On Nov. 21, 1930, an award-winning school building with a state-of-the-art curriculum was dedicated. It was written in dedication that:
Elmer L. Meyers is this day dedicated to community progress. It is a gift of the people through their school board, to the youth of Wilkes Barre that opportunity may advance and patriotic citizenship is founded. First and foremost, it is dedicated as an institution of learning, knowing no sect, no creed, no color, erected by the children of yesterday, for the children of today, and their children of tomorrow. It typifies service — community service for the community up-lift and betterment.
The first contract was let Aug. 26, 1926 — 11 years earlier then my birth date of Aug. 26, 1937. I would graduate from the school in June 1956 with a quality education.
In 1927, Frank Baldwin Electric held the contract to wire the facility. In 1959, I would serve an apprenticeship with Baldwin Electric on the construction of the new Dallas High School. My years at Meyers did provide an appreciation of learning, pride in citizenship and the motivation to be the best I could be. I took pride in the fact that my high school was featured in Life magazine. The facility was far ahead of its time with state-of-the-art curriculum and construction features.
All that being said I query: What the hell happened?
When did it start the decline? What started the demise? Did anyone care?
It has been reported that the physical facility has been slowly sinking over the past 60-plus years. Sinking at a much faster rate have been the moral fiber and purpose of the institution as so elegantly stated in the dedication.
For the past 20 years, this school board and district have been subjected to bad press due, in part, to fraud, low test scores, declining enrollments and arrogance by the board of education to be mindful of what was happening. Without question, low voter turnout, apathy and the citizens not realizing the magnitude of a failing school system have perpetuated the failures.
Following indictments by the FBI of 33 percent of the board members, in which there were confessions of fraud and bribery, plus consistent printing of negative editorials and letters to the editor, the board continued questionable hiring practices. The employment of friends and family continues, leaving the highly qualified behind. What’s more is the apparent ignoring of any procedures to correct the problems.
There is a need to return to the principles stated in the dedication, which in turn will raise achievement, instill trust and increase enrollments.
The citizens of today need to be involved, so the students of today and tomorrow will have a quality education.
The Wilkes-Barre Area School District has an external group that has formed a fundraising foundation — an excellent idea headed by a seasoned development expert, Frank Pasquini.
It is my suggestion that an external task force be established separate from the school district. It will be the charge of this task force to examine the problems, research the solutions and make recommendations to the Board of Education. This approach has been tried and proven both in the private and public sectors. It will be a credibility-builder for the district and just might solve some major problems.
The film “Kids for Cash” portrays a tragedy of international disrepute. Robert May, award-winning director/filmmaker has stated in interviews the failure of school districts as part of the problem. May, through his documentary, identifies many who could have done more to prevent what took place in our court system. No doubt, in hindsight, many people agree and wish they had taken action.
Most certainly not to the magnitude of “Kids for Cash,” but the failure of the city school system might have many community leaders and parents down the road wishing they had done more to prevent what happened or could happen.
The present status and potential future failure of the Wilkes Barre Area School District have long-term implications for the education of our children, home values, the ability of a senior population to meet its tax obligations, business departures, and the economic growth or failure of the city.
We must address the students’ achievement deficits, aging facilities, credibility factors and return to the beliefs that made this district whole.