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Study reveals pros and cons to Exeter and Antietam school merger

By Greg Didyoung, WFMZ.com Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Apr 30 2013 07:00:00 PM CDT
Updated On: Apr 30 2013 10:51:23 PM CDT

Two school districts in Berks County could become one.

EXETER TWP., Pa.- -

The results of a merger study between Exeter and Antietam school districts revealed benefits for students, yet little savings for taxpayers during a special community forum at the Reiffton School Tuesday night.

Roughly 300 people heard the results of a feasibility study conducted by The Civic Research Alliance that detailed different options the districts have pertaining to a partial or full merger.  Kerry Moyer of the Civic Research Alliance discussed the study's four different merging options.

The first option would maintain the status-quo, keeping the districts the way they are now.

A second option would be shared services a program, in which both schools would share course offerings, resources, and faculty.

The third option includes adopting a regional school model where Antietam and Exeter would share all their resources. This option would assign students from both districts to schools nearest to them. Moyer said this plan would also ensure all ten buildings between the districts would be used and could expand course offerings without additional debt. 

The fourth option would include a physical combining of the two schools. This plan would call for the 18 board members from both schools be narrowed down to nine. Course offerings would be expanded and classes could be filled to capacity, not expanded.

"Instead of having a classroom with over a handful of students, a merger could bring more students allowing faculty more time to teach other courses," said Moyer.

While students could benefit from a merger, taxpayers wouldn't see any significant savings. "Tax paying residents would likely see no changes in their tax rates," said Moyer.

A full merger could save nearly $600,000 in administrative costs, however, matching teacher's salary and benefits would cost roughly $700,000. Moyer said the study did not include laying off faculty.

Antietam is roughly the quarter the size of Exeter in terms of student enrollment and tax revenue and would benefit more from the merger than Exeter. Some residents were concerned about Antietam's lower PSSA testing averages and fewer course offerings, questioning what Exeter would gain from a merger.

"This whole night has sounded like a sales pitch for Antietam," said Exeter resident Denise Lambert to applause.

Board President Robert H. Quinter Jr. noted that Exeter would benefit from a merger. "I see one benefit would be three additional buildings added to our district. The Exeter School District would need no new construction in my lifetime, Quinter added."

Quinter reminded those in attendance that the results of the study were meant to give a benchmark to begin at, adding  "no decisions have yet been made."