Sixty speakers and hundreds more in the audience of the Allentown school board meeting Thursday night voiced their opposition to a budget proposal that would eliminate 150 teacher positions.
The meeting was a marathon affair that featured a gamut of emotions as residents reacted to the proposal that would eliminate 144 teachers and do away with the staff members who teach art, music, library and physical education in the elementary schools.
After four hours, the board finally voted 6-3 to approve the administration’s initial budget proposal to start the budget negotiation process, with members Ce-Ce Gerlach, Julie Ambrose and Joanne Jackson dissenting.
Board president Robert Smith noted several times during the meeting that this vote was simply a preliminary step and that the district would do everything it could to procure additional money to help close a massive $22. 5 million budget shortfall and save more teachers, administrators and staff members jobs.
The cuts as presented by the administration of Superintendent C. Russell Mayo would help close that gap by about $11 million.
But Thursday night’s meeting wasn’t about facts and figures so much as emotion.
“I am disgraced as a long-time resident of Allentown and as a graduate of William Allen,” said resident David Roth of the proposed teacher cuts. “…The customer-service work in this district is horrible.”
“Are we asking our children what they would be interested in?” said Jamie Lynn McKay, who identified herself as a teacher. “”I believe in the arts.”
“I beg you to keep the related arts,” said speaker Eric Wilburn.
But comments were not limited to angry teachers and disgraced parents. Students in attendance also voiced their opposition to the proposal, and often in creative ways.
For example, Anna Tejienueit, a student at Raub Middle School, read a poem about how the district took away the arts from her childhood. Some students even shed tears.
Teachers union president Deb Tretter began the public input portion of the meeting by saying up until this point and in years past, the teachers had primarily blamed Gov. Corbett’s cuts to public education as the prime mover behind layoffs.
But Thursday night she noted that should the board approved the administration’s budget as presented, they would hold them just as accountable.
“We would blame you (the board) for not asking the hard questions,” she said. “We would blame you for not knowing what’s going on.”
Board member Scott Armstrong said that if teachers wanted to save these jobs and help students, they should extend their own pay freezes. The comment proved unpopular with teachers in attendance.
Mayo began the meeting noting by amending the layoff amount from 150 to 144. He would do that by keeping five elementary school music teachers and a coordinator for the visual arts.