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April 24, 2014

Upcoming PENNCREST budget is a question of social justice

I 100 percent agree with columnist Bruce Harlan’s statement that “men and boys would do better to apply their physical and mental toughness to issues of inequality, injustice, illiteracy and poverty” (“There is no war on men and boys — it’s actually the opposite,” April 14). There is no better evidence of these social issues than in today’s Pennsylvania school districts. At this time I will concentrate on our local school district, PENNCREST.

The budget the school board has to approve for the coming school year is a question of social justice since it involves the future generations that reside in PENNCREST School District and residents on fixed income who either might end up losing their hard-earned homes due to excessive taxation or have to decide what personal care they must forego.

The following are major items the school board should and must consider in its deliberations:

- Collecting dues for free for the unions. The district has provided this service to the unions for free for years whereas the district has been paying the district’s tax collectors a set fee. This board has the obligation to either stop collecting union dues or charge as much as we pay our tax collectors.

- The state Department of Education has allocated more than $18 million to the district. This money is not a panacea for special interest groups but it is money for the children educated by the district directly or indirectly. Therefore the emphasis on the budget should be on the following:

1. The cost of health care for the employees of the district. Every year the district has allocated more than $5 million for this coverage and this year might be more due to Obamacare and yet the professional employees’ contribution is $30 per month. Compare this to residents on Social Security who pay $104.84 per month into Medicare plus the cost for supplemental insurance that ranges from $100 per month and up.

Where is the social justice in this case? I believe it is time for the school board to set a contribution based on a percentage fee so that those who make more pay more. This will not be any different from what other public employees pay toward their health insurance such as state employees who, incidentally, pay up to 5 percent of their income.

 2. Sports. In the past every board got trapped by discussing cuts in sport activities. Sports are a minute portion of the budget when compared to the cost of personnel, which is approximately two thirds of the budget. It is true the sports program can be run more efficiently but the money allocated by the Department of Education is for the children. The district should go back to using local citizens as coaches or as assistant coaches. Any teacher should be more than glad to volunteer as coach with the same remuneration as a private citizen considering teachers get a 365 day salary for 180 days of work every year.

3. The district is losing students to private, parochial and cyber schools. The maximum salary that these schools pay to the teaching staff in most cases is less than the starting salary the district is paying to its teaching staff. I believe that it is time that the PENNCREST board should start comparing salaries with other local private schools. Salaries should not be the paramount goal of the district but the education of the children. I am sure the staff will agree that they are employed for the children’s benefit as former teacher and board member Harold Shorts used to remind us — “we are here for the children.”

4. Programs that are not educational but more of a social service. The purpose of education is to educate the children in order to prepare them for a fruitful life. The board must review all programs that have nothing to do with education but are seen as money available to hire additional personnel. This is a cost that the local taxpayers eventually get stuck with in the long term. One such program is the fluoride program.

5. PENNCREST’s obligation for the school employees pension fund. At the present time I believe that the obligation is around 16 percent. What this means is that for every $50,000 earned, the district has to contribute $8,000 dollars versus the teacher’s contribution of approximately $3,250. It doesn’t really matter who is at fault for this predicament. The question to be resolved is how not to stiff the local populace with this tremendous cost. One may ask if is this a question of social injustice, or as President Barack Obama stated many times, is it a question of greed? My recommendation is to consider lowering the starting salaries of future new employees. This will be no different than what AFSCME, the public employees’ union, agreed to for state employees in the past.

6. Substitutes. The main purpose of a substitute is to take over a teacher’s duties for reasons such as sickness or other justifiable absences. Any training dictated by law or seemed necessary by the administration can be done over the Internet. With new technology available there is no reason to take teachers out of their classrooms and send them as far away as California, Florida or Texas.

In conclusion, the education of the children is a team effort among support personnel, teachers and administration, yet the inequality of compensation between them is overwhelming. The median family income in Crawford County is $41,664; this is less than the individual starting salary of $44,730 per 180 days of work. Will families who are making the median income ever be able to buy a home or keep one? Will we ever see social justice implemented?

Luigi DeFrancesco, a former Republican State Committee member and former PENNCREST School Board president, is a Richmond Township resident. He can be contacted at lsdefrank@yahoo.com.

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