Bethlehem City Councilman J. William Reynolds Announces Re-Election BETHLEHEM, PA –Bethlehem City Council President has announced that he will be seeking re-election to City Council in 2019. “Bethlehem continues to be a model of what a city can and should be in the 21st century – progressive, diverse, and economically strong. I am proud of everything we have accomplished during my time on City Council but more work remains. That is why I am running for re-election.” Reynolds stated that he is proud of everything that has been accomplished during the previous four years on City Council including the successful implementation of several initiatives proposed in his “Bethlehem 2017” legislative agenda.
Proposing and leading the creation of Bethlehem’s first climate action plan
Northside 2027 – a unique partnership and revitalization strategy for neighborhoods involving citizens, the Bethlehem Area School District, and Moravian College
Bethlehem’s first open data effort to improve access to public data in an effort to spur innovation and entrepreneurship
Financial Accountability Incentive Reporting (F.A.I.R.) – an initiative designed to increase transparency and efficiency of economic development incentives
Working with the Administration and City Council to improve the City of Bethlehem’s financial standing currently reflected in Bethlehem’s recent upgrade to a A plus bond rating from S&P
Being a vocal advocate for state legislation related to environmental protection, equality, marijuana decriminalization, and increased funding for the Bethlehem Area School District
Attending block watch meetings and remaining accessible to citizens related to neighborhood issues
If re-elected, Reynolds stated that his priorities would include continuing to implement and execute Bethlehem’s climate action plan, further develop Northside 2027, extend Bethlehem’s open data initiative as well as
Continuing to support economic redevelopment and revitalization efforts throughout the City
Working to keep Bethlehem the safest mid sized city in Pennsylvania
Focusing on improving governmental communication including modernizing Bethlehem’s social media channels in an effort to increase the efficient delivery of basic city services
Continue to build cooperative strategies with the Bethlehem Area School District in an effort to combat issues currently affecting Bethlehem’s most vulnerable children
CM Reynolds has served on Council for approximately 10 years; he is running for his 4th term in office. See the three items bolded above. The full text of JWR’s “Bethlehem 2017” is linked from the Gadfly sidebar. And both the Climate Action Plan and Northside 2027 are threads here on Gadfly. See under “Serious Issues” on the top menu or under “Topics” on the sidebar.
(The latest in a series of posts relating to Bethlehem’s Climate Action Plan and Environmental Advisory Council)
Kathy Fox is a member of the Bethlehem Environmental Advisory Council, a co-chair of the Northampton County Council of Democratic Women’s Environmental Committee, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Bethlehem Food Co-op. Kathy involves herself in positive organizations and activities that foster community, environmental awareness, education, and good health.
Thursday night January 24, Northampton County Council passed Tara Zrinski’s resolution recommending to all municipalities the concept of banning single-use plastic bags and straws.
Zrinski has described the purpose of her resolution this way: “The resolution is not a ban on the use of bags or straws themselves but the recommendation that they be made of biodegradable materials. Single use plastic is one of the most wasteful forms of pollution to our earth and oceans. By using compostable straws and reusable or compostable shopping bags, we save tons of waste in landfills and oceans that would otherwise accumulate for 1000’s of years. Plastic waste is one of many types of wastes that take too long to decompose. Normally, plastic items can take up to 1000 years to decompose in landfills. But plastic bags we use in our everyday life take 10-1000 years to decompose, while plastic bottles can take 450 years or more. This resolution will then serve as a template for distribution to the municipalities that will have the authority to enforce it. I think this is an important step to show leadership in the direction towards environmental responsibility and a commitment from the County to support the reduction of plastic that is accumulating in our landfills and eventually makes its way to our oceans.”
Linked above you’ll find a preliminary version of the resolution that passed 6-2-1 (2 no’s and one “present”). A vote of “present” is used when the person does not want to vote yes or no and does not have a reason for abstention. The final version of the resolution will be in slightly revised form.
Chris Bartleson from the city of Bethlehem spoke in support of the resolution during the public comment period at the Open Space Committee meeting in the afternoon, stating 349 cities, towns, counties, and/or states in the United States have bans in place. (In Pennsylvania, the only town is Narberth.) Additionally, there were about a dozen citizens there to support the resolution that was passed later that evening in full Council, including Breena Holland from Lehigh University and a few of her students. The shame is they arrived a few minutes late and missed the public comment time.
