Friday, April 23, 2010

A Confluence of Public Events: School Board Edition 4/21/10

Posted by: Gavin J. Vincent

Last evening's EAHS School board meeting was many things; emotionally charged, theatrical, feature I felt was lacking from the scores upon scores of students, parents and teachers that arrived in droves at the sauna like high school auditorium to protest (sadly needed) budget cuts was objectivity.

I arrived, and barely found a seat the large, dimly lit room was so full of people. Gone was the general dryness and procedural aspects of the previous meetings. High school students murmured and shuffled about with the sort of energy reminiscent of the pep rallies of yore, justifiably anxious parents, teachers
and taxpayers shifted in their seats. Members of the School Board stared down the audience with some degree of resignation in their expressions, as though the coming castigation was somehow inevitable. The turnout was considerably large compared to previous meetings, and I find this response both positive and commendable. I remember at the time however, I found myself thinking how the overwhelming majority of these concerned citizens had never seen fit to show up before the unquestionably tough choices had been made- when arguably more could be done to come up with alternative solutions.

These schoolboard meetings have been held regularly discussing budget deficit issues and solutions and I find it interesting that people only seem concerned enough to get active "fight for their lives" when directly affected. The taxpayers I spoke with after are, regardless of which programs get cut or which teachers are unfortunately faced with unemployment, still facing the herculean task of footing the bill regardless.

I feel it important to stress that these proposed budget cuts are a prospect nobody ultimately enjoys. There are a litany of reasons why many of the cuts would be problematic:

An inability to supply AP classes on High School curriculum seems a glaring oversight which could render the ability for college bound students to garner the attentions of high end Universities and prestigious schools far less likely.

Regarding Middle School athletics, research in Juvenile Delinquency points to a direct correlation between the availability of after school programs and reduced delinquency. Essentially, those with more options and potential activities outside of delinquency have less opportunity to engage in delinquent behavior (Segel & Welsh, 2008). With this in mind, I find it deeply problematic that cuts to the ages most at risk for delinquency will be without structure that could otherwise provide them with alternatives to delinquent behavior.

The loss of the well renowned Arts & Music programs in a school where the Art department was the only real sustenance I had as an Easton student, the only genuine good part of my day seems to me an incredible travesty to deny other students, but again these programs always seem to more quickly fall before the chopping block than some others. Several speakers w/ vested interests from the music and arts departments of days past touched on their overwhelmingly positive experiences, the credentials and prestige of the department itself. I think it important to touch on the number of speakers who stood on behalf of the Latin curriculum in the District (that faces being cut altogether apparently). A pair of devoted instructors mentioned that their enrollment for their courses was up significantly from previous years, and quite a few passionate students echoed the sentiment.

One other area I have to agree seems problematic to cut too readily is that of CTCs (the tech professionals that provide support for the school), especially in the wake of recent stimulus spending on technology. During a particularly tense (and perhaps unfair) moment, the head of the technology department was brought forward to be questioned an item in the agenda about spending of stimulus funds allocated to technology, and whether or not this could be allocated towards providing salaries to the CTCs that were proposed to be cut. This didn't prove to be the case, and the technology head mentioned feeling like he was in a difficult position because he felt the monies were duly needed, but obviously supported the need/use of CTCs as well.

When the time came for commentary from "interested citizens" a seemingly endless procession of students, teachers (present and former) and various citizenry materialized. The tone of the addresses were either civil and impassioned, or much to my dismay very accusatory and hostile. Despite the fact that the school board has a great deal to answer for, and no easy tasks ahead of them it remains crucial that we as a community address each other with respect and civility. Several students barked arguments like "I want you specifically to come tell my brother that he can't play music next year", or "You have to earn our respect before we treat you with respect" and a few others talking about how Easton's sports should and does take precedence over its academics. Well, considering how our school district is in corrective action II for its third consecutive year, this line of thinking is frankly, disturbing and possibly indicative of deeper problems.

Only one of the speakers in the two plus hours I was present brought up the fact that Easton's academic standings on the State level were a problem, and mentioned Corrective Action at ALL. The same gentleman asked if "there was a goal in place to get the school district out of corrective action", if the proposed program cuts would "make the corrective action problem worse" or possibly "offset the problem"?

