Questions and Answers

We appreciate the patience of the community members that have submitted questions seeking response. We have been working to answer questions from the hearings and from emails received. Questions have been divided into categories for reference. Questions remaining to be answered will appear here.

Enrollment Study Questions

 
Class Size/Capacity

Is it educationally sound to pack our classrooms with 25 students?

Classroom size targets shall not change with the potential school consolidation. It must be stated again that our target sizes will remain the same as they have been for the past several years. With regards to 25 students per section, we currently have class sizes at this level and our students perform considerably well.

Why is the Methacton School District complacent with funding elementary class sizes at 25 students per class while research suggests that smaller class sizes are pivotal for elementary students to learn and thrive? 

The Methacton school district has performed considerably well compared to many of our neighboring districts. The Methacton class size policy has been adjusted and reduces the maximum number of students per section in grades 2-4. Our class size targets have been 22 students per section for grades K-1 and 25 students per section for grades 2-4. These targets have been in place for many years and it is our intent to keep it this way.

Regarding the #1 core value “to focus on what is best for all students - How do you justify the possible class size increase to 25 pupils or more as an educational benefit if even one of our elementary schools were to close?

Class size increases are not proposed as part of this potential plan. When we look at what is best for all students, class size is part of the information we consider. However, class size does not stand alone as the only factor for supporting student success. There are many other things that impact a child’s educational experience. Having great teachers in a classroom and providing necessary support through professional development are other such things that are considered.

Why were these temporary classrooms included in the capacity analysis?

The modular classrooms are considered in the analysis because they are permanent modular classrooms that are currently in use and are owned by the district and can be used in the event of consolidation. These are not temporary classrooms. 

Do we still have excess capacity without the modular classrooms in the elementary schools? 

Yes, there is excess capacity without counting the modular classrooms. Each building, depending on redistricting, will have additional classrooms that can be utilized in the event they are needed. 

Regarding the modulars at Arrowhead and Audubon no longer being needed - Mr. Thompson, did you include these modular classrooms in your totals for the capacity study when they were designated for removal? Can’t we just get rid of them? Or is it your intention to now put elementary kids back into the trailers?

Modular classrooms were included in the capacity study. The question asserts that there were statements that all modular classrooms were designated for removal. This statement has not been made during these recent presentations. The modular classrooms can be removed, replaced or renovated. There is no specific intent to place students in modular classrooms.

Regarding class size that should not exceed … 25 students - Does “should” mean that class size could exceed 25 if the board has a reason [to] close schools?

The district has targeted 22 students for K-1 and 25 students for grades 2-4. Targets mean just this- we plan to these numbers as our limit. Since enrollment in any building changes daily, students leave, students come, the class size number fluctuates. We have transported students to other buildings when class size targets have been reached in order to level out class size in particular buildings when possible. The word should does provide the flexibility should there be an overarching need to adjust if educationally appropriate.

If you “prefer” a class size of 22, then why did all of your studies base assessments of capacity on class sizes of 25? Can we please slow down and look at all of the data that show that classes this size are too large?

Class size projections were for both 22 and 25 students per section average for the purpose of falling within the policy and our class size targets. Presentation slides generally show 3 lines. A red line that indicates the number of students based on current and projected enrollment, a middle line which is green and represents 22 students per section average and then a top-most green line that represents 25 students per section. There are numbers between these lines indicating excess capacity.

A parent testified tonight that there are 27 students in Mrs. Chantry’s 4th grade class at Eagleville, but MSD data lists 25 students in that class. Please explain that discrepancy.

Mr. Chantry has a class of 25 students as confirmed today (3/4/15).

If your projections are wrong, how would you find the extra capacity in the remaining schools? Would you need even larger class sizes?

The capacity analysis does account for fluctuations in student enrollment. The current capacity with a closure of 1 school building will allow for an average of 22 students per section in the remaining 4 elementary buildings with enough capacity to absorb 267 additional students. There are additional full size classrooms in each building that can accommodate entire sections. When we meet our targeted class size thresholds, we seek openings in other nearby Methacton elementary buildings to level out class size when needed.

What will be the effects on classroom size (increases to 22 or more students per section? At what grade levels?) and availability of space in the other schools if Audubon is closed?

The question appears to suggest that we will increase class size to 22 or more. There may be instances where class sizes are less than 22 in some buildings at some grade levels. In these cases, it would be accurate that any section of less than 22 students will be represented as a potential increase given that our targets have been consistent for some time. The actuals and the targeted sizes do not always match. There are programmatic reasons and student-centered reasons that some classes are below 22 and if those reasons continue to exist following any potential consolidation, then the building principal will address that appropriately. When we speak of class size, we specifically address our targeted maximums. However, there are times that we are under these targets and from time to time are over in order to best accommodate all students' educational needs.

