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November 3, 2012

New Castle residents, teachers: Put aside politics for sake of children

NEW CASTLE — All children have the right to a good public education, New Castle school board members heard again and again Thursday night.

Current and retired teachers, parents and grandparents urged board members to put aside differences for the sake of the city’s children.

While saying that she could teach in a closet if need be, Tina Quahliero, who teaches at Thaddeus Stevens Primary Center, said requiring children to learn under those conditions “is not fair to them.”

Quahliero noted that many city children do not come from good families and schools play a role in providing normalcy in their lives.

To reach their full learning potential, she said, “Children   need a sense of belonging and a safe, nurturing environment. The condition of a school shows how much adults value education. What are our dilapidated buildings saying? Our students deserve the best and we’re not giving it.”

Board members have agreed to look again at the construction project that will result in closing John F. Kennedy, West Side and Thaddeus Stevens schools and creating an early learning center at Lockley, accommodating kindergarten and first and second grades.

The board will meet again at 6 p.m. Monday in a non-voting workshop session and may reconsider a 5-4 vote last week that appeared to shelve the Lockley renovation/consolidation plan.

Financial experts addressing the board Thursday explained that if the district does nothing, it would still be required to pay in excess of $9 million to terminate bonds obtained to fund the project.

Construction manager John Hayes said the project may yet be revitalized.

“The board did not vote to reject the project,” he explained. “They just voted not to award the contracts. They have until Dec. 8 to make their decision.”

Typically, Hayes said, after receiving bids, an entity has 60 days to award or reject.

“They haven’t killed the project, but they are limited in what changes they can make and still receive reimbursement,” he said.

Eleven residents shared their thoughts with the school board.

•Mayor Anthony Mastrangelo noted his ties to the district through his brother gave 30 years to the district and formerly served on the school board, his sister who teaches second grade and his grandson in the first grade.

“I urge you to reconsider and vote for a new school,” he said. “We sell our community on the education and Jameson Hospital and I can’t sit back and say nothing while for one vote (the board) denies our children the best education possible.”

•Angela Joseph, retired after teaching English at Ben Franklin for 35 years, said teachers do their best to provide the best possible education but “buildings are dilapidated, substandard, not handicapped accessible and have no suitable outdoor play areas.

•Businessman Jerry Rashid called on the board to use common sense and vision. Both were missing, he said, when the Ben Franklin building was sold, even though the district knew it had to consolidate. He also questioned the selection of Lockley as the school to be kept, saying it is in a depressed area and not accessible by buses.

•Victoria Bober, a kindergarten teacher, noted that “Lockley and the other primary schools are falling apart, out of code compliance and bursting at the seams. What is your plan?”

•Kelly Abraham, who teaches at Thaddeus Stevens, noted conditions including peeling paint, drafty windows and poor lighting. “I can make due with (these) conditions, but the children shouldn’t have to. They should be in a safe building.”

•Philip Conti, a former teacher and board member said, “It is not a building that makes a school, it is the teachers.”

He added that he “spent my entire adult life in school business.”

•Russ Hall, a retiree, said enrollment is declining and a new school is not needed. He also chastised the board for a lack of leadership and called upon president Allen Joseph to step down. He was later ejected from the meeting.

(Email: nlowry @ncnewsonline.com)

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