Board Must Change Its Spending Priorities

Budget Hearing: April 21, 2022

by Lynda Rubin

The Board of Education scheduled its annual budget hearing just one hour before its April action meeting.  With a lengthy presentation from Chief Financial Officer Uri Monson on the agenda, followed by questions from the Board and testimony from nine public speakers, there was not much time for careful deliberation about the Board’s own spending priorities.  It seemed at times that the tail once again was wagging the dog, with Board members’ comments and questions reflecting Board compliance rather than Board leadership. 

President Joyce Wilkerson and Vice-president Letitia Egea-Hinton attended in person, along with Board members Reginald Streater, Lisa Salley, Mallory Fix Lopez, and Julia Danzy. Cecelia Thompson attended remotely.  Maria McColgan did not attend.

Monson gave a brief summary of the proposed budget for the next fiscal year and narrated a slide presentation which can be found here.  Monson stated that public input had been sought regarding how the District should allocate the remaining federal relief funds. He expressed dismay that only 480 people responded to the survey after almost 12,000 responded last year.  Lump Sum Budget changes were ascribed to the federal government reduction of Title I funds to Pennsylvania. Board members asked a question or two about various parts of the budget, but there was no in-depth discussion on any item.

Nine speakers registered to speak at the meeting or on Zoom. Each speaker was limited to 2 minutes. No student speakers had signed up.

CASA President Robin Cooper again urged the Board to fund Five Key Positions in every school from the central budget:  Assistant Principal, fully-released Lead Reading Teacher, fully-released Lead Math Teacher, Climate Manager and Special Ed Compliance Manager.  APPS has endorsed CASA’s demands, along with other organizations including the Home and School Association, PFT, POWER,  and numerous parents, principals, teachers and community members. Cooper decried the District’s continued expansion of administrators at 440 while cutting 45 Assistant Principals and reducing school staff by 10%.

Former principal and current education activist Cindy Farlino told the Board that while the Goals and Guardrails are important, there is a divide between what is allocated for various specific supports and programs across the District. Farlino also stated that the projection of enrollment is flawed.

Tomeo Sippio-Smith, Children First K-12 Education Policy Director, testified that this is not the time to reduce services, especially after the losses that children have experienced during the pandemic. She argued that  high-quality Kindergarten, Elementary, Middle School, High School and school-based specialists are essential.  Sippio-Smith reminded the Board that if the District reinstated access to arts, sports and other specialties, students would be more likely to remain in the School District. 

Jess Sweet, a special education teacher, testified that the District is spending too much in areas that do not help children. She specifically called for an increase of SPECOMS (Special Ed Compliance Managers) in the school to support special ed teachers, freeing them up to work directly and more closely with students. 

APPS member Lynda Rubin, a retired K-8 counselor, said that the needs of students in District schools are being ignored. She noted the Bodine High School students’ walk-outs in protest of the administration’s failure to address the crisis there or to protect the safety of the students. Rubin pointed out that the Board and Dr. Hite spend significant time touting how its expenditures support the Goals and Guardrails, but are sadly lacking in supporting students, teachers and families in individual schools. Rubin noted that the Board and Administration have placed their outsourced programs above local school needs like Bodine, and other schools that are struggling with cuts to the bone.

APPS co-founder Lisa Haver reminded the Board that its budget is a statement of priorities and values.  She noted that money is freely spent on consultants instead of aides in all kindergarten classes or on school libraries with Certified School Teacher Librarians.  “When more adults are in the building, children do better,” Haver said.

Gompers Elementary  Principal Phillip DeLucaa, speaking as a father of an autisitic son, stated that Pennsylvania has the highest percentage of special ed students (19%), but fails to provide teachers with necessary supports. He called on the District to disclose the amount of “compensatory payments” that are made to students and families as compensation for the lack of all the educational supports listed in their children’s IEPs.

APPS member Diane Payne again again called out the Board for shutting out public speakers by limiting the number of speakers and imposing other rules that prevent speakers’ timely public access before Board meeting decisions. She argued that written testimony should not be substituted for direct public testimony.  Payne endorsed CASA’s demand for the Board to fund the 5 Key Positions essential to every school. 

The budget hearing adjourned at 4:25 PM.