North Star considers impact of merger talks

January 9, 2019

As North Star and Shade-Central City school officials continue to meet on potential partnerships, North Star board members reported Tuesday that a potential merger could impact the district’s building projects.

During a North Star board meeting Superintendent Louis Lepley said officials from both school districts met Dec. 17 to talk about expanded cooperative programs. While discussions for a potential merger was also discussed at the meeting, Lepley said the immediate focus was increasing the athletic and educational co-ops.

“We intend to give our student’s as many opportunities as we can,” he said.

Lepley added that district officials would be in contact with the Pennsylvania Department of Education to talk about what is needed to conduct a feasibility study about a potential merger.

“Any type of consolidation would be years down the road, and there would have to be a study done,” he said.

Shade has 404 students, while North Star has 1,094 students. Shade’s enrollment has recently declined by 125 students, and North Star’s by 70.

North Star solicitor Michael Barbera said the major issues for a potential merger would be an equalization of the two tax bases and dealing with staff contracts.

“There have been plenty of discussion over the years, including within the county, about consolidation of various districts, and those are the two things that have killed those talks,” he said.

In November, Shade Superintendent John Krupper said a merger is not something the school is ruling out, and the issue has been discussed with the Shade school board.

“I think it’s something all schools need to look at because of declining enrollment,” he said in a Daily American interview. “There isn’t a school district in IU8 that hasn’t lost kids in the last 15 years.”

No Shade officials were at the North Star school board meeting Tuesday.

North Star board members said their talks about a merger could impact their decisions about potential building improvements district officials are proposing. Board members are waiting on financial options from Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates Architects on possible improvements after a study they conducted.

Business manager Brandon Studer said he is not sure when district officials will meet with the Mechanicsburg firm next.

“(Crabtree) is trying to lock down some hard numbers on what we’ve discussed,” he said.

Officials asked Crabtree to do a feasibility study to get a sense of the condition of the district’s buildings, including the middle school, where the roof needs to be replaced.

School board member Robbie Bloom indicated that any potential merger with Shade could impact the district’s plans for the buildings.

“If we are seriously talking a few years down the road we could collaborate with Shade, then more than likely we aren’t going to be able to do anything major until that is finalized,” he said during the meeting.

Studer said that with five years the district could put in temporary fixes to their buildings while a discussion with a potential Shade merger continues.

“If we look out past five years, that’s when it’s going to be a financial burden to us,” he said.

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