Tuesday, December 21, 2010

ASD Hiring Outside Lobbyist, Barring Direct Talks With State Legislators

There's a minor, $24 million budget gap, in Allentown School District's financing plan. So you might think that the new Superintendent, Gerald L. Zahorchak, D.Ed., would focus on spending limited resources in the classroom, at least to the extent that it stops students from shooting each other.

You'd be wrong.

Dr.Zahorchak plans to spend $40,000 of your money to hire an outside lobbyist to grease the wheels in Harrisburg. Ronald Lench a former Democratic state legislator, has been tapped for the role. He should work out just great with Republican Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican Senate and a Republican House.

Allentown School District is represented by one state senator and three house members. Do they really need a lobbyist? Is this really an attempt to improve public education or help out a pal in Harrisburg? Isn't this something that should be done by a Superintendent?

Amazingly, that's not all. Apparently, the four state legislators who do wish to speak to administrators must now go through a PR person. No more direct talks.

School board member Bob Smith, contacted on Sunday night, was totally surprised by these changes. He tells me he has not yet been asked to approve any outside lobbyist, and was completely unaware that state legislators can no longer talk directly to school officials.

"Pat [Browne] can call me anytime he wants," says Smith. But what about a principal? If Senator Browne wants to speak to a school administrator, he has to be cleared.

Does this sound like a school district that is just digging a deeper hole for itself?
Updated Noon: School Board Prez tries to Save Bottom-Feeding Blogger! The affable President of Allentown's School District, Jeff Glazier, was kind enough to drop by and confirm that the Board has, in fact, hired outside lobbyist Ron Lench. He places the annual figure at $33,600, and not the $40,000 I mention. He also denies there is any gatekeeping going on, but I'm sticking to my guns on that claim. You can read Jeff's comments in the comments section of this post. (Note to self: Do not use the word "guns" around an Allentown school board member.)

37 comments:

Bill said...

"He should work out just great with Republican Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican Senate and a Republican House."

This was what I was thinking as I read the first sentence of you blog.

Legislators need to be able to call and speak with anyone that they choose to in the school system.

This is ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

It's no wonder they're graduating morons and under constant threat to improve or be taken over.

Anonymous said...

If Bob Smith didn't even know about this change, who approved it?
What exactly is the ASD board doing?
An independent investigation is in order. When public officials try to hide behind closed doors, something
is amiss.

Jon Geeting said...

Agree, they should've hired a Republican. Maybe Karen Beyer, ha.

It's true they have representatives, but it's pretty clear that the state legislators aren't bringing home the goods. Browne supports costing-out, but remember that the full payment increases under costing-out have not yet kicked in, and it remains to be seen whether new all-Republican Harrisburg will allow the scheduled increases to go into effect.

My guess is they will try to either fund education at current levels or try to cut funding by voucherizing public education. It sounds nuts, and it probably won't go anywhere, but they're already talking about it.

Allentown is going to get a raw deal under any scenario that doesn't involve the scheduled funding increases under costing-out, so it makes sense they're getting ready to play hardball.

Anonymous said...

How can a school superintendent have the power to hire a lobbyist and pay for it with Allentown taxpayer dollars? How can this be legal?

Bernie O'Hare said...

This might be buried somewhere in the new budget. Bob Smith tells me he knows nothing about it and will vote No if given the opportunity.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"so it makes sense they're getting ready to play hardball."

So a Dem lobbyist should really help.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, be nice to Jon - he's young, idealistic, inexperienced, not real capable of seeing both sides of an issue, and hasn't yet come to grips with the fact that he's part of the lunatic left fringe that just got hammered.

Anonymous said...

Bernie,

Your post is all over the place. Is this post about falsely labeling ASD students as violent sadists, the fact that ASD hired a lobbyist, or the lobbyist they hired?

As an ASD parent I am deeply offended by your implication that all, or even most, ASD students are nothing more than violent felons. The constant reiteration of this falsehood only enhances the prejudices our students will face in life, but you know this. Congratulations.

On the other hand, I am pleased to see the district is doing something to address the biggest hurdle standing in the way of progress for urban and rural districts in Pa., the state's inequitable public school funding formula.

Those who deny this is the real cause of the problem are simply lying or not very intelligent. Try underfunding your 401(k) by 30% a year and see how far how the mark you end up in a decade or two.

Bernie O'Hare said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

8:59 Am and 9:24 AM are both idiots. Jon raises a good point about Allentown getting the short end of the straw on the funding front for services that other school districts don't need to provide. Whether a lobbyist is necessary or not, I'm not buying it. I know that if Pat Browne is serious about using his new found power as senate majority whip, he better get cracking on it.

as an ASD resident, I find 9:24's comments to be crazy. perhaps I missed the point where bernie mentioned kids?

