PEA, board in ver­bal bat­tle over fi­nances, taxes

The Advance of Bucks County - - YARDLEY-MORRISVILLE AREA - By Pe­tra Ch­es­ner Sch­lat­ter

PENNS­BURY – About 100 teach­ers and other mem­bers of the Penns­bury Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion (PEA) gath­ered out­side Falls­ing­ton El­e­men­tary School on Oct. 11 to dis­play their dis­plea­sure with the Penns­bury School Board.

The demon­stra­tion, held prior to the reg­u­larly sched­uled school board meet­ing, was sim­i­lar to the one PEA mem­bers staged Satur­day night at Penns­bury High School’s Homecoming football game. The mes­sages were ex­actly the same and again were com­mu­ni­cated via signs hung around the pick­eters’ necks.

Four ver­sions, each be­gin­ning with the mes­sage, “Warn­ing 0% tax in­crease =” were on dis­play. The sec­ond part of each ver­sion was dif­fer­ent: “ev­ery child left be­hind”, “no 5 pm (sic) buses”, “no com­mit­ment to schools” and “de­creased prop­erty value”.

The PEA mem­bers said they staged the protests to in­form dis­trict par­ents what would hap­pen if the school board passes an­other bud­get with­out rais­ing taxes. The last time the board ap­proved a tax hike was 2010.

An el­e­men­tary school teacher, speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymity, re­it­er­ated the PEA’s worry that a lack of a tax in­crease would lead to elim­i­na­tion of dis­trict pro­grams and ser­vices.

“We’re do­ing this [be­cause we are] proe­d­u­ca­tion, be­cause we’re fight­ing for the pro­grams that are go­ing to be lost … schools will be closed if we have a zero-per­cent in­crease,” she said. “We’re try­ing to ed­u­cate the pub­lic of what’s go­ing on.”

School board mem­bers have re­peat­edly stated that if any­thing is cut it will be be­cause of money spent on teach­ers’ ben­e­fits, pen­sion and salaries, not be­cause the board re­fuses to raise taxes.

Read­ing from a pre­pared, three-page state­ment Penns­bury School Board Pres­i­dent Al­lan Weisel stood be­hind the board’s un­chang­ing po­si­tion.

“I’m not at all ashamed, nor is a ma­jor­ity of this board ashamed, of the fact that we have been suc­cess­ful since the 2010-11 school year of not rais­ing prop­erty taxes,” he said.

The board pres­i­dent said he is proud of be­ing able to avoid rais­ing prop­erty taxes with­out hav­ing a “sub­stan­tive im­pact” on the students’ ed­u­ca­tion. Weisel also pointed out the unique­ness of the board’s re­cent bud­gets and de­ci­sions.

“Penns­bury re­mains one of the few school dis­tricts in the re­gion that has not had to re­sort to the fur­lough­ing of pro­fes­sional staff in or­der to main­tain bud­getary and/or fi­nan­cial sus­tain­abil­ity,” he said.

PEA Vice Pres­i­dent and spokesper­son Lucy Wal­ter said the board is not do­ing all it can to op­er­ate the dis­trict’s ed­u­ca­tional pro­gram as ef­fi­ciently as pos­si­ble.

“We be­lieve that the community is not in­formed about some of the de­ci­sions that the board is mak­ing,” Wal­ter said. “We are mak­ing a con­certed ef­fort as teach­ers, who sup­port our kids and care about them, to get out to the pub­lic the in­for­ma­tion about the de­ci­sions be­ing made here in Falls­ing­ton at the school board meet­ings.”

Weisel re­ferred to the mes­sage tax­pay­ers de­liv­ered dur­ing his 2009 cam­paign.

“When I ran for school board three years ago, I spent a great deal of time [hear­ing from] peo­ple who are on fixed in­comes in re­tire­ment, los­ing ben­e­fits, hav­ing in­creased 0edi­care costs and re­duced pen­sions from large cor­po­ra­tions,” Weisel said. “I per­son­ally be­lieve it is im­moral at this time and in this econ­omy to raise al­ready in­cred­i­bly high school prop­erty taxes on any in­di­vid­ual or any fam­ily.”

School Board Vice Pres­i­dent Si­mon Camp­bell re­ferred to the teach­ers’ sign-car­ry­ing cam­paign as “ridicu­lous” and called Wal­ter “a dis­grace to a noble pro­fes­sion.” Camp­bell said the tax­pay­ing pub­lic will not stand for a tax in­crease, which he be­lieves the teach­ers want, not to save pro­grams and ser­vices but to fund PEA mem­bers’ pen­sion, ben­e­fits and salaries.

“Tax­pay­ers and par­ents are fed up with union bul­ly­ing tac­tics,” he Camp­bell said. “The union’s de­mands for 4.8 per­cent per year salary in­creases are offensive to all res­i­dents of this community who are strug­gling in this re­ces­sion.”

Camp­bell went so far as to ref­er­ence Wal­ter’s salary, which he said was $133,000.

“If she doesn’t like that com­pen­sa­tion, she’s wel­come to seek al­ter­na­tive em­ploy­ment,” he said.

Wal­ter de­fended her pay­check, say­ing Camp­bell’s es­ti­ma­tion in­cluded ben­e­fits and tick­ing off her own ed­u­ca­tional back­ground that makes her a “highly qual­i­fied” teacher by Penn­syl­va­nia stan­dards.

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