Saturday, August 24, 2019

You Could Win $10,000 in Senior Center Raffle

Blogger's Note: The following was provided by the TriCounty Active Adult Center.

There are only days remaining to get your tickets for the 22nd annual TriCounty Active Adult Center cash raffle. 

The grand prize drawing will be held on Saturday, Aug. 31 at 3:45 PM at Duryea Day in Boyertown Community Park. 

The grand prize winner will walk away with $10,000 cash, and a runner up will go home $5,000 richer. In addition, there are seven more cash prizes from $250 to $50.

“This is a great way for the community to support the Center,” said Brian Parkes, executive director. “And of course, one lucky person will be $10,000 richer!”

Proceeds from the raffle will be used to support programs for older adults in the tri-county area. 

The Center offers 25 programs and services every day – everything from exercise programs such as Yoga and Tai Chi, to a free daily nutritious lunch, to support groups, to card games, and much, much more. Free Medicare counseling is offered, and a staff member is always available to help seniors find needed services and benefits, and fill out the often complicated forms.

“Nearly 200 seniors stop by the Center every day,” said Parkes. “Many of our participants would be sitting home alone. Instead, they come to the Center to see their friends, socialize, exercise, play games, and receive the help they need to remain living independently.”

Cash raffle tickets are $10 each, or four for $30. 

Tickets may be purchased at the Center at 288 Moser Road, Pottstown (the former Pottstown Health Club), from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays. The rain date for the drawing is Tuesday, Sept. 5, at 4 p.m. at the Center’s Moser Road location.

Formerly the Pottstown Area Seniors’ Center, the TriCounty Active Adult Center serves adults age 50 and better with programs and services including information and referral assistance, a daily free lunch, exercise programs, social activities, and much more. 

Now celebrating its 43rd anniversary, the mission of the TriCounty Active Adult Center is to enhance the well-being of older adults by providing services and activities that promote an independent and healthy life style. The TriCounty Active Adult Center has nearly 2,500 members, and anyone living in the tri-county area (Berks, Chester and Montgomery Counties) who is 50+ years of age is welcome to attend the Center. 

Learn more at www.TriCountyAAC.org.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Pottstown OKs 3-Year $1 Million Pact With Teachers

With a unanimous vote Thursday night, the Pottstown School Board approved a three-year contract with the teachers union that will add just over $1 million to the budget over the course of the contract.

The Federation of Pottstown teachers voted in favor of the contract on Tuesday, said School District Solicitor Stephen Kalis.

No increases to the pay scale are included in the first and third years of the contract, instead putting more money in teachers pockets by moving them up one step on the existing pay scale, Kalis explained.

In the second year of the contract, increased pay rates are included in the salary steps, but not uniform increases, said Business Manager Maureen Jampo.

Also during the second year of the contract, teachers will also see a move forward in the steps, but not until half the school year has passed.

The higher pay scale and forward step motion averages out to a 2.13 percent pay hike in the contract's second year, said Jampo.

Robert Decker, a high school math teacher who spoke Thursday on behalf of the Federation, said like in the previous contract negotiation "a lot of work was put into more evenly distributing the increases across the scales."

What he means is that in the contract's second year, the pay scale increases are tilted in favor of newer teachers who will see their pay increase more quickly than in the past when many of the larger gains were enjoyed by those with more years of service at the higher pay scales.

One reason both sides of the negotiating table pursued this goal is the high teacher turnover the district has seen in recent years, years in which Pottstown was reported to have the lowest average teacher salary in Montgomery County.

That, combined with a teacher shortage as fewer and fewer college graduates opt to pursue a career in education, has resulted in many Pottstown teachers being lured away to higher-paying districts.

On the same day this contract was approved, USA Today reported passage of a bill in Illinois to raise the minimum teacher pay to $40,000 by 2023, in part to addresses a shortage of teachers in that state.

State law requires Pennsylvania school districts to pay teachers at least $18,500 a year — a rate that hasn’t been updated in 30 years.

In June, the Pennsylvania Capital-Star reported "the average teacher in Pennsylvania earned $67,535 per year during the 2017-2018 school year, according to a PA Post analysis of Department of Education data. But some 3,200 teachers, mostly in rural districts and small cities, make less than $45,000 annually, according to the Department of Education."

In 2017, the average Pottstown teacher salary was just over $58,000.

"In his February budget address, (Gov. Tom) Wolf called for a one-time, $14 million allocation to bring the teacher pay floor to $45,000 per year. Of the 500 districts statewide, 180 would receive subsidies under Wolf’s plan to give raises to teachers currently making less than that," the Capital-Star reported.

The proposal was not adopted by the state legislature in the final budget.

Low pay is one of the factors contributing the fewer students choosing teaching as a career. 

Last month, the Observer-Reporter newspaper reported that "since 2009, the number of newly issued in-state instructional teaching certificates has dropped by 71 percent, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education."

"Pennsylvania used to issue licenses to more than 14,000 new teachers annually. In 2016-17, the state issued 4,412," reporter Karen Mansfield wrote.  

Last summer, the Pennsylvania Department of Education awarded about $2 million in grants to eight universities to develop and implement yearlong residency programs for teachers and principals, in order to increase and retain teachers and school leaders, according to the newspaper report.

Last week, Pottstown Schools Superintendent Stephen Rodriguez said the district hired 44 new teachers for the school year that starts Monday, which he said is "one of the largest freshman classes" in district history.

"If an organization is to grow, it has to be stable, consistent and focused," Decker said during his remarks to the school board. "This year we have one of the largest group of new teachers we've ever seen. When employees feel valued, it reduces the endless cycle of hiring and training."

Contract Specifics

Jampo said the overall financial impact of the new teacher contract on the budget is $1,030,000 over three years.

In the first year of the pact, which begins with the first day of school Monday, the financial impact is $272,000. In the second year, the fiscal impact is $300,000 and rises to $447,000 in the third and final year.

Kalis said the hourly rate for non-instructional duties, but not including extra curricular activities, was raised from $29 to $30, the first time it has been raised in 12 years, said Decker.

The contract also raises from $40 to $50 per day the amount that retiring teachers get paid for unused sick days. That is the first time that rate has been raised in 25 years, Decker said. The maximum number of days that can be claimed remains at 300 days.

The contract also contains a retirement incentive that offers a $5,500 premium in the contract's first
year and in the second and third year would deposit a lump sum of $25,000 in a retirement account, a measure which Kalis said saves taxpayers $30,000 per teacher.

Medical insurance remains essentially the same, with teachers contributing 20 percent of the premium and 5 percent of the prescription premium, with no co-pay. However the contract does add a program that allows teachers to buy more medicine in bulk from on-line companies, but will cost teachers more, said Decker.

Teachers who get their health insurance through a spouse will be paid 25 percent of what their premium would have been had they taken on the district's lowest cost health plan, said Kalis.

The contract expires on Aug. 31, 2022.


Thursday, August 22, 2019

Council Charts Two Courses for Ricketts Future

Photos by Evan Brandt


Pottstown Borough Council agreed on a course to keep the Ricketts Community Center open until the end of the year, and to pursue two possible options for the year to come, Wednesday night.

The decisions were made necessary by last week's surprise about face by the Olivet Boys and Girls Club that, after securing a lease to operate the center for another four years, announced instead it would walk away.

The decision, after months of negotiations with the borough, left council in the lurch, needing to decide immediately how to keep the center open until the end of the year, when Olivet's current lease expires, and what plans to make for its future operation.

A crowd filters into the council room for Wednesday night's

meeting on the future of the Ricketts Center.
First things first, council agreed on a loosely outlined plan to allow Olivet to continue to "operate" the
center, although it will not offer any fall programming.

