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'Every teacher I know at Scotland School wants to stay'

June 04, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

o Scotland School student working to save home

SCOTLAND, PA. -- Jean Vargas is finishing her 11th year teaching at Scotland School for Veterans' Children. She doesn't know if she'll have a 12th.

A couple of her colleagues have applied for jobs and gotten offers as they think about mortgages and the family budget. Others continue to wait for word about whether Scotland School will be closed.

Some of the staff members have received furlough notices. The teachers were told to expect theirs soon.

"The notices are part of the governor's campaign, to act like his initial proposal of closing is going to happen. It's just part of their posturing," state Rep. Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin/Cumberland, said Wednesday.

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Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell in February identified Scotland School as a potential cut in the 2009-10 budget. The school's 271 students, 40 teachers and 146 other employees are ending this academic year without knowing the school's future.

"Obviously we're not going to know until the budget is passed. The morale is very low," said Vargas, a reading specialist who is president of the teachers' union.

"Hopefully those furlough notices will mean nothing come July," Kauffman said.

Teachers asked for more time to pack classrooms after first being told they needed to be out today. Classes ended Thursday.

"After next week, our keys are gone," Vargas said. "We can't get back on campus."

Vargas said she doesn't know whether to leave things behind. If Scotland School closes, she questions whether items will be sent to other schools or thrown in the trash.

"I have hundreds of books in my classroom and a lot of them I earned myself through book fairs," Vargas said.

Vargas said the timing of the state budget, which is supposed to by passed by June 30, makes it difficult to find other jobs if needed. All the teachers would prefer to stay in Scotland, she said.

"At least for me, I don't have time to look for anything because I'm so involved in the fight," she said.

That fight is made more difficult by what Vargas says is misinformation disseminated by state agencies in support of the school's closure. She takes issue with criticism of test scores, the reported cost per student and claims that students have been enrolled elsewhere, especially the Milton Hershey School in Hershey, Pa.

"I don't know of any students accepted to Milton Hershey. ... (The Philadelphia students) don't want to go back to their local neighborhood schools because they're not safe," she said.

The teachers union filed a grievance saying the state doesn't have a valid reason, under their agreement, for the furloughs.

"Every teacher I know at Scotland School wants to stay at Scotland School. No one wants to be elsewhere," Vargas said.

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