Saturday, December 16, 2017

Pottstown Pride Society Mixer Garners $1K Donation

From left, David Charles, Chris Golden, Codilia Arcay, Joe Rusiewicz, Howard Brown.
Blogger's Note: The following was provided by the Foundation for Pottstown Education.

The Pottstown Pride Society, a subcommittee of the Foundation for Pottstown Education held an Alumni Mixer recently. The mixer was held at @107. 

More than 60 people turned out for this first-ever event and had a great time sharing stories of their school days, hearing about the Foundation for Pottstown Education activities and having fun.

Thanks to the Advantage Insurance Group for their support of this event and the donation of $1,000 to the Pottstown Pride Society.

Anyone interested in joining the Pottstown Pride Society or hearing of our upcoming events, please contact the Foundation’s Executive Director, Joe Rusiewicz 610-970-6616. 

This society is not only for alumni of the Pottstown School District but anyone who has an interest and pride in Pottstown.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Operation Holiday Delivers Holiday Cheer Every Year

Photos by Evan Brandt
Volunteers inside The Mercury celebrate the packing of the last box Thursday morning. About 300 boxes of food were distributed to needy families Thursday.

I have struggled to find the holiday spirit this year.

What with what my sister calls "the world on fire blues," having to scrap one of my family's two vehicles and an invasion of squirrels who gained entry to my attic by chewing through the wood of my house and making their home in our Christmas decorations, is all making it hard to be merry.

I tried "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," "Charlie Brown Christmas" and "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation." ( Usually save "It's a Wonderful Life" for Christmas Eve.)

I was prepared to cue up Dylan Thomas reading "A Child's Christmas in Wales" after listening to some of my Christmas CDs, which my son, the Welsh poet's namesake, insists are too numerous to be normal, failed to snap me out of my funk.

Since he was small, Dylan and I have always volunteered together for pack-up day at The Mercury's Operation Holiday. It's one of our family traditions.

But college and a calculus final kept us apart this year, so I was prepared to be moping around yesterday morning.

But instead, a coffee and doughnut later, I caught myself unconsciously whistling carols as I packed up a stream of about 300 boxes with cans of chicken soup and loaves of bread.

It is also an annual tradition that I take a photo of
former Mercury Editor Nancy March with a cup of coffee
after we have finished box 1 and box is being set up,
"so you can make it seem like I'm not working,"
she complains each year.
I looked up and saw a dozen or so Pottstown High School students who could have been hanging out with friends, or going to class.

But who instead, they chose to stand in a cold distribution area and pack boxes coming down an assembly line so their neighbors would have a holiday meal on Christmas.

I guess it's true what they say about traditions of giving.

It's a tradition that the Pottstown area has sustained for nearly 40 years.

So far, Mercury readers have donated $18,000 to Operation Holiday, chasing last year's total of about $30,000

Those boxes we packed yesterday will help ensure 147 households, with 412 children, struggling have something to eat on Christmas.

And the $100 Boscov's gift cards for each of those children under 17 will ensure there is something under the tree for them on Christmas morning.

But former editor Nancy March, who was here for the very first Operation Holiday, puts it best in her well-practiced pep talk before the packing starts:

"There's a lot of need in this community and this program really helps the children in need to have at least a bright moment or two on the holidays," she said.

How could that not put you in the holiday spirit?

Here are some Tweets from a fun morning.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Pottstown High School Names Senior Nick Wilson First-Ever Co-Curricular Student of the Quarter

Among Wilson's activities is playing in the Pottstown High School Marching Band.

Blogger's Note: The following was provided by the Pottstown School District.

Pottstown High School senior, Nick Wilson was named the first ever Co-Curricular Student of the Quarter at Pottstown High School.

You can learn all about his achievements in a video interview between him and Mr. Steven Anspach, Director of Co-Curricular Activities.

Wilson has earned a 104.8 GPA.

He is involved in many athletic and non-athletic activities, including cross country, track and field, jazz, concert, and marching band, pit orchestra for the Pottstown School District musical, National Honors Society, and Student Government.
Wilson in the high school's engineering lab.

Several PHS teachers nominated Wilson for this honor.

In his nomination, engineering teacher Andy Bachman described Wilson as a “dedicated student-athlete and talented young man. While he may not be the fastest runner, Nick is a leader in the classroom and hallways.”

Wilson describes the importance of “performing on the field and on the test” and believes that his teachers see him as hard-working.

