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East Penn President Criticizes Donches for ‘Surprise’ Motion

A last-minute motion by East Penn School Director Lynn Donches to eliminate an assistant principal at Emmaus High School meets with criticism by School Board President Charles Ballard at Monday night’s school board meeting.

may be in the market for a new assistant principal following last night’s meeting of the .

In the early part of the Aug. 27 meeting, in a seemingly straightforward vote, the board unanimously accepted a list of five resignations, including that of Janine Mathesz, assistant principal at Emmaus High School, effective Aug. 20.

It wasn’t until the tail end of the meeting -- when Board President Charles Ballard asked if anyone had any “New Business” to bring before the board -- that things got interesting.

That’s when School Director Lynn Donches made a motion not to fill the open assistant principal position at the high school. “[We should] consolidate the duties among the remaining four principals,” Donches said.

“A number of people have asked me, ‘why do we have so many assistant principals?’ There are a lot of administrators. We are top-heavy on the administration side. Like in any business, when someone vacates a position, we need to evaluate and see if we can consolidate things.

“We need to start cutting spending, and I think that this is a good place to start,” she said.

Ballard told Donches that she had a responsibility to let the board know that she was considering such a motion prior to the last five minutes of the meeting in order to give people time to do their own research into the idea and prepare their thoughts on the topic.

“I don’ t know where to begin on this one,” Ballard said. “This is classic micro-management by the board. We hire a superintendent to manage the district. If you disagree with his policies you should make that known to him and to the board.

“You owe a duty to the other members of this board to float this out as soon as you received your packet. It is damn unfair to try to spring surprise after surprise after surprise.

That is entrapment of the worst sort. It is political entrapment, making such a statement without having the intestinal fortitude to make your feelings known beforehand,” Ballard said. “Why someone would think they can do a better job than the superintendent, I don’t know.”

Donches’ motion failed by a 5 to 2 vote, with Donches and School Director Julian Stolz voting in favor of the measure. School Director Michael Policano abstaine from the decision, stating that he didn’t feel he had enough information to participate in the vote.

After the meeting, Donches said that there wasn’t a lot of time to talk to the other board members about the motion she proposed between when the board received its packet on Thursday and the Monday night meeting. “I really didn’t think about it sooner,” she said, adding that she was not surprised by the board’s ultimate decision.

School director Rebecca Heid was absent from Monday night’s meeting.

