By Elizabeth Perry
Moon Area School District once again discussed the possibility of closing Hyde Elementary School in the same town hall meeting where the district proposed a new stadium complex and administrative building.
The stadium rebuild, tennis court move and parking lot would cost an estimated $32 million.
The cost to fix Hyde’s HVAC system, make the elevator compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and fund other improvements would cost an estimated $9.7 million.
Mooncrest advisory board member Lisa Baltis said that whenever the closing of Hyde is discussed, her organization goes into “helpful survival mode.”
Baltis said the discussion made families at Hyde feel, “Less worthy than other Moon students and less worthy than other Moon families.”
On Sept. 27, the district presented four scenarios intended for public discussion designed to deal with increased student enrollment. Three of those scenarios included the closure of Hyde Elementary School.
Keeping the school open would come with the $9.7 million price tag, while another suggestion of combining the schools would cost between $208,000 and $493,000. The most costly option presented was to shut down all five elementary schools and build one large facility to house all the students, which would cost $130 million.
Rebuilding the stadium and revamping the tennis courts were deemed “necessary” and were not included in the options presented to the audience as up for debate.
The “strategic plan” findings stated that additional staff members were needed across the district in the areas of counseling, English as second language instructors, reading specialists, special education teachers, emotional support, behavioral support and “academic offerings.”
Hyde’s enrollment has increased by 34 students, and it is at 64% capacity. Allard School’s population has increased by 31 students.
Combining the schools and converting STEM rooms into traditional classrooms would put them at capacity.
Superintendent Barry J. Balaski presented the plan and answered questions during the town hall meeting.
“What I won’t let that narrative be is that Hyde’s better than our other elementaries,” Belaski said during the presentation.
After the presentation, several speakers disagreed with the characterization.
“Nobody at Hyde thinks that they’re better,” Hyde PTO member Abbie Childers said.
Parent Melissa Lucic said she thought the tenor of the conversation had turned to “pit the schools against each other.” Lucic thought any parent would be equally vocal if their schools seemed under imminent threat. The majority of people in the auditorium were opposed to the closing of Hyde Elementary, as demonstrated by a show of hands. Balaski said he thought those opposed to the closure were overrepresented in the crowd because they knew it was on the agenda.
“It feels like the decision has been made already,” Lucic said.
Balaski said the students at Hyde might all be relocated to Brooks, but then said there was no guarantee as the “community makes that choice.”
The reasons behind Hyde’s potential closure were listed as the age of the building, the condition of the facility which needs critical upgrades, the central location of the building which meant its students would face less of a lengthy commute to the other schools, student capacity and the value of selling it off. The value of the property was an estimated $10 million.
After the meeting, Balaski said no buyers were interested in purchasing the school building.
Foreman Design Build is involved with the project, and President Phillip Foreman also addressed the crowd, saying the next step in the process was to get an architect on board to begin drawing up plans. Foreman said his priority was moving forward with the stadium plans as any decision about the schools was still up for debate.
Abbie Childers spoke out about her fear that separating the students for whom English is a second language by taking them out of Hyde and putting them in separate schools would have a detrimental impact on them.
“You mention the ESL kids – they need each other. You cannot separate them, they need each other,” Childers said, adding that they help one another with school work and provide needed support. Childers said she understood the school district could not provide translators for all students, which was why the community was important.
“We have 21 languages currently here at Moon, not just Spanish, not just Uzbek. If half of your class is 21 languages, I’m going to argue that the regular education student suffers. Because it’s time-consuming,” Balaski said.
Balaski implied the move would increase educational resources by allowing the opportunity to “maximize” the work of teachers and provide funding for more teachers.
“You have to make choices through funding,” Balaski said.
Baltis hoped the feedback form about the plan, which is available online through the website, would be available in different languages and in a paper copy for residents who don’t have internet access. The form is live on the Moon Area School District website, and simply asks residents to post a question or comment.
School Director Bill Kammerer said the district had already put money into Hyde over the past few years–about $5 million for a new boiler system and roof, so spending more would be a waste.
“That’s not doing one thing to advance the academics,” Kammerer said. “It’s not hiring one teacher.”
He likened the closing of the school to his son’s dilemma of repairing his truck at a cost that would rival its market value.
“We all face challenges,” Kammerer said.
Director James Bogatay urged members of the audience to remember that in November, five school director seats would be up for office and to give their opinions on the closure of Hyde Elementary, or the other plans presented, by voting for people who share their outlook.
Sad history surrounds Hyde school name
Following the murders of Richard and Donna Hyde in December 1977, Moon Area’s Pine Hollow Elementary was renamed to honor the school’s then-principal and family.
Soon after the couple’s funeral, where students and teachers were given the day off from school, the Moon Township neighborhood school built in 1967 was renamed Richard J. Hyde Elementary School. The school and its name remained untouched until the early 2010s when talks began about the closure or repurposing of the school. The building briefly closed in 2015 after the site was converted into a “resource center” and a portion of the building was leased out to a pre-school. A lawsuit was filed, and the resulting fallout caused the ouster of then-Superintendent Curt Baker.
The slayings of the Hydes are thought to be tied to a series of murders (no. 26 and 27) that had occurred in southwestern Pennsylvania starting in March of 1976. Their deaths followed another where a 17-year-old from Robinson and his girlfriend were shot and killed near the airport runway in Findlay Township.
Although no one was ever brought to trial in the murder of the Hydes and others from this area, the prime suspect is serial killer Edward Surrat. He was never charged in any of the southwestern Pennsylvania deaths although he has confessed to some of them. He is currently serving time for homicides that occurred outside of Pennsylvania.
The surviving children and grandchildren of Richard and Donna Hyde still live in the area. One of Hyde’s daughters, who was in attendance at the Sept. 27 Moon Area Town Hall, declined to comment for this story.