Thursday, October 8, 2009

What Is A School District's Responsibility?

Living for thirty-four years in my neighborhood has had its ups and downs. The positives are many; numerous businesses within walking distance, easy access to Route 22 and the world beyond Easton, a clean city park and friendly neighbors to name a few.

Over those years I have seen more than several neighbors come and go. The ones leaving are missed, for the most part, and the new welcomed. The constant has been that most of my neighbors, new and old, have taken pride in their homes. Year after year what has broken is fixed. The lawns are cut in a timely manner and flower beds abound.

The one property owner that has been a thorn in the side of all of my neighbors is the Easton Area School District. They are the bad neighbor; the one that turns a blind eye to their declining properties. Rusting cement walls from falling-down broken fences, crumbling sidewalks and a deteriorating stadium, stand as a testament to their indifference to the surrounding neighborhood.

What exactly is a school district’s responsibility to the neighborhood where a school resides? Should their focus be solely education or should being a good neighbor, one that takes pride in their property, be a requirement?

Studies that I have read on the role of schools within inner-city neighborhoods talk of many things but share one common denominator; a neighborhood school has an impact that goes beyond its role of educators of our children. They affect housing values and costs. They affect the well-being of a neighborhood and play a part in attracting new homeowners. They can make or break a neighborhood.

I watch each morning as a custodian walks around the property and picks up litter. The grass is cut and trimmed. The field inside Cottingham Stadium, the “holy ground”, is perfect. I see that some in the district take pride in appearance. The everyday items are cared for, but many maintenance issues are ignored. Unfortunately, the real power belongs to the school board and they have been remiss in their responsibility to my neighborhood. 

Tim Pickel


Anonymous said...

Hear hear! The Administration Building on Northampton Street is in major need of a face lift as well!

Easton Heights Blogger said...

yes, the Admin bldg is horrible. a rehab there could really pick up that block of N'hampton. Cottingham Stadium, for all his glory and history, could stand to be fixed. it is still beyond me why EAHS didn't build a new stadium when they purchased that William Penn boondoggle next to the HS.

David Caines said...

Like most things, the amswer may well lie in money. Does anyone know if the school didstrcit has or does not have the money to make improvements? Our own local school is closed now (St. Anthony's) but it always bugged me that they didn't find a way to clean up the clutter and just let kids play in that mess. It bugs me that the kids that play in front of my house do so in litter, though we sweep up the street now and then.
They play here, because we leave the light on and they feel safe. And while we can't legally watch them without thier parrents permision they do know that we listen for trouble. Still, I wonder if lowered expectations don't come with a city that is at times dirty and ill kept?
My grade school was an ugly nasty thing, and it took some time to make the transition to my HS that was pristene. I was for a time a fish out of watter, my first experiences coloring my latter ones.
If an answer can be found here, we'll support it. Kids should never have to look around themselves and have to ask is this it? Is this the best I get?
We have a duty here one and all to see that to the best of our abilty our children look to a better future, not simply whatever they can get.

Tim Pickel said...

Thanks for your insight Dave. You are right that the answer may be about money. I have talked to the building supervisor on more than one occasion and he has indicated that he does put in for improvements on a regular basis. The school board nixes them of course for whatever reason. They can build a Taj Mahal in Forks but can't do repairs of existing structures.

The bottom line is that there are many code violation and the school district should be held accountable like any other property owner. I have had discussions with the city but as always very little response.

Nikkita said...

Yeah, I guess that is the down side to living in the "city". You live next to businesses who may or may not take care of their lots. I have both R&R and the Getty to contend with, so I do feel your pain. Although you WOULD think the school district would care a bit more...but I guess not!

Dennis R. Lieb said...

Cottingham Response Pt I

I think that it is about time that I dropped a considerably heavy hammer on the EASD...and took my good old time about it. I can't discuss anything involving the district though without a disclaimer: I've done my best to avoid attending any school board meetings or even challenging anything they do publicly because I have no kids, feel (based on the experiences of others) that I would never be taken seriously and I can't stand the prospect of having to deal with nitwits like Pat Vulcano and his ilk.

I'll get back to the topic of the Cottingham property in a minute but I consider Vulcano to be one of the most self-serving, mindless, excuse making, opportunistic embarrasements this city has ever produced. He was even indirectly responsible for Easton suffering through a third Goldsmith term because his pathetic attempt to run a mayoral campaign against him set back the Democratic party in Easton for a decade.