Getit Wright August 28, 2012 at 06:25 PM
AND HOW MANY LIVE IN THE DISTRICT. If East Penn School District officials when investigate THAT...maybe we wouldn't be paying the outrageous taxes!!!!
John August 28, 2012 at 06:32 PM
Allen High School, when my mom went , the early 1960s, 900 students in her graduating class alone. ONE Principal, and ONE assistant
John August 28, 2012 at 06:34 PM
LMTnative ,you are a man or woman after my own heart.Problems really can be solved simply, and you laid it out perfectly.From your lips To GODS' ears.
Giovanni Landi August 28, 2012 at 07:26 PM
Ha-ha. Apparently that only applies to students.
for real August 28, 2012 at 09:43 PM
Mr. Landi why don't you ask Miss Donches why she made the motion? Couldn't she have brought it up for discussion first? All of the articles that were written on this make it clear it was brought up for the first time at the end of a meeting. Shouldn't a little more notice be given to research the matter or to allow for public input? I don't get how you feel the sunshine act was violated. Telling the rest of the board that you intend to bring up the merits of eliminating a position is not a violation. Such an issue can also be brought up in executive session unless I'm mistaken. I would agree a public discussion would need to follow.
Giovanni Landi August 28, 2012 at 09:46 PM
Ron – your suggestion is the correct course of action. If you need more information you make a motion to table and get the information you need. From what I understand Mr. Ballard made a motion to table, but no one supported it. What are these school board directors thinking? If a topic is brought up for discussion they complain about not having enough time to research, but when presented with an opportunity to have more time nobody takes it.
Giovanni Landi August 28, 2012 at 10:04 PM
for real - If you want to know why Mrs. Donches made the motion at the end of the meeting you can ask her. My guess is because that's when new business is introduced. More time could have been provided by tabling her motion, which I think would have been the right thing to do. As for my Sundhine Act comment, my understanding of the law is that there are very few things that can be discussed in private. For example if they discuss candidates for the position it can be done in private, but the rational or justification for the position should happen in public. If you talk to a majority of the board about business that should be done in public is a violation.
for real August 28, 2012 at 11:26 PM
I don't agree that giving notice of a subject to discuss is a violation of the sunshine act. They cannot discuss in private or get together where a quorum is present and talk. To be super safe she could have sent an individual e-mail with 1 sentence to each director identifying that she was going to bring it up as a topic. She also could have simply asked the Superintendent for a detailed analysis of the situation to be brought forth at the next meeting which could have then been preceded with puplic comments, followed by a debate and then conlcuded with a vote. At the very least she should have given a detailed presentation before calling for the vote.
Sugarmagnolia August 28, 2012 at 11:34 PM
The reason that there is now a need for someone to oversee academic affairs is because of the tremendous amount of state testing and special education requirements. The PSSAs and other benchmark tests (along with the upcoming Keystone Exams) are important, and complicated to coordinate and administer. The state Special Ed requirements are stringent, complex and tedious. There needs to be someone in charge of this at the high school to ensure that the school does not violate state or federal mandates.
ted.dobracki August 29, 2012 at 12:14 AM
The resignation of the assistant principal was certainly new news for the school board, and little time to consider it, especially if there is a rush to fill it. It might not even be proper for school board members to talk about it privately amongst themselves, even if there was time, or else they might be accused of violating the Sunshine law, and obviously that didn't happen. If I was on the board, I would have broached the subject first with the superintendent's office, or at least give them a heads-up. If the relationships on the board were more congenial, I might have brought it up as a discussion point when the resignation was voted on, rather than as new business. However, in the last few years, the board presidents have been very arrogant and might have prohibited the discussion and demanded that it be handled as new busines. Ms. Donchez did that, apparently on her own, because, they might have otherwise tried to silence her, based on past history. Perhaps it could have been handled differently with slightly different tactics, but it was still parlimentarily correct and proper. Kudos for bringing the subject up publicly, even if maintaining the position is the right thing to do. Finally, I wasn't at the meeting, but read the agenda, where the VP apparently asked for a waiver of a 60 day notice. Somewhat curious why the administration and board would allow the VP to leave them high and dry a week before school started, instead of helping the new employer.
Chuck Ballard August 29, 2012 at 12:24 AM
As far as Mr. Landi's continuing misunderstanding of the Sunshine Law, like my kids say "I call BS"! 1. You do not surprise fellow board members with a substantive motion when they have had no time to research the issue. You ask for a motion to be put on the agenda ahead of time. Mrs. Donchez had enough time to request that the administrative salaries issue be separated out from the general personnel issues earlier in the day, she couldn't ask for a motion to be put on the addenda for the meeting too? 2. It is highly insulting and disrespectful to undermine your superintendent by trying to micromanage the district through individual board votes on personnel issues. The board sets personnel policies, it does not make individual personnel decisions, other than hiring the superintendent. If there is a valid policy-related reason for a motion, I have no problem with it. If the motion is simply designed to score political points with people who do not want to pay their fair share for education, I do have problems with that. For someone who harps on transparency and the Sunshine Law, Mr. Landi, it is amazing that you do not look upon your secret manipulations with certain board members with the same disdain. Having you speak in public comment about how 'only those administrators making over $45k should get raises', and then have Mrs. Donchez just happen to make another 'surprise' motion to that effect really shows 'transparently' what you and your cabal are doing.
