PEA, board in verbal battle over finances, taxes
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.