the snow storm.

The board will make a decision when it has all the information, Stroman said.

The school board discussed school consolidation in 2007 and considered forming a committee to study the issue.

The issue was put off because the board did not have a Great Falls representative at the time, after the resignation of John Davis. Dr. Laurens Fort now holds the District 2 seat that covers Great Falls.

The talk now is driven by the budget crisis, Stroman said.

Closing Great Falls schools and sending those students to Lewisville was one option discussed. Another option included a possible central high school for the county, as in Fairfield County.

Heath said only the former option has been presented to the board so far. That may be what is driving some concerns from residents.

Heath said he hates to use the “consolidation” word, because some people react poorly to it, he said.

“We’re calling it school restructuring,” he said. “But, it’s consolidation.”

Stroman and Heath said the board and district staff are trying to minimize any impact to the students.