PA School Districts

State PSSA Scores Are Lower, Officials Point to Alleged Cheating Crackdown

The state Education Secretary says the results of the 2011-12 PSSA tests reflect actual student performance after an investigation of exams from three previous years.  Compared to the 2010-11 results, the latest Pennsylvania System of School Assessment scores declined by 1.4% in math and 1.6% in reading

These are the first tests since the state started taking a closer look at alleged cheating in some districts.   State Education Secretary Ron Tomalis says investigations continue in nine districts and charter schools and the department expects to file complaints against more than 100 educators suspected of misconduct in administering the tests.

Only 49% of the state’s public schools met Adequate Yearly Progress. Many districts fell short due to new federal regulations that require high school graduation rates to be factored in to the calculation.  Statewide, the number of students performing at or above grade level for math was 75.7%, for reading it was 71.9%, for writing it was 73.2%,   and for science it was 61.4%.

Tomalis calls the results a reset.  He says if you take out schools under investigation, achievement was flat.   The investigation has already resulted in increased test security measures, including monitors in schools that were under investigation.

The state’s largest teacher’s union  is also pointing a finger at the Corbett administration for the lower PSSA scores .  The Pennsylvania State Education Association says most educators know tampering or cheating is wrong, but it’s also wrong for the Corbett administration to use a small number of incidents to claim a statewide decline in test scores.

Spokesman Wythe Keever says the previous administration invested in public schools and students made steady gains, the Corbett administration cut nearly one billion from state funding  and standardized test scores declined.  He  says the need to restore funding to public schools is urgent.


Jack Wagner: Consolidate Municipal Pension Plans


Jack Wagner

Auditor General Jack Wagner

Pennsylvania’s public pension crisis extends beyond the two big state employee plans.  The Keystone State is home to 3,200 different municipal pension plans, and Auditor General Jack Wagner says many of them are in fiscal distress. 

Wagner is authorized to audit about 2,600 of those plans, and his new special report finds that 36% of them are in financial distress.  They have an aggregate $10.2-billion in assets, but $17.4-billion in liabilities. 

Wagner’s top recommendation is to consolidate.  He tells Radio PA that consolidation based on class of municipality could result in 30 – 40 plans, instead of thousands.  “As a matter of fact, with those 3,200, we have 25% or approximately one-fourth of all local public pension plans in America.”

Consolidation could result in drastically reduced administrative costs and increased returns on investment, according to Wagner.  “You would have a lesser obligation of the taxpayer in terms of making commitments to those plans,” Wagner explains.  “This is all common sense.”

It’s also something that would require legislative action, and state lawmakers are already mired in a debate about what to do with the state employee pension plans, which have a combined $40-billion in unfunded liabilities.

What’s Blue and Gold, and Read All Over?

You can help put Pennsylvania history on display, as the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission is looking for nominations for its historical marker program.  Pennsylvania’s landscape is dotted with more than 2,600 of those familiar blue and gold markers, and program coordinator Karen Galle doesn’t expect to run out of qualified nominees anytime soon.  “Every year there’s something new that comes in that’s really intriguing and something that’s a little known fact but very significant,” Galle tells Radio PA.

This year’s application deadline is September 1st, and Galle says each one is judged on its own merits by a rotating panel of Pennsylvania historians.  “The main thing is that the subject has statewide and/or national historical significance, rather than local or regional.”  About 30% of the nominees make the cut on any given year.    

That subject can be a person, place, event or innovation.  For instance, the list of last year’s approved markers includes: the nation’s oldest natural sciences research institution, the birthplace of commercial ice cream in York County and several high-profile architects.    

Applicants or sponsoring organizations are responsible for the cost of making and installing the historical markers.  That could run from $1,400 – $1,875.

RadioPA Roundtable

Radio PA Roundtable 09.21.12

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, Brad Christman and Matt Paul bring you the latest twists and turns in the Voter ID case. Auditor General Jack Wagner talks about municipal pensions, and how did the Starland Vocal Band get a mention in the show?

Radio PA Roundtable is a 30-minute program featuring in-depth reporting on the top news stories of the week.

Click the audio player below to hear the full broadcast:


At Least 25% of PSU Fine Will Stay in State

The NCAA has tapped a task force to figure out how to administer the endowment fund to be created with a record $60-million dollar fine levied against Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.  The NCAA sanctions called for that money to be used to fund programs that help to prevent child sexual abuse and treat its victims. 

The NCAA indicates that at least 25% will be reserved for Pennsylvania organizations.  It’s a good start, according to state House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny), but not good enough. 

