Susan Kresge, Pleasant Valley School District school board president, opened the floor to the public, saying each person had three minutes to speak at the public hearing for the proposal of closing Elred Elementary School held at Pleasant Valley Middle School's gym on Thursday.
The first to speak was Constance Andrews of Eldred. Andrews, a lifelong resident of Eldred and a former teacher of Eldred one-room schools and the present Eldred school, spoke, pointing out the assets of Eldred to the district.
"When you talk about closing it now, you'll never reopen it once the students have all been placed in other schools. Eldred is not on the Route 209 corridor like all the others. We're somewhat off the beaten path. I like where we are. It's an ideal place. If you take Chestnuthill, PVE, Polk and compare it, Eldred is the diamond."
She went on to describe the building and all its assets. At that point, Anthony Fadule, PVSD assistant superintendent of personnel, and the time keeper, told Andrews her time was up. She asked for more time. Kresge asked her to wind it up but she was finally asked to leave the podium and allow someone else to speak. Andrews was told that if time allowed, she would be able to address the board again after everyone else was heard.
Kurt Kemmerer of Ross Township said he has a son attending Eldred and he was concerned about his transportation to school if he had to attend a different school, saying he gets home now at 5 p.m.
Dr. Arnold said that his son would probably go to Chestnuthill and shouldn't be on the bus that long.
Ethel Velopolcek, a realtor who lives in Eldred, said that if anyone was familiar with what is going on in the community as far as growth, she was.
"My daughter attended Eldred from K-fourth. I would be happy if she could still be there. In my experience, Eldred is unique. From the time she began school until she left, it was a remarkable experience. The amount of parent participation, the community, the staff, custodians and teachers were all wonderful.
"Any issues a child has, they are cared for. This is more than a school. It's a family," she said.
She said that her husband is a man of few words but on the ride to the meeting he told her, "Pleasant Valley has a gem in the district and it is Eldred."
She added that she thought there were other possibilities, like closing a few classrooms in Polk or include fifth and sixth graders at Eldred.
"Eldred should remain open," she concluded.
Dr. Arnold agreed that Eldred was a gem. "This is hard. If we do close, we hope it will be reopened."
Sharon Solt of Eldred Township expressed how she believed Eldred's closing would have a negative impact on the community's economy.
"The local stores say the teachers and parents patronize their businesses and believe the closing will have a long range effect. And Mr. Corveleyn, you mentioned in the beginning that this was a permanent closing. Is it permanent?"
Dan Corveleyn, the district's solicitor, said that was just the way the law is written and read it that way.
"But Dr. Arnold said it was not permanent," Corveleyn replied.
Solt asked if the school was not used as a school, would the district have to pay taxes on it and wanted to know what its assessed value was.
Corveleyn said that yes it would have to pay taxes and no, no one in the district knows what it is assessed at.
Jerry Hildebrandt of Eldred said he moved to the area to get away from the hustle and bustle "and now you want to change it." He then asked if the fact that the first public notice in the newspaper on Feb. 15 stating the location of the public hearing would be held at the PVHS auditorium and a later notice on Feb. 26, stating the location was at the PVMS gym, made the hearing illegal.
"I'm sure I'm not the only one who went to the wrong building," he said.
He was assured that the meeting was legal.
Dr. Larry Wood of Eldred asked if the board could give him a better break down on the cost of keeping the building open and had the board given any thought to closing Chestnuthill.
Susan Famularo, PVSD business manager, said that closing Eldred would be a conservative estimate of a $500,000 savings.
Dr. Arnold said that they looked at everything, including closing Chestnuthill.
"This was the most responsible choice, the one that makes the most sense. We always have to be mindful of the population flow."
Michelle Storm of Ross Township stated she has a child attending Eldred. She became emotional when she spoke about Eldred.
"I never saw a school like this one. My 7-year-old is reading two levels above his age while my 14-year-old is having trouble reading. They're wonderful at Eldred."
She remarked that she too thought the meeting was at the high school. She said she has a bad heart and the walking to the high school auditorium and learning the meeting was at the middle school gym made her late and she missed some of the hearing.
Another Eldred resident echoed the sentiment that Eldred was indeed a gem. She complimented the board on the presentation and then asked if they knew what the threshold number was for the school to remain in compliance with compatibility for Title 1.
Geary said that if they had dropped a teacher at Eldred it would have put 30 children in the classroom.
Constance Andrews was allowed to speak again. Extolling more of Eldred's virtues, she then asked, "Dr. Arnold, Pleasant Valley School Board, how could you think of closing Eldred? If you look at the classrooms and the busing, there would be no need to close Eldred."
Her statement was applauded by the audience.
Steve Borger of Eldred asked if there had been an analysis of K-4 on what their grades are compared to the other elementary schools.
"Both my children went to Eldred and are doing very well. Sometimes it's not always about dollars and cents."
Geary responded by saying that they're struggling with this but trying to be educationally sound.
Helen Mackes of Eldred said she had attended Eldred school, as did her parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.
"Eldred is a big asset to the community. I helped rake stones for the new school. We know what we have and we want to keep it.
"I had asked Dr. Arnold how many Eldred students attend all the PV schools and he said he didn't know. I am a tax collector for Eldred Township. We support the Pleasant Valley School District. Between money from the residents and the EIT money, we bring about $4 million from Eldred.
"If you would pull that bus line a little down north, we could keep Eldred open," she said.
Maria Velopolcek, a 12-year-old former Eldred student, stated that she attended Eldred Elementary from K-fourth.
"The moment I entered Eldred, I wanted to stay forever. But the moment I entered PVI, I didn't want to be there. Eldred is an amazing school and cannot be compared to Polk, PVE, PVI or PVHS. The playground is awesome. It may be small, but it is perfect. To close it would be a huge mistake."
Gretchen Gannon-Petit of Eldred said that she thought the board should do what's best for the taxpayers. She wanted to know if the school closed, would the playground still be open to the public to use.
Dr. Arnold said it would still be the district's property and it should be business as usual.
He then thanked everyone for attending and apologized again for the location of the meeting mix-up
Susan Kresge concluded the hearing with "I've been a member of this school board for 12 years and sat with many of the other board members. We take no decision lightly. We check, double check, triple check. We don't do anything quickly. We have 90 days. I'm sure we still have many questions after what we've heard here tonight."
The board has 90 days to decide the fate of Eldred Elementary.