Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Appreciation, Opposition & a Not-So-Secret Meeting

Photo by Evan Brandt
The Pottstown High School Show Choir is introduced by teacher Thomas Marsden during the Jan. 23 2017 school board meeting during with the choir performed "Love Train" for School Board Appreciation Month.

It helps, if you're only going to have just one meeting in a month, to have five pages worth of business be lumped into one vote.

But then, I'm not complaining as I like to get home to my bed as much as the next guy.

There were a lot of items crammed into last night's school board meeting, but one of them, outlined at the very beginning by Acting Superintendent Stephen Rodriguez, slipped by pretty quickly, but it's important because it may indicate a shift away from secrecy.

The school board's "workshop" meetings that have, in the past, been closed to the public under the rationale that they are not violating the open meetings law because they don't "deliberate."

They've taken a little bit of heat in these pages and on the pages of The Mercury for that practice.

The board held another one on Jan. 19, but this one was different because it was open to the public ... they just forgot to tell anyone.

Hey, you don't expect them to get everything right the first time do you?

To his credit, Rodriguez threw himself on the grenade and apologized for the district's failure to place a public notice about the meeting. He tried to make up for it by outlining what was discussed at the meeting and the board even posted the meeting minutes on the district web site.

You can read them by clicking here.

A quick look reveals a there was presentation by Community Relations Director John Armato on "branding" the district and "telling our story," a look at board goals such as improving academic achievement, installing stadium lights, looking at early education options and, of course, "austerity."

On to regular business.

As you have no doubt read by now on the front page of today's Mercury, the board also adopted a formal resolution opposing President Donald Trump's appointment of Betsy DeVos as the U.S. Secretary of Education.

The board also approved about $216,000 of building repairs which I suspect I'll write about later in The Mercury, as well as settling a set of over-due tax bills on three properties owned by a man named William B. Fretz.

Some of you may recall he came to council last year and made a plea for a deal to get his properties productive again. They agreed and now, months later, the school board has agreed as well.

Three years before  pleading for a tax deal with local boards, Fretz was agreeing to a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission in which he paid $6.8 million

And of course, there were performances by high school and middle school musicians in honor of School Board Appreciation Month. You can see videos of those in the Tweets below.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Soup-er Fundraiser Will Bowl You Over Saturday

ArtFusion 19464's Soup Bowl will be held Saturday, Jan. 28 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

If you haven't gotten your tickets yet, click here to get them before they're gone.

Tickets are $20 and include unlimited soup, bread, beverages and homemade desserts. 

Panera Bread will be donating their delicious baguettes again! 

As a thank you for supporting this fundraiser, you will take home a handcrafted ceramic bowl, created by the center's volunteers during this past year.

All funds help support the non-profit community art center.

For more information visit the web site, http://artfusion19464.org/, or call 610-326-2505.

Friday, January 20, 2017

A 4-Year Police Pact and More Homes to Watch Over

Photos by Evan Brandt

Engineer Rolph Graf outlines for the commissioners the Spring Valley Farms plan that calls for 178 homes in the parcel on the lower left corner, and two other parcels, 40 and 43 acres respectively, that will be deeded to the township for open space.

Once again, the Lower Pottsgrove Commissioners demonstrated proficiency in local government by approving a major housing development; approving a major four-year police contract and expanding by 12,160 square feet Coventry Christian School on Pleasantview Road  -- all within a 30-minute meeting.

Those of us who suffer through long meetings thank them, although the pace was so swift that a reporter who stepped outside the meeting room to get the spelling of a name missed the entire adoption of the police contract.

And while there may be no honor among thieves, apparently there is among local journalists as Joe Zlomek, editor extraordinaire of The Sanatoga Post, immediately conveyed this fact to said wayward reporter.

So let's start with that.

The contract changes little except pay and health benefits, according to Commissioners Vice Chairman Stephen Klotz, who also heads up the police committee and had a hand in the negotiations.

The contract provides a 3 percent raise in the first year; a 3 percent raise in the second year; a 3.25 percent raise in the third year and a 3.25 percent raise in the fourth year.

Those increases will collectively add $203,000 to the township payroll after four years, said Township Manager Ed Wagner.

Currently the average salary on the police force is $56,241 and the highest is $91,112, said Klotz.

The 19 officers affected by the contract -- only Chief Michael Foltz is not in the union -- will continue to make no payments toward health insurance premiums, but they did agree to move to a new health plan offered by Aetna, Klotz said.

That plan, which has a high deductible for famlies, saves the township $162,000 over the course of the contract, thus off-setting all but $41,000 of the increased payroll costs.

