Andy Dinniman

Contested Primary on April 28: Five Candidates (3 D’s & 2 R’s) on Ballot for Sen. Andy Dinniman’s Seat in 19th Senate District

Democratic State Senator Andy Dinniman is not seeking re-election, announcing his retirement a couple of weeks ago. The Senator has represented Chester County’s 19th Senate District since 2006 and we learned that he has endorsed Don Vymazal (D), his governmental relations advisor to succeed him.

Following the news of Sen Dinniman’s retirement on February 7, and subsequent endorsement of Vymazal, two other democrats added their names to the list of candidates seeking the position  … Rep. Carolyn Comitta, former two-term West Chester mayor and currently serving state representative of the 156th District and Kyle Boyer, a first-term member of the T/E School Board and chair of its Policy Committee. Whereas Vymazal received the endorsement of Sen. Dinniman for his seat, Rep. Comitta (D-156) received the endorsement of Gov. Wolf for the position.

At the Chester County Democratic Committee held a couple of weeks ago, Don Vymazal garnered the most votes and received the party’s endorsement.  The endorsement process requires a 65% threshold and voting was as followed:

First Ballot:
Carolyn Comitta – 25%
Kyle Boyer – 27 %
Don Vymazal – 47%
(Rep. Comitta Eliminated)

Second Ballot:
Kyle Boyer – 36 %
Don Vymazal – 63 %

Final Ballot:
Kyle Boyer – 31%
Don Vymazal — 69%

Once Chester County Democratic Committee make their endorsements, often times the other candidates will drop out of the race before the primary election. But not this time; both Boyer and Rep. Comitta are staying in the race for Chester County’s 19th Senate District and will appear on the April 28 primary ballot.

It should be noted that  incumbent Rep. Comitta (D-156) did receive Chester County Democratic Committee’s endorsement for state representative. My assumption is that should Comitta win the primary election as her party’s choice in both the senatorial race and the state representative race, she would need to make a choice.  I am not completely certain about how the process works, but presumably Rep. Comitta cannot be listed as a candidate for both races in the November general election.

After nearly thirty years in public office, replacing Sen. Dinniman is no easy task.  And given the number of important issues facing Chester County – education, pipelines, environment and land development, etc. – where  Sen. Dinniman has been front and center for the community, the selection of his replacement is all the more important.

For instance, as minority chair of PA State Education Committee, Sen. Dinniman has led various initiatives to ensure quality education programs and reduce the cost of education. Although he has championed many causes during his tenure as an elected official, advocating for our children and their education has remained a high priority.

As most of us know, T/E School District has recently received massive national (and international) attention regarding its policy decision that involved the police in the recent threat assessment of a kindergartner with Down Syndrome.  As soon as the matter surfaced, Sen. Dinniman weighed in with a lengthy letter to the T/E School Board, questioning how the threat policy is being carried out. Although his statement is now widely shared, the reading of the letter by an audience member was not permitted at the last Policy Committee meeting. (Click here to read Sen. Dinniman’s letter).

T/E School Board director and chair of its Policy Committee Kyle Boyer is a candidate for Dinniman’s senate seat. Should the school district’s threat assessment policy and the police involvement in the handling of the 6-year old with Down Syndrome impact Boyer’s chances in the primary election? For the record, T/E School District Policy 5401 Student Discipline remains under review by the school board.

In addition to the three democrats on the ballot for the contested 19th Senate District seat held by retiring Sen. Andy Dinniman are two republicans. Republicans Kevin Runey and Amber Little-Turner also filed petitions to run in the 19th district. Runey is in the healthcare industry and is a Supervisor in the London Grove Township. Little-Turner from Coatesville is a real estate investment professional.

With five candidates (three Ds and two Rs) vying for the seat of retiring Sen. Andy Dinniman, the contested primary race will be interesting.

In another local race, State Rep. Melissa Shusterman (D-157) is seeking reelection. Rep. Shusterman is running unopposed on her party’s ticket and has no counterpart on the Republican ballot for the April 28 primary election. In addition to Rep. Shusterman, the Chester County Democratic Committee also endorsed Tredyffrin Township resident Chrissy Houlahan, incumbent for the 6th Congressional District.

For further information on all the local candidates, please check their social media sites.

