Thursday, April 28, 2011

Steel Valley TEACH rally decries education budget cuts

Steel Valley TEACH rally decries education budget cuts
Friday, April 22, 2011
Last updated: 9:25 am
About the writer

Stacy Lee is a McKeesport Daily News staff writer and can be reached at 412-664-9161 or via e-mail.

"If we do work together on this as teachers, as community members, as school board members, as administrators and as legislators, we can stop this," TEACH member Steve Singer said. "But only if we work together."

That was the message echoed numerous times as Steel Valley School District school directors, staff and parents met with local legislators Thursday night to discuss education cuts in Gov. Tom Corbett`s proposed budget.

TEACH, an acronym for Tell Everyone All Cuts Hurt, is a committee of the communications branch of the Steel Valley Education Association teachers union.

"Our commitee was designed to unite school board members, unions, the district, parents, communities and administration to fight and oppose Gov. Corbett`s budget, and to show how bad these cuts are going to hurt our kids," said Melissa Pentin, a TEACH member.

Ryan Dunmire referred to the website that Singer created for TEACH.

Signs that the committee have made that say "Gov. Corbett`s Budget = All Children Left Behind" and "Good School = Good Communities" are available on the TEACH website, in addition to T-shirts.

"Our signs have been very well-received and well-recognized," Dunmire said as she listed more than a dozen schools that have contacted her to purchase them.

State Rep. Marc Gergely, D-White Oak, said he will take two signs that were at the school board meeting to Harrisburg. He said he wants to buy more and put them throughout the area, and donated $500 for TEACH to make more signs.

Steel Valley superintendent Dr. William Kinavey encouraged the audience to call local legislators to voice disapproval of the education cuts. He said after numerous calls and assistance from the Public Consortium for Education, he will meet with Corbett April 29 in Pittsburgh.

"We need the support of everybody in town," Kinavey said. "It can`t be Harrisburg hearing every day from the superintendent at Steel Valley. It`s got to be a lot of people calling."

He also said that, contrary to some rumors, Steel Valley still will have full-day kindergarten at Franklin Primary Center.

Singer said TEACH was not looking to criticize the school board or administration Thursday night.

"We are here to plan to work collaboratively to stop these unnecessary budget cuts to education and this attack on unions of all stripes," he said.

Singer said he`s sure the audience is aware the Steel Valley teachers all received notice of possible furlough.

"Yeah, it hurts," he said. "Speaking for myself and the great majority of teachers I`ve spoken with, I do not bear any ill will toward this board for those notices. We are well aware the board and the administration is between a rock and a hard place."

Singer said TEACH members were pleased with state Rep. Bill Kortz`s testimony March 31 to the state House Appropriations Committee regarding his disagreement over cutting the education budget $1.5 billion. Singer played it for the audience.

During his testimony, Kortz gave ideas for other options to save money instead of cutting education. Some of his recommendations were taking a 10-percent cut to all branches of government, cutting the legislative slush fund by $100 million, eliminating redundant programs in the state, closing big tax loopholes, pushing for a new tax on political advertising, establishing a small severance tax on Marcellus shale, a small tax on smokeless tobacco and placing a temporary halt to the phase-out of the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax.

"The day the governor proposed his budget, he said this was a day of reckoning," Kortz told the audience Thursday night. "I beg to differ. It was a day of wrecking. He came in and he`s trying to wreck our education system."

TEACH chairwoman Jill Fleming-Salopek took a personal day on April 8 to attend the Allegheny League of Municipalities Conference at Seven Springs, where Corbett was speaking. She said the governor mentioned Munhall in his speech when he was discussing how he wanted to reach out to communities.

"We`re just a small dot on the map of Pennsylvania and he mentioned Munhall in his speech," Fleming-Salopek said. "I believe the reason he said it, and I started to question it, (is that) he said he took a drive through Munhall the day before. It just happened to be the day we were on the front page of The Daily News with our rally. All of our signs were up throughout the communities."

She said Steel Valley is losing $1,000 per child and Upper St. Clair School District is losing only $135 per child.

"Who do you think has a stronger tax base?" Fleming-Salopek asked. "Who do you think has more need for that money? There`s no equity and Rep. Kortz said that in his testimony. The whole equation for the equity doesn`t exist in (Corbett`s) budget and we`re getting pounded. When you look at the districts that are getting hit the hardest, Steel Valley is No. 6 in the state."

Steel Valley Business Manager Mark Cherpak explained how the district will see a $2.4 million cut if the state budget is approved as it is.

Ed Colebank, district director of academics, information and technology, recently took a vacation day to travel to Harrisburg to talk to Corbett and other legislators.

"I went there and basically got the same excuse as you do on the phone" he said. "They`re not here. They`re out of the office. They`re at the other office."

Colebank said he relayed his concerns to Corbett`s aides.

Gergely told teachers who live in Elizabeth Township, the Norwin area and the South Hills to contact his Republican colleagues.

"You have to call Rick Saccone, George Dunbar, Eli Evankovich, John Pippy, Mark Mustio," he said. "You`ve got to call the guys who are going to make the decision."

"It`s unbelievable to me that our budget would be put out where we would give drillers of Marcellus shale free rein to not be taxed or pay any tax at all as the only state in America to have that," Allegheny County Council president Rich Fitzgerald said. "We won`t tax that, but we will cut education up to 50 percent in the school districts. It`s unbelievable to me."

Many spoke about Senate Bill 1, the voucher bill, that would give financial aid, tuition credits or vouchers for state residents enrolled in non-public schools using tax dollars.

"We`ve got to be vigilant," state Sen. Jay Costa Jr., D-Forest Hills, said. "We`ve got to keep the pressure on. We`ve got to keep Senate Bill 1 bottled up."

He said the bill is not school choice.

"It`s touted as school choice," Costa said. "It`s not parental choice. School districts can decide whether or not they want kids to come to their school district. If they don`t like the way you look, your color or your family background, they don`t have to take you. That`s wrong."

Voicing opposition to the bill is on the Steel Valley school board`s agenda for its regular Tuesday board meeting.

Pennsylvania State Education Association spokesman Butch Santicola congratulated the TEACH group, the school board and administration for setting an example for the rest of the state.

"Every school district should be doing what`s going on in Steel Valley today," he said.

There will be a town hall meeting with local legislators on May 5 from 7-9 p.m. at McKeesport Area High School to discuss the education cuts for local school districts

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