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Friday, July 19, 2013

Sto-Rox school board member resigns in wake of controversy surrounding athletic program cuts

Posted By on Fri, Jul 19, 2013 at 11:26 AM

Former Sto-Rox softball coach Bill Palermo and his former players — from left, Rachel Gerster, Hayley Weisser and Josie Buckley — are working to try and save the school's championship program.
  • Photo by Heather Mull
  • Former Sto-Rox softball coach Bill Palermo and his former players — from left, Rachel Gerster, Hayley Weisser and Josie Buckley — are working to try and save the school's championship program.

A Sto-Rox school board member featured in an article in this week's City Paper about the elimination of the school's baseball and softball programs has resigned.

"As the state education-funding crisis became worse, the fury inside Sto-Rox intensified to grab a steady or growing piece from within a shrinking pool of resources," wrote 20-year board member Edward Maritz in a nearly 2,000-word letter to Frank Dalmas, the school's acting superintendent. "The unrelenting effort by a consistent few has always been to protect what various factions exist inside the district rather than joining forces together to gain more state resources for everyone.

"...My thinking is that if I get out of the way, my hope is the light will finally shine on the real problems of Sto-Rox so that a united school community can finally champion the financial and educational needs of the children for whom we are responsible."

Neither Maritz or Dalmas have returned calls for comment, but the letter was posted by community activist Ken Hohman on Facebook, he says, at Maritz's request. The Sto-Rox Website is currently advertising the vacancy and Maritz's name has been removed from the district's website.

The district is facing a dire financial crisis, and to make up for a more than $2 million budget shortfall, the board voted to use about $1.2 million in reserve funding and cut nearly $1 million in programs, calling for teacher furloughs and the elimination of the baseball and softball programs. Supporters of those programs have said that the district only saves $25,000 by eliminating both programs. Former coach Bill Palermo advocated a cut across all sports programs, leaving booster organizations to come up with the rest of the money.

But in his letter, Maritz says the negative comment have been the result of the "self-serving belligerence of the vocal minority." He urged the board members he's left behind to stand up to the group and say "no more."

"Familiar people are again protecting their fiefdoms under the guise of protecting students," Maritz wrote. "The ship is literally sinking and yet prominent and vocal members of the school community are demanding a higher deck chair on the doomed vessel.

"Such tactics are a true disservice to the children entrusted to our care. It is easy for such people to express their dissatisfaction to school board members who have to DEAL with the worsening problems of the district brought about by state underfunding of schools."

Maritz's full letter can be found after the jump.

Mr. Frank Dalmas, Acting Superintendent
Sto-Rox School District
600 Russellwood Avenue
McKees Rocks, PA 15136

Dear Mr. Dalmas:

After much thought and reflection, I am submitting my resignation from the Sto-Rox School Board to be effective on July 18, 2013. My initial board service began alongside a state board of control on Monday, December 06, 1993. Throughout those twenty years, a passion to render volunteer service for the betterment of my community and my alma mater has inspired and guided my efforts. Service as a locally elected school director has been both an honor and a true privilege.

Two decades of service must not become an exercise in habitual behavior nor must it be reduced to an exercise in futility. Volunteer service can only be effective when the service is first and foremost in the attention and interest of the community. When the volunteer himself becomes the object of fixation and topic of discussion, that person becomes an obstacle to the original and intended purpose.

It is with great regret that I must acknowledge that my purpose of service on the board is apparently obscured by my presence. There is a rising tide of opinion in and around the Sto-Rox School District that seeks to challenge and criticize any attempts toward united action or meaningful reform whenever I am associated with them. For all of my twenty years of service my goal has been to prioritize learning and education. It has always been my contention that we should unite to pursue greater state resources for the district and rally together to use whatever resources available to enhance learning and education first and foremost.

Over the last few years and up into the present, it has become loudly evident that sacred cows exist inside Sto-Rox and learning and education are not among these. Whether it is a matter of emphasis or a matter of expenditure, sports have far more dedicated and aggressive supporters than science, language arts, mathematics, paraprofessionals, or even librarians. Academic under performance by far too many of our students has been excused, ignored, and set aside in order to facilitate and prioritize their athletic participation.

Budgetary cuts in the overall scheme from sports programs have been relentlessly and ferociously denounced while the furloughing of people directly involved in educating our students has passed by without any comment or concern. Critics of athletic cuts have alleged that “our students will turn to the streets” without adequate sports programming. I submit to you that if the singular reason our students attend Sto-Rox is for sports then there is something woefully inadequate about the educational product inside our classrooms.

It is nearly impossible to help people who refuse to help themselves, and it is nearly impossible to communicate candidly with people who doubt anything and everything one says simply because one is saying it. If we, the adults of the district, cannot focus on the priority of educating our students, we cannot carry out the essential mission of our school district. If we cannot work together to advocate and secure adequate state resources for the proper operation of this school district, everything else we do is an exercise in self-delusion, emotional indulgence, and genuine futility. This moral responsibility extends beyond the board to the adult residents of the district and the adult professionals in its employ. The children are not only our future; the children are our solemn responsibility.

Far too many people concerned about Sto-Rox accept opinions as facts; and far too many adults equate insults and vehemence as logic and evidence. The centerpiece of my board service over the last twenty years has been to advocate for proper, fair, and full state funding reform for impoverished districts like Sto-Rox. However, far too many people have consistently and summarily dismissed the message and instead attacked me as the messenger. Despite repeated calls to action, far too few have rallied to join the cause. As the state education-funding crisis became worse, the fury inside Sto-Rox intensified to grab a steady or growing piece from within a shrinking pool of resources. The unrelenting effort by a consistent few has always been to protect what various factions exist inside the district rather than joining forces together to gain more state resources for everyone.

