"Cocktails for you, cuts for kids!"
PAXINOS - Armed with handmade cardboard signs and creative chants, more than 150 teachers, students, parents, school board members and residents lined Old Reading Road near Indians Hills Golf and Tennis Club Friday night to rally against Gov. Tom Corbett's education budget during his attendance at an invitation-only, $1,000 per couple fundraiser for state Rep. Kurt Masser (R-107).
"Cocktails for you, cuts for kids!" the crowd repeated in unison at one point during more than two hours of protesting.
The timing of Corbett's visit, eight days after the Shamokin Area School Board furloughed 21 staff members starting next school year as it tries to erase a multimillion-dollar deficit, led to the large but civil demonstration.
The Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), the statewide teachers union, issued a brief press release Friday morning about the rally, saying people are "fed up" with the administration's funding position.
Dozens of drivers beeped their horns in agreement as they traveled by the crowd. A state police cruiser occasional drove up and down the road, and a helicopter had circled at one point. State police said later they had no calls involving the demonstration.
Four or five members of the governor's detail, dressed in suits and wearing ear pieces, were seen on the property. Two of them at one point calmly walking along the crowd, asking politely for people to stay back.
The governor arrived in a black SUV, but it seemed most of the crowd wasn't aware it was him at the time.
'Masser, you're done!'
Dozens of signs with messages such as "Can you read this? Thank a teacher" and "All children left behind" were held by those in the crowd, which lined the south side of the road across from the country club property.
The dinner host, in office just 16 months, was targeted, too, in some chants.
"Masser, you're done!"
Other messages were more simple, including "Save our schools." Demonstrators at one point sang the chorus to Twisted Sister's song, "We're not going to take it," with musical accompaniment by several students.
Jayla Klase, 11, expressed her displeasure with the recent decisions.
"I'm in the band. It's part of my life," the Shamokin Area fifth-grader said. "All my friends are with me on it. We love it so much, and we don't want it to go."
She criticized the price of the fundraiser, which, for those not doing dinner, was $250 a couple for cocktail hour only.
"He can spend $1,000 to eat a plate of food, but he can't give us any more money so we can have what we need?" Klase said.
Paige Kleman, 9, and Savannah Smith, 9, were also holding signs.
"I want all the classes back. Save our specials, and our music, and our art. Stop messing with my future," Kleman, a third-grade student at Shamokin Area, said.
"I don't want my specials to go!" said Smith, a fourth-grader at Shamokin Area.
Michelle Erdman, a special education teacher from Shikellamy School District, said funding changes forced her district to close two middle schools.
"I hope he (Corbett) can sleep at night knowing he's impacting children," she said.
Erdman called paying $1,000 a couple a "disgrace."
4 board members present
Four of the nine Shamokin Area School Board members were present at the protest.
"I hope this does something. I hope he sees what's going on out here with the people, and the parents, and the kids," board President Tracey Witmer said. "Public education is not something you can cut."
Board Director Robert Getchey called Corbett's proposed budget a "shame to the coal region."
"We're dying a slow death. The schools are the best thing we have around here for kids," he said. "I'm disgusted with him, and I won't vote for him anymore."
Board Vice President Brian Persing said 500 school districts can't be wrong.
"If you hear something and only one person says it, it's a rumor. If 500 school districts are all crying the same thing, then there's something there," he said.
Board Director Jeffrey Kashner hopes Corbett and Masser will see the importance of education.
It "broke the board's heart" to cut teachers and programs, but they had no choice, he said.
'Like we were not there'
Protesters from Shamokin Area, Shikellamy, Line Mountain, Mount Carmel Area and North Schuylkill began gathering about 4 p.m. at LTS Plumbing and Heating along Route 61, where Shamokin Councilman William Milbrand, owner of Catawese Coach, shuttled two busloads of people to the area around Indian Hills.
The governor arrived at approximately 5:30 p.m., but did not address the crowd when he stepped out of the vehicle; he walked straight into the country club.
Shamokin Area first-grade teacher and teachers union treasurer Mary Yohe, who organized the protest, said they were at the grounds until 6:30 p.m., but the governor never came out to talk to them.
"It's almost like we were not there," she said. "I thought he would have at least come out to say something, even if it's not what we wanted to hear."