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State Senator “Andy” Dinniman (D-Chester) Announces Retirement, Endorses His Aide Don Vymazal

Late today we learned that state senator for Pennsylvania’s 19th District, “Andy” Dinniman (D) has announced his retirement.

A tireless champion for Chester County and its residents for thirty years, Senator Dinniman is a one of a kind.  He is everyone’s Senator. If you’ve ever observed him walk down the street. Or cross a crowded restaurant on his way to a table. Or appear at a parade or fair or other public gathering. The congenial legislator can’t make it more than a few steps without someone stopping him for a greeting, a friendly word or a handshake.

The news of the Senator’s retirement is bittersweet.  While I extend my best wishes for his much earned retirement, please know that you will be missed. Thank you for your many years of service and for making Chester County first but now is the time for your family. Best wishes for a speedy recovery for your wife.

According to www.politicspa.com, Senator Dinniman has endorsed Don Vymazal, his longtime Director of Government Relations and Policy, stating “Don, who is well-known in Phoenixville, is the most qualified, experienced, knowledgeable, and well-respected person to lead the 19th Senatorial District.” Vymazal experience includes 16+ years with the PA State Senate.

Vymazal will face a primary challenge from Kyle Boyer, first term TE School Board director. On Thursday, February 13, the Chester County Democratic Party will hold its endorsement meeting.

Below is Senator Dinniman’s announcement of retirement:

“For nearly 30 years, as your Chester County Commissioner and State Senator, I have had the privilege of building a close relationship with the people of Chester County. Now, I have a responsibility to explain why I will not be seeking reelection.

This was a very tough decision, especially knowing just how many of you have faithfully and tirelessly supported my work over the years. However, as I sit at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center with my wife, Margo, who is now recovering from surgery, we both came to the sudden realization this was not the time to run again.

Anyone who seeks public office understands that it’s a family decision. Despite enduring a series of health challenges in recent years, Margo has always supported me. Over 51 years of marriage, she always said “yes” when I wanted to run. Even after a three-month stay at the hospital and Bryn Mawr Rehabilitation, she remained my biggest cheerleader, my most astute advisor, my rock. I remember times during her long hospitalization that I would go to Harrisburg, come home to walk and feed the dog, and then head back to the hospital to spend the night at her bedside. Margo and I have faced some long days and tough battles together, but that is what a real, loving relationship is about — and it only gets better with time.

Even after all of this, Margo again, out of steadfast love and devotion, agreed to support my plans to run in this year’s election. But now it is my turn to be there for her and lovingly support her as we focus on her recovery from a procedure that will allow her to again walk freely and live without constant pain for the first time in years.

Again, as I write this, sitting beside my wife and family, I cannot help but be overwhelmed by feelings of both gratitude and hope. I cannot help but reflect on my own career and marriage and the idea that “love is love.” I have been blessed to not only serve as your representative, but even more so, to share my life and all it’s ups and downs with a strong, supportive, and committed partner who I love. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

In closing, please know that I will continue to work hard for you until the very last day of my term. And Margo thanks all of you for the cards and well wishes.”

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TE Policy Committee Update: Public Wants Answers from School Board About Police Record for 6-Year-Old & State Senator Andy Dinniman Weighs In

I attended the District’s Policy Meeting last night. For nearly two hours of public comment, it was remarkable as parent after parent spoke out – all on the topic of Policy 5401 student discipline and the need for clarification. Many of the comments and discussion centered on which student behavioral situations constitute a requirement to “consult” with  police. As an audience member, it appears to be much confusion as to how Policy 5401 was intended to work vs the reality of what actually happens. In addition, concern for the handling (or mishandling) of special needs children and their specific behavioral issues.

It was troubling to learn from parents that the District appears more focused on students who make threats (including the 6-year-old Down Syndrome kindergartner) versus the students involved in physical altercations. Threats appear to escalate quickly to the police level yet on the flip side parents told stories about children who have been physically bulled and even beaten (yes, that word was used) without any police notification. These stories were difficult to hear – with one coming from a 12-year-old from Chesterbrook.

One of most poignant stories came from Tredyffrin Township supervisor Sharon Humble who reported that just yesterday her middle school son was bullied and pushed at school causing his head to hit the concrete. And although Mrs. Humble reported that her son was at home with a concussion, the District did not contact the police. This is crazy – how is that a kindergartner with Down Syndrome now has a police report but there’s no investigation into a significant physical alteration. I simply do not understand.