Dale Sourback (Bethlehem Township), Peg Church, and Rik Sherry (both from the city of Bethlehem) all spoke in favor of the ban during the public comment period in the evening session. Dale supported the resolution and referenced volunteering for Meals and Wheels and hoping to see changes within that system to reduce plastic waste. Peg referenced the whales dying after ingesting plastic, the infamous picture of the turtle with a straw stuck in his nostril, and the fact that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by the end of the century. Rik spoke of his paddling/teaching experiences on the Delaware River with students. He indicated the trips incorporated clean-ups of the river and stressed the large number of plastic bags that were pulled out of the river.
On Page 3 of the version of the resolution linked above, Section 2 will be struck out of the final version. Zrinski stated that if a municipality chooses to create an ordinance banning single-use plastic bags and straws, it should determine how to implement the ban, including charging fees or not.
There was a bit of push back from Council Members Cusick, Ferraro, and Dietz. Dietz talked about the senior citizens who use plastic bags to pick up dog poo. What will they do? He also mentioned that it takes more energy to produce paper bags than plastic. I haven’t looked this up, but he missed the point completely. It is not the monies collected that is important; in fact, some places don’t have fees at all. It is not the goal to argue over whether plastic or paper creates more devastating greenhouse gases. The goal is the paradigm shift created for the public to always bring reusable bags no matter where you shop. Then you do not contribute to greenhouse gas emissions of bag production at all, and you will not pay any fees.
I bring my bags into department stores, farmer’s markets, farm stands, grocery stores.
Make thinking sustainably when being a consumer the norm, not the exception!
(Gadfly’s understanding is that a proposal from our EAC for a resolution or ordinance pertaining to plastic bags is in the pipeline.)
(the latest in a series of posts on Northside 2027 and Neighborhoods)
“There is no reason why good cannot triumph as often as evil. The triumph of anything is a matter of organization.” (Kurt Vonnegut)
Gadfly had to miss the Northside 2027 meeting at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School last Thursday January 24.
But a tip o’ the hat and wave of the wing to follower Kate McVey for attending, participating, and picking up handouts for us.
Kate reports that attendees split into three groups: housing, mobility, and commerce.
Kate went first to the mobility group in which the discussion mostly centered on safety: crossings clearly indicated, how traffic signs were placed, making streets one way and two way, sidewalk work, and grants.
She then went to the housing group and caught the end of discussion about the shelter at United Church of Christ and affordable housing.
Here are handouts from two of the groups.
Each group has a “vision statement” to gradually fill in. The two columns filling up so far are “major concerns” and “potential strategies” to address those concerns. See summaries of concerns below. Take a look at the handouts for proposed strategies.
The Neighborhood Plan Map: shows schools, parks, churches, historical sites, commercial corridors, open spaces, and so forth in the Northside 2027 territory.
Mobility: concerns include unsafe intersections, safety for children walking to school, fast vehicular traffic, minimal access points to the Monocacy Way Trail, traffic signage on alleys, bicycle infrastructure, lack of awareness of “rules of the road.”
Housing: concerns include conversion of homes into multi-family rental units, code enforcement on quality of life issues, aesthetic upkeep of homes, sidewalks, available resources for both renters and homeowners, lack of neighborliness and community cohesion, ways to keep up with maintenance and improving the look of the neighborhood.
Continued kudos to CM Reynolds for leadership and other reps from the city (Congressman Samuelson’s office was represented) who may have been there (Kate suggests introductions and name-tags next time so that we can know the royalty).
As far as Gadfly can determine so far, the issue is not about the quality of education at local charter schools (as it is at some other places) but the funding process. But the Gadfly invites information, insights, anecdotes, stories, and so forth from followers who have had actual experience with charter schools — children attending, teaching at, etc.
Doctor Joseph Roy, BASD Superintendent
I attended the “Education Summit” Wednesday, and I wonder if you could give me a few more specific facts about the important charter school funding issue for the thread I’ve started for my 200 followers under Education on the Bethlehem Gadfly blog (see link below). You can find the thread by clicking “Education” on the right-hand sidebar on the blog.
1) What is the cost per student – regular and special education – you used for charter school payments this year? (here and below, or for the last year you have figures)
2) How many students from BASD are attending charter schools this year?
3) What percentage of BASD students are attending charter schools?
