Thursday, June 20, 2013

Bethlehem Officials Should Serve Residents, Not Teachers' Union

Bethlehem Visitor Center
Last week, Bethlehem dedicated a new Visitor Center at its SteelStacks campus, the heart of what is quickly becoming the Lehigh Valley's arts and entertainment district. With quick access to PBS, the ArtsQuest Center, Banana Factory and Levitt Pavilion, the South Side is be an artists' haven. Soon, there will even be homes for the creative, with low-rent housing planned at the vacant St. Stanislaus Church. So it makes sense that The Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts would want to relocate to East Third Street, with a three-story school for 600 students. But incredibly, two City Council members and the Planning Commission are stifling creativity, instead of encouraging it. Rather than do what is right for the City, they're carrying water for the teachers' union.

City Council members J. Willie Reynolds and Eric Evans, both of them teachers, voted against a state pass through grant for the Arts High School at a June 18 meeting. They would rather turn down state money than dirty their hands by giving it to a charter schools.

This is as ridiculous as when Lehigh County Commissioners objected last year to accepting federal block grants for badly needed municipal projects. Thet turned their noses up because we have a national debt and owe China money.

But local officials are elected to serve local interests. County Commissioners and City Council members are not in office to solve the national debt, negotiate treaties with China or decide educational issues. Their job is to bring back as much of the our money as they can that we send to Washington and Harrisburg.

Fortunately, five other members of City Council, including former teachers Bob Donchez and Karen Dolan, decided to represent the City instead of the teachers' union.

So the Charter School for the Arts has a $3 million state grant for its expansion into the arts and entertainment district on the south side. But the City's Planning Commission has thrown up another roadblock. Members Jim Fiorentino, Andy Twiggar and Olga Negron refuse to approve the new high school until they see a traffic study that the school agreed to perform. Never mind that City's own Traffic Coordinator, Tiffany Geklinsky, told this trio that the main purpose of this study would be to set timing for traffic lights. Never mind that Planning Director Darlene Heller hinted that the School agreed to follow all recommendations. Never mind that the School's Executive Director, Diane Labelle, told the Commission that even a 30-day delay could adversely affect the financing for what amounts to a $27 million project.

Earlier in the meeting, Planning Commissioners had no problem recommending a zoning amendment for the expansion of Kirkland Village, based on plans that still don't exist. Planning Commissioner Andrew Twiggar, who teaches Sunday School at the church seeking this zoning amendment, made no effort to recuse himself. No Matter. As a partner in a massive riverfront project located inside the Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone, he already has a clear conflict of interest in every matter that comes before the Planning Commission.

Suddenly, the very same Twiggar who voted to approve a zoning amendment for an expansion of Kirkland Village with no plans at all, wanted to delay an arts high school in an arts district for a traffic study that this fledgling school has already agreed to follow completely.

Were these Planning Commissioners carrying water for the teachers' union, too? That's unclear. But their delay, which followed a month of delay because they failed to advertise a meeting, is poor planning. Chairman Jim Fiorentino even warned that it might be difficult to get a quorum together for meetings in July and August.

Is this good planning?

Jeff Parks, the visionary who started Musikfest, has claimed that the arts and entertainment will attract the creative workforce we need to be successful in the future. Mayor John Callahan can rightly take credit for re-energizing the south side with this emphasis. But that won't happen when myopic City Council members and Planning Commissioners represent the teachers' union instead of the best interests of the City.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bernie,

The teacher's union has a lot of money to spend and can count on fellow union members for help on election day. That's how they run, that's why so many politicians don't want to cross them, that's also why our public schools are in the shape they are in.

Scott Armstrong

Uncle Remus said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

the administration and council should realign the planning commission

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

the administration and council should realign the planning commission

7:03 AM

Agree. Olga seems very nice but a planning seat is extremely important post for the city. It does not appear she has any qualifications for the slot. Perhaps another committee would work, but planning?

Anonymous said...

Center for the Arts school will have 26 buses twice daily. Asthma is such an issue for children. It is a worry. Has anyone done an air quality test?

Anonymous said...

While the arts and cultural portion of these schools is top notch they are questionable with the basics of education. This has nothing to do with the teachers union as much as it has to do with genuine concerns that charter schools that have a specialty really do not provide the well rounded education the public should expect when paying to education young people.

That said the tone of this article begs the question about why is it that is someone dare defy Callahan do they have to deal with a negative post on this blog.

One part you miss is the charter school still has a building and will still be in Bethlehem. About 1 or 2 miles from Arts Quest and the Sands. Still in Bethlehem, still producing local talent. So again this is a huge rush to push things down the throats of the people.

If Callahan tries this in Northampton County he may find out, like Stoffa, there will be strong opposition by those who has a different opinion.

Anonymous said...

Twiggar is a political appointee to the Planning Commission, he runs in Ed Pawlawski's circles. My child attends this school and no wonder the teacher's union hates charter schools. The teachers are outstanding and highly accountable. I've never known public school teachers who made such efforts to communicate with the parents and take pride in their students. Shame on the Bethlehem Planning Commission for playing politics. This school and the outstanding faculty, student body and parents exemplifies the best of public education. Go LVPA!

Anonymous said...

At least Willie is an honest rat. Teachers in unions are more concerned about teachers in unions than they are about children.

Let's review: Union, first. Students, second.

If I hear another story of teachers who bring in their own schools supplies after bankrupting the system, I'll throw up. Most of them are never-tested druggies who despise kids and hate the parents even more.

PA is first in number and frequency of teacher strikes and 41st in SAT scores. We pay lots of money to achieve the results of Mississippi and Louisiana and Arkansas.

Anonymous said...

I think it is LONG OVERDUE for the citizens of Bethlehem to take a stand against the Bethlehem School district,for Gods sake people We are working to pay SCHOOL TAXES....this is rediculous.. they have noone to answer too, just raise taxes and thats that...its time we all go to a meeting force them to listen or better yet refuse to pay these over the top taxes......at least 50% of Us tax payers have their children in private schools....We should NOT be paying City school taxes to begin with STAND up for YOURSELVES.......

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:06

You are completely wrong--charter schools are not held to the same standards as other public schools. Their teachers do not have to be "highly qualified" as they do in public schools. Further, charter schools can deny entrance to students, while other public schools cannot. And time and time again, study after study affirms that public school students significantly outperform charter school students on standardized tests.

Charter schools are schools run as a for-profit business. You know what the goal of every business is--to make money. You really want for-profit institutions teaching youth? Only tea baggers think the private sector belongs teaching our kids. Everyone else is right.

Anonymous said...

My question is how can the School District agree on a budget that the new Nitschmann will be $50+ million (what do you want to bet it runs over budget) and the School of the Arts will be nearly half of that at $27 million?

And why is the school district paying D'Huy Engineering a percentage of the construction cost instead of a straight salary? D'Huy is going to make millions just SUPERVISING the job. Yet no one says boo about that.

Regardless, how do you have a ground breaking ceremony a week before any plans to build are approved? The planning commission has a right to do their job and take their time studying the school because we all that once it is approved and turns into a traffic and parking nightmare causing local shops to go under, the Administration who loves cutting the ribbons and putting ceremonial shovels into dirt will blame the bodies that approve these projects.

Anonymous said...

If the Planing Comission gave approval before studies were complete or plans were submitted, they wouldn't be doing their job. This isn't playing politics, this is due diligence.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Removed Uncle Remus' comment bc it violates Godwin's Law. Also, it's time that he start identifying himself.

Bernie O'Hare said...

7:31, 23 of the small style buses for about 30 seconds twice per day. If there were problems with that, the use would not be permitted, but it is. The Planning Commission does not get to decide questions of use. That's why it was reversed on Atiyeh. It does get to review plans, and I can't think of a single occasion in which it delayed a matter based on the need to review a traffic study that the client said it would follow.

Bernie O'Hare said...

10:36, I'll concede that, as a rule, public schools are better than charter schools. But just as LC Comm'rs were off bast to consider turning own a federal grant bc of the deficit, Beth City Council is just as nutty when they get involved inn making this kind of determination. If Willie and Eric want to stop charter schools they need to run for the state house or senate.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"If the Planing Comission gave approval before studies were complete or plans were submitted, they wouldn't be doing their job. This isn't playing politics, this is due diligence."

This is complete nonsense. Planning Commissions, as a matter of course, grant approvals before all studies are completed. It's called conditional approval. But true, you don't approve plans that have not been submitted.

The Bethlehem Planning Comm'n has taken a nose dive since Larry Krauter and Steve Thide have left. I had high hopes for Fiorentino, but he has been disappointing as chair. Twiggar is conflicted. The football coach, who I thought would be terrible, is the only one I like.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"teachers in unions are more concerned about teachers in unions than they are about children."

Let me tell you how much I admire teachers. I see it all the time. Most care deeply about their students. They are not in it for the money. But the teachers' union should not waste our time arguing issues that have already decided.

Bernie O'Hare said...

7:55,

Um, this post could be read as a criticism of Callahan. He appoints the Planning Comm'rs. He is allied with Willie and even the school district. But that's not the point. The point is that local officials should not mess with pass thru grants. It is silly. And they should not delay approving a plan based on a traffic study that the developer has agreed to follow.

