Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Lehigh Valley school districts

Transplants, even if you are not a property owner (and thus, directly pay taxes to local schools), it would behoove you to pay attention to what's happening in your local school district.

Here are some recent headlines about the three cities' school district budget woes and the state situation:

Bethlehem schools shed 145 jobs in 2011-12 budget: Property taxes to rise 1.7 percent under $203.8 million spending plan (The Morning Call, June 14, 2011)

Easton Area School Board approves agreement with teachers (Express-Times, May 26, 2011)

[Allentown] District Continues To Look For Ways To Pinch Pennies: Budget Deadline Just Two Weeks Away (wfmz.com, June 9, 2011)

Allentown school district lays off 165 employees (WHTM, June 10, 2011)

Budget cuts to education will harm students, force local property tax increases
(PSEA.org)

A few things that are important for transplants to know:

1. True, most of the "cuts" are being made through attrition and eliminating staff who serve "nice to have" programs like hall monitors, reading specialists, parent liaisons and electives that attract only a few students each year. But those people and programs served some of the unique needs of students who don't fit the mold - the ones who need a little more attention/discipline/patience/challenge. Larger class sizes could also hurt the kids that need more - that is, the gifted and talented students as well as students with learning challenges.

2. With hundreds of unemployed teachers living in the region, it's going to be hard for even the most enthusiastic and talented young person with a teaching certificate to get a job here for a while. That means most will be commuting to New Jersey, substitute teaching, or maybe even finding a new career, until things turn around.

3. Despite the cuts, so-called "school taxes" are expected to rise everywhere. Even if you do not directly pay property taxes to your local district, your landlord does, and you are likely to see a higher rent bill in the future to reflect increased costs.

4. Most comments posted on the local media web sites are anonymous. That means anyone can publish any unkind, ignorant, unproductive comment they feel like writing, without any accountability (or spell checking).

There is a lot more to the story, but knowing these facts will help you understand some of the current issues in the region, and hopefully start you thinking about your local district. Find out how the state's budget cuts affect your community and form a well-researched opinion of your own!

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