Bernie O'Hare said...

I deleted myself bc I thought I was getting too inflammatory. non 9:24, my post is relatively brief, so it's hard for me to be all over the place. I make two points.

1) ASD intends to spend $40k of your money on an outside lobbyist instead of enhancing security or improving classrooms in a district that just had a shooting.

2) The same school district that tried to cover up the sexual abuse of a first grader is now even making state legislators go thru a liaison to find out what the hell is going on.

Instead of being offended by me, you should be offended by our school district. I am sure you love your children. I would never tolerate what goes on there.

jeff said...

Bernie,

I enjoy reading your blog’s mixture of news and attitude. However, as this post has several inaccuracies, I must make some corrections.

On November 18, 2010 the board unanimously hired Ron Lench at a monthly fee of $2,800.00 ($33,600.00 per year). While our legislative delegation (1 senator and 4 reps) have long advocated tirelessly on our behalf, ASD still remains significantly underfunded. The state’s 2006 adequacy study put our shortfall at about $100 million. It hasn’t gotten any smaller.

Expecting this to be a tough budget cycle, the board wisely hired Mr. Lench to be our eyes and ears in Harrisburg. He is respected on both sides of the aisle. A good example of his value: this past week, Ron assisted the Mayor and the ASD Office for Planning & External Funding with obtaining the $3.75 million RCAP funding needed for the proposed ASD Collegiate High to be located at 4th & Allen Streets on condition of approval by the ASD Board of Directors.

As Secretary of Education Dr. Zahorchak prided himself on building personal relationships with state legislators. He brought those relationships to ASD and has an open leadership style that encourages frank dialogue and direct communication. There is no gatekeeper.

Like other districts we have many challenges and given our limited resources, do our best to meet them. And if we don’t make the mark today, we’ll try harder tomorrow.

While I’m sure the bottom feeder that gave you this tip is pretty happy you posted, I suggest that to protect your sordid reputation you should take the time to verify their claims because apparently there is no honor amongst bottom feeders.

Jeff Glazier

Bernie O'Hare said...

Jeff,

I did call Bob Smith to find out what I could, and he told me would vote against an outside lobbyist if the issue were in front of him. He is a member of the school board, so I feel I was doing the right thing by running down what I had heard with him. In fact, it's more than I usually do. I waited to post bc I wanted to check it out with a school board member first. You're the Prez now, and had I thought of it, I would have contacted you in addition to Bob.

But you've confirmed that there actually is an outside lobbyist on board. So I got that right. I have also properly identified the lobbyist in question. I said $40,000 instead of $33,600. You may have gotten me there, but whatever the amount, this is why you pay a Superintendent. So will you now reduce the Super's salary?

As to the other point, I hate the increasing practice of using liaisons and PR people to shield officials from prying eyes, be they the press or state legislators. Contrary to what you have asserted here, there most certainly is a gatekeeper, and I have heard this from someone directly affected by the gatekeeping, not a bottom feeder. Bob denied that, too, but it's contrary to what I've heard from a solid source. So I respectfully suggest that you may want to check that out yourself.

I do concede that I am a bottom feeder.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Jeff, I'll be certain to update my post to reflect your comments and attempt to straighten me out.

michael molovinsky said...

i have remained outside of this discussion until now. many teachers wonder what allen will be after the good eggs and the bad eggs leave. they also wonder about the wisdom of replacing falco, who keeps the lid from blowing off every day. jeff, where is the school board on the heating contractor going belly up on ramos middle school? i know legally butz isn't responsible, but what good is he if he doesn't step forward? glad you came down to talk to the common folks, but "bottom feeder" seems harsh term for a probable school tax payer.

jeff said...

mike,

I'm as common as they come

LVCI said...

I am cautious in so much as relying to heavily on federal and state monies. One time grants are one thing. We know it's a one shot deal and how long it will last. But I become concerned if state and federal monies should come to be depended on. The political winds blow back and forth every few years and I can only hope these choices that are being made, won't result in a financial burden to taxpayers when (not if) funding is cut off sometime in the future.

All federal and state monies come with strings attached which may or may not be appropriate nor entirely necessary just because the money's there. I can only hope the ASD is choosing wisely.

I'm quite concerned already in the fact that ASD taxes my property over 3x's of what the city does. I find it ironic that just about ASD's sole function is to run the schools, while the city does police, fire, trash, parks, street & bridge repairs, etc etc.. for 1/3rd the costs.

Is there something I'm not understanding here?

LVCI said...

One other point.. the city is collecting 1/3 the taxes on property to provide services for over 105,000 people 7/24/365 days.. while ASD provides about 185 1/2 days for 17,892 students.

