Kari Smith speaks during the Public Engagement Session at Central Office on June 19, 2023. Photo by Brian Hagberg.

School Board Answers Public Questions During Final Public Engagement Session

June 20, 2023

RUSSELL, Pa. – The Warren County School District held its final scheduled public engagement session regarding the master facilities plan and school reconfiguration on Monday.

The lightly attended meeting, from both the public and the board, functioned primarily as a question and answer session. There were approximately a dozen community members in attendance at Central Office along with five of the nine school board members.

Approximately 30 people attended the meeting via Zoom, including board member Marcy Morgan.

One person watching on Zoom interrupted the proceedings to comment on the attendance.

“There’s barely anybody f–ing there,” they shouted. “Are you f–ing kidding me!”

The main focus of the session was on the implementation of the reconfiguration option the board unanimously chose last week. That is, taking Sheffield 9 – 12 students to Warren Area High School for three core classes with the remainder of their course schedule at Sheffield.

Superintendent Amy Stewart and Board President Paul Mangione answered most of the questions asked, though some they said would be answered by an FAQ document Stewart said would be available Tuesday or Wednesday.

Two community members, Kelly Sullivan and likely new board member Stephanie Snell, asked that the board delay implementing the reconfiguration option for a year.

“I would feel negligent if we didn’t implement a solution when one like this is at hand,” board member Arthur Stewart said. “When I say like this one, what I mean is, again, it saves taxpayer dollars, helps the teachers through reducing the preps, helps us offer more classes, all the things that we’ve been talking about for how many years. I can’t speak for any other board members. But I wouldn’t be doing my job if we didn’t get this solution underway.”

Mangione added that with the number of Sheffield students who already come to either WAHS or the Warren County Career Center for instruction, implementing this new option is a matter of scale more than starting from scratch.

“For the most part, almost 50% of Sheffield is already coming to Warren in some way, shape, or form, whether it be for class, taking virtual, or through the Career Center,” Mangione said. “So because that’s been ongoing for years now, these are roads that we’ve already been down. If I can give anybody any sort of assurance, it’s this isn’t uncharted ground for us. We’ve been doing this for quite a few years now. Just not to the same scale.”

One question, asked by likely future board member Tammi Holden, remained unanswered. Holden asked whether Sheffield students who take their core classes virtually could do so at Sheffield.

Amy Stewart said it wouldn’t be possible because “there won’t be staff there during periods one, two, and three.”

Holden referenced an email she received from WCSD Solicitor Chris Byham that indicated those virtual students would be permitted to remain at Sheffield.

“It’s a matter of whether somebody is there to supervise the students or not,” Amy Stewart said. “It’s wording, but I’ll have a look at that.”

Another candidate for school board in November, Dan Sullivan, asked how the district arrived at its estimate of $25 million to renovate Youngsville High School.

Amy Stewart said the primary reason the cost estimate was so high was due to inflation and the general increased cost of goods and services.

“We go to architects that we’ve worked with in comparable projects that we’ve done in the past,” Amy Stewart said. “There were three different methodologies that they gave us. Two of them worked with escalation on projects that they’ve seen lately, and different percentages of escalation, just in general. And the third one was about a square footage price in terms of what they’re seeing right now. So I think it was at $175 per square foot to build, is what they’re seeing right now.”

Sullivan said his concern was that the district might “put up a giant number of $26 million at a point where it could possibly cost $10 million, that would change the whole aspects of voting towards people trying to figure out what they would support.”

Amy Stewart said before any final estimate was presented, the board and the district would work with architects and builders to determine exactly what could be done to the building and at what cost at that point in time.

Kari Smith asked whether the district would keep those Sheffield 9 – 12 students who go to WAHS in the morning on separate buses in the afternoon, or if they would use the same buses as K – 8 students. Essentially, whether a household with both a 9 – 12 student and a K – 8 student would have their kids arrive home after school on the same bus.

“I’ve not asked him (WCSD Transportation Director Mike Kiehl) that specific question, it is on our list in terms of how he wants to merge them to get them back,” Amy Stewart said. “But I understand that that’s important to parents. I’ve not asked him to do that yet. But I’m sure that he can.”

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