Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Pottstown district protests education secretary nominee; Radnor resolution fails

The Pottstown School District, whose money woes have led teachers and school board members to frequently speak out about a need for more equitable funding, has joined with other educators nationwide to protest what they see as another threat to public schools: U.S. Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos.

The Pottstown board on Monday night adopted a resolution opposing President Trump's selection, citing her lack of experience in public education and her support of private school vouchers and charter schools. Members of the teachers' union called U.S. representatives and senators last Thursday and wore red to school Wednesday to protest.

"Nothing personal against Ms. DeVos, but we do not think she's qualified," said Emanuel Wilkerson, 19, vice president of the school board.  "It shows through her record of promoting vouchers and charters that she has been an advocate for them and not public education."

The Michigan billionaire and Republican mega-donor  has stirred strong objections from teachers' unions and public school advocates. In addition to her longtime support  for charter schools and vouchers, critics say she has no experience in public education.

DeVos has pledged to oversee "transformational change" in education. In announcing her selection, Trump called her "a brilliant and passionate advocate."

Another school district, Radnor, one of the area's most affluent, failed to adopt a similar resolution after Republican school board members objected to the measure as a personal attack, questioned its legality, and worried that it was being pushed through too fast. The vote, taken Tuesday night, was 5-3.

The school district's solicitor, Michael Kristofco, said the resolution "comes close to the line of what is permissible."

Steve Robinson, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania School Board Association, said school boards can "create and adopt resolutions as they see appropriate."

Lawrence Feinberg, a member of the Haverford Township school board and the Keystone State Education Coalition, a public education advocacy group, said no state law prohibits school boards from such actions.

"It's not illegal," Feinberg said. "Whether it's advisable is a different matter."

Radnor board member Lydia Solomon introduced the resolution but could muster only the votes of fellow Democrats Susan Stern and Amy Goldman.

Laura Foran, president of the Radnor Educational Support Personnel Association, which represents aides and other paraprofessionals, wrote in an email read at the meeting that she believes the resolution is "beyond the purview of the school board" and "absolutely partisan."

"During these difficult times," she wrote, "I look for my local government to remain local. It sounds like this is a payback for the election results."

On Wednesday, the Radnor Township Republican Facebook page included a story about the meeting with the headline, "Democrats hijack RTSD school board meeting for political purposes."

Wilkerson said politics did not enter into the discussion in Pottstown. He said he got the idea for the resolution when he read that the Exeter Township school board in Berks County had passed a resolution opposing DeVos' selection.

"It's not about parties, it's about the right decision," he said. "Are you qualified to do the job of leading a strong education system? That's what this is about."

The resolution called DeVos "a large contributor to Republican political candidates, but otherwise lacking any credentials as an educator, any experience in the administration and management of public schools, and demonstrating a predisposition towards and long history of support for charter school and school voucher programs."

Seven members voted in favor, with one person absent and one abstaining.

Elisabeth Yoder, president of the 245-member Federation of Pottstown Teachers,  said the group knew about the resolution last week and discussed what it could do, ruling out a "walk-in," in which teachers and others gather for informational meetings in front of their schools and then walk in together, in favor of wearing red.

Its aim is to "get the senators to understand that the person Donald Trump has suggested to be secretary of education is absolutely, unequivocally not qualified in any way to do the job that needs to be done," she said.

"We are a very poor district. For Betsy DeVos to be promoting privatization of public education, it takes more and more money from all school districts that are already strapped to their limits," Yoder said.

Wilkerson said he hopes other school boards speak out about the cabinet nominee.

"We're an elected board," he said. "It's our job, just like congressman and senators, to voice the people's opinion."