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

Letter to Senator John Eichelberger

Here are several questions that I recently sent to John Eichelberger. I sent a similar set of questions to the governors office and they sent a matter of fact reply. I've included Eichelberger's response at the bottom of the page. enjoy.
April 5, 2011

Senator Eichelberger,

I would appreciate if you or someone on your staff could provide me the answers to the following questions at your earliest convenience. I apologize in advanced for the number of questions.

1. Can you please share with me the PSSA, PVAAS and AYP scores for the private and parochial schools within Blair County? Since you support creating competition, I would like to be able to accurately compare the job that our public, private and parochial schools are doing.

2. Since funding to public education has been cut by about 20% and funding for our state supported universities has been cut by about 50%, can the taxpayers of Pennsylvania expect the Governor and the Legislature to cut their budgets by about the same amounts?

3. Along those lines, teachers, professors, other university employees, and state workers are expected to take a pay freeze for this year. Since you claim to be a fiscal conservative, can the taxpayers of Pennsylvania count on you and all of the members of your staff to take a pay freeze too? Technically, you are a state employee and we all should share the pain in these tough economic times.

4.A few questions related to the benefits of being an elected official:

a. How much do you pay into your state supported retirement system?

b. How much do our elected officials collect when they retire? On average, what percent of their

c. Are retired elected officials still covered by taxpayer sponsored health insurance?

d. How much is your monthly car allowance?

5. Without providing the names of your eight staff members, would you please provide the salaries
and benefit package for each of them?

6. What is the total cost of operating your office or offices for one year?

7. Do you support taxing the Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling companies?

8. Would you be willing to introduce legislation freezing all of our elected officials and their staffs
salaries for the coming year?

9. Would you be willing to introduce legislation to reduce the Governor’s and Congressional budgets by at least 20%?

10. Would you be willing to introduce legislation that would cut the size of our state legislature in half? There are 435 members in the House of Representatives in Washington D.C. for over 310 million Americans but we have 253 members in the Pennsylvania Congress for a population of 12.7 million. That seems a bit excessive. Tens of millions of dollars would easily be saved by doing this.

11. Would you be willing to introduce legislation that would require a taxpayer referendum any time an elected official in Pennsylvania would like a raise?

One final thought, I find it disturbing that in your March 31st blog you stated, I got my usual anti-freedom emails from public school employees. So anyone who disagrees with you or has a difference of opinion is to be considered anti-freedom? I always thought that in a democratic society, an open dialogue and discussion with ones elected representative was valued. I âm sure that those anti-freedom public school employees will use their constitutional rights during the next election.

I look forward to your response.


Tim Andrekovich

Mr. Andrevovich,
Obviously, you are connected to a public school and don't want to discuss, in a rational manner, the problems concerning the funding and performance of public schools. You know the answers to many of the questions you asked and won't accept my answers on others I could answer. Instead of trying to take deflect your system's shortcomings onto the legislature, gas drilling or corporate America, I would suggest that you work to make public education better. You evidently feel that public ed is perfect or, maybe, it isn't perfect, but can only be looked at when every other problem in Pennsylvania is fixed first. I don't share your view. I represent the interests of taxpayers and children.

You should as well.
John Eichelberger

Teachers Aren't the Enemy

Published on The Nation (

Teachers Aren't the Enemy
Pedro Noguera and Michelle Fine | April 21, 2011

Public school teachers and their unions are under a sustained assault that is still unfolding. In 2010 Michelle Rhee, former Washington, DC, schools chancellor, announced the creation of a multimillion-dollar lobbying organization for the explicit purpose of undermining teachers unions. She has charged that “bad teachers” are the primary cause of the problems that beset America’s schools. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has asserted that effective teachers need no experience. Romanticizing the young, energetic, passionate (read: cheap) teacher, he has made eliminating seniority preferences in layoffs (aka, last in, first out—or LIFO) his pet cause (it has been stymied for the time being by the state legislature).

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has slashed school aid by $1.2 billion while refusing to comply with a court-mandated formula for school funding equity. He has become a right-wing hero by demonizing teachers, lambasting unions, challenging tenure rights and introducing a crude teacher-evaluation process based on student test scores. Christie is also pushing what he calls a “final solution”—$360 million in tax credits for a tuition voucher system that would permit any child in New Jersey go to any school, public or private, and would include state subsidies for some students already attending parochial schools and yeshivas.

It’s hard to think of another field in which experience is considered a liability and those who know the least about the nuts and bolts of an enterprise are embraced as experts.

The attack has diverse roots, and comes not only from Republicans. Groups like Democrats for Education Reform have dedicated substantial resources to undermining teachers unions. With Race to the Top, the Obama administration has put its weight behind a reform agenda featuring charter schools, which employ mostly nonunion labor, as its centerpiece. A disturbing bipartisan consensus is emerging that favors a market model for public schools that would abandon America’s historic commitment to providing education to all children as a civil right. This model would make opportunities available largely to those motivated and able to leave local schools; treat parents as consumers and children as disposable commodities that can be judged by their test scores; and unravel collective bargaining agreements so that experienced teachers can be replaced with fungible itinerant workers who have little training, less experience and no long-term commitment to the profession.

In this atmosphere of hostility to public schools and teachers, it has become nearly impossible to have a rational discussion among educators, parents, advocates, youth and policy-makers about what should be done. Honest analyses suggest that removing ineffective teachers is an excessively slow and arduous process, though unions are often blamed when administrators have failed to document problems systematically. Likewise, the LIFO system for layoffs does need reform because it contributes to high turnover in the most disadvantaged schools. These schools are the hardest to staff, and in cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, many veteran teachers have found ways to avoid being assigned to such schools. But candid conversations about how to solve these problems are extraordinarily difficult when any comment critical of unions is likely to be used as a weapon by the right.