He wants to attend college for civil engineering and has already been accepted by three schools.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Mural Celebrating Hispanic Culture Unveiled

Photo by Laura Catalano
A mural promoting the vitality of Hispanic and Native American heritage was dedicated amid snow flurries on Saturday. It was painted by Carrie Kingsbury from Promiseland Murals.

The project was created by Carried Kingsbury of Promiseland Murals for Centro Cultural Latinos Unidos, or CCLU.
Photo by Laura Catalano

Pottstown Borough Councilwo0man Rita Paez

Borough Councilwoman Rita Paez is also the president of CCLU and she served as the master of ceremonies for the unveiling.

Although it has been up for some time, the mural was covered with a tarp and unveiled in dramatic fashion for the ceremony to the ohs and ahs of the crowd.

Hot coffee and hot chocolate were served, and welcomed by the obviously chilly gathered there.

A dedication was offered by the Rev. William Rex, interim rector at Christ Episcopal Church in Pottstown.

“We are each individual gifted through our past heritage, present realities and future potential. We should never consider any cultural background as a challenge to future expectations and potential,” said Rex.

“Their future lies ahead of them, grounded upon heritage,” Rex said of the children present.
Photo by Audra Hammer Ross

“Let us celebrate their cultural, rich in color and beauty and creativity, all of things are represented by this mural,” he said. “Let’s lift up these Latino youth of today and give them the support they need to be the leaders of tomorrow.”

The project was approved by council at a time when there was controversy over a new ordinance governing murals.

However, this project met the new guidelines and was approved.

It is affixed to the wall of the former public works garage on Beech Street, across from the Olivet Boys & Girls Club.

However, it can be removed and erected somewhere else of the need arises.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Pottstown Budget at 18.6% Hike, A Work in Progress

Despite two-and-a-half hours of talking, the only new thing we can tell you about the proposed $54.7 million 2018 budget at this point is that there will be more talking.

An additional budget workshop has been scheduled for Monday, Dec. 18 at 5:30 p.m. to keep this rip-roaring conversation going seeing as no decisions were made last night.

Several cost-cutting suggestions brought to the table by Council Vice President Sheryl Miller were reviewed during the course of the meeting and a particular combination of them could bring the tax hike down to 13.39 percent.

But none of them were voted on and Councilman Joe Kirkland had a few more, particularly cutting some positions to part-time.

Kirkland also pushed for a "task force" to look for other ways to cut the budget in the coming year, which could arguably duplicate some of the work the finance committee has ostensibly been doing, but hey, the more the merrier.

Also, Borough Solicitor Charles D. Garner Jr. provided a little more breathing room when he pointed out that the law gives the new borough council until Feb. 15, 2018 to open up the budget passed by this council and make changes to lower the tax rate.

However, the only new voting member of council replaces Miller, who has taken the lead in pushing for cuts, so it remains to be seen what other changes might be made after the final budget is passed.

It is not clear when that may be.

Council President Dan Weand -- who pretended that no one could see all the assessment challenges that came this year, along with the sale of the hospital, despite warnings going back to 2007 -- said if he has to, he will have council meet on New Year's Eve to pass a budget.

Also of significance to the budget was the announcement by Borough Manager Mark Flanders that he was contacted by Zach Lehman, headmaster at The Hill School, who told him the school will donate $100,000 in 2018 toward the purchase of new police cars.

And now, without further ado, THE TWEETS!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Thanks to High School Service Club for Holiday Meal

Blogger's Note: The following was provided by the Pottstown School District

It was not just the Pottstown High School Football Trojans who helped ensure less-fortunate families had a meal for Thanksgiving.

The Pottstown High School Service Club sponsored by Jordan Thomas helped 30 families enjoy a holiday meal. 

The Service Club lived up to it's name by organizing a canned food drive in student homerooms during the month of November. 

Hundreds of items were collected. Club members along with teachers sorted and packaged the goods,which were then delivered to families in need. 

The importance of community service is taught, emphasized and practiced by the students and staff of the Pottstown School District.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

GOP War on Education for All Taxes Understanding

With each new day, it seems our nation becomes more and more adverse to learning, knowledge and education.

Many years ago, when Jack Wolf was president of Pottstown Borough Council, he dropped some knowledge on me. "If you want to see what a government's priorities are, just look at their budget."

A variation on "follow the money," I look back with chagrin that someone actually had to tell me something I should have figured out for myself.

