Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Closing Woolslair School a Small Step toward Solving District's Budget Woes

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Closing Woolslair School a Small Step toward Solving District's Budget Woes

Article excerpt

Lisa Gallagher, principal at Pittsburgh Woolslair K-5, has a tough job today, the first day for students since superintendent Linda Lane proposed closing the school on the Bloomfield- Lawrenceville border.

"In my head, I know the reasoning, but in my heart, it's hard," said Ms. Gallagher, who went to kindergarten and has been a teacher or principal since 1997 at Woolslair, where her father and grandfather also attended.

Built in 1897, Woolslair is one of the district's oldest schools and now, with 110 students, has the smallest enrollment in the district. Ms. Lane says it costs twice as much per student to operate than comparable elementary schools.

Nothing is final, but Ms. Lane Monday asked the board to vote on Nov. 26 to start the closing process that includes a hearing and a 90-day public comment period. The vote could take place in March, with a closure at the end of this school year.

The closure would save $650,000 to $950,000 a year, just a piece of what the district is trying to save as it faces a budget deficit estimated to grow to $46 million in 2016, when the district would run out of money if it doesn't make changes.

Carey Harris, executive director of A+ Schools, an education advocacy group, said that while school closings are emotional, other proposed cuts will affect students across the district.

School officials presented cuts that would save from $17 million to $45 million a year -- depending on how aggressive the board wants to be. The possibilities range from mowing the grass less frequently to moving some special education students from regional classrooms to neighborhood schools.

If Woolslair is closed and students are reassigned to Pittsburgh Arsenal PreK-5 in Lawrenceville, Ms. Lane said the transition work would have to be "very strong" and improve the whole school.

Rick Flanagan, Youth Development Center director at the Bloomfield-Garfield Corp. which has after-school programs at both Woolslair and Arsenal, called for a broad discussion of the entire Arsenal building, including the middle school grades, with the possibility of creating a K-8 program with a "new vision to it."

Lauren Byrne, executive director of Lawrenceville United, said the proposal to close Woolslair comes at the same time a coalition of community groups, the East End Partnership, has identified schools as a key issue.

"It's definitely critical. I think we are a neighborhood not unlike many of the others. We experienced a huge population decrease in families with school-aged children over the last 10 years. We want to attract families, but we also want to keep the families that are here with school-aged children," she said.

Janet Cercone Scullion, president of the Bloomfield Citizens Council and executive director of Bloomfield Preservation and Heritage Society, believes the closing could be "devastating to the area," saying, "Why aren't you talking about growing the enrollment? …

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