Neshaminy moves Heckman vote date forward

Neshaminy School Board will be holding a special meeting to vote on the closures of Oliver Heckman and Lower Southampton elementary schools on April 12 at 7 p.m., not during the scheduled April 19 board meeting as originally planned.

Some school board members have not yet made their decision on Heckman public. One in particular has the attention of Heckman supporters.

“It’s more logistical than it is procedural,” Neshaminy spokesman Chris Stanley said. “I think they thought it would be easier to hold the meetings separately. It gives the public a chance to speak and they won’t have to sit through other agenda items.”

The special meeting has also been moved to the auditorium at Maple Point Middle School, presumably because a large turnout is expected.

The move forward gives the school board a week longer to prepare for the potential outcomes. Lower Southampton Elementary is expected to be closed without much resistance, but parents and community members have been trying to make the case for keeping Heckman open. Heckman supporters have resisted the consolidation plan all along by speaking at board meetings, showing up with strong numbers during the public hearing on the school closure and holding a rally in support of the school at the Middletown Municipal Building in February.

Whether it stays open or the board votes to close it, Heckman’s fate has implications for how the board will proceed. Redistricting is an inevitability for either scenario and there will likely be transportation and staffing changes if it closes, officials said.

Much of the weight of the outcome lands on the shoulders of board member Marty Sullivan, who is viewed by Heckman supporters as the swing vote. Board members Bob Feather, Mike Morris, Robert Sanna and Ron Rudy have resisted parts of the consolidation plan, while board members Irene Boyle, Stephen Pirritano, Tina Hollenbach and Scott Congdon have supported it.

Sullivan, Heckman supporters believe, could go either way. He’s the parent of two Heckman students, but recognizes Neshaminy’s roadmap is already well on its way.

“I’m still a Heckman parent. I’m also a board member now and I have to make a decision,” Sullivan said. “I’m really still conducting my due diligence — the cost, the roadmap, the alternatives.”

To that end, Sullivan attended a Heckman parent-teacher organization meeting on March 16 in an attempt to clarify his views and gain more information on the situation. Parents walked away unsure of what his plans for the vote are.

“I’m very torn,” Staci O’Brien, an organizer for Keep Heckman Open, said. “I would like to say that there are enough people to influence him.”

On the flipside, the consolidation plan calls for the closing of three of the district’s elementary schools. Samuel Everitt already closed, Lower Southampton is expected to close and if the Heckman closure doesn’t go through, board members are going to have another tough decision to make.

Sullivan may be viewed as the deciding vote for the fate of Heckman, but he suggested that none of the other votes are final until after April 12, either.

“I’ll be ready to make my decision public that night,” Sullivan said. “Ultimately, it’s going to be the right decision for the district.”