Chuck Ballard August 29, 2012 at 07:05 AM
Sorry, it was Garrett Rhoades that was reading the script Monday evening. I get them confused. Mea Culpa.
Informed Citizen August 29, 2012 at 11:05 AM
Has anyone forgotten the fact that the people who are "outrageously" paid hold masters degrees and or terminal degrees? $100k is actually low for these qualifications. If this were to be transferred into any other vocation, the pay would be much higher than $100K. As for the argument of what life was like back in the good old days when William Allen only had 1 principal and 1 assistant, that was because there was less for principals to contend with. I'm sure the amount of gang activity in the 1960's was far less than today, so that is a flimsy argument at best. Lastly, I am happy to pay high taxes. Because I see the value in them. People can sell their homes for above market value in East Penn because the school district is one of the best. You want low property taxes, then move back into Allentown and pay next to nothing in property taxes, you'll also get next to nothing as far as education.
Linda August 29, 2012 at 11:58 AM
Hey 'Informed Citizen';, if you're happy to pay high taxes, can you pay mine too? Because I am not so happy. I, as many others, also have a Masters degree, and do NOT make $100K in private industry. Folks in the Education business are not in touch with reality, living in their pink cloud of taxpayer money. As far as selling houses, I am also in the East Penn district, and there are three houses for sale on my block, one of which has been on the market for over a year. Lastly, kudos to Lynn Donches for questioning whether the position really needs to be filled. Out here in the real world, that's what we do - question whether an expense is really justified and needed.
Ron Beitler August 29, 2012 at 12:35 PM
Informed - Respectfully, the assessment that people can sell their homes in EPSD for above market value is unfortunately a throwback from the "good ole days" in my opinion. 2nd - I personally don't believe that because someone has a terminal or higher degree they should be slotted into a payscale... not in any profession. While continuing education is critical in all professions, continuing education should be tied to an increase in job performance and only THEN you get the raise. If I pay for one of my employees to go to a seminar or conference you bet I expect a return on my investment when I see that I'll gladly pay their new market value. Used to work in higher ed. both at a public and private institutions. In the profession the goal was to "get into a state school to get into a union". Of course not everyone thought that way, but many did. This is a fact. The assumption was because it equaled job security and a higher pay rate. Nothing wrong with that because that was/still is the system and your foolish not to play it. The very fact that in the public sector you do in a sense get slotted into certain payscales is the crux of many issues we have today.
Ron Beitler August 29, 2012 at 12:45 PM
Lastly took a quick look and EPSD is above average in many categories academically. Not across the board, but in many. Certain indicators like SAT scores we do fantastic. I also took at look at the amount we spend per student and if I read the chart correctly we're up there in state rankings with 501 other school districts. You also need to look at the fact that the American Education system as a whole is now average compared to the rest of the world. Should we be happy to be a gold star in an average (and still falling in rankings) system? But I digress...Is our above average rankings (which I'll very happily acknowledge) we have here in EPSD in fact a product of simply throwing more and more money at the schools? I tend to think and certainly hope that it's not. If thats the case we're all in trouble. I and many others in my cohort (early 30's) put off home ownership because the cost was no longer justifiable. The age old saying that a home is the most critical investment you make in your life simply wasnt true anymore. School taxes have alot to do with this. Average valued home saw increase of nearly 500 dollars over the last few years. I will happily pay my fair. But we ARE hitting critical mass. Thats a fact. Thats a reality.
Ron Beitler August 29, 2012 at 12:51 PM
And lastly.... Saw two opportunities for cost cutting over the last couple months. Willow bussing and a 5th AP at the high school. Both instances decisions were made to keep expenditures at the same. One is 60k another is nearly 90k Ok fine. Seperate not much in the grand scheme. But like the "small" tax increases every-single-year.... They add up. Maybe the right decisions are being made, maybe not. But I certainly appreciate someone in the role of watchdog as it seems we have in Donches et al. A school board needs that. Sometimes I disagree with them. But I do appreciate that we have someone filling that role. A community needs it.
Giovanni Landi August 29, 2012 at 01:01 PM
Mr. Ballard – I know you can call BS, as your comments show you are very familiar with it. You claim I "misunderstand" the Sunshine Act, however all the points you raised have nothing to do with the Sunshine Act. I'll be more than happy to debate these points with you, but don't expect to bully this forum the way you bully the board. 1. The Sunshine Act does not address surprises. Perhaps if you thought about fiscal management every once in a while you would have had the same thought. 2. Given the choice between "micromanagement" or in your case "lack-o-management" when it comes to my tax dollars I'll take the micromanagement. Also, if the board does not make individual personnel decisions, then why did the board have to approve individual raises? The board could have provided the superintendant with a dollar amount and told him to distribute it as he saw fit. That's how most companies handle increases, they give the manager a budgeted amount and he distributes it however he wants. Thank you for correcting that point that I didn't speak at last night's meeting. At first I wasn't sure what you were talking about. Then I realized that all of us concerned taxpayers probably look the same to you.
