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Legislators spar over vouchers, spending for charter schools

December 21, 2011 Leave a comment

PUBLISHED IN THE CENTRE DAILY TIMES

MONDAY, DECEMBER 19, 2011

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BY ED MAHON

A proposal to create taxpayer-funded school vouchers in Pennsylvania may have suffered a fatal blow for this legislative year.

But Republican lawmakers hope they can revive another one of Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed education initiatives in the coming months.

“The issue is not dead. We have to still do a reform package on charter and cyber charters,” said state Rep. Paul Clymer, R-Bucks, chairman of the House Education Committee. “The whole idea is to have a fair and balanced package sometime this year that we can present to the committee and then to the General Assembly.”

But some Republicans disagree on what that final charter school package should look like.

State Rep. Mike Fleck, R-Huntingdon, voted against the charter school legislation Wednesday. He’s pushing legislation that would likely decrease funding for cyber charter schools, limit how much they can spend on advertising, and require the state to enforce minimum online and offline hours for students.

“They’re public schools. They’re here to stay,” said Fleck, a former Southern Huntingdon County school board member and current member of the House Education Committee. “But they need to be held to the same requirements as our regular public school system.”

State Rep. Dan Truitt, RChester, has two children enrolled at Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School in a program that blends online classes with brick-and- mortar classes. Also a member of the House Education Committee, Truitt is opposed to the idea of changing the funding formula for cyber charter schools

.“I’m very concerned about the Fleck legislation — that he’s going to accidentally break a good thing,” said Truitt.

The charter and voucher-school legislation failed with a 105-90 vote. Truitt plans to seek out the 20 Republicans who broke ranks with their party to help shoot down the plan.

“What I figure I’m going to have to do is hunt down each one of these people one at a time and find what held them back, what were their reservations,” said Truitt. “I’m looking at this list, trying to understand what the pattern is, and I don’t see anything that I can firmly grasp and say, ‘Aha, that’s where things went wrong.’ ”

The issue is especially relevant in Centre County.

State College Area School District spends more on charter schools than 95 percent of other Pennsylvania school districts. The county has four brick-and-mortar charter schools. The nearby Sugar Valley Rural Charter School typically draws 20 to 30 students fromthe Penns Valley Area. And Centre County students also attend cyber charter schools, including Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, which opened a satellite office in Bellefonte this summer.

Read more: Legislators spar over vouchers, spending for charter schools.

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Emotions run high at Ram Community Centre meeting

December 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Caption: A crowd listens as Allan Darr talks about the proposed Ram Community Centre on Wednesday, December 14, 2011 at the Penns Valley High School auditorium. Christopher Weddle

BY ED MAHON

PUBLISHED IN THE CENTRE DAILY TIMES

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 15, 2011

PENN TOWNSHIP — About 300 Penns Valley Area residents turned out for an informational meeting Wednesday night about the proposed $4.5 million Ram Community Centre.

The issue’s become controversial in recent weeks, and the moderator ended the meeting after some audience members started shouting questions and objections to the project and after two men in the crowd got into an argument.

“I don’t think anybody in this room says we don’t want a YMCA. We just don’t want it on the school property,” Johnathan Gillan shouted to the moderator, so he could be heard in the almost packed auditorium at Penns Valley Area High School.

One person greeted his comment with an “Amen” and some applauded. But a few sitting next to him objected.

“Why not?” shouted another man in the crowd. When Gillan responded that he had safety concerns, the other man — who later declined to give his name a reporter — mocked that argument.

“Do you actually think there’s going to be boogeymen hiding behind every bush, reaching out to grab a kid? Do you actually believe that?” the man shouted. “Come on. Jerry Sandusky is over there. He’s not here. He’s one guy. You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Then Russ Brooks, the moderator and supporter of the proposed projected, tapped on the microphone and told the audience he was wrapping things up.

“As I said at the outset, every question would be treated with respect even if we could not answer it tonight. Pardon me,” Brooks, who’s both a former Penns Valley Area school board member and a former Centre Hall mayor, said as one person yelled another comment. “The second point I made was we needed to be civil. And clearly there are levels of frustration among individuals that don’t permit that. And I’m genuinely sorry about that. But please stay and talk with any person here after we close the meeting, and look for other opportunities to learn more, and get more facts, and express yourself.”

The ending came shortly after 9 p.m., a little more than two hours into the meeting which had been highly anticipated in the region with about 9,000 residents. For the past several weeks, dueling road signs have been set up on Penns Valley Area lawns and farms.

At issue is whether the school district should lease land to a nonprofit organization that will build a community center. That all-volunteer nonprofit, known as the Ram Community Centre, has agreements to lease space inside the facility for a YMCA branch, medical offices and a senior center.

Leaders of the Ram Community Centre have listed answers to more than 60 questions at their website, http://www.pvramcentre.org, and they said Wednesday evening they planned to answer every question that audience members wrote down. Susan Dawson criticized the format of the meeting.

“There was an hour and a half given to their views, and no time giving to the opposing views,” she said. “The question and answer session was very controlled. And that was disappointing.”

