Once again, the Pennridge School Board majority is ignoring our citizens and prioritizing politics over our students. In an embarrassing display, the board majority disregarded the outpouring of citizen comments and valid questions on a contract to hire an outside consultant, Vermilion Education. Many were in disbelief as the community watched some board members ignore all the feedback and simply press forward without addressing these issues.
Why should the public be outraged? There were so many things wrong with our board’s latest actions. Here are some of the most outrageous.
1. The contract was only announced to the public 24 hours before our board meeting, the minimum allowed by law. This was done to limit the public’s ability to respond.
2. At least four members of the board were completely unaware of this new pending contract until 24 hours before the vote. The superintendent and staff were also not informed, which made it even more suspicious. What are they trying to hide?
3. There was no vetting of this company as we do in every other contract. Typically multiple vendors would give a presentation, present their qualifications, and be vetted by the administration to find the best candidate. That did not happen on this contract.
4. The firm is controversial at best, running a Google search on Vermilion will give you the details. Vermilion recently made news when it was rejected by a Florida school district after the same shenanigans.
5. Vermilion has been in business for fewer than six months and its qualifications are much less accomplished and they have nowhere near the experience of our staff.
6. It is an open-ended contract with no limits on cost, which displays a lack of fiscal responsibility, something our taxpayers demand.
7. The scope of the contract allows an unqualified firm with limited experience the ability to rewrite our curriculum. All based on the votes of five individual board members who have no experience in this area.
The main question which remains unanswered is why the rush? Why not let this go through the normal qualification process for selecting a consultant? Why not involve the faculty and administration and ask for their input? Why ignore four members of the board? The answer is simple, the board majority puts its political agenda ahead of our community. We are suffering as a district because of this.
This mirrors a recent controversy that the community had with this board. In January, the board, by a 5 to 4 margin, reduced our required social studies credits from 4 to 3, a 25% reduction in a critical component of children’s education. This happened even though everyone seemed to be against it. The students spoke out against it; the faculty, the administration; the parents unanimously spoke out against it. An online poll gathered over 1,000 signatures asking the board to hold off on the change. Still, five members of the board passed it anyway, resulting in an erosion in the strength of our curriculum. Why? We still don’t know.
What is most obvious is we need to change the direction of the board. It has failed our community and the drop in our rankings is only the beginning. Our teachers’ morale is being beaten down by a host of new policies that further restrict our faculty from helping our children succeed. Many of the staff are actively looking to leave the district because of the treatment by the board and because we offer lower pay than other neighboring districts. We cannot afford to lose so many seasoned teachers if we want to improve our district. These decisions negatively impact our students, staff retention, and our taxpayers. This path will continue if we don’t make changes.
What we need now are moderate candidates who are willing to compromise for the good of all of our students and keep extremism out of our board. However we need your help to change the board. Please make sure to vote in both the primary on May 16 and, most importantly, in the election on Nov. 7. We need your help to bring excellence back to Pennridge and our students. Please spread the word through whichever way you communicate with your friends, neighbors, and community. Thank you.
Ron Wurz is a Pennridge School Board Director who is running for reelection on May 16.