Frank Dermody

“We have issues in Pennsylvania.  We’ve had budget cuts for programs that work with victims of child abuse and we should keep that money,” Rep. Dermody tells Radio PA.  “That money should stay in Pennsylvania to help fund those programs.” 

Penn State forwarded the NCAA the input it received regarding the endowment.  “The NCAA has determined that at least one quarter of the annual disbursements from the endowment will be reserved for Pennsylvania organizations.  However, recognizing that child sexual abuse is a national issue, the NCAA has determined that grants from the endowment will be available in other states as well,” PSU President Rodney Erickson said in a statement.   

The ten member NCAA task force includes two Pennsylvanians: Nan Crouter of Penn State’s College of Health and Human Development, and Craig Hillemeier of the Penn State College of Medicine.  It will be chaired by the chancellor of the University of California, Riverside. 

While Dermody doesn’t know much about the non-Pennsylvania task force members, he believes they are highly qualified.  “So I hope they see that it’s the right thing to do to make sure that Pennsylvania’s children are taken care of.”

House Committee Considers Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Bill

The state house Education Committee is considering a bill to add child exploitation to the health curriculum in Pennsylvania schools.  The committee held a hearing on HB 2318.

The sponsor of the bill, Representative Mauree Gingrich (R-Leb) says over 90% of abusers are well known to the child.  She says the bill would help educate children about the risks and how to recognize dangerous situations and the warning signs of grooming.

Gingrich says the best defense we can provide our children is knowledge. She adds that awareness is a powerful tool in the fight against child sexual abuse and exploitation.  She says the Department of Education would develop age appropriate curriculum for grades K through 8.

The measure has bipartisan support.  Representative James Roebuck, minority chair of the education committee, says the bill is the next logical step after efforts to strengthen background checks and increase reporting requirements.   He says it’s an effort that transcends party and political differences.  He says our young children are our future and it’s the responsibility of elected officials to help protect them.

Former University of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia Eagle linebacker Al Chesley spoke in favor of the bill.  He says he was sexually abused by a policeman, who was a neighbor, when he was 13 years old.  He says when you arm kids with education, they begin to be empowered.

Erin Merryn of Illinois would like to see all fifty states pass such a bill. She says four states have already acted. A survivor of child sexual abuse, Merryn says we have to empower kids to tell, tell, tell.

Beer Lovers, Break Out Your Checkbooks

Breweriana collectors from across the country are converging on Lancaster County this Friday and Saturday for a one-of-a-kind auction.  Beer taps, beer signs and beer glasses will all be up for bid… but beer cans are the big draw.  “There’s a number of cans in there that are expected to bring $10, $20, $30 thousand dollars plus,” says Dan Morphy, CEO of Morphy Auctions in Denver, PA.  “Nothing like this has ever hit the auction block before publicly.” 

The 4,000 item collection includes some 500 empty beer cans.  Pictured above is lot #11 from Morphy Auctions’ online bid catalog.  It’s unique because it’s a group of cans; most will be sold individually.   

“The highlight of this sale is a Gibbons Bock beer can, which is one of three known, but it’s also the best example known,” Morphy says.  Its presale estimate is $30 – $50 thousand dollars. 

In all, Morphy estimates the entire collection will fetch $1.5 – $2 million dollars.  “Generally speaking, I’d say the entire market is off 20 – 30% but the best of the best, the rarest of the rare still brings a premium.” 

And that’s what this collection provides.  It’s being sold by Chicago businessman Adolf Grenke, and Morphy says that if it isn’t in pristine condition, Grenke doesn’t own it.

Voter ID Case Goes Back to Commonwealth Court

The state’s highest court issued a ruling today, which sends the controversial Voter ID case back to Commonwealth Court for further investigation.  The seven page order indicates that photo ID requirements are, in fact, constitutional but the question remains implementation. 

The Supreme Court cites an aggressive timetable and an implementation process that’s been anything but seamless in its call for the Commonwealth Court to assess the availability of alternate identification cards for those without a PennDOT ID or the papers needed to obtain one. 

Upon the assessment, Commonwealth Court must decide whether voter disenfranchisement exists.  If it does, the lower court will called upon to issue a temporary injunction.  If not, the law will stand.  The high court has set an October 2nd deadline for that decision. 

Two justices issued dissenting opinions.  Justice Debra McCloskey Todd says the structure and timing of the law will disenfranchise voters.  Justice Seamus McCaffery contends the reason for implementing the new requirement so quickly is purely political. 

A Department of State spokesman tells Radio PA that any voter who wants an ID for voting purposes will be able to get one.  “We’re pleased to provide what we believe will be supporting information to that effect.”