Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Finish Line: What Should Be Cut in the EASD?

The next EASD school board meeting will be 
Thursday, May 27th at 6:30pm at the EHS auditorium


Posted by: Noel Jones


As we come in to the finish line on the months-long community debate between taxpaying homeowners, the teachers union, school district administrators, concerned parents, students, and the school board, it is important for residents to weigh in, both in community forums and in public meetings to make their voices heard. The decisions made by EASD administrators and the school board will have lasting impacts on our youth, our teachers, and our pocketbooks, and ultimately it is our responsibility as voting residents to pay attention, get involved, and have a hand in the decisions our elected officials make. There is no point in complaining later, if we don't speak up now, and certainly nothing constructive that can come of it. The constructive part is now. What is your take on this issue? Where do you stand? What should the school board and superintendent do?


The school district has responded to taxpayer concerns and vowed not to raise taxes above the 3.6% state cap. But to do that means millions of dollars in program cuts--in some cases, sports, arts, and even academics--and these cuts will result in 70 lost teaching jobs. It is important as residents to make known where you think programs should and shouldn't be cut to meet the needs of a budget--and taxpayers--in financial crisis. An Express Times article by Ed Sieger outlines programs proposed to be cut. Please read his article, and post a comment here as to what you think of the proposed cuts so far, and/or where you think priorities should be shifted.


And as always, you can watch the meetings live on the EASD web site.


Please mark your calendars for Thursday, May 27th, 6:30pm at the Easton High School auditorium for a chance to get up and say something that matters.

11 comments:

Marty said...

Maybe the correct question is "what should we keep?" What things do we need to do to get us out of "corrective action"? I have talked to many people lately and no matter where they are from, they have a story about their school board. Every state in our country is laying off, cutting programs, etc. Uncontrolled Government spending. Financing debt into the future. Complete lack of accountability. Greed. Corruption. And we(the taxpayers)thru lack of interest let it happen. Crying time is over. Now is the time to get up off of the sofa and do something. Run for office. Support someone running for office. Get out and vote.Buy American made products. I fear, not only for our local schools, but for our whole country. We are in quite a mess, and we will be paying for our mess for years to come.

Clem said...

When will the public wake up and remember that it owns the school district, and should tell the school district what it will do for you. Why are those who work for you dictating what you can and cannot have?

You have X number of dollars to work with. Your single largest expense is labor. If you want to keep your 70 teachers and the programs YOU pay for, reduce freeze or reduce salaries/benefits to the extent necessary to accomplish that goal. Do it, and do not blink. Let them strike, sue, or take whatever action they will. If the district cannot sustain current operations without exceeding the tax increase cap, then it is insolvent, should declare itself so, and then break every ill-conceived contract and roll back what you pay to what you can afford. If they threaten to walk, let them. Where are they going to go? It isn't like they are overachievers in high demand, who cannot be replaced.

The fix will take sacrifice, and will most definitely be unpleasant. Time to show whether you've got a spine and are truly capable of putting the kids first, or are just a bunch of whiners who will curl up in a fetal position and take the beatings your board, administration and teachers' union will gladly administer.

noel jones said...

Clem, Marty, thanks for posting. I trust you'll be at the meeting on Thursday, speaking up during public comments?

I would love to hear from some teachers...how are you feeling about all this?

Do teachers each get a vote in the union as to whether or not to re-open their contract? If so, how do the teachers getting cut feel about the teachers voting not to re-open the contract? What concerns me is that it seems like some teachers jobs could be saved if the union were to re-open its contract and agree to a freeze on their annual raises. That alone would be $5 million + saved on the budget. So it's potentially an interesting quandary in which it would seem that under the banner of solidarity, a majority of teachers who feel their jobs are safe could be voting to keep their raises even though it would mean other teachers would lose their jobs. Is this the way it works? Please straighten me out if I'm getting the wrong impression...

If this were an accurate picture, it would demonstrate a more nuanced struggle going on than simply administrators vs. teachers, or teachers vs. taxpayers, as has been outlined in the public dialogue...from the outside it almost looks like there might be a teachers vs. teachers aspect to the conflict. I would love to hear from some teachers on this...

As for the meeting this Thursday, there are a lot of teachers and students attending in the home stretch, so the voices that really need to be heard in more numbers to balance the debate are taxpaying residents--especially seniors who live on fixed incomes, who are affected greatly by even small tax increases in this economy. But then it's physically difficult for many seniors to attend meetings for hours in a hot auditorium...

I want to thank the board for listening to residents and taking on the tough task of balancing this budget in a down economy--especially when they aren't even paid to take the heat, and a few of them weren't even on the board when major decisions were made that are affecting the community now...

I hope to see everyone on Thursday!

Rising Sun said...

