HELLERTOWN, Pa. - The Saucon Valley School District Board of Directors' meeting Tuesday night was a lukewarm affair until one resident got four school board directors hot under the collar.
Catherine Denzel shared her concerns about the state of the district during a public comment session, focusing on how the district's teachers have been working without a contract since June 30, 2012 and that 21 months of negotiations between the two sides have solved nothing.
"I am perplexed and frustrated and little concerned that the focus seems to be on one thing - money," Denzel told the board. "...Serving on a board of education is a task that requires collaboration, involvement and commitment, not only to the financial aspects but to the people who keep the district up and running. The true stewards of the school community - the teachers, secretaries, bus drivers, cafeteria and maintenance employees."
She added that there were members of the school board whose own "children have attended private school while others have allegiance to charter schools.
"This certainly seems to be a contradiction in public education philosophy," Denzel said.
During her comments Denzel made references to articles from The Morning Call and The Express-Times newspapers, which over the years have chronicled school board activity.
Upon her conclusion four directors clearly did not appreciate this member of the public's input.
"I guess I am a little offended," said President Michael Karabin in response to her comments. "...that we do not care about our students."
Director Edward Inghrim was next. "I'd like to ask the young lady a question," he said. "...Do you have any idea of what percentage of taxpayers in the Saucon Valley School District live on Social Security?"
She replied that she did not.
"Pick a number," Inghrim instructed her.
Denzel replied she did not wish to randomly pick a number.
"Thirty-five percent," Inghrim replied in a stern voice. "...I think this board has a responsibility to look out for their welfare, as well as the teachers and the students."
He then gave himself and his fellow directors a pat on the back.
"I think this board has done an excellent job over the last several years," Inghrim said. "...the public ought to be more thankful" for their efforts.
Director Ralph Puerta added that he was "disappointed" in her opinions and that she had cited two newspaper articles in her comments because the newspaper articles failed to grasp the entire perplexities of the challenges facing the school board in their reporting.
Denzel replied that she had been speaking with other parents and members of the community who also shared her concerns in response, and not just reading newspaper headlines.
After Puerta was done addressing her concerns Inghrim again spoke about allegations the board is not supporting students.
"Since 2007 we have had a six percent decrease in the student population. We have the same number of teachers in the classroom since 2007," he said in a booming voice. "So, that is a fact."
After she returned to her seat, another member of the public noted that the directors had disrespected Denzel for simply voicing her opinion and that directors could stand to be a "little more welcoming" to members of the public.
That set off one director.
"Well what should we do," Director Charles Bartolet shot back in an even louder voice than Inghrin used before. "People come here and criticize the school board for being bobbing heads. Sit here and don't say a thing. You want me to do that," he said, nearly yelling at the man. "I'll gladly do that. I'll sit here and you can talk all you want."
Stunned by the harshness of Bartolet's tone of voice, some members of the roughly 30 people in attendance gasped.
The exchange went back and forth with both men talking over one another for another 30 seconds.
Then Inghrim got involved in the exchange and took the discussion in yet another direction. He explained how he "liked the facts." and then proceeded to blame journalists for intentionally leading the public astray and causing problems for the board.
"I think part of the problem this young lady has and all of us have as residents is that our source of information is newspapers," Inghrim said. "And newspaper coverage of board meetings really is awful. They focus on one or two emotional issues...Most of it is just yellow journalism."
He went on to add that he was an engineer and he wished that "everyone was an engineer" because if everyone was an engineer and thought like he did, then the district and the teachers would incorporate logic and thus, have a contract.
Allentown, PA 18102