Friday, March 16, 2018

Bullying, YMCA Closure, Resignation Dominate Thursday's Pottstown School Board Meeting

According to parents and students alike, bullying and violence problems persist at Pottstown Middle School, pictured above.

As so often happens when you have one meeting per month, news kind of piled up at the Pottstown School Board meeting last night.

Four major issues were raised, although only three of them were on the agenda.

They were, in order of revelation:
  • A $1 million budget shortfall in the 2018-2019 budget, even if taxes were raised the maximum 3.5 percent allowed by law; 
  • More than 25 speakers, parents and students alike, complaining about persistent violence and bullying problems in the district, particularly at Pottstown Middle school;
  • A board resolution speaking out against the closing of the Pottstown YMCA;
  • The resignation of School Board member Ron Williams and the start of the process to appoint his replacement.
Each of these will be the subject of an upcoming full-scale article in The Mercury, but for those impatient few who can't wait, here is the thumbnail version of each one.

The Budget

The finance committee has its first look at the preliminary budget for next year recently, according to committee chairman Kurt Heidel, and the picture is not good.

Heidel said preliminary budget of $63,226,970 has a $2.4 million deficit.

Raising taxes by 3.5%, the max allowed by law, would still leave a deficit of about $1 million. 

For the past two years, the district has held the line on taxes and not raised them. Time will tell if that era has reached an end.

The board continues to stumble along in its deliberations about a community budget advisory board, still dickering over who whould be on it (just residents or residents and business owners?) and a date for its appointment and charge seems as distant as when it was first proposed two months ago.

Bullying and Violence

This issue has plagued the district, and particularly the middle school for more than a year.

After their son Anthony was "jumped" outside the cafeteria at the middle school, Krystal and Tony DiPietro have been agitating to get the problem under control.

Those efforts only intensified after Anthony's cousin was also attacked for trying to help Anthony and now the two have to "have each other's backs" all the time Anthony told me.

More than 25 parents and students spoke about the problem in various incarnations; online, verbal and physical attacks.

Erin Galamba said the problem goes all the way down to kindergarten where her child, at Franklin ElementarySchool, is being traumatized by another 5-year-old who continually threatens to bring weapons to school to hurt people.

"Are you going to wait until its too late? Are you going to wait until a teacher is staring down the barrel of a gun? Don't wait to make changes," said Krystal DiPietro, who then read off a list of this nation's shameful history of school shootings.

At the end of the meeting, each school board member thanked the speakers, indicated that they care, are aware of the problem and are trying to do something about it.

YMCA Closure

It was last year when it was announced the YMCA on North Adams Street would be shut down by the Philadelphia Freedome Valley YMCA and that the decision, which had not been vetted with the community, was non-negotiable.

Subsequently, an after-the-fact community committee was put together to make recommendations for how the services once provided at the building could be preserved. The committee was told keeping the facility open was not an option.

The committee, apparently, has other ideas said Superintendent Stephen Rodriguez.

He proposed, and the board unanimously adopted (with some confusion due to their new format) a resolution in which the district "adamantly opposes" the closure.

You can read that resolution in full by clicking here.

For the past week or so, former Pottstown School Board member Thomas Hylton has been devoting his paid advertising space in The Mercury to columns about how the decision appears to be at odds with what is the YMCA's stated mission and abandoning a low-income area in need in favor of fancy facilities in wealthy white suburbs.

You can read those columns on the Citizens for Enlightened Leadership web site, by clicking here.

Jon Corson, president of the Pottstown chapter of the NAACP, said his organization has a member on the advisory board and has discussed the closure and has "many concerns" about its impact on Pottstown.

School Board President Amy Francis, who noted she is "generations deep" in Pottstown, said she "upset about YMCA decision to leave Pottstown. It will affect students so much and its trickle-down effects will be felt for a long time. This is yet another  place where advocacy for Pottstown is needed," she said.

Board Resignation

School Board member Ron Williams has submitted his resignation from the board for "personal reasons" that have nothing to do with the board or the community, Rodriguez said last night.

The term to which Williams was elected expires in December of 2019 so whomever is chosen to replace him will serve until then and, if he or she wishes to remain, must run for reelection.

The board will accept applications until April 4, and has tentatively set April 10 as the date for the public interviews, to be followed by appointment on April 16.

After the meeting, David Miller, who ran unsuccessfully for the board in November, told me he would likely submit his name but said that if Hylton, who lost his seat in the election, applies that the board would do well to choose him.

And now, here ate the Tweets from the meeting:

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