WRIGHT TWP. — The Crestwood School Board faced hours of criticism and questions, often blistering, in a packed auditorium before voting to furlough four teachers, including three in technology and engineering programs vital to modern jobs.
“Without the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” John Jachim said, adding that he started his own business and is a union carpenter. “You say we need new schools. Who the hell is going to build them?”
The board had talked about 13 furloughs but trimmed that to five, one support staff worker and four high school teachers.
One is from the Spanish classes, and Superintendent Joseph Gorham said that was due to declines in enrollment, citing a projected drop of 50 for the upcoming school year. He said the district expects to still offer all classes previously offered in Spanish.
The board also voted to end the high school industrial arts/technology education program, furloughing two teachers, and the family and consumer science program, furloughing another teacher.
At Gorham’s urging, High School Principal Peg Foster gave broad ideas on how to use some of the equipment in physics classes, but said details are still being worked out.
Charles Nudo, a 2016 graduate, echoed the praise for what the STEM programs did for him, saying holding a saw and other tools helped him realize what he wanted to do upon graduation.
Repeated questions about what happens to students and to the equipment frequently elicited the same basic answer from Gorham, who said he would rather not cut the programs, but there were few choices with budget woes.
“It’s going to harm kids, it’s going to limit their options, it’s going to give them less. I don’t know how else to answer that question.”
Gorham has been arguing for weeks that a decade of decreased state funding and/or increased mandates without more funding have put the district into a situation with a chronic structural deficit. Business Consultant Al Melone said the cuts would save about $477,000 next year.
Some parents questioned the decision to build a new field house while furloughing teachers, but Gorham has said that money is earmarked for capital projects and can’t legally be transferred to the general fund for other uses.
One man questioned why the district has a superintendent and assistant superintendent, and why there are two principals at the high school. Solicitor Jack Dean said administrative cuts are still possible, but the teacher contract requires earlier notification of furloughs.
“The budget isn’t final,” Board President Bill Jones said.
‘How dare you’
The meeting started with Board Member James Costello outlining the formation of an athletic foundation designed to raise money independent of the district for some larger athletics costs. When one parent asked why a similar foundation wasn’t formed to help pay for the STEM programs, Board Member Barry Boone said an education foundation is also in the early stages of development.
It grew testy at times as audience members challenged the board’s terms for public comment. Jones had said each person would get a minute or two and that he didn’t want people returning to the podium. Dean gave leeway on the time, but at several points shut down speakers, particularly one woman he said had already spoken, and the woman after her when she effectively let the prior speaker ask her questions.
The crowd became thoroughly disruptive when the district began to vote on agenda items, calling for a chance to raise questions on non-agenda items as usually allowed by the board. That’s when a long line formed at the podium to comment.
“How dare you create a chilling effect on this public meeting,” Kelly Ross-van Den Berg shouted. Dean asked a constable present to take action but the crowd didn’t budge. Jones then called for a five-minute break, evoking loud boos from the crowd. A meeting that started at 6:30 was stretching past 9:55 with no end in sight.
At about 10:05, the board returned and 20 people who had waited in line to speak raised many of the same concerns. But by 11 p.m., the board approved the furloughs, with Maureen McGovern and Boone voting against ending the STEM classes.
Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish