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It's a heated debate over Easton Area School District's budget

By Stephen Althouse, WFMZ.com Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Apr 09 2013 10:45:55 PM CDT
EASTON, Pa. -

Hours of intense discussion peppered with accusations about lack of creativity in planning and lack of results in fact dominated Tuesday night’s contentious Easton Area School Board meeting concerning the 2013-2014 budget.

The impetus for the discussion began with a presentation by Chief Operating Officer Michael Simonetta on behalf of the administration of Superintendent Susan McGinley. The presentation offered three scenarios that would produce a balanced budget, including job cuts and tax increases of 2.1 and 1.7 percent and a zero percent tax hike, the latter of which the administration did not recommend because it would cut the highest amount of teachers, 27, as well as middle school sports programs, instrumental music  and would alter scheduling at the high school.

The three options did not appease many board members. The first was Robert Moskaitis

“There are different ways to achieve zero percent,” he told McGinley. He added that he thought the administration had not done enough to explore those avenues.

That was just the tip of proverbial iceberg. Board member Frank Pintabone picked up on Moskaitis’ theme with a methodical zeal akin to that of a prosecuting attorney.

“Let me ask you, when was the last time our future was not bleak?” inquired Petibone of the district’s fortunes. After considerable head scratching, the collective answer among the board was a long time. He followed up with another question.

“When the last time there was no tax increase in this district?” he asked.

After much debate, the consensus among administrators and board members that the year was 2006 and more importantly that was the only year in the past 20 there had not been a tax hike on property owners.

“We keep doing the same thing for years and years and years,” Pintabone said. “…We’re going to tax people to death.”

“We have to change the way we do things,” he noted. “…We continue to mop up the water when we need to turn off the faucet.”

“This is too simplistic for me,” Board Member Kerri Ellison then said of McGinley’s proposal. “…Why wouldn’t we be more creative?”

Pintabone was most insistent that we was disappointed with the proposals presented by administrators Tuesday night that offered only staff cuts and tax increases and demanded that a “long-term plan” be presented for future budget discussions, recognizing that at this late juncture in the budget process it would be impossible to accomplish that this year.

“Make me see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said to constant tax increases and job cuts that he said have been standard operating procedure in the district for years.

Board member William Ryder however cautioned Pintabone that the board’s responsibility first rests to the children and that a measured approach must be taken into account.

“We’re losing our kids,” he said, citing past budgets that did cut teachers. “…don’t cut teachers.”

Even after that exchange McGinley continued to receive criticism for her managerial style. Noting that budget season in the Easton Area School District is akin to the 1991 film “Groundhog Day” where actor Bill Murray continues to live the same day over and over again, Moskaitis noted that he thought McGinley’s budget was “looking in the rearview mirror” with her tenure as superintendent coming to an end June 30th after her contract was not renewed last year by the board of directors.

This accusation clearly offended McGinley who now launched into her own speech and said that her administration “had worked diligently to present a creative approach every day” to deal with the district’s precarious financial position. She then told Moskaitis that she would like him to erase that thought from his mind.

The comment spurred Moskaitis to point his finger at McGinley and inform her that “my thoughts are my own Dr. McGinley” and he would not be taking his intellectual cues from the superintendent. He then added that it was around the third grade when he was last judged on his efforts to complete a task as opposed to the actual results of those efforts, in a direct response to McGinley’s previous statement that she was working hard to find solutions to the district's problems.