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RSD Statement regarding Reading Public Museum

RSD Statement regarding Reading Public Museum
The School District was forwarded a statement posted by a government official on social media that contains grossly inaccurate information about the relationship between the Reading School District and the Reading Museum Foundation, which is a private nonprofit entity that does not answer to the taxpayers. It is unfortunate that that official did not contact School District’s administration, or its Board members, before that post was made as the inaccurate information could have been corrected.

Simply put, the Museum real estate and art and science collection are owned by the School District and the Museum Corporation, an entity controlled by the District’s Board members. The Museum was built with taxpayer funds from a District bond issuance nearly 100 years ago. It was started by Dr. Levi W. Mengel, a teacher in the School District, for Reading students and their families. In 1991, the School District, the Museum Foundation, and the Museum Corporation entered into an agreement that both allows and obligates the Foundation to manage and operate the Museum and its art and science collection. In addition, under the agreement, the Museum Foundation is obligated to maintain the buildings and make all necessary capital improvements. The Museum Foundation also agreed to give preferred access to the Reading students. As consideration for Museum Foundation taking on these obligations, it received $5 million from Berks County and has continued to have use of the taxpayer-funded buildings and art and science collection rent and fee free, thus making no payments to the School District.

Therefore, the social media statement that “negotiations between the Reading School District directors and the board of the Museum Foundation have broken down irretrievably over the [District’s] unwillingness to make requisite building repairs” is simply incorrect. In lieu of paying any rent for the land or paying any fee for use of the collection, the Museum Foundation contractually agreed to make all repairs. Likewise, that statement that “homeowners living near the museum grounds worry what will happen to what has been the exacting maintenance of the grounds by the Foundation when the RSD takes it over post-move” is at best misleading. Whatever the Museum Foundation, as a private nonprofit entity, does at another location other than the Museum is beyond the control of the School District; however, the Museum Foundation is contractually obligated to maintain the Museum and its grounds.  The School District intends to hold the Museum Foundation to these binding obligations through all legal means.

Furthermore, while there were discussions around the purchase of the property by the Foundation in 2018, the offers did not make clear whether Reading students and families would have access to the Museum, its grounds, and its art and science collection after the purchase. Access for Reading students and families remains the number one priority for the Reading School District. Sadly, while the social media statement implies that School District students currently have ready access to the Museum, this once-accurate statement is no longer true. Under the current Museum Foundation leadership, classrooms and lecture areas have been removed from the buildings. Facilities are now reserved for high-end parties, weddings, and private donor showings. Likewise, free field trips for School District students, which were enjoyed for approximately 90 years by these students, no longer occur without charge.  When the Museum Foundation’s current executive director was directedly asked about whether admission cost may prevent Reading children access to the Museum, he responded: “My family, like anyone’s family, must decide how it spends its entertainment dollars.” This fundamental misunderstanding of Dr. Mengel’s vision for the Reading Public Museum, as a learning tool for Reading students, has effectively shut the door to the Museum for many of the School District’s students and their families.