Noel,

I think something needs to be set straight here. At no point has the BOE attempted to negotiate a "pay freeze" or re-opening of the contract. Not at any point in this process. While I agree with anyone who says the teachers should do it, they would have to be insane to go to the board and ask for these negotiations. There's a very good chance this budget is turned away by the state anyway for it's teacher cuts, as they do not meet the test of curriculum/teacher cuts the state sets. The ball rests in the board's court to bring people to the table on this. All the public bantering is not really worth squat, they have to make a real proposal, otherwise, frankly, the teachers have no part in this. The board can just cut the jobs, hope it is passed by the state DOE, and move along.

noel jones said...

Rising Sun,

That's just what they did. It's after midnight, and I just got back from the school board meeting half an hour ago, and Kerri Leonard-Ellison, Jen Holzberger and Jodi Hess were the only board members who voted no on cutting 70 teachers jobs--then AFTER everyone had voted, Superintendent McGinley and Kevin Deely, the head of the teachers union, had another exchange about why each thinks they are open to negotiation and the other is not.

On the brighter side, the kids music and art programs were put back in to the budget--they only amounted to $95K of the $15 million needed to avoid a tax hike anyway. Many residents, teachers and students spoke up about the importance of the arts to education, and also called for a wage freeze, which would save millions. A wage freeze would have saved the teachers jobs, but since the administrators and teachers didn't make it to the table to negotiate, instead, 70 teachers have lost their jobs, along with literacy coaches, IT people (now four people are expected to take care of the computers of 10,000 teachers, administrators and students--they were literally weeping at the meeting) and a crisis counselor. You'd think a district in crisis could use a crisis counselor, no?

It was so sad to see 70 people lose their jobs when it wasn't even necessary. Someone told me today that members of the union have not been given a vote as to whether to renegotiate their contract or not. They have an elected representative council, whose members they can tell their concerns, but those teachers are usually ones who have more seniority and whose jobs are not in jeopardy. Word has it that members have proposed a secret written ballot...it will be interesting to see if it gets approved. I get the feeling that a lot of teachers would be willing to freeze their wages if it meant the other teachers wouldn't get cut.

All in all it was an emotional night full of tears, shouting and talking out of order. Taxpayers got up and made some interesting points, like Curt Ehly, who asked why the board did not direct the superintendent to demand an across-the-board budget reduction from all department heads.

The thing is, as you pointed out, the PDE could well reject these cuts by the board, because teaching jobs, by law. cannot be cut because of financial need--only if it's for the improvement of student education. If it gets rejected...maybe then the union and administrators will consider a wage freeze then?

Rising Sun said...

Noel,

I was there too. Removing the teacher cuts for a second, if you just told me we got away with 2.35% as the tax increase and most of the extracurriculars back in, I'd say "success." Unfortunately, 85 people ended up losing jobs, so it's not really all that successful, but we dodged some bullets.

I was appalled at the way the Superintendent was treated by Leonard-Ellison and her husband. I think the budget could be improved on, but they were borderlining on malicious towards her, questioning her professional qualifications, pay, and care for the community. She lives in this community, pays taxes here, raised kids here, and has worked here for years, and while I disagreed with the overall decision to pass this tonight, I think she worked damn hard to fix as many concerns as she could. I think it was a shame how Mr. and Mrs. Leonard-Ellison behaved. Mrs. McGinley may have done a less than perfect job on this, but they borderline questioned her ethics, especially over her pay. Let's not act like her salary is what someone with a PhD would get in the private sector here, I thought this was just classless.

As for the across-the-board cuts, I think we have to remember that a lot of mandates and laws fill up these budgets, much more so than discretionary stuff, and so it wouldn't be workable in all departments to make 10% demands, however I think the board did err on their handling of this whole matter. They seemed absent until the "9th inning" so to speak. This can not, and should not, happen again.

I think it's 50/50 at best with PDE. If this budget is rejected, my only hope is that it happens quickly, so that there is time to negotiate. I do think you'd see a different posture on both sides, if in fact another month were available. Part of me says, good if it does. The other part says, they should be negotiating even if the budget is approved, because next year is now 364 days away. I'd like to see them do some re-hiring then, and it will help them if they can do so with a little better situation overall.

Sandra Walters Weiss said...

If anyone happened to read the editorial page on Thursday there was a comment from a student which to say the least was profound.She came up with a solution in a half an hour that made more sense than anything that I have heard,seen or read.Out of the mouth of babes.If it were up to me the adults should read her editorial!! Remember we vote these people in and we vote them out.The fact that the School Board was given cuts,not approved by the administration shows no one is talking to each other.Playing the blame game while "our" children suffer.Well one of these children had the best solution yet! Perhaps we should have student,Community leaders,parents,teachers and anyone who has a vested interest come together instead of this dog and pony show! I created a Facebook page titled " Support Merit Based Pay Raises in the EASD" those of you who have a comment log in let's do some social networking about this issue! I will monitor it and give the feedback to the press or whomever is interested.And the loss of 70 teachers is just feeble attempt to play the fear card!This has been a decade in destruction and sorry I couldn't attend the meeting although I did watch it live streamed,I was trying to find some decent affordable housing!

