Thursday, May 10, 2012

Facing the music in Upper Darby

I knew that the Upper Darby community was up in arms about the curriculum changes being considered in their schools.

But yesterday, just in case I needed it, I got a couple of reminders of just how deep this issue is being felt.

For those not aware, the Upper Darby School District is considering a budget that will ax about 60 teachers and some administration staff, while at the same time hiking taxes 3.5 percent.

But that’s not what has parents and the community up in arms. They are irate over a proposal that would change core curriculums, ending the practice of “special” classes in art and music in elementary schools, and language and technology in the middle schools. Instead those subjects would be covered by teachers in their regular classrooms.

To put it bluntly, parents are not happy.

Last night we had the men responsible for the plan on our ‘Live From the Newsroom’ live-stream Internet broadcast.

If you missed the show, you can still watch it here.

More than 250 people tuned in. It was one of the largest audiences we’ve ever had in the year-plus that we’ve been doing the show, rivaling another education story, the plan to close Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast high school.

Ironically, the schools are neighbors in Drexel Hill.

Upper Darby Schools Superintendent Lou DeVlieger, Assistant Superintendent Dan McGarry, Business Manager Ed Smith and Personnel Director Dan Nerelli talked about the proposal for more than our allotted half-hour last night.

Earlier in the day, I solicited questions for the panel from our readers. They did not disappoint, offering a deluge of things they’d like to see covered.

I learned several things last night. None of these guys wants to make these cuts. They also don’t have a lot of choices.

DeVlieger went so far as to warn of something he’s been saying now for a couple of years, that Harrisburg and the powers that be in the state are lording over the “dismantling” of public education.

Two things I got answered that readers wanted to know. DeVlieger indicated this plan has been in the works for months, and that, yes, there were lots of alternatives being considered before this “realignment” plan was put in place.

I also think this is not necessarily the plan that will be adopted by the Upper Darby School Board when they vote on a final budget June 12.

DeVlieger admitted as much, saying that “just about everything” was on the table.

He also hinted at something I’ve been wondering about since the plan was first announced.

If there was one thing we learned from the Bonner-Prendie story it’s this: Money talks. The parochial school backers raised more than $5 million in about three weeks. Public schools are a different animal, but I got the distinct feeling that behind the scenes a similar fundraising drive might be in the works for Upper Darby.

In the meantime, the school board and administration will brace themselves for a public hearing on the budget plan on May 23. Tuesday night more than 70 people signed up to speak their piece for three minutes. The board did not get around to taking their preliminary vote on the plan until almost 2 o’clock in the morning.

My thanks to DeVlieger and his team for coming on the show and meeting this story head on.

I know that Lou DeVlieger does not want to do this. It has not exactly made him a popular guy in Upper Darby.

I also know that he does not have a lot of options.

And one other thing to consider, just in case you think it’s only Upper Darby. It’s not.

The school board in York, out in central Pennsylvania, is staring at an $18 million deficit. They are going Upper Darby one better, proposing slashing jobs, art, gym and their half-day kindergarten.

Oh, and one other thing. They are considering axing all sports.

I asked DeVlieger if sports was considered in Upper Darby. He admitted it was.

“Everything is on the table,” he said.

School of hard knocks? Yeah, I think so.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Ann Blaney said...

I just have to flat out ask, Mr. Heron, what kind of "kick back" from the school board did you get for writing this blog? We, the public, have asked to see the so called "other things" that were on the table, or the plan B for budget cuts. We still have yet to see them and in reality, I don't think there is a plan B, despite our pleas with the school board to delay the prelimary vote and to go back to the table and come up with another plan. We also, have several times, offered to help form a committee to assist the school board. The bottom line, is they do not want the everyday tax payers help, and that, to many of us, that live here in Upper Darby is astonishing! Other neighboring school districts have worked together and come up with some viable solutions. I agree that there must be cuts, but its the behavior and mentality of our school board that will not be tolerated by the taxpayers anymore. Its time to step it up and work together. The closing phrase shouldn't be "school of hard knocks" but... United we will stand and Game On! for our children and the future of Upper Darby.

May 10, 2012 at 7:08 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A few clarifications I would like to point out:
1) Though the "plan has been in the works for months" the public has only known about this proposal since April 10th, one month ago.
2) As the administration constantly brings up the Harrisburg issue, they have refused to sign the community petition, to fight to get the funding back from the state government.
3) The Academic Realignment was voted on as a separate issue, and has been framed by the leadership as a purely curricular issue, not a budgetary issue, so we don't know where they will stand if we get the funding back.
4)The public has not seen one alternative proposal, and until we do, we will assume they do not exist. These documents need to be posted on the website so any person can save and print them out, to look at.
5) The school district needs to open up all their records, so that the community can help to come up with alternative proposals. Thus far, this has NOT happened.

I respectfully disagree with Ann, as I have known Phil for a long time, and know he is doing the best he can to cover this issue, but respectfully, Mr. Heron, I ask you to look further. UDSD has NOT put every option on the table and has NOT made this an open and public discussion with the community. 100 people spoke at Tuesday's meeting, and it went unheard.

May 10, 2012 at 7:27 PM 
Blogger Book Lover said...

Let's not forget Library and Physical Education are on the cutting board, too!!

May 10, 2012 at 8:03 PM 
Blogger Book Lover said...

Let's not also forget that Library and Physical Education are on the chopping block, too!

May 10, 2012 at 8:04 PM 

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