Wilkes-Barre Area in a fight to save our schools.

        I would like to say this is a good story,  but it is not. This story is the setup for the final death knell for a crumbling city.  Wilkes-Barre was a coal mining city.  It is right next to the Susquehanna River,  the polluted part.  It has always been a home to the working man. I was born here in 1974 in a hospital that closed.  Anyone from the area would remember Mercy Hospital.  My 2 kids and my wife were also born in this hospital. Wilkes-Barre was a good city.  Over the years drugs,  crime,  corrupt politicians,  corrupt judges and recession has decimated it.  It is a shadow of its former self.  The mayor is proud of the service jobs he “created”,  while the city hemorrhages good jobs and people.  We are the home of the Kids for Cash Scandal,  the one where the judges put juveniles in a facility for a kickback and the home of the gas scandal.  67,000 gallons of gas went missing and not a soul was prosecuted.                      

        I graduated from one of our 3 high schools,  Meyers,  my wife graduated from our rival,  GAR. The other school in our area is Coughlin.  Meyers and GAR are neighborhood schools and Coughlin is downtown serving the outskirts of our city and the northern part.  There are about 42,000 people in Wilkes-Barre.  The median income is $20,000 below the Pennsylvania average. We are such a poor area,  every child gets a free lunch in school.  The kids cafe and other programs for poor kids are packed full.  My home is struggling.

        The Wilkes-Barre Area School District serves an estimated 82,000 people.  It has about 6,800 students,  about 40% of which are minorities.  We have 9 schools and 1 charter school.  Elementary schools are: Kistler,  Dodson,  Heights,  Dan Flood,  and Solomon,  which also has our only middle school.  Bear Creek Community Charter School is a public charter,  that just built a new school.  Our high schools are Meyers,  GAR,  Coughlin. Mackin,  a school that was closed,  is being redone and will temporarily house Coughlin 9th and 10th graders,  unsure of its later use. In 2007 we ranked 128 in the state in testing.  In 2011 we dropped to 423 out of 501.  Around 2006 Meyers was in danger of closing.  The engineering firms deemed it unsafe.  But a concerted effort by citizens saved it and money was thrown at it. It was a band aid.  The Wilkes-Barre Area School Board has had corruption issues as well.  Several years ago board members were caught accepting money for teaching positions,  among other things.  Very trustworthy group.

          Fast forward to 2014. At some point the superintendent was informed of safety issues at Meyers.  They quickly went to work to determine the extent of damage at all schools.  It was deemed the Meyers and Coughlin were in bad shape.  The district conducted a feasibility study.  They also had 2 groups working to look for a solution.  One was made up of teachers and school employees.  The other of citizens.  The 2 groups started their work,  looking for new sites and ideas of how to build schools or school to better serve our kids.  A couple weeks after the groups started meeting,  the board informed them that they had a $100 million limit and could 9nlt choose from existing school properties.  Essentially the groups had 2 properties to choose from. Coughlin is about 2.4 acres and Meyers is 7.7 acres. Coughlin is in downtown,  Meyers is a bit out of the center city. The groups came up with 3 proposals. 
1) keep all 3 schools.  Rebuilding or renovating Meyers.  Rebuilding Coughlin at its current site or at the Solomon site.
2)rebuild Coughlin and merge it’s students with Meyers. 
3)rebuild Meyers and put Coughlin students there.

            The feasibility study said Coughlin was shot.  The estimated rebuild was between $65-$75 million.  Meyer was estimated at at a rebuild cost of $75-85 million. Meyers renovations were estimated $85 million.  The parapet was falling down and the steel knuckles above the windows were rusted and needed replacement.  They said the floor shifted 12 inches,  yet there were no cracks anywhere.  It turns out the shift happened as it was being built. GAR needed $20 million worth of renovations. Tops for the 3 was $180 million.  The cap was put at $180 million to avoid referendum for exceeding maximum tax allowance. 

