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Heated debate as Allentown School Board continues to talk budget, cuts

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - A disputatious and fractious Allentown School Board meeting Thursday night featured sharp dialogue around whether the administration can be trusted to disseminate accurate information to the teachers' union, board of directors and even the public at large regarding the employment status of various administrators during what promises to a be a challenging budget season.

The school district is faced with a $22.4 million budget shortfall.  To close the gap, it's proposing cutting as many as 144 positions and burdening taxpayers with yet another tax hike.

Thursday, Allentown Education Association President Debra Tretter demanded answers about the district's proposal saying that five separate documents show inconsistencies with the number of administrators the district actually employs.

Tretter presented her case against Superintendent C. Russell Mayo in a public comment session during the Policy/Committee-of-the-Whole meeting after several teachers had already lamented the potential cuts that could put themselves or colleagues out of work. She cited Wednesday's report in The Morning Call newspaper that noted that the district planned to keep six administrators funded by federal money that is earmarked for schools across that nation considered to be poor. This information did not jive with School Improvement Grant documents, according to Tretter.

"Currently we have seven administrators in this edition (of SIG), " she noted. "The Morning Call reports retention of six, but no elimination of the seventh."

The SIG documents, she noted, do not mention deans of students, yet the district currently has four. The newspaper report noted the retention of one, but nothing concerning any elimination of the three others.

"The SIG documents allow for assistant principals of small learning communities," Tretter continued. "The Act 93 list, again, identifies five of these, yet the Right to Know information lists none. The ASD website does not list them as such and there is no mention of them in The Morning Call report at all."

After pausing for a moment, Tretter uttered the following statement.

"It's as if they do not exist," she said.

But Tretter was just getting warmed up.

"This is only a sample of the inconsistencies found in the documents shared with AEA, the board and the community," Tretter said. "I would like to know does ASD have accurate information?  If so, why are they not sharing it with AEA, the board and the public?"

Where Tretter left off, board member Joanne Jackson picked up the slack, saying she wanted clarification from the administration about "what the real numbers are."

"I want to see some resolution to this," Jackson noted.

"I have already asked for accurate information," Tretter then chimed in. "Obviously I have not received it."

Jackson demanded to know what measures would be taken to rectify this.

Mayo responded that he would be perfectly willing to sit down with Tretter and AEA officials to "reconcile" those numbers and report that information back to the board.

Tretter then replied that she has spent a lot of time with Mayo recently , and had "walked out empty-handed."

This did not mollify Jackson, who wanted more specifics. At this Board Member Scott Armstrong, who frequently and stridently articulates a different point of view from Tretter, spoke up.

"I don't see what the point is," said Armstrong in response to Jackson and Tretter's desire for a more probing analysis. Armstrong then sought to impugn the reputation of the newspaper's reporting.

"Frankly I think you'll all agree that just because The Morning Call says something doesn't make it so," he said.

Jackson then rebuked Armstrong's comments.

"If there are gray areas and white lies going on, that's not how I play the game," Jackson said.

At this, Armstrong then fired out "Are you suggesting deception?" on behalf of the administration.

"There definitely seems to be a lack of consistency in those figures," Jackson responded.

Board member Ce Ce Gerlach then said this.

"I think at the Finance Meeting there will be a presentation about the SIG positions and, from what I'm gathering by then, any discrepancies will be worked out," she said.

"There are no discrepancies in our records," Mayo responded. The issue, Mayo noted, goes back to the original submission of the $36 million grant "which we did not get."

"I'm a little uncomfortable with the vagueness with whatever the charge or accusations are," he said, adding that tarnishing his character and credibility is not accurate. He then spoke directly to Tretter, about a meeting that evidently had taken place between himself and her last Friday.

"The idea that you were walking away from a meeting ‘empty handed' implies that you got nothing when in fact you got a lot of verbal responses and a promise for more detail," he told Tretter. "Am I accurate about that?

Tretter replied that "I thought that I would be receiving information from you by Monday," Tretter replied.

"I said next week," Mayo replied swiftly.

At this point Armstrong knifed back into the verbal fray, admonishing Tretter.

"I think we have to be careful about the rhetoric we use and I think accusations have been made here tonight."

"Accusations have not been made Mr. Armstrong," Tretter replied as her time had run out.

The Finance and Building-of-the-Whole Committees are scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. on April 18th.


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