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Letter to the Editor: PR School District Tax Increase Strongly Opposed

Daryl and Michelle Festa say they moved into the Pine-Richland School District deliberately due to its reputation and performance, but pulled their four children out because of "drastic changes."

To the Editor:

We strongly oppose any tax increase. We believe the Pine-Richland Administration and Board, under (Superintendent) Dr. Mary Bucci, have failed our students, parents and the community by recklessly spending and implementing Progressive educational fads across all grade levels. 

This has both a cost impact and an educational quality impact (and may be one of the reasons that the cost for cyber school tuition is rising). 

We moved into this district deliberately due to its reputation and performance, but we pulled our four children out of PR because of the drastic changes initiated by Dr. Bucci.

There have been huge costs with this transition to a globally-focused school district that seems to care most about keeping up with other local districts and advancing on national brag lists (of questionable value), rather than making wise financial decisions for the good of our community. 

This global focus meets the United Nations' standards for education, and the students are reflecting these new Progressive and anti-American values (as we discuss at length in the blog www.postmoderngibsonia.blogspot.com), but it is in opposition to our community's values. 

For example, the elementary math program was unnecessarily replaced with enVisionMATH (a reform, inquiry-based, constructivist, brand new and untested curriculum), but there were no cost estimates or community involvement with this change. 

The elementary reading program was also replaced with a whole-language-based Guided Reading program, again with no cost comparisons and community input—and it replaced trained reading specialists with parent volunteers and there is still a lack of books to support the program!   

The brand new high school addition was designed around STEM/STEAM, which is another fad that sounds great but when coupled with the non-technical Project Lead the Way (emphasizing group work over technical SKILLS) may again prove to be a waste of taxpayer money.  

These programs alone exceed the cost savings from the Board-proposed program cuts (per Pine-Richland.Patch.com article 6/14/12). The programs that are on the chopping block impact the regular (non-AP) students (e.g. child development) disproportionately, and PR now has the reputation of only caring about AP in high school and the PSSAs in younger grades. 

We do not believe that a serious effort has been put forth to cut costs. We believe PRSD should first STOP SPENDING as this pension crisis looms (e.g new student data program at $100K—new programs are proposed frequently at the board meetings). 

The community consensus is that both Eden Hall and the STEM Addition are extravagant and that the content of the education is much more important than the appearance of the facility.  We are concerned with all the change orders increasing construction costs at nearly every board meeting.   

We also believe that cutting teachers should not be the first or only cuts (as seems to be the case in every other district raising taxes). If there are too many teachers, then it is wise to make cuts but these should be done by merit, not seniority (and student standardized test scores should not be the only measure of merit).

The education of our children is critically important, and the teachers are the most important factor in their success. We cannot continue to blindly follow antiquated union rules at the expense of a good education.

We also value the older and more experienced teachers who may be pushed into retirement at a great loss to our students. Mature teachers could have valuable input in these curriculum decisions and paradigm shifts, as they may resist the urge to follow educational trends at the cost of educational quality.

The Academic Achievement Committee is also planning to hold the High School Symposium on Education again next year (as discussed in March 2012 Academic Achievement meeting notes).  

This event was canceled for 2012, then re-instated after teachers incited the students to complain (and blamed our blog entirely for the cancelation so that many students posted intolerant, anti-free speech, hateful, and threatening comments directed towards us and our daughter—and then it was canceled again due to time constraints) but over the last three years has proven to be utterly biased against traditional, patriotic values. 

Any activity involving 150-200 students and 8-10 teachers working for months up to a two-day event with many invited Speakers costs a substantial amount of taxpayer money.  

The Board should act decisively and CANCEL it to both save money and to stop this inappropriate left-wing biased event. These teachers could teach an extra class with this time savings and cut more costs if they have so much free time. 

There also are 193 working days on the 2012-2013 calendar, 185 of which are instructional days for students. Eliminating some of these days would have a bigger cost savings than most of the other proposed cuts (very roughly, $66 million/193 days = $342,000 per day).  This has not even been mentioned as an option!

In summary, we have lost faith in the Pine-Richland School Board and the Administraton.

We hope the Pine-Richland community will demand this district to stop blindly following the global agenda and stop competing in appearance with our local districts, and instead go back to a traditional high-quality education that will truly make our students competitive both nationally and abroad.

Sincerely, 

Daryl and Michelle Festa

Gibsonia, PA 15044

Dave T. June 25, 2012 at 03:05 PM
Very well written, even if I don't agree with all points. The jaw-dropper was $342,000 per day on salary. I think I remember seeing that state mandated days are 180, why are we spending the extra $1.5 million in times of financial crisis? The fact that this was never considered in public is irresponsible by this board and superintendent.
Ralph Meyer June 25, 2012 at 08:02 PM
Too bad some people are both narrow minded and paranoid. This looks like both.
Kelly Burgess June 26, 2012 at 01:55 AM
To call someone narrow minded and paranoid because you don't agree with them is impolite and does not really move the discussion forward. If you don't agree, say so in a reasoned manner, like this: If you don't like the direction in which your school district is moving, you have the freedom to choose another option. Conversely, I moved to this district because I want my children to be in a progressive educational system. In my experience as a journalist and my husband's as an executive, a global education is crucial for success in many of today's jobs. What disturbs me about this letter is the implication that Dr. Bucci single-handedly decides what goes on in PRSD. In fact, changes are made by some combination of input from teachers, community members, the administration and the school board. There also are state mandates that must be addressed, which PRSD has no control over. In addition, many of the reforms and programs opposed in this letter were started by Dr. Bucci's predecessor, Dr. Manley. No one wants a tax increase, however, an unfocused attack on programs and people that are disliked because of one's political or personal leanings will not help the issue. There are valid points in this letter, assuming the facts are true as stated. Since I have often read comments from the Festas making sweeping indictments against the district that the facts do not back up, I would not take the statements at face value without further research.
Susan M. June 26, 2012 at 07:52 PM
Dr. Bucci has made quite a few unilateral decisions regarding policy over the past 2 years. Too many!
Kelly Burgess June 27, 2012 at 03:14 PM
Can you tell us what they were? I would like to know, because I am aware of only one, which affected a very small number of students and had nothing to do with the actual educational process. I did not agree with it, necessarily, but I completely understood it. I would be very interested in hearing about unilateral decisions made by Dr. Bucci that did affect the educational process, curriculum choice, taxes, etc. Those are valuable facts, rather than vague accusations.

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