Friday, March 25, 2011

EASD: The Budget Budges & Joe Kish Defends Sodexo Again

So we can examine the budget for potential layoffs, 
but we can't investigate Sodexo for fraud? Hmmn...

Posted by: Noël Jones

I got to the school board meeting a little late last night, and apparently missed union head Kevin Deely's impassioned protest speech in response to the Easton Area School District's announcement that they might have to fire as many as 215 teachers in light of this year's budget crisis, as well as the appeals of several parents to allow "pre and post" private before-and-after-school programs to operate within public school buildings (currently not allowed). Former school board member and current school board candidate, Richard Siegfried, also spoke up to challenge a few expenditures on the agenda, including a motion for the board to vote to approve a $4.3 million special ed contract that was already signed without prior board approval by Superintendent Susan McGinley last month. Luckily, I, and anyone else who missed any part of the meeting, can watch it on the EASD web site, and here is Colin McEvoy's article for the Express-Times covering last night's meeting.

EASD administrators have volunteered to give up their raises this year and have asked the teachers' union to do the same. Deely said publicly last week that teachers were considering a wage-freeze, but
were only open to the idea if no more teachers are laid off. Last night he made no mention of teachers agreeing to a wage-freeze and instead blasted the district for "bullying" teachers with threats of firings.

The budget has budged, but only slighting so far. Business Manager Marie Guidry announced that she was able to trim a little over $1 million from the budget since the last meeting, so the aforementioned budget gap of over $14 million is now just under $13 million, 70% of which is salaries, benefits and pensions. If all teachers and other district employees agree to a wage-freeze, it will amount to $7.4 million in savings this year, but that would still leave us with roughly a $5.6 million gap to close.

I spoke up during the public comments portion at the end to ask whether or not the district had written a letter to Governor Corbett yet, as discussed in a previous board meeting, requesting an investigation of Sodexo, and if not, whether the district intended to hire an auditor to see if we could win restitution as school districts in New York, New Jersey and Ohio have recently. The answer was no, but a discussion ensued at the end of the meeting, as to what action to take. Board President Kerry Myers acknowledged that the public had asked that a letter be sent to the state, and that that could still be done, but was extremely skittish around the idea of the EASD auditing Sodexo, suggesting that it might set up the district for another lawsuit. Then it was revealed that retiring Assistant to the Superintendent, Joe Kish, who has defended Sodexo aggressively from the start, was put in charge of compiling a report as to whether or not Sodexo has been defrauding our school district the way they have others in three states that border us. Kish blamed Superintendent McGinley, saying that he had wanted to give a report to dispel the "misinformation" that has come from public comments "and also in print on some of the web sites out there," but said that she wouldn't acknowledge him.

This is a really irritating trend within the school district that needs to be spelled out clearly:

When the EASD doesn't like what the public is saying during public comments, they call it "misinformation" and "rumor." This is deliberate mischaracterization of residents on the part of the district, in an attempt to obfuscate.

Let me make this clear--when the district's new attorney, Paul Blunt, went before the PTA earlier this month and tried to direct parents not to speak up at board meetings, he referred to the public as having spread "misinformation and rumor" during the budget process, as if the only thing that parents, taxpayers, teachers and students were upset about--and the only reason they came out to speak--was because they didn't understand what was really going being proposed. On the contrary, what was being proposed by the administration was a mass lay-off of teachers, and what residents were asking for was compromise between the administration and the union before it was too late. 72 teachers, 11 tech people and a few literacy coaches and crisis counselors were fired. It was not misinformation or rumor--it happened--and we were right to speak up.

With regard to Sodexo, the only thing that has been expressed by the public with regard to the budget is the REALITY that districts in New York, New Jersey and Ohio have investigated Sodexo and found them to be defrauding the districts through kickbacks to the tune of millions. These districts have sued, won settlements, and gotten their money back. The public is asking that we investigate the likelihood that a multi-billion dollar multi-national corporation conducts business in the same way in PA that it does in NY, NJ and OH. There is no "misinformation" coming from the public on this as Joe Kish would like to have everyone believe--these are legal settlement with Sodexo. And if the possibility of recovering money from Sodexo might save a teaching job or two, then why on earth doesn't Joe Kish want to investigate them?


ferebee said...

I have heard some really bad things RE: Sodexo ! Someone posted on Craigslist how poorly they treat their employees. Sounded hell-ish.

..Yikes !

Anonymous said...

Siegfried is an idiot who was thrown out of office running as an incumbent the last time he ran for the board. He was the first board member in over 25 years to ever lose a school board race as an incumbent and by a landslide!

McGinley can sign a document to reach a tentative agreement with anyone. Any idiot knows that the board has final approval, and no contact is valid without final board approval. McGinley's signature does NOT bind the district to a contract.

Siegfried: Do us all a favor and drop out of the race. Everyone saw your actions at the last board meeting, including your smiles at and with Kevin Deely after his little tirade, and we don't need your nasty, micro-managing tactics on a board that is dealing with the teacher's contract that was negotiated under your watch as Easton Area School District Board President!

noel jones said...

Anon 4:06 makes a good point--or rather raises a good question (albeit a little passionately)--does McGinley's signature on a contract bind the district legally to said contract, or is the district only bound once the board approves it?

Can anyone (Anon included) back this up or disprove it? A link to the district's policy on contracts perhaps?

Any info on this would be appreciated.

Piaggio said...

Noel, anonymous 4:06 PM is correct. As a retired EASD teacher, I know that a majority of the SB must approve any contract before it goes into effect. The supt. might sign a contract prior to the SB's approval, but it means nothing except that it shows the administration's support prior to the SB's vote.

noel jones said...

Thanks, Piaggio--if that's the case, it's a faux pas for this school board candidate...

Buckaroo said...

That's all well and good, but can anyone trust anything that comes out of the EASD?

Booboo said...

Careful - your multiple personalities are contradicting themselves....