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Issue Home October 30, 2002 Site Home

Letters to the Editor Policy

Questionable Contracts

I made the time on the evening of October 16, 2002 to attend the Susquehanna Community School Board meeting. My purpose was to ask a couple of questions regarding student photos. I feel the little deal they have worked out with the current school photographer leaves a little to be desired.

Don’t get me wrong. Make no mistake. When it comes to performing services for our local school district, I feel the local vendors should have every opportunity to provide the service, if they can in fact perform the job while maintaining high standards and deliver a quality product in return for a fair "open market" price that is obtained through a proper bidding process.

So if that’s the ground I stand on, where’s the problem? The problem is in the way the seniors and "only the seniors" who want their picture published in the yearbook are forced to lay down money for a sitting, even if they have already chosen another photographer to take their senior pictures. If they do not pay the sitting fee, they cannot have a picture published in the yearbook, even if the photographer they chose can and will supply a photo for the yearbook. Now how is that fair to anyone but the school’s photographer?

I asked my question openly to the school board. I received what I feel are weak excuses from Bill Stracka about other vendors not being able to provide equal quality photos at some time in the past. I don’t know why he grabbed the question. It was posed to the entire board of education. Every time I pose a question to the board, he somehow finds a way to get his 2 cents in. He went back to some point in time when Mike Catalano had something to do with the yearbook. There was also some mention about 6 years ago and the photo contract. There was a comment on how the technology was not available for other photographers to provide a photo of high enough quality for our yearbook.

I can’t help but wonder how in the world the rest of the schools in Pennsylvania [or anywhere on the face of the earth for that matter] manage to publish a yearbook that our school’s photographer didn’t take the photos for. I think I’ll contact a friend at Blue Ridge and have a side by side comparison with our 2002 yearbook and theirs.

Consider this if you will.

The contract was not put out for bid.

The superintendent signed a contract with an exclusion clause that directly forces financial obligation on the seniors in order to receive a service being provided to other students without any incurred cost; let alone the fact that a number of the excluded seniors are not of legal age.

The contract [depending on your point of view] either limits and/or binds minors to an agreement that neither they nor their parents had any negotiating power in.

The board of education took the responsibility to designate a ruling that places a single group of students and their families/guardians at a financial disadvantage while making no special provision for the remaining eleven grades of students or their families/guardians.

Who are the parties of the contract?

How can the school board sign a contract where the district carries no obligations whatsoever but places distinct obligations upon a selected and singled out group of students?

What’s next? How far can the board of education go? How far will Stracka recommend they go in the name of quality or lack of technology?

What future obligations may they impose upon students and family with a swift signature of the superintendent and the quick "head nod" from the usual "yes voters."

If contracts with questionable, arbitrary binding or limiting clauses like the school photo contract are not investigated, the door is left wide open for future, unfair "superintendent signed" and "board approved" impositions on the students and families of this community. If such contracts are allowed to stand, it is conceivable that one day, you may find that a specific group of students must wear only specific clothes purchased at a specific store, recommended by the superintendent and approved by the board of education. It sounds outrageous, doesn’t it? So does the current photographer contract and the exclusive and singular limitations for senior students and in form and function, it would be no different! If you stand for this outrageous contract, it makes a strong case for the board of education to take similar, unfair advantages in the future.

The technology exists today and has for years for a photographer to deliver photos of equal quality to photos provided by any photographer. To even suggest otherwise is absolutely reaching for a plausible excuse to voice to someone that has been completely out of touch with the world for the last 30 years. Sorry Bill, you’re blowin’ that smoke at the wrong guy with that lame excuse. I’m involved with technology every day of my life. What difference does it make if the photo backdrops are all the same or not? The backdrops were another excuse put forth as a reason that other photographers’ work would be unacceptable – get real! I’ll bet those blue, and light blue sheets, used for backdrops are a real bugger to come by for other photographers. Furthermore, who is Bill Stracka to decide on the choice of backdrop colors for your son/daughter’s senior picture?

Now, getting things done on time is important and it’s often hard to do. The fact is, since a certain teacher took over the yearbook duties for Susquehanna Community School District, the job gets done on time and gets done properly. That person took over the job when it was in a state of chaos and pulled a genuine rabbit out of the hat. A job well done deserves due credit. The best part of all, is that students lay the whole thing out on the computers with Adobe Page Maker and another software package provided by Jostens [the yearbook publisher]. I know how it works because I set the whole thing up, back in 1998. The only conceivable problem in using pictures from any other vendor that took the students photos would be if the student didn’t provide the photo to the yearbook staff in time for publishing. In reality, it’s not very likely to happen. Why, because other photographers do work for other schools and get the photos in on time. In any case it’s easily remedied by notifying the students that chose a photographer other than the school’s of a specific deadline for turning in an acceptable picture. Why not ? The kids can buy class rings wherever they feel like it. Why not senior photographs for the yearbook, or at least open the door for the opportunity of choice?

In a falsely laid claim of quality and availability, the board of education, the superintendent and the photographer have been allowed to single out a financially prospective group of students to the rules that the photographer decides best fit every family’s needs in the area. Since the focus is on a singular group of students, namely seniors, a claim may be possible of discrimination. As for any argument on quality, it doesn’t hold water. If the quality of the photographer were of such magnificence then it stands to reason that students and parents wouldn’t be looking to other photographers for senior pictures. Obviously this is a personal choice but it is a choice!

