Sunday, March 28, 2010

Easton Area School District Featured on PBS

No where to go but up.

Posted by: Noel Jones

What would you like first, the good news, or the bad news? Does it matter? Hey, we're on TV!

First the exciting news: Easton was featured on a PBS story on the state of education in our nation and President Obama's Race To the Top program. Watch the video here. The bad news? Easton High School, and Center Falls High School in Rhode Island (the one that ended up firing all their teachers at once last month) were featured as examples of schools with the worst academic performance in the country. And to make matters even worse, our teachers union (the same union that refuses to budge on its average 10% raises this year)  refused to sign on to an application for President Obama's new Race To the Top program--an application that could bring our state $400 million in educational funding. They did this even though EHS has been in Corrective Action II, the worst level of No Child Left Behind, for three years, and taxpayers are facing a proposed 11.85% tax hike to cover a budget shortfall that among other things, is to cover their raises this year.

Why did union leader Kevin Deely refuse to sign on? Because the teachers union doesn't believe that teachers should get paid according to how well their students are learning,
but rather, how many years they've been teaching. The President's Race To the Top program includes merit-based pay, and they don't like the sound of that. They think they should continue to get raises while the taxpayers continue to get laid off and take pay cuts in this economy, despite the fact that EHS has failed so badly for the last six years, that for the third year it risks the possibility that the State of Pennsylvania will have to take over the school.

Maybe that is just what the union deserves, as this would mean all contracts are null and void, including union contracts.

The good news? There's nowhere to go from here, but up!

School board member Kerri Leonard-Ellison is interviewed in this segment, and she is one of the newer board members who has been asking the right kinds of questions in this budget process to try to cut wasteful spending, and here, to try to bring in new money to the district to alleviate the budget gap, and give these kids a shot at a better education.  It is very important that we keep track of who's who in this process so that we vote for the right people next time, and get rid of the people responsible for this mess.  So far, Kerri Leonard-Ellison, Jen Holzberger and Sarah Bilotti seem to be asking the right questions, and they are all newer members. They need our support at these meetings (and at re-election time). In the meantime, we need to be thinking ahead about who in our community would make good candidates to run for the offices that will be up for election in 2011.

The next EASD workshop and board meeting dates are: 

April 15th -- budget workshop where proposed cuts will be hashed out

April 22nd -- board meeting where proposed cuts will be voted on

All EASD meeting through June will be held at the EHS auditorium at 6:30pm--please mark your calendars--until then, feel free to use the links on the side bar at the right to write letters to the editor!


Nikkita said...

Wow, that's horrible but not hard to image considering I do most of my daughter's teaching at home. If I wasn't a single mom I would defintely considering home schooling. Most of the teachers are more worried about, their salaries and what they did in the club on the weekend than being a teacher who has the ability to mold their young students into productive, educated adults.

Julie Zando-Dennis said...

Great. So while the Mayor, Chamber of Commerce, Easton Business Association, and others are working to transform the image of Easton, their efforts are swept away by negative national media attention.

Not only are the students suffering from the failing schools, but each and every business owner must struggle against Easton's poor reputation, and homeowners, rich or poor, are impacted by decreased property values. Everyone needs to stand up now to demand teacher pay cuts and accountability from the schood board.

Anonymous said...

Julie -

As a prospective home buyer, one of the reasons that I'm not interested in purchasing a house in the EASD, are the school taxes. I see the risk being too great that after buying I will be hit with a double-digit tax increase. If it looked like there was light at the end of the tunnel, such as the teachers, administrators and property owners being close to a compromise, I might be swayed. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like they're close.

If it's any consolation, the public teachers' pension fund is the 800 lb. gorilla that all school districts will face in the years to come.

David Caines said...

Sorry have been a bit stressed on time lately.
The chief reason we would like to see the state brought inot this mess is that it is obvious from all that has been said here (The emphasis on sports over academics (and boys sports over girls), the disuading of stundents from the college path, and the general dumbing down, etc..) That the people who run EASD have made a sad though seemingly rational choice to re-orient the school towards a caste/poverty based strucure. This is not all that arguable as the direction the schools are heading in is obvious, the strategy is obvious, and so is the outcome.
The EASD has given up on these kids, period. This kind of stratgeic change is top down not bottom up and I doubt that we as a city have the means to deal with this in house at this point.

Anonymous said...