Tim has lived across the street from the stadium a long time and has made many insightful comments, but I grew up here and have been using that facility since I was five years old. That was 1963. I can tell you that it was never maintained for as far back as I can remember.

I attended Vandeveer Elementary School (on the site where the current kiddie playground now stands) from kindergarten through third grade. In those days, when there was a school building on site, there was always a place to store sports equipment and games so that a summer playground program could be operated and supervised out of the building. Though this arrangement worked great for us, my memory is of an infrastructure of fences and concrete walls already well on the way to disintegrating even then.

Later, as junior and senior high students, we snuck into the football field (through or over those same fences) to play 11 on 11pick-up games until the cops threw us out. The school district obviously felt that the "beating"
taken from our weekend sneaker games during the fall were more than their precious field could stand on top of the half dozen or so Friday night affairs they scheduled it for all year.

We have been fighting about the cleaning and maintenance of the property since the Easton Heights group formed in 1999, with little to show for it. How can the city - with it's intrinsic connection to the school district - turn a blind eye to it's condition for over four decades?

Lets get to the heart of the matter. Questions were raised about why a stadium wasn't built in the suburbs when they bought the farm land west of the high school. This may be the only thing the district HAS done right. That stadium at 12th and Spring Garden is the heart of the West Ward. The football games are opportunities for the neighborhood - people from all walks of life - to get together and nurture social capital under the spirit of friendly competition...a REAL community builder. In my lifetime the city has lost probably eight or nine neighborhood schools, three of which were West Ward schools that I walked to for six years of my public education. Without Cottingham this place would never be the same and not having it here, I believe, would be the death nell of the West Ward.

Part II in a sec..


Dennis R. Lieb said...

Cottingham (and other thoughts) Pt II

Is the public face of Cottingham Stadium a disgrace? Yes. Is the deterioration of the Vanderveer grounds a slap in the face of the neighborhood? Yes. Is the old Administration Building an eyesore on our main business street? Yes. And will the EASD gold plate anything having to do with their precious Palmer township facility? Of course.

Why? Simple...EASD is, has been and will probably continue to be a purely suburban-centirc organization. I am speaking specifically here about administration and board decision making - not teachers. I have had philosphical discussions with friends who grew up in the West Ward when I did. We discuss what to do about this and one radical but defensable idea emerges: seccession from the suburban district and reforming a purely Easton-based school system.

This is an interesting polemic with many potential consequences.

Some of them are...

By having the majority of students walking to school we could instantly eliminate a huge expense of the bus fleet, which can only get more prohibitive as oil prices invariably get wildly expensive in the near future. Under those conditions what organization can afford to run a public transit system that operates only twice a day and only allows riders under the age of eighteen?

Where would the high school be? Obviously, we could only have one for all of the city or could an arrangement be made to share the Palmer facility, remain one district but re-establish schools in town. Where would the buidlings come from and who would pay for them? There is a large stock of vacant land and structures in Easton - like the old Churchman's Business School on Fourth and Spring Garden (maybe even the Governor Wolf again) that could be retrofitted if the state's assinine department of ed. building requirements could be sidestepped. What about staffing? Well, if we pulled our kids out of the combined district a lot of teachers would be looking for work.

Re-localization of all aspects of society is a coming trend but the state is actually looking to now consolidate districts to save money. How realistic is making things bigger when the nation's coming energy scarcity issues combine with long-range economic problems to make very large enterprises (Wal-Mart, the Interstate Highway System, University of Michigan, etc.) harder and harder to prop up? It's a fascinating prospect.

For me, regardless of any scheme that could be implimented to allow such a seccession, the major stumbling block to any and all of these scenarios working out in our favor is this one simple thing...

If we ever tried to dilute the football and wrestling talent pool by leaving the EASD there would be a mutiny from the booster clubs that would make the French Revolution look like a Memorial Day clam bake.

The can of worms is now open...

bon appetit!


Anonymous said...

Easton’s withdrawal from the school district has been examined.

There are too many obstacles. First, Sec of Ed has to approve. There must be a benefit to the community, children and pocketbook to make the switch. Second, Easton taxpayers would have to assume financial responsibility for all bond issues for existing school expansion. We would be taxed for facilities we no longer would be using. We have to pay additional taxes for new facilities. Third, voters have to approve the switch, and I don’t find any enthusiasm for such a move.

