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.
Should Pottsville Teachers Go On Strike?
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.