Monday, May 2, 2011

Meet Bill Rider, EASD Region I School Board Candidate

Bill Rider, candidate for Easton Area School Board

Posted by: Noël Jones

As the Region I school board race in Easton has a full field of candidates (3 open seats, with 2 incumbents and 4 challengers), I want to meet as many of them as possible and present them to readers on this blog. I will be reaching out to the candidates, and likewise, any candidates that I have not yet met that would like to set up an interview are welcome to email me at

Bill Rider seems an affable guy and very passionate about his views on education, stemming from over 35 years in the district as everything from a guidance counselor, to an assistant football coach, to Head Principal of Easton Area High School from 2002 until his retirement in 2009. Originally from the Susquehana Valley, he moved here in 1974 and has called Easton home ever since.

When I ask him why he decided to run for office, he answers readily, "I don't like what I see in public education...there's no visible leadership, and visibility of leadership is critical in a school district--
I just don't see that now." When he talks about his years in the district, his face lights up whenever he talks about working with the kids--how they all knew him because they saw him in the halls and the classrooms regularly. He explains that if administrators spend all day at the district's administration building in Forks, instead of being seen in the halls of the schools, meeting with teachers and principals and observing classrooms, they have no idea about what really works in the school district they're running. He also reminisces about the old days when, "we used to follow our kids--as counselors and as principals--we don't do that anymore." I ask him what he means by "follow" and he explains that when he was a guidance counselor, rather than being assigned to the same grade every year, counselors who were with the 9th grade one year, would be rotated to the 10th grade the next year, so that they remained counseling the same students throughout all four years of high school. Same with the principals.

This gives me an opportunity to ask a question I have been itching to ask someone in the know--why is it that we have so many principals at each of our schools? According to Rider, it's a sheer matter of population, and what is required of the principals over and above regular duties. Easton Area High School has over 3,000 students, so there is one principal to run each grade, and one head principal that manages everyone. That was his job.

On the budget, Rider says, "we have taken an underfunded system and continued to rely heavily on taxpayers--now we're seeing the cuts." He emphasizes the need for the cuts to make sense, "32 kids in a calculus class might work, but 32 kids in applied math or pre-algebra won't work." When I ask him about how he views the role of a school board member and his relationship to the taxpayers, he replies, "I'm going to be elected by taxpayers. My phone number has always been in the book and is still in the book. Anyone who has ever worked with me can tell you that I always tell people they can call me any time, and I mean it. Except once, when a reporter called me for comment at 11pm--but you know-- within reason."

So then I ask him about where he would suggest cutting the budget, and that's when the conversation gets really interesting. "AFG," says Rider. AFG? AFG is an acronym for Accreditation for Growth, a program I had thought was cut last year, when the director, Linda Fisher, sister-in-law to then school-board president Pat Fisher (who is not running for re-election) decided to retire, and her position (at $83K+/year) was never filled. The director did resign, Rider tells me--but the teachers and principals are still putting in overtime to fulfill the program requirements, without a director. "Time is money," says Rider, "I just don't think the program is necessary." Which reminds me, that we are the only school district for miles that runs the program at all. When you consider that 74% of the district's budget is salary, benefits and pensions, and when our teachers and principals are paid overtime to participate in the program, AFG has costs us a pretty penny. It is these kinds of expenditures (and cuts) that can potentially add up quickly, Rider assures me.

Anything else? I ask. "Yes. PBIS." Wha? "It's an initiative of small reward systems, stickers, stuff like that. It might be great for elementary school, but for higher grades, it just doesn't make take time away from teaching for a program like that." Who knew?

Also, Rider, suggests, the district spends money each year on small stipends for teachers who run clubs, groups, the school newspaper, the yearbook, etc., and we should be scrutinizing each "unit" annually to assess how many kids are in the group, and whether it's still worth it to be paying a teacher extra money to run it. He also likes the idea of the community chipping in to support clubs that they believe in, but balks at the idea of "pay to play" that is employed in New Jersey. "Our kids already pay to play--they all have to buy their uniforms, shoes and other gear already."

Since he was the Head Principal at EAHS for such a long time, I realize he must have been here when the controversial $1 million+ astroturf field went in. Where does he stand on that? "I supported it," says Rider. "It came out of the fund balance. The football field is a class room...physical education, girls' field hockey, lacrosse, track athletes, sometimes the football team practices on it." And the controversial swimming pool renovations? "I would like to see a new pool but can't see financing it at the expense of the citizens right now."

How does the principals' budget work, I ask? He tells me that aside from general supplies like textbooks and paper, that the principals' budget or "building base budget" gets used up on four things: Tech Ed (computer classes, wood shop, etc.), music (instruments, books), science (lab equipment), and "short orders"--a reserve fund used when they get surprised, "like when we find out we have 50 more students than we expected." In other words, the principals' budget is the actual cost of materials used to educate our students, as opposed to the costs of teaching. Currently, the principals' budget averages out to $145 per student. The total cost of education per student, however is over $9K.

Rider says he wants to bring his experience to the board, "to help propose better solutions to the challenges that face the district." He seems genuinely enthusiastic about it--the only bummer being that he will be spending his time working with the adults, rather than the kids, where, after talking with him, his heart really seems to be.


Buddy said...

Oh, yea, great . . . This guy was loved by the teachers because he allowed them to do whatever the hell they wanted. Case in point -- Under Rider's leadership, EAHS NEVER made AYP on PSSA testing. In fact, when he left, less than 50% of the student population could pass the basic reading and math testing! YES, one out of every two kids at EAHS FAILED to meet basic minimum standards!

This is just what we need on an already crazy school board. GOD HELP US!

Anonymous said...

Sorry Buddy but you are wrong. Bill Rider was a great principal and the school ran efficiently and educationally it was on top. State tests don't tell you a thing about effective leadership at the top.

Here is a man who was made to retiren by the likes of Joe Kish. Here is a man who was respected by staff and students. And you know what the Board did? They listened to Kish and made hime retire and replaced him with TWO principals.

Yep, makes a lot of cents to me.

Anonymous said...

Still a problem. He's too close. It's like hiring a former contractor to be your director. What paybacks exist? He may be a perfect candidate-knows operations and the problem areas. Still taking a chance. If he lived in another district he may be a good candidate in that district. Just think, Vulcano retired as a teacher from Northampton and came here to serve on our board. Such an outstanding member.

noel jones said...

Anon 12:23--how did Joe Kish "make" Bill Rider retire? As interesting a tidbit as that is, you'll have to back that up to lend it credence for other readers...

Anonymous said...

Just ask anyone in the district. Kish fashioned the new administration staff at the high school to nudge Rider right our of something he loved and did well. Look at any of the problems and Kish is the common denominatior. It is that simple.

beths said...

How can this guy do any better on the board than he did working in the system? That football field expenditure tells me everything I need to know about Rider.