KINGSTON — Charter and cyber schools topped a stream of topics on which area educational leaders quizzed Pennsylvania’s new acting secretary of education at town hall meeting on education Thursday at the Luzerne Intermediate Unit.
Acting Secretary of Education William Harner told the approximately three dozen area school superintendents, principals, program directors, school board members and teacher union leaders who attended that the purpose of his visit was “to create a conversation in the community that’s at the state level … about education,” explaining that he approached the Pennsylvania School Board Association to coordinate these types of meetings in the association’s 15 regions throughout the state.
Harner called the town halls part of “a listening campaign” he is on to “really get a good handle and understanding about the issues … what’s going on in the (intermediate units) and also get a sense of what I need to know so I can help shape policy recommendations for the administration and influence policy with the … Legislature.”
He summarized his experience and qualifications, which includes 20 years as an infantry officer, retiring as a battalion commander and airborne ranger. After serving on the faculty of West Point for three years, he decided to spend the rest of his life using his leadership skills “to change the world for children,” working as a teacher, principal and superintendent.
When Harner opened the floor for questions, Wyoming Valley West School Board member Tom Pieczynski was the first of several attendees to talk about charter and cyber schools, telling Harner they are “killing (school) districts financially … and it’s got to be stopped.”
State representatives Mike Carroll, Phyllis Mundy and Eddie Day Pashinski attended the meeting and gave their input, agreeing that the funding formula must be addressed.
Harner said the Senate, House and administration are working on the issue and are “still in the information gathering mode.”
Northwest Area School District Superintendent Ron Grevera complained that cyber charter schools are “unfairly operating … under different rules,” adding that not one met federal adequate yearly progress requirements.
“Those institutions are failing institutions,” Grevera said, adding that failing schools in inner cities such as Philadelphia have been closed. “Yet we have cyber charters operating that are still functioning and being funded by taxpayers,” while children attending them “aren’t appropriately being educated,” yet allowed to pass from one grade to the next.
Some other topics discussed included career and technical education and establishing apprenticeships with businesses in communities, the education pension system, school property tax reform and the development of core educational standards.