Category Archives: WestShoreSD

Pa Transportation Bill Revisited and a School Board Meeting


Whether revenue increases in Pennsylvania’s new transportation bill were tax increases in violation of a governor’s promise or added user fees never interested me much because really, in the end, what difference does it make?  On November 25, 2013 Pennsylvania Governor Corbett signed into law a bill to raise $2.3 Billion annually for the state’s transportation infrastructure.  That’s an amount roughly 8% of the entire state general fund budget, and an increase of 40% over existing transportation expenditures.  Those arguing its necessity claimed the state had failed to keep up with repairs and we had a lot of catching up to do before something really tragic happened, usually involving a school bus full of children.

I had no objection to spending whatever necessary on what I consider a core function of government and understood what some didn’t want to admit, that tax contributions per mile had gone down due to vehicles becoming more fuel efficient.  Part of any increase would be, in reality, a restoration of taxes (or fees) previously adopted and paid.  No one had complained as they were paying less over time, a point not disputed even as it was mostly ignored.

Still, many fought to stop the increase, especially among the most fiscally conservative legislators.  Times were still tough after all.  Rep Steve Bloom argued for prioritization of projects within transportation and no increase.  He voted against the bill and the wishes of our Governor and party leadership.  So did my Rep, Mike Regan, along with others, who, in the process, learned about the application of party pressure to get in line.

I respect these legislators and others who stood their ground.  On the left or the right, progressive or classic liberal, on any particular issue goose stepping is still goose stepping.  I like legislators that can show they have a mind of their own, stand on their principles and then defend their decisions.  We need more of them.

Thinking back, I remember tweeting in favor of increased transportation funding, but without tax increases, by “earning” the funds by doing the hard work, the Bloom prioritization, plus promoting legislation likely to save money and bolster revenues.  I urged tying in pension reform, right to work, and prevailing wage reform, but shouldn’t have stopped there.  It could have been used as an opportunity, a very useful exercise, for legislators to challenge each other to find waste that could be cut throughout the entire state budget.  Everything on the table.  Get serious time.  Stop with the business as usual.  Dreaming!

My thoughts returned to the transportation issue last Thursday evening at a West Shore SD school board meeting.  The topic was repairs to structural failure on an 87 year old middle school building.  The entrance side of the building is brick.  The necessary repair work is on the right side of the entrance, and will require repointing the brickwork as part of the much larger project.  The architect provided a base estimate, with repointing the unaffected left side of the entrance as a $58,800 add on.  The total base estimate is around $700,000.  Of several potential add on items, the additional repointing was the one most highly suggested by the architect, but with no mention of particular urgency.

It was then mentioned that due to tough economic times, the possibility of getting bids well below estimates was a distinct possibility.  Hearing that, one member of the board immediately suggested that would be an opportunity to seriously look at the additional repointing.  Yikes!  What about the opportunity to save the taxpayer some money?  Must they look for ways to spend potential savings simply because it had been budgeted?  There had even been earlier discussion of having in house maintenance employees do repointing work. What about that?

It exposed a pet peeve.  So many times I’ve encountered politicians, claiming staunch fiscal conservatism, who identify waste only to immediately suggest other uses they deem more important rather than suggesting returning the savings to the taxpayer.  Even they, once they’ve got it, are often inclined to want to keep it.

It was that school board meeting experience and the pet peeve that drove my thinking back to the transportation issue.  Remember, the state had fallen woefully, and some argued dangerously, behind on road and bridge repair and upkeep.  So they needed significant catch up money on top of that required to satisfy today’s ongoing needs.  That’s fine and quite understandable, except a day will come when the backlog is caught up.  Will anyone then think of returning those unneeded funds to the taxpayer?  Was it ever suggested to write such a provision into the bill?  Or will projects that would otherwise never have been considered, with little notice, fill the void in spending to the new budget?  Yep, once they’ve got it!

Note: This post shared to WatchdogWire-Pennsylvania 1/21/2014

School District Public Comment Time Limit Challenged


For those who find harsh time limits on public comment at public meetings offensive, don’t take it sitting down.  At a meeting of the West Shore School District in York County, Pennsylvania this evening I used my public comment time to attack their three minute limit.  Not being one to complain without suggesting an alternative, I offered one.

The district’s policy for anyone wishing to comment involves filling out a blue card at the beginning of the meeting.  There are two comment periods, one for items on the agenda, held just prior to the business part of the meeting, where decisions are made.  Last on the agenda is another comment period for topics not on the agenda.  Names are called from the blue cards and citizens are given their time at the microphone.

Every time I have previously commented, on my way to the lectern, the board President, Dr Anthony Tezik, has reminded me to keep my comments to the three minute limit.  Then, as I spoke, I have noticed him looking at his watch, as if enforcing the limit was more important than what I had to say.  Yet an earlier comment period for student speakers has no time limit and sometimes attracts some rather long winded rants.

Tonight I brought my own timing device, a small video camera with the elapsed time on the screen.  As I approached the microphone and was reminded of my limit, I announced that I had my own timer, so the enforcer would not have to stare at his watch.  He said he doesn’t do that but I told him I had seen it.

I characterized the three minute limit as a slap in the face to citizens willing to take their own time to offer public comments.  Recognizing the need for some reasonable limitations, I offered an alternative solution.  I suggested that the comment periods each be allocated 30 minutes, with each person’s limit dependent on the number of persons requesting to comment.  For one to three commenters, I suggested 10 minutes each.  For 4-9, simply divide 30 minutes by the number wishing to speak.  For 10 or over, the allocated 30 minute period would be extended with 3 minutes being the guaranteed minimum for each.

I reminded the board of an earlier student speaker I  timed at 6 minutes 27 seconds.  I also reminded them of the last meeting at which I commented, dutifully within my three minutes, on common core, only to be followed by a person concerned that the wrestling team was not winning enough matches, who was then engaged with questions from the board, the entire time consumed being about three times my three minutes.  I suggested priorities.

Much to their credit, following adjournment, Superintendent, Dr Jemry Small and her assistant Dr Todd Stoltz, directed me to attend the next Policy Committee Meeting on November 14 at 4:30 pm, as the way to get the ball rolling on issues of changing meeting procedure.  I’ll be at that meeting.

Note: This post shared to WatchdogWire-Pennsylvania