Posted by on May 4, 2020 1:46 am

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Categories: Coal Region Newswire Local News

The situation at Pottsville Area School District keeps getting uglier.

In the last week, we learned as many as 15 teachers will get furloughed at the end of the 2019-2020 school term. The cuts will be across the board, impacting the elementary, middle, and high schools.

Additionally, the school teachers’ union learned that the library program district-wide will be eliminated for the new 2020-2021 term. And the school plans to cut kindergarten back to half days next term, too.

The school board says it can’t afford to pay these teachers. Teachers argue these cuts will drastically impact the quality of education.

And when the new school term starts in the fall, they’ll all be to blame.

Financial Mismanagement Plunges Pottsville Area School District Into Chaos

What’s terrifying here is that these cuts are being proposed without considering the financial fallout the coronavirus pandemic response will cause in the near and distant future.

State lawmakers with a fiscal eye warn us already to expect much smaller government in the future. Now, consider that the state Dept. of Education is the biggest share in the money Pottsville Area and other local districts get.

These cuts could just be the start of more.

Blame the Pottsville Area School Board

It’s really easy to blame the school directors at Pottsville Area. And there’s no grace period for the newly elected board installed after the 2019 General Election.

For more than 5 years, the school board oversaw the depletion of a $12+ million surplus with some careless, puzzling spending decisions and gross mismanagement.

We only got a chance to scratch the surface last year when state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale tore the district a new one over how it squandered a surplus that should have been the envy of other districts in the area. The crux of the school financial audit in 2019 boils down to the idea that no one was accounting for any of the money being spent.

Cash was going out far faster than it came in. And then, the school found itself in debt.

Pottsville tried placing the blame on the cost of paying for students who opted for Gillingham Charter School instead of the traditional school setting. But really, the charter school is just the scapegoat here.

A lack of transparency led to reckless spending choices. Poor record-keeping cost the district tens of thousands of dollars. And bad hiring decisions cost Pottsville Area even more.

Then, at the beginning of 2020, the newly-elected school board made its most baffling decision yet. That’s when they rushed through a plan to install more than 4,000 solar panels across the district. They promise these solar panels will get the cash flowing into the district over time. But that’s not saving anyone now. Instead, the only certainty from the sneaky solar panel deal is the $4+ million loan the district was forced to take out just to get this project off the ground.

Whether or not we make up the money promised through selling renewable energy certificates, or whether or not these panels will even generate enough power to make the project even remotely sensible is anyone’s guess.

And remember, the decision to take out this massive loan to pay for this solar panel experiment was done knowing full well the district was in dire straits financially.

So, if you want to blame the school board and their financial bumbling for at least the last 5 years, you wouldn’t be missing the mark.

But you also have to …

Blame the Teachers, Too

Teachers at Pottsville Area (and anywhere, really) will scream until their blue in the face that cutting teachers jobs somehow means you don’t value education.

Well, they can scream from the unemployment line. Or maybe they can post something about it on Facebook so you can read about it on your kid’s iPad.

The iPads Pottsville Area School District purchased barely got any resistance. That includes from teachers who believe they help classrooms and improve the quality of education. But they can only do good if there are teachers leading classes on them.

There’s plenty of evidence showing technology in the classrooms has no effect on the quality of education. In fact, you’ll find more showing that iPads actually lower the quality of education. And now, the cost of these iPads is cutting into the already strained budget and anyone could argue this money likely cost at least 1 teacher their job, probably more.

Secondly, teachers at Pottsville Area have gone without a contract since 2018. They could have demanded a new contract be in place as the old contract was expiring. But they didn’t.

Instead, they gave up control of their fate to the school board. We’re not a big proponent of teachers’ unions in the least but recognize the power they possess. In Pottsville, however, they didn’t use that power and kept working without a contract.

And now, when they don’t even have a chance to sit face-to-face with the people deciding their fate, they want to cry foul.

We’re not condoning the decisions of the school board to cut this many teachers but you won’t find us rushing to the teachers’ defense. They brought this situation upon themselves. They saw the school squandering money left and right. Teachers knew these same people were spending the money they think should have been theirs but they sat on the sidelines and kept quiet.

And now it appears to be too late.

The school district says it will have more details on the furloughs and program cuts at its May meeting.

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