Friday, March 19, 2010

EASD Proposes Cuts in Effort to Reduce Proposed Tax Hike

Posted by: Noel Jones

I have no way of saying precisely how many people showed up at the Easton Area School District "workshop" last night, as the board room was overflowing into the lobby and people were eventually diverted to another room in the building where a laptop was set up for them to watch the meeting. I and four other residents sat on the floor, cross-leggd, in front of the front row and the board. This was after trying to stand against the wall, which was already lined with people, only to get scolded by board president Pat Fisher, who, rather than thanking residents for coming, or apologizing for not holding the meeting in a bigger venue, said, "You can't stand here--move back. Move back." We tried but there was no where to go, to which she said, "Well, you can't stand here--you can't see the computers," gesturing toward a board member's laptop (we were scrunched onto a bit of wall space at the end of the board's semi-circular credenza, and if we had cared to bend over and strain our eyes, might have been able to read whatever was on-screen. As we made our way to sit on the floor, I couldn't help but wonder why it was so important that we not see the computers, and had to laugh as I imagined them all watching porn, playing solitaire, surfing, shopping, or maybe playing Warcraft?). 

I would make a rough guess that there were 80-90 people in attendance. When I checked the EASD web site, which is linked on the lower right side-bar of this page, and it looks like there have also been an additional 94 people so far who have watched the meeting on line. So you can imagine how many people are going to show up at the board meeting next week, which the board promised, will be held in the auditorium.

The meeting began with a pledge by the board to not exceed the 3.6% state cap on tax increases this year, and then commenced a progression of presentations from various departments on proposed cuts, which eventually added up to $2 million of the $13.1 million
necessary to get the tax hike down to 3.6% from the originally proposed 11.85%. An article in today's Express Times outlines many of the proposed cuts, the most impressive being from the technology department, in proposals to cut programs (and corresponding teaching positions) by maximizing class room size and cutting classes that do not have a minimum of 15  students, and by investigating ways to share financial support for the Easton Library, rather than funding the whole thing ($2 million/year). Also being considered for the chopping block is Accreditation for Growth, directed by the board president's sister-in-law, Linda Fisher, which runs taxpayers $500-$600k/year. Below is an article on her decision to retire. The board will vote on whether or not to authorize the Superintendent Susan McGinley to cut teaching positions related to program cuts at the board meeting next Thursday.

Surprisingly, with such a packed room, only three residents got up to speak (I was one of them). I asked the board if they had received any official communication from the teachers union that they are ready to renegotiate their contract, and the answer was NO. So what we read in the papers last week was actually that the union is considering renegotiating, but have yet to actually open the process. After over two hours, I had to leave, but below are articles re-capping the highlights from last night's meeting. If anyone who stayed longer than I did can fill us in on what happened in the latter half of the meeting, and give your thoughts and impressions, that would be great!

Express Times Article by Colin McEvoy on Last Night's EASD Workshop

Express Times Article by Colin McEvoy on Linda Fisher Retiring

Morning Call Article by Christopher Baxter on Last Night's EASD Workshop

As soon as I can confirm the location of next Thursday's board meeting, I will post it, but in the meantime, please assume that it will start at 6:30 and put it on your calendar. The board is going to need taxpayer support in making these cuts, and there will be parents and teachers there to oppose them.

I hope to see you next week--this is the big one!


Dennis R. Lieb said...

I'm making these comments purely from a devil's advocate point of view and want to preface them by saying that I admire and respect everyone who has taken on the project of reighning in the budget.

What I am about to say is not intended to place blame on anyone or any group for the current situation, but I think it needs to be said for no other reason than I can't get it out of my head.

Civilizations have failed and dissappeared from the face of the earth from lack of forsight. They have made decisions about their own futures based on best case scenarios of future resources and assumptions that the best of times are the permanent condition and not a temporary anomoly.

We can continue to fight the tax increase and may be successful in whiddling it down considerably...or maybe not. Everyone - including me, who has no kids - wants the best educational experience for our children because it means a better future for the entire community. I'm willing to do my financial part to support that.

We may have to face an inconvenient truth that the time to fight the current tax increase was when the bubble economy was booming and school raises and benefits were being doled out like there was no tomorrow. It's hard to bar the barn door after the cows are out. I knew the real estate and mortgage markets were heading for collapse five years ago but no one really wanted to hear that then. I prepared myself for the fall but at the same time I wasn't out at school board meetings fighting the contract we have in place now. How many of us were?

The hard reality - when all is said and done - is that we may have to bite the bullet, learn a hard lesson (like we did with the larger economy) and pay for the mistakes we made.

I wish all of the you the best in the battles ahead.


Anonymous said...

But how do you get milk out of a sow's ear or whatever the saying is - meaning the taxpayers dont have the money - no bullets to bite here.

noel jones said...

blood from a turnip

hopeunseen said...


I tip my hat to you for your tenacity and commitment on this issue, along with many others. We always get a better view when it comes from residents who are in the mix rather than an elected official or a reporter.

Dennis, where were we? Great question, I was only at two meetings in the last year. Yet I've lost confidence in the elected if not the system. There are too many gates to storm.

Government is the modern day Fagan picking the pocket of the average working Joe through the process designed to reflect the will of the people not special interest. And like our culture, spends money in plenty and in want.

And who is to say public education provides 'the best education?' The results of parochial, charter and home school and street school models support a different conclusion.

We may have to bite the bullet. However, rather than fighting the current system it may prove to be more prudent and successful to support and cultivate education alternatives.

I prefer students in smaller venues, more intimate learning settings designed to be integrated into community rather than an institution over shadowing and exploiting the community through the veil of academic virtue.

I only have four pockets; Easton is one, EASD in the other, NHC and Uncle Sugar in the remaining. Any public employees willing to take the salary and benefit/cuts and increased contributions the rest of the average working Joes are?


Anonymous said...

Under the current conditions it seems just plain wrong for the teachers to insist on salary increases promised or not. There are alot of people that had "contracts" and that money is gone not there any more to be had and thats that.

Also parents ought to be willing to step up more and be on the playgrounds, provide the safety and raise money for projects for their children.

noel jones said...

Anon 6:22--you make an interesting point--there is so much talk about who will provide security and how much that will costs the city, but why couldn't it be a responsibility shared by parent volunteers who trade off shifts? Don't parents volunteer as crossing guards for bus stops? Why not for park supervision?

Also, one of the teens working on the skate park project, suggested another free solution--she suggested asking the Guardian Angels if they wouldn't mind patrolling the parks.

noel jones said...

FYI--I heard back from Bob Freeman's office and he can meet with residents on Wednesday, April 21st at 7pm, so that we can discuss the issue of state employee pension reform, as we did with Senator Mensch. I will post about this when I have a location confirmed, but for now, please put it on your calendars...

The EASD has not yet posted which auditorium they will be using for the board meeting this Thursday, but I will post the info when they do. The board meeting will be at 6:30 as usual--please mark your calendars for this Thursday and stand by for the location.

Julie Zando-Dennis said...

I'm surprised to read comments about hard realities and lost confidence. People, this blog and the participation of the community have made a significant impact, what with Linda Fisher's retirement and the school board's public pledges to reduce the tax hike to 3.6% To give up now misses the point -- which is that democratic participation can create change. Sure, one can self-question, but don't lose sight of the fact that for the first time in a long time, West Ward residents have taken the lead and exercised power over the public discourse. That's "success" in so far as it signals an end to apathy and passivity.