The programming will be undertaken by three primary volunteer non-profit groups -- the STRIVE Initiative, which had made its own proposal to run the center; Hobart's Run, the Hill School's neighborhood development arm; and YWCA Tri-County Area, which made a late-in-the-day proposal to run the center.

Borough Manager Justin Keller said he had been in contract with Olivet officials and they have committed to continue to operate the center through the end of the year, and to work cooperatively with whatever groups or agencies come in to provide programming, provided those people have FBI and child abuse background checks.

There was some confusion, and some distrust, about what Olivet will do going forward.

The dedication plaque outside the Ricketts Center.
"Can they even be trusted, given that they walked away after getting a new lease?" asked Councilwoman Rita Paez.

"Olivet can't be trusted," said Everett Debnam, speaking as vice president of the Pottstown chapter of the NAACP. "Get rid of them, we don't need them to turn a key."

But it was pointed out that by allowing Olivet to "run out the year," as Keller phrased it, they are bound by the terms of the lease to continue to pay utilities at the center.

Also, having them there will put responsibility for undertaking background checks on Olivet, rather than the borough, said Parks and Recreation Director Michael Lenhart.

Keller assured the audience of about 30 people that he had a "lengthy and pointed discussion with Olivet about fulfilling their obligations under the current contract."

Ricketts volunteer Hannah Davis also suggested the borough ensure that it gets a partial refund from Olivet since it is not offering fall programming, something Keller said "they are open to." She also suggested ensuring all the grant funding Olivet obtained that was allocated to Pottstown, be provided to the borough.

What happens in January?

The longer-term question for council and the community is what comes next.

After spending months on securing a new lease with Olivet, Pottstown now faces the prospect of coming up with something else in just  a few weeks.

Keller said the borough has issued a "request for qualifications" from anyone interested in running the center, noting the borough already has a proposal from the YWCA and STRIVE.

Twila Fisher, who heads up the Hobart's Run organization, said

it will do whatever it is asked to do to help the center stay open.
Anyone else who wants to apply, must do so by Aug. 30. Council will interview all those who applied on Sept. 4, starting at 5:30 with a possible vote on Sept. 9.

"We don't have to time to wait. If they're interested, they will already be tuned in to what's going on here," Keller said.

But there is also another option, said Justin Valentine, a former Pottsgrove School Board President and the pastor of Kingdom Life Church in Pottstown.

He earned applause from the crowd when he said "the model council has put forward is to keep the same model we've had for 10 years, to lease the center out. The community is not looking to continue that model, we do not want to keep the lease/tenant mentality," he said.

Rather, "we want to work with borough oversight and collaborate with the community to operate the center," which is what STRIVE's purpose has been all along, said David Charles, one of STRIVE's principals.

"STRIVE's proposal was made because we did not have time to get together with community and discuss what we want to do," Charles said. "Our proposal is to open communications and work with the community, possibly create a separate entity and board eventually to run the center."

There was some resistance from borough staff to the idea of having the center overseen and run by the borough.

"Where will we get the money?" asked Finance Director Janice Lee. Council President Dan Weand pointed out that the borough's tax base was healthier 10 years ago than it is now.

Coluncilman Joe Kirkland said the borough's contribution toward the center's operation 10 years ago was higher and it was a mistake to scale it back over the years.

Kirkland, who represents the Seventh Ward where the center is located said previously he thinks the borough should take over running the center.

"We'll figure it out," he said.
Parks and Recreation Director Michael Lenhart

addresses borough council Wednsday night.

Turns out Lenhart already has part of it figured out.

He told council he had put together a budget and outlined for running the center, should council
decide to go that way, in preparation for last night's meeting.

He said early estimates indicate it would cost the borough between $195,000 to $200,000 to operate the center, including hiring a full-time center director for a salary of $38,500.

Adding the borough's annual contribution of $40,000 to the money currently provided by other funders would still leave the budget short by $50,000, he said.

