Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Suspension of PHS Uniform Policy Extended

Mercury File Photo
Are school uniforms a thing of the past at Pottstown High School? Sort of.

I won't beat around the bush, I know why you're all here.

Although the school board left it to the very last item, I won't.

Yes, the school board voted 5-4 Monday night to continue its suspension of the uniform policy at Pottstown High School at least until the end of the year.

Unlike the discussion last week, in which board members assumed the vote would be to life the uniform requirements permanently, a motion to "suspend" the policy further magically appeared on Monday's agenda.

Board members Amy Francis, Andrew Kefer, Mary-Beth Bacallao and Board President Judyth Zahora constituted the nay votes.

As board member Tom Hylton explained, with the motion "we're suspending, not ending" the uniform policy.

He said with a new principal coming into the high school, (Danielle McCoy was unanimously hired Monday night); and new board members, it makes sense to continue to examine the results of the suspension before making a final decision.

Board member Amy Francis, who was integral to the adoption of the policy in the first place, said she was at least pleased to see more data would be collected and a decision put off.

Also on Monday night's agenda, a $57 million budget which does not raise taxes was unanimously approved.

And apparently some of the pre-publicity about the raises approved last night put at least one of them off-track, with the board tabling a $10,000 raise for transportation supervisor Lisa Schade.

Not put off was a new 3-year contract for Business Manager Linda Adams. The details of that contract were missing from the district web site until just before the vote.

And although the agenda listed every last paltry stipend for every staffer who will help produce "The Wiz" next year at the high school, Adams's salary and details had to be hunted down.

For those willing to troll down to page 189 of the board exhibits (I am not making that number up), the details are now laid out, and also now final.

It includes a salary for the coming year of $138,119 plus annual raises in the coming years matched to the increase of the Philadelphia-area consumer price index, plus a half-percent.

Perhaps more significant than the salary increases is the $15,000 we taxpayers will contribute every year to her retirement fund, as well as 30 vacations days a year.

Of equal (or perhaps greater) note to taxpayers was the appearance of Beth Yoder, art teacher and president of the Pottstown Federation of Teachers.

She told the board that the announcement of a 0 tax increase budget was a "slap in the face" to the teachers and an indication that reaching an agreement with the union, who contract ends in eight weeks, "is not a priority."

She said with the increase in health care costs and the absence of significant percentage raises., near 25 percent of the district's teachers, including those who have helped make Pottstown High School the second-best performing urban high school in the state are taking home less money than they were several years ago.

The teaching staff is depressed and demoralized by the fact that administrators get automatic annual increases and benefits that they do not, and will find it increasingly difficult to find motivation to do their best for Pottstown students under these circumstances.

"It's getting harder to work as hard as our children deserve," she said.
Without further ado, here are the Tweets from Monday night's meeting.

Monday, June 29, 2015

THIS is Why Everyone HATES Harrisburg

With sad predictability, the process of adopting a budget in Pennsylvania has devolved to the usual last-minute maneuvers, rushed half-baked proposals and political stunts that looks for all its chicanery like a cross between speed chess and Let’s Make a Deal.

The opening move, as it always is, belongs to the Governor when he proposed his budget in February.

That budget, if adopted unchanged, would have added $1 million to Pottstown Public Schools.

Then comes the long staring contest in which, quite literally, nothing happens for months and months, all while business managers and school board’s in Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts are scrying tea leaves trying to figure out where up to one-third of their budget revenues may end up.

Unlike his predecessor, Gov. Tom Wolf has made the most of the time, touring the Commonwealth with his wife and cabinet members, trying to drum up support for his budget and what it will do for public schools, the issue on which he won election.

On the other side of the divide, from February until the 11th hour, the Pennsylvania Legislature, the clown car branch of state government, did absolutely nothing.

Finally, noticing the ticking of the clock, they were spurred into action and responded to Wolf’s budget not by countering his proposals to work out a compromise, but by putting it up for a vote immediately where it was doomed to fail from day one.

