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Schuylkill County News

Pottsville Schools – No Confidence in Any of Them

On Tuesday night, Pottsville Area School District’s teachers’ union said it took a vote of no confidence in Superintendent Jeffrey Zwiebel.

They also voted to authorize a teachers’ strike at Pottsville Area School District, according to a WNEP-TV report and information obtained by The Canary.

Both moves are mostly symbolic at the moment.

Pottsville Teachers Strike?

The vote to authorize a strike, or a strike authorization vote, doesn’t mean teachers are going on strike. It means teachers, if they feel so compelled, have the backing of Pottsville Area School District Education Association to walk off the job.

The teachers’ union says it likely won’t go on strike because they’re actively negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with the school board. However, there are more than hints that the recent decision to float a multi-million-dollar bond in a few years to pay for thousands of solar panels, is not sitting well with teachers.

Teachers were working under a one-year contract that ended in 2018. They’ve been showing up to work since, not under contract with the school.

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Pottsville No Confidence Vote

The real symbolic vote taken by the Pottsville Area teachers’ union is the one of no confidence in district Superintendent Zwiebel.

Generally, a “no confidence vote” means the union has little reason to believe the Superintendent is acting in the best interest of Pottsville Area School District.

It’d be on the school board at Pottsville to take action against Zwiebel.

But how much confidence does anyone have in them?

Together, they’ve managed to drain a healthy operating budget and in about 5 years, ran the school district into debt. The situation was bad enough to catch the eye of the state Auditor General last year.

During that time they were draining the coffers and crying poor, they were spending money left and right.

Cut Teacher Jobs, Buy iPads

The board’s cut teachers’ positions. They were compelled to accept a donation from the public to save a music teacher’s job back in 2017.

Why cut these jobs? If a school had millions in the bank, why were they cutting teachers’ jobs?

And at the same time, the Superintendent and school board are purchasing iPads for all the district’s students.

How do you have money for one thing and not the other? Is an iPad worth more than a teacher?

Questionable Hiring Practices

While the money was flying out the windows at Pottsville, they were losing more on bad hires.

A previous business manager’s short stint at the District still has a lot of unanswered questions. And the hiring of a Transportation Director raised a lot of public debate. And during last year’s state Auditor General’s report, we learned that the district was leaving money on the table due to sloppy paperwork, specifically from that department.

The Solar Panels

And that brings us to today. Perhaps the reason the teachers’ union decided to speak up now is a direct result of the puzzling and hasty decision by the school board to invest in and then eventually purchase more than 4,000 solar panels. All it has to do is float a $4+ million bond to cover the cost of the panels but the promise is that during the lifespan of the panels (allegedly 40 years), the district will save $7 million or more on electric bills.

The decision is still causing a lot of people around Pottsville to scratch their heads. Not only is the idea being questioned, how the school board voted on it so quickly, without putting the project out to bid, and without much public discussion whatsoever, is causing even more concern.

Remember, this vote was taken just weeks after a newly elected school board was reorganized. Even the board isn’t confident in the idea. They split 5-4 in favor of the project.

Stacking the Issues

And that’s not even the half of it right now at Pottsville Area. There’s still a federal civil rights lawsuit hanging over the school, filed after the school board and members of school staff and administration bungled an “investigation” into a so-called hazing incident in 2018.

The district can’t seem to resolve its issues with Gillingham Charter School in Pottsville. Last year, we also learned that any funding paperwork related to Gillingham, the school basically ignores and passes the responsibility off to where it ultimately rests, with the state.

Those are issues with the school board. Are they bleeding over into the school? In a report we filed last year, we learned that Pottsville has a poor student attendance record. At least 1 in 3 students misses time from school every two weeks at Pottsville Area High School. Test scores and state school rankings at the district are generally below state averages and on the decline.

There are lots of reasons to have no confidence in any of them working in and around Pottsville Area School District right now. That includes the school board, the Superintendent and yes, even the teachers. We’re in debt, our teachers don’t have a contract, we just got scolded by the state over the state of our finances, and now we’re entering into a prolonged financial commitment on the promise that it’ll pay off in the end.

These problems at Pottsville are not new but they’re not stopping.

For several years, well respected members and alums of Pottsville — people whom you’d never question if they had the best interest of Pottsville Area, itself, in mind — have chastised the school board and administration over the perceived decline in the quality of education at Pottsville Area.

