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Taxpayers, board question plan

  • MICHAEL HEERY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Frank Tanburri questioned discrepancies in millage Monday night at the Lehighton Building Committee Workshop.
    MICHAEL HEERY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Frank Tanburri questioned discrepancies in millage Monday night at the Lehighton Building Committee Workshop.
Published February 11. 2014 05:00PM

School board directors and taxpayers voiced their opinions Monday about a proposed Lehighton Area School District Elementary Center.

"I have always said that our elementary schools have their own personality, yet sometimes, in order to move forward, we need to change," said school board Director Rocky Ahner.

"But under our current submission to PlanCon, an elementary center is not an option and the loss of $10,152,000 for maximum reimbursement for the four existing buildings is a tremendous amount for taxpayers to digest."

"For me to make a rational decision on the new elementary center, I would need more answers and numbers on such items as upgrades to water, sewer and utilities supply lines; storm water runoff; administrative alignment with principal/assistant principal; traffic reconfiguration including stop lights and alternate access, if necessary," Ahner continued.

"Also, our teachers and staff are important to the education of our students. So, how far do we go with playing the attrition card in loss of jobs?" he concluded.

"How are we going to pay for it?" asked Director William Hill. "With a new football stadium, we're looking at $60 million.

In November, the school board approved Barry Isset & Associates Inc. to complete all design/development phases for complete preparation of bid documents and completed bid process as proposed for the development of a new multipurpose stadium. It would be built at the current track between Lehighton Area High School and the administration building.

The anticipated budget of this project is estimated to be between $4.9 million and $5.6 million.

The school board is now also looking at projected building costs of $52.5 million.

"These schools are tired and we have to move on them, but carefully," Hill advised.

"We want to make sure that we have looked at all of our options in order for our school board to make the best possible decisions," said LASD Superintendent Jonathan J. Cleaver.

When the floor was open for public comment, reactions to the proposed elementary center were mixed.

Frank Tanburri questioned "discrepancies" in proposed millage.

"One month, we're told that one mill equals $560,000. The next, we're told that it is $360,000," said Tanburri. "What is really a mill?"

As one of the organizers of a grassroots citizens' group concerned about potential tax increases, Tanburri also stated that his group has been "trying to meet privately with the board, but they refuse to meet with us."

According to solicitor William Schwab, "The school board as a whole or even a majority of them cannot meet in private. That would break the Sunshine Laws."

"Let's face it. Our taxes will go up no matter what we do," said Kristin Simmons. "Our elementary schools were all built in the 1950s. A lot has changed in 60 years. It's time we move forward. Our students deserve better."

"It takes courage to stand up for your beliefs and an even stronger person to listen to the people they represent," said Betty Wolfe. "Decide what's best for the students and the residents of the area safety-wise, money-wise and community spirit-wise."

Citing traffic potentially quadrupling around an elementary center, hospital traffic, and the upcoming work on the Route 209 Thomas McCall Memorial Bridge, Brenda Eckley said, "I fear for the safety of our kids."

"I'm against a big complex. The kids will just be numbers," she added. "Bigger isn't always better."

Another organizer of a grassroots citizens' group, David Bradley said, "I'm afraid that grandparents who help their children raise the grandchildren will be taxed out of the area."

Bradley carried laminated signs calling for the district to terminate Mark Barnhardt and EI Associates.

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