A motion calling for the formation of a consolidation committee presented just prior to the conclusion of the Laurel Highlands School Board meeting Thursday was not met with board support.
Amid consolidation talks circulating in the district, school director Randy Raymond made the motion for district administration to form a committee of community members from Laurel Highlands and surrounding schools districts to provide input to the school board regarding potential avenues for consolidation as Laurel Highlands considers merger options.
The motion was not seconded and was not taken to vote by the board due to lack of support.
“I thought it was a good idea to build some type of committee with stakeholders and people from other districts to sit down and discuss the issues facing school districts in our county,” said Raymond. “All I was trying to do was open up the lines of communication.”
Raymond said the motion was not discussed by the board prior to the meeting. All board members were in attendance except Alicia Santore.
Board President Melvyn Sepic, while not supporting the motion, said he understood Raymond’s intent.
“The right way to do this is to get a commission together,” said Sepic.
School director Nancy Glad, who was present Thursday via conference call, said she supports having a conversation regarding consolidation but refrained from supporting Raymond’s motion due to the lack of discussion preceding it.
“In my experience, it’s never a good idea to vote without having discussed it at a work session,” said Glad.
“I will support a motion that talks about consolidation, but I want to see what it entails. I need to see it in black and white in front of me, and I need to talk about it first. We need to explore every possible option (for consolidation), and that way we can make an educated decision.”
Raymond said he made the motion after hearing individuals during the public comment portion of the meeting express interest in being part of any consolidation efforts the district undertakes.
“You saw people want to be involved in these talks. I thought it was great because it gets people thinking and gets people involved. We need to sit down and figure out what’s best for our community because raising taxes year after year is not good for our community,” said Raymond.
Raymond said the committee he was proposing could consider consolidation options for Laurel Highlands and neighboring school districts, including consolidating schools within the district, a merger of Laurel Highlands and Uniontown school districts and the prospect of a county-wide school district.
The move comes a week after Raymond posted on social media about an opportunity the district investigated to consolidate its four elementary schools into one building in the former Kmart building in South Union Township.
The proposal included the conversion of the 170,000-square-foot building, located on an 18-acres site in a plaza along Matthew Drive, into a K-5 school at an estimated cost to the district of $25-30 million.
According to Raymond, the project could have provided relief to Laurel Highlands through transportation and operating cost-savings and averted the need to make costly upgrades to current elementary buildings.
Raymond said the concept, which has been executed by schools in other states, was developed months ago by the district and discussed several times by the board, including Tuesday at a board work session, at which time a proposal to conduct a feasibility study for the project did not gain enough traction to warrant inclusion on Thursday’s agenda.
Consolidation talks in the district started earlier this year when a majority of the school board voted in June to authorize district administration to review protocols required by the state Department of Education to close or consolidate schools within the district for the 2020-21 school year.
At the time, Superintendent Dr. Jesse Wallace said administration would provide its findings to the board next spring during budget prep to give the board time to make a decision and, if needed, go through the school closure process prior to the start of next school year.