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From the Vault: News from the Wednesday, March 2, 2011, edition of the Press & Journal

Posted 3/6/19

11 teachers furloughed by MASD

Nicole Kelley’s eyes filled with tears as she read a statement to Middletown Area School Board members and a crowd of nearly 200 students, teachers, and community …

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From the Vault: News from the Wednesday, March 2, 2011, edition of the Press & Journal

Posted

11 teachers furloughed by MASD

Nicole Kelley’s eyes filled with tears as she read a statement to Middletown Area School Board members and a crowd of nearly 200 students, teachers, and community members, during Monday night’s board meeting.

“My position is quite unique,” she said. “I get to work with, teach, and mold students each year.”

Kelley, an elementary music and arts teacher, is one of 11 Middletown teachers who will be furloughed under a preliminary 2011-12 $39.3 million budget approved by the board.

Faced with a $2.5 million deficit, the board voted last month to raise real estate taxes 5.68 percent, and furlough up to 30 employees. The furloughs are needed to close a $1.5 million gap that could not be bridged by the tax increase.

Officials hope to cut spending by freezing administrative pay, and adding $30,000 from state block grant funding that wasn’t included in the previous proposed budget, said David Franklin, assistant to the superintendent for budget and operations.

“In my seven years here, I have taught over 1,300 students,” Kelley said. “I beg of you to keep the music and arts program alive in Middletown.”

In addition to Kelley, the board eliminated a business education position, two family and consumer science positions, an industrial technology position, a social studies position, and three reading specialists, which were funded through the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Also eliminated were two administrative support employees, six custodians, and four special education instructional aides.

The Drivers Education program, instructed by Charlie Bowen for 27 years, was eliminated. Bowen, speaking in defense of the program, told the board its elimination would put students at risk.

“There is no doubt that we are talking about life and death here,” he said.

“My job has not only been to teach the fundamentals of driving, but more importantly, to save lives,” Bowen said.

He suggested the district increase the $60 lab fee students pay to participate in the program, and make him a part-time contractor for the district.

Belinda Dupes, vice president of the Middletown Area Education Association, the union that represents district teachers, said the district will lose 40 years of combined teaching experience through the layoffs.

“They are advisers to clubs. Some of them are volunteer coaches, some are members of committees, some serve as leaders helping with the Pathways program, and some teach classes during summer school,” Dupes said.

“We are losing a whole lot more than just teachers.”

Llew Skees, vice president of MAEA representing the middle school and a sixth-grade social studies teacher, asked the board to seek alternative cost-cutting measures, such as a salary freeze, rather than layoffs.

“I thought I was gut-shot, when I first heard about this,” Skees said. “When I saw people’s lives in front of me, just crushed, it took the life right out of me after 31 years [working for the district].”

After several teachers spoke, all asking for an alternative to layoffs, the board adjourned and went into an executive session.

When the board returned, it voted 9-0 to approve the furloughs.

Board member Gordon Einhorn said the decision was a painful one.

“This is a difficult time for all of us, it isn’t just happening here, it’s happening all over Pennsylvania, and the country,” he said.

“It’s a small town … we know you, and work with you, and it’s a very difficult decision we have to make,” Einhorn said. “We all know how devastating furloughs can be … but we really have taken a look at it and feel that this [the furloughs] is the least-bad option.”

He also noted that the discussion wasn’t over. “We still have nearly $1 million gap to look at,” he said.

Superintendent Richard Weinstein and Assistant Superintendent Lori Suski will share one administrative assistant, according to Weinstein.

Administrators will perform additional work left over by the reduction of three support staff, he said.

Due to the reduction in custodial staff, the district will clean bathrooms and empty trash daily, but other cleaning of classrooms will occur every other day, he said.

The furloughs will reduce expenditures in the budget by almost $1.4 million, according to David Franklin, the district’s financial advisor.

“We know that we still have work to do, this is not an experience that we relish, or enjoy,” said Weinstein.

Board members said the decisions they made were not easy.

“This is literally one of the hardest things I have ever had to do,” said Melvin Fager Jr., board member.

“After 22 years sitting on school boards, I have never seen anything like this, what we are going through here,” said board member Pam Price.

School Board President Barbara Layne expressed her grief about the tough decisions the board had to make.

“It’s not easy for us,” she said Layne.

Decorated Steel-High coach to take over MAHS varsity football team

The football coach who led Steelton-Highspire High School to two PIAA Class A state championships is coming to Middletown.

The Middletown Area School Board named Robert Deibler to replace Roy O’Neill as coach of the Blue Raiders on Monday, Feb. 28. O’Neill resigned at the end of the 2010 season.

