This letter to the editor was submitted to LebTown. Read our submission policy here.

Dear LebTown Readers,

In response to the recent article pertaining to Palmyra Area School District budgeting process. I would like to offer some additional thoughts.

Read More: PASD scrambles to cut budget in wake of COVID-19 financial impact

Lebanon County Republican Committee Chairman and registered lobbyist Casey Long’s recent editorial “Palmyra Area School Board dangerously out of touch” is the latest in his series of attacks against the school district where he resides. Given his previous efforts and coordinated campaigns over the past year to have various members elected to the Palmyra Area School District School Board, it’s important to consider both the content of the argument being made and the credibility of the source making the argument.

Read More: [Letter] Palmyra Area School Board dangerously out of touch

As to Mr. Long’s credibility, his profile on his employer’s website, Long Nyquist & Associates, provides some relevant context as to his background and qualifications to opine on the status of school funding in Pennsylvania:

Casey Long joins Long, Nyquist and Associates after 14 years serving in various staff positions in the Pennsylvania Senate. Most recently, he served as Director of Policy & Legislative Affairs for Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati. Casey was named one of “Harrisburg’s Smartest Staffers” by PoliticsPA, which referred to him as “the conservative pulse of the Senate GOP Caucus.”

As the Director of Policy & Legislative Affairs for the Senate President Pro Tempore, Mr. Long had direct access and influence in driving the agenda and legislation of the Pennsylvania Senate. He worked for the Senate for over 14 years until he left to join a lobbying firm owned by his father, Michael S. Long, also a former Senate staffer for over 30 years, and Todd Nyquist (also a former Senate staffer) who both cite their widely renowned influence and political accomplishments on the firm’s website. Long Nyquist’s website provides a list of dozens of clients, including many non-profits and associations, who pay them the industry-standard rates of tens of thousands of dollars in annual retainers to provide them access, influence, and lobbying to the elected officials in Harrisburg.

In short summary, Mr. Long and his employer are the epitome of the term “special interest.” They are mercenaries advocating for the interest of clients who are willing to pay them to do so. One of those clients is the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) or more commonly referred to as the “teachers’ union” which advocates for the interests of Pennsylvania’s teachers and school employees. Specifically, one of the top issues identified by the PSEA is increasing the pay for teachers and the protection and preservation of the generous pension system, which makes up a substantial and growing portion of every school district’s budget. The PSEA also identifies the following legislative policy goals: $15 minimum wage, increased government spending on education, protections for generous pension plans, and opposes the funding of charter and alternative education through the EITC. As the lobbyist for PSEA, one can reasonably infer the policy objects of the PSEA are in line with that of Mr. Long.

The lobbyist registration portal of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania also lists the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) as a client of Mr. Long. As the name implies, the PSBA is the association of public school leaders, advancing excellence in education through superior training, vital services and powerful advocacy. The Palmyra Area School District school board is a member of the PSBA. One may ponder whether a lobbyist or firm may ethically represent two entities with what appear to be divergent and potentially conflicting interests. In his editorial, Mr. Long states “During a crisis like this, it is especially important that we hold our elected leaders accountable.” Presumably, he’s referencing the elected volunteer school board members of the Palmyra Area School District, several of which he openly campaigned for and all of which he presumably advocates for as his state registration discloses. There is no indication in the letter of his efforts to discuss these matters directly with the school district or any board members.

However, it leads to the question of where was that accountability of elected leaders in his 14 years as an employee in the Pennsylvania Senate that produced no meaningful reforms or relief to the burdened taxpayers of Palmyra. Are we now to believe after receiving in excess of a million dollars in salary and benefits from the Commonwealth through his annual salary of ($123,800/per year) and the generous state pension of his own waiting for him in retirement that he is now the white knight and fiscal crusader we’ve been waiting for? Was his previous position of influence he now touts to retain clients used for the greater good of the Commonwealth? A quick Google search didn’t locate any letters to the editor from Mr. Long following the 2005 Pennsylvania legislative pay raise or at other times in his 14-year government employee career.

The idea that Pennsylvanians, and Palmyra residents disdain and despise the property tax, is widely accepted. However, the school districts in Pennsylvania exist with the oversight and at least in part, funding limitations and restrictions, of the legislature. The same legislature Mr. Long was previously employed by and the one his firm continues to lobby for on behalf of clients like the PSEA teachers’ union and again, somewhat surprisingly given his attacks on its members, the Pennsylvania School Boards’ Association.

If ever there was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, Mr. Long appears to be exactly that. One could reasonably conclude this is a classic false flag operation. By day, Mr. Long works in Harrisburg advocating for the special interests that want a $15 minimum wage, increased government spending, increased pay for teachers, protections for generous pension plans, and opposes the funding of charter schools and alternative education. By night, Mr. Long bears the banner of the Republican Party and pronounces his talking points in opposition to the money that funds his own school district’s students. Who is the real Mr. Long and who does he serve? How do we weigh the credibility of someone who has a generous multi-million dollar state pension and who has already been paid over a million of dollars of taxpayers’ money? How do we weigh the credibility of someone who is paid by the organizations he sells influence for in Harrisburg and denounces the volunteers who serve the local school district where he lives?

As the recently retired Superintendent Lisa Brown states on the school district’s website:

Palmyra Area School District continues to offer excellent educational opportunities at a per-pupil cost that is one of the lowest of all districts across the state. The district has accommodated increased enrollments, improved facilities, expanded curricular offerings including a continued emphasis on the arts, and maintained strong athletic and extracurricular programs within the constraints imposed through Act 1. The district continues to lead in the areas of Keystone and PSSA scoring. In the US News & World Report’s 2018 Ranking of all High Schools, Palmyra Area School District ranked in the top 10% of all PA districts, while the district is consistently in the lowest 10% of all PA districts with regard to cost per pupil.

Palmyra has experienced significant population growth and educational success that is recognized by the Commonwealth’s data and other independent publications. As Mr. Long’s clients must agree, you have to pay for the results you want. Unfortunately, like lobbyists, our valuable school employees can’t be expected to work for free. While there are no doubt difficult decisions and cuts to be made to balance this budget, I saw no proposed solution or ideas for cost savings in Mr. Long’s letter or an acknowledgment of the superior education being provided in the school district.

There are extremely challenging budget decisions to be made because no one wants to raise taxes on people who are already facing personal financial burdens or unemployment caused through no fault of their own and no one wants to reduce the quality education the children of Palmyra are currently receiving. As an eight-year member of the Palmyra Area School Board it has been widely accepted that the maximum tax increase be considered during the preliminary budget due to the fact that the state never offers any direction or information and often cuts funding at the 11t hour. However, when the vote actually matters the board has always been conservative approving minimal increases and as low as 0% increase. I encourage every taxpayer to research and educate themselves on the history of these issues and not get sucked into more political misleading rhetoric. We need thoughtful debate, discussion, and meaningful solutions. What we don’t need more of is empty rhetoric, blame, and misdirection. Unfortunately, Mr. Long’s letter appears to be consistent with his personal experience of boasting, bragging, and posturing and provides no benefit other than to his own echo chamber. The only reasonable conclusion is Mr. Long is the hired gun he appears to be, and his hypocrisy knows no bounds. Palmyra will seek and find the difficult solutions to these problems for all taxpayers, students, and residents of the district, including Mr. Long, but not because of him.

Sincerely,

Kurt Koennecke
Former PASD Board member

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