Then, the games began.

During what passes for negotiation sessions in Harrisburg, Wolf’s chief negotiator, former DEP Secretary John Hangar, recognizing that the Republicans control both house of the Legislature,  went to the table with some concessions on Wolf’s proposal to tax natural gas drillers.

The GOP reaction, Hangar told the roomful of reporters to whom he rushed afterward, was to say “no.” Just No.

Surely, the $48.6 million those drillers have spent on lobbying those legislators – money that could have been spent on taxes to fund our schools -- had no impact on the legislators’ intractable position.

(By the way, we are the only state in the nation that does not tax Marcellus shale natural gas drillers who are, with depressing regularity, polluting the groundwater of the people unlucky enough to live nearby.)

Now, with just four days until the end of the fiscal year, the Republicans in the House and Senate release a budget which, they say, increases funding for education without raising taxes.

What they don’t say is that it is a 1.8 percent increase from the previous year; the fourth year in which millions had been drained from public school funding. Their budget does not restore those cuts, it simply makes them smaller.

Not included in the $100 million increase for basic education funding, are any increases for job training and education; teacher or professional development; adult and family literacy; career and technical education or early intervention for kids with learning difficulties.

There is a 50 percent increases in their budget for pension payments ($573,320,000)and $6.4 million for community colleges.

Their budget also cuts $2 million for child support enforcement; $131.8 million for child Welfare; $87 million for child health insurance, a 74 percent cut (because kids never get sick).

The fact that in the most recent election, the state’s voters overwhelmingly said they wanted the guy who said he would tax gas drillers to provide more money to schools is irrelevant to the Legislature.

They want to teach Wolf a lesson, the same way they taught Gov. Corbett a lesson – a member of their party for God’s sake – “nothing happens without our say so.”

To them, largely immune from getting voted out of office by their own buffaloed constituents, this is all that matters

This weekend I came across a quote from James Madison that seems appropriate to inject here:
"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."
Substitute the word “education” for knowledge and you can see why it might be in the best interest of those in power to ensure the voters don’t have too much of it.

And when you consider that the Republican budget cuts $67,000 cut for voter registration and education, a 14.6 percent drop, it becomes clearer.

The fact that a cut that small represents 14 percent of voter registration efforts is itself a sad commentary on the value we put on educating people to vote.

Maybe that’s because voters might be upset if they know that although the Republican budget plan cuts $4 million from budget for the governor’s office; it increases the General Assembly’s budget by 22.5 percent or a whopping $51.4 million.

The $31.3 million it adds to the Senate’s budget alone is an increase of nearly 50 percent, all this for a branch of government whose pile of spending money is already so huge that it could probably close half the state’s budget deficit by itself.

What this means, of course, is that Wolf will veto it, which will leave us at the start of the fiscal year with both branches of government having rejected the others’ budget plan.

This will likely be followed by another weeks-long, or months-long staring contest, with each branch accusing the other of everything from fiscal malfeasance to starving children.

Make no mistake, this will cost us money. 

That’s because while this needless drama plays out, school districts will have to borrow money to cover the deficit created by the failure of our state’s leaders to fulfill their single most important responsibility – passing a Goddamn budget.

In case you were wondering Legislature (not that you care), but this is why everyone hates Harrisburg.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Summer Reading and Fun, Every Day at the Library

Mercury Photo by John Strickler

The Pottstown Regional Public Library has kicked off its Summer Reading program and (hopefully) there is still time to sign up.

There are two age groups in the program, birth to 5th grade and for them the summer theme is "Every Hero Has a Story."

For students 6th grade and up, the program is "Escape the Ordinary."

(Note that, thanks to the Soroptimists Club, no library card is required for the programs.)

They both kicked off on June 15.

(Sorry for the late notice, but the library did not send me anything and I found this on the Pottstown School District web site.)

The library will also offer free lunch at the library for any child under 18 until Aug. 21.