With state education funds shrinking and budgetary pressures mounting, the challenge to Sto-Rox extends beyond the Board or any one member.
Every adult citizen of this community [whether parents or not] must confront the core mission of this school district. The limited resources available at Sto-Rox must be directed to where they will deliver the greatest EDUCATIONAL benefit. This is not simply a matter of preference; it is a question of honor.

Once again, however, loud and pugnacious voices are being raised over athletics amid deafening silence about academics. Familiar people are again protecting their fiefdoms under the guise of protecting students. The ship is literally sinking and yet prominent and vocal members of the school community are demanding a higher deck chair on the doomed vessel. Such tactics are a true disservice to the children entrusted to our care. It is easy for such people to express their dissatisfaction to school board members who have to DEAL with the worsening problems of the district brought about by state underfunding of schools. It is emotionally satisfying to accuse a person one knows of ulterior and self-serving motives while refusing to put in the time or effort to take the struggle to the people in Harrisburg that have the actual power and authority to FIX the problems. Confronting state legislators would require the effort needed to make a trip to the state capital or visit a local legislative office repeatedly. An emotional outburst at a school board meeting or a misinformed and insulting comment on Facebook will not be sufficient in truly helping Sto-Rox. Getting involved just one time is not enough — changing the real problems into solutions is a tedious and trying endeavor. For years I have made genuine and honest efforts to rally people together to plead our case and lay out our demands in front of the people in Harrisburg who are actually empowered to solve Sto-Rox’s problems.

Largely the response has been one of denial as far too many consistently dismiss my efforts. Why this is so is beyond me, but if there is any chance for this district to achieve justice and equity in state funding, every adult in the district must stand up and speak with one voice for fair and adequate school funding. My thinking is that if I get out of the way, my hope is the light will finally shine on the real problems of Sto-Rox so that a united school community can finally champion the financial and educational needs of the children for whom we are responsible.

Sto-Rox has never been about one person. The focus of the adults in the community must be on pressing and prevailing issues, and if any one person becomes a distraction to this needed focus, it is time for that person to step aside. I hope people will finally realize that the problems of Sto-Rox are real and not perceived once they are no longer distracted by my presence. Every concerned citizen in this school community must realize that the absence of Charter School Funding Reform in Pennsylvania is the singular driving force leading Sto-Rox toward insolvency. I have consistently been a vocal and public critic of charter schools in general and of Propel specifically. The continued growth and expansion of Propel will remain a singular contributing factor driving Sto-Rox toward bankruptcy if state charter school funding reforms aren’t enacted by the General Assembly very soon. In the latter years of my board service I have devoted a significant amount of time and energy toward advocating for meaningful reform in charter school finance in Pennsylvania. Despite those efforts, somehow, a small but twisted group of individuals have mischaracterized me as being part of a covert deal with Propel, which is patently false. I have never supported Charter Schools or Propel and have consistently pointed to their existence as a detriment to Sto-Rox. For anyone to actually believe that I would work in a covert fashion with Propel would have also had to believe the terminal predictions of the Mayan calendar or that weapons of mass destruction actually existed in Iraq.

My entire adult life as a resident of this community has been dedicated to the betterment of Sto-Rox. However, the opinions of nonresidents are accepted as fact while the evidence presented by a lifelong resident volunteer board member is dismissed as fabrication.

As adults responsible for the well being of children, we have a true obligation to do the right thing rather than simply win an argument in matters of dispute. Far too few in Sto-Rox realize that public service is a matter of doing what is right, not deciding who is right. True public service is centered on matters of fact and not upon matters of opinion or of preference. In the face of resolute suspicion and deliberate distortion, the time has come for me to leave the Sto-Rox School Board. Sadly, it seems to me, that a vociferous and confrontational minority will drive this school district to its own demise in an unproductive direction. These people, and anyone who may give into them, will most certainty[sic] fail the children of the district.

These familiar people consistently fight over trivial matters while they simultaneously stand aside and watch improper state funding literally starve the district toward extinction. I hope my prediction is wrong, but be that as it may, the process must go on without me.

My only regret is for the children who attend Sto-Rox to learn quickly find themselves becoming pawns in a power struggle between people pursuing their own individual agendas. They will also find themselves abandoned on the field of battle for funding equity. The children of this community are our future and they are our reason for being. They certainly deserve better.

I wish Godspeed to this school board as it strives to govern the district in the face of devastating state budget cuts for education.

This current iteration of the Sto-Rox School Board is the hardest working, most student focused board for which I have ever served with in 20 years. It has been a distinct pleasure to serve alongside school board members who do not harbor and harvest individual personal agendas. I wish my colleagues all the best as they volunteer their time and talents as school directors in the most noble of elective offices in Pennsylvania.

In closing, I call upon all board members and employees to look the self-serving belligerence of the vocal minority in this school district in the face and say NO MORE! With my departure let those who remain rise to the challenge and rally together to save Sto-Rox from disbanding in the face of deplorable state budget cuts for public education and an unremitting drain of resources by Propel which continues to threaten the very survival of this school system. In my absence, I hope these real problems are finally addressed.

Sincerely,

Dr. Edward J. Maritz, Jr., Ed.D

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