Coalition hopes to save jobs at Easton schools

Group offers district money-saving ideas to beat budget shortfall.

PALMER TWP., Pa. - Corporate sponsorships for elementary schools; renting space in Easton area schools to community colleges; putting dimmers on the lights in every school building.

These are just some of the ideas being floated by the Easton Area School District Community Coalition, a group formed this year in response to a budget deficit that's threatening dozens of education jobs and district programs.

"Something has to be done," the coalition's Marissa McFadden said at a Thursday night meeting at Easton Area High School. "There has to be a way to close the budget gap without losing a bunch of valuable staff and programs."

Budget gaps are nothing new for Easton Area, which has cut several dozen teachers and other professionals over the past four years.

This time around, the district is facing the loss of 36 jobs in order to close a nearly $5 million deficit in the 2014-2015 budget.

The rest of the hole will be filled with a 4.9 percent property tax increase.

Faced with the prospect of job cuts, fewer programs and larger class sizes, the coalition has spent the last three weeks brainstorming.

Thursday night's meeting only drew about a dozen people, but coalition member Curtis Ding said that last week's meeting also drew sparse attendance, but offered up "a laundry list of ideas."

Some ideas floated Thursday night included smaller measures, such as cutting energy, paper and transportation costs, as well as more long-term measures, like school board member Dominick Buscemi's suggestion that the district eventually switch to a single-payer health care system.

The idea of approaching district teachers about renegotiating their contract is off-limits, coalition members say.

McFadden said the group decided it wasn't their place.

Easton Mayor Sal Panto, a member of the coalition's steering committee, said the district isn't in a place where it can hope for "low hanging fruit" to help save it money.

"You don't find a million dollars, you find $100, $10,000," Panto said.

McFadden said that at this point, the coalition is going after whatever fruit it can.

"We're looking at any coconut that rolls along and hoping it has a million dollars in it," she said.

The coalition is set to present its ideas to the school board on April 16. Anyone who wants to offer input before then can do so on the coalition's website. 

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Allentown, PA 18102




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