School Board Furloughs Teachers as Planned
The Wyalusing Area School Board meeting held at the high school last night drew more than 250 local citizens concerned about drastic measures proposed by the board and school administrators in recent days. But, the impassioned pleas of more than two-dozen parents, students, and community leaders could not prevent the inevitable.
One by one, the board members tearfully and regretfully voted to terminate eight teacher positions in the coming school year and accepted the resignations of six more faculty members who will not likely be replaced.
The far-reaching changes left many feeling stunned and helpless, while others challenged the board and the community to pool their resources to save some of the programs that were cut and, more specifically, to rescue the kindergarten program and elementary music teacher Tonya Boatman.
Emotions that ranged from disbelief to outrage from the onset were tempered some by a PowerPoint presentation narrated by Superintendent Chester Mummau, who figuratively laid more facts on the table than had previously been released to the press and subsequently spread on social media outlets.
He made it clear to those in attendance, well before they had an opportunity to speak to the board, that state mandated programs, retirement pensions, and payouts to cyber schools were bleeding the district. Even with an increase in taxes and some wishful thinking concerning several income sources, the district still faces a $500,000 shortfall.
Valerie Bollinger was one of the first guest speakers of the evening and the first to admit that her conversations during the previous week with Mummau and board members had been eye-opening.
“I learned that it is not only my right but my responsibility to be informed,” Bollinger stated. “I’ve learned that approaching a situation like this with a lack of information and an abundance of emotion is lethal. I’m determined to be a part of the solution and not the problem.”
Barry Ballard, who, along with his wife, Karen, spoke on behalf of their two high-school-age children, agreed. “I got a crash course in what you are dealing with,” he remarked. Nonetheless, the proposed changes in the music program proved especially alarming to him.
“My daughter is going for a career in music. She’s able to do that because she had a mentoring relationship with all of her music teachers,” Ballard related.
He did, however, admonish the school board and administrators for not providing the community with more advance notice on precise changes that appeared to have been decided since the last school board meeting, a notion that was granted more credence by Jeannie Woodruff, who openly challenged the board’s interpretation of the state’s Sunshine Laws.
“Right or wrong, there’s a perception in our community that the school board conducts business in a secretive manner,” she explained, before reciting an excerpt from the state’s statute on openess in municipal meetings. “The current practices of the board do not promote transparency. We found out about the cuts from unofficial sources.”
After many people had spoken, board president Deborah Stethers proposed a welcomed break in the meeting. When the meeting resumed, Stethers was quick to point out that a draft of the budget has been available on the district’s website for two months, and the dilemma and debate faced by the school district had been clearly illustrated in the Rocket-Courier.
Mummau asserted that none of the furloughs were of a personal nature, but the school district had no choice but to start the cutting with non-mandated programs and base the furloughs on seniority.
“We’re troubled to even put these things on the agenda,” he stated. He conceded as well that class sizes will grow as a result of the cuts, and the workload on existing teachers will increase.
Over the sobs, sniffles, and muted groans of audience members, the board went on with its business, voices low and somber. Many long-time members took a turn at making the unpopular motion of cutting one of the teaching positions, like that of Boatman.
“I’ll make the motion, regrettably,” said Brian Zeidner. “I hate to see her go, but I know where we are.”
“This is awful,” fellow board member Chad Salsman proclaimed. “I’m the only one on the board running for re-election, and I don’t even know why right now. This is no fun at all.”
Mummau echoed the sentiments of the board and acknowledged the offers by community members to help. He urged those in attendance to contact their elected state officials to press for changes on teacher pension mandates and cyber school charges.
He also welcomed the opportunity to speak with any individual or group donors who are interested in helping the district save one or more of the programs that are, for now, erased from next year’s budget.
More information about the school board meeting and photos will be available in Thursday’s Rocket-Courier.