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Bellefonte Rally Unites Supporters for Public Schools; Corbett Plan Decried

by on April 27, 2011 6:42 AM

Several hundred supporters of public education rallied within earshot of the Bellefonte offices of state Sen. Jake Corman and state Rep. Kerry Benninghoff on Tuesday, and, while organizers emphasized the event's positive aspect -- standing up for local school districts -- participants were strongly united in the negative.

All were against Gov. Tom Corbett's education-funding proposal.

Or, as Tuesday's speakers in Talleyrand Park insisted, they oppose Corbett's plan to de-fund public education in Pennsylvania to the tune of $17.1 million locally and about $1.2 billion statewide.

"It's time for the public to hear the facts," Penns Valley Area School District Superintendent Brian Griffith said. "This is not about saving our jobs. It's about educating our children. It's about the future of the commonwealth."

Others among Tuesday's dozen speakers broadened the scope of what Dan Fisher, Bald Eagle Area School District superintendent, called "the most serious threat" he has seen in his 21-year career in administration.

"This is a battle for the future of public education," Jerry Oleksiak, treasurer of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, said, "and a battle for the future of America."

The site chosen for Tuesday's rally was not coincidental. Like Corbett, Corman and Benninghoff are Republicans, and the GOP-controlled General Assembly eventually will have to sign off on, modify or reject the governor's spending plan.

Earlier in the day, as lawmakers returned to Harrisburg from their Easter recess, hundreds of students from across the state gathered on the Capitol steps to protest the proposed cuts.

The Bellefonte rally included students, teachers, administrators, parents and community leaders. They were united -- organizers distributed signs proclaiming "We are one for public education" -- in their opposition to what Oleksiak called "balancing the state budget on the backs of students ... on the backs of the middle class and the backbone of the middle class: unions."

"When," Bellefonte Area school board member Robert Lumley-Sapanski asked rhetorically, "did teachers become the enemy?"

Mark Higgins, who called himself "just an ordinary parent in the State College school district" proudly proclaimed himself also to be a product of the public-education system.

Some schools in the three-county Central Intermediate Unit 10 will have their state allocation cut by 24 percent under Corbett's proposal -- "that's not 2.4 percent, but 24 percent," Higgins said. "That will be devastating."

Higgins held up a fistful of pencils as an object lesson. Each pencil on its own -- representing a football parent, a technical-education parent, a Latin-class parent, each of whom faces the elimination of their child's program -- is weak and easily broken. But together, they are strong and almost impossible to break.

"Call your legislator," Higgins urged. "If you don't call, they will assume that you don't care."

Tuesday's rally marked the beginning of an organized campaign among education officials in the three-county (Centre, Clearfield and Clinton) intermediate unit region aimed at spreading the word about public education's successes.

"I can assure you that quality education is occurring in public schools throughout the area every single day," Griffith said.

But, he cautioned, those successes are being threatened -- as is public education itself -- by the proposed budget cuts and taxpayer-funded vouchers for private and charter schools that drain money away from public schools.

Griffith urged members of the public to, in his words, "get the facts" by accessing the research that will be presented on the campaign's website,

More information is available in a Centre Daily Times column by Brad Siegfried, president of the Philipsburg-Osceola Education Association and of the central region of the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

Earlier coverage

The staff of prepared this article. Reach us at (814) 238-6201.
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