POTTSVILLE, SCHUYLKILL COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — The Pottsville Area School District is facing an uphill financial battle.
Planned cuts to programs as well as staff furloughs have teachers and the community worried about the quality of education heading into the 2020- 2021 school year. Frustration continues to mount on several fronts in Schuylkill County. Teachers and staff with the Pottsville Area School District say they haven’t previously been able to organize and be properly heard. Thursday they took to the streets to garner community support.
“So this is a way for us to let people know that we’re upset, we’re angry,” Pottsville Area Educators Association president Amy Babcock said.
The Pottsville Area School District has been in a financial struggle for the past few years. A car caravan of educators with signs and painted windows took to the streets of Pottsville in peaceful, organized show of force.
“One it gets us out to see our students. We miss our students terribly. Two, because of the pandemic, we cannot do the normal ways that people organize. They go to board meetings. They congregate outside of board meetings. They go face to face with the board. We cannot do that,” Babcock said.
Frustrations build within the social distancing with cuts to libraries, full-day kindergarten programs, and the furlough of 15 teachers and staff in June. Something educators say continues to cripple the quality of education.
“We have already reduced our staff by 12 percent due to the district’s financial problems. If the furloughs that they’re proposing go through now, we will have reduced it by 20 percent,” Babcock said.
District superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Zwiebel says the administration is doing what they can to merely survive, citing a decline in enrollment by more than 500 students over the last decade. That plus a declining tax base he says just makes the situation more difficult.
“Most school districts rely heavily on that local revenue so we’re trying to balance the educational component, but also be mindful of what can our taxpayers afford,” Zwiebel said.
Both the administration and the Educators Association keeping level heads, but knowing that something is going to have to give.
“It’s a very fine line but we certainly appreciate everyone’s passion about it,” Zwiebel said.
“There’s got to be other ways around this than furloughing teachers,” Babcock said.
Zwiebel tells Eyewitness News with this uncertain time of the pandemic, the board has given the administration directives on looking for more ways to climb out of the financial issue. He says they are working on making sure programs like full-day kindergarten come back.
Through these tough times, both district administrators and the Education Association agree, whatever the end result, the quality of education is priority.