Wilkes-Barre Area School Board Meeting, October 5, 2015.

       In a previous post I explained that Wilkes-Barre was in a fight for it schools.  Little did we know that the district was in a fight to remain solvent.  The district claims that they are facing a catastrophic financial issue.. It us nit the first time they said this,  in fact they have said it quite a bit.  The difference now,  they are bringing in the Pennsylvania Department of Education to go over their finances. In the next few weeks PDE will be arriving,  they will go through the districts finances layer by layer to help determine what can be done.  This is something the members of Wilkes-Barre Area Save Our Schools has been asking for.  Not exactly the PDE,  but an expert to come in and examine the finances.  It was a concession to the WBSOS.  The state budget impasse has not helped the district in any way,  shape or form. But it has opened doors to this consideration. It is a start.

            While the district is in financial distress,  they still plan to move forward with their $100 million plan to consolidate 2 of our city Schools in a horrible location.  When asked if the district should wait until PDE was finished to continue with the project,  the superintendent responded that PDE coming in has nothing to do with the project. Although the plan is still moving forward,  there have not been any submissions to Plancon for additional property purchase or plans for the public hearing.  Those are 2 important points.  The property purchase would add several million to the price tag and most likely remain unused after the new school was built.  The public hearing was rumored to be either in December or January.  Typically the public hearing is held 9 months to a year after the Plancon process was started. The rumors had it at 6 months.

           Coughlin,  which was rumored to be closed on November 1, will remain open until the end of the school year. The juniors and seniors will remain in the Annex,  newest part of Coughlin,  while 9th and 10th graders will attend Mackin.  This is important because it shows the district is pumping the breaking,  going a bit slower then originally scheduled. We have made progress there.  Important pie e of information to note.  The district will raise taxes to the max amount from now until 2022,  at that point we should see light at the end of the tunnel. Very expensive for the taxpayers. There is also no plan in the works for Meyers.  A board member said that they were looking for someone to partner with in the future.  At least 5 years or more in the future.  Will it still be standing? According to the architects and engineers,  it is in trouble.  The future for the Meyers building could be anything from a sports center to a community center.

           They are looking at possibly 5 administrators in the new consolidated school.  The typical salary of a principal is between $100,000 and $150,000. They are also looking at Dean of Students and Head Teachers.  This despite the engine behind this consolidation being finance.  The superintendent also said that he spoke with the head of the NAACP about possibility if a large portion of minorities remaining in an underperformed school, while other children attend a brand new school with all the bells and whistles.  He told the NAACP local president that finances are driving this.  I am not sure that defense will work if this finds its way into court. 

           All in all it was an informative meeting.  The brakes are being pumped,  at least for the time being.  It is not a victory for the public,  just a concession.  I admire the fact that the board was willing to bring in the PDE.  That is an important step.  I hope as we move forward the board and the people can find a way to work together more.  The concern here needs to be about our kids,  not just money.

        

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School consolidation, bad for education and finances.

    I live in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.  We have had 3 high schools in our area since at least the 1930s.  There were many more,  but they were consolidated into 3 schools.  E. L.  Meyers High School,  Coughlin High School and G.A.R. High School.  Meyers and GAR are 7-12 and Coughlin is 9-12. The graduating class in 2015 from Coughlin was 259, Meyers about 150 and GAR about 150. All the schools in our area are not meeting the grade testing wise.  Meyers and Coughlin have issues with the buildings that change day to day. Our school board recently decided to infuriating the public,  ignore the public and subvert the public by deciding to build one school.

       The board decided to consolidate Meyers and Coughlin into one school.  They had a choice of 2 locations.  1 was Meyers,  7.7 acres,  neighborhood school,  most of the school walked already and it wasn’t in a central location to create traffic problems.  2 was Coughlin,  2.4 acres,  downtown,  traffic problems,  crime and drug problems,  now have to bus both schools and the property with the higher value to sell.  The board said no more property would be bought but are already proposing to buy more. Yes,  they chose number 2. Then decided to add on to an existing school to put 7th and 8th graders in there.  They are building over the city pool.  The project is estimated to cost $100 million.  They company that did the feasibility study received the job with no bid.  Yes,  a $100 million job,  no bid,  to the first company.  When the people asked for this to be put on the referendum,  the board voted 5-4,  against the referendum.  A classless display of egotism.

           Why do I not want a consolidated school? There are several reasons.  First and foremost is the children. Consolidated schools,  with over 1000 students have been shown not to work.  Test scores are lower,  attendance drops,  less participation is school activities,  loss of the intimate parent teacher relationship and kids falling through the cracks. The housing prices next to this newly empty school will plummet 10 to 20%.  A pillar in that community will be gone,  the building will be left to fester like so many other empty schools across the United States and a place that had a large community involvement leaves a hole which was once filled.  Another issue with consolidation.  Lower income kids do not get the same level of education they get in smaller neighborhood schools.  In effect,  classism reigns supreme again. 

    Sadly our school board did not take any of these things into account.  In about a year they went about their study.  When informed that Governor Tom Wolf intended to put a moratorium into effect on Plancon,  the state school funding project,  our board rushed to a decision.  They presented the plan Monday and voted on it Wednesday.  That seem well thought out to you? When the board spoke,  all they talked about was money.  Education was not mentioned once.  They believe bussing more kids will save money,  haha.  They believe eliminating 32 positions will save $3.1 million a year,  haha.  They said only 50% of landowners in the city pay taxes.  I say look at how happy Utah is.  They consolidated and didn’t save any money.  In fact it cost more.

      The board cited soil condition under Meyers as a reason for building at Coughlin.  Yet they plan on adding to a school that  is about 500 yards away.  They claim that they are concerned with safety at Meyers,  yet  had a graduation ceremony there.  They want to make that building into a sports complex.  How is that safe? The football stadium that 4 schools use is there.  They still plan on using it.  How us that safe? Something seems a bit off.

         I have an idea.  I don’t know if it is the right or best idea but it is better then this mess.  Experts say 1000 kids or less is the optimum amount for our kids to learn and test well. Built a new,  smaller Meyers that meets all qualifications.  Build a new Coughlin on the site where the middle and elementary school is,  no more land purchases,  build it to accommodate the population. This way we have 3 campus style high schools.  All very close to 1 of the 5 elementary schools locally. Experts agree that this model is best.They also agree 7-12 is the best model. Why is money coming before our kids? Pennsylvanian ranks 49th in the country in state funding for education. It also has a horrible system for who gets money.  Wealthier districts seem to receive more. These are things Governor Wolf is trying to fix.  Let him fix it.  Let our kids not have to pay off a monstrosity that we will be trying to change in 15 years.  Listen to the people.