Possible academic co-ops receive support in Clarion County

When the Allegheny-Clarion Valley, Keystone and Union school districts held a community forum early this month at A-C Valley High School, the main topic of discussion was about the proposal to form various sports cooperatives. However, a possible academic consolidation between the districts also was discussed.

In broaching the latter subject, Union School District resident George Hayden said athletic co-ops “have been happening for decades” in northwestern Pennsylvania, and “it is a Band-Aid and not a fix. New district lines must be drawn, “and even that is going to be difficult because we are spread out.”

Hayden told the district leaders that he can appreciate what they’re trying to accomplish, “but what I think drives this home for this area is the three Clarion schools combining their football (teams). And that is where I have an issue … because there is too much emphasis put on football, for one, but on sports in general. I think we need to focus more on academics.”

Hayden said transportation always will be an issue and must be resolved.

An unidentified A-C Valley resident asked if there had been any discussions regarding a change in the makeup of the districts.

“Are we, within the next five years, looking at district lines changing?” the resident asked.

Union Superintendent John Kimmel said there has been no “official conversations” in regard to that subject, but “I do know schools in Clarion County have talked about the necessity to merge at some point, just based upon finances.”

Kimmel said finances are problematic because of Clarion County districts’ funds going toward outside cyber school costs.

“There is (state) House Bill 1422 that is sitting in the Senate Education Committee right now,” he said. “We have some local senators that could be pushing that forward, and that would save Clarion County schools $2 million per year and we’re not spending that in our districts in sports.”

During the course of the meeting, Keystone Superintendent Michael Hall said if sports co-ops were formulated, it could lead to more sharing of academic opportunities between the districts.

Kimmel told the Clarion News that one of those academic opportunities could be a sharing of services in the areas of industrial arts and home economics.

“There are courses that some of the schools have gotten rid of where we would be able to share teachers,” he said.

There also is a growing concern among the administrators about the availability of incoming teachers to fill positions.

“It is becoming more and more difficult to find certified teachers,” A-C Valley Superintendent David McDeavitt told the Clarion News. “Take, for example, Spanish. If we only have one certified Spanish teacher, that could be how we could potentially be able to utilize a staff member to enhance the academics. That’s something that potentially could happen.”

Kimmel explained there also are needs in other academic subjects.

“There was (only) one physics teacher that graduated from college last year. If we lose (a physics teacher) we are going to be in trouble,” he said. “We need to keep thinking about those things as well.

“We’re going to have to share in some areas because either we’re not going to have the money or the resources are not going to be available.”

McDeavitt said the sharing of services is not a new idea.

“We do (sharing of services) with some of our special needs students in the classrooms that we have, whether it is a life skills class or an emotional support class,” he said. “We’ll open it up and try to bring more kids on the campus and help offset costs.”

The A-C Valley, Keystone and Union school boards are scheduled to vote on the sports co-ops at their respective meetings on Monday.