Representing the taxpayers was a spitfire of an elderly gentleman that spoke quite candidly about the dire implications of property tax hikes. It seemed to be the one area of the argument that had yet to be addressed properly for the group, who seemed thoroughly disconnected from the idea of where this money is coming from (and sadly how tapped out the many in the city of easton happen to be).

That said, the unemployment rate in the state of PA is 8.4 as of October 2009. Easton's unemployment rate in comparison is 2% above the state average, and has spiked by 5% since 2007.

One can ponder the dire implications, but increasing taxes on a population with this much joblessness seems both reckless and unfair. I kept hearing about how it was "wrong" and despicable to "stop people from doing what they want" (and my parents will be shocked to hear me say this) but one cannot bleed a stone. Budget cuts are an indication of how irreversibly bad the situation our community is facing is. No one actively wants this outcome, but lest other feasible outcomes present themselves I don't see any viable alternatives to it.


Cathy said...

I too thought the question about how the budget cuts are aligning with goals for getting out of corrective action was an important one. Long term planning is what its called. Not just putting out the current fire. Both Latin and Music have beneficial effects on all domains of learning. Personal experience informs me of this with respect to latin. Research has proven it with respect to music. Therefore these are studies that should be maintained.

Another point that seemed sadly relevent was made by Laura Accetta the Weed and Seed Coordinator who pointed out that despite years of pleading NO representatives from the school district participate or attend our community meeting where residents are making every effort to make the streets safer for kids and to create afterschool programs in the arts.

Which leads to a final impression of last nights meeting - that I was sitting in the midst of a bubble, a bubble community that doesn't recognize who and what supports its existence. See Fridays Express Times for the pictures of their signs - "We are Educators, Athletes, Students Together One Rover Nation." No mention or acknowledgement of the property owning tax paying "nation" (their neighbors in fact) Not one student acknowledged the community. Not one teacher chose to enlightened them as to the fact that while not getting sports and music, and latin and art would be disappointing - it is not a hardship. It is not at the same level as a retired person not being able to pay for medicine or losing their house because they cant pay EASD taxes. They also seemed unaware of history which would tell them that exceptional artists thinkers business men in the last two centuries came from terribly (by our standards) impoverished schools (they probably had Latin though and in their homes, in their communities they had music.)

g_whiz said...


There were a lot of moments when "the bubble" you speak of manifested itself. The women sitting ahead of me basically smirked while the senior talked about the risk of him losing his home. Its as though the other vested interests in this equasion, all the other vairables are blithley disinterested in the fact that the money funding this sort of mismanagement and academic failure are living breathing, and might I add struggling people. It strikes me as very cynical and myopic.

Anonymous said...

Yeh I wonder how many are tea partiers who put grama on their posters to stop health care. Grama dyin for red rover nation...noooo problem.

Cathy Stoops said...

I do think the families and the community need to work together and, together, do more for our youth. High schools such as Easton's were built on an industrial model that suited an industrial age. Time is leaving this model behind. As a taxpayer I am willing to pay for youth's core education as mine was paid for during the 60's by previous generations. Core education is language, math, science, history. Everything else is enrichment. Necessary enrichment. Our youth deserve it. But there are many venues through which that can take place. In the family and in community is the best place. Its good for the community and its good for the youth to connect and to engage through music, art and sports. Communities need culture! For example, where is ours? Its in an institution on the periphery of town.

As it stands, we, the community and the youth, are disconnected and alienated from each other. The "streets" aren't good enough for these children to be let loose on according to their parents - that was stated over and over at this meeting (then why should I be paying more in property taxes?) The streets would be good enough if we all lived on them. Instead parents have clearly, albeit unconsiously, pursued a "socialist" agenda in the sense that they have relinguished responsibility for the life that they have brought into the world with the expectation that the "state" (meaning all other tax payers) will pay "professionals" do the job of raising children. The highest tax I pay (more than the to the feds or the state) is to EASD. Where is the service to me? Where is the value? Am I looking forward to educated citizens? The school is in corrective action. I didnt hear any students talking about giving back to the community. It seemed that, to them, being a Red Rover suffices. I disagree.

Anonymous said...

my EASD taxes are also the highest of any of the taxes I pay. and tell you what, if they think they will come and take MY house becuase of falling behind on SCHOOL TAXES, they better bring the FBI and a swat team, cause thats how its gonna go down.
rover nation and all their illiterate wrestlers and football throwers can go unfunded and unsupported as far as I care/

Anonymous said...