           That is the general story.  Here is where it goes a little awry.  On June 8 there is a board meeting.  The board decided to close Meyers,  build at Coughlin and put an extension on Kistler to house 7th and 8th graders. They threw out every suggestion and came up with a whole new plan.  They also were going to vote to submit Plancon funding on June 10. Plancon is Pennsylvania’s system for reimbursement for school building.  On June 10 the board voted 7-2 in favor of this plan.  This plan goes against all current literature and what all experts agree is best.  It goes against what countless University studies determined was best for children.  But here is where our story gets interesting.

Our district is going forward with this consolidation despite public outcry, statistics citing the utter failure of consolidation, the fact that they are flat broke and the fact that their plan changes daily. The are telling us they are broke but are paying for architects, engineers and the renovation of a school from their general fund. The money meant for the kids and teachers. About $11.5 million of the general fund has been spent on this. Throw on top of this the budget impasse in Pennsylvania and that the District must pay its charter school by November 1. Also that the $100 million bond is not guaranteed, in fact who would loan to anyone who is maxed out. This is a mess that will get worse.

A group of us, part of which is the Wilkes-Barre Area Save Our Schools, are trying to educate the public, while trying to to get the board to slow down. They are not listening to reason, in fact the board president got so angry at the last meeting the solicitor had to quiet him down. At the moment this board is drunk with power and does not believe the public has the right to question them. The board dismisses, makes fun of and general looks at anyone who doesn’t agree with them as the enemy. How can the public work with elected officials who view the public as the enemy? We have tried reason, pointing out the flaws, exposing untruths, forcing answers and trying to find their financial bottom line. They are reluctant to let the public see the books.

The last meeting was revealing. We found out quite a bit with a concerted effort by the public. People asked questions, people behind them asked follow up questions and any question not answered was asked again. The pressure is on. A process that should take 9-12 months is being shoved into a 6 month window. We are making process but it does not feel like it is enough. If we fail Wilkes-Barre fails. The exodus will continue and a once great city will fall into complete ruin.

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New Fracking Bill being introduced will eliminate hazardous chemicals loophole.

                   As any normal person knows Fracking is very contreversial. Fracking is well known for polluting natural water and land areas. There are at least 23 known carcinogens used in the Fracking process and 5% of all wells fail immediately. The failure is caused by a leak in the concrete. The Natural Gas Drilling Industry refuses to recognize any of this. They are also not required to list the chemicals used because of an exemption in the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa) and U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Ca.) introduced a bill to end the chemical exemption. The Closing Loopholes and Ending Arbitrary and Needless Evasion Regulations Act (CLEANER) takes aim at eliminating the hazardous waste exemption. The Bill currently has 43 co-sponsors, all Democrats. The Bill faces an uphill battle because of the Republican majority in the House.

The RCRA was amended to exempt waste from the production and development of oil, natural gas and geothermal waste. This has allowed the Fracking Industry to run amuck. They have destroyed whole habitats, as well as families drinking water in everyone of the 34 states they are currently drilling in. Republicans have defended the Natural Gas Drilling Industry high and low. They have gone so far as trying to remove the Federal EPA from their state. They have knowingly lied to the press, releasing contaminated water tests to homeowners and telling the press that there was no pollution.

The industry has spent millions of dollars on lobbying. Governor Tom Corbett (R-Pa) has recieved about $1.5 million dollars from the Natural Gas Drilling Industry. When a lawmaker recieves that much money from an industry, how can they be expected to make the correct decisions for the people. I thought it was illegal to recieve money from a business that you would make legislation for. Conflict of Interest. But for now the Fracking Industry has a free pass to pollute our water and destroy our environment. It is good knowing someone is trying to hold them accountable.

Pennsylvania needs to dump the GOP in 2014

                I live in Northeastern Pennsylvania. This is a Democrat heavy area, as is most of Pennsylvania. Gerrymandering has given our state a Republican Governor and House majority. Although the state overwhelmingly voted for President Obama.