How come we dont hear from our other elected representatives on this business and in support of the tax payers?

Bob Freeman?
Mayor Panto?
Mike Fleck?

Cathy Stoops said...

Good news though in today's ET re: March Elementary School's FAME program which is being considered by state officials for expansion across Pennsylvania. Judith Steinberg is the Principal. Kudos to March School!

Research every where says we should be investing more resources in earlier and earlier age groups. It is said that many children are behind before they even get to kindegarten. We have some excellent early age programs in Easton and we should be supporting them more. For example, space for early age programs is limited. Yet when the community approached the school board about recyling the old school on Northampton Street they said no and justified it as though the request was coming from some special interest group instead of recognizing that it reflected a community need and even more obviously an educational need. Tax payers could spend less money on remediation (and incarceration for that matter) if they put more thought and money into helping kids it right from the start (0-5.)

David Caines said...

I'm kind of curious about that myself. Though they may be practicing the stay silent and hope approach.
I've given this mater more thought than I'd like to admit and I'm prepared to take a more active approach.
I am going to suggest here and will be willing to organize though not lead a boycott of the next EASD meeting which I understand is April 15. Those with an interest are asked to contact me at and please put either the words "Boycott" or "Protest" in the subject filed.
Having followed this through Noel's posts and the posts of others I have come to feel that the EASD considers itself aloof from such things as public Input, public Responsibility and even such piddling things as Federal, State and local laws. I am prepared to let them prove me wrong...but not likely to listen to anything but their actions.
We go we show up, and try to entice others to stand outside the building, if we do our task well we leave the meeting inside with nothing but empty seats.
If the EASD is paying attention to us then they come outside and try to either lure us in, or deal with us where we are. Win.
If they simply do not care, they will hold their meeting as if we don't exist and then we know the truth of the matter.
This is of course a best case scenario...most likely there will be a split, and at least we'll know how the attendee's feel by who has the greater numbers.
Who?- everybody, this is America after all...Teachers, students, parents,Board Members, P-Burger's, Police, Fire, Emt, College Hill, East Side,...any who will and can act in the peaceful spirit of non-violent protest. Elected Officials are always welcome as they are the "Rock Stars" of the protest scene...though in fairness as Both Mayor Panto and Mr. Fleck have inherited this mess I won't ask them directly.
The buy in-
If we don't have at least 30 RSVP's by April 10th, we'll just take a hint shall we.
What I need to know?
If anyone happens to know the legal process here in Easton (permits, et al..) I'd be thrilled if you'd pass that along.
Please include either "Boycott" or "Protest" in the subject field

noel jones said...

David--I am a fan of engaged citizenry in the form of passive resistance and protests when the moment is right, but I disagree in this case, although I will be giving it some more thought.

The reason why I disagree is because the sort of "vote of no confidence" that you are proposing to demonstrate here, has sadly already been demonstrated in Easton for years in the lack of attendance at public meetings, which is part of why the school board, district administrators and teachers union have gotten away with creating this much chaos. It is partially the responsibility of residents for not being there, and allowing this to happen over time. Now, finally, residents have gotten engaged and have been speaking up at these meetings ever since the double-digit tax hike was proposed, and a big part of the reason that deep cuts are being considered to right this ship is that residents are consistently demanding it at each of these meetings, as well as writing letters to the editors, etc. The press has done a good job of covering this story, even before residents got involved, and everyone is finally starting to not just wake up, but get out of the house and take part in their democracy. It's exciting to see. Had this not happened, the school board could have simply passed the proposed tax hike. Now they are pledging to enact deep cuts to bring the tax hike down to the 3.6% state cap. This is a direct result of resident engagement, but that engagement will need to continue if the school board is going to be able to move forward with the cuts needed, because the teachers union is strong and very organized. If we do not attend, the auditorium will not be empty--on the contrary there will be only members of the teachers union and some parents who oppose the cuts, and these will be the only voices heard in the hall.

It's important to remember that we have new members on the school board, and a fairly new superintendent and business manager, who are fighting a very unpopular fight right now, and they need our support.

Again, I'm not opposed to the methods you're suggesting--they are bold and creative--but as an issue of timing, I don't think they would bring about the results we're after faster than the citizen engagement that is already happening. The cool thing about the citizens that have been coming out on this issue is that it is the opposite of what is going on in Congress. We have Democrats, Republicans, Independents and even an NRA member all coming together on this, and having fun doing it too--we usually go to Porters afterward--I know you and Jeanette are super busy, but if you're three on either the third or fourth Thursday next month, you should come check it out!