Anonymous said...

Retired ASD teacher here.

A MAJOR factor in the creation of ASD's funding problems is outdated tax assessment.

Allentown is overloaded with converted multi-family dwellings still being taxed as single family dwellings.

A rash of house fires last year in multi-family units (some with 12 kids displaced by the fire)caused me to do a little checking of tax records for those addresses. Nearly ALL were listed on the Lehigh County site as being single-family units.

I broadened my tax record search to an aribitrary 18 square block section of downtown, making note of properties for sale listings. I found many listings described by real estate brokers as multi-family units. The county tax records in most cases showed tax liability limited to that of single-family units.

I thoroughly believe ASD only collects 50-60% of its available tax revenue through real estate taxation.

About 70% of ASD students live at the poverty level. One would think most live in rental homes of one form or another, or are squeezed in with another family.

In other words, the vast majority of kids using ASD for education are being funded by fewer and fewer households who actually pay school tax.

Next time a 2 or more unit building has a fire displacing "X" number of kids, check the school taxes paid by that property by the owner.

What's amazing here to me is, even if the multi-family units were to pay more in taxes to correctly reflect how the building is being used, the tenants (if on Section 8) would not be burdened in any case.

Anonymous said...

imagine how shocked LVCI would be if they lived in S. whitehall where the ratio of school to local taxes is 7.5 to 1, or whitehall 6 to 1
or Weisenberg township 33 to 1. Yikes!!!!!

LVCI said...

Banker: I'm not sure when all of this changed but for the couple of years I worked for a 300+ unit apartment complex, we were told by state law we weren't allowed to rent to more then 2 per bedroom. So never more then 6 in a 3 bedroom unit. I feel that is a fair number not only because of how this reflects on enrollment taxes, but it is a quality of life issue as well.

I do empathize with zoning inspectors because of our experience with them. No matter how many times city inspectors tried to nail the owner we complained about, the tenants would claim they were not renters but rather overnight guests. These things are hard to prove, but 12 folks most likely were not renting a 6 bedroom home. I'm not sure if this state law is even it place any more, but it should be!

Anonymous; Some of the municipalities you mentioned like Weisenberg has volunteer fire companies and rely on state police. Whitehall has a huge portion of their taxes paid for by commercial property assessments. Much the same with S. Whitehall's businesses and fire departments. All of the above either rely on wells or Allentown for water/sewer. So I am not that surprised.

LVCI said...

Oh.. and their schools all have huge student transportation costs.

BOB SMITH said...

Bernie, my mistake on ron lynch.one of the reasons i am not running for reelection is for health reasons.no excuseses, remember talking about it,forgot we voted on it.sorry.I DO VOTE NO ALOT,REGRET NOT VOTING NO ON THAT ONE. HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU ,AND ALL YOUR READERS BOB SMITH

Anonymous said...

good job! Leave it to Bernie O'Hate to post it

Anonymous said...

Bob, get healthy. Allentown needs you.

Signed,
A quiet Democratic supporter

michael molovinsky said...

bob, get healthy, Allentown needs you more than ever.

signed,
a loud independent supporter

Bernie O'Hare said...

Bob, I got to know you a little when you ran for Comm'r and liked you then. But I think many of us are in awe of you after you risked your life for a fellow human being. I'll echo the comments made by others. Take care of yourself. ASD was lucky to ave you.

Bernie O'Hare said...

MM,

I'm guilty when it comes to referring to myself as a "bottom-feeder." I do that all the time, and it's true. I think Jeff was merely playing off on that, and was trying to be funny. My source is actually NOT an ASD resident, so Jeff insulted someone else who would likely agree he is a bottom feeder, too.

I think it is foolish to spend money on a lobbyist. There is no money. The state is broke. But if you're going to do it, it should be w/ a Republican because they are in control.

Was an RFP for this position ever circulated? I am unable to find any. And why appoint someone BEFORE the election?

The whole scenario is foolish.

Anonymous said...

 "A good example of his value: this past week, Ron assisted the Mayor and the ASD Office for Planning & External Funding with obtaining the $3.75 million RCAP funding needed for the proposed ASD Collegiate High to be located at 4th & Allen Streets on condition of approval by the ASD Board of Directors."

Now that is a change. When did we move the location east and north? I thought the proposal was for one of the vacant commercial properties on Hamilton St.

In light of the announced budget shortage in the forthcoming year, by the superintendent and the CFO of ASD, I WILL NOT vote for this high school / collegiate project since it requires an equal investment of matching funds, as I understand it. At this time I see other priorities as more important. One of those, I am totally opposed to any further increases in property taxes for the city of Allentown for ASD purposes.