An Arts school located on Broad Street on a property it does not own, located 2 miles from the arts center, is basically denying its students the opportunity to enjoy the arts. These are high school students, who can't hop in their car and zip all over the place.

Anonymous said...

I want my taxes going to Liberty and Freedom, not some fly by night operation building $27 million facilities.

Anonymous said...

Helping teacher unions? How about helping public education, in general? Precious funds are being sucked out of the public system into boutique schools many with questionable motives. I'm glad some people won't readily jump aboard Governor Corbett's master plan to destroy public education and all of the opportunities those schools offer.

Anonymous said...

at least 50% of Us tax payers have their children in private schools....We should NOT be paying City school taxes to begin with

You have absolutely no concept of how public education works, do you? Millions of people pay into public schools who have NO children. The purpose of a free, public education is completely lost on you - a very basic concept of our great democracy.

My god, if your children go to private school as them to show you proper grammar and spelling.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Precious funds are being sucked out of the public system into boutique schools many with questionable motives."

The proper place to make that argument is with your state representatives. It is silly to use municipal government to pursue that agenda.

We railed against LC Comm'rs who considered doing that with federal grants. This is actually worse bc nobody really voted against it there.

Anonymous said...

President Obama avoids public schools like lots of caring parents. The public school system sucks and parents want options. Money isn't the answer. Its arguable that more money has delivered worse results. Schooling, garbage collection, health care ... Why are liberals only pro-choice for abortions?

Bernie O'Hare said...

There certainly are bad charter schools, just as there are bad public schools. It can be discussed on a blog or with state reps. But a City Council or a City Planning Commission is NOT the place for those debates.

Anonymous said...

Agree. It's food for thought when electing teachers.

Anonymous said...

Well said and agreed. Charter schools bring quality to our community which public schools fail to do.

Anonymous said...

Well said and agreed. Charter schools bring quality to our community which public schools fail to do.

How many Ivy League scholarships were offered to charter school seniors vs public school seniors? It's not even close.

People with money have choices. They always have. Public schools accept everyone regardless of your income. That's the point. And if you can't at least acknowledge that there are public schools that excel then you are hopeless.

Anonymous said...

It's pretty clear that the administrator of this blog has got a birr under his blanket regarding the Bethlehem planning commission. For whatever reason they have ticked him off and now he is going to make them a whipping boy. I noticed this trend with this site. It's unfortunate. It diminishes otherwise fine reporting.

Anonymous said...

I am referring to public charter schools which is not the same as private school. People with money have better choices and go to better schools and colleges and have advantages over those who do not have money. Pubic charter schools offer a great opportunity for families who do not have money, but who have a vision for their children to reach beyond the public school system, gain an educational experience that does not teach to the test and has enthusiastic and invested teachers who are vested in teaching their students. I don't doubt that there are public schools that excel. However which local high school in the LV this year was rated #2 in PA this year? I was not a private school, it was not a public school it was a public charter school.

Anonymous said...

ballless Bernie enjoys his half truths

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
Anon 8:06

You are completely wrong--charter schools are not held to the same standards as other public schools. Their teachers do not have to be "highly qualified" as they do in public schools. Further, charter schools can deny entrance to students, while other public schools cannot. And time and time again, study after study affirms that public school students significantly outperform charter school students on standardized tests. Charter schools are schools run as a for-profit business. You know what the goal of every business is--to make money. You really want for-profit institutions teaching youth? Only tea baggers think the private sector belongs teaching our kids. Everyone else is right.



Actually YOU are completely wrong in almost every point you make. First charter school teachers, at least at Charter Arts, are held to exactly the same standards of qualifications as public schools. All academic and almost all arts teachers are certified and the qualifications are monitored and evaluated by the PA Dept of Ed.

Charter Arts can not and does not deny entrance on the basis of academic records. They can deny entrance on the basis of lack of artistic talent. However they have a significant population of educationally disadvantaged students just as in public schools.

On standardized tests Charter Arts does about the same or better than surrounding public schools.

Charter Arts in no way is a "For profit" school. It is a non profit institution. It has to be by law as it is publicly funded.

So it appears that You are wrong, wrong and wrong again.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"he administrator of this blog has got a birr under his blanket regarding the Bethlehem planning commission"

Let's see. The Chairman made anti-Mormon remarks during the Presidential race. Twiggar, with the waterfront, is a walking conflict of interest. Their delay of the Charter School was clearly motivated by politics, not planning.

I have an interest in good government. I don't see it in Bethlehem's Planning Comm'n, as it has deteriorated under Fiorentino.