Ellwood City School Board to Vote on Makerspace Funding Tonight

The Ellwood City Area School Board will vote on a motion tonight that will give approximately $150,000 in funding for makerspace workshops in Hartman Intermediate School and Lincoln High School.

As of now, the board appears to be split 5-4 into two factions. The larger faction supports the full amount and the smaller faction, a reduced amount. However, the motion will be presented to the board for the full amount.

A makerspace workshop is a creative space with high tech equipment such as 3d printers and robotics. Unlike a traditional classroom, students guide the learning through trial and error with the teacher facilitating rather than instructing. A three part series on the administration’s plans for makerspace workshops can be found here: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Perry Lower Intermediate opened its makerspace, the Wolverine Workshop, following a $50,000 grant pursued by an administration/faculty team and the board hiring a qualified teacher, Scott Setzenfand. The workshop has been extremely popular among students and teachers, with students typically spending about an hour a week in the workshop, typically as an extension of science class.

The administration, specifically Superintendent Joe Mancini, Perry and Hartman principal Frank Keally, and Lincoln High School assistant principal John Sovich, want to add workshops to Hartman and Lincoln for the 2016-17 school year. In addition, a new teacher will need to be hired for the high school. Setzenfand will divide his duties between the two elementary schools.

However, Perry was eligible for the scholarship due to its distinction as a Title 1 distinguished school. While the administration is searching for additional funding, and Sovich has already obtained $17,000 and made inroads with the Hoyt Foundation in New Castle and the Ellwood City Forge for sponsorship, they estimate an additional $50,000 will be needed for a fully functional workshop at Hartman and $100,000 for Lincoln, in addition to hiring a new teacher.

President Renee Pitrelli had questions regarding the price of individual equipment and wondered if the cost could be reduced. For example, the request listed a 3-d printer at approximately $6,000 and Pitrelli said she had seen ones for cheaper. Sovich answered that cheaper models are not designed for school use and the cost includes trays.

Keally said that he had reduced the cost of the Wolverine Workshop by stripping Lincoln of unused tables, stools, and cabinets, which means Lincoln will need to purchase new ones.

Pitrelli, although in favor of the long-term goals of the administration, was not in favor of giving $150,000, largely due to the deliberation without end among the lawmakers in Harrisburg which leaves the school district with an uncertain budget.

In addition, the board also expressed interest in seeking community involvement. Pitrelli said she had talked to Earla Marshall, a member of the Kitchen Cabinet, a volunteer Ellwood City enrichment program, and Marshall had said there was interest in local businesses to sponsor the workshop.

Although board member LeRoy Cortez fully supported the prospect of seeking community support, he believed the district needs to act first.

“I’ve been on the board long enough to know that if you wait for help, it’ll never happen,” Cortez said. “We have to commit and hope the community follows.”

In addition, Vice President Matt Morella discussed the prospect of the makerspace workshops providing incentives for families to move into Ellwood City and raising the value of the community. It was even mentioned that it could result in property values raising, allowing the board to increase taxes.

Although Mancini had previously stated he believed a full makerspace program will give the Ellwood City school district a unique offering, it is noted that an increase in the general quality of Ellwood City as a result is speculation.

“The school is a big part of making the community better, but it’s not the only part,” Cortez said. “A makerspace program may never cause someone to buy a house in Ellwood City, but it’s the right thing to do for our students regardless. If we run the district conservatively, Ellwood City will never be more than what it is.”

Pitrelli decided to poll the board to see where each member stood, with Pitrelli favoring a reduced expenditure and gradually improving the makerspace year by year.

Danielle Woodhead also favored a scaled down measure, citing budget concerns and other unexpected costs that have arose. For example, Perry’s boiler is in need of replacement or repair.

“We have a commitment to keep our kids warm and educated with their education,” Woodhead said.

Erica Gray said she didn’t want to place the district in a troubled financial situation with a full commitment and thus favored a scaled back motion.

Jennifer Tomon was the fourth member in the scaled-back faction. She stated she was for it at Hartman immediately and Lincoln later and that she couldn’t commit to hiring a teacher.

“The children in 6th grade now won’t miss anything they don’t have,” Tomon said.

Morella was completely for the full measure. “We have to trust our administration to get what is needed,” Morella said in response to Keally and Sovich saying the exact items in the request are flexible, but the $150,000 is an accurate estimate of the cost of having two functional workshops.

Kathy Pansera said that although she was scared about the budget, she will support the full motion. Anthony Buzzelli, Mike Neupauer and Cortez also supported the full motion.

“If we wait for the professional politicians in Harrisburg to give us a budget, we’ll never get anything,” Cortez said.

The board will vote on the motion tonight at today’s regular meeting.


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