- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:

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PENNSYLVANIA HIGHER EDUCATION - INCLUDING STATE SYSTEM - DUE FOR A RE-EVALUATION

Successful businesses don’t just happen. They’re the product of hard work, expert planning and decision-making, and ongoing self-examination.

Profitable enterprises have a handle on where they’ve been, where they are and in what direction they’re heading. And they’re never satisfied with the status quo.

Education also needs all of that.

Amid that acknowledgment is the fact that these are not the best of times for Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education.

The fact that some state lawmakers favor giving the 14 PASSHE schools the right to leave the system and become state-related universities, instead, demonstrates eroding confidence in the system’s ability to help the schools meet their needs and overcome their obstacles in the future.

Only four universities in the commonwealth currently have state-related status. They are Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln.

It’s premature to predict whether the State System might eventually begin experiencing an exodus of member schools and even whether the PASSHE, as a governing parent, might eventually go out of existence.

It might be possible to avoid a major upheaval in the system, if a well-thought-out attack against current challenges is initiated.

Any study should not just be focused on the State System but, rather, encompass the whole spectrum of higher education in this state. That is what Frank Brogan, PASSHE chancellor for only about five months, advocates.

As reported by the Mirror on Feb. 23, Brogan, appearing before the state House Appropriations Committee, told lawmakers that “this probably would be a good time for Pennsylvania to begin a broader look at how we are organized as a state as far as how all things higher education are concerned.”

Brogan told the committee that he isn’t sure that the way higher education is organized in the commonwealth at this time is sustainable for the long haul.

Twelve of the 14 State System schools experienced an enrollments decline last year.

In a March 12 Mirror article, state Sen. Tommy Tomlinson, R-Bucks, expressed concern that without changes, some of the schools might have to close.

Tomlinson is a sponsor of a bill that would allow PASSHE schools to exit the system as a means for acquiring the flexibility to deal with new enrollment trends and financial pressures.

During the House Appropriations Committee meeting at which Brogan spoke and fielded questions, state Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Allegheny, referred to Pennsylvania’s menu of universities and colleges as a “hodgepodge,” which is an apt description.

“We have state-related (universities), and we have the state system, and then we have these independent colleges and community colleges,” he said.

Brogan told the Senate Appropriations Committee later that day that “trying to treat all of those (schools) with a one-size-fits-all approach is impossible and unsustainable” - for the schools and the state.

Pennsylvania should follow up on Brogan’s suggestion for a comprehensive study, prior to action on Tomlinson’s or any similar measure.

The Keystone State’s educational opportunities must not be compromised due to a lack of self-evaluation.

Appointing a study panel should be the first order of business.

–The (Altoona) Mirror

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OPEN TALKS ON ROAD-BUILDING DECISIONS

Area residents learned recently about two multimillion, multiyear, landscape-changing highway plans here. In both cases, the announcement came as a surprise.

Why didn’t nearby property owners, other area residents, even municipal officials, know up front?

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation announced in January that Interstate 80 would be widened from four to six lanes between the Delaware Water Gap toll bridge west to Exit 303 at Ninth Street and Route 611. State Rep. Mario Scavello, R-176, called it “a done deal.”

Gov. Tom Corbett himself announced the second project, widening Route 115 between Long Pond Road and Route 903. Corbett called Pocono Raceway’s three annual races the equivalent of a Super Bowl, the road project as “igniting economic opportunities for the communities” near the track.

Local residents, property owners and local officials deserve to be in the loop on such projects. Yet they weren’t. Even when PennDOT held public meetings in February to show some of the proposed I-80 widening options, the agency didn’t have maps for public officials as promised. Stroud Township Supervisor Daryl Eppley wondered aloud how a short-distance six-lane interstate would affect already congested Route 611 once the highway shrinks back to four lanes.

Tunkhannock Township Tax Collector Kenneth Henning owns two properties along the affected portion of Route 115, and is disgruntled that “we property owners should … suffer just for the convenience of other people who are only here two weekends out of the year.”

Area residents can’t be blamed for picturing the proverbial smoke-filled room where power brokers decide on road projects for the coming years. After all, neither of these major road projects showed up on the much-discussed “12-year plan” that serves as a sort of blueprint for future infrastructure improvements.

The reality isn’t that dire. Public meetings are taking place. But in the case of the interstate, they are happening at the federal and state level - far from local decision-makers or property owners who will be directly affected. Likewise, the Route 115 project has also come up at official meetings - though not at meetings of the four-county Metropolitan Planning Organization that works with the Northeast Pennsylvania Alliance to plan and discuss transportation improvement projects.

Remember, plenty of PennDOT meetings occur outside the Poconos. And requests for funding priority don’t always come from local officials, but directly from those with much at stake. The owners of Pocono Raceway, for example, have lobbied transportation officials for decades for highway improvements to benefit the track. This time, they caught the governor’s ear.

However these decisions happen, there should be a mechanism to alert affected property owners, neighborhoods and local municipal officials - all of them taxpayers whose hard-earned money will pay for the changes. Otherwise, locals are blindsided by a project that could eliminate their home and/or business and will alter traffic flow for the indefinite future. The little people deserve a say, too.

–The Pocono Record

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SCHOOL DISTRICT SHOULD PURSUE ADVERTISING MONEY

Earlier this year, students in the Easton Area School District faced the potential loss of 56 teachers, and their parents, along with other taxpayers, were being told to expect at least a 2.7 percent jump in their property tax bills for the coming school year. Since then, the number of anticipated teacher cuts has dropped to 36 while the expected tax increase for the 2014-15 school year has climbed to 4.9 percent.

With those and other financial challenges on the horizon, officials within the Easton Area School District have been discussing broadening the amount of commercial advertising that can be done within the school district.

Critics are skeptical. Some students have told Superintendent John Reinhart that the student body is a captive audience and widespread commercial advertising would be inappropriate. Others argue that finding new revenue sources isn’t the answer to Easton’s problems; learning to live within its means is.

Still, other districts have found a balance - benefiting from advertising cash while establishing boundaries.

The Parkland School District landed a $2 million benefit by allowing naming rights on a new elementary school. The Jaindl family sold 20 acres to the district at a huge discount and the school was named the Fred J. Jaindl Elementary School.

In the Bethlehem Area School District, Frank Banko Field was built with the help of a $600,000 endowment.

For a district facing the financial problems that Easton is confronting, tapping potentially lucrative revenue streams such as this one makes sense as long as strict guidelines are created and enforced.

If the administration and school board choose to allow more advertising, district officials will have a lot of questions to address as they formulate a policy.

What kind of advertising would be acceptable? From whom? And where could it be located?

Luckily, though, Easton wouldn’t be operating in the dark. Other districts have dealt with these matters and developed reasonable policies. Easton should follow their lead, inviting those with concerns, including students, to play a part in the decision-making.

___The (Easton) Express-Times

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MAKE PA LEGISLATURE PART-TIME

America’s largest full-time state Legislature will keep Pennsylvania known as the State of Corruption until and unless Pennsylvanians demand that lawmaking revert to the part-time pursuit it once was and should be.

Pennsylvania’s 253 full-time lawmakers have a budget of $277 million, about 2,700 staffers, salaries of $84,012 to $131,129, generous pensions and health coverage, state-paid cars and per diems with little accountability. They are rewards so lavish that too many members are tempted to break the law to further enrich themselves and/or retain their seats, with 15 who’ve served accused of corruption since 2007, including two this year.

The Legislature morphed from part time to full time after voters approved a constitutional change from two-year to annual budgets in 1959. Lawmakers spent more time in Harrisburg, hired more staff and opened Capitol and district offices. Combined with longtime “machine politics,” the full-time Legislature’s corruption scandals leave many Pennsylvanians feeling “this is how politics works,” says Muhlenberg College political scientist Christopher Borick.

Rep. Tim Krieger, R-Hempfield, who has been urging a return to part-time status for three sessions, says his bill “will never move until the public says, ‘We want it,’ and the public hasn’t said that yet.”

But only strong, sustained public pressure will end the full-time lawmaking that has led to the pursuit of full-time corruption.

–Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

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PENN STATE BOARD ALUMNI BALLOTING SHOULD FOCUS ON COSTS AND ACADEMICS

A new Penn State Alumni Association survey suggests graduates of the university are moving past the Jerry Sandusky scandal, even as news reports continue to thrust the situation back into the mainstream.

We think this is a positive trend, and we hope a forward-looking spirit permeates the upcoming elections for alumni seats on the university’s board of trustees.

Even as national media were focusing again on Dottie Sandusky, wife of the convicted former Penn State coach, and Mike McQueary, whose testimony was critical in Sandusky’s 2012 child sex-abuse trial, the alumni association was releasing data that show growing interest in topics unrelated to the scandal.

The university has a new president on the way, a new football coach launching spring drills, more high school students than ever applying to become new Penn State students in the fall.

And graduates said Penn State is on the right track.

The alumni association surveyed members in December, and the organization’s overview of the results notes that respondents said the university’s top priorities should be “academics, building the university’s reputation and affordability.”

The alumni did again urge Penn State to find a way to honor the late Joe Paterno for his service to the school.

Support for public recognition of Paterno was higher in this survey (81 percent) than in one done a year earlier (75 percent), but not as high as in May 2012 (87 percent).

As we’ve said, we would support revisiting the honoring of Paterno once lawsuits and legal battles stemming from the Sandusky matter have run their course, depending on Paterno’s connection to the outcomes.

But it is clear that alumni surveyed are less focused on the Sandusky scandal than they have been in prior reports.

Consider these shifts from December 2012 to December 2013:

. The percentage representing those closely following the implementation of the Freeh report recommendations dropped from 56 to 35, and the percent following slightly or not at all rose from 19 to 36 percent.

. The same trend is seen with the legal proceedings for former Penn State administrators Graham Spanier, Gary Schultz and Tim Curley. The percent following closely fell (55 to 40 percent); the percent following slightly increased (18 to 31 percent).

. As for the various lawsuits connected with Penn State’s NCAA sanctions, the same happened: percent following closely dropped (67 to 44), percent following slightly rose (12 to 27 percent).

We suspect the interest in those areas will tick back up when court activity builds.

But we hope alumni maintain their focus on key areas such as costs and academics, and we hope those priorities drive decisions in the voting for alumni trustees.

___Centre Daly Times

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