Throughout the two hours, CBS channel 3 was taping the meeting as was a T/E parent. Once the video from the parent is available, I will post. During the time that I was at the meeting, the members of the school board had little to say. But there was one remarkable moment between the Policy Chair Kyle Boyer and a District parent.

A parent attempts to read a letter from PA State Senator Andy Dinniman (D-19) regarding Policy 5401 which was sent to TE Superintendent Gusick and the school board prior to the meeting. Boyer interrupts the parent, saying “we’re not allowing you to read the letter” and refuses to allow her to continue. The parent then responds “Why, because you’re running against him?”  At which point, there were audible gasps from the audience.

In the comments on the last post on Community Matters, I provided an image from the public Facebook page of Sen Dinniman. The Senator was informed of the handling of the kindergartner with Down Syndrome; and states he has contacted the District and will post the letter shortly.  The letter was subsequently released on his Facebook page and a copy is at the end of this post.

To clarify, according to the Chester County Democratic Committee website, www.chescodems.org  first term T/E school board director Kyle Boyer is opposing incumbent  Senator Andy Dinniman, (who has served in the state senate since 2006). The two democrats will face off for the Pennsylvania Senate, District 19 seat.

In closing, it is my understanding that a draft of changes to Policy 5401 was presented by the Policy Committee (after I left) although a copy was not part of the meeting agenda. No final decision and the matter will continue to be discussed at a future Policy Committee meeting. It was a uncomfortable and troubling meeting without a clear path forward.

Senator Dinniman delivers a powerful message to TE School District in his letter below — please read.

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PA Laws Need to Change to Protect our Family Pets

How sad and senseless was the killing a couple of weeks ago, of two Bernese Mountain dogs in West Vincent Township?  My friend and blogger extraordinaire Carla Zambelli of Chester County Ramblings, has had a major impact on this story. Carla has used her social media skills and connections to seek justice for the dogs and to encourage legislation to protect the rights of our family pets.

As I understand what happened, the two family pets (Argus and Fiona) of Mary and William Bock and their five children, escaped from their fenced yard in Chester Springs. Apparently, the homeowner was unaware of a hole in the fence, caused by a fallen tree limb.  According to Mary Bock, from the time the dogs escaped the yard, until the time the pair were found dead in neighbor Gabe Pilotti’s yard was only about 15 minutes.

Pilotti originally told police that Argus and Fiona were after his sheep in an enclosed pen in his yard.  However, during the investigation, the police determined that the pair of dogs was not chasing the sheep when Pilotti shot them with his shotgun.  Using a single shotgun, means that Pilotti shot the first dog and then would have to remove the shell, and reload with another bullet to shoot the second dog.

Based on an old Pennsylvania state law that permits an individual to kill animals that threaten their livestock, the Chester County District Attorney’s Office originally determined that Pilotti had not committed a crime.  However a couple of days ago, District Attorney Tom Hogan reversed course and filed criminal charges against Pilotti – two counts of cruelty to animals and one count of recklessly endangering another person. Hogan said that the century-old state law did not protect Pilotti because the Bernese Mountain dogs were not attacking his sheep when he shot them.

Pilotti told the police that the dogs had not hurt the sheep and admitted that he did not try to scare the dogs off his property before killing them!  In fact, Pilotti admitted that Argus was not near the sheep and was actually walking towards him when he shot him in the head.  Because the direction Pilotti shot his gun was towards a private residence, the DA’s office added the reckless endangerment to the list of charges.

For regular readers of Community Matters, I have made no secret about my feelings related to guns and need for increased gun control legislation.  This senseless killing of family pets is just another example of what guns can do in the wrong hands and why gun laws need to change in America. Regardless of what happens with his pending criminal case, I am of the opinion that Pilotti needs a complete mental health examination before he is ever allowed to own a gun in the future.  Here’s a question – if Pilotti is convicted of this crime, does it affect his rights to own a gun? Unfortunately, I am confident that if he found ‘not guilty’, his retains his gun rights, just not sure what happens if he convicted.

Life is about making choices. Gabriel Pilotti had a choice when he found Argus and Fiona on his property.  Instead of picking up his cellphone and calling 9-1-1 or chasing the dogs from his yard, he chose to grab his shotgun … leaving a family grieving for their pets.  Pilotti will have to live with the consequences of his horrific choice.

