The Save Our Schools organization formed in opposition to high school consolidation in the Wilkes-Barre Area School District is circulating a petition urging the school board to hold a voter referendum on the issue.
The petition was among the topics discussed at an SOS meeting designed as “an opportunity for people who had an interest to share ideas on how we can be effective,” SOS member and attorney Kimberly Borland said. The meeting was held Wednesday at Rodano’s on Public Square.
The petition calls for the following question to be put on the ballot: “Should Coughlin and Meyers be consolidated into a new high school in Plains, to the exclusion of GAR, at the projected cost of $101 to $118 million?”
In June 2015, the school board voted to consolidate grades nine through 12 from Meyers and Coughlin high schools into a new building. It then planned to erect the new school where Coughlin sits, but the Wilkes-Barre City Zoning Hearing Board denied a needed permit. The board has been moving forward with plans to build on a site in Plains Township.
Cost estimates have varied dramatically. The board authorized issuing bonds of up to $150 million, but solicitor Ray Wendolowski has predicted the final cost could be closer to $80 million, though the price went up when the Coughlin site was abandoned. Already owned by the district, that site required no money for land purchase.
The idea of a referendum has been floated right from the start. At the same meeting where consolidation was approved, Christine Katsock, who has since left the board, made a motion to put the issue on the ballot that November in the form of four, non-binding questions offering different choices in dealing with the district’s three aging high schools. The motion failed by one vote.
Wendolowski has said his research suggests a non-binding, or “advisory,” referendum would likely be illegal in Pennsylvania. At a second June meeting in 2015, he told the crowd that courts have ruled that an advisory referendum defeats the idea of a representative government, with the public electing people to make such decisions.
Borland, who has often clashed with Wendolowski on nuances of law interpretation, said the petition is being circulated in part to gauge public attitude about consolidation plan. “It’s getting a message to the board that if there’s a question of support or opposition, this is a way to find out.”
Borland said those interested in helping with the petition can contact Lois Grimm via email at [email protected]
Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish