Criticism and Contempt for Vermilion Contract Took Center Stage at Pennridge School Board Meeting

“We do not want our children to be the Guinea pigs in the Vermilion experiment,” said East Rockhill Resident Laura Foster.
Pennridge School District (Google maps) via WHYY.

Public comment at Monday’s Pennridge School Board committee meeting was robust and unimpeded, unlike the meeting in May where comments were stifled and Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act was repeatedly trampled.

Parents, recent graduates, and local residents exercised their opportunity to speak out about circumstances surrounding board conduct at recent meetings, the Vermilion/Hillsdale contract, and the “weeding” of books from several schools in the district.
“I know I, and I suspect many other people in the audience have really had enough of board infighting, disrespectful behavior to staff and the public … just overall unprofessional behavior,” said Jane Cramer during public comment. “Tonight’s gone well, so thank you for that, but the last two meetings, those 45-minute delays, just so disrespectful. So I invite the board president and vice president to take the rest of my three minutes to apologize to this community.”

No response from President David Reiss or Vice President Megan Banis-Clemens was offered. However, board member Ron Wurz said “there’s no reason not to apologize. To not apologize is wrong, we wasted a lot of people’s time. I apologize.”

Laura Foster, a parent of children in the district, talked about the Vermilion contract. “The vast majority of our community is opposed to Vermilion being contracted with Pennridge,” she said.  “Our community has said time and time again that we do not want our children to be the Guinea pigs in the Vermilion experiment.”

Foster then went on to read some of the comments from a petition signed by more than 1,100 area residents.

“This contract has not been properly vetted. It appears to be without service parameters and cost limits.”

“The consultant has no track record.”

“This is not how my tax dollars should be spent.”

“I’m signing because our school board’s misusing their power and misusing my tax dollars. I do not agree with money being spent for this.”

“I believe the school board needs to stay out of the classroom and leave teaching to teachers. Your job is to find ways to cut costs, to not inflict your political agenda onto the teacher, students, the parents and our taxpayers.”

A board member not on camera was then heard to say “Mr. Reiss, I’m sorry, do we have Vermilion on the agenda?” to which several people in the audience quickly responded that Vermilion comments related to the budget, an item that was on the meeting’s agenda.

“It’s not part of the budget, it’s actually not in the budget,” the unidentified board member says.

“Do you intend to pay him in the 23-24 school year,” Joan Cullen asks. “Then it’s in the budget – let’s go.”

Robin Levy of Bedminster compared the Vermilion contract with a timeshare.

“I don’t know if any of you guys have a timeshare. It’s the only thing I can think of that you pay every month, but you have no idea how much it costs. You have no idea when you’re going to get hit with extra costs and there’s no end, unless you die and then you’re done,” she said. “Most of you, not all of you, but most of you ran on fiscal responsibility. And this is the least fiscally responsible thing I can think of.”

“I read the 1776 curriculum and I swear to you, if you replace the word German every time that man wrote American child, it would look like it came from something written in 1933. It scared the crap out of me,” she added.

The Facility’s Committee agenda contained lists of books to be removed from the libraries at several schools in the district.

Public comment about the process to remove books, some of which are frequently found on banned book lists attributed to Moms For Liberty, caused the board to discuss and promise an investigation of the process and to report their findings back to the community at an upcoming meeting.

Several community speakers referred to certain board directors as members of Moms For Liberty, a group now designated a far-right extremist anti-government organization by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The need to air conditioning several school buildings in the district was also discussed. Director Ron Wurz was asked to head up a committee to investigate financial proposals to address this project.

A budget review, along with the review of an assortment of contracts were considered.

A meeting for the three remaining committees, Policy, Personnel and Curriculum is scheduled for June 20 at 6:30 p.m. A full board meeting is scheduled for June 21 at 7 p.m.

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Jenny Stephens

Jenny Stephens is a freelance journalist who has written for a variety of publications, including The Reporter. An avid collector of all things vintage, she resides in the Philadelphia area.

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