The officers agreed to accept the high deductible plan because the township will pay 100 percent of the deductible costs incurred in the first and second years; 75 percent in the third and 50 percent in the final year of the contract.

A close up of the sub-division. The homes will all be located in the

parcel on the lower left corner, shown in faint outline.
Those costs, of course, will depend on actual experience and how much the officers and their families access their health care, making them difficult to predict.

Also significant in the whirlwind of voting Thursday night was the approval of Spring Valley Farms, a development at the corner of Bleim and Pleasantview roads on 143.67 acres.

The project has been in the works for several years and takes advantage of a zoning provision which allows the developers to cluster the homes more closely together than otherwise allowed in exchange for preserving open space from development.

That will occur on the two other parcels, at top and upper right, which total about 83 acres and will be deeded over to the township.

This is how the lots in Spring Valley Farms would be arranged
on the 143 acres to be developed.
This is a smaller project than the 500-unit Sanatoga Green, which has generated several headlines, but has been in the planning pipeline much longer.

It will also add to the cumulative total of the increases in traffic and potential increases in school population that have begun to catch the attention of regional planners and school officials.

Late last year, Pottsgrove Schools Business Manager David Nester told the commissioners that the district is concerned about how many students might move into the district to live in Sanatoga Green. The developers have forecast 58.

Although Spring Valley Farms is not likely to add nearly as many children, it certainly won't decrease the student population.

Answers may come in the form of a demographics study the Pottsgrove School Board also commissioned in November.

As for traffic, members of the Pottstown Area Metropolitan Area Regional Planning Committee are on the hunt for funding for a regional traffic study which will help predict the impact of large housing projects like Spring Valley Farms and Sanatoga Green in Lower Pottsgrove, as well as a project of more than 760 homes in New Hanover and a 241-unit project in Douglass (Mont.) Township which received preliminary approval on Tuesday night.

But enough of that, we know you're anxious to get to the Tweets, and here they are:

Thursday, January 19, 2017

MCCC Earns Silver Rating for Helping Veterans

Blogger's Note: The following was provided by Montgomery County Community College.

Montgomery County Community College has been named a Silver Medal Military Friendly® School recipient in the category of community colleges for 2017.

New this year, Military Friendly® Awards showcase the most powerful and effective programs of more than 200 companies and 1,200 post-secondary schools that were designated as “Military Friendly®” in November. 

Of those designated, 154 employers and 541 schools have been recognized for excellence in different categories, highlighting not only “Are you Military Friendly®?” but “How Military Friendly® are you?”

Dr. Kevin Pollock, President of MCCC, said the recognition was a tribute to the efforts of the Veterans Resource Center and the hard work and dedication of the College’s faculty and staff to serve veterans.

“Montgomery County Community College strives to provide outstanding services and amenities to our veterans and their families,” Dr. Pollock said. “They have made tremendous sacrifices to serve our nation and deserve high-quality educational opportunities and programs to help them make a smooth transition to civilian life.”

The Veterans Resource Center at MCCC, with offices on the Central Campus in Blue Bell and on the West Campus in Pottstown, currently serves more than 450 veterans, service members, and spouse/dependents with their transition to college. 

A sample of the services include Veterans Administration (VA) work study opportunities, priority registration for veterans, a Student Veteran Organization, Veteran Service Team (VST) meetings, a veteran lounge and computer area, assistance with VA educational benefits, VA educational certifying officials, and general VA information.

The Center also invites campus and community resources to provide services and other outreach events to assist veteran students with their transition to collegiate life such as employment opportunities, non-traditional therapies like yoga and equine therapy for veterans, and workshops.

“All of our Military Friendly® award recipients set the standard for excellence,” said Daniel Nichols, Chief Product Officer of Victory Media and head of Military Friendly® development. 

“They offer exceptional examples of what it means not just to build a program that meets federal requirements, but one that serves the military and veteran community from classrooms to careers.”

Victory Media, originator of the family of Military Friendly® employment, entrepreneurship and education resources for veterans and their families, published its special awards for 2017 Military Friendly® Schools and Employers at https://militaryfriendly.com. For more than a decade, Military Friendly® ratings have set the standard for companies and colleges demonstrating positive employment and education outcomes for veterans and their families.

Companies and schools must have successfully completed a 2017 Military Friendly® survey and been designated as a 2017 Military Friendly® School or Employer to be considered for the Awards program. The names of awardees are published online at https://militaryfriendly.com and will be printed in the December issue of G.I. Jobs® or Guide to Military Friendly® Schools. To see a complete list of this year’s award winners, or to learn more about Military Friendly® ratings and how to participate, visit https://militaryfriendly.com.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

New (Former) Supervisor, New Trash Hauler, and Congratulations Chief Templin on 25 Years Service

Photos by Evan Brandt
Douglass Police Chief Barry Templin, right, is congratulated
on 25 years of service to the township by Supervisors
Chairman Anthony Kuklinski
As you have no doubt already read in your print edition of The Mercury, former Douglass supervisor John Stasik Jr. was appointed to fill the vacancy left by Fred Ziegler's resignation last month.

