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Educators implore voters to consider schools in November

Aaron Chapin, vice president of the Pennsylvania State Teachers Association, holds a news conference Monday, Sept. 12, at Graham Park in Cranberry Township to alert citizens of what he claims are dangerous education cuts suggested by Republican guberatorial candidate Doug Mastriano during a radio show in March. Joining Chapin were, from left, teachers Tim Cammisa, Julie Parenti and Natalie Ranalli, and school board director Jeff Widdowson, all of the Seneca Valley School District. Teachers from other districts in the county also attended the event to support Chapin's message. Paula Grubbs/Butler Eagle

CRANBERRY TWP — A group of educators gathered in Graham Park on Monday afternoon to claim that a vote for state Sen. Doug Mastriano for governor is a vote against public education.

Aaron Chapin, vice president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, traveled to Butler County to lead a news conference in which he shared his horror at the comments made by Mastriano in March on a radio show.

During the show, Mastriano said instead of spending $19,000 per student in public schools as is the case currently, education funding should be cut to $9,000 or $10,000 per student, Chapin said.

“Can you imagine half the teachers, half the staff and half the opportunities for our students?” Chapin said.

He said the PSEA called on Mastriano to provide details on his plan, but they were met with silence.

“So we did the math for him,” Chapin said. “It’s hard to imagine how schools would even function.”

A PSEA analysis showed that if Mastriano’s recommendation were enacted, Seneca Valley School District would lose $46 million in funding and 400 teachers and staff members.

An interactive map at psea.org/mastrianocuts shows the effect the senator’s cuts would have on each school district in Pennsylvania.

Tim Cammisa, who has taught youngsters at Haine Elementary School for 22 years, said he recalls the cuts to education funding that came when former Gov. Tom Corbett was elected a decade ago.

He said the district lost teachers and many programs that greatly benefited students.

“Those cuts will look like a walk in the park compared to what Mastriano wants to do,” Cammisa said. “It will impact every school district in Pennsylvania.”

He said his son’s first-grade class, which now includes 19 students, would increase to 33.

“This is an unbelievable attack on our schools,” Cammisa said.

He also fears for the mental health of students in all grade levels in the inevitable furlough of guidance counselors that would come with Mastriano’s funding cuts.

“Use your power,” Cammisa said. “Let Mastriano know his plan is something we don’t want here.”

Natalie Ranalli, a first-grade teacher at Ehrman Crest Elementary School who has taught at Seneca Valley for 14 years — and the mother of two students in the district — said her young children could find themselves with 46 classmates under Mastriano’s cuts.

She said the plan also limits opportunities for both special education and gifted students, and that the eight first-grade teachers at Ehrman Crest would be cut to four.

“I can’t imagine the crowding of students in the classrooms at our school,” Ranalli said. “It would be difficult if not impossible to meet the needs of every learner if the cuts happen.”

She added that the effects of the cuts would be seen in the social, emotional and academic growth of every student.

Julie Parenti, a world language teacher at Seneca Valley’s secondary campus, said if 400 staff and teachers were cut, there would be no way the needs of students could be met.

She said her job would likely be eliminated, along with music, art and other programs if Mastriano’s cuts were enacted.

She said many students find their passion and life’s work in the elective classes they take, but those classes could not be funded under Mastriano’s proposal.

“Our kids deserve those programs,” Parenti said.

Jeff Widdowson, a longtime Seneca Valley School Board director, said a major responsibility of a school board member is to work with the district’s administrators and staff to create an annual district budget.

“These cuts are certainly ill-advised and would be disastrous,” he said.

In addition to teachers, para-professionals and other support staff, programs like football, band, chorus, track, wrestling and many others would be cut to balance the budget.

“I would urge all community members to come together today and fight these cuts,” Widdowson said.

Chapin implored voters to consider students when marking their ballots in November.

“Senator Mastriano has told you who he is,” Chapin said. “Please, for the sake of our students, believe him.”

After the news conference, Chapin said Attorney General Josh Shapiro was the only candidate of all state races to accept an invitation to speak with PSEA members.

Chapin said Shapiro’s record has proven that he is an ally of public education in Pennsylvania.

Attempts to contact Mastriano regarding his comments on the cuts were unsuccessful.

A woman who answered the telephone on Monday at his campaign headquarters said Mastriano recently voted for a multi-billion dollar funding package for schools. She declined to give her name.

Chapin said he is aware that Mastriano voted for the funding package, but was blocked by his Republican colleagues from participating in the state budget process because of his extreme views.

He said Mastriano supports school vouchers, which would leave students in the lower socioeconomic groups at the bottom of the education food chain.

“He can say whatever he likes, however, his record is very clear,” Chapin said. “He is here to dismantle public education.”

Chapin is holding 10 media events across the state to highlight local impacts of Mastriano’s funding cuts.

Chapin said the cuts would result in the loss of nearly 119,000 teachers and a $12 billion cut to public school funding statewide in addition to doubling student-to-teacher ratios.