Special Education Questions:

What is the transition plan for Special Needs students, they cannot just be sent into a new classroom without any transition.  It does not work that way with them.  What is the plan and have you given this any thought.  

In the event a building closes, all students will tour their new school and classrooms.  Students who receive special education services will be provided additional opportunities to visit their new schools and classroom(s) to help make the transition smoother for them.  If a decision is made to close a school, it is recommended that each student’s IEP team discuss and develop a plan for the transition based on the student’s specific needs.  

What is the plan for the classrooms for Special needs, Mr. Thomson mentioned that the extra capacity (special needs classrooms) were part of the reason for the possible closures, is there a plan to accommodate and provide sufficient space for the special needs program and what is it. Can there be some transparency provided for these plans. 

All special education classrooms will adhere to Chapter 14 regulations related to square footage and ebb/flow requirements.  Learning Support, Autistic Support, and Communications classes will remain in full-size classrooms as they are today.   Dedicated spaces will be provided to related services providers, such as speech, occupational therapy, and physical therapy.

Were considerations made for the students and their assistants who work for them?

The student’s current IEP would be implemented in the new school.  Current supports and services, including PCAs, as outlined in each child’s IEP will continue to be provided in the new setting.  

What is your plan for special education compliance? 

The district is required by law to adhere to Chapter 14 Special Education Regulations.  This includes square footage, ebb and flow, and caseload requirements.

How will the classrooms and available space in the other buildings be utilized?  Specifically, will there be designated classrooms for speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and special education?  Will each elementary school have the same level of supports for special needs students? 

Dedicated spaces will be available for all special education services (please see #2 above).  Learning Support classes will be available in all buildings.  In keeping with our current practices, special programs, such as autistic support and the Communications Class, will be delivered in designated buildings. 

Curriculum/Student Performance Questions

What impact will school closings have on student scores in the future and in the upcoming PSSAs?

This year’s PSSA will be new and different then in the past years in two main ways: (1) It will be based on the PA Core which will include more complex reading passages and grade level content for both reading and math; (2) There is no longer a separate writing test for students in grades 5 and 8. This year, all students in grades 3-8 will be tested in reading and writing over the course of four tests. The district has been working to prepare all students for these changes throughout this school year. If schools are consolidated, we will continue to provide the same level of educational and support programming that exist today. The district will work as it has in the past to address any impact that any change may bring. 

How can the “Achievement Goal” that was mentioned on the website in 2014 be accomplished with this ongoing scenario of potential school closings?

The educational/achievement goal developed by the Methacton School Board was based upon data presented on the School Performance Profile and states: “Each grade span (3-4, 5-6, 7-8, 9-12) will improve from the 2012-2013 PSSA/Keystone scores by a cumulative 10% over the next four years.” As this profile encompasses achievement and growth data from the PSSAs and Keystone Exams, the response above applies here as well. 

How will this consolidation plan enhance learning opportunities and outcomes for students at the elementary grades, and reflect the mission statement goal of “challenging students to achieve at the greatest potential and create a vibrant community of learners?”

The work toward ensuring our mission is carried out is something that we have in front of us regardless of school consolidation. With or without consolidation, we will continue to offer curriculum and programs that our community expects and at the level they expect while continuing to make improvements based on our ongoing analysis of their effectiveness.

Are there differences in how the curriculum is delivered at the different schools, and if so, how will they be merged?  How much time will staff be given to work on curriculum changes?

The curriculum in our elementary schools has been consistent district-wide. A curriculum cycle helps to guide the amount of time needed to work on curriculum changes and proposed revisions and allows for continual adjustments to remain in sync with standards. The way in which the district curriculum is delivered in each school/classroom may vary slightly based on interpretations of student data. Curriculum changes/enhancements will be given attention with or without consolidation. There is less need for focus on curriculum changes as part of the potential school consolidation then there is a need for teacher time to collaborate and organize within their new teams.

A major role of our School Board is to maintain strong public schools, yet we’ve seen no data indicating that a school closure will have any educational benefit and a considerable amount of data suggesting it would cause educational harm. Why not slow down and look at the academic ramifications of a school closure?

The closing of a public school is not in and of itself a positive educational outcome. Research behind closing of schools suggests that there is typically not a direct positive impact or educational benefit. However, as we plan to address student and staff needs relative to possible changes, we intend to bring parents and teachers into the mix of our planning and decision making processes. With this being said, not looking at the information (capacity, enrollment, and future capital improvements) before us can be equally problematic to our long term sustainability of programs and services for all students. We have a great school district with great teachers and we have tremendous support from parents and the community. The programs and services provided today require the support of a sustainable financial basis. The consolidation of schools will allow for an improved use of our limited resources. 