The budget information "will evolve," Lenhart said, "and I wouldn't expect that number to go down."

He said he would propose "starting moderately," to make sure the borough could fulfill its obligations, and then grow programs with the help of partners.

"If the decision is to go with the borough, we can all go home now and let staff figure it out," said Keller. "Why can't we do both?" Weand responded. "I think that's a wise option," said Lenhart.

And so that is what council decided. Lenhart will continue to work on what borough operation would look like, and meet with potential partners to explore options, while council will also hear from all those who submit proposals to run the center on a lease basis.

Longtime resident Robert Brown addresses Council Wednesday.
Weand then tried to end the meeting without hearing from the public, saying a planning commission meeting was starting in 10 minutes, but he was over-ruled.

Robert Brown was the first speaker. He said council should "focus on the community and what the community wants. Our kids are the future and if we don't make them a priority, they will become a liability," he said to applause.

Charles said STRIVE's proposal "is a highly collaborative and democratic model that reflects the voice and the desires of the community which it serves."

Here is some video of his comments:


"In the future, STRIVE will solicit the input of the community to gauge whether the community feels the center should be operated under STRIVE, or whether a new entity should be formed solely functioning to operate the center," said Charles.

There will be another meeting about the center's future tonight at 6 p.m. at the center itself, 658 Beech St., when Hobart's Run will present its plans for the area around the center and also host a discussion about what the community wants for its future.

I will cover that at least until 7 p.m., when the Pottstown School Board will meet and vote on a new teacher contract.

Until then, here are the Tweets from last night's meeting:

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Limerick Ready to Vote on Truck and Trailer Project

Photos by Evan Brandt



Prior to appearing before the Limerick Township Supervisors seeking final approval for a new facility on Limerick Center Road, TP Trailers put on a display of their wares along heavily traveled Ridge Pike.










Only one final vote remains before the controversial track and container service facility at 181 Limerick Center Road gains final approval from Limerick Township.

Last night the supervisors voted 3-1 to authorize the township solicitor to prepare a final resolution granting final site plan approval for the 10-acre project. Supervisor Elaine DeWan was absent.

The final vote, to adopt or reject that resolution, will likely come at the next meeting, according to Township Manager Dan Kerr.

Given the vote last night, that pending final vote is likely just a formality barring any major development.
Tom Perkins, owner of TP Trailers and Truck Equipment.

The project first started making headlines more than a year ago, when neighbors of the proposed project began turning up at public meetings in opposition.

The site's history is complicated For many years, the township’s zoning map indicated the parcel was split, with one part residential and the other office and light industrial.

But as it turns out, the map was wrong because township officials could find no record of a vote by an elected body that change part of the parcel over to residential.

Tom Perkins, owner of TP Trailers and Truck Equipment, owns the parcel with his sister and has variously tried to develop it with 50 townhomes, which was rejected by the township, as well as a business exactly like the one on Ridge Pike, which was also rejected, according to Supervisor Ken Sperring Jr.

The reason for the second rejection was that Limerick Center Road is not certified for enough traffic to accommodate sales of vehicles, explained Mark Kaplin, the lawyer representing Perkins.

This latest proposal is similar to the first, except that vehicle sales are no longer proposed.

Representatives for TP Trailers address township supervisors
Tuesday night. The final site plan is projected in the background.
Through the ensuring months, as resident opposition focused on Perkins ability to legally stack shipping containers three high, Perkins tried to negotiate with the township and the residents that his client would voluntarily limit the stacking height to two if no opposition was raised to a zoning variance request to allow sales at the sight.

But neither the township, nor the residents would bite, so the project moved forward as it was initially proposed. 

In Feburary, as a result of the controversy, the supervisors tweaked the zoning code to limit the height. The existing zoning ordinances allow structures to be as high as 35 feet tall and three stacked shipping containers are below that height. But the new restrictions will not apply to TP Trailers.

