Area school boards move to denounce state education chief

By Steve Esack, The Morning Call, 11/12/12

Bethlehem Area and Salisbury Township districts say Ron Tomalis’ policies favor charters at the expense of traditional public schools.

Fed up with what they perceive as a series of unfair laws targeting public school funding and testing, two local school boards are considering resolutions denouncing state Education Secretary Ron Tomalis and his agency.

The Bethlehem Area School Board’s Human Relations Committee decided Monday to seek support among other Lehigh Valley school boards and local state lawmakers for a regional resolution against Tomalis, saying he has tilted the agency toward charter schools and away from school districts.

Bethlehem has a backer, the Salisbury Township School District. Bethlehem plans to vote on its resolution in January with or without additional support, said Bethlehem board President Michael Faccinetto.

“Everyone stands up on the steps of the Rotunda and it doesn’t mean crap to the people inside,” said Faccinetto, a Democrat, who crafted the six-point resolution. “We are going to stand up for students, teachers and administrators.”

The resolution accuses Tomalis and the state agency of publicly misrepresenting facts concerning an investigation of PSSA math and reading exams at some schools. It blasts Tomalis for claiming his statewide crackdown on cheating caused a statewide drop in PSSA scores. It says Tomalis changed PSSA testing rules to make it easier for charter schools to reach federal testing benchmarks than it is for traditional public schools.

Tomalis and the agency deliberately targeted school districts by leaving charter schools out of a new grading system to identify so-called “underperforming schools,” so children in those schools can use tax dollars to receive a private education under Act 85, the resolutions says.

In creating the new grading formula, the resolution states, the department chose not to use the state’s federally approved growth model, which tracks individual student progress year to year and shows some of the Bethlehem schools on the underperforming list are improving student learning.

Finally, the resolution claims Tomalis changed, “without notice,” the Act 1 index, which the department uses to calculate school districts’ taxable rates. The change, made in September, moves from a one-year taxable rate to a three-year average, which reduces districts’ taxing ability, and in Bethlehem that amounts to an $800,000 reduction in 2012-13….

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