If you have questions or comments, please submit them to alinch@methacton.org. These comments will be shared with the Board of School Directors and administration. Frequently asked questions have been posted on the website below.
 
 
 

Why did the Board seek a study of district’s enrollment and capacity?

The Board and administration regularly track student enrollment as part of the ongoing planning process. This is generally done to address proper staffing levels, for budgetary preparation, and in order to remain in compliance with state and federal enrollment reporting requirements.

In 2007, the Methacton School District began to see a decline in student enrollment. The Board directed the superintendent in April of 2014 to engage an independent consultant to provide a study on enrollment and capacity.

When was the last enrollment study conducted?

In April 2007 there was a Feasibility Study prepared by EI Associates of Harrisburg, PA as part of the required pre-construction process for Skyview. The study presented enrollment and capacity figures which projected an increase in student enrollment over the 10 years following the study, these figures can be seen here. The complete study is available for review in person at the Farina Education Center.

Who/what is the Pennsylvania Economy League?

The Pennsylvania Economy League (PEL) is the outside consultant engaged by the Board for the purposes of conducting a complete study and projection of the district’s student enrollment and capacity. During the Board’s April 22, 2014 meeting, they authorized the superintendent to get professional assistance for an enrollment study. PEL is a recognized leader in this area of research. You can read more about PEL on their website at http://pelcentral.org.

What is PEL’s accuracy rate over 5 years? 10 years?

As stated on page 5-47 of the PEL enrollment study, “the first five years is 3.06 percent based on 812 data points;” and the “MAPE (mean absolute percentage error) is 4.72 percent based on 1,389 data points” and PEL indicates that “the literature suggests that projections within 5.0 percent (+/-) after five years are “acceptable.”

Furthermore, the PEL study does indicate, starting on page 5-48 of the report, that “It must be recognized that the projections generated for the Methacton School District are a product of certain assumptions…and that “uncertain events that can influence and alter pupil projections are such that no projections, no matter how carefully constructed, can guarantee complete accuracy.” 

Lastly, PEL indicates “Despite these words of caution, PEL believes the projections offered in this report are as reasonable and as realistic as possible in light of the available facts, and—based on our experience, the indicators we relied on, the techniques we used, and our track record—they should serve the district well in its short- and long-term planning.”

What other schools have used PEL’s recommendations?

PEL is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that since 1936 has been helping state and local governments. PEL has a long tradition of involvement in matters relating to public school planning, management, and finance both in terms of statewide policy issues and with respect to the operations of individual school districts. The common theme of all of PEL’s work is to provide facts and objective analyses so that sound public policy decisions can result. PEL has been widely recognized for its expertise and for being free of partisan considerations, vested interests, profit motivation, and other factors that can often be perceived as clouding government decision making.

PEL has undertaken more than 175 school district studies. Although you can find a more extensive listing on their website, an excerpt of that listing is found below: 

  • East Penn School District – Draft Submitted April 2014
  • Radnor Township School District – January 2014
  • Tredyffrin-Easttown School District (Update) – January 2014
  • Abington School District – December 2013
  • Norristown Area School District – February 2013
  • Council Rock School District – February 2013
  • Souderton Area School District (Update) – March 2012
  • Pennridge School District (Update) – December 2011
  • Boyertown Area School District – October 2011
  • Wissahickon School District – January 2011
  • Quakertown Community School District – August 2010

Is there a family/friend/neighbor relationship between board members and provider? 

There are no known relationships between any member of the School Board or district administration and the Pennsylvania Economy League. PEL is a well know provider of these services in the Commonwealth. PEL has completed over 175 such studies in the Commonwealth. An excerpt listing is provided in another question within these FAQ’s.

Are the complete enrollment and capacity studies available?

The enrollment and capacity study PowerPoint presentations provided at Board meetings by PEL are posted to the district’s website at www.methacton.org/enrollment. The full enrollment study is posted on the web site. The recommendations based on the capacity study analysis have not yet been finalized. The study, pending final options, has been posted to the website here. The consultant will present recommendations to the Board at the February 23 hearing.

Has the Board already decided to close Audubon and/or Arrowhead elementary school?

No decisions have been made at this time. The hearings are designed to provide the Board and the public information to consider in making a decision.

What is the timetable for any potential closure of schools?

Following the hearings in February, the Pennsylvania Department of Education mandates a 3 month waiting period before the Board may take any action on closing a school. Actions will take place at a public advertised meeting that will be held no sooner than the month of May 2015.

