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Thanks But No Thanks, Pottsgrove Says

POTTSTOWN PA – Although a few of its members think Pennsylvania may someday legally force school districts to consolidate, the Pottsgrove School District Board of School Directors said Tuesday (Feb. 10, 2009) it’s not yet willing to let that happen voluntarily … or quietly.

Directors, in an informal consensus, asked board President Michael Neiffer to decline an overture from Pottstown School District board President Robert Hartman to tentatively discuss the prospect of merging the two districts. Hartman’s bold invitation followed by less than a week a budget suggestion from Pennsylvania’s governor to cut the number of school districts in the state by 80 percent through legislated consolidations.

Gov. Ed Rendell, in his annual budget speech to the state Legislature Feb. 4 (2009), proposed eliminating 400 of the state’s 501 school districts as a way to streamline operations and save taxpayers money. The governor claimed he would set aside funds in the 2009-’10 budget to pay for a commission to explore the idea, which met with fast and sharp disapproval from a variety of politicians. Reaction from most of Pottsgrove’s directors was more muted.

“It’s too early in the game to set up a meeting” with Pottstown, board Treasurer Fred Remelius offered, even though he said he thinks consolidation “will be forced down our throats whether we want to do it or not.”

“I have no inclination to hold such talks,” added board Vice President Scott Fulmer. “It’s way too premature to start down that path,” board member Nancy Landes agreed.

Board Secretary Phil Keogh objected too, in part because he said it seems unlikely Pottstown would be Pottsgrove’s sole merger candidate. To get down to Rendell’s 100 districts statewide, Keogh noted, four or five districts in the Greater Pottstown area would have to unite. Were that the case, merger discussions might also involve the adjacent districts of Spring-Ford, Owen J. Roberts, and Boyertown.

Neiffer, on the other hand, didn’t hesitate to let directors, school administrators and a sparse audience attending the board meeting at Pottsgrove Middle School know his dissatisfaction. “If the governor … wants to have a say in what we’re going to look like,” Neiffer said, “it’s time for Harrisburg to start doing something about paying for its share of education.”

Rendell, Neiffer said, wrongly blamed the state’s mounting budget deficit on schools, when his own political appointments presented new costs to taxpayers.

Nor were the state House and Senate spared. Board member April Kontostathis said the state could save millions by consolidating its Legislature. Get that done, she steamed, “and then we’ll consider doing the same.”

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