Each has its own calendar of events which will not reproduce well here so, because it's a slow night, I will attempt to reproduce it for you, however some events are for all ages, including:

Marvelous Mondays at 6 p.m., stories and a craft:
  • July 13: Cape-tastic craft, register by June 29
  • July 20: Boom! Pow! Program, register by July 6
  • July 27: Daredevil Deeds, register by July 13
  • Aug. 3: Command Center, register by July 20
Anime Club: Monday, June 29 and Monday, Aug. 31 at 6:30 p.m.

Tuesday Night Drive-in Movies, held at 6 p.m. for all ages. Shows will be June 30, July 14, July 21, July 28 and Aug. 4. Check with the library for which movie is playing.

Wednesday Morning Performances are held from 10:30 to 11:15.

  • July 1: Eric Dasher's Brainwash Game
  • July 15: Family Stages Theater
  • July 22: IllStyle and Peach Hip Hop Dance Crew

(Here's some video I took of them last year when they performed at the library:)

  • July 29: Lehigh Valley Zoo.

Teen Book Talk Thursdays, held at noon, the first 10 receive a copy of the book.
  • July 2: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
  • July 16: Notes from the Midnight Driver
  • Date not set: Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip
  • Date not set: El Deafa
Fun Friday, at 10:30 a.m., all ages welcome.

  • July 3: Sunny Sidewalk Chalk
  • July 10: Althouse Arboretum
  • July 17: Bubbles
  • July 24: Green Houses
  • July 31: Painting Surprise
  • Aug. 7: Bubble-Wrap Stomp Painting
Tween Fridays at 4 p.m. for ages 8-14
  • July 3: Superb Superheroes, register by June 15, or beg them to let you in.
  • July 17: Superhero Shrinky Dinks, register by June 29
  • July 24: Life Size Clue, register by July 6
  • July 31: Life Size Candyland, register by July 13
  • Aug. 7: Spy Party, register by July 20.
Mercury Photo by John Strickler

Now, for the youngsters -- birth to 5th grade: 

Science in the Summer will be from July 6 to July 9 and registration is required

Dogs are Readers Too: The third Saturday of the month from 10 to 11 a.m., meaning that will occur July 18 and Aug. 15.

Lego Club: Meets the first Saturday of the month at 10 a.m. with then next meetings at July 11 and then Aug. 1.

Magical Mondays, stories and a craft, meets Mondays at 10:30 a.m.:

  • June 29: Paw Patrol Party, register by June 15 (but maybe they'll let you in anyway)
  • July 13: Peppa Pig Party, register by June 29
  • July 20: Princess Party, register by July 6
  • July 27: Fresh Fruit Story time, register by July 13
  • Aug. 3: Pete the Car Story time, register by July 20
Tip-Top Tuesdays, story time every Tuesday morning at 10:30 a.m.
  • June 30: Happy Birthday America, register by June 15 (ask anyway)
  • July 14: Sunflower Sunshine, register by June 30
  • July 21: Bumblebee Fun, register by July 6
  • July 28: Tap, Clap, Drum, register by July 13
  • Aug. 4: Bugs, Bugs, Bugs, register by July 20.
Arty Party held at 2 p.m. Wednesdays for ages 5 and older
  • July 1: Hamburger Hamdoodling, register by June 15 (you know the drill)
  • July 15: Chocolate Party, register by June 29
  • July 22: Cupcake Decorating Bar, register by July 6
  • July 29: Library Card Cases, register by July 13
  • Aug. 5: Clay Hand Bowl, register by July 20
Twisted Tea Party: Thursday, July 23 at 2:30 p.m. Sign up and receive a free copy of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. Program day will consist of games and other Wonderland fun.