Maybe it’s about time the ACLU had an opinion on the subject – the following statements are taken directly from their website on 10/16/2002:

"Constitutional violations are far too common in public schools across the country. Teachers and administrators have a responsibility to provide a safe environment for the students that is conducive to learning. They also have a responsibility to respect each student’s individual rights. These two missions are not incompatible. Simply put, students have rights too."

Just who do you think you are Bill Stracka? What gives you and the school board the right to single out a specific group of students and force them to use a photographer of your selection for senior pictures when many of those students do not want to use your selected photographer and have in fact, gone elsewhere to have their senior photos taken?

For the official record, Stracka asked me at one point if I read the local newspapers. I thought that was an inappropriate thing to do. Here’s my answer, where everyone can hear it. I don’t always read the local paper but here’s something you can mull over. When I write a letter to the paper, you can bet your last dollar that a lot of other people are reading it.

Sincerely,

Larry Cavanaugh

Susquehanna, PA

To Oakland Boro Residents:

It has come to our attention over the last several months, that kids in our borough have been skateboarding in the streets.

We are very much concerned about the safety of your children, as well as the hazard this poses to the vehicle operator.

We are asking that you keep your kids off the streets with skateboards.

Sincerely,

Oakland Borough Council

Accept The Responsibility

At the Susquehanna county commissioners meeting of October 23, I had the opportunity to question commissioner Marcho about his absence from the meeting of September 25. You may remember that was the meeting when commissioner Dean was also absent, with a family illness. Commissioner Smith had to cancel the meeting for lack of a quorum, a disappointment for the dozen or so taxpayers and reporters that did make it to the meeting, one from Forest City, about an eighty-mile round trip! On that day Marcho also missed a scheduled Planning Department and Salary Board meeting. All had to be canceled. When asked about his absence, his reply, "It’s personal" and he refused to elaborate. I understand Marcho was camping out at the Bloomsburg Fair that week!

There are few things that make me angry, but near the top is arrogance. Wouldn't it be nice, and so much more acceptable, if when a person makes a mistake they admit it? Then, apologize for any inconvenience, give assurances for future behavior and then don't repeat that mistake. But no, commissioner Marcho thinks we don't deserve to know why he failed to attend important scheduled meetings. He doesn't seem to understand that the very nature of his position makes him accountable to each and every one of us.

After the meeting adjourned, I was waiting in the outer office for my wife. Commissioner Marcho left the meeting room and as he passed by I remarked how I thought his response to our question was arrogant. He shot back, " For $40,000 a year, I don't owe anybody anything." It was like a punch in the gut. He just doesn't get it. Not that there aren't people in this county that would be very happy and work hard for 40 thousand dollars. But that's not even the point. It's not the money. It's the responsibility, or Marcho's lack of it, that's the point. Whether you are paid $40.00 or $400,000, when you accept the position, accept the responsibility.

Sincerely,

James Jennings

Brooklyn Township

Please Check Your Facts

This is in response to Marel A. Delaney's letter to the editor published October 23,2002.

Mrs. Delaney questions why the Thompson Borough Council should "pass an ordinance when the old ones don't hold up in court-for whatever reason there is." One obvious reason is to correct the defect (inartful drafting resulting in unconstitutional vagueness) contained in the existing ordinance. Ordinances are "local laws" and those with criminal sanctions can be void because they are unconstitutionally vague or overbroad. They must explicitly describe the conduct prohibited.

The specific ordinance I believe Mrs. Delaney is referring to is Thompson Borough Ordinance #106, the "nuisance " ordinance . This ordinance was drafted and adopted in August 1988, four(4) years before I became borough solicitor in 1992.

Upon a recent attempt to enforce this ordinance the District Magistrate advised that he thought the ordinance's description of what constituted a "nuisance", particularly with respect to motor vehicles was vague and ambiguous . Based upon the Magistrate's concerns I have recommended to Borough Council changes to the ordinance that will provide a more specific description of the prohibited conduct. Another possibility is treating a violation as a "civil matter" which carries a lower burden of proof and hopefully a higher probability of success upon enforcement. Since I did not draft the ordinance the first time, I do not believe I should be held responsible for "not doing my job properly" in drafting that ordinance.

I will however with the co-operation of Borough Council and input from concerned citizens such as you exert my best efforts to ensure that any amended or replacement ordinances are enforceable.

When my office is asked to draft a new ordinance or revise an existing one, we normally obtain several sample ordinances adopted by other municipalities from the Pennsylvania State Boroughs Association. Many of these ordinances have been tested in the courts and passed Constitutional muster. Based upon the Borough Council's goals, we extract the best elements from each of these ordinances, make modifications to suit the Borough's situation, and forward the finished product to Council for its review. If requested by Council, we make additional changes and complete the final draft. The ordinance is then advertised for adoption to give citizens an opportunity to express their opinions regarding passage or changes to the ordinance.

The Borough is currently following this process with regards to a proposed animal control ordinance and amendments to its garbage ordinance. Again, with input from Borough Council and concerned citizens such as you I will do my best to ensure these ordinances are enforceable. Additionally I will do my best when requested by Council to redraft or amend any ordinances drafted prior to my tenure to help ensure their enforceability. I appreciate your consideration and concern.

Sincerely,

Myron B. DeWitt,

Thompson Borough Solicitor

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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR POLICY
Letters To The Editor MUST BE SIGNED. They MUST INCLUDE a phone number for "daytime" contact. Letters MUST BE CONFIRMED VERBALLY with the author, before printing. At that time you may request to withhold your name. Letters should be as concise as possible, to keep both ReaderÔs and Editor's interest alike. Your opinions are important to us, but you must follow these guidelines to help assure their publishing.

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