4) How much of the BASD budget – dollar amount and percentage – is going to charter schools this year?
5) What charter schools are BASD students attending this year? Both name and number.
6) Is there a limit to the number of students that can attend charter schools? For instance, is the only limit the number of charter schools and their capacity? Theoretically, could charter schools drain the district of students?
7) Is there anything else about this issue that you think we should know?
8) Superintendent Sniscak cited the PASA report. Is there anything else that you think would be good for us to read as we learn about this issue, including your own writings?
Several members of the School Board and district staff are Gadfly followers, and I’d like to invite you to follow as well (click the button at the top of the blog sidebar). We try to follow various issues of local interest and concern.
Had a great conversation with John [John Marquette, see his January 22 post] and wanted to summarize a few things here so that other readers can have the same info. What John posed is a great idea and a logical option to explore — In fact, it HAS been explored! A few years ago, Weavers Way found itself in a position to expand and worked with a national cooperative consulting firm to research options, including merging or partnering with existing start-ups. They organized a meeting to explore feasibility with the numerous start-up cooperatives in the Philadelphia region. Bethlehem Food Co-Op representatives, including myself, attended that meeting, where it was mutually agreed upon that we were geographically too far away to pursue partnership at the time. Ambler Food Co-Op, which was founded around the same time as Bethlehem Food Co-Op, ultimately was approached, and their membership voted to become Weavers Way members and open a Weavers Way-Ambler location instead of their own separate business. You can read more about the merger here: http://www.weaversway.coop/shuttle-online/2016/06/editors-note-everything-you-wanted-know-about-expansion
The store is fantastic and an easy drive down route 309, so I highly recommend taking a trip to see what sort of operation we have in the works for Bethlehem!
While the Bethlehem Food Co-Op remains an autonomous cooperative, we are extremely fortunate to have the level of support and industry resources that we do, so we can avoid reinventing the wheel. As one of the cooperative principles is “Cooperation Among Cooperatives,” we’ve been able to obtain advice, data, and assistance from individual cooperatives, alliances, and organizations across the nation to help guide our development. Various Weavers Way employees and board members have mentored us since our earliest days of organizing, as well as representatives from other co-ops. We are also incredibly grateful to have the support of the Food Co-Op Initiative, Keystone Development Center, and the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance, all of which have provided enormous resources for our co-op already. Our board members and volunteers have also had annual opportunities to attend conferences where they’ve gained information from a network of national cooperatives and experts. Bethlehem Food Co-Op has also secured expert consulting services in key areas so that we ensure our business is feasible and viable for the long haul in the competitive grocery industry.
The process of opening a food co-op typically takes between 5-8 years from incorporation. Bethlehem Food Co-Op incorporated in 2013, and all evidence shows that we are following the typical development timeline. We are incredibly grateful for the dedication and patience of our volunteers, and appreciate ideas, patience, and involvement from all of our members, like John! #strongertogether
Information about membership in the Bethlehem Food Co-Op is available here.
Now let’s look at the other speakers at Lehigh Valley 4 All’s Education Summit.
(By the way, this is the second meeting of Lehigh Valley 4 All that Gadfly has attended, and that organization has made a very good impression.)
Here are audio recordings and summaries of the five speakers relating to charter schools. If Gadfly were to boil the presentations down, he would say that there is no gripe about the quality of the local charter schools, but the diversion of public dollars to a private end is a major challenge. The gripe from the traditional public school perspective is that the funding formula is flawed, weighing heavily in favor of the charter schools. And the practice in regard to special ed students is resulting in a higher concentration of lower needs students in charters. The Pa. Association of School Administrators has identified 11 reforms that are easy and inexpensive to implement, but recent legislative attempts have actually been in the wrong direction. Outlook not good.
As we continue to think about the charter school issue, among things that Gadfly would like to know are the exact amount of the BASD payment to charter schools, which schools they are, and how many students are attending charter schools.
Joseph Roy, BASD Superintendent (7 mins.)
