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MASD lacking leadership


November 21, 2020 Letters to the Editor

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The articles that appeared in the Nov. 11 edition of the Cranberry Eagle, “Mars Area faces $1.4 million deficit” and “Mars teachers working without contract” are unfortunate headlines that have been written many times over the years.

Considering the variety of excellent cyber choices now available and the extreme circumstances presented, it is completely understandable to have parents choose an alternate path for educating their students.

The “new” budget deficit isn’t because of the pandemic or the parents, it’s the decades of poor leadership and subsequent lack of foresight and planning.

Ms. Swaney delivered a poignant message to the community at the end of the last board meeting. She directly blamed parents in the district for choosing a cyber charter school other than Mars Cyber Academy.

She described that Mars Cyber Academy is a much less expensive option, but a majority of parents did not choose that option and actually chose cyber eduction programs that are more expensive for the district.

I also recall at a previous board meeting board member Mr. DePretis imploring parents to choose Mars Cyber to help save the district money.

If the district has offered a cyber option, at less expense than other cyber options, since 2011, Ms. Swaney and the board need to examine why parents would not choose this option, especially at a time when remote learning has increased.

Have you discussed with the parents, who made an alternate choice, why they chose that alternate cyber school?

What factor or factors are limiting the use of the Mars Cyber Academy? I would hope that as stewards of the school district, you would investigate these questions further prior to publicly blaming parents for a “new” “emergent” budget shortfall.

Ms. Swaney also mentioned that, despite the housing growth in the district, the lack of commercial growth remains a limiting factor for balancing the school district budget. This is a more complicated issue that involves the surrounding townships.

Proper community short-term and long-term planning in collaboration with the school district could have presented a different outcome, at least in the 15 years that I have been here.

The lack of collaboration, resistance to commercial development, reliance on the inconsistent, wavering, and now absent fossil fuels industry, and political promises of no tax increases have brought this school administration and the supporting townships to this point. It is disingenuous to blame the community members who make a purposeful investment, purchase a home, and raise their families here for any budgetary shortfall whatsoever.

I invite all the current and previous board members of the district, especially those who pride themselves on decades of thankless service to the community, to reflect on the decisions that you made over the past two decades during the exponential district growth.

The district was operating in a deficit prior to the COVID pandemic, prior to this calendar year, and prior to the 2020-21 school year. I have attended board meetings, finance meetings, and curriculum meetings over the past 15 years in the district where the budget has been the looming topic. Each and every school year, the school board, administration and Ms. Swaney circle around the numbers and publicly complain that there is “just not enough money” and “we need to make cuts.” It is even more interesting how these “emergent” issues arise just as teachers are trying to negotiate contracts with the district.

Despite this cycle of doom and gloom presented each year, there has been one constant in this district that has kept MASD a top rated district … your teachers. They are the front line, the supporting structure, the faces of hope, and the innovative minds that have given you the accolades for your press releases. I certainly hope these characteristics are the topic of discussion as you enter into discussions regarding an amenable contract, not the “new” “emergent” budget shortfall.

Amy Nassif, Mars

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