Governor Corbett has proposed so many pro-business bills, you would think he was a Natural Gas Drilling Lobbyist. He has given corporations hundreds of millions of dollars in tax cuts while cutting State Health Care and education budgets. He refuses to let Pennsylvania take part in the ACA, because people on Medicaid get too much for free. The state has sunk to 49th in job creation under Corbett, he says too many Pennsylvaniabs are on drugs. Stats tend to disagree.

Republicans suspend the laws of the State Legislature when they don’t suit them. They invoked God’s Law when the States only openly gay Senator wanted to talk about the Supreme Courts decision on the DOMA case. They refused to let him speak. Sadly Republicans are doing this nationwide as well as in Pennsylvania.

Democrats in the State have fought Corbett at every step. They have stopped much of his conservative agenda. But the only true way to stop his unconstitutional methods is to vote him out. No voter apathy, Voter Restriction Laws cannot stop us, he needs to go. Our children and our state deserve better.

Governor Corbett has to defend another pro-business law.

                Governor Tom Corbett is yet again defending another of his Bills. Several of his Bills, which helped make up his conservative agenda, have been found unconstitutional or dismissed by the Commonwealth Court. This time it is his Gas Royalty Bill. Another pro-business Bill from a man who refuses to tax Natural Gas Drilling Companies and gave businesses another $310 million tax break in his new budget. While at the same time cutting funds from Education and Health Care.

Critics of the Bill contend that it undermines landowners negotiating rights. It gives an unfair advantage to Natural Gas Drilling Companies. Many landowners in Pennsylvania have negotiated drilling contracts so companies can get at the Marcellus Shale.

The Bill enjoyed overwhelming support from the Republicans who control the Pennsylvania legislature. Democrats fought against, but like many issues they have fought against the Republican majority will dismiss Constitutional rules to get what they want. Corbett signed the Bill without public comment. Corbett believes the law enhances the efficiency of oil and gad drilling. He also says the Bill will limit environmental damage and protect landowner rights. Governor Corbett said fracking doesn’t cause pollution, in fact the EPA stopped investigating it. That is odd he mentions pollution.

This law like most of Corbett’s other proposed laws, is pro-business. Corbett uses rhetoric to disguise them as helping people. This is designed specifically to help drilling companies get at all of the Marcellus Shale natural gas. The Fracking process which is used to bore horizontally underground that extend thousands of feet from the vertical well bore. This law allows them to cross property lines as well. Fracking is widely known for causing environmental pollution, as well as making people sick. There are at least 23 known carcinogens in the fluid used to Frack. Why isn’t the EPA investigating Fracking Companies and chemicals? Could it be lobbying companies have bought off the top levels of government?

Governor Corbett and unConstitutional GOP Policies wastes time and money.

              Another of Governor Corbett’s landmark policies was determined by the Commonwealth Court to violate the Pennsylvania State Constitution. His Human Services Block Grant Program got hit this time. Ths 2012 program, was said to give counties flexibility to spend Human Services funds where they most needed them. There was also another 10% slashed from their budgets.

Apperently it was so flexible in its interpretation of State Law that it went outside the bounds of the Constitution. Court reviews of laws presented by Governor Corbett and the Republican party are quite normal over the last 2 years. The Voter I.D., Act 13, stripped municipalities of the ability to establish their own zoning regulations. The elimination of the Adult Basic Health Care Program. It provided Health Care for working Pennsylvanians and partially paid for tabacco settlement funds. Republicans first attempts at reapportionment were all found unConstitutional.

Governor Corbett’s lawsuit against the NCAA was dismissed. His plan to privatize the Pennsylvania state lottery was rejected by the attorney general. The truth is the laws Governor Corbett is trying to pass are a waste if taxpayer money. The Governor’s office has spent almost $3 million on consulting firms for the lottery alone. If House Republicans would allow fair debate in the House these expenses could be avoided. During both the Act 13 and Voter I.D. debates, Democrats brought up the issue of Constitutionality only to be rebuked.

If Corbett’s liquor privatization and pension schemes get signed they will likely see court. Governor Corbett, just like Republicans nationwide care little for what the people want. It seems as if the Constitution only matters if it works in their favor and if not they stomp all over it. It is just a matter of time before they overwhelm the people and we are governed by the Koch Brothers.

