Lehigh Valley

Easton schools could lose dozens of teachers

Dozens of Easton Area educators could lose their jobs, according to a budget proposal put forth Tuesday by the school district administration.

Last month, the district presented the public with four plans to balance this year's budget, one of which called for cutting 72 positions.

At the time, school officials said it was their worst case scenario option.

But at Tuesday's board meeting, Superintendent John Reinhart said the board needs to "take a longer and harder" look at that scenario after the teachers union and the district's negotiating committee failed to reach an agreement on balancing the budget.

The job cuts include 13 positions at Easton Area High School, 16 at Easton Area Middle School, 22 elementary school positions, 12 district wide positions and nine at the Easton Area Academy, the district's alternative school.

Of those 72 jobs, about 12 would be eliminated through retirements.

Employees received letters last month notifying them of the possibility they could be furloughed.

Among them was Japanese teacher Dierdre Sumpter, whose students spoke passionately about the need to keep her and her course.

"This is the lifeline course that I take," junior Thomas Weber told the board. "This is why I come to school." 

At that point, he began to cry. When he composed himself, Weber said that without Japanese, he'll be forced to teach himself next year, in hopes of one day teaching English as a second language in Japan.

Board members heard from a number of students, parents and teachers offering their input on the budget.

Teacher Suzanne Virgilio offered the board a proposal which would allow a group of highly-compensated veteran teachers to retire early in exchange for being able to keep their healthcare until they turned 65.

She said this could save the district $1 million.

And parent and Easton graduate Eric Fehr said he worried job cuts would lead to larger class sizes.

"I can't handle 27 of my daughter and her friends a day, let alone educate them," he said.

Board President Frank Pintabone said the district wasn't relying solely on the teachers to come up with ways to save money, and said the district is still pursuing other ways to raise revenue, including advertising, selling its administration building, and consolidating other buildings.

Kevin Deely, a high school teacher and past union president, called the district's counter to the teachers' initial proposal an "insult," saying it included punitive salary cuts and freezes as well as a sharp increase in health care costs.

"It's like a charity asking for charity, then sticking your nose up and asking for more," Deely said.

In a related matter, Jena Brodhead, the president of the teachers union, said Tuesday night she would resign her position at the end of the school year.

Brodhead, who teaches gifted students at March Elementary in Easton, said she wants to return to the classroom full time.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, she said it would have been unfair to resign while the budget was still unresolved.

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