Do EASD teachers get paychecks during the summer? And health benefits? Please, anybody, help me with this question if you know.

Jess said...

Correct me if I'm wrong but, I believe EASD Teachers technically only get paid during the school year; however, they have the option of spreading their salary out by taking smaller payments year round instead of taking larger payments only during the school year.
Health benefits do continue throughout the summer, but teachers' contributions to health care premiums also must be paid year round (I'd assume they could pay more with each check if they elected to get paid only during the school year). I hope that made sense.

I would love someone to explain why the teachers can't make voluntary concessions (like taking smaller raises) without opening their contract for complete renegotiation. Could the union and the school board come to some agreement that only an agreed part of the contract would be changed and nothing else would be open for renegotiation?

David Caines said...

Taxes worry us of course, but to answer Cathy's question, "Where is the service to me?", it isn't here. Generally as I think we all know, that service is that the schools turn out kids who are at least somewaht educated and socialised, bringing into our society people who can hopefully care for themselvse to some minimum degree and not be a further drain on the tax payer. Not so in Easton.
What has been apearant to me since the outset of this all is that none of the teachers, administrators, or the board, much less students, parents...even get the basic questions being asked. Some of the tax payers seem to...and that's why I feel we NEED to look for our answers elsewhere.
At this point I'm willing to dare the teachers to strike, double dog dare... let's let them stand in front of the state, the nation and demand raises and what not for complete and utter failure. What I find truly sad is that these "Educators" are themselves so far removed from the realities of the greater world that they can't even see that none involved have even a touch of moral authority, that they don't have a leg to stand on.
As a home owner here in Easton, or anywhere else for that matter I'm willing to pay for something of value. I am not however willing to keep throwing good money after bad. And if local Govt. isn't able to do something about that (and we get on okay otherwise) then I'm willing to go over thier heads, to the county the State the Feds.
And I can only suggest that others consider that avenue as well for these schools are not turning out people who will flip our burgers or pump our gas someday, they are truning out the next generation of state and federal aid recipients, and more likely than not the next generation of criminals...thankfuly not particularly educated ones, but every cloud has its silver lining.

Julie Zando-Dennis said...

According to the Express Times, nearly half of the $13.1 million that needs to be cut to bring the preliminary budget down from an 11.85 percent property tax increase to the state-mandated 3.6 percent cap could be achieved if administrators and teachers would forgo increases for one year.

Interestingly, Governor Christie in neighboring NJ has proposed a salary freeze as part of his effort to close the state’s $11 billion budget deficit. Sixty-five percent (65%) of New Jersey voters favor a one-year pay freeze on the salaries of administrators, teachers and school workers. Only 28% of voters in the state oppose this pay freeze.

In Easton, about $4.44 million will go toward teacher raises for the 2010-11 year.

Raises for administrators will cost about $115,000, which includes 3 percent raises for top administrators like Susan McGinley, who already makes $150,000 per year, and 2 percent raises for others like principals and department directors.

Anonymous said...

Not only no reps from EASD on community committees - no notable number of high school students show up to help out on safe, clean, green projects. Its left to the middle age volunteers and Lafayette students to shovel and sweep while our elite too good for our streets youth prepare for their better lives elsewhere. Thats the idea right? Get out of this distasteful town? EASD would do well by getting some community liaisons for some pronto face time here in the community.

noel jones said...

A few things:

1. I met a teacher on Thursday night who expressed that there are many teachers who would prefer to give up their raises rather than having programs cut and forcing some teachers to lose their jobs, but the union won't let them. So we must be careful about vilifying teachers, rather than the union, because it might not be accurate for every teacher and if we vilify each other we lose the ability to have a civil constructive debate.

2. It's important to remember that most of the academic cuts proposed are not cutting those programs completely, but rather, maximizing class size and cutting a teaching position. So if you have an English class with 18 students and another with only 8 students, they are being combined into one class of 26 students, which does not exceed the 27 student limit, and saves taxpayers the cost of salary, benefits and pension for one teacher. As for AP classes, students will now begin taking AP classes at the community college--they are not losing the opportunity to take them.

3. At some point we have to begin to look at the cost per instructional hour of teachers vs. literacy coaches through local nonprofits. Often much more benefit is achieved for a lot less money through certified teachers who work outside the union through nonprofit agencies, especially in elementary and middle-school programs.