Pilotti has been charged with the crime … now; Pennsylvania laws need to change to protect our pets.  As Carla writes on Chester County Ramblings, Punishment AND fines for animal cruelty need to be tougher all the way around.  It needs to mean more than an inconvenience.”

Thank you Carla for your efforts in seeking justice for Argus and Fiona. So their death was not in vain, along with Carla, I urge you to contact your local elected officials and help be the force behind getting laws changed to protect our family pets. Locally our Pennsylvania contacts are Sen. Andy Dinniman, Andy@psenate.com and State Rep. Warren Kamp, wkampf@pahousegop.com . Send them an email and ask them to support animal rights legislation.  According to Carla’s blog, himself an animal rights advocate, Sen. Dinniman is working a law that “would allow pet owners to civilly sue those who harm or kill their pets.”

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PA Senate Bill 1438 Allows NRA Lawsuits & Provides Take Your Gun to Work Rights

Move over PA House Bill 1523 and make room for PA Senate Bill 1438.  For those following the proposed NRA-supported legislation that would allow someone to sue a municipality for their lost or stolen firearm regulations, the PA House tabled HB 1523 a few weeks ago.

I inaccurately assumed that the reason for the tabling the lost or stolen handgun reporting bill was that our Harrisburg legislators had a change of heart … and decided to support the towns and cities (Philadelphia, Pittsburg, Lancaster, Allentown, etc.) across the state with local reporting ordinances.  However, in a recent meeting with Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-19), he explained that although the House was tabling HB 1523, a similar bill (SB 1438) would be on the Senate agenda when they returned to Harrisburg this week.

Senate Bill 1438 gives gun owners and membership organizations (which includes the National Rifle Association, NRA) legal standing to challenge any of municipality with ordinances that regulate firearms and ammunition. The language of the proposed legislation suggests the legal standing is regardless whether they live (or are connected to) Pennsylvania cities or towns with this kind of gun control ordinances.  By granting legal standing to the NRA, allows the pro-gun organization to sue local municipalities, just like individual gun owners.  Similar to the amended HB 1523, the proposed SB 1438 increases the scope and power of the NRA in Pennsylvania! Senate Bill 1438 has now moved to the Judiciary Committee for review.

If you own a car and it is stolen, you report it.  If you own a pet and it is lost or stolen, you report it. So … if you a responsible gun owner, why would you not want to notify the police if it were stolen?  All you have to say is the word ‘gun’ and some people immediately jump to the conclusion that someone is trying to take away their second amendment rights.

Today, in the Philadelphia Inquirer, mayors from the 30 Pennsylvania cities and towns with lost and stolen gun reporting ordinances are defending their local legislation, including Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. The mayors believe that their laws are helping to prevent crimes involving illegal guns.  According to Nutter, of the 316 homicides in Philadelphia last year, 85 percent were with guns, all of which were illegal.

As if the HB 1523 was not sufficiently overreaching when it came to the rights of gun owners and the NRA, the proposed Senate bill ratchets the gun owner’s rights ever higher. If I understand the language in HB 1438 correctly, this proposed legislation will block employers from not allowing their employees to bring guns to work.  If the proposed legislation passes, it could be ‘take you gun to work’ everyday and employers cannot set policy opposing it.  Wow.  Therefore, I guess this means that the employer has no rights when it comes to guns in the workplace but rather it is about the employee’s rights – that is, his or her rights to bring their guns to work.  Think about the various types of workplaces and the thought that this proposed legislation would legally permit employees to take their guns … schools, childcare, restaurants, movie theaters, etc.

As I have said before, this is not a Republican versus Democratic issue.  Based on the support for this type of pro-gun legislation in Pennsylvania, it has little to do with party affiliation but more about individual politicians and their constituent base.

Remembering that its election year and some of these politicians need to make sure that they are on the ‘right side’ of the National Rifle Association and, depending on the constituent base they represent, be seen as supporting second amendment rights.  So, here is an interesting thought – to get elected in Pennsylvania in 2012, do candidates have to pack a weapon?  Could it be that candidates fear that they may lose a vote or two if they are seen as supporting pro-gun legislation?  The arm-twisting of the NRA probably assures that some legislators stay on the approved course.

