Lehigh Valley

Allentown teachers' union president: Lights over learning?

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Are Allentown School District's priorities misplaced?

The easy answer is "yes," if you're Debra Tretter, president of the Allentown Education Association.

During Thursday night's board meeting, Tretter questioned the wisdom of the board's decision just moments earlier to approve an expenditure totaling $253,500 to upgrade antiquated lighting and hoist systems for the auditorium stage at Louis E. Dieruff High School.

It was Tretter's contention that awarding a contract to Barry J. Hoffman Company for new equipment that will "provide for efficient and safe operation of the stage house, by the staff supervised, student stage crew," could have been used in a different manner.

She argued during a public comment segment Thursday night that the money would have paid for "four teachers' salaries or 12 clerical positions". She said the award continued a trend of wasteful expenditures by the cash-strapped school district that are coming at the expense of the unionized employees she represents.

The project approved Thursday night will be funded through the Facilities Services Budget, according to ASD documents.

The district is looking at yet another massive budget deficit. In the last four years alone ASD has cut more than 350 jobs, raised taxes time and again and raided their own fund balance to keep afloat. The 2014-2015 proposed budget delivers more of the same dismal news, with a total of 74 teaching positions, 12 clerical staff, 10 paraprofessionals and four administrators facing elimination.

One board member who will not stick around to see that budget through will be Joanne Bauer, who tendered her resignation effective immediately.

"A teacher is not a job, but rather a noble calling," Bauer noted during a resignation speech. "...teachers are our nation's builders."

Resigning from the ASD school board is not uncharted territory for Bauer, who last year submitted her resignation in a dramatic episode during a board meeting before storming out of the room. She later rescinded that resignation.

Director Mike Welsh was absent from Thursday night's meeting.

A total of 74 teachers, 12 clerical staff, 10 paraprofessionals and four administrators would be eliminated in the 2014-2015 Allentown School District budget under a proposal presented by Superintendent C. Russell Mayo during Thursday night's Education-of-the-Whole Committee meeting.

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