Informed Citizen August 29, 2012 at 02:38 PM
Ron, While I appreciate your respectful tone, I have to disagree with a few key points. First, I am a believer in merit based pay, for some professions. The problem with levying a merit based system on educators is that there, unfortunately, are going to be sub-performers in any class. I do not feel that a teacher should be held solely accountable for a student failing. I feel that they may share some of the blame, but considering that students are only in school for 182 days, and roughly 8 hours a day, it is difficult to ignore the fact that parents play an integral role in the success or failure of the students. To merely institute merit based pay is ridiculous. In my opinion, pay raises congruent with established benchmarks such as ed hours, certification levels and advanced degrees is the only fair way to increase pay for educators. You noted that EPSD is above average in many academic categories, one of the driving forces behind this is the incentives that EPSD offers its educators. One of these incentives is a very good paycheck and benefits. While the benefits package may seem exorbitant to some, it produces academically superior results. I would make a strong argument for the correlation between low pay districts with a low tax base compared to high paying districts with a high tax base. Look at Philadelphia Public Schools compared to any district in the Main Line, or Allentown compared to EPSD or Parkland.
Informed Citizen August 29, 2012 at 02:45 PM
I feel these are blatantly obvious but so many simply overlook and relegate to complaining about the taxes are too high. (Linda, no I don't want to pay your taxes as I'm sure you would accuse me of some sort of misguided socialism). Secondly, you're right about cutting costs in terms of bussing and eliminating a 5th AP class. Except for two important facts. First, a child was struck by a car last year in front of Willow. I feel that if we eliminate buses and enforce the walking rule, it will only be a matter of time before something happens again because people drive like crazy or don't pay attention when they are driving. When this happens a second time and it is revealed that it was a cost-cutting initiative, press and lawyers will have a field day over it. Secondly, eliminating an AP class is completely counter-productive to education. As an AP student in high school, I can attest to the pure merit of the system. I feel that I was much better prepared for college and I feel that I did better because I was challenged beyond what on-level education could provide. I am not intending to sound like Johnny Democrat here, but I feel there are better things to complain about that are much more pertinent. These blogs have turned into a partisan circus and instead of coming up with well thought out arguments and respectful dialogue, some resort to name calling and extremism. It's shameful and it is unproductive.
Ron Beitler August 29, 2012 at 03:32 PM
Good points, I do disagree on the correlation between higher teacher pay and results only because I would argue that the reason low income areas underperform is socioeconomic... more specifically one word. PARENTING. We for the most part are blessed in our area with good parents who are actively involved in their childs life.
Ron Beitler August 29, 2012 at 03:40 PM
The accident on willow is unfair. When a child steps out the front door of their home they are immediately at higher risk of danger. Busses get in accidents, cars driven by parents are in accidents, high school students driving themselves get in accidents and yes of course pedestrians are involved in accidents sometimes. There is danger everywhere. http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/allentown/index.ssf/2012/05/allentown_school_bus_for_stude.html With the bussing issue my take is very simple. Emmaus students walk. There should absolutely not be a double standard for boroughs and the suburbs. (I live in the suburbs) When I mentioned AP, I meant assistant principal. I absolutely agree about the partisan circus... http://lowermacungie.patch.com/blog_posts/george-washingtons-words-of-wisdom-in-seemingly-polarized-times
Giovanni Landi August 29, 2012 at 03:41 PM
Informed citizen, I find your comment odd as it contradicts itself. You say that pay should not be merit based because "parents play an integral role in the success or failure of the students", but then you claim "EPSD is above average in many academic categories, one of the driving forces behind this is the incentives that EPSD offers its educators". So the parents play an integral role if children are sub-performers, but when it comes to above average scores, the driving force is incentives. I think we have fantastic educators in EPSD, but I think the main driver of success is the parents. I believe the parents in EPSD don't get enough respect and acknowledgment, especially after hearing of the disparaging remarks made by Mr. Ballard and Mr. Earnshaw about Willow Lane parents. I don't think the correlation exists between low pay districts with a low tax base compared to high paying districts with a high tax base exists because of they pay. I think it exists because the parents in high tax base districts have more time to spend helping their children with homework and projects. If money solved everything Washington D.C. would be leading the nation in academics. According to the Census Bureau, D.C. spends over $29,000 per student, yet they are almost last in the nation academically.
Informed Citizen August 29, 2012 at 04:20 PM
