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Pa. Dept. of Education: School district must hold hearing before closing schools

By Ryan Hughes, Reporter, RHughes@wfmz.com
Published On: Jun 11 2012 03:52:15 PM CDT
Updated On: Jun 12 2012 08:01:56 AM CDT

Several schools have been put on the chopping block in the Reading School District following a major budget crisis.

HARRISBURG, Pa. -

Several schools have been put on the chopping block in the Reading School District following a major budget crisis.

A $40 million budget deficit has forced the school board to act. A preliminary budget approved includes closing Thomas Ford Elementary and four gateway schools.

Before all that can happen, however, the Pennsylvania Department of Education said state code requires the district to hold a public hearing.

"It really helps vet the process, and it ensures the board of directors and the public come together and get their thoughts out on the table," said Tim Eller, press secretary with the PDE.

The public hearing is supposed to happen three months before the board can cast a final vote.

The school district told 69 News a permanent decision has not been made to close Thomas Ford. It called the move a "consolidation" and has not decided what to do with the building.

"As of Friday, the last interaction we had with the Reading School District was late last March," said Eller.

A hearing has not been held, and if you do the math, that three-month window takes us into the next school year, which adds on another state requirement.

"In order for a school district to shut down a building during the academic year, they have to justify to the department that doing so will advance the academic program for students," Eller stated.

Staff must also be given a 60-day notice. Under what's called Section 524, the Department of Education must approve the request to close the building.

"If we find what they provided for us and justified to us that the requirements of law were not met, we would then engage with the district and inform them of such," said Eller.

Basically what that means, the department said, is if state code is not met, the schools could stay open longer.