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Key vote coming on Central Bucks grade realignment, full-day kindergarten


Amid a period of upheaval in the Central Bucks School District, planning for grade level realignment and full-day kindergarten is still moving forward, district interim superintendent Jim Scanlon said during a recent public meeting.

Whether those large-scale changes will come next year, however, is uncertain.

“We’re in a time of transition. Four new school board members were just elected and two others have just resigned,” Scanlon, noted.

Scanlon himself recently became interim superintendent, after the sudden resignation of former superintendent Abram Lucabaugh. The district has begun a nationwide search for a new superintendent.

With those significant shifts and the complexities and costs of the educational strategies in mind, the school board is expected to vote March 12 on whether to proceed with the programs in the next school year.

If adopted, the grade changes would see sixth graders moving to the district’s five middle schools and ninth graders moving to CB’s three high schools.

Scanlon stressed that regardless of when the realignment may be implemented, no redistricting of students would be necessary — a concern many families have expressed, he said.

An 85-member steering committee is continuing its detailed study of the plans, Scanlon told the more than 100 people who attended the meeting at Tohickon Middle School. Another 100 or so tuned in from their computers.

A request for input from families, staff and a student advisory council found widespread support for full-day kindergarten. Central Bucks is one of three districts in Bucks County that does not have an all-day program and among the 18% in the state, Scanlon said. It has long been recognized by educators and parents as the best model for young students. Scanlon noted that CB will not offer a half-day kindergarten. A rest period will be part of the day, he added.

Other feedback emphasized the importance of continuity for children during grade level changes and the need for stable class sizes and course offerings.

To accomplish the ambitious changes, building renovations will be required at all the high schools to accommodate ninth graders. CB South would see the biggest impact, reaching 87% capacity if those students were moved in during the 2025-2026 school year, Scanlon said. The district has plans for an addition at the Warrington school, if needed, and CB West and East have available land for growth, the superintendent said.

A critical piece of all planning is the teacher shortage. The number of teachers graduating from Pennsylvania’s 14 universities is “at an all-time low,” said Scanlon. Ten years ago, there were some 21,000. Last year, he said, there were 6,700, including a single certified physics teacher.

Bus drivers and support staff are also in short supply, Scanlon noted.

The cost of the sweeping systemic changes is significant.

Tara Houser, the district’s COO, said expanding kindergarten will cost about $6.6 million, with the lion’s share — $5.6 million — spent to hire teachers. About $1 million will be needed to get the program running.

Moving sixth graders into middle school will cost about $657,000, with new teachers costing some $585,000 of that expense, Houser said.

The biggest cost will be renovating the high schools, with a price tag nearing $13 million. That, she said, would be a one-time expense.

All of this will bring higher property taxes. Starting in 2024-2025, taxes would rise about $51 a year for homes with an average assessment in the district. The following year, as bills to renovate the high schools are due, homeowners will see an approximate hike of $173, according to Houser. In 2026-2027, that increase would drop to about $100 to pay for additional teachers.

Should the board decide to move forward with the 2024-2025 schedule, it will be challenging, said the superintendent. “We are on a rigorous timeline,” he said.

“It’s going to be a lot of work for the counselors and for the staff to make sure we have smooth transitions.”

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