From 7 to about 8:30 p.m., about 10 speakers and supporters of the project presented information. Then they fielded questions, but the questions had to be written down on index cards.

Brooks said he understood Dawson’s frustration. But he said the large meeting was a good setup for providing information, not debating an issue.

“The intention is to have small group meetings, with seven, eight, 10 people, have some coffee and talk,” Brooks said, “and really, really, deeply dive into some of those questions.” Ed Mahon can be reached at 231-4619.

Read more here: Emotions run high at Ram Community Centre discussion.

Trial turnout disappoints Bellefonte business owners

December 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Caption: West High Street in front of the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte is blocked off for the preliminary hearing of Jerry Sandusky on Tuesday, December 13, 2011. Nabil K. Mark CENTRE DAILY TIMES 

PUBLISHED IN THE CENTRE DAILY TIMES

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 14, 2011

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BY CHRIS ROSENBLUM, ED MAHON AND JESSICA VANDERKOLK

From the story:

Arlene Milton stayed at her restaurant, The Diamond Deli, until 11:30 p.m. Monday night and arrived at 3:45 a.m. Tuesday to finish preparing a breakfast buffett.

She opened at 5 a.m. offering a spread that included eggs, home fries, fruit salad, sausage, and sausage gravy with homemade muffins.But by 7 a.m., the shop — which she has owned for nine years and is adorned with old photographs and other Bellefonte memorabilia — only had about five customers.

“I’m disappointed. Where are these people?” she said. “You know, they come into town here, now they ought to be in here to eat.”

But she figured things would pick up.When Sandusky waived his preliminary hearing an hour-and-a-half later, those hopes faded.“All this food! As if it grows on your back,” she said. “Forget it. If it goes to trial, I’m closing the doors.”

Read more here: Trial turnout disappoints Bellefonte business owners.

Categories: Bellefonte, December 2011

Bellefonte definition of ‘crazy,’ locals say

December 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Caption: A Fox News satellite truck pulls in front of the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte on Monday, December 12, 2011. Christopher Weddle 

BY ED MAHON

PUBLISHED IN THE CENTRE DAILY TIMES

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TUESDAY, DECEMBER 13, 2011

BELLEFONTE — A dozen satellite vans lined Allegheny and High streets Monday evening outside the Centre County Courthouse, and police officers were guiding more to spots. Residents walked downtown to see the spectacle, snapping pictures with their phones. And nearby business owners hung up signs, promoting one-day specials.

“Crazy,” said Leondardo Saavedra, describing the scene outside Brother’s Pizza where he works.

The source of the commotion in downtown Bellefonte was the preliminary hearing of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. His case — which involves more than 50 counts of alleged child sex abuse against 10 boys — has drawn national media attention.

On Monday evening, trucks for Fox News, NBC, and CNN all sat in Bellefonte.“This is a small town,” said Megan Youells. “So it’s definitely bringing some commotion.”

Youells, 22, and her friend Jessica Austin, 23, live about three blocks from the courthouse. They’re both accountants, and in between taking pictures, they discussed alternate routes for their morning commute.

“Getting onto 80 is going to be crazy,” Youells said referring to the nearby interstate, which she takes to get to work in Lock Haven.

Austin usually drives down High Street on her way to State College, but she figured she would loop around it today.

“Hopefully, I can,” she said.The Bellefonte YMCA planned to close its main office and annex, both on High Street, because of the closed streets. But other business owners saw the increased traffic as an opportunity.

“Special Hours Tuesday, December 13th,” read a sign outside Dairy Queen. “Opening at 6:30 a.m.”

Brother’s Pizza, where Saavedra works, plans to open at 7 a.m. instead of 11 a.m. Workers there will be serving coffee and breakfast pizza.

“We normally don’t sell breakfast pizza. It’s only for (Tuesday),” he said. “It’s like pizza dough, eggs, bacon, sausage, ham.”

At 7 p.m., about 10 volunteers and workers waited inside the Bellefonte Faith Centre for the food bank and thrift store’s annual Toy for Tots sorting night, which happened to be scheduled for the eve of the preliminary hearing. The nonprofit planned to package 1,700 toys for 413 children.

“What happens is the toys come in on the fire truck, which is really fun and spectacular. And they’re just hauled in in these large bags. They’re already wrapped,” said Nicole Summers, executive director of the nonprofit. “And we have a large army of people who sort through them.”

The Faith Centre received special permission from the borough to let the fire truck drive up High Street, which was closed to most other traffic, and volunteers had to park farther away than usual.

“So logistics are a little bit challenging, but the spirit is really high,” Summers said. “It hasn’t compromised the number of people that are coming in to help or the level of enthusiasm.”

Ed Mahon can be reached at 231-4619.

Read more here: Bellefonte definition of ‘crazy,’ locals say.

Centre County educator named Teacher of the Year

December 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Caption: Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis is pictured with Tricia Miller, a literacy coach in Penns Valley Area School District, Centre County, who was named the 2012 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year. Pictured from left are Secretary Tomalis, Miller and John Anthony Ventura III, a former student in Miller s English class. 

