GREENVILLE – Mark Ferrara might be retired as a superintendent, but he’s still in the fight for school consolidation.
In fact, he’s trying to drag others into the ring.
In late March, Ferrara sent a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf, Sen. Michele Brooks, Reps. Mark Longietti and Parke Wentling and Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera.
In the letter, Ferrara shared his vision of consolidation and asked them to consider a statewide commission to investigate possible solutions.
Ferrara was an administrator for 22 of his 38 years as an educator, retiring from Greenville School District this summer.
He has been talking about consolidation for more than five years, and he wants someone to listen.
“My vision is for the Legislature to designate seed monies for those school districts interested in specific shared services or consolidation efforts,” Ferrara wrote in the letter.
What did he hear in response?
“Crickets,” Ferrara said.
Ferrara said he understands legislators are in difficult positions. They rely on voters, and an issue such as consolidation is controversial and certainly doesn’t gain them favor with the public.
Legislators say that they can’t do anything until school boards take the lead, and school boards say they need legislators to take action before they can consider consolidation, he said.
“They’re chasing each other’s tails,” Ferrara said.
He hopes to start a conversation by sending the letter, he said.
Just as Brooks recently organized a school safety roundtable forum with Mercer Count school districts and legislators, Ferrara wants to see the same happen around school consolidation.
He wants legislators and school boards to acknowledge there is a problem that isn’t going away – the void in state funding that isn’t being filled, Ferrara said. He wants people to take off their “blinders” and see what they can do “better together,” he said.
“We need to be proactive in a positive sense. That’s my constant plea,” Ferrara said.
Right now, school districts will delve into their fund budget until there is nothing left before they consider consolidation. And, at that point, it will be too late, Ferrara said.
“At that point, they’ll throw their hands up and say ‘OK, state, take us over,’ ” he said.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Consolidation in Mercer County could be a combination of physically combining schools and student bodies as well as putting administration under one umbrella. It would be through attrition, not layoffs, that Ferrara proposes to eliminate administrative positions.
Instead of having every superintendent do all of the tasks that come with the job, one superintended could fill a specific role for all of the districts, Ferrara said. Superintendents could specialize in curriculum, transportation, facilities and so on, he said.
Magnet schools that specialize in STEM, agriculture, fine arts and other possibilities are a big part of Ferrara’s vision. He uses the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School in Beaver County as an example, and said there is no reason there couldn’t be something similar in the Shenango Valley.
“Secretary Rivera, the days of twelve public schools in our county all offering similar services needs to be revisited, especially with two of the school districts’ total kindergarten through 12 student enrollment/population well below 500 – yes, 500, not a typo – total students,” Ferrara wrote in the letter.
Ferrara is considering a trip to Harrisburg to further explain his letter, but only if he knows he will have an audience.
“I’m just a little guy, so we would need the help of the legislators,” he said.
Whether or not legislators will show up for the conversation is yet to be seen.
Follow Natalie Eastwood on Twitter @natalie_herald. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.