After all was said in done over the past four years, Porter Township, Pike County, apparently won't be coming over to the Wallenpaupack Area School District fold.
The Pennsylvania State Board of Education voted on Sept. 12 against the creation of the Porter Township Initiative Independent School District and its subsequent transfer from East Stroudsburg Area School District to Wallenpaupack.
Informing the Wallenpaupack School Board on Oct. 14, Superintendent Michael Silsby said that he did not think that the Porter Township petitioners would appeal. In fact, one of the main principals behind the Porter Township Initiative has since moved out of the area.
Wallenpaupack Solicitor R. Anthony Waldron II said that the request of Porter Township residents to switch school districts dates back to the fall of 2009. Discussion about transferring, however, is traced as far back as 1997.
Porter Township petitioners had asked for the transfer based the belief that the educational program at Wallenpaupack was superior to that of East Stroudsburg and the lower school taxes levied by Wallenpaupack. The matter affected only about 46 students in the sparsely populated township in southern Pike County. Most of the residents live in the Hemlock Farms community.
Wallenpaupack kept a neutral stand through the process, while East Stroudsburg flatly opposed the measure, concerned with the impact on their school district's debt service and tax base, and denying that the move from East Stroudsburg would be better for the students.
Following procedure, in March 2011, the Secretary of Education ruled that the transfer would have merit from an educational perspective for the Porter students. Upon receipt of the Secretary's decision, in August 2011 the Court of Common Pleas of Pike County approved sending the matter to the State Board. East Stroudsburg then appealed this decision to the Commonwealth Court, but the Commonwealth Court affirmed the county court's order.
Pike County Judge Joseph Kameen heard arguments about the financial impact and ordered how the matter would be addressed, should the state rule in favor of the petitioners.
The State Board designated a committee to conduct appropriate proceedings. A hearing was held on May 16-17, 2013 at the East Stroudsburg High School in Dingmans Ferry. Many members of the community testified at the hearing either as witnesses or in the public comment period.
Porter petitioners contended that their main issue was the claimed educational advantage at Wallenpaupack and that the tax saving was a side benefit. East Stroudsburg School officials rebutted that position made by Porter, saying that taxes were the main concern.
The Committee concluded that East Stroudsburg had given proper notice to Porter residents when the North Campus was being planned, before their campus in southern Pike County opened in 2001; East Stroudsburg educational programs and facilities would be negatively impacted if it were to lose Porter Township tax revenue and reducing property taxes appears to be as much a motivation as any educational factors espoused by Porter Township Initiative.
Page 2 of 2 - Other factors affecting the State Board's decision was testimony regarding whether rural Porter could actually grow and add to the East Stroudsburg District; socialization concerns over Hemlock Farms families split between school districts; quality of education compared; school safety; ethnic and racial diversity differences and curriculum comparisons.
The Committee reached the following conclusions:
• The significant reduction in property taxes appears to be as much a motivation as any educational factors espoused by Porter Township Initiative.
• The division of Hemlock Farms into separate school districts is not unique for communities in this region.
• Porter Township Initiative failed to demonstrate that Wallenpaupack provides a superior education compared to East Stroudsburg in multiple fronts, including: school performance, school safety, diversity/socialization and curriculum. East Stroudsburg Area School District also showed that it would be financially harmed if the transfer were to occur.
Regarding the issue about dividing the Hemlock Farms community, the Committee also argued that it was unpersuasive that a school district should be rezoned so that children can participate in monthly community social events.
Using side-by-side comparison of PSSA test scores and Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) reports for both school districts, Porter Township Initiative (PTI) contended that they showed Wallenpaupack to have a superior educational program. “However, PTI left the interpretation of this analysis to laymen, parents and other interested parties who support the transfer but have no professional experience or firsthand knowledge in this area,” the Committee concluded.
East Stroudsburg Superintendent Sharon Laverdure testified why PSSA testing is not a coherent way to measure the quality of a school's education and was only one part of a total picture.
School safety dealt both with the weather and potentially contrasting winter road conditions between the districts, and campus safety.
The Committee determined that no empirical evidence was shown that weather was that much different between the districts. Regarding campus safety, no credible discernible difference was shown comparing the districts.
Diversity was considered because East Stroudsburg introduced evidence that racial differences have a positive impact on a student's education. A greater diversity is found at East Stroudsburg Area School District than at Wallenpaupack.
Curriculum was compared between the school districts; Superintendent Laverdure cited numerous classes they offer that Wallenpaupack does not. Upon review of testimony, however, the Committee concluded that both districts offer a variety of courses and extra-curricular activities, and one district is not shown to be “better” in terms of courses and activities.
“We emphasize that both school systems... are extremely effective and provide quality educational programs for their students,” the Committee reports concludes.