Governor Corbett’s education budget is preferential treatment masquerading as broad based supplements.

             Recently Pennsylvania gave an extra $1 million in state money to a school district through an unusually specific supplement. Only one district, Hazleton Area School District, recieved the $1 million. As much as that cash strapped district can use the money, so can almost every other School District in Pennsylvania.

There was a bit more than $30 million handed out to a few schools under titles like Small School District Supplement, Small Rural School District Supplement and Third Class County School District Supplement. There are 154 districts in the states 12 third class counties, designation is determined by population. But to qualify for the piece of the $1 million supplement, a district had to have a stare calculated “Aid Ratio” that fell in a very narrow range, leaving only 24 qualified districts. 6 of those districts were in Luzerne County, 5 of them, as well as 18 out of the 24 did not meet the last requirement based on enrollment for the supplement. It seems as if the supplement was tailor made for the full $1 million to go to Hazleton.

There were 12 supplements, 6 went to single districts. With the rest divided by 2 and 3 to 5 districts. The $500,000 Rural School District Supplement went to Phillipsburg-Osceola School District in Clearfield County. The $500,000 Small School District Supplement went entirely to Penns Valley Area School District in Centre County. If size was the only consideration, requirement was 1,600 students or fewer, it could have been divided between 166 districts, 152 of which were smaller.

This is not a reflection on the School Districts who recieved these supplements. With all the cuts Corbett and his Republican supporters made to the Education Budget, any and all schools needs this money. This is a direct reflection on Governor Corbett and his ludicrous policies. All of the School Districts are suffering with him as Governor. Instead of focusing on Education, he has focused on Privatizing Liquor Sales, Privatizing the Pennsylvania Lottery and another Anti-Abortion lawmaker. He has Pennsylvania ranked 49th in the country in job creation. Good job Governor.

A recent poll shows how Pennsylvanians feel about Governor Corbett. 43% of Republicans believe he will be reelected. 25% of Independents believe he should be reelected. Democrats just plain want him outvof office. He is as much as 10% behind his probable Democrat challenger for Governor. Things are not looking peachy for Corbett and it is his own doing. To sacrafice Education and Seniors to give large Tax Breaks to corporations does not endear you to the people.

New Gas Drilling Legislation on Governor Corbetts desk weakens negotiating rights for landowners.

            New Oil and Gas Drilling Legislation seriously weakens landowners negotiating rights with Fracking Companies. The National Association of Royalty Owners said last minute changes to a Senate Bill would allow drilling companies to use decades old mineral leases to force current landowners to accept Marcellus Shale drilling under their property.

Trevor Walczack, Vice President of the association’s Pennsylvania chapter, said Corbett shouldn’t sign the bill. Although his group normally favors oil and gas drilling. Unfortunately Governor Corbett’s history suggests he will side with Natural Gas Drilling Companies, he has sided with corporations more often than not. Walczak said the bill would ultimately be similar to forced pooling. A drilling company can force some landowners to accept drilling if many of the surrounding households have agreed.

The Legislation would apply to people with existing oil or gas leases. Heirs to leases signed many years sgo for traditional drilling would be forced to accept fracking. Which can extend under neighbors lands and the neighbor would be forced to accept Fracking on their land as well. Fracking has led to a Natural Gas boom in Pennsylvania and millions of dollars in royalties for leaseholders.

Pollution caused by Fracking has been well documented in States that have had Fracking for several years. Water from a faucet catching on fire, cancer clusters, headaches among many other symptoms from the pollution. The EPA does not have clearance to check the chemicals used for Fracking. But samples taken have shown at least 23 known carcinogens. Governor Corbett has basically let these Natural Gas Drilling companies to drill in Pennsylvania tax free. Republicans and Democrats in the State House and Senate have been at odds about Fracking for quite some time. It figures our Pennsylvania lawmakers would try to take away citizens negotiation rights. Why not pollute and make billions while not paying a dime? That is where this is headed.