I still have to wonder, why gun control discussion has to be black and white.  Is it not possible to support the Constitution and the Second Amendment but also support some level of gun control in Pennsylvania?

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PA Voter ID Law: Can Court Battles be Far Behind?

Yesterday the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed the controversial voter ID bill HB 934 with a vote count of 104 – 88.  With Governor Corbett’s signature, Pennsylvania is now home to one of the toughest voter identification laws in the nation.

As expected, legislators cast their votes largely along partisan lines.  Locally, Republican state representatives Warren Kampf (R-157) and Duane Milne (R-167) voted for the bill and Democratic state senator Andy Dinniman (D-19) voted against the bill. The law goes into effect today requiring all Pennsylvania voters to present a photo ID issued by state or federal government, a state university or a nursing home, when voting in national, state or local elections.

Rather than closing the chapter on the voter identification bill debate, the passage of this bill will undoubtedly open the floodgates to legal battles. This new voter ID requirement is going to cost Pennsylvania taxpayers more than the million of dollars to implement to address a problem that essentially does not exist.  Legal challenges to the law are inevitable and those costly court battles will further tap taxpayer funds … in a year that cannot afford such expenses.

In two separate cases this week, we saw Wisconsin and Texas, involved in battles over their new state voter identification laws.  In Wisconsin, Dane County Circuit Court Judge David Flanagan put a temporary injunction onWisconsin’s voter ID law.  A trial to determine whether the injunction will become permanent is set for April 16.  The temporary injunction means that the restrict law will not be in effect for Wisconsin’s April 3rd primary and elections.  The US Department of Justice blocked the new photo-ID requirement for voters in Texas claiming that many Hispanic voters do not have the proper identification.

Proponents of Pennsylvania’s new voter ID legislation claim that the law is needed to combat voter fraud, although there was no indication of existing voter impersonation fraud in Pennsylvania, which is the only type of voter fraud this legislation would address.

No evidence of voter fraud plague found in Pennsylvania but we now have a law to prevent such an occurrence. Looks to me like Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law is a “solution without a problem”.

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Will Latest School Gun Violence in Ohio Make a Difference for PA House Bill 1523?

Today in Ohio, there are families making funeral arrangements for three children who died at the hands of another high school student allegedly using a semi-automatic gun stolen from an uncle’s home. This senseless tragedy once again points to why this country needs stricter gun control laws.

Young lives lost and families forever changed. Where is the outrage over this latest school shooting and national demand for stricter gun legislation? How many of our children have to die because of handgun abuse and assault weapon ownership?  Yet, the pro-gun activists will continue to argue against any laws that may place regulation on their gun ownership; defending their firearm rights at all costs.

Will the tragic shooting at Chardon High School– which left three teenagers dead and two others hospitalized – encourage gun reform in America?  Doubtful. For a few days as the shooter’s motives are analyzed, his childhood reviewed and his family scrutinized, there will be national attention and a renewed debate overAmerica’s gun laws.

For those of us that want stricter gun controls in this country, we can hope that the national discussion will lead to change, but as we saw in the aftermath of the high-profile shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, that probably will not happen. Although gun-reform legislation was introduced in Washington in the wake of Giffords shooting, it was never considered.

Do we really believe that is what our founding fathers had in mind when they wrote the second amendment of the US Constitution?  The amendment was designed to protect the right of the people to keep and to bear arms but could the writers have imagined the America of 2012? A country that protects the rights of Americans to own semi-automatic guns and assault weapons.

In a couple of weeks, our state house legislators will have the proposed PA House Bill 1523 on their agenda for discussion.  HB 1523 would penalize cities and towns across Pennsylvania for their commonsense reform that supports keeping illegal guns off the streets.  As amended, proposed HB 1523 legislation grants legal standing to the NRA, allowing the pro-gun organization to sue local municipalities with lost-or-stolen gun legislation, just like individual gun owners.

Illegal guns should to be off the streets of America– lost or stolen guns need to be reported. This week, a 17-year old shooter in Chardon, Ohio used a stolen semi-automatic gun to kill three high school students. Our children should be safe in their schools.  According to Kid Shootings, over 3,000 kids are killed annually by gunfire and 17,500 are injured . . .   every day eight children die from gunshot injuries in this country.  Where else in the world does this happen – only in America.