Anonymous said...

Sal Panto says:
To Anon 12:16PM - my position is very clear. As a former school teacher in the district I am keenly aware of the value of a good teacher that is dedicated to the education of our youth. I belive strongly that an effective teacher can reach all students and assist them in the learning process. However, I truly despise an ineffective teacher that is there for the money and not dedicated to the students. That's exactly the reason I supported Race to the Top -- the federal program that rewards effective teacher. I agree that this is a difficult task since those that get the bright students normally do better than those teachers that may teach the underachievers. But I also believe that a Principal's most important responsibility is to evaluate the teachers they supervise and that these evaluations and reviews should be done on a regular basis.

That said, my position on any tax increase in this economy is indicative of this year's city budget in which the city is learning to live within the expected revenue. Residents cannot afford these continued increases in taxes and the school district needs to do the same. I do not place the blame on the teachers salaries solely.

Simply stated however, I cannot express my feelings about public education as a whole, or government employees as a whole here on this blog. I believe my actions in managing our city in these troubling times speak for themselves. I would be more than happy to discuss these important isues but to do so here there just isn't enough space. But please don't take my silence here as any indication that I don't care.

David Caines said...

Hi all,
Noel, I had missed in the horrible facts, the idea that you felt that real change is being made by public scrutiny at the meetings. You are an inteligent passonate woman whose opinion we value and if you say that you feel change is occuring then I'll take you at your word.
However, I'll leave the option for a direct protest open to any who might wish to exercise it.
Mayor Panto, I'm not surprised by your position and we support it.
I know some of you know this, but I'll add here for those who don't that Jeanette had been a teacher (Private school) for 20 years and as a lifetime Martial artist, I've been in the teaching field (as a sideline) for roughly the same time...though I generaly only work with adults.
Well anyhow,
Thanks David

noel jones said...

Mayor Panto, thanks for posting, and for continuing, with Tony Basil, to seek out inefficiencies in the City's budget from past administrations. And thanks also, as a former teacher in Easton, for making the distinction between believing in the importance of teachers, and believing teachers should get raises no matter how our students are doing.

David, let me know if you get a lot of interest in staging a protest. If you get a strong response, it might be an interesting idea to combine a protest outside the school doors with some residents speaking up inside in conjunction with the protest.

Positive change in society usually involves multiple strategies and those different strategies provide active roles for members of the community according to their convictions and personality types. Some people are comfortable speaking, some are not, but are comfortable standing with a sign or marching, others prefer to sit and observe and be counted by their quiet presence. Some have physical or schedule limitations but write great letters to the editor. In the midst of any big changes there are always those that stir things up and those who work at diplomacy and deal-making, and the truth is, that all of these different strategies are important parts that work together to bring the changes we need and want as a society.

noel jones said...

FYI--State Rep. Bob Freeman has agreed to meet with residents on April 28th at 7pm at TranquiliTea, so please mark your calendars--I will be doing a new post on this announcement closer to the event date.

Dennis R. Lieb said...

At the risk of causing more trouble than it's worth, I'll pose this question:

If Easton is in "Corrective Action II" for a program called "No Child Left Behind" and said program is universally hated by every teaching professional I've ever spoken to, wouldn't it be wise to stop using it as a measuring stick of success until we hear some teachers and/or adimintsrators either defend or rebuke the program?

Just asking...maybe everyone's already finished reading the comments to this post and I haven't started any more trouble.


noel jones said...

Dennis--point well-taken, but I think we could easily look to the rate of only 2 out of 3 WW residents finishing high school as an indicator as well. Race to the Top is an entirely new way of measuring the success of the school, but the teachers union appears to prefer No Child Left Behind, because it doesn't include merit-based pay.

Dennis R. Lieb said...


The low grad rate is a valid point. I have all those stats in a Lehigh Valley Planning Commission report that's floating around my house somewhere.

Of course, in the future it will be hard to tell how many people are achieving results in any realm of activity since the Tea Party is now advicing their members not to participate in the Census - a Constitutionally required process - because it is considered big government meddling in your affairs.

Some day in the near future we will come to the conclusion that the fear-mongering and party bickering going on now is what prevented us from focusing on the physical and economic dilemnas that destroyed modern civilization.