Apr 1, 2011

Allentown School District

Last night the School Board approved Zahorchak's Pathways to Success, laying off 247 teachers. Before I begin my tirade, let me acknowledge a reality. Apparently, there will be less revenue from the state and federal governments this year. (although we always seem to end up with more than the initial offer) Assuming that, never the less, there is a substantial reduction, and the taxpayers can only tolerate so much increase, some layoffs were inevitable. Also, apparently teachers cannot be laid off for reasons of economy, only curriculum changes. So, I concede a program change, and some layoffs were necessary. That said, this school board and this superintendent could not have done it in a poorer fashion. The board hired the wrong person last year as superintendent. It was apparent from the first Z Letter indicating that everything was wrong and that he had all the answers. It was apparent from the 3000 idea's he threw against the wall. It was apparent from transferring the most effective principals to administrative jobs. To have made the best of their bad hiring decision, the board would have to first recognize it. Apparently, this board, or at least it's leadership, has too much self esteem for such a conclusion.

Although 247 teachers will be laid off, not one administrator will lose his/her job. To make matters more irrational, many of these administrative jobs did not exist before last year. Although Zahorchak's goal of higher test scores and graduation rate are admirable, he is gutting the elective programs, which were the unique aspect of the Allentown School District. If he doesn't succeed in his goals, which is very likely, his plan was the Pathway to Failure. He has demoralized the teaching staff, even before the layoffs. Allentown School District has dug itself a deeper hole, which wasn't easy to do. Zahorchak claims we need a change; I agree, we need a new board and a new superintendent.


gary ledebur said...

MM: What a shame. In the United States of America, the richest nation ever to exist in history, cannot afford teachers. The Governor of Pennsylvania is slashing in excess of $1 billion of education funding while increasing the line item for prisons. He steadfastly refuses to consider raising taxes even though Pennsylvania has the lowest income tax in the country. Pennsylvania is the only state that does not tax Marcellus Shale--a bonanza for the energy companies.

Your attack on the ASD super and board appears to be heavy on rhetoric and light on substance. While I agree with you that one should cut school district administration first (my wife will likely be laid of in the 50% reduction of the administration of her school district) there is no place to get the kind of reduction needed without furloughing teachers--the largest line item in the budget.

Again, you attack the board but how would you balance the ASD budget? It is easy to sit at home and complain while others do the heavy lifting. No one wants to lay off teachers. You give the governor a pass (who increased the administrators in his office) but attack your own elected school board.

Patrick McHenry said...

gary ledebur said...

"He steadfastly refuses to consider raising taxes even though Pennsylvania has the lowest income tax in the country."


Really, Gary? Why do you continue to spout party-line rhetoric that is so easily proven wrong?

Why don't you go to Florida, New Hampshire, Texas, Alaska, Arizona, or any of the other states that currently have NO state income tax.

In my book, an income tax rate of 0% is much lower than Pennsylvania's.

Patrick McHenry said...

MM -

I agree with you about the need for administrator cuts, Zahorchak's poor (and continuously changing) communication, and the poor decision to hire him in the first place.

As you also noted, there has been an over-reliance on state and federal funds over the past few years. This has helped inflate teacher salaries beyond what most localities can afford.

Much of what Gary chides Governor Corbett for cutting in education was one-time federal stimulus money that Governor Rendell used to increase his education spending. Can you really fault Corbett for "cutting back" on funding that the state didn't have in the first place? I can't.

Even with a different superintendent and proper cuts to the administration, the financial reality still wouldn't have supported the raises the teachers were insisting on. Obviously, something had to give and the teachers did vote against a pay freeze.

Teachers couldn't have realistically expected a good outcome last night. I think they - as much as anyone - played a very large part in the final outcome.

Anonymous said...

It's impossible to imagine a school superintendent not firing administrators while firing nearly 300 teachers and assistants. Allentown desperately needs leaders who care about the city and its residents.
Yesterday's posts about the Bennett dealership traffic light are upsetting. One can only imagine the outcome of a tragedy if the Mack Station can't reach a fire citing a traffic jam at its front door.

gary ledebur said...

To clarify my comments, yes some states fund education and state government without an income tax, but most choose to do so. Of all the states with a personal income tax, Pennsylvania has the lowest!

Second, Governor Rendell fought hard to not use the stimulus money to back-fill the 2010-11 education budget. He lost that fight. He did more for funding education than any governor before him.

And yes, the teachers are not realistic in their demands and refusal to not take a pay raise this year.

Patrick McHenry said...

MM -

If I can make one other observation:

Last night at the start of the comment portion of the meeting, the teachers union president made a statement that I found astounding. Apparently, teachers cannot be let go because of funding reasons.