What is the process for the hearings?

On February 23 and 25, the Board will conduct public hearings on the question of the possible closing of Audubon Elementary School and/or Arrowhead Elementary School. This hearing will begin with a presentation by the Pennsylvania Economy League. The focus of this presentation will be PEL’s recommendations for Board action based on the results of the recently conducted enrollment and capacity studies.

The Board will then hear from the public, according to the following procedures:

  • Members of the public who wish to speak will be asked to sign in upon arrival.
  • Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. for 6:30 p.m. start.
  • Wherever possible, carpooling to the hearing is recommended.
  • Any person who is a taxpayer, resident or employee of the district may speak.  A representative of a school district taxpayer, resident, or employee group may also speak.  
  • The time limit to speak will be 3 minutes per speaker.
  • A person entitled to speak may not grant his/her time to another. 
  • Time will be kept.
  • The end time for the hearing is planned for 10:30 p.m.
  • Written comment will be accepted during and after the hearing. The conclusion of the hearing does not prevent new information from being presented, either by the administration, consultant, public, etc.
  • There will be a full transcription of the hearing.

If I am unable to attend the hearing on February 23 or 25, will comment on this topic be taken during the February 24 regular school board meeting at MHS?

Individuals who wish to be heard on the question of the possible closing of Audubon Elementary School and/or Arrowhead Elementary School are encouraged to attend the hearings. The Board has determined that both dates (February 23 and February 25) will be utilized in order to provide ample opportunity for public comment.

The proceedings will be transcribed for the record, and this will ensure that the record is complete. Please note, written comment will be accepted during and after the hearing. The conclusion of the hearing does not prevent new information from being presented, either by the administration, consultant, public, etc.

Does the Board's approval a $5.5 million field project contribute to the potential closure of schools?

No, the renovation of the Methacton High School fields are predicated on the need to provide for safe play for all students and athletes. This project specifically addresses: the deficiency of athletic fields for our programs; inadequate campus storm water management; places our complex on par with our historically high academic performance; and will be an attractive feature for our community.

 

Additionally, the funding of these improvements are occurring through a combination of public and private funds. The Board has authorized $4 million of a $5.5 million bond towards the field project while our private donors have already raised $1.3 million. The Board plans to utilize the remaining $1.5 million for capital improvements to district buildings in the near future. The impact to the annual budget for these field improvements is $150,000.


Does MSD have any policies on class size and what will the impact of any potential school closure do to class sizes?


The Methacton School District has a class size policy that can be found here http://www.methacton.org/cms/lib/PA01000176/Centricity/Domain/50/126.pdf

 

In general, the policy establishes class size maximums for grades K-4, 5-8, and 9-12. In practice, the Methacton School District has average class size targets of 22 for grades K-1 and 25 for the remaining grades. Class size does increase or decrease from time to time based on student needs, special student circumstances, and other limitations.

 

Class size maximums are established under this policy. As such, this recently updated policy (Dec. 2014) reflects the interest of the Board under these established maximums. Any change in school configuration or school closing would require us to comply with the policy.

Did MSD increase class size as part of its recent policy changes in December 2014?

The policy changes did not increase class sizes for district schools. Specific changes were completed to align the policy with the building grade configurations and to establish a procedure to review classes falling below the minimum level of 15 at the secondary level.

The revised policy actually REDUCED the maximum size of classes for grades 3 and 4 from 30 to 25. The policy, as approved, is consistent with our historical class size practices. 

What would the student to teacher ratio be if we close one school?  Both schools? 

The PEL consultant will be providing this information as part of the possible options for consideration in this matter. It must be emphasized that the consultant was specifically instructed to provide recommendations that are consistent with the policies and historical practices of the district.

Will the consultant be recommending the elimination of special education programs?

The Methacton School District strongly believes in its mission to challenge all students to achieve their greatest potential. This most certainly includes students with special needs and as such, it is the responsibility of the district under the direction of the Board of School Directors, to ensure that programs and services needed to help these students achieve, are provided. 

It was stated by the consultant in his presentation before the Board on February 3, 2015 that some special education services in several buildings are currently provided in a physical space the size of a regular classroom. As such, the consultant had suggested that those services may be provided equally effective for the same students in a different space in the same building where the full size classroom could be re-purposed. There has been no indication provided by the consultant that an elimination of programs or services are recommended. The consultant had suggested a more effective and efficient utilization of our building spaces.

The Methacton Board of School Directors is firm in their commitment to all students and are committed to providing the appropriate programs and services for students with special needs. 

Were any of the sitting School Board Directors members of the Board that voted to build Skyview Upper Elementary School?
 
No.
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