Super Saturdays, held at 11 a.m.
  • June 27: Ninja Turtle Party, register by June 15
  • July 11: Summer Snowball fight, register by June 22
  • July 18: Superhero Saturday, register by June 29
  • July 25: Color in the Classics, register by July 6
  • Aug. 1: TEEN Henna Party, register by July 13
  • Aug. 8: Star Wars Storytime, register by July 20.
Brown Bag Book Talks, held from 12 to 1 p.m. Sign up and the first 10 receive a free copy of the book. 
  • June 30: My Weird School
  • July 15: Captain Awesome Vs. the Evil Babysitter
  • July 21: the Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, register by July 6
  • July 28: One Duck Stuck, register by July 13
  • Aug. 4: The Red Barn, register by July 20
End of Summer Wrap Party, Aug. 12 at 5 p.m.
Earn your summer reading certificate by Aug. 5 and be invited to the awesome Secret Lair Super Party.

On to the Teens, 6th grade and older

Those registered for the summer reading program will not only receive weekly prizes like food and t-shirts, the raffle prize at the end is a GoPro camera.

Cave Council: Wednesday, July 1 and Aug. 5 for ages 12 to 17. Tell the library what you would like to see there.

Anime Party: Wednesday, July 29 at 6 p.m., must wear (acceptable) costumes to attend.

Teen Movie Night: Tuesday evenings in "The Cave" at 6 p.m. NEW movies will be screened and food is provided. Dates are June 30, July 7, July 14, July 21, July 28, Aug. 4

Whatever Wednesday: Held at 6 p.m. for ages 12 to 17
  • July 1: Awesome Jewelry, register by June 15
  • July 8: Backyard Scrabble, register by June 22
  • July 15: Chocolate Party, register by June 29
  • July 22: Cupcake Decorating Bar, register by July 6
  • July 29: Anime Party, register by July 13
  • Aug. 5: DIY Candles, register by July 20.
Thunder Thursday: Held at 4 p.m. for ages 12 to 17
  • July 2: Watermelon Seed Spitting
  • July 16: Funky Pens, register by July 29
  • July 23: Water Balloon Fight, register by July 6
  • July 30: Super Surprise, register by July 13
  • Aug. 6: Ice Cream Tasting, register by July 20
Slammin' Saturdays: at 11 a.m. for ages 10 to 17
  • July 11: Snowball Fight
  • July 25: Color the Classics, register by July 6
  • Aug. 1: Henna Tattoos, register by July 13, (Parent permission required)
Party Time: Aug. 11 at 5 p.m., food, prizes, music and games. If you hope to win the GoPro, you must be present at the party to claim the prize.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Rumble Brings Railroad Price Cut for Rambler Riders

Well, not only is the Pottstown Volleyball Rumble a hoot, lots of gun and the largest grass volleyball tournament in the universe, it also prompted a price cut on the Colebrookdale Railroad.

Friday afternoon, the folks at the Colebrookdale announced that the price for an adult ride on the specially named "Pottstown Rambler" will be :

  • cut for an adult from $27.50 to $20; 
  • for a child age 2 to 12, from $18 to $10;
  • For seniors, 65 and older, from $25 to $15
  • and for Toddlers younger than 2,m from $5 to $4.
Even better, you don't have to head up to Boyertown to ride the train. 

For the first time, trains will be department from Pottstown, at a tent set up on King Street near the railroad crossing and right blinking next door to that fabulous Volleyball Rumble.

Refreshments available on board will feature cookies and other baked treats, bottled water and old-timey beverages like Pennsylvania Dutch root beer, red birth beer, sarsaparilla and vanilla cream.

Trains leave Pottstown today at 10:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

They leave Boyertown today at 11:15 a.m., 1:45 p.m. and 4:15 p.m.

Sunday, the train leaves Pottstown at 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.

It leaves Boyertown at 1:45 p.m. and 4:15 p.m.

Tickets are available online or at either the ticket tent in Pottstown, or the Gatehouse in Boyertown on Philadelphia Avenue at the Railroad crossing.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Two New Principals and a Uniform Debate

With the help of a telephone, the Pottstown School Board mustered a quorum Thursday night to conduct their business.

With four members  absent -- Polly Weand, Mary-Beth Bacallao, Judyth Zahora and the perennially absent Amy Francis -- the meeting got underway with Vice President Andrew Kefer at the helm.

