HUNTINGDON - The Huntingdon Area school board voted Monday to hold public hearings before possibly closing Jackson-Miller and Brady-Henderson Mill Creek elementary schools.
The hearings will be back-to-back nights at the Huntingdon Area High School auditorium, the first on Feb. 16 for Jackson-Miller and Feb. 17 for Brady-Henderson. Both meetings will begin at 6:30 p.m.
Peg Vlsak, spokeswoman for "Save Our Schools," told the board that this was its chance to change its previous vote in favor of moving toward closing the schools.
"Your first decision was wrong," Vlsak said. "This is a chance for you to give Jackson-Miller and Brady-Henderson a second chance at staying open. You are in a very unique situation. Please give Brady-Henderson Mill Creek a second chance, and do the right thing."
Jackson-Miller parent Beth Howell told the board she could not understand how the district said it has financial problems but was able to afford a $20 million building project.
"You keep saying that you do not have enough money, but you are going to build a new middle school," she said. "You say you have money problems, but I think your problems go much deeper than that."
The Jackson-Miller vote was 6-3. School board members Dennis Reif, Peter Rothstein and David Berger voted against the hearing, while board members Dick Scialabba, vice president Janice Metzgar, Tammy Peterson, Ronald Long, president Mike Honstine and Donna Isenberg voted in favor.
The vote was 5-4 on the Brady-Henderson hearing with Scialabba joining Reif, Rothstein and Berger to cast "no" votes.
After the meeting, Reif, who spearheaded the building project, said he was having "second thoughts" about the proposed middle school project.
Reif and Scialabba cast the two lone "no" votes in the 7-2 decision for the district to go ahead with obtaining two separate $10 million bond issues to finance the project.
"I am not sure we as a board really looked at the moving of the sixth-grade classes back into the elementary schools," Reif said. "I did spearhead the building project, but I didn't want to spend $20 million."
With the economic climate being what it is in Huntingdon County, Scialabba said he would have liked to see the building project happen four years ago when the district first discussed the issue.
"The economy has deteriorated over the last four years. If this vote would have taken place four years ago, then I would have voted yes," he said.
After the hearings, there will be a 90-day comment period where the public and the board can present their cases for or against the closings, solicitor Carl Beard said.
"This by no means says that the district is going to close these two schools," Beard said. "The board will take no action whatsoever until the allotted time."