The teachers’ union tried to come out of Tuesday night’s drama as the “good guy” in this situation. But they should have acted sooner to affect the changes necessary at Pottsville Area. Agreeing to work without a contract doesn’t show you have the best interest of the school in mind. It just shows you’re willing to enable the poor financial decisions you knew were happening, even at your own expense.




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  1. coalregion12

    January 15, 2020 at 8:38 am

    The Mutual Admiration Society(TMAS) is alive and well at PSAD.
    NEPOTISM! Number one problem at PASD and Courthouse as well.
    Teachers are not hired based on qualifications just if they “know” someone. This has gone on for years.
    Another problem that you addressed above is the Audit done by the Auditor General. That should have been the nail in the coffin for some at PASD. But the TMAS just goes business as usual.
    For most as long as Pottsville Football/Basketball are doing well then all is good. But just wait until PASD Board has to raise our taxes this upcoming year along with major curs in staff!!!


    January 15, 2020 at 10:51 am

    The Admin made mention that teacher’s should have taken a stand sooner. However, is best to negotiation in a position of strength and now the teachers have such position. The writing was on the wall when some very good educators who would have given life and limb for that district jumped ship to go to other districts, some of who are getting paid less. If that doesn’t tell you about the quality that PASD has running the ship then I don’t know what does? The nepotism is rampant and morale is at a low up there I would believe. Blaming Gillingham for their troubles is a lazy argument. That Charter school is not going anywhere for the time being, despite their practices being suspect. The amount of money dumped into those legal battles is baffling, especially going about them twice.

    Many of the parents too have too much influence on the superintendant and board. I can imagine many faculty, staff and coaches don’t feel backed if things go askew, even if they are in the right. The Pottsville board just wants to win the PR battle and will bow to any affluent parent just to appease.

    Unless theres a clean sweep in the academic office, I fear that this school is on a downward spiral and its leaving the teachers and staff, per usual to salvage this sinking ship because of the commands ineptitude

    • admin

      January 15, 2020 at 12:26 pm

      For the record: we said the teachers should have taken a stand sooner, not the Administration, at least not that we’re aware of at this time. The main reason being exactly for what you said right after that. The last thing anyone wants to hear is about how teachers sacrifice this and that for the school. It’s unnecessary. That’s the point of the union, right? No reason to build a cross to throw themselves up on it when they have the ultimate bargaining chip. No need to play to the public, just take the fight where it belongs, between them and the school board. The second the teachers play for the public’s sympathy is the second the public stops caring.
      Everything else you wrote is true.

  3. Krista Bevan

    January 15, 2020 at 9:09 pm

    Hi! We’d sincerely love to invite you, and anyone else who is interested, to come to our school, take a tour of Gillingham, and answer your questions about our “practices”. You can reach out to to set this up!

    • admin

      January 15, 2020 at 9:12 pm

      Thank you. Added to our record: we didn’t like that swipe at the Charter school either.


      January 17, 2020 at 9:54 am

      I think you misinterpreted what I said but alas thats what happens when you type.

      I’m not against Charter Schools. I’m not totally against Gillingham either. I think during its inception they the school didn’t have its ducks in a row but now it seems as though the ship is on a correct course. I get what service you are trying to provide the community, and the second go around between you and PASD for accreditation was stupid for PASD to have a go with and put an unnecessary burden on the tax base with its legal fees

      • admin

        January 17, 2020 at 1:36 pm

        👍 Alas, this medium does have its limitations as in it’s often tone-deaf.

      • Krista

        January 18, 2020 at 12:32 pm

        Thank you for clarifying your statement, it is appreciated!

  4. Mark

    January 15, 2020 at 9:24 pm

    Gillingham is worse than Pottsville academically. Look at their test scores, numbers don’t lie

    • Krista Bevan

      January 15, 2020 at 9:34 pm

      Often our students come to us after struggling in their district for various reasons. They come in with low test scores! But we would love to show you their growth after being with us for a few years!! We also do not have a PSSA prep class nor do we “teach to the test”. Our curriculum emphasizes art and literature, manners and life skills, as well as the traditional subjects. All our students K to 12 learn Latin or Spanish, study nature and learn to play an instrumemt!! Our students and school are SO MUCH MORE than a standardized test. Please feel free to come in and meet us!

      • Mark

        January 15, 2020 at 10:07 pm

        No thanks. Go take a nature walk

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