WRIGHT TWP. — Questioning spending decisions in the face of possible teacher furloughs, Crestwood School District teacher union president Bill Kane has issued a call for a big taxpayer turnout at the school board’s monthly meeting April 19.
District Superintendent Joseph Gorham counters that many of Kane’s complaints are “misinformation” that he tried to clear up with a PowerPoint presentation posted on the district website.
“They have started talking about furloughing teachers to meet a budget gap that may never develop,” Kane said when asked of an email sent out with a litany of questions about district spending. “We think they are not prioritizing their spending properly.”
The email opens by urging residents to “say ‘no more’ to Crestwood School Board’s out-of-control spending.” It questions, among other things, $1.6 million being spent on a new fieldhouse, $19,000 to replace steel guardrails with wood ones, $71,000 on a student diagnostic testing program, $650,000 for an auditorium renovation, elimination of some classes and a new “giant rock” outside the high school/middle school building.
It also questions plans to “band” elementary grades, converting Fairview Elementary to kindergarten through third grade and Rice Elementary to an intermediate center with pre-K and grades 4-6.
Kane acknowledges most of the big-ticket items are being paid for with money from a bond issued explicitly for capital projects, and that such money can’t, by law, be transferred to the general fund for other uses. But he said the fieldhouse project could be scaled back, and the auditorium renovations were less important than possible safety upgrades, including replacing wooden doors with securer metal ones.
Any money not spent from the fund can simply be used to pay off the bond sooner, freeing up debt service money for other uses, he said.
Kane also said he is not against grade banding on educational terms, but that it will force more students to travel by bus to get to their school, eliminating what are now two “neighborhood schools,” both housing grades K-6.
Gorham cites the PowerPoint, which conveys recurring complaints about escalating budget pressure in the last decade, beginning with the Great Recession, followed by Gov. Tom Corbett’s cuts in state spending, and exacerbated by growing costs largely out of a district’s control: pension fund payments, flat state funding for kindergarten and special education, and state money siphoned off by charter schools.
In an email response, Gorham argued the first-ever fieldhouse will include “modern bathroom facilities, rather than portable human waste receptacles,” and nearly 30 percent of the auditorium work was asbestos removal. He also noted the metal guardrails were rusting and wooden replacements were an economical choice.
Gorham also said that grade banding is “an educational best practice” that benefits students “academically, socially, emotionally and developmentally.”
Banding has become popular in part because of the way state teacher certifications are structured. The Crestwood proposal mirrors the grade-spans for state certifications, and putting all the teachers with the certifications in the same grade range can simplify scheduling.
The “rock” — which stands on end with a smooth side reading “Crestwood Comets” — cost the district $2,200 above the contribution from the senior class, explained Gorham. The purpose “was to encourage out-going classes to ‘adopt’ locations on the property and ‘give back to their community’ upon graduation like most schools do. It promotes stewardship and gives students a positive way to remember their accomplishments in the future.”
Kane contends that expensive equipment purchased for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) classes will go unused because teachers certified to work with them face furloughs. But Gorham insists the classes will continue, “taught by different teachers certified in the areas of science, math, or technology.”
The board meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the high school media center. Kane predicted if the crowd he expects shows up, it would be moved to the auditorium.
Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish