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UPDATED:Public Shows Up En Masse to Voice Opinion Over 2-Cent Tax Levy

Hundreds of residents, teachers and students piled into the community center for a public hearing last night to voice their opinions about shortfalls in the 2012 budget.

Hundreds of people filled a conference room in the community center Tuesday night for the Manassas Park Governing Body's general meeting. It started promptly at seven, but by 6:40 p.m., seats were so hard to come by, more had to be brought in. Even before the meeting had begun emotions, on both sides of the room were running high. At the heart of the tension is a proposed 2 -cent tax levy that would detract $126,000 from the school system.

 Amongst the crowd were distinctive groups wearing organizational T-shirts and “No Two Cents” stickers. Teachers from the Manassas Park Education Alliance(MPEA), and the Cougar Elementary Parent Teacher Organization were the most prevalent.

There was also a group of teachers wearing black T-shirts with “Mediocre Teacher?” printed in yellow on the front and "Education Matters" along with a cougar paw on the back.

The shirts were a reference to a comment made by Councilman William "Bill" Treuting Jr. last month about cutting money  from schools as opposed to other city-funded entities. He said he was misquoted when he said, “I am more concerned with people who can inject drugs into my body when I’m having a stroke or (those) who have the use of deadly force than I am about having another mediocre teacher. ”

Treuting explained that his words were out of context; what he meant to say was it wasn't fair to give teachers a raise while furloughing other city workers. “I believe the children of our city need the best education if they are to compete in the world,” he said.

His words seemed to fall on deaf ears as speaker after speaker made references to the comment.

Manassas Park High teacher and resident Christy Reavis said she moved her family to Manassas Park three years ago specifically for its excellent schools. “We haven't received a salary increase since 2008,” she said. “We're not OK with that, but we're here for the students, not the money.”

“I am personally offended by the 'mediocre teacher' comment,” Reavis said. “We work over contract time ...we don't get stipends for using our time to sponsor student-created clubs and organizations. We use our own money to buy supplies.” She said the teachers put their all into their jobs. “We are here to support the students, that's the bottom line," Reavis said.

“We have come too far to lose the ground we have gained,” said Heather Gunston, Manassas Park resident. “I believe in sacrifice, but I do not believe schools should suffer... Money taken from our schools will effect my children's education.

Debbie Denk, middle school teacher and president of the MPEA gave her perspective. A teacher in the school system for 34 years, Denk said she's seen everything from less then stellar buildings and equipment to teacher turnover rates as high as 67 percent. She said that while conditions haven't always been the best, they have improved exponentially.

“I am proud to work in a school system that has made such strides,” Denk said. “Now that we're attracting quality teachers, let's keep them here.”

Denk also spoke about teacher pay increases—or the lack thereof. “I know we're detracting furloughs and that's being counted as our raise last year. I don't understand that” she said. To this the audience broke out in mass applause.

“I know some of you were elected on pro-schools platforms,” she said to the governing body. “Please keep your promises you made to parents and students.”

Middle school teacher and resident Margret Petak also addressed council Tuesday and told them she wasn't in favor of the tax levy. Petak said she is interested in protecting the school budget for the students, not her salary. 

Jared Zurn said he moved to Manassas Park for its schools, but unlike most of the speakers, Zurn said he was more upset with the city's seemingly lack of accounting than anything else. “Overall, I am disappointed at the budget because it shows a $400,000 deficit," he said.

Zurn said he was disappointed to find out that the budget hasn't been balanced in three years. “I'm not going to go home tonight and spend more money than I make so why is the city spending more money than it makes?” he said.

Toward the beginning of the meeting, the city's Mayor Frank Jones said that over the past few years, the city hasn't been able to make mid-year budget adjustments and as a result their had been inaccuracies in how much money the schools had. He said that they will start to make monthly reviews of the budget.

“Furlough decisions have nothing to do with the governing body, but with the school board,” Jones said after the speakers had finished. He invited the audience to take the issue up with them. “I don't believe in furloughs,” he said adamantly.

In addition to the public hearing, the body recognized Boy Scout Troop 1370 and  Eagle Scout and Manassas High student Kyle Grundel, for their hard work and dedication. They congratulated Grundel for being named VFW 7585  Eagle Scout of the Year. As Eagle Scout of the Year, Grundel will be awarded with a scholarship later this month.

Andrea Saccoccia, executive director at Project Mend-A-House gave a needs assessment report. She said 48 percent of Manassas Park students are on free or reduced lunch and the use of food stamps has risen over 100 percent in the past few years. She said that six percent of the population lives at or below the poverty line. Saccoccia urged the governing body to work harder to help people in need within the community. “Our future strength and stability is reliant on these members of the community,” she said.

Natalie May 04, 2011 at 04:18 PM
Mr. Treuting should feel terrible about what he said, that's an awful way to talk about these teachers. If he was "taken out of context," then maybe he should at least apologize for the way it came out sounding and ensure the teachers that he knows how hard they work and that he appreciates the great job they're doing. It's one thing not to have the money to give teachers a raise/bonus, but to add salt to their wounds by insulting them is a terrible thing to do. Mr. Treuting should offer a real apology to these teachers immediately!
John Armati May 04, 2011 at 04:32 PM
The future economic success (or lack of) of Manassas Park is directly linked to the quality of our schools. Leave the school budget alone and look elsewhere. For one, I think most of us can make do without a 4th of July fireworks show (which was not worth anyone's time last year anyway). Councilman Treuting, there is no context that can justify your "mediocre" comment. Please apologize to our teachers.
pauline May 04, 2011 at 09:50 PM
Last night I was telling my 12 year old son what Treuting said, his reply back to me was "wait is he saying that his own some is Mediocre" I told him well I suppose so seen he is a sub and coach, he came back to me and said "that's awful, I'd be so upset and hurt if you said that to me mummy" now my 12 year old son understands its wrong why can't he??? He needs to apologize to the teachers and to the students, I have 3 kids in MP schools one getting ready to graduate with honours, all 3 are A/B honour role this is with the help of MP teachers. I won't move out bc of the schools.
pauline May 04, 2011 at 09:50 PM
Son*
Worrywart May 05, 2011 at 12:30 PM
Bill Treuting is as incompetent today as he was as mayor. Frank Jones should come clean and explain that the city center (Frank's Folly) has been a failure and the excuses for poor accounting lies at the feet of poor management/administration. Frank Jones was chairman of the school board for many years (10+ years) but when he became mayor he had a brain dump apparently and has forgotten all about what running a school district is like. The teachers have not had a raise because of the accounting "errors" made and Mayor Jones had no compunction to demand that the school district recalculate/adjust their budget midway through the fiscal year without regard to the fact that the school board has always ensured that the district consistently came in on budget EVERY YEAR. The teachers at this district are very well paid when looking at comparably sized districts in the area however this is how the district has been able to maintain highly qualified and dedicated teachers which is so critical to the students' academic success and the maintance of well-valued property prices. Poor school district performance equals lower property value. Simple but an absolute equation. Perhaps it is time to have an independent audit of the city's books and a genuine change of leadership.

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