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Willow Lane Parent Addresses School Board About Class Sizes

Carol Bettler, who is also a 2nd grade teacher in Northwestern Lehigh School District, reads a letter she wrote to the East Penn Board of School Directors at Monday night's board meeting.

Carol Bettler said her appearance before the Monday night was a "spur of the moment" thing.

Bettler, who lives in Wescosville, had written a letter that she planned to mail to the board, expressing her concerns about class sizes at , where her son is a first grader.

When she realized that the board was meeting last night, Bettler decided to attend the meeting and share her thoughts with the board face-to-face.

Bettler, who is a second-grade teacher in Northwestern Lehigh School District, handed out copies of her letter to all nine school board members and Superintendent of Schools Thomas L. Seidenberger. .

Her son's first-grade class, according to Bettler, has 30 students on the roster. In her letter, Bettler said that when she attended a Willow Lane open house, she wasn't sure if she was in a college lecture hall or a first grade classroom.

Later in the meeting, during his superintendent's report, Seidenberger referred to Bettler and her letter as he was citing statistics from a state-level report issued by the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials (PASBO). The PASBO report, he said, points to higher class sizes, fewer teachers, and fewer field trips as a fact of life for the majority of public schools in Pennsylvania these days.

"This is not only and issue in East Penn," Seidenberger said, "it's an issue statewide."

Following the meeting Bettler said that she was not happy with Seidenberger's response to her concerns.

