The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


February 7, 2013

Hilltop group making strides

CEASE works to lower costs of education

— We wouldn’t say the organization CEASE has endeared itself to the Westmont Hilltop school board and administration, but the entities’ willingness to work together obviously has paid dividends for the district.

Residents of the Westmont Hilltop district are fortunate that so many volunteers have stepped up to help assure an academically and financially sound education for students attending Hilltop schools.

Specifically, we’re referring to an active, dedicated school board and CEASE, which, although relatively new, currently has about 400 members. 

“We, the board, and CEASE, have a common mission and that is reflected in their acronym (Cost Effective Approaches Supporting Education),” Diana Schroeder, school board president, told our Frank Sojak. “The board has worked diligently to decrease costs without impacting the education of the students, and those efforts brought our spending to the lowest 2 percent in the state.”

Schroeder added, “As a result of this unified effort, there is a very strong chance that we will enjoy a second year in a row without a tax increase.”

Residents certainly would applaud that.

CEASE was founded, in part, after real-estate taxes in the district had increased

24 straight years, with the board and administration placing much of the blame on an unfair state education funding formula.

In an interview with Sojak, CEASE founder James Greco, a longtime community leader, pointed to several group accomplishments including:

* That the board now seeks bids and proposals on all contracts, even though the board is not legally required to do so.

* Participation in a letter-writing campaign to coax lawmakers and the governor into changing the reimbursement formula for Westmont. Greco says this so far has resulted in a change that netted the district an additional $300,000 in annual funding.

Also of great interest to CEASE, he said, are ongoing teacher contract negotiations, with focus particularly on starting salaries and health care benefits.

“I personally, and CEASE in general, believe we have a good, high-quality group of teachers, and we want to retain them and attract other high quality teachers,” he said.

CEASE is fielding a slate of five school director candidates for this year’s election, he said.

Greco’s tireless efforts earned him recognition last fall when Westmont Borough council presented him with its Pride of Westmont award for working to improve the community. In accepting the award, he noted that “I’m just one of 400 members” of CEASE.

Also deserving plaudits are Schroeder and other school directors who graciously volunteer their time and efforts to serve on the board. They haven’t always received the thanks they deserve.

Along with the teachers and administrators, the boards, current and past, deserve credit for maintaining an academic program that consistently ranks among the best in our region.

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