Hundreds rally in Bellefonte to send a message to legislators
A torrential downpour and lightning didn’t drown out the roaring message from more than 250 PSEA Central Region members and other public education supporters Tuesday as they joined in solidarity to attend a “Public Education: We Are One” Rally at Talleyrand Park in Bellefonte.
The rally, which garnered local and state-wide media coverage, was held within earshot of the Bellefonte offices of state Senator Jake Corman and state Rep. Kerry Benninghoff. It was sponsored by Central Pennsylvania Public School Coalition and attracted public school students, parents, teachers, support staff, citizens, business leaders, administrators and news media from Centre, Clearfield and Clinton counties.
The theme of the two hour rally was clear: it is unfair to balance the state budget on the backs of public school students and on the backs of the middle class and unions.
PSEA Treasurer Jerry Oleksiak rallied the audience to let their voices be heard in Harrisburg.
"This is a battle for the future of public education," said Jerry Oleksiak, "and a battle for the future of America. We are one for public education."
PSEA Central Region Vice President Sue Lemmo got the crowd cheering and yelling when she asked them if they would stand up and fight with her to save public education for the children of Pennsylvania.
"I'm committed, I know personally as a young person what the arts did for me when I was in school. I know how important they are to my children," Lemmo told the crowd.
In response, the crowd wrote more than 300 personal letters to area legislators calling for more money in the state education budget.
A busload of PSEA members from the Association of Clinton County Educators made the hour trip to hear ACCE President Mark Condo address the rally as well.
The newly formed Central Pennsylvania Public School Coalition includes PSEA members, administrators, parents and community members in 12 school districts in Intermediate Unit 10. The coalition has started a website and purchased media advertising to promote local public schools and to send their message to legislators about the need to adequately fund public schools. The coalition’s website is www.schoolfacts.co.
Local superintendents also addressed the rally.
Penns Valley Area Superintendent Brian Griffith said, “Today marks the date that we embark on our effort to thwart the dismantling of public education. It’s time for the public to hear the facts. This is about educating our children and the future of this Commonwealth.”
"When," Bellefonte Area school board member Robert Lumley-Sapanski asked rhetorically, "did teachers become the enemy?"
Mark Higgins, a parent in the State College school district proudly proclaimed himself also to be a product of the public-education system.
During his speech, Higgins urged parents to stick together and not pit one program against another. He talked about the Latin, technology education and debate teachers who impacted his life.
Higgins held up a fistful of pencils as an object lesson. Each pencil on its own - representing a football parent, a technical-education parent, a Latin-class parent, each of whom faces the elimination of their child's program - is weak and easily broken. But together, they are strong and almost impossible to break.
"Call your legislator," Higgins urged. "If you don't call, they will assume that you don't care."
Dan Fisher, Bald Eagle Area School District superintendent, called "the most serious threat" he has seen in his 21-year career in administration.
Visit www.savepaschools.org to find out how the governor's proposed $1.2 billion in cuts to public schools affects your district - and to take action.