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Cornell, Moon School Districts Discuss Merger

This evening marks the first time in 15 years that the Cornell Area School Board will seriously discuss the possibility of a merger with the Moon Area School District, following the surprise suggestion put forward by the Moon Area School Board in June.

Cornell Area School District Superintendent Aaron Thomas was surprised to receive a 3 a.m. text message from Moon Area Superintendent Curt Baker on June 27, saying the two needed to talk about the possibility of uniting their two school districts. That text followed a Moon Area School Board meeting several hours earlier, when the idea was first brought up and Baker was authorized to approach Thomas.

“Nothing was really formally approached to us or even brought up until after that meeting took place,” Thomas said. “We were, I don’t want to say blindsided, but we were definitely surprised that our name was brought up.”

The merger was initially suggested as a way for Moon to keep Hyde Elementary school open, which was slated to close by 2016. If Cornell and Moon united, the district would have the resources and student population to maintain the school. However, a merger could take years to organize, according to Thomas.

“Over the past couple of weeks, they’ve separated those issues and said, ‘Oh, we’re gonna close Hyde no matter what, but we’re still willing to engage Cornell in some merger discussions,’” Thomas said.

Cornell has approximately 650 students enrolled in K-12, while Moon has more than 3,700. The Moon Area School District budget for 2014-2015 is more than $63 million, while Cornell’s is closer to $12 million. However, Thomas says Cornell is doing well financially and academically.

“I think we’re doing some very dynamic things in the classroom,” Thomas said. “I think our technology is unbelievable here, we’ve been fortunate to win a number of grants to get that technology here, so yeah. We’ve got a good thing going. It’s not the traditional small district reaching out for some help, by any means.”

If that’s the case, what would Cornell students have to benefit from a merger?

“That’s what we’ve got to study,” Thomas said. “I think right off the bat you could sit there and say maybe increased opportunities for extra-curriculars, whether that’s musically, through the arts, athletically.”

Thomas also cited rising pension costs and access to a wider variety of electives as reasons to consider the merger. However, he said a possible downside was greater competition for his students at a larger school, where it may be more difficult for them to participate on sports teams and in a variety of activities.

Thomas emphasized he’s not leaning towards one side or another on topic of merging, and is waiting for more information and discussion between the two schools about possible mutual benefits.

According to Moon Superintendent Baker there are "so many details" that must be addressed "any number of which can trip us up.  So it's not so much, even if it's a good idea, it may simply be a question of being very hard to bring districts together.

The last time a merger between the two districts was formally considered was in 1998-1999. Talks went as far as forming committees to draw up transition plans, but the idea fell through. The Cornell Area School Board meeting will take place at 6:30 this evening in the Donna M. Belas Library at 1099 Maple Street, Coraopolis PA. The public is invited to attend.