Hitting the books

Stroudsburg School Board race

Teacher contract negotiations drove this year’s school board elections in the Stroudsburg School District.

On one side were incumbents Bruce Stewart, Brad Strasser, Cindy Blake and Richard Pierce on the “Friends of Stroudsburg” ticket. They sought to avoid school property tax increases by controlling employee salaries and health benefits, construction/improvement projects and other expenditures.

Having staged a week-long strike earlier this year, teachers have been working without a contract since 2015 and without raises since 2013. The teachers’ union says it has been doing its best to be reasonable in negotiating for what it views as fair health insurance coverage concessions in exchange for small wage increases.

On the other side were challengers Tameko Patterson, Alexander Reincke, Cem Zeytinoglu and Jim Burke on the “Clean Slate” ticket. They aim to enhance communication between the school board and teachers and students, lower elementary school class sizes, structure curricula around building literacy and improve student communication and problem-solving skills.

In the end, voters chose the Clean Slate.

– Andrew Scott

 

School official charged with wiretapping

The Monroe County District Attorney charged a high ranking Pleasant Valley School District official with eight felony counts of wiretapping.

Director of Support Services Josh Krebs allegedly planted a video and audio recorder on top of a vending machine in the teacher’s lounge in the elementary school in April 2016.

Staff discovered the device, but not before it recorded a day and a half worth of video and audio of the staff in the lounge.

Krebs said he planted the device to catch a janitor he suspected of not doing his work. In the meantime, he recorded, reviewed and passed on information discussed by the school’s staff in what he himself designated as a private area.

The charges were filed in December. Krebs is represented by an attorney the school district hired to address the matter. The administration did not comment on the matter.

– Howard Frank

 

East Stroudsburg School Board Race

The East Stroudsburg School Board started the year with fewer nominees than soon-to-be-open seats. Come December, it would have seven candidates running for one.

Only Larry Dymond, Richard Schlameuss and incumbent Ronn Bradley were nominated by petition for the May 16 primary. All three won a place on both the Democratic and Republican tickets.

Gary Summers, the board’s then-president, had not initially sought reelection. He reconsidered and won a Republican nomination as a write-in. Newcomer George Andrews ran a successful write-in campaign to secure a spot on the Democratic ticket.

Bradley suffered a debilitating stroke on June 15, but the August 14 deadline to withdraw nominations came and passed. He won a seat regardless, with 4,111 votes. His condition prevented him from taking the oath of office, and the board declared his seat vacant.

Dymond received the biggest return at 4,447, separated from Schlameuss by only two votes. Andrews won the remaining seat with 2,845 votes to Summers’ 2,015 votes.

Seven candidates submitted letters of their interest in filling Bradley’s seat. The board appointed Keith Karkut, a self-employed entertainer and former board member, on Dec. 18 after failed motions for three other nominees.

– Bill Cameron

 

East Stroudsburg University

East Stroudsburg University began 2017 with an expensive new look. The school debuted an updated logo in January and replaced Burgy, its mascot of eight years, as part of a $1 million rebranding campaign.

Plans to build a massive student union building at the heart of campus resumed by March. The state Department of General Services had committed $73 million in 2010 for the first phase of ESU’s proposed Keystone Center, but permitting holdups in 2014 delayed the project.

University officials would announce later, in November, that the project’s second phase, construction of a new library building, had been cancelled. Those state dollars would instead fund future repairs to ESU’s existing facilities.

A $1.8 million plan to upgrade two Stroud Township athletic fields for ESU use was put on hold also. Unanticipated permitting delays shifted the construction timeline back another year at least.

The number of suite-style residence halls on campus continued to grow during the 2017-18 school year. Sycamore Suites opened in August for the fall semester at full occupancy. Construction of that building, like the near-identical Hemlock Suites before it, is being financed with the revenue it generates as a high-demand housing option.

Budget concerns had put the campus on edge by the end of the year, with top ESU administrators expecting a $5.8 million shortfall during the 2018-19 fiscal year. Layoffs seem certain as expenses outpace flat enrollment trends, despite attempts earlier this year to cut costs by outsourcing services like on-site student medical care.

– Bill Cameron

 

Ed Watto

A Pocono Mountain School District legend passed on earlier this year. Ed Watto, an Army veteran, who spent 43 years working in the district, passed away in early October at the age of 83. Watto had served a gambit of roles over the course of four decades with the district and played a fundamental role in shaping the current sports landscape.

Watto served as athletic director and was an assistant football coach at Pocono Mountain West for 10 years during the program’s early days. Watto also transformed the school’s wrestling team as head coach for 29 years. He amassed 278 dual-meet victories and an undefeated season in 1981.

Watto is a member of the District 11 Wrestling Hall of Fame, the Carbon County Sports Hall of Fame and the Pocono Mountain Hall of Fame.

Despite the list of accolades, Watto still wanted to serve the district and won a seat on the school board in the May primary and later in November’s election. The school board placed a framed wrestling singlet in a chair behind a placard that read “ED WATTO” during what would have been his first meeting on the board.

The school board appointed James Gamble to serve the vacancy left by Watto.

– Patrick Campbell

 

Stroudsburg teacher strike

Tensions over the ongoing contract dispute boiled over as the teachers union went on strike in early February. When they normally would have begun their morning classes, more than 360 teachers began picketing near Stroudsburg high school and junior high school.

The contract dispute between the district and the Stroudsburg Area Educator’s association was not new in 2017; educators have gone without contracts for more than 800 days now.

The strike was the first one for Stroudsburg schools since the 1980s and classes were cancelled as a result. Despite their efforts, the weeklong strike ended with no contract in place. According to representatives on both sides, the main points of disagreement pertain to salary and healthcare.

– Patrick Campbell

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