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Homeward Bound

The presidents of the teachers' union and the school board in Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge's hometown won't be rolling out the red carpet when he speaks there at a charter school's graduation ceremonies. In fact, they'd rather roll the carpet up, put it away, and rescind the invitation.

The Republican governor has agreed to speak at the June 12 commencement of the first graduating class of the Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy in Erie, Pa. The charter school, which has the support of local teachers and the school board, opened four years ago.

Gov. Tom Ridge

But in response to complaints from some of the school's teachers, Joseph O'Hara, the president of the Erie Education Association, fired off a letter to the Erie school board contending that the governor's presence sends "a message to our community that denigrates and cheapens the contribution of our members to our students' achievements."

The governor has often found himself on the outs with Pennsylvania teachers' unions, which have clashed with him over such issues as public school financing, looser restrictions on hiring certified teachers, and private school vouchers.

Mr. O'Hara's May 3 letter drew a sympathetic response from the Erie school board's president, James R. Herdzik, a Democrat. "I could not agree with you more that this provides a high-profile forum for him ... that we should not be providing," Mr. Herdzik wrote back. But he added that he was the only board member who voted against letting the invitation stand.

Tim Reeves, the governor's spokesman, called it the "height of selfishness for [the two men] to turn their students' graduation day into a union rally." Noting that the governor hails from Erie, Mr. Reeves said that the governor's popularity "is off the charts up there."

—Bess Keller

Vol. 20, Issue 37, Page 19

Published in Print: May 23, 2001, as State Journal

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