Now I have no idea if that is a state law or if it that was inserted into teachers contracts. It certainly isn't taxpayer friendly, and I suspect that the union has something to do with the rule being in effect.

First off, I can't think of a more legitimate reason to lay off teachers than that the community can no longer afford to pay them. That seems to be a very important "check and balance" on salaries getting out of control that was taken away from taxpayers.

Second, the rule means that when a district DOES face a financial crisis, it must resort to making sweeping program changes to be able to (legally) reduce teacher headcount and save money. Otherwise (sometimes devastating) tax hikes are the only option left.

So we might have just seen the "unintended consequences" of a rule that was probably celebrated by the unions when it was passed. That may have have been the real reason behind the theater - and yes, I say theater (on both sides) - that was played out last night.

michael molovinsky said...

patrick, it's apparently a state law, that may well have been lobbied for by teachers at one point. and yes, some program change may have been necessary to circumvent that law. but zahorchak indicated from day one, before the reduced revenue figures, that he wanted to institute his Pathway to Success. i believe that his plan totally ignores the reality of a high transient, low income population. he is preoccupied with test scores and graduation rates. his recommendations about allentown's economy were nonsense. i fault the school board for not asserting themselves. to accept a plan that doesn't reduce the number of administrators is unacceptable.

Anonymous said...


The school board in Allentown(and almost everywhere else in America) has abdicated its responsibility to formulate policy for the district by handing over this primary duty to the bureaucrat ideologue they recruited from of all places, Harrisburg. Then they compounded the error by rubber stamping his transformative plan in the face of massive public opposition. It is appalling.

Scott Armstrong

Anonymous said...

Retired ASD Teacher here.

Scott Armstrong is spot on with his analysis of educational leadership flaws.

Thanks to this school board for choosing to serve, but this a mostly a rubber stamp role. Observing board comments last night made it quite clear these well-meaning folks are largely naive to the essentials of child development and the educational process.

This guy, Zahorchak, was hired because of his prior political title, nothing more. His own classroom experience is VERY limited, particularly as it pertains to urban education.

Not sure how many speakers addressed the board last night. it was 2 minutes each over a 3 hour period. I can't recall hearing ONE SPEAKER in support of this radical change!

Believe it, or not, Nancy Pelosi was in attendance (in the form of Zahorchak). He actually stated something like "We need to send this through to Harrisburg tonight for approval. Only then, can we sit down a work on whatever problems there are."

Good grief!

This grand design should have been delayed further, with discussion centered more around what the teachers have to say. The TEACHERS are the one's charged with delivering this questionable plan, and to do so now under most difficult conditions.

It was obvious, the decision to pass the plan was already decided BEFORE the meeting. The board was just going through the motions in a sorry excuse for honest respect of public opinion.

Yes, Michael. There is MUCH room to pare administrative operatives who have little, or no, contact with kids. Sadly, that option was not included.

michael molovinsky said...

i received the following comment from david zimmerman, why didn't appear here, i do not know

You have no idea!

No one on this blog called or emailed me for my opinion.

Instead you include all in broad dismissive generalizations.

After multiple requests on social media for feedback and input - not one response.

David Zimmerman

gary ledebur said...

The board of education needs to cut administration at the same level as teaching staff. The union needs to forgo a pay raise this year. The district must focus on core academic subjects not electives and the citizens need to support the schools and advocate for increased education funding from harrisburg!

Patrick McHenry said...

MM -

I'm not sure what to make of Dave Zimmerman's post.

What is the "social media" that he made "multiple requests" "for feedback and input" on?

Would any feedback have mattered? It seemed that the board got plenty of feedback at the meeting the other night (and prior meetings) and it just didn't matter.

michael molovinsky said...

i believe social media refers to facebook and twitter, neither of which i interact with. i wrote my post with some hesitation, because i appreciate both dave and bob smith as school board members. some concessions were made, such as the elimination of the special honor school at 4th and allen, and the reinsertion of some electives. BUT, if thousands of people (combined) appear over the course of three meetings, taxpayers and parents, there was a failure to listen. in retrospect, i should have asked both dave and bob for input before this post. i invite them, or any school board member to post here, i'd be glad to host.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Molovinsky :

I had work to do this morning and noticed something you may / may not be interested in. The radical Left is again up to its same old tricks again :

Decorating telephone polls on 2nd and Hamilton St outside GLAZIER's FURNITURE...




I pulled a few off the telephone polls and can fax them to you if you wish.


The radical Left blatantly assaulting and attacking private business, as usual...what a shock for my Sunday morning.


Anonymous said...

While I disagree completely with the board’s decision on the “Z” plan and have been a critic of this body for years I condemn in the strongest terms anyone or any entity that would go after these people personally or professionally.

Scott Armstrong