If we apply that the nation, or, more specifically the various aspects of the GOP tax bill, it clearly says education for all is not a high priority.

Polls show that Conservatives increasingly see college as "bad for the country," and yes, I am not making that up.

Consider how the First Son, Donald Trump Jr., views college: “We’ll take $200,000 of your money; in exchange, we’ll train your children to hate our country.”

Attacking the "politically-correct" speech on campus that Conservatives love to lambast, Trump Jr. said “Hate speech is anything that says America is a good country. That our founders were great people. That we need borders. Hate speech is anything faithful to the moral teachings of the Bible.”

He is right, our founders were great people, in part, because they championed public education. They were born of a movement that venerated the free exchange of ideas and the pursuit of the truth, no matter where it led, and detested the idea that education should be left to clerics.

Wrote John Adams: "The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”

Maybe, as with so many things involving our president, it's all about him.

As the Washington Post reported in a Nov. 25 look at how conservatives view college education, "Hillary Clinton trounced Trump in the nation’s most educated counties, but Trump won white voters without a college degree by 37 points."

One might argue that rather than elevate the educated, the president wants more people who will vote for him, and this tax bill fits that bill.

I suppose the fact that he settled lawsuits claiming Trump University is a scam may have something to do with his thoughts on what is taught in college. Few, apparently, have as many courses as Trump University in why Donald Trump is great.

But he is not alone in his antipathy toward higher learning.

Research by the Pew Center shows "Core conservatives are overwhelmingly anti-college, by 80 to 16 percent — a worse rating than they gave to labor unions or Islam. The other slice of Trump’s base, “Country First Conservatives,” are anti-college by 60 to 32 percent," wrote Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat.

So the Republicans in congress are doing something about this hatred of college knowledge in their unpopular but seemingly inevitable tax-cut-for-millionaires plan. They're making it harder to survive, because we need more people who believe the world is flat and who can't find North Korea on a map.

As Westneat wrote, "the Republican plan passed by the House would raise taxes on graduate students, of all people, by taxing what are called 'tuition waivers.' This is akin to taxing college scholarships, as universities often waive all or part of the tuition for grad students who serve as research or teaching assistants while getting their master’s degrees or Ph.Ds."

The House tax plan also removes the deduction for interest on college loans, so look for more debt in your college student's future. 

You can thank House Members Ryan Costello, R-6th Dist.; Pat Meehan, R-7th Dist. and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-8th Dist. who all voted for the bill that includes those provisions.

Ryan Costello, R-6th Dist.
"The average student loan debt of a 2016 college graduate was $37,000. At $1.4 trillion, U.S. student loan debt is now larger than credit card debt," according to The Washington Post. 

The fact that Betsy DeVos picked the CEO of a for-profit student debt serving company to run the nation's student loan program and, has financial connections to such companies, is surely pure coincidence.

Pat Meehan, R-7th Dist.
The Senate version preserves the student loan and tuition waiver tax benefits to students. The Senate plan also excludes a House proposal to roll three higher-education tax credits into one benefit, according to The Washington Post.

On top of all this, tuitions are increasing, but part of that is due to the fact that since the financial crisis in 2008, only three states have increased funding to their public colleges.

Most, Pennsylvania included, have cut funding, according to a Washington Post analysis.

And "both the House and Senate also would raise taxes on private university endowments, which haven’t been taxed because the universities are nonprofits," Westneat wrote.

Both the House and Senate GOP tax bills have included a 1.4 percent tax on private college endowments worth more than $250,000 per student. Schools with fewer than 500 students would be exempt, The Morning Call reported

Except of course, for the ones they like.

Our own Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey, who will be on the conference committee that reconciles the House and Senate bills and once headed the Conservative Club for Growth, made headlines when he introduced a provision in the Senate bill that would seemingly benefit one single private school.

"An addition from Sen. Pat Toomey to exempt certain colleges from a new levy on private schools with particularly lucrative endowments. The problem, according to Democrats who grilled the Pennsylvania Republican over his proposal, is that it would benefit only one school: Hillsdale College, a small Michigan institution described by the New York Times as playing 'an active role in conservative thought and policy,'” The Allentown Morning Call reported.

One of Hillsdale's benefactors is .... wait for it .... Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. What a shock!

So while Donald Trump Jr. thinks colleges teach students to "hate their country," other Republicans are OK with, and would provide tax breaks to, those that teach students to think the right way -- their way.

