LOWER PAXTON TOWNSHIP, DAUPHIN COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — A change is coming for dozens of middle school students in the Central Dauphin School District. The school board approved a proposal to move some students between schools starting in the fall of 2023.
The proposal passed by just one vote, the board voting 5-4 to temporarily move about 60 to 70 students from East Middle School to Swatara Middle School. An earlier request to move the discussion of this proposal to the next board meeting on June 22 failed.
“I fear this will create more problems instead of help,” assistant secretary Beth Sviben said. Sviben was one of the four members who voted against the proposal.
The proposal faced strong opposition from members like Sviben at Monday’s school board meeting.
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“We’re not listening to the kids, we’re not listening to the teachers, we’re not listening to what’s needed,” board member Janelle Bingaman said.
The proposal will primarily affect students living in Penbrook. Students who live south of Walnut St., including on the south side of the street, will attend Swatara Middle School in the 2023-2024 school year.
“This will alleviate some of the numbers at East Middle School,” Superintendent Norman Miller said.
Superintendent Miller said he is trying to address overcrowding, but opponents say that is an old problem.
“The overcrowding at South Side [Elementary] and East Middle School has existed for well over five years,” said Jeanne Webster, who spoke during public comment.
Webster, who has served as a board member in the past and will join the board again later this year, asked why the board is taking action now on a long-standing problem. She alleged this is about growing disciplinary problems at East Middle School.
“And the fact that our president and this administration has no immediate answers to fix it,” Webster said.
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East Middle School teachers have retired early, citing those behavioral and disciplinary problems, some saying they no longer feel safe in their classroom. However, board members say Swatara Middle School also has open teaching positions, and this proposal could make it worse.
“We’re asking to bring more kids into a situation where we’re still short teachers,” Bingaman said.
Superintendent Miller said Swatara can handle it.
“Swatara numbers have historically had low-class numbers,” he said.
Webster and other board members disagree, saying other schools could better absorb extra students.
“We have CD Middle School right over here,” Webster said. “They’re not in crisis, they have the capacity, they have seasoned leadership and teachers.”
Svebin added, “This is a band-aid, this will not solve the overcrowding, this will in fact put Swatara Middle School close to being overcrowded.”
Opponents also said this decision was rushed and they needed to hear more input.
“I’m very disappointed that you guys weren’t willing to table this,” Webster said.
Board member David Doernemann said, “I’m going to be a no just because I just need more time. If this was on three weeks from now, I think things might change, but there’s so much more information that I need.”
The superintendent said this could not wait because the district needs to notify parents and set schedules for the upcoming school year.
While the proposal on middle schools was contentious, a similar motion to move kindergarten students from South Side Elementary to Paxtang Elementary passed unanimously.