Anonymous said...

The school board is an embarrassment. their decisions last evening will effect a generation of younbg people in our community. Cutting 70 teachers is absurd! Cut administration and the remaining administrators should set the example with a wage fereeza and the embarrass the union brothers and sisters to accepting the same to save their union colleagues jobs. We do it in the private sector. The public employees don;t get it, they are GREEDY. salaries, pensions, health benefits are out ofd control.
I cannot believe that educaqted adults can't get in a room and resolve this for the kids,

noel jones said...

Rising Sun,

I agree that Mr. Ellison was a bit harsh with Ms. McGinley, but I'm not sure how else he could have made his point more diplomatically (except, perhaps in tone). He did try, in a way, to be more diplomatic when he said that he didn't blame her for taking the job, and that he would have if it were offered to him too, whether he felt qualified or not. I'm not sure how, if he is of the opinion that the board has erred, for several superintendents in a row, by hiring someone less than qualified to handle the EASD, he could have said that without hurting Mrs. McGinley's feelings. I do not know Mrs. McGinley's qualifications except that she's been in the school district for over 30 years and that many of those years were as a teacher. But if this is his opinion, how do you nicely say to a board that they need to hire more qualified superintendents? In this case it would almost seem a choice between speaking up as a citizen or not speaking at all, and for an engaged citizen, not participating in one's democracy is not an option. But I do believe Mr. Ellison's criticism of Susan McGinley and the board was a bit like blaming one president of our country for the situation that he/she has inherited from the past. We tend to blame whoever is in the hot seat at the moment, and when parents, teachers, students and residents get angry, they look at everyone sitting on that panel as "the board" and responsible for the current situation. One resident got up last night and asked who out of the administrators and board members on the panel were here when the teachers contract in question was negotiated. The answer was:

Joe Kish (Acting superintendent at the time--negotatiated the contract)
Pat Fisher (board president--voted yes)
Kerry Myers (board member--voted yes)
Mrs. Mandarino (board member--voted yes)
Kerri Leonard-Ellison (board member--voted no)
Jodi Hess (board member--voted no)

So as much as people have been quick to direct their heat at Mrs. McGinley, she wasn't even there at the time, and I do think she is trying. If there is a failing there, it would have to be not having masterminded the diplomatic feat of bringing the teachers union successfully to the table, and it takes two to tango.

Having worked in the private sector in New York, I agree that $150k+ is not a crazy amount of money to have a job with that much responsibility, however I do sympathize with the Easton taxpayers, where the mean income is $35K, who don't feel the same way about it.

As for Kerri Ellison, I did not feel that she attacked Mrs. McGinley. As a voting, taxpaying, resident I find it refreshing to actually hear earnest and even passionate discourse at a public meeting on issues so important to residents. The reason that public comments are part of every public meeting--and early on in the agenda--is because these panels are meant to be making decisions with residents there, involved in the process. They are not supposed to be making decisions behind the scenes and voting unanimously without discourse, which so often happens in Easton in various public meetings. If there were no discourse, it would have meant that the board had not been listening at all, and it was clear that Kerri Leonard-Ellison, Jodi Hess and Jen Holzberger--who all voted no on cutting 85 jobs--had listened to the hundreds of teachers and students and residents who had gotten up to speak in the last several weeks.

The saddest thing of all to me, is that the administrators and the teachers union did not make it to the table to negotiate a side-by-side sacrifice with taxpayers in the form of a wage-freeze in this economy to help those teachers keep their jobs when it was possible. But if the PDE rejects this decision, they might get another chance.

Rising Sun said...

Noel,

I don't fault him for speaking. Go ahead and speak. Mr. and Mrs. Ellison were flat out grandstanding, personally attacking her, and offered no serious solution to anything. She wanted to basically cut nothing this year, drain the reserve funds dry now, and be everyone's favorite board member in the room. She and her husband sought to demonize the superintendent, who already had a fairly unpopular position in all of this, while offering no adult vision for where we're going. I'm sorry, I can't give any credit for passion and effort, this is about results, and they were clearly playing nothing more than politics in that room.

noel jones said...

Rising Sun--I'm curious--are you then, against a wage freeze as an "adult vision"?

FYI--everybody, this conversation has continued in the May 29 post "EASD: What Now?"--please respond there so that we don't have two separate threads going on the same topic...see you there!