Preliminary approval for the site plan, which calls for a 35,000 square-foot office/warehouse/five-bay shop was granted by the supervisors in December, 2018. Since then, the plan has been before the township planning commission, which ultimately recommended final site plan approval.

The vote Tuesday did not come before the various factions offered up some parting shots.

Neighbors have expressed concern about increased traffic and inadequate visual buffers between their homes and the facility.

Dan Walker and his wife Amy of Bella Rosa Court continued the question what activities will occur at the site and ask the supervisors to delay a decision until final PennDOT road permits and Conservation District approvals are given. 

Kerr explained that township approvals are conditional upon the developers receiving those other approvals.

"We will comply with all the township's ordinances," Kaplin said.

"Not answering questions about what will happen there continues to frighten the neighbors," Dan Walker said.

Kaplin pointed out that his clients had held an open house for the community, attended by about 20 people, including the Walkers, showcased TP Trailers' current operation on Ridge Pike and explained what would happen at the new site.

"It's obvious you don't like what you hear, and yet you continue to defame the Perkins family," Kaplin said. 

"I resent that," said Walker, to which Kaplin replied "I don't care."

There was even some snarkiness among the supervisors themselves when Supervisor Patrick Morroney tried to abstain, citing "a personality dispute" with Kaplin. "Well then I vote no," Marroney replied.

"Take the easy way out Pat," quipped Supervisors Chairman Ken Sperring Jr. "Learn the job you were elected to do Pat," he said, saying voting against projects that comply with all township ordinances would make Limerick vulnerable to lawsuits.

Morroney said he was "within my rights" to vote as he pleases.

48 Home Project approved

North Gate, calls for 48 single family homes off School Road.
The TP Trailer project was not the only development to move forward Tuesday night, although the second one was distinctly less controversial.

Called North Gate, a 48 home project off School Road, near the intersection with Graterford Road, was put one step closer to final approval, this time with a unanimous vote.

Supervisors Chairman Ken Sperring Jr. pointed out that the project was originally approved by the supervisors in 2005 for 51 homes.

But now a new developer has altered the plan slightly, reducing the number of homes to 48.

It will result in the widening of School Road to 22 feet with two-foot shoulders on each side, and is expected to generate an additional 50 cars during peak traffic times. That will result in traffic impact fees of $337,147 being paid to the township for road improvements.

But the only objections voiced by neighbors had to do with the trails that will be built within the development to link with other township trails laid out in Limerick's master trail plan.

One resident, who indicated he is a police officer in another township, said the trails will bring crime, something Township Police Lt. Robert Matalavage said has not been the experience in Limerick.

And with that, here are the Tweets from the meeting.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Sponsors Sought for 4th Annual Latin Festival

A dancer from the 2018 Latin Festival in Riverfront Park.










Blogger's Note: The following was provided by Centro Cultural Latinos Unidos Inc.

Centro Cultural Latinos Unidos, Inc. (CCLU) will hold its 4th annual Latin Festival on Sept. 21 and is currently accepting sponsors for the multi-cultural event.

Donations will be used to help fund the group's various programs for 2020.

Sponsors can man a table at the festival to distribute literature regarding their services and programs and the company would appear in the festival handout as a major donor.

Games at the 2017 Latin Festival.
CCLU is a 501.c.3 non-profit organization working locally. Its mission is to act as a bilingual bridge-builder committed to enriching the lives of Latinos and others by embracing diversity through cultural, educational and recreational programs as well as providing social services for families in need. 

The organization provides programs for students and their families in cooperation with Schuylkill River Heritage Trails, French Creek State and Hopewell National Parks, Red Cloud Kung Fu, Ursinus College, First Presbyterian Church of Pottstown, Christ Episcopal Church, First Baptist Church of Pottstown, and Pottstown Health and Wellness Foundation.