Sheriffchris September 27, 2011 at 01:50 PM
What this teacher has to realize is that she and her union are part of the problem. The teachers in this geografic area enjoy many many benefits that are no longer available in the "private sector", including great Health Care coverage and very generous Pensions. Perhaps if we were not spending so many dollars on their benefits, perhaps we could afford to hire more teachers.
optimist September 27, 2011 at 02:25 PM
Once again it is all about the EPEA. That's a typical CEPTA response. Also, remember that East Penn teachers increased what they contribute to health care benefits in the last contract and agreed to a pay freeze last year. Class size increases, reduction of programs etc. was a direct result of the Corbett budget. Our district slashed spending so much that they will spend less in this year's budget than during the previous year. That is not easy to do as costs increase. Harrisburg wants people to blame school boards for their lack of support for public education. Don't fall for that garbage!
mark wood September 27, 2011 at 03:40 PM
no worries, with all the planned parent hood money you will abort half your kids, problem solved, and as for this teacher not knowing about the meeting, BULL!!!! A union teacher not knowing about school board members meeting, what kind of ignoranus are you, you expect me to believe that? no child left behind is about numbers and money. even if the kid is 18, has an arrest record and then steals the answer under threat of bodily harm from the 4.0 student next to them, enjoy the dumming down of your student body. Some of you so called teachers just don't get it, and NEVER will, QE2 still has MONEY in it,it was put into your retirement accounts because you OVER SPENT!!!!Don't be fooled buy this, some of us do research. Comperhensive Financial Report, read it. if you can, Corbett had nothing to do with this, NOTHING, that system was set up when SHAPP was govenor, and the NEA was started. I will not be fooled buy a wining teacher again , SEIU and the rest of you in the machine of unions, take a seat and stop ripping the puplic off. This is why my brother and my aunt left this state, both teachers, they see your SEIU and unions for what they really are. Tell you? not a chance. Sooner or later you run out of other peoples money. Just tell us you want a billion a year, a house in Florida, a cabin in the Poconos, and free gas for all your members. And when a loaf of bread is $100, remember that the Vimar republic failed too.
manfromuncle September 27, 2011 at 04:11 PM
It's the Weimar Republic, and what QE2 (I'm assuming you're referring to the Fed's latest round of quantitative easing) has to do with teacher pensions is a little hard to follow. Teachers in the EPSD contribute 7.5% of their salaries to their pensions, school districts and the state virtually nothing under a provision passed by the General assembly in 2001 (may be off by a year). The comment about "abort half your kids" is also a little weird. The above responses are nothing more than tea party driven rants against teachers and public education. Typical, misinformed, and in some cases unworthy of the dignity of a response. Wayne's right - the EPEA bent over backward in taking a pay freeze this year and increasing their premium share for health care in the last negotiated contract. Go on hating teachers - it's your right. Then go teach your own kids.
optimist September 27, 2011 at 04:12 PM
Exactly, teachers are multibillionaires. Fantasy! Unions do not set up retirement accounts the state does that. It's called PESERS. Under the Ridge administration the multiplier was increased and the state has consistently underfunded the obligation like so many of the other mandates initiated by the state and federal government. The state used to fund the East Penn School District about 50-50 and now it's closer 90-10, but let's not talk about that.
An interested bystander September 27, 2011 at 04:31 PM
The 2011-2012 Corbett budget increased the state's portion of education spending by more than 10% over the 2010-2011 state contribution. During the last couple of Rendell budgets, the state’s contribution to education spending was cut over 10%, from $5.2 billion to $4.7 billion. The gap was filled in by Federal stimulus dollars, which were never budgeted to continue. So what really happened was Rendell screwed the school districts by cutting state funding. Corbett budgeted to restore it as much as was possible. So Wayne, if you’re looking for someone to blame for education spending, start with Rendell, move to Obama, then on to any school board who foolishly planned for the stimulus money continuing. Manfromuncle, more people are taking you up on your thought - the boom in charter schools and home schooling is a direct result of the failures of public education. The system is broken and everyone (teachers, unions, administration, boards, elected officials and parents) had a role in wrecking it.
Alan Earnshaw September 27, 2011 at 05:08 PM
Wayne, the state currently provides about 21% of the total funding of the district.
optimist September 27, 2011 at 05:12 PM
Yes, the fantasy that the real problem here is the stimulus money was a one year thing and the districts did not know it. They all thought it would last forever correct? No, the problem is unfuded mandates. The basic education subsidy is not the only way the state is supposed to fund education. This school board bent over backward to control costs and the union was part of that effort. Perhaps you long for the pre-union days where teachers were paid basically nothing and generally left in droves for the private sector? In fact, a huge percentage of teachers still leave within the first 5 years, despite this easy overpaid union protected job that they have. I wonder why? Let me guess, that's the fault of the union as well? Plenty of good folks in charter schools. Seven generaltions is an example. However, compare East Penn scores to their scores. No contest. Also, at what point do charter schools have to start playing by the same rules and accountability?
Alan Earnshaw September 27, 2011 at 05:14 PM
Manfromuncle, this year, the district is paying 8.65% of salaries towards the PSERS fund (http://www.psers.state.pa.us/er/employerpedia.htm). The state reimburses the district for half that amount. Over the next four years, the rates are currently projected to be 12.19%, 16.69%, 21.18%, and 23.66%, with increases continuing to a peak of 27%. Just to be clear: This is a state-mandated benefit program. The legislature sets the rules and rates. The East Penn School District cannot opt out and offer an alternative retirement program. Several board members (including me) have asked our legislators to tackle pension reform--we know it's a big issue and fundamental changes are required,
optimist September 27, 2011 at 05:16 PM
Thanks Mr. Earnshaw. When I said closer to 90-10 it was more of an estimate. More like 80-20 as you pointed out. I hope you agree that the point is still the same. More mandates, less funding, more difficulty for local schol boards.
Alan Earnshaw September 27, 2011 at 05:27 PM
Interested bystander, this is a shell game. The governor and legislature decided to substitute federal funds for state sources (primarily income and sales taxes), but the budget line item continued to be Education, and the money continued to come from the state. To say Gov. Corbett increased education funding is disingenuous. That said, East Penn anticipated the reductions and planned for them. However, on top of the loss of federal funds, the governor cut charter school reimbursements, accountability block grants (partically restored in the final budget), and the state share of social security payments (restored in the final budget). Additional cuts were made to balance the district's budget (including deliberately increasing class sizes through attrition, reducing programs such as summer band for middle school students, requiring parents to log in to a web site to see their children's report cards, and foregoing textbook purchases), fees were increased (including for non-special ed summer school and driver training), and contracts with vendors were renegotiated to obtain more favorable terms. This was a difficult process, and we continue to look for savings in our expenses. Unfortunately, a tax increase was still necessary to avoid even deeper program cuts. Am I happy with the budget? Not at all. But I felt it was the best we could manage at this time, especially considering what is likely to happen with next year's budget.