Ron, I agree that it was a bit unfair to throw the accident out there. It was an easy argument however, I think that the real cause for the bussing problem is the stranglehold in which First Student has on EPSD. Last year we had no school because First Student failed to have contingency plans in place to deal with road closures. This control is not only bad for the education of students, but it is bad for the economic well-being of the district. The alternative, which would be purchasing the necessary equipment to bring transportation in house, would be a significant expense that would take years to recoup. Because of this, I feel it is lose/lose regardless because citizens will complain that transportation costs are too high but will not vote to bring transportation in house. It is unfortunately a cyclic battle. Giovanni, As the spouse of an educator who teaches at Willow Lane, I can attest to the faults of parents, but I can also attest to the merit of many. While we are blessed to have great parents, there are many who aren't. The main problem lies in the fact that standardized testing, as prescribed under No Child Left Behind, simply does not work. It ties the hands of educators and when you combine this with the percentage, however large or small, of parents who do not parent, you are guaranteed to have subpar results. However, when you state that the main driving force is parents, it almost sounds like you are touting the effect of someone who holds multiple...
Informed Citizen August 29, 2012 at 04:29 PM
degrees specifically in children's education. I think it is extremely irresponsible to judge someone else profession when you are not in that profession. I don't question how much police officer's make, and I certainly don't play Monday quarterback when it comes to the decisions they make that keep our community safe, but heaven forbid an educator has an opinion concerning their own profession or students taught. We have an outstanding school district with above average results because we live in a middle to upper-middle class area and we pay middle to upper-middle class taxes. If you cannot see this direct correlation, then I am done arguing with you. Ron(again), I apologize for the AP confusion. I do however disagree with eliminating the fifth assistant principle. As I stated earlier, we do not have the luxury of living 20 to 30 years ago, or even 15 when crime in the area wasn't as rampant. This crime has unfortunately found its into our schools and assistant principals are the disciplinarians. If the population of East Penn is really interested in balancing our budget, maybe they should towards the charter school. The school has consistently performed well under standards and while it is not affiliated with East Penn, EPSD has to foot the $1.5M bill to operate it. I don't care what party you align with, that is terrible for this area.
ted.dobracki August 29, 2012 at 04:33 PM
Re C.B.'s #2: Chuck, you miss the point that this is not an "individual personnel decision". There was no nominee to fill the position - rather it was only being vacated Monday night. It is proper board policy to examine if the postion should exist in the future. What better time to do that while the position is vacant, instead of during the normal budget process when you have the complication of a likely layoff? More disturbing to me is that the board is allowing the resigning VP to leave just before the school year starts, leaving the position vacant (especially if it is so critical). The resignation letter attached to the agenda requested a waiver of a 60 day hold in the Administartors agreements so that (s)he could get going and start at the new place. Sure helps them, but not EPSD! By waiving the 60 -day notice in this case, are you setting a precedent?
Ron Beitler August 29, 2012 at 04:42 PM
How much does the charter get per pupil in taxpayer money vs. school district? Curious
Giovanni Landi August 29, 2012 at 05:29 PM
Informed - my intention wasn't to argue with you. I agree that No Child Left Behind is terrible, that's what we get from big government. I do think educators have a lot to do with the performance of the student, and as I have said many times in the past, the teachers we have in EPSD are fantastic. My children have had excellent teachers in all their grades so far. My disagreement is I don't believe they are good teachers because of the pay, and I don't believe most teachers do what they do for the money. I think most teachers do what they do because they love children, they love to teach and they're good at it. I also disagree that it has anything to do with taxes. If you check the millage chart at Lehigh County you will see that Allentown residents pay more in school taxes than East Penn. Like I said previously, higher taxes and more money do not necessarily correlate with higher performance.
taxed-enough August 30, 2012 at 03:52 PM
Lynn Donches was elected by the public and she should be respected as our elected representative. A great person once said "question with boldness." Thank you to Lynn for questioning all issues closely, and please keep up the good work. We are fortunate to have you serving on our school board.
Garrett Rhoads September 07, 2012 at 02:45 AM
No script Chuck. Those were my own words. I wrote them on my own without any help. Unlike you, I have the capacity to generate my own ideas and verbalize them without needing to consult with any handlers or a need to conform to some predetermined political platform. In fact, I have even offended the "cabal" you accuse me of being a part of. I am the voice of the forgotten EPSD taxpayer that has finally woken up. My independent comments stand alone as mine. If you would like to take issue with them, then please take me up on my previous offer to meet with me individually to discuss. Since our last conversation of 4 months ago when I gave you my personal business card, you have not ONCE called or emailed me with regards to my public comments. Instead, you choose to attempt to marginalize my public comments in a cowardly fashion using a blog post. You have my private cell number and my email address. Use them.

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