LEWISTOWN - Enough is enough.
This message became crystal clear as a crowd of more than 100 local students, teachers, parents and community members gathered for a public solidarity rally on Thursday evening at the Mifflin County School District administration building.
The rally was sponsored by the Mifflin County Coalition for Public Education, in response to Gov. Corbett's proposed education budget. According to a press release, Mifflin County public school funding will have been slashed by $3,547,227 since 2010 if the budget is passed. In recent years, budget cuts have meant larger class sizes for students and the elimination of some student programs, the release states. James Estep, MCSD superintendent, also reminded residents of the elimination of 83 positions within the school district and the closure of five buildings. In addition, more than 80 percent of students, staff, and administration were recently relocated to different buildings.
Sentinel photo by BRADLEY KREITZER
Robert Creveling, Regional Field Director of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, gives the closing remarks during the rally organized by We Are One for Mifflin County Public Schools Coalition Thursday evening in Lewistown.
"We need everyone's help to say enough is enough," Dianne Shearer, president of the Association of Mifflin County Educators/Pennsylvania State Education Association, said.
Estep encouraged everyone to talk to their state legislature and let them know how important public school programs are to the community.
There is nothing wrong with trying to be conservative in regard to funding, he said, "but we can't be so conservative that the school no longer resembles a school."
As Estep pointed out, there are many children who thrive in technical fields like math and science. There are many other children who do not excel in these areas and do excel in other areas, he said. The importance of supporting "non-core" programs lies in those students, Estep said.
Erin Welsh, art teacher at Mifflin County High School, displayed a small compilation of student art at the rally. Art in schools is vital, she said, because it helps students to say things that can't be said with words alone.
"I teach art to high school students and see daily what art brings to my students. Pride and accomplishment in their eyes, a 'safe place' to create and take risks," she said.
A number of students attended the rally in support of their school art and music programs. Lewistown Elementary School third graders took the stage to sing four songs and dance an Irish jig, under the direction of their music teacher, Joan Loewen. The Mifflin County color guard, consisting of students in grades 8 to 12, also stepped forward to perform in front of the crowd.
If Corbett's budget proposal is passed, funding for special education in the school district will also suffer. Gina Moore, a teacher, took the stage to introduce her student, Darren Renninger. Renninger is one of many students in the school district who are unable to speak because of disability, she said. However, at school, he has access to DynaVox: a communication device that he can operate using eye contact. As the crowd fell silent, Renninger used the machine to voice a message to Corbett, asking him not to cut funding to local schools.
"If you do, other kids like me will not be able to communicate," he said, "Do not take our voices."
Renninger's message was loud and clear, and echoed by several other students.
"Education needs to be promoted, not put on the backburner to fund other programs," Garrick Treaster, MCHS student, said.
Treaster is currently enrolled in five Advanced Placement classes at the high school. He believes that the challenging global economy is due to policy failures. To fix the economy, policies need to be fixed starting at the local level, he said.
"We need to fight to make sure that other students have these opportunities as well," he said, about AP classes.
Jordan Everetts, another MCHS student, had a similar message. The classes that students need and love are being cut, he said.
"A small community can have a big voice," he stated, "We are Mifflin County and the governor will hear our voice."
A feeling of community and camaraderie was evident as each speaker took the stage.
"We are all colleagues. We are all in this battle," Mary Lou Schaaf, a parent, said.
Schaaf reminded community members that the budget cuts not only affect students, but teachers too. There are tremendous adverse effects on the abilities of educators to do their jobs with limited resources, she said. She explained that she has seen many changes, both positive and negative, during her years in public education. Despite changes, the mission of local educators has remained the same.
"Our school district has one goal: To educate these kids in this county," School board member Anne Marie Swineford said.
Decreasing funding to public education is cutting human capital, Robert Creveling, Regional Field Director of PSEA, said.
"We could see the end of physical education, unless we make our voice heard. We could see the end of AP classes, unless we make our voice heard," Creveling said, repeating the same statement for culinary arts, foreign languages and special education.
"We could see the end of public education," Creveling concluded, "unless we make our voice heard."
Estep encouraged area residents to contact the state legislature directly and request that funding be restored for public schools.
"We have to continue to have support for public education," he said.
The rally also included a number of other speakers and booths, bringing attention to many of the programs and departments offered within the school district.