PUBLISHED IN THE CENTRE DAILY TIMES

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 7, 2001

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BY ED MAHON

In third-grade, Tricia Miller’s seat ended up right next to the teacher’s desk.

The teacher didn’t set up her classroom that way because Miller was a troublemaker who needed to be kept under a watchful eye. She did it because, even before the age of 10, those around Miller recognized she’d be a good teacher.

On Monday evening, the state recognized that, too.

Miller, a secondary English teacher at Penns Valley Area High School, was named the 2012 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year, becoming the first Centre County educator to receive the award in its 54-year history.

“The experience has just been phenomenal,” said Miller, who was honored with 12 other finalists at a conference in Hershey this week. “I was with many, many, many fine teachers. …We all do what we can for kids, and that’s what’s so exciting.”

She will now serve as a spokesperson for teachers from across the state at events and conferences throughout the year, and she will represent the state in the national teacher of the year competition. Penns Valley Area High School plans to honor her and other teachers with a pep rally this afternoon.

“She cares about achievement, she cares about the teaching profession, as well as the community that she works in,” said Jacque Martin, the high school principal who nominated her for the honor. “So I am just so proud of her.”

Miller graduated from Bellefonte Area High School in 1990, and now lives in Lock Haven with her husband, two daughters, and stepdaughter. She has worked for Penns Valley since 1994, teaching English classes for most of that time.

In February 2009, she became the district’s literacy coach for grades 7 through 12, and helped introduce new instructional strategies in classrooms. Martin asked her to take on that role, which meant less time with students, and more time coaching her fellow teachers.

“I knew her colleagues respected her,” Martin said. Miller returned to the classroom full-time this year. John Ventura, 20, is one of her former students. He walked into her 12th-grade English classroom the second half of his senior year, after he’d already been accepted into Penn State.

“The first line out of her mouth was … ‘If you have senioritis, go see a doctor,’ ” recalled Ventura, who gave a speech honoring Miller at the Hershey conference. One of the lasting images he remembers from that semester in spring 2009 is the stare she could give, one that would send the message: You’re going to do the work, even if you fight it.

“She may come off as somebody who’s tough and hard, but she’s somebody who knew you had the ability to do great things as long as you put your mind to it,” said Ventura, who’s now a hotel and restaurant management major at Penn State. “She instilled some things that I’ll carry with me forever.”

Two other Penns Valley teachers, Jacqui Wagner and Mary Conner-Righter, were semifinalists in the state Teacher of the Year program. Erich May, who taught journalism and English at Bellefonte Area High School before taking an administrator job in the Allentown School District earlier this school year, was also one of the 12 finalists for the Teacher of the Year award.

In one of her many application essays, Miller wrote about the third-grade teacher who she ended up sitting near. She also wrote about the first-grade teacher who gave her a “beautiful, green, rubber bouncy ball for jumping rope longer than anyone else in the class,” the second-grade teacher who gently removed a pin that Miller had accidentally jabbed into her own finger instead of into a Christmas decoration, and the high school teachers who helped her play alto saxophone “without screeching,” and who taught her who “to love American literature, as well as analyze it, critique it, summarize it, and reflect on it through writing.”

“These are the greatest influences on my decision to become a teacher,” Miller wrote in her application, “and these teachers are behind my accomplishments, not only in education but personally as well, whether they realize it or not.” Ed Mahon can be reached at 231-4619.

Read more here: Centre County educator named Teacher of the Year.

Ailing Second Mile to cut jobs

December 21, 2011 Leave a comment

PUBLISHED IN THE CENTRE DAILY TIMES

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 8, 2011

BY ED MAHON

The charity at the center of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal informed some of its employees Wednesday that they will be laid off.

“Based on the current donor level of contributions and in order to continue programs, we have notified some of the staff that they would be leaving the organization starting next year,” said David Woodle, the vice chairman of The Second Mile’s board who is directing day-to-day operations. “All planned programs are continuing.”

Woodle said the nonprofit has about 20 employees. He declined to say how many will be laid off. The Second Mile also has about $2.47 million in annual expenses and total assets of about $9.54 million, according to its latest IRS tax filings.

Read more here:

State College school board replaces Pawelczyk with Leous as vice presient

December 21, 2011 Leave a comment

PUBLISHED IN THE CENTRE DAILY TIMES

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 6, 2011

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BY ED MAHON

STATE COLLEGE — After weeks of behind-the-scenes talks and a pointed debate Monday night, State College Area school board members voted 5-4 to replace Jim Pawelczyk as board vice president with Jim Leous. Board member Dorothea

Stahl criticized the change and implied it was “short-sighted and ignorant” to force someone out of a leadership role.

Then she brought up the 2007 election, when she and four other challengers won seats on the board, as community members complained that a proposed high school construction project was too expensive and that school board members was too secretive.

Ann McGlaughlin, who also was elected in 2007, also criticized the change as well.

“It has been proposed to several of us this week that we have different sides on the board and that we need to have people who represent those different sides,” said McGlaughlin. “We don’t have an aisle in school board. We don’t negotiate. We work together.”

Read more here: State College school board replaces Pawelczyk with Leous as vice president.