Dec. 20 Statement regarding Reading Public Museum
Statement from Reading School District
Submitted by John Miravich, School Board Solicitor
The Reading Public 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.
The museum real estate as well as the art and science collection are owned by the School District and the Museum Corporation, an entity formed in 1921, whose board is made up of the District’s Board members. The Museum Foundation is a private nonprofit entity that does not answer in any way to the taxpayers.
In 1990, the District had considered selling some of the collection to create a fund to support the museum’s operations. To avoid that, the School District, the Museum Foundation, and the Museum Corporation entered into an agreement in 1991 that both allows and obligates the Foundation to manage and operate the Museum and its art and science collection.
As consideration for Museum Foundation taking on these management and operations 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. 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 building and grounds capital improvements and repairs.
The Museum Foundation has claimed the School Board has repeatedly refused to provide necessary funding to upgrade and fix many parts of the facility and grounds. Yet, under the established 1991 agreement, the Museum Foundation is obligated to and agreed to maintain the buildings and make all necessary capital improvements - not the Reading School District.
The Museum Foundation also agreed to give preferred access to the Reading students. There has been no free student access to the museum since 2019 and all classroom opportunities within the museum building have been removed. 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. 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 directly 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.
It is for this reason that the Reading School District and Reading Public Museum and Art Gallery have issued the RFQ seeking to retain a qualified entity or entities to operate and manage the Reading Public Museum and preserve the valuable art collection and the access to students and for teaching as was agreed upon with Dr. Mengel’s vision.