An email and text message alert sent out by the St. Marys Area School District (SMASD) through its automated emergency text/email notification system informing recipients of the "attempt to pass voucher charter school expansion legislation next week" and instructing them to contact their legislators and "tell them to vote no on vouchers" has come under fire for what some perceive as misuse of a public address system intended for emergency purposes only.
SMASD Superintendent Anne Kearney explained that while typically such systems are used for the purposes of notifying by email and text message those registered to receive them of emergencies and closures, the school system reserves the right to use the alert system at their discretion. Kearney added that the system is not an "emergency alert system" but rather an "alert system" and a means for the school to inform parents quickly in a variety of instances.
"We only use it for emergencies and this was the first time, and I really think that the public is not truly aware of how this is trying to be pushed through and will affect taxpayers in the long run that they need to be aware of it," Kearney said.
Kearney said the school was prompted to utilize the system for this purpose in response to a Pennsylvania School Board Association alert sent to all school districts in Pennsylvania and calling on them to "do anything [we] could possibly do to alert community members, particularly our parents, to contact their legislators."
"We sent the alert to let families know, let the community know that they should be calling their legislators to tell them to vote no against vouchers because this is going to affect their taxes eventually," Kearney said.
Kearney said that the motivation was not political, but rather an attempt to inform the public of a pressing issue that she said affects them as taxpayers and parents of schoolchildren.
"That alert was meant to alert community members to contact their legislators so we can stop the bleeding of the funding for public education because then it ultimately puts the burden of the taxes on the local community," Kearney said.
From his Harrisburg office Tuesday, state Rep. Matt Gabler (R-Elk/Clearfield) spoke on the issue of school voucher legislation (Senate Bill 1) now before the House and sought to clarify what he believes are misconceptions surrounding the legislation. Gabler characterized the debates surrounding S.B. 1 as vouchers as "turf battles."
Regarding SMASD's issuing of the alert concerning the legislation, Gabler said that while he questions whether an alert system should be reserved for other purposes other than for emergencies exclusively, he has "no ability or desire to investigate that, that's not my business, my business is trying to come up with the best decision I can on legislation."
Gabler said that comments from school board members during last Thursday's meeting of the SMASD board of directors that were printed in a Friday article in The Daily Press were "irresponsible" in speculating on the impact of the voucher legislation on the district.