They offer music training, environmental education and outdoor activities, a healthy living program to combat obesity and diabetes, E-tablets and wifi access, kung fu and soccer, tutoring in English and math, and homework help with student volunteers from Hill School, Pottstown High School, and Ursinus. 
Dancers at the 2018 Latin Festival.

As needed, they provide translation, transportation, emergency supplies, and help accessing medical, educational, and legal services. CCLU students will be participating in a musical theater production about family separations at the border with Barrio Alegria, a Reading theater group.

Support will help families to become fully integrated, contributing members of our diverse society at a time when they don’t always feel welcome.
The festival, CCLU's Fourth, is the largest fundraiser of the year. 

To become a sponsor, print out this page, fill out the form and return it to CCLU.

You are invited to help make our Latin Festival successful in one of these ways:
  • Donating money or gift certificates: You will be recognized as a Sponsor in the Festival’s Program of Activities and on the Website: http://www.cclu-pottst.org/ 
  • Showcasing your products and/or services to all who attend the festival.
  • Advertising your business in the Festival’s Program of Activities which will be distributed at the main park entrances.  
Questions? Email: paezrita@yahoo.com or call (610) 705-0566. 610-310-3451

LATIN FESTIVAL SPONSOR, VENDOR & ADVERTISING APPLICATION FORM

Business Name: __________________________________ Tax ID# _______________________

Contact Name: __________________________________ Phone: ______ - _______ - _______

E-mail address: __________________________________________________

Street or PO Box: _______________________City: ______________ State: _____ Zip: ________

Nature of goods or service: ______________________________________________________

By signing this application, I acknowledge that the Festival is subject to weather conditions and safety regulations. No refund of application fees. Vendors must remain until closing.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Doing Things By the Book at Pottsgrove Manor


Blogger's Note: The following was provided by Pottsgrove Manor.

Turn the pages of history and learn to assemble your own hand-bound book at Pottsgrove Manor’s Bookbinding I Workshop on Saturday, September 14 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

If you have ever wondered how books were made during the colonial era, discover how to make your own book at this hands-on workshop. 

Ramon Townsend, owner of The Colonial Bindery, will teach an introductory course on the tools, method, and skills needed to assemble an 18th-century style notebook by hand. 

Participants will be able to choose their pages, cover, and decorative marbled paper. Everyone will leave the workshop with their own one-of-a-kind book.

This is an introductory workshop and registration is required. The materials fee is $75 per person, and space is limited. Ages 14 and up are welcome. Participants are asked to bring a bagged lunch. 

Registration information can be found on the Pottsgrove Manor website, www.montcopa.org/pottsgrovemanor. Payment and registration are due by September 7.

Tours of the Potts family 1752 manor home will be open during normal museum hours. The Museum Shop will be open to purchase books, games, period reproduction items, and much more.

Pottsgrove Manor is located at 100 West King St. near the intersection of King Street and Route 100, just off of Route 422 near the Carousel at Pottsgrove and Manatawny Green Miniature Golf Course. Pottsgrove Manor is operated by the Montgomery County Division of Parks, Trails, and Historic Sites.

For more information, call 610-326-4014, or visit https://www.montcopa.org/930/Pottsgrove-Manor. Like Pottsgrove Manor on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pottsgrovemanor.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Vote and Help Pottstown Win a $25K Tennis Grant



Blogger's Note: The following was provided by Greater Pottstown Tennis and Learning

Greater Pottstown Tennis and Learning has been selected as one of three non-profits in Pennsylvania eligible for a State Farm Grant of $25,000 for the tennis and education center.

Anyone (over 18 years of age) can vote 10 times per day from now until Aug 23.

Here is the link:

https://www.neighborhoodassist.com/entry/2024154

The group has also posted on social media if you want to share from the GPTL feeds which are listed at the top of our website: www.greaterpottstowntennis.org.

Pottstown has a great chance of winning but we all must vote!