And how about education on the primary and secondary level? Well, the Republican war on education undermines that too, in several ways.

The first is that the House bill would remove the tax write-off for teachers who pay for classroom supplies out of their own pockets, although the Senate bill actually increases the deduction from $250 to $500.

As The Reading Eagle reported in August, many teachers, particularly in Pottstown, spend their own money to buy classroom supplies for their students that the district budget cannot afford to provide. The Eagle's story identified Lincoln Elementary School teacher Jennifer Groff, who said she spends about $1,200 a year on supplies to make sure her students have what they need to succeed.
When you consider that the average Pottstown teacher salary is the lowest in Montgomery County, and that Pottstown is underfunded by $13 million a year using Pennsylvania's minimally applied Fair Funding formula, it's obvious this cost, and the tax offset, are significant.

With Pottstown Borough facing an 18 percent property tax hike, driven in part by the loss of Pottstown Hospital from the tax rolls, school district officials are looking fearfully at the next round of budget talks for the 2018-2019 school year. (And many are privately bemoaning the election loss of board member Thomas Hylton, whose willingness to dive deep into the district's finances was increasingly respected).

Last month, the school board voted to self-limit any tax hike to 3.5 percent. It has not raised taxes for the last three years.

Keeping within that limit will be difficult, but pressure to not raise taxes will increase if a provision in the Senate bill, which no longer allows us to deduct state and local taxes on our tax return, survives to the final version.

"Eliminating the state and local tax deduction was met with strong opposition from House lawmakers in high-tax states and cities. So a concession was made in the House Republicans bill to restore an itemized deduction for property taxes up to $10,000," but it is still in the Senate bill, according to CNN.

Whether it survives may well determine how high Pottstown and other local districts can raise local taxes to make up for shortfalls due to state under-funding, lost property assessments and yes, higher spending -- further undermining an already underfunded school district where all students now qualify for free and reduced lunch.

And, because no tale of GOP mendacity would be complete without him, "hours before the bill was
passed, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) introduced an amendment that would allow parents to use a special tax-free college savings account to pay tuition for private K-12 schools, a provision that would largely benefit wealthier families who can already afford private schools," according to The Washington Post.

As if this wasn't insulting enough, "separately, the (Senate) bill would bar school districts from using cost-effective, tax-free 'advance refund bonds' to refinance school bond debt, a prohibition that could prove costly for districts looking to refinance to save money, according to John Musso, executive director of the Association of School Business Officials International.

"Advance refund bonds 'are a cost-effective way for districts to refinance high-interest debt at lower-interest rates, potentially saving hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars in lower debt payments,” Musso wrote in a blog post on the website of the American Association of School Administrators," the Post reported.

Let's sum up. The Republican effort on education has, in one house of the other, endorsed: 
  • Less money for public schools
  • Less money for teachers buying supplies
  • Less ways for public schools to refinance their debt and save money
  • More money for people who want to send their kids to private school
  • Removing the deduction for student debt
  • Removing deductions for college endowments that fund scholarships
  • Keeping those deductions for schools that teach Conservative principles
  • Taxing tuition wavers for graduate students producing advanced degrees
And why is all this necessary?

To cut taxes on corporations and billionaires so wealth "trickles down" to the rest of us -- an economic theory that remains just that, a theory, given that it has never worked once.

We have had seven straight years of job growth. As The New York Times reported Friday, "Companies are posting jobs faster than they can find workers to fill them. Incomes are rising. The stock market sets records seemingly every month.

"The latest evidence of the revival came Friday, when the Labor Department reported that American employers added 228,000 jobs in November. The unemployment rate held steady at 4.1 percent, the lowest since 2000. Job growth has slowed since its peak in 2014 but remains remarkably steady: For the first time on record, employers have added jobs every month for more than seven years — 86 months, to be precise."

Wall Street hits an all-time high, it seems, every few weeks. 

How much better do you expect the economy to get? Is all this really needed with things going this well?

In the meantime, we are undermining our already inadequate efforts to invest in the one thing everyone -- Republican, Democrat, Muslim, Christian, Alabaman, New Englander, CEO, factory worker and Pottstownian -- will absolutely, unquestionably rely upon in the years to come -- the next generation.

Not only will this tax bill make it likely harder for today's children of limited means to get a good education, the bill will also increase the national debt that they will have to shoulder.

It beggars all understanding, but then, maybe I went to the wrong college.