Will the latest school gun violence in Ohio, make a difference in the minds of Pennsylvania legislators as they review proposed House Bill 1523?

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Expert Negotiators Named as TESD Teacher Contracts Talks Begin

Tredyffrin Easttown School District contract negotiation process with the teachers union, Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association (TEEA) is officially underway. The current 4-year collective bargaining agreement expires June 2012.  (Click here for current contract).

With a cooperative tone, both sides have issued their preliminary statements – the school board recognizing the quality and standard of the District’s teachers but reinforcing the severity of our economic times.  And the teachers union proudly applauding the school district as one of the best in the state and stating their desire to work together through the contract negotiations.  The TEEA however did voice concern that no school board director was part of the negotiating team.

Representing the school district for the teacher contract negotiations:

  • Dan Waters, TESD superintendent
  • Sue Tiede, TESD human resources director
  • Art McDonnell, TESD business manager
  • Jeffrey Sultanik, Fox Rothchild, Blue Bell*

* Sultanik’s law practice focuses on personnel and labor relations for municipal and school districts. He chairs his firm’s Education Law Group, which has provided legal services to more than 90 school districts throughout PA.  During his tenure as former president of the PA School Board Solicitors Association, Sultanik presented legislative testimony before the PA Senate Education Committee, May 2009.  Click here to read a copy of his testimony, ‘Public Hearing on Teacher’s Strikes in Pennsylvania and the Impact on Public Education’. 

Currently at the helm of the school district’s teacher union is TEEA president Laura Whittaker, a Conestoga HS social studies teacher.  Representing TEEA in the contract negotiations is Ruthann Waldie, a UniServe representative from the PA State Education Association.  Other members of the teacher negotiating team have not yet been announced.

As an aside, Waldie represented the Unionville Chadds Ford School District teachers union in their recent and very long (challenging) teacher contract negotiations. If you recall, the state intervened and assigned an outside arbitrator in the UCFSD negotiations.  Although the arbitrator was brought in to bring both sides together, there was a feeling from the UCFSD teachers union (a feeling that was shared by Waldie) that the arbitrator did not fairly represent the teacher’s side.  I share this information, to point out that neither Sultanik nor Waldie are novices to school district negotiations.

With two ‘A players’ (Sultanik and Waldie) in the school district/teacher union negotiating world representing the opposing sides, we’ll have to wait and see if the TESD contract process may put their skill and experience to a test.

Looking beyond T/E school district boundaries, did you see the suggestion of one Philadelphia City Council member to help fund the Philadelphia city school system?  With a larger than expected budget shortfall (nearly $80 million in the red!), Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown obviously supports the theory that difficult times require creative solutions.  Her proposed legislature would keep the city bars open an additional hour, until 3 AM.  This extra hour of liquor tax revenue would net the schools an extra $5 million.  I’m all for the ‘thinking outside the box’ ideas but somehow the use of  liquor and schools in the same sentence just seems wrong – isn’t there a better way?

Chester Upland School District has become the poster child for failing school districts in the state.  CUSD announced to the state in December that they would be out-of-money by early January and therefore, unable to meet their payroll, utilities, etc.  With the announcement, brought an offer from the CUSD teachers to work without pay, at least temporarily.  At the ninth hour, the federal court intervened, issuing a short reprieve and an order for the state to advance $3.2 million to the district. Although the state money has continued to keep the doors open and the teachers on the job, this band-aid solution was only worth a few weeks.

Come the beginning of February, Chester Upland School District will have used up their advance and once again, be out of money – CUSD needs approximately $20 million to finish out the school year. Gosh, don’t the kids in CUSD deserve to know that their schools will be open until the end of the year?

Finally, click here for a draft legislative proposal that several PA state legislators have recently made public.  Marked confidential, the draft proposal document is titled “Chester Upland Fiscal Distress” and dated November 4, 2011.  Interesting to note that this draft proposal was written prior to CUSD’s request to the state for financial help.  The proposal calls for the state to take over school districts in financial distress (starting with Chester Upland) and run the school district with the use of an oversight board – a ‘Special Board of Control’.

This special board would have the legal authority to cancel teacher contracts, turn district schools into charter schools, reassign or suspend staff and to close schools. To be clear, this is only a draft proposal and no formal legislation has yet been introduced – however, this draft would suggest that the ‘handwriting is the wall’  for the introduction of this, or similar legislation.