Increasingly the ASD is asked to pick up the slack for many other social and quality of life services lacking in the students lives. The mission is education first and while the lack of these services may have a significant impact on the lives of students, it is time for others to reach in their pockets and assume some responsibility for the community. There are those with much deeper pockets, who can step up other than the citizens of this city.

Times have changed. I am tired of hearing of the greatest next best practice that always seems to be developed some place else. Too often implemented and much less often evaluated for effectiveness. Time to bite the bullet and find our own way. Come up with our own best practices unique to our own community. Maybe it is time to start leading the way for others.

In addition to being on the board, I live close to WAHS. As a citizen I am not satisfied with the changes that have occurred, in that I have not seen the results out on the streets I would like to have seen. Machete incidents are still too very close to home, literally, for me, my family and many of our friends. Some balance of responsibility for this unmanageability needs to be decided upon if issues such as these are ever going to be addressed. I still do not think it has.

I will be watching WAHS very closely over the next three years of my term. First as a resident of the area and as a parent of students attending the ASD and secondly as a school board member. I hope to simultaneously be it's greatest critic while remaining one of it's most ardent supporters.

The lobbyist will need to prove himself as we monitor his performance over time. He needs to produce results that far outweigh his fee. If he was hired as a gate keeper, I was unaware of that provision of his contract. Had I known that, if it is true, it certainly would have made me think twice about voting for retaining him.

David Zimmerman

michael molovinsky said...

david, thank you. i couldn't agree more about the bureaucratic tendency to want to duplicate every program in america. this new academy is being modeled after a program in kalamazoo. city council wants new ordinances modeled after baltimore. baltimore wants new ordinances modeled after somewhere else. although i can see dumping the bad eggs at the jackson building, who will be the role models once the good eggs go to the academy? btw, while i'm complaining; the new louis ramos school is the ugliest building i have ever seen. it's built way to close to the street, and it's entrance is between the two exits of a busy shopping center. very unimpressive.
i see a tremendous disconnect between the discipline problems in the allentown school district and the preoccupation for better scores on the standardized tests. frankly, i believe increasing civility is much more important. i believe you hired the wrong person for superintendent.

Anonymous said...

Ramos is and ugly building but not because it is built close to the street. That is actually one of the few redeeming qualities of the new structure.

Thank gosh (and no wonder) the firm who designed it is bankrupt.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"If he was hired as a gate keeper, I was unaware of that provision of his contract. Had I known that, if it is true, it certainly would have made me think twice about voting for retaining him."

The gatekeeper is an in house person who has done our PR for years, not the lobbyist. She has not traditionally been a gatekeeper.

Clem said...

So,

Head ASD trough feeder hires a mercenary trough feeder to run interference for the subordinate trough feeders so the elected trough feeders can't question or discuss current and proposed trough feeding with any who feed at the trough. The mercenary trough feeder is also charged with getting a bigger snoutful from the trough than the already overpaid and underworked trough feeders had been able to slurp up previously.

Seems like just your average day at the trough to me.

Patrick McHenry said...

Bernie -

A few quick points:

1) The public relations (PR) person AND the lobbyist must be the School District's attempt to one-up Pawlowski, who required the new position of managing director to perform many of the duties formerly handled by previous Mayors.

2) In light of the projected ASD budget shortfall, I would suggest that both the PR person and the lobbyist are cut from the upcoming budget.

3) Locating the collegiate high school at 4th and Allen is a mistake. People are fleeing the city because of safety concerns. Having to send your kids into a not so great area doesn't really seem like much of a reward for doing well in school.

4) Geeting's fear of vouchers makes me laugh. I always believed the public's commitment should be making sure that children are receiving a quality education. It shouldn't matter where that happens, particularly if it can ba accomplished at a lower cost to taxpayers. If Geeting thinks ASD taxpayers are getting good value for their tax dollar, he should think again.

5) To that end, I find it worthwhile to note that ASD has received a boat load of state funding over the last 5 years, but nothing seems to be getting better. Perhaps lack of funding really isn't the problem.

Anonymous said...

We need Bob at the county level, where he can really make a difference. Until the Allentown voters learn how to vote issues what's the point?
When will most school board members, in every district, stop giving their power away to the superintendent?

Anonymous said...

There is a growing amount of anger among the remaining responsible parents regarding the total lack of security at William Allen H.S. How do 2 thugs walk into WAHS at 6:00 and strong arm rob a female student? How are kids possibly bringing machetes and guns into WAHS? They have better security clearances at Department Stores in the Mall for crying out loud. This is a very real problem that ASD is totally ignoring. They are relying on the complacancy and disinterest among the majority of parents.