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Penn Hills School Board Votes To Furlough Teachers, Cut Courses

Virginia Alvino
90.5 WESA

Hundreds of teachers, parents and alumni attended a Penn Hills School District board meeting Tuesday night, to protest a decision to furlough more than 40 teachers.

The district will also cut more than 20 elective courses including arts, law and math courses. 

The school board voted 7-2 in favor of the plan. The changes go into effect at the end of this school year.

Superintendent Nancy Hines said the district has been fighting for its life and faces a possible state takeover. Last year, Penn Hills had to borrow $20 million and anticipates a deficit this year.

The Penn Hills Education Association maintained that the teacher furloughs violate a memorandum of understanding with the district, which said no teachers would be furloughed until their contract expires in 2018.

School board member Erin Vecchio voted against the changes, and said the board is not fully responsible for the district’s financial situation.

“But it doesn’t start right here. It starts in Harrisburg. It starts in Washington D.C.,” she said. "Public school districts are going to be done if we don’t start getting the funding we’re supposed to be getting.”

Heather Mahone is a parent and Penn Hills alumni. She said she’s appalled at the board’s decision to eliminate educators, who she said are a critical part of the Penn Hills family.

“We’re proud of our community,” she said. “It’s a huge community, and it does not need to deteriorate at all.”

Many of the public comments protesting the plan took issue with changes to special education. Some special education teachers will lose their jobs, and Penn Hills is reformatting its program. Parents of students with special needs said the existing special education program and teachers have helped their children make great strides in reading levels and social skills.

The school board would not publicly debate specific points of the reform plan because of pending litigation. 

The district, just east of Pittsburgh, employs more than 300 teachers and serves around 4,000 students.

Liz Reid began working at WESA in 2013 as a general assignment reporter and weekend host. Since then, she’s worked as the Morning Edition producer, health & science reporter and as an editor.
Virginia reports on identity and justice for 90.5 WESA. That means looking at how people see themselves in the community, and how the community makes them feel. Her reporting examines things like race, policing, and housing to tell the stories of folks we often don't hear from.
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