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Tensions high at Pa. school board meeting

March 15, 2011|By JENNIFER FITCH | waynesboro@herald-mail.com
  • Mike Engle, chief negotiator for the Waynesboro Area Education Association, addresses the Waynesboro Area School Board at its Tuesday night meeting.
By Chris Tilley/Staff Photographer

WAYNESBORO, Pa. — Divisions among the Waynesboro Area School Board became more apparent than ever Tuesday, with one board member literally pointing out the members who often disagree with him.

Leland Lemley pointed to fellow board members K. Marilyn Smith, Pat Heefner and Bonnie Bachtell as the opposition, then 20 minutes later referred to those who vote with him as "our side of the table."

Several issues highlighted the differences between the two sides on the nine-person board. Among them were a budgetary suggestion to cut the instrumental music program for elementary school children.

Last week, Superintendent James Robertson presented a list of potential cuts to pare down a budget deficit estimated at almost $2 million. On that list were eight staff positions and several programs, including gymnastics, some elementary field trips, Latin, a social worker, a gifted teacher and instrumental music at the elementary level.

Board members questioned how information about instrumental music leaked to the community before last week's school board meeting. Members who do not serve on the board's budget committee said they had not seen the list before the public meeting.

Board member Chris Lind said he started hearing buzz about the program after a concert several weeks ago.

"This is a political football thrown out every few years," Lind said, referring to proposed music cuts drawing out large crowds in opposition.

Lind suggested someone with advance knowledge of the list shared information with the community before the board as a whole saw it.

"We will find other ways to fund that. You can take instrumental music off (the list) tonight," Lemley said.

"Mr. Lemley creates a problem and then proceeds to solve it. He looks like a champion," Heefner retorted.

Board member Bonnie Bachtell told Lemley to not move so fast in removing the program from the list concerning the 2011-12 budget.

"I want instrumental music as much as you, but what makes that better than the German program or Latin program?" Bachtell asked. "Not every elementary child does instrumental music. Yes, you have the votes to do it; I realize that."

Robertson said he had no "nefarious" intentions when compiling the list.

Robertson "was told to bring back a balanced budget any way he could. ... He was doing exactly what he was told to do," Smith said.

Tuesday's meeting was held at Mowrey Elementary School, where Rule No. 6 posted on signs in the cafeteria states, "Use an 'inside' voice." That rule was broken repeatedly at the meeting.

Oak Drive resident Eric Avey mentioned a posting from board member Sherry Cline on Facebook about the teachers union and music.

"Someone hassled me as usual," Cline said, shaking her head.

Cline said she was misinterpreted when trying to tell parents the teachers would not retaliate against their children if parents spoke in favor of budgetary restraint. The board and teachers' union, Waynesboro Area Education Association, are in their 15th month of budget negotiations.

A printed-out copy of the posting from Cline's page, which is set to private view, said among the teachers "demands" are "cut band, cut teams so the teachers can get raises." She gives the time and location for the meeting.

WAEA chief negotiator, Mike Engle, said Cline's comment about the teachers could not be misconstrued.

"What you're saying now is not what you're typing," Engle said.

Engle and Lemley engaged in a debate about recurring revenue, which started the argument about budget information being disseminated to the public.

"The majority of this board did not know what was on (the list). ... We cannot be involved in every single thing that happens," Wilson said, saying that is why the board has committees.

WAEA President Jessica Bryan singled out Lemley, asserting he is responsible for "disarray" in the buildings' physical condition for the past 20 years.

Lemley responded by claiming the WAEA had for years decided who was elected to the board.

"You've controlled this board since 1993. ... You folks controlled who sat on this board," he said, saying he was in the minority for votes until a few years ago.

Lemley referenced his "no" votes for the Waynesboro Area Senior High School renovation and expansion project as it grew to $46 million.

"You elected the people who did it," Lemley said.

That is when Lemley pointed to Smith, Heefner and Bachtell.

"That is what is left of it," he alleged of WAEA control, although only Smith was on the board when votes for borrowing and construction contracts were taken.

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