Looks like Chester Upland School District could become the model for all distressed school districts across the state. It is probably a fair assumption that how the state decides to handle the financial crisis in CUSD will be duplicated in every other failing school district in Pennsylvania.

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Public Comment Period on Proposed Redistricting Ends Wednesday at Midnight

Just a couple of days remain for public comment on the proposed redistricting of Pennsylvania’s election district boundaries.  Wednesday, November 30 is the closing date for comments on the proposed redistricting maps.  Granted, these are preliminary maps but I get the sense that they are not likely to change. We have until midnight on Wednesday to email comments to the Legislative Reapportionment Commission at:

http://www.redistricting.state.pa.us/Contact.cfm

The General Assembly in Harrisburg decides the boundaries for the Congressional districts but the top four minority and majority leaders of the General Assembly make up the Reapportionment Commission that decides the boundaries for state house and senate districts with the help of a fifth member they appoint as a tie-breaker.  The process of redistricting in Pennsylvaniais unsatisfactory; five individuals conduct this entire process without any requirement for public input until the final plan is put on public view for 30 days before its passage.

The outcome of Pennsylvania’s 2011 redistricting plan should come as no surprise.  Although the Republican Party is in power for this redistricting process, given the next 10 years and the next census, the power shift could change to the Democrats. Regardless of which party holds the majority at the time of Pennsylvania’s redistricting, without some form of redistricting reform, sadly a similar politically driven outcome is all but guaranteed.

Redistricting reform is needed, including an independent nonpartisan redistricting commission for all electoral levels.  Such a commission would require people who would not have a personal stake in the outcome of the redistricting; unlike the way it is done now.  No elected or political party officials could serve on this independent commission; the new redistricting process should prohibit the inclusion of party registration data and voting history.

The realty is that sweeping nonpartisan redistricting reform is unlikely. Redistricting is a powerful tool for elected officials to protect their own and undermine opponents. Depending on who is in power at the time of redistricting is what determines the election boundaries — thus minimizing the role of the voters in the political process. By gerrymandering the districts, legislators have been able to choose the voters before the voters have had an opportunity to choose them.  Without nonpartisan redistricting, the cycle will continue . . . regardless of which party is in power.

Although it is too late for redistricting reform in 2011, you can still send in your comments to the redistricting commission.  Much has been written about the proposed redistricting changes, but if you are not sure how it will affect you, there is a good online resource. The Legislative Reapportionment Commission website includes interesting interactive maps of the voting districts across the state. You can see the overlay of maps from 1991, current 2001 and proposed 2011 for the House, Senate and Congress.  The maps detail the geographic boundaries and the changes in the districts as the population has shifted.  In addition to the interactive maps, the website contains the 2010 US Census population statistics.

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Labor Day 2011 . . . No Holiday for the Unemployed

The first Monday in September, Labor Day, has come to mean the ending of summer . . . the closing of the swimming pool . . . a day off from work and a great excuse to have that last big backyard barbecue. Looking at today’s forecast, the traditional backyard barbecue may be an indoor event.

Labor Day originated in 1882 because of the labor movement and was to recognize the working person with a special day in their honor. Why choose the first Monday in September for the holiday? It was decided that this date would be halfway between Independence Day and Thanksgiving. The idea became popular with labor unions and local governments around the county and gradually came to adopt Labor Day as an official holiday before it developed into a national holiday. President Grover Cleveland signed the law that recognized Labor Day as a national holiday for the working man.

I have always viewed Labor Day as an important day to celebrate. Beyond the last official day of summer, the day represents a time of remembrance of all the working people who contribute to the standard of living that as Americans we all enjoy.

Unfortunately, for many Americans, Labor Day 2011 is not a day of celebration but rather a reminder of their unemployment. A day set aside to honor workers, instead marks a time to reflect on those in this country that are without jobs. 

As the nation celebrates workers this Labor Day, many jobless Americans are losing hope.  We may hear politicians talk about Labor Day, some will march in parades, and others will take ads in newspapers saluting the American worker.  This is all very nice but no picture can be starker this Labor Day than the 14 million people in the US that are looking for work . . . that number represents 9.1 percent of our country’s labor force that wish they had a day to celebrate!

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