Parents, teachers plead for programs in Mars Area

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Parents and teachers in the Mars Area School District continued to advocate Tuesday that the school board keep programs intact in the proposed 2012-13 budget.

Administrators are working to erase a $2.5 million gap in next year's proposed budget.

Since the district is involved in negotiations with the Mars Area Education Association, superintendent William Pettigrew has talked with union representatives about potential cuts.

The preliminary budget will be introduced at the May 8 work session.

Some of the cuts being considered are specialty teachers, such as music, art and physical education in two of the elementary schools; counselors in all three elementary schools; and French in the high school.

For the second week in a row, teachers and parents on Tuesday occupied every seat in the board's meeting room and spilled into the hallway to protest some of those potential cuts.

"The special teacher brings so much to the program. Classroom teachers would not feel qualified to teach a special area," said Lisa Barber of Mars, parent of a Mars Area junior and two graduates.

Mrs. Barber, a French teacher in another district, also protested the possibility of eliminating high school French, saying that French is spoken by more than 200 million people and is the second most-frequently taught second language after English.

"It certainly would be a big mistake to cut French from our curriculum," she said.

"We are right where we want to be, growing, vital. Why would we want to cut? That would send the wrong message to everyone."

Mr. Pettigrew said April 3 that if French is eliminated, current students would be able to continue taking the language.

Resident Amy Kinney and teacher Michael Fugh questioned why the district is considering buying new math textbooks for $300,000, when teachers and counselors may be cut.

"The old [textbooks] are working, look at our scores," Mr. Fugh said.

Mr. Pettigrew said the district has a "rotating cycle" for textbooks, and the math books are up for renewal.

He said the district may not purchase new books or may purchase a smaller number.

"I would prefer to delay making such a large purchase of math books and keep the teachers and positions," Mrs. Kinney said.

"Doing away with those positions is a disservice to my students and others."

Carmelina Vargo, who has four children in the district, said parents grew up with music, art, health and physical education, and they want that for their children.

"I don't think we're asking much. We're just asking to keep the basics," she said.

Louis Rocco said his family moved to Mars Area in 1997 because of the school district.

"It seems like these cuts are coming to the younger kids," he said.

"Taxes have not gone up in a long time.

I would like us to make a commitment to our kids, the teachers. ... I don't want to pay more taxes either, but I want to educate my kids."

School board President J. Dayle Ferguson said the budget is a "very fluid situation" and, because it concerns personnel, cannot be discussed in a public forum.

"Patience -- I'll ask for it again -- is necessary," she said.

In other action, the board changed its May meetings. The work session will be held at 7 p.m. May 8 and the voting meeting at 7 p.m. May 15.

The board also granted permission for substitute teacher Jody Gibbs to survey approximately 60 middle or high school students about their attitudes and motivation concerning homework.

Ms. Gibbs needs to do the survey for a graduate class.

education - neigh_north

Sandy Trozzo, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com. First Published April 12, 2012 5:00 AM


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