None of the reforms on the table address the inequality and opportunity gaps that plague our schools. Raging debates over LIFO, seniority, teacher evaluation and test-based school closings do little to improve schools and much to distract from the real challenges. Moreover, because current reforms have been designed to promote school choice and weaken the unions, they have been exacerbating the challenges rather than fixing them.

* * *

But teachers unions and their allies are fighting back. Trade unionists, civil rights activists and educators have rallied with the Wisconsin protesters and put Governor Scott Walker on the defensive. To have the greatest impact, the unions must find a way to mobilize parents, young people and communities. Without their support, teachers will not succeed in countering these assaults. Getting that support will not be easy, because it requires educators to acknowledge that the school status quo is untenable and to join labor rights to educational justice.

In a small but growing number of school districts, teachers and their unions are taking the lead rather than waiting for policy-makers to act. At Columbus High School in the Bronx, teachers are working with students and parents to resist the district’s efforts to close the school by addressing the causes of student failure. In the South Bronx, parents, labor, educators and community organizers, united as CC9, have designed a strategy to reverse teacher turnover by providing new teachers with support from veteran lead teachers.

In Chicago, Karen Lewis, of the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE), is presiding over the Chicago Teachers Union with a platform to reverse Renaissance 2010, a program to close many schools serving poor children of the South Side and timed to coincide with the demolition of housing projects pushing great numbers of poor people out of the city. CORE is focused on much more than salaries and benefits. It is challenging the use of high-stakes testing to punish students, teachers and schools, organizing for greater equity in school finances and mobilizing with parents against school closings.

In Milwaukee, longtime education activist Bob Peterson, editor of Rethinking Schools, is running for union president. Peterson worked with a broad array of local activists to defeat mayoral control of the schools and co-founded an educator/parent task force on responsible assessment.

And in California, the California Teachers Association sponsored the Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA), which has targeted funding toward reducing class size, hiring more counselors and providing professional development for teachers focused on the sharing of best practices. Schools that have enjoyed QEIA support have shown marked student improvements, particularly for low-income young people of color and English as a second language learners. This activism will culminate in a national Save Our Schools March in Washington on July 30.

We can begin to feel the rumble of solidarity, with parents, teachers, labor and youth taking back what is rightfully theirs—public schools and democratic public education.
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6:15 PM


Parking is available behind the fire hall across the street from the band shell or McKeesport High School.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


"The rankings in this guide are based on standardized test scores and answer the question ‘which school or district has the highest-scoring students?’ This ranking answers the question ‘which school districts do better than expectations base upon economics?’ This rank takes the Honor Roll rank and adds the percentage of students in the district eligible for free and reduced lunch into the formula. A district finishing high on this rank is smashing expectations, and any district above the median point is exceeding expectations."

Statewide our Overachiever Rank is 95/496!

School District Information


This year rank (out of 104 local): 77
Last year rank (out of 105 local): 79
Statewide rank (out of 496): 374
Economic disadvantaged rank (out of 105 local): 87
Overachiever rank (out of 104 local): 26

District budget, 2010-11: $40,894,025.00
Tax millage rate: 14.43
Percent of students who are economically disadvantaged (qualify for free/reduced lunch): 42.59%

Feel free to share the link.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Call to action!

Yesterday the Senate Appropriations Committee voted on an amended voucher bill (SB1) out of committee. This is the bill for tuition vouchers. Remember that these vouchers will take public school money away and give it to schools that are NOT accountable to taxpayers and that are not held to the same rules as we are. There was more debate in committee than anticipated from Senators who have heard our voices. A vote on the floor of the Senate is expected within the next few days, so it is imperative that we turn up the pressure now. We need everyone to call their local senators. Even if you've made the call before, we need you to do it again, because this may be the call that pushes the vote back and allows us more time to convince legislators how wrong they are on this issue. Please call. It will only take a minute of your time. Do not assume that everyone else will do it. It has to be everyone!


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Stop the Attack on Taxpayers and Public Education

The Pennsylvania senate is about to vote on a bill that will raise your property taxes and lower the quality of public education. I’s called SB1, and it will cost Pennsylvania taxpayers between $500 million and $4.5 billion.

The Republican leadership is trying to ram this through today. Please take action NOW before they vote on this outrageous legislation.

According to No Voucher

• SB 1 will raise your property taxes. The public schools aren’t going away, and if the state takes billions away from local school boards, your local property taxes will go up.

• SB 1 creates a new Harrisburg bureaucracy. The bill creates a brand-new agency in Harrisburg, with staff, offices and equipment.

• SB 1 is unconstitutional. Article III, Section 15 of the PA Constitution states: “No money raised for the support of the public schools of the Commonwealth shall be appropriated or used for the support of any sectarian school.”

• SB 1 is a huge unfunded liability for taxpayers. Cost estimates for SB 1 are based on just 10% of low-income families. Dr. Woodrow Sites of the PA Association of Rural and Small Schools testified that the real price tag could be more than $4.5 billion a year.

• SB 1 has no accountability. SB 1 would send taxpayer dollars to private school operators with no requirement that they do a good job teaching kids. Isn’t that what’s wrong with education already? Even worse, there are numerous reports of financial fraud and other scandals in private school operations.

Take action now! Click here to tell your State Senator to vote NO on SB 1.