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.