4. For some reason the athletic director for the high school is not having his feet held to the fire, and being forced to offer cuts to the high school boys sports program. It is not fair that the middle school is losing their entire sports program so that the high school can perpetuate its jock mentality. There was actually a student speaker at the meeting who said, "everyone knows Easton's not known for its good grades, but we ARE know for our sports!" to which most of the students in the audience cheered and clapped. I use this as exhibit A that we need to be cutting boys sports in the high school until we are out of Corrective Action II.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of the athletic director can anybody clarify what the overspending of the past was on? There is an astro turf field? They dont use it?

David Caines said...

Hi Noel,
Thanks for the info.
I really have no problem with numbers like $150,000 a year, if the job is getting done. You want good people you have to pay a good wage. But well, we don't have good people, or at least not enough of them. I know managers that make way more than that, and even a bartender or three in NY who are on par with that number, but their income is production based.
As to class sizes I'd throw in for class sizes beyond the state max with good instructors, my average class size was about 35 in HS but the teachers were top notch, it didn't matter much.
We wouldn't mind the full on 11.something percent hike if the job was getting done. Though where we'd find the extra money is anyone's guess.
Still the issue is simply one of not wanting to reward bad behavior.
As to anon- of course the kids aren't active in local stuff...of course the kids are prone towards gangs and crime, we have a school system in open violation of all sorts of laws, teachers and administrators who have no real care for the it any great surprise that the kids are what they are?
Children learn mostly by example, and in our modern society they get those examples mostly from two sources, their schools and their peer groups. Some Anthropologists argue that in our modern society parents are really somewhat pointless after seventh grade or so, though I disagree to a point.
And what is the example our Addministrators, and teachers are giving in this fracas?
A: The hell with the laws, the hell with you citizens, and you first.
I don't much believe a word anyone on either side is saying, for their timing and actions scream their true intent. So yes, let's have a strike, bring in a state mediator and take the power out of the hands of those who have shown beyond any doubt that they cannot wield it to the benefit of anyone but themselves.

Anonymous said...

Regarding your statement, "I found myself thinking how the overwhelming majority of these concerned citizens had never seen fit to show up before the unquestionably tough choices had been made- when arguably more could be done to come up with alternative solutions.

"These schoolboard meetings have been held regularly discussing budget deficit issues and solutions and I find it interesting that people only seem concerned enough to get active 'fight for their lives' when directly affected"... Let's not be judgmental. The fact that these citizens showed up might mean that they will continue and maybe realize the importance of participating in the meetings. It's a positive, not a negative. We don't know how involved they might be in other community affairs, do we?

Anonymous said...

Speaking of the athletic director can anybody clarify what the overspending of the past was on?
A:$12,000 on a golf cart.
Astro turf, yes.

Nikkita said...

As a mom, I can tell you that my daughter is very perplexed by how her school is ran. She comes home at least once a week to tell me the types of songs that are playing on the radios on the bus and during announcements. They are the "hip" songs that talk about "hitting it from the back" and other sexual lyrics. Now if a 13 year old finds it odd, shouldn't the administration? Maybe they are trying too hard to be cool or really don't have a clue.

Another sad point I have to bring up is that my daughter has been telling me that she wants to be a teacher and I always thought it was because she would be pouring into the lives of the youth (how nieve of me) but when I asked her if that was why she looked at me like I have 6 eyes. I truly believe she thinks being a teacher is an "Easy Job". That you don't have to work too hard but get a decent salary. I say this because for years she would joke and say she wanted to work at McDonalds as her career because she didn't want to work she wants to be a teacher...her work ethics haven't increased in the past year so that is the only conclusion I can give. I find it sad that she hasn't been impressed, inspired, molded by any teacher in the 8 years she has been at the school.

So my question is why should we be willing to sacrifice for a school district that hasn't shown any of us that it deserves it!

g_whiz said...

Re: Anon 11:14 am-

I for one hope you are correct and this does spur on a wave of increased activity from the majority of people seen at the last school board meeting. I may be a little cynical in my assumption that certian parties at the meeting were more interested in post-decision rabble rousing than the overall process, but on the whole you're correct; increased awareness and activity is a positive. That said, I stand by what was said about being proactive about the displeasure cuts. These issues came up at the board meeting previous and the (vocal) outrage was coming primarily from board members themselves. The idea that all civic engagement is good engagement is true, but asking "where were you when this first was discussed?" isn't an unreasonable question in my view.