Growing Problem Plagues District Coatesville Schools Are Faced By Overcrowding. The Board Has Not Developed A Strategy.

Posted: March 03, 1997

COATESVILLE — The Coatesville Area school board last week voted down an elementary school attendance plan and the purchase of 61 acres near the Chester County Airport for a new school, while agreeing to borrow $31 million for building schools.

Those actions at Thursday's meeting show that a long-term plan to address the district's explosive growth is not in place, and some board members afterward were critical of the body's apparent lack of direction.

``If we do away with the grandstanding and the quick decisions and put aside the personality conflicts, we might get something done,'' board member Russell Vreeland said Friday.

The lack of a plan is one more example of how the board has been ``spinning its wheels'' of late, said board member Clarence Smith.

``This is a dysfunctional board,'' said board member Hank Hamilton. ``We are all over the place like scrambled eggs.''

Last year, a plan to go to year-round schooling was defeated, as was a plan to reconfigure the elementary grades. Both had drawn public opposition.

The latest plan would have converted East Fallowfield Elementary School into a districtwide kindergarten center, added onto Friendship Elementary and redrawn boundary lines for the district. Residents had attended board meetings since January protesting the plan because it would close down a neighborhood school, yet fail to provide long-term solutions for soaring enrollment, which has gone from 3,800 in 1991 to 8,100 students now.

At Thursday's meeting, the board voted down the elementary attendance plan it had voted, 5-4, to approve on Jan. 23. This time the vote was 5-4 the other way. The swing vote came from Linda Messinger, who said ``no true [cost] figures'' had been presented by the administration.

The board plans to begin work on an alternative plan at 5 p.m. March 17 in the Intermediate High School. An ad hoc committee composed of the board, the administration and members of a community advisory task force will take public comment. The hope is to come up with a new plan that the board can vote on at its March 20 meeting.

``We don't have a lot of time,'' Board President Leonard Fredericks said. The board wants a plan in place by the start of the new school year.

``Do I think we can come up with a solution in one meeting?'' Smith said Friday. ``It is possible, but highly improbable.''

``I really don't know where we are going with all this,'' board member Hugh Redditt said Friday. ``To realistically think you are going to have a perfect solution and have everyone agree is probably wishful thinking.''

Joseph Mannion, who had headed a group of East Fallowfield parents opposed to the kindergarten plan, said after Thursday's vote that the district needed better enrollment projections and financial data before proposing another plan.

Redditt said the public wants a ``conventional solution'' to the problem of overcrowding. ``The only conventional solution is a new school,'' he said.

The board voted, 6-3, to approve the $31 million bond issue. Part of the money, $18 million, is for the construction of a middle school.

The board voted down by a 5-4 vote the acquisition of 61 acres near Valley Township that was slated for a middle school.

Without the land, it is not clear whether a new middle school will be built, board members said Friday.

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