School District kind of did us a favor by attempting to put all Easton elementary kids in city schools. There is little busing out to suburban schools. Although that may instill some neighborhood pride, I have this feeling that the move may have been more racial to segregate students on the basis of race and ethnicity. The move contradicts public objectives and this idea of walking to your neighborhood school in today’s world is not safe.

Another factor is that Easton’s political culture is not apt to seek efficiencies in the administration of its own school district. Face it, Easton loves its nepotism-ask the Vulcanoes- and its lack of quality in political administration. Where else could you see a municipality shed its water operations, garbage pick up operations, its pools, and others and still manage to have the highest real estate and income taxes on top of the highest fees. I would say “no thank you” to a city of Easton school district.

Dennis R. Lieb said...

To Anonymous,

You may well be right about all the legal hurdles at the state level, which I didn't get into. I was trying to make cases for and against the actual physical act of seccession, but it would be easier to take your positions and statements at face value if there were a name attached - unless there is some legit reason why your don't want to self-identify.

See below for your specific comments and my responses...

"School District kind of did us a favor by attempting to put all Easton elementary kids in city schools. There is little busing out to suburban schools."

I agree, but there is now busing of suburban kids INTO Easton which also costs money...its a two way street.

"Although that may instill some neighborhood pride, I have this feeling that the move may have been more racial to segregate students on the basis of race and ethnicity. The move contradicts public objectives and this idea of walking to your neighborhood school in today’s world is not safe."

On this issue you are dead wrong. Bringing all the suburban kids into 12th Street does not segregate anyone. If anything it fights the current status quo - for instance, some parents on Southside demanding their kids stay in Palmer Elementary when the district wanted them back in the neighborhood Southside School for logistical reasons. I'm as tough on the EASD as anyone but I don't see racists hiding behind every tree.

As for your comment about walking to school being unsafe, that is total hogwash. I live in that neighborhood. Show some evidence of this and we'll talk. Until then I can't take it seriously. Besides, there are simple steps to be taken to secure walking routes that don't require money and the more people on the street (including kids) at any given time make them safer, not more dangerous.

This country has become a nation of babies, bottle fed by the cable news morons, who exploit every incident of street violence for ratings. What follows is this notion that we can't let our kids out of our sight until they're eighteen.

I'm not a conspiracy theorist but a subtle form of mind control by corporate controled, cable news is creating a herd mentality among the public that says - Stay inside, play video games, drive everywhere, the world isn't safe and let Corporate America take care of you.

In the cities its the constant fear mongering of abduction or sexual assault, but his paranoia is especially acute in suburbia, where kids can't even walk if they wanted to because most of it isn't equiped with sidewalks or valuable destinations within walking distance of the mono-culture of housing. Everything possible must be done to counteract it.

Children must learn how to navigate society's obstacle course on their own...a necessary function of growing up and a precurser to self confident adult behavior. Each step along that journey - for instance learning to cross a street alone - is taken as the opportunity presents itself. When is the right time? The question I use to guage it is: When did I start doing it?


Easton Heights Blogger said...

as someone who did not grow up in Easton (but has lived here for 14 years) I appreciate your insight. I do have kids, but they are enrolled in a cyber charter school where I feel they are getting more attention and a better education.
Noel may call me a cynic, but I really don't ever see EASD changing. they like it the way it is. the Vulcano issue sums it up perfectly. that's why my kids don't attend here; once I saw the issues we had weren't going to be easily solved, we looked for other options.
I also appreciate your feelings on Cottingham's role in the neighborhood. not being a football fan or having attended EAHS, I guess I don't 'get' it. judging from all the Palmer/Forks/Williams cars choking the streets on fridays, I suppose I'm in the minority. fortunately, being on N 7th, no out-of-towners park here (great, since w/ all the apartments, we don't have any parking either!)


P.S. I don't have a problem using my real name, except for the fact that since my blog is all about posting pictures of ugly homes in Easton, I don't want anyone getting pissed off. so for now, I'm 'EHB'.

Anonymous said...

I don’t think we connect.

I heard for years that the closing of neighborhood schools contributed to the downfall of the West Wards. Route 22 gutted Easton as did redevelopment. I heard in my younger years that South Easton should have never merged with Easton. A lot of people wished that all of these errors could have been undone.
Now, the school district has given Easton the opportunity to reestablish neighborhood schools in the city.