An interested bystander September 27, 2011 at 05:40 PM
Thank you Alan. I don't follow you though on how noting that Corbett increasing the state's portion of education funding is either a shell game or disingenuous? It's a fact that Rendell cut it and relied on Federal funding, and it's a fact that Corbett, who did not have the stimulus funding available, increased the state's portion back to the level that it was before Rendell cut it. Is anyone happy with the result? No, certainly not. But to simply say Corbett cut education spending is political spinning at it's best - and I'm being kind in not calling it an outright lie. Wayne, unfunded mandates are a huge, bipartisan issue and includes union work rules that place handcuffs on districts. Both parties and unions have been piling on for decades and need to be held accountable. I hope you want to be part of a solution rather than a blamer.
manfromuncle September 27, 2011 at 06:00 PM
Thanks for the correction, Alan. My point is that teacher pensions are not 'gifts"; they pay their share. Again, had the state not lowered their contribution rate ten years ago we wouldn't have the impending crisis - and I agree it is a crisis. Interested bystander, how is public education "wrecked"? Are there school districts that are not performing well? Obviously, but that isn't a fault of the system but rather of a myriad of other social, economic, and geographic reasons. Is the EPSD "failing"? I defy you or anyone to find an alternative to this district, that educates the number of diverse students that they do, that performs as well. Outstanding PSSA scores, AP scores that compare with any school in the state, 11 National Merit Semi-Finalists, and a student body thet regularly sends its garduates to some of the finest schools in the country. How is this a failure? Very honestly, I believe that there are people out there who want the system to fail and will do everything they can to undermine it. Many are currently sitting in our state legislature. What a shame for our children and for the future of the Commonwealth.
An interested bystander September 27, 2011 at 07:49 PM
Manfromuncle, my point was not to discredit the EPSD, it is well run and successful. Just go to the northeastern border of Emmaus to encounter a failed public school system, Allentown. Unfortunately there are alot of Allentowns out there. Also, even a casual reader of the news has read about Washington DC, NYC, and other large metro areas. It's a true crisis.
optimist September 27, 2011 at 11:37 PM
interested bystander is that because of teacher unions?
ted.dobracki September 27, 2011 at 11:38 PM
Wishing or lobbying for 50% average state funding (or any other increase) for public education would certainly be counter productive financially for residents of EPSD. That is because the basic state subsidy is distributed on a sliding scale based on a schools district's wealth, with richer districts like EPSD getting much less than the average. If the basic state education subsidy is increased, more dollars will leave EPSD through increased state taxes than would come back to us for supporting our own schools. The money has to come from somewhere. While this analysis is quite parochial, it is none the less a fact. Even those without a socilaist bent could argue that more redistribution of funding to poorer districts might have social benefits that might be good for all of us, but it won't help East Penn. So be careful what you wish for, you just might get it!
ted.dobracki September 27, 2011 at 11:59 PM
For the record, during the early 1990's, when I was on the EPSD board, the district's employer conributions were between 15% and 20%. Due to the good investment environment in the later 90's, this contribution was reduced in annual adjustments by PSERS at the advises of its actuaries to as low as 1%, in 2000. The next year, PSERS actuaries wanted to raise the contribution rate to 4.6%. Everyone protested this "unconsionable" and "unprecedented" increase, including the EPSD board's lobbyists, so the state legislature overuled the appropriate and necessary increases for most of the last decade. They essentially froze the pension contributions at the record low and unsustainable levels. Most of that money that should have been used for pension contributions was either diverted to spending for other things and/or the state and districts both avoided otherwise necessary tax increases. In 2001 and 2002, I spoke to the EPSD board (and several other boards) about the foolishness of their position. The results of that lobbying is one of the biggest reasons that we are in the mess that we are in today. Of course the lousy economy doesn't help either.
Naomi Winch September 28, 2011 at 10:20 AM
I love this venue for allowing people to share ideas thoughts and concerns. I also think some people should reflect on how they criticize and disrespect others. It hardens my heart.
An interested bystander September 28, 2011 at 11:51 AM
Wayne it's because of the unions, ineffective boards, parents who are not involved, and legislators who are only interested in their jobs, not anything else. It doesn't get this screwed up because of one group.
MS September 28, 2011 at 12:22 PM
The government needs to get out of the health care business, our children's education and FEMA needs to be abolished.......when the government steps aside, we, as a community, as individuals will be able to figure this stuff out....
Carol M Scherer September 30, 2011 at 05:12 PM
I usually do not respond to anyone who does not use their real name as I believe it is cowardly. However, your response, Sheriffchris, to Ms. Bettler's concerns about class size is outrageous on so many levels that I had to react. You have no idea whether or not she is union member. You cannot, for one moment blame class size on "great health care coverage and generous persions". Teachers contribute to their health care and pension fund and believe me, neither are all that "great". Like private industry, schools must offer something in order to attract and keep good teachers. I have never met an educator who has become rich on their earnings. What that says to me is that they go into their profession for the love of what they do and not for the money nor the benefits. To blame class size on the cost of their salaries and benefits is ignorant. I attended Willow Lane's open house and was appalled when I learned how many children would be in one classroom. At that size, teachers become managers of children rather than educators. I was also appalled when I thought how much money was spent on making the columns in front of the school look like giant crayons, and having state-of-the-art playgrounds in both the front and the back of the school. I can only imagine what was spent inside that wasn't really needed. East Penn residents pay an exhorbitant amount of school taxes and that, Sheriffchris, gives them the right to voice an honest opinion without being crucified.
Carol M Scherer October 01, 2011 at 02:47 AM
Mark Wood, Your assumption that "this teacher" is a member of a union is arrogant and preconceived. Ms. Bettler may or may not be a "member", which neither you nor I know for a fact. If she is or is not, has nothing to do with her concerns about her child's education. You must have been the result of a very large classroom as your command of the English language leaves much to be desired, not to mention your lack of punctuation skills, and your spelling mistakes. FYI, the Deutsches Reich, also known as the Weimarer Republik, was not in any sense of the word a true Republic, as in the American sense of the word. Before you spout your "Vimar" rhetoric to anyone else, please do some extensive research.
Kathy Kennedy October 05, 2011 at 03:25 PM
Sounds like Mark Wood is an ignoramus who doesn't have a clue. My sister Carol went into teaching for the love of teaching and is certainly not in it for the money. You have missed the whole point of her letter. Perhaps you should get your head out of your ass while performing your so-called research. Perhaps you should join your brother and your aunt.

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