I'll trust you to find that news in the newspaper (although a video of the vote can be found admid the Tweets below).

But that was not the only thing that happened last night.

Police Corporal Brian Steffie was promoted to the rank of sergeant and Chief Barry Templin was recognized for 25 years of service to the department.

A local boy who graduated from Boyertown Area Senior High School, Templin was congratulated by the entire department and his extended family, as well as the Board of Supervisors.

He said the people he works with "make my job really easy, although I suppose I shouldn't tell you that."

He added that the officers in the department are "the ones who go out and bust their buns every day" and make him look good.

Although they all looked pretty good in this rare photo of the all of Douglass's uniformed personnel:

Douglass (Mont.) township's uniformed personnel.

The other significant development last night was the awarding of a three-year trash collection contract to Keystone Disposal.

The low bidder among five -- which included Advanced Disposal, which had the most recent contract, A.J. Blozenski, J.P. Mascaro and Son and Waste Management -- the cost to the township per year is $278,333.33 for the service.

The three-year total is $835,000, $72,535 less than the next lowest bid of "907,535 from Advanced.

Advanced won the contract for disposal of the township's trash at its Western Berks Landfill with a low bid of $58.65 per ton.

Township Manager Peter Hiryak said the bids were about $30,000 lower than the last rounds of bids, which the township rejected in November.

He said the November bids were higher because "we made it too complicated." Simplifying the bids brought the price down, he said.

Douglass (Mont.) will continue to use the pay-per-bag system, in which users buy their trash bags from the township as their only disposal cost, ensuring they only pay for what they use.

The township will continue to operate its recycling and composting facility. The only change as a result of the new trash hauler, said recycling coordinator Andrew Duncan, is that recycling will be collected once a week, instead of once every two weeks as occurs now.

"I expect that will increase our recycling and reduce our trash tonnage," Duncan told the supervisors in recommending the Keystone bid, which they adopted unanimously.

We'll have a little more on that in an upcoming article in The Mercury.

In the meantime, here are the Tweets and video from last night:

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

'Trojanauts' Take on All Robots at Competition

The Trojanauts work with their robot at the Oxford competition.

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

Pottstown High School students Javon Dill, Justin Johnson, Manuel Paez, Chris Stone and Imir Toney are members of the PHS Trojanotics Robotics Club. 

Over the weekend of Jan. 7, the Trojanauts, as they're called, traveled to Oxford High School to do
battle with 31 other schools from Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, and Delaware in the first robotics competition of the year. 

The club was guided by their advisors, math teachers Robert Decker and Eilee Basham. 

The team battled thru five rounds of the"Velocity Vortex" challenge which required the students to design, build, program, and operate their robot to achieve a variety of actions. 

The students had opportunity to learn valuable lessons that will aid them in their next event on Feb. 11 at Emmaus High School. 

Activities like Robotics is a way to make learning fun and meaningful for students, and another reason to say Proud to be from Pottstown.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Pottsgrove High Yearbook Wins First Place Prize

The staff of the Pottsgrovian.

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

The 15-16 Pottsgrovian Yearbook "Construct1n6 our Future" has just been awarded first place for Senior High Schools with the Enrollment of 1001 - 1700 students by the American Scholastic Press Association.

The ASPA is located in College Point, NY and reviews school yearbooks and other publications throughout the country. 

Pottsgrove's yearbook was "graded" on page design, story layout, graphics, headlining, cover design, advertising placement, photography and a variety of other things.

Editor and senior, Sydney Eaton joined the yearbook staff when she transferred in as a sophomore from Baltimore, MD. Sydney says, “Yearbook can be tough at times hitting deadlines and such, but it has been a great experience. Seeing the final product at the end of the year is very satisfying.” 

Graduating this June, Sydney is considering studying journalism at Northwestern this fall. 

In her 13th year as Pottsgrovian Yearbook Advisor, Danielle Small exclaimed, “I am proud of our students and will continue to have the Pottsgrovian Yearbook Staff design the best yearbook in style, format, contents, and presentability of our community.”

"Tthis honor is confirmation of the great work that our students and staff are doing to help students connect learning to life," said Pottsgrove High School Principal William Ziegler. "We stand and applaud Mrs. Small and her student design team for their award winning work.”