A strange feeling of deja-vu came over me when I read Dr. Savedoff’s letter in the September 21, 2006 issue of the Main Line Times and on the district’s website. Having been a public school teacher in a local district, I am all too familiar with his leadership style: bullying and intimidation. When I was teacher, many administrators viewed anything short of blind obedience as oppositional and displaying lack of support for the school district. It seemed to me at that time that administrators intimidated teachers in order to get what they wanted. Years later, as a taxpayer in Lower Merion, bullying is rearing its ugly head again.
Recently, a concerned group of Lower Merion residents tried to spread the word about the upcoming Act 34 public hearing, a meeting for township residents to give input into the building of the new Harriton High School. Suddenly, on the day of the meeting, a letter from Dr. Savedoff appeared on the district website and in the Main Line Times. Apparently, Dr. Savedoff felt compelled to write this letter not only to discredit and insult this “reform” group as he calls them, but to elevate himself as the one who will “save” others from these people. Yet, his letter does anything but make one feel that he is a true leader.
At the beginning of the school year, wouldn’t you expect that a letter from the Superintendent would focus on his teaching and learning expectations for the year? Specifically, don’t you think his thoughts should be on how to close the 25 – 60% achievement gap between black and white students in this district, and how to prevent the math PSSA test scores for 11th graders in the district from dropping below their previous achievement levels? Instead, Dr. Savedoff chose to slander those who are trying to share information by accusing them of targeting senior citizens, preying on community fears, and plastering “misleading and out-of-context propaganda in community spaces.” I find this ironic because the very things that he accuses this group of, he and his school board are guilty of.
For example, one of their common themes is if we don’t build these two new high schools, it’s going to hurt our property values. Doesn’t that sound like language that might instill fear in community members, especially seniors? Interestingly, has this superintendent and his school board ever thought about the fact that the current condition of our two high schools doesn’t seem to be hurting our property values, but having our school taxes double over the next few years most certainly will. Furthermore, why would informing people about the upcoming Act 34 hearing and providing them with cost and space comparisons from other recently built high schools be considered misleading? Perhaps, it’s because the new Harriton High School is twice as big as the present school and the new school will only hold 350 more students? Is it that the Superintendent and school board don’t want to explain to the public how they determined that we need 7 art classrooms at the new Harriton? By the way, if you’re scratching your head trying to recall the communication you received from the school board inviting you to the Act 34 hearing, don’t think too hard. There was none.
Dr. Savedoff’s letter should not have surprised me because this same attitude has prevailed since the beginning of the budget process for the 2006-07 school year. Clearly, an “us versus them” mentality, the school board and its superintendent versus the residents of Lower Merion Township hung in the air during the budget meetings last spring. Through body language and speaking tones, the Superintendent and the school board made it clear that comments made by residents who opposed the $170,000,000 budget, were an annoying waste of time. Even one of the Home and School presidents, a parent and taxpayer herself, heckled a speaker who questioned the board about their outrageous spending. When another audience member calmly asked her to be quiet, the Home and School president only exacerbated her behavior by shouting back at the woman. Apparently, the bullying tactics carried out by the Superintendent and school board have filtered down to the parents whom they have trained.
Back during the budget hearings, I recall complimenting the IB program at Harriton High School and asking why I had been unable to obtain the IB program enrollment number during the previous year. While the board did not answer my question, in his closing comments, Mr. Rosenwald, the school board president, not only referred to my question as an “assault,” but also said that it doesn’t matter how many students are enrolled in this program. Again, another vivid example of bullying tactics, and I still had not received the answers to my questions. This behavior is exhibited at every meeting when someone asks hard questions. In fact, one would have to ask if the board’s decision not to televise the Act 34 Hearing is related to the intimidation and bullying that Ken Roos, district solicitor, dished out to the first few speakers.
Isn’t the purpose of the school board to represent the taxpayers? In my naivete, I had always thought that the school board’s responsibility is to hear, think about, and consider the views of the people in its township. But really, why would I expect that when it has been obvious that the present school board and its superintendent have used intimidation and railroading to pass an exorbitant budget to build two new extravagantly-sized high schools, support an excessive number of administrative staff, and maintain a five-million dollar sports program complete with new stadiums at a time when their energies should be focused on maintaining high academic student achievement? If you have ever wondered if school environments contribute to bullying, perhaps we need to look no further than our leadership, the Superintendent and the school board president. It’s rampant at high levels, it filters down through other school community members to the students, and it’s despicable.
Written By Regina C. Manginelli, Ed.D. and printed in the September 28 issues of Main Line Life and The Main Line Times