The school district intends to eliminate busing Easton elementary students to suburban schools. Those city students will attend Cheston, Paxinosa at 12th street and March. Certainly, no plan is absolutely perfect, and there will be a few students who will continue to bus out and there will probably be a few students who will bus in.

I call your attention to the Paxinosa school web site where the principal states that Paxinosa is the receiving school for all West Ward children.

You now have your neighborhood school. Be proud of it. Cherish it. Salute it. Crave it. It’s yours and should be a central point to rally family interests in the West Ward.

But every gift is not a blessing, and we need to be cautious that this set-up is not a Trojan Horse-or school geeks bearing gifts. The West Ward has unique racial and ethnic demographics unlike any other area served by the school district. It is fact that groups represented by these racial and ethnic demographics have performed poorly on state achievement tests. Concentrating these groups in a school may or may not improve their scores. If scores do not improve, the concept of this neighborhood school may counter West Ward development. Poor achievement results will cause relocating families to avoid the West Wards and seek other neighborhoods in the school district.

Busing -I question its value. The courts introduced the idea that minority students be moved to schools to provide better opportunity. Forced busing was used to achieve parity. As a child I witnessed Afro American students taken out of my Cottingham classroom and moved to Vandeveer to level the field. I don’t know if all that worked. But, I am aware that South Side parents were angry when their children were removed from Palmer. They did see the benefits of that suburban-urban interaction. Easton School District’s desire to keep city kids apart may be counter productive and it may represent some hidden racial agenda to remove minority children from suburban schools.

As far as walking to school. You’re right; the boogey man knows no boundaries. The kid locked in his room with his computer is just as vulnerable to the on line predator as to the street predator.
But, that is not the issue. Some time ago Pennsylvania established that schools were responsible for the safety of students from and to their home. Abductions do occur. Whether the actor is a sexual pervert or a non custodial parent, the threat is real. Every year attempted abductions are reported to parents by the school district. Even school security is built more on keeping you and me out of the school and not so much on avoiding another Columbine. Walking to school may be a thing of the past. When I was a kid abductions were far and few between. Now, you see pictures of lots of missing kids at every Walmart entrance, Amber alerts on the highway and bulletins on TV news.

I am a parent. I did not show my kids pictures of how to swim and throw them in to the deep end. We protect our kids in order that they make the right choices as adults. That’s our cruel world. I spoke to my children about how to identify and avoid predators; they shook their heads up and down to demonstrate their understanding. But for my six year olds, I never took the chance. I was always there. You see, when I was six, these people didn’t exist. But, they really did exist. They just don’t exist in a six year old’s world. As a six year old you trust every adult you meet.

noel jones said...


"Noel may call me a cynic, but I really don't ever see EASD changing. they like it the way it is. the Vulcano issue sums it up perfectly."

I'm not sure where you got this impression of my perspective. The Vulcano scandal is something I have featured on the blog before.

"that's why my kids don't attend here; once I saw the issues we had weren't going to be easily solved, we looked for other options."

This is precisely the problem--people giving up when things aren't "going to be easily solved." We have the power, in the WW alone, to enact change by simply developing enough political will that regular citizens (11,000 of them in our neighborhood--ok, say, 6,000 if you don't count everyone under 18 for the sake of argument) begin to engage in their local political process--city, county and school district--that means registering to vote, attending city, county and school board meetings to see what our elected officials are up to, running candidates of our own if we don't like who is in office, and getting out on voting day.

The hard, slow part is building political will to the point that the 6.8% of voters who made it out to our local primaries grows to match the 69% of voters who made it out for the presidential election. It is not easy, and takes time, but political will IS building slowly, and we do have the power, if we exercise it.

The question is, how bad does it have to get, and what is it going to take, for people to start making local politics a priority in their lives?

Easton Heights Blogger said...

Noel, I am sorry if I misrepresented your views, I really love what you are doing and respect your viewpoint. perhaps I chose my words incorrectly.
my personal approach to change, however, is by doing the best I can personally do, living by example. I do not have any faith in the political process or believe that any candidate can make any change. I do not vote as I am politically neutral due to my Bible based beliefs. I work hard at being a good neighbor and citizen. Although I am interested in my city and neighborhood, my family comes first. Their immediate needs come before any grassroots efforts to (hopefully) improve the school district.
I honestly do not believe that getting involved in politics will change anything. I don't think that is 'giving up'; it's just being realistic. If i gave up I would move out.