(Zahora joined later by phone.)

During the workshop meeting, it became evident only to close readers of the agenda -- available only in physical form and not on-line as the web site proclaims it will be -- that Pottstown High School Principal Jeff Hartman has resigned.

It was equally evident that Danielle McCoy, currently the district's director of Career and Technical Education, will take his place.

It was equally evident from a close reading of the agenda, that David Todd, currently the assistant principal at Pottstown Middle School, will be promoted to take the place of retiring principal Gail Cooper.

There was no discussion of this change in building leadership, nor was it remarked upon by Superintendent Jeff Sparagana when he reviewed the 45 other personnel items consuming nearly seven pages of the 11-page agenda.

The school board was equally silent.

The board members were less silent about whether or not to change the uniform policy for Pottstown High School.

If I were a betting man, which lack of income happily prevents, I would put my money on the board voting Monday to lift the uniform policy in exchange for the previous "dress code," which is what the high school students followed from May 4 to June 18.

As for the rest of the school buildings, don't hold your breath.

But, as board member Tom Hylton noted, it will all depend on who shows up to vote.

Here are the Tweets from last night's meeting.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

They'll Do ANYTHING for Reading

Mercury Photo by John Strickler
Lincoln Principal Calista Boyer got cold comfort 
from her students' meeting of reading goals in
the first quarter of the year.
For teachers and principals in the Pottstown School District, it seems, nothing is sacred in pursuit of one of the most scared goals of education -- learning to read. 

In previous posts and articles in The Mercury, we've told out about principals getting pies in the face, being turned into an ice cream sundae, being slimed, having ice water dumped on them, kissing a pig -- all in the cause of promoting reading.

Often enough, this happens in elementary school.

At Lincoln Elementary School, Principal Calista Boyer, has already this year taken the ice bucket challenge and been a human hot dog.

As a result of Lincoln students reading 1,000 books per quarter, she and some of the teachers there had to undertake the "Smoothie Challenge."

PMS teacher Aaron Hinnershitz sporting his multi-colored
Mohawk haircut he wore until the end of school as a result
of his student's reading achievements.
This allowed children to come and add tasty, or not so tasty things, to a blender to be made into a smoothie that the children

But who is to say Pottstown Middle School can't get in on the act?

This year the school sponsored a three-month reading challenge to see which grade could read the most books.

The winners were the 5th graders. Their goal was to read 1700 hours from March to May and they exceeded that goal by reading 2,584 hours.

As a result, 5th and 6th grade principal Matthew Boyer, Assistant Principal David Todd, David Mabry, Jeffry Schloth and Thomas Simpson in the dunk tank.

The dunking took place on the football field last week.

Teacher Aaron Hinnershitz ("Mr. H," as the student call him) challenged the students in both of his Language Arts classes on the first day of school.

This year that if they could read 2,000 books on their reading level he would let them pick his hairstyle. This is an average of over 42 books per student.

They accomplished the goal and chose for him to get the Mr. T. haircut with the rainbow Mohawk.

But he kept the results of their votes secret until they came to school for a day at North End Pool.

Mr. H. kept his hair this way until after the school year is over.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Free Tire Drop Off Saturday at Pottstown High

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

The final 2015 residential tire collection sponsored by Montgomery County will take place Saturday, June at Pottstown High School between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m.

Free residential collection events are held outdoors rain or shine.

This free event is open to Montgomery County residents only. No businesses. 

Six tires per vehicle is the maximum and rims are accepted, but off-road tires are not.

The Montgomery County Commissioners authorize this annual event to prevent tires from being improperly disposed of and to reduce breeding grounds for disease carrying mosquitoes. 

The tires that are collected will be shredded and repurposed by a local business into products such as road surface material, highway sound barrier wall material, and playground material.

For additional information, visit www.MontgomeryCountyRecycles.org or call the Recycling Hotline at 610-278-3618

The Residential Tire Collection flyer is at:http://www.montcopa.org/DocumentCenter/View/8535.