Deibler, who was twice named Small School Coach of the Year during his 12-year tenure at Steel-High, according to the website easternpafootball.com, was hired pending he passes all clearances at an annual salary of $7,800.

Under his leadership, Steel-High became the first District 3 team to finish a season 16-0.

A fence to save Civil War graves; county helps out

They fought in the Civil War, settled in Middletown, and died here, but because they were black they were forbidden to be buried in Middletown Cemetery, formerly a whites-only burial ground.

So a group of residents purchased a plot of land in nearby Londonderry Township in 1927 to bury their relatives and neighbors — freed slaves, wives and mothers, fathers and brothers, and 11 black Civil War soldiers who fought against slavery in life, but suffered the sting of segregation in death.

Called East Middletown Cemetery, the burial ground sits along Route 230 between the Star-Lite Motel and two highway billboards. Stones have crumbled through time, or disappeared, and it’s not known exactly where every grave is located.

With a massive housing project — about 1,700 homes and apartments — slated to be built on the neighboring Lytle Farm, a band of volunteers whose distant relatives are buried there have hoped to erect a fence around East Middletown Cemetery to help preserve it. But a fence would cost thousands of dollars, and raising the funds was difficult.

Dauphin County has stepped in to help. The county has given a volunteer association that maintains the cemetery $4,000 from slot machine proceeds it gets from Hollywood Casino at Penn National to build a white rail fence. The association has signed a contract with a company to build it, said Pat Poles, the association’s treasurer.

“It would have been pretty difficult for us to come up with $4,000 for a fence and pay for the maintenance and the grass-cutting,’’ said Poles, who has a relative buried in the cemetery.

County commissioners awarded Poles the check during a ceremony Feb. 28 at American Legion Post 594 on High Street.

All 11 Civil War veterans have headstones, unlike many buried in the cemetery, though they are worn from age and weather. Two veterans, William and S.P. Harley, fought with the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, made famous in the 1989 film, “Glory,” with Denzel Washington and Matthew Broderick. The regiment is now commonly called “The Glory Regiment.’’

More than 178,000 black soldiers fought in the Civil War, after President Abraham Lincoln issued a preliminary proclamation in September 1862 that all slaves in rebel states would be free by Jan. 1. The Union began recruiting black men following the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.

Brett Whittle, president of the cemetery association, knows little about his great-great-great-great-uncle, the Rev. George Shorter, a Civil War vet buried there, but he feels a duty to help maintain the plot. “It makes me very proud, and it makes me very sad, because I don’t know everything I need to know about him,’’ said Whittle. “I need to know more about him. About all of them.’’

While Londonderry Twp. would have liked to help, but its funds were limited — township supervisors raised real estate taxes for the first time in years, with most of the money budgeted to repair bridges. “It’s a project that I’m very happy to see getting some action,’’ Supervisor Daryl LeHew said of the fence. “While money is tight in the township budget, the county came through and made this a win-win for everyone.’’

For the county, the decision to help was easy. Poles had come to the commissioners asking for help, and commissioners readily agreed. Helping preserve the cemetery is “the right thing for those brave, brave individuals’’ buried there, said Commissioner Mike Pries.

“One hundred fifty, one hundred sixty years later, we are standing here to do something that should have been done a long time ago,’’ said Pries.

The $4,000 grant will honor “African-Americans who sacrificed their life so the rest of us today could sit here free citizens,’’ said Commission President Jeff Haste. “It’s an opportunity to let us do something to pay them back.’’

Harrisburg once was a place where equal rights was fervently supported, a region more progressive than much of the rest of the nation, said Commissioner George Hartwick III. But today, “sometimes I feel we’re in the Jerry Springer era.’’

“Racism is now there in covert ways and ways that, quite frankly, still exist among us,’’ said Hartwick.

The grant is part of a three-year celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and the role Dauphin County played in the conflict, commissioners said. The celebration began in November with a re-enactment of the Pennsylvania Grand Review, a post-war parade through Harrisburg of black troops who were not invited to a national review in Washington, D.C.

For Poles, the grant was satisfying because the county “made me a believer that they are for all vets.’’

Hot buys

• Annual free tanning weekend, Saturday, March 12 and Sunday, March 13, 20 percent off all tanning packages and tanning lotions, with free samples of the newest lotions on the market. Hairport full service salon and Touch of Class tanning salon, 2 S. Union St., Middletown.

• Cooper’s cheese, $4.29 a pound. Whole lean tenderloins, $7.09 a pound. Fresh sausage, $2.69 a pound. Groff’s Meats, 33 N. Market St., Elizabethtown.

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