“Do we believe in public schools for the public good that serve all children, or do we want to move toward privatization?” Since the 80s there’s been a move from public good and service to privatizing everything. Under the guise of choice, there’s been a movement away from the good of the community to the good of the individual, a notion that everything can be solved through the market. The crux: what’s the agenda behind the privatization movement? We have become consumers, a market. A market solution has been imposed on an inherently public good. And it doesn’t work. We see corruption in charter schools (though not in Bethlehem). Charter schools are publicly funded but privately run. They don’t have elected boards, so we remove them from the notion of a public good under the direction of an elected school board. The diverting of public dollars to privately run schools is a major issue. $1.5billion/yr in Pa. goes to charter schools. vouchers/opportunity dollars go to private and parochial schools. “The diversion of public dollars to a private end is a major challenge for us.” If that money stayed in the public system, we’d have a lot less issues with money for the public schools.
Richard Sniscak, Parkland SD Superintendent (9 mins.)
Many costs rising, but charter schools continue to tax budgets. For instance: Allentown $50m, Bethlehem $30m, Parkland $4m. And Parkland doesn’t even have charter schools within the district but are transporting students outside our district. There are good and bad public schools as well as good and bad charter schools. So that’s not his focus. His focus is on the funding of charter schools. Pa. charter school law is obsolete and increasingly out-of-date – especially for cyber charter schools. Pa. Association of School Administrators published a white paper in 2018 to address systemic flaws within the current law, and he went over the 11 recommendations. For instance, change funding formula, change cost of funding special ed students, address over-identification (?), teachers must meet same certification requirements as in public schools (applause!), evaluate by same measures as traditional public schools (applause!), scrutinize lower performance that traditional public schools, school districts have power to oversee charter schools, appeal boards must be composed of neutral members, fill-in discrepancies must be reconciled, transparency of finances, enrollment practices free of discrimination. These things are “low hanging fruit,” easily dealt with without cost, but have eluded legislative change. “Money for charter schools in Pa. is deeply flawed. It is based upon a formula that’s not reflective of actual cost, especially for cyber charter schools.” The funding is based on the cost per student in the sending school. That cost includes lots of things not included in a charter school’s costs, such as extra-curricular cost and busing/transportation. Thus, public schools send more money than is needed to operate charter schools. “Windfall for charter schools and a deficit for public schools.” Gives examples of “excessively high” tuition rates.
Susan Spick, President, Education Voters (10 mins.)
Charters can be managed by a for-profit company, with a different objective than educating students, and a different way of reporting their finances. Cost in Bethlehem 2016-2017 was $10,600 for a regular student and almost $23,000 for a special ed student. There are 2 things that should happen in Harrisburg. Our state funds about 37% of what it takes to educate a student, national average is closer to 50%. We are 46th in the nation for state finding of public schools. Money is not spread in equitable ways and also grossly inadequate. Public schools everywhere are struggling, and effort is needed to bring charter schools funds back into the system. Quality of education in cyber charter schools is abysmal. Not educating students yet taking in 1/2billion dollars a year. Legislature caved to charter school lobby on funding formula for special ed students. No relationship whatsoever between what the charter school gets to educate a special ed student and what it actually costs. Gives egregious example. Funding formula creates a big disincentive for charter schools to admit students with significant disabilities. “Perverse disincentive.” Students with less expensive disabilities go to charter schools. Charter schools all over the state are reaping a surplus from this funding formula. Children are being segregated by disabilities, and educational segregations turns out, in effect to be racial segregation. Issue is morally wrong as well as financial.
Steve Samuelson, State Representative, 135th District (14 mins.)
Funding: 70% local, 25% state, 5% federal. Gov. Wolf had made education a priority. Still feeling effects of big cuts in 2008. Just now coming back to that level. There have been some bills for charter school reform, but they tend to get stuck in committee. One bill that get to the floor went in the wrong direction, taking authorizing of charters away from the local school board. Another bill would stack the appeal board in favor of charters. There was a bill to requite “paid for by tax dollars.” Another regarding teacher evaluation adding charter schools also failed. 3 specific proposals coming up to equalize public and charter schools.
Mike Schlossberg, State Representative, 132nd District (7 mins.)
We are lucky in the Lehigh Valley. Most of our charter schools are good. Most of the charter problems are in Phila., and they drive the conversation. Cyber charters are a major problem. Pa has high property taxes, 6th in nation, but concentrated in impoverished or rapidly growing school districts, go west and property taxes are fine. Can’t eliminate property taxes but can control, rebates, for instance. Property taxes are the only things major corporations pay. Poverty going up in suburban as well as urban areas. Lack of education funding is the key. Important as funding is it isn’t enough. If kids don’t go home to a safe environment, it’s a waste. Need wrap-around programs.