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State: Municipalities must have new voting systems in place by end of 2019

Acting Secretary of State Robert Torres Thursday told counties in Pennsylvania that they must have voter-verifiable paper record voting systems selected no later than Dec. 31, 2019, and preferably in place by the November 2019 general election.

Torres said in a news release that the state will receive $13.5 million in federal funding to assist counties with replacing their systems.

“We have been planning for some time to bring Pennsylvania’s voting machines up to 21st-century standards of security, auditability and resiliency,” Torres said. “The federal assistance could not come at a more opportune moment.”

The County Commissioners of Pennsylvania in a news release expressed “caution and appreciation” for the decision in requiring new voting equipment.

The group said the “single greatest impediment to system upgrades ... is the lack of a funding source to meet the estimated $125 million price tag.” It added that few counties have resources on hand to meet the expected cost, given a “decade of stagnant appropriations.”

The allocation of the announced funds comes from Congress’ recent appropriation of $380 million for election security. Each state’s allocation requires a 5 percent state match, bringing the state’s total funding package to $14.15 million, according to the Department of State.

Last week, the department released an invitation for bid for new voting systems, directing that new systems meet enhanced security and auditability standards.

“We want to bring about the system upgrades so Pennsylvania voters are voting on the most secure and auditable equipment as promptly and feasibly as possible, while also being supportive of the counties’ need to plan and budget for the new systems,” Torres said.

The department said it is exploring options to help fund or finance the upgrades, including lease agreements, grant opportunities, as well as state, local and additional federal appropriations.

The department will hold a vendor demonstration on April 26 at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex to kick off public education about the new voting systems on the market. The department will release more details about the event in the future.

Counties will be able to choose from certified systems. To date, only one system has been certified, with several others likely to follow in summer and fall.

In the meantime, the county association said current equipment is “secure, accurate and reliable” and that counties maintain a secure chain of custody for equipment, which does not interface with the internet.

Michael Bupp, The Sentinel 

Construction crews begin work on the  Kindergarten Academy expansion project in Mechanicsburg. The project includes the addition of a second floor for administration offices.

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Mechanicsburg Schools
Mechanicsburg school board approves teachers' contract

The Mechanicsburg Area School Board tackled a variety of topics on Tuesday night, including a new teachers’ contract and updated student start and dismissal times for next year.

The board approved a new collective bargaining agreement with the Mechanicsburg Education Association on Tuesday that is retroactively effective from July 1, 2017, through June 30, 2022. The five-year contract has been ratified by association members, assistant superintendent Alan Vandrew said on Wednesday.

District teachers had been working without a contract since their previous agreement expired on June 30, 2017. Superintendent Mark Leidy said at the start of the current school year that finalizing a new teachers’ contract was one of the district’s top goals for this year.

The contract retroactively increases teachers’ salaries by 2 percent for 2017-18 and 3.3 percent for the following four years. Teachers also will have a new health care plan—moving from a traditional PPO to a qualified high-deductible health plan with health savings account—effective Jan. 1, 2019, Vandrew said.

The contract includes time changes regarding teachers’ professional development.

“The board is pleased with the outcome of negotiations,” the school board said in a news release Wednesday. “The new agreement, which was made possible through the collaborative efforts of the MEA and school board, will provide for continued stability for the district’s professional staff. Negotiations remained positive, and continual progress was made with each passing negotiating session. The new agreement includes compromise from each party.”

Also on Tuesday, the school board finalized changes to student start and dismissal times for next year that were previously modified in January.

District business administrator Greg Longwell announced last month that start and dismissal times for the 2018-19 school year previously approved by the school board needed modifications to better meet next year’s proposed bus routes and bus stop locations.

Next year’s start and dismissal times for elementary grades now are set as 7:40 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., respectively. Previously, these times were set at 7:40 a.m. and 2:35 p.m. for next year.

Next year’s start and dismissal times for kindergarten students have been rescheduled for 7:55 a.m. and 2:15 p.m., respectively. Previously, these times were set at 7:50 a.m. and 2:20 p.m.

Secondary grade schedules for 2018-19 remain unchanged from what the school board approved in January. The high school’s start time remains at 8:20 a.m. for next year, with dismissal at 3:20 p.m. The middle school’s start time for next year remains at 8:30 a.m. for next year, with dismissal at 3:30 p.m.

The changes relate to a reconfiguration of all district elementary grades scheduled for next year. Elmwood Elementary School, now home to grades 1-5, will become a district center for grades 4-5. The district’s remaining elementary schools — Broad Street (grades 1-5), Northside (grades 1-5), Shepherdstown (grades 1-2) and Upper Allen (grades 3-5) — will each accommodate grades 1-3 for the 2018-19 school year.

In other news, the school board accepted contractor bids for asbestos abatement at Shepherdstown Elementary School and Upper Allen Elementary School. The board agreed to hire Sargent Enterprises Inc., at $289,424 for asbestos abatement at Shepherdstown Elementary and Dore & Associates Inc. at $145,800 for asbestos abatement at Upper Allen Elementary.

Vandrew said that work at each school will begin at the end of the current school year with completion expected “well before” the start of the 2018-19 academic year.

Bill Tracker
Bill tracker: Changing the compulsory age for attending school

Each legislative session thousands of bills and amendments are introduced in the Pennsylvania Legislature. Only a fraction become law, and an even smaller portion receive wide media coverage.

These bills impact the lives of people living in Pennsylvania every day.

Each week The Sentinel will highlight one bill that has not received widespread attention.

About the bill

Pennsylvania does not require parents to send their children to school until they reach the age of 8. Students are also able to dropout once they turn 17, under Pennsylvania law.

“I believe we are failing our children on both accounts,” Rep. Dan Miller, D-Allegheny County, wrote in a co-sponsorship letter.

Miller has introduced a bill that he said is aimed at giving Pennsylvania youths a better start and putting them on a better path to graduating high school and succeeding later in life.

House Bill 2229 would require students to be in school from 6 years old to 18 years old.

“The earlier that children begin attending school, the more opportunity they have to begin learning basic skills and academic fundamentals, and to interact in a positive social setting with other children on a daily basis,” Miller wrote. “This structured environment can help to support and further set children on a path toward future academic, social and career success by providing them with an earlier start.”

Miller’s bill would allow students to drop out at 17, but to do so the student would be required to obtain permission from their parents.

Current law, maintained under Miler’s bill, creates an exemption for any students who graduate high school prior to reaching the compulsory age requirement.

During the 2015-16 school year, more than 13,000 Pennsylvania students, or about 1.7 percent, withdrew from school before receiving their high school diploma, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

More than 95 percent of the students who dropped out did so for reasons other than being expelled or aging out of the public school system.

Nearly 2,000 students indicated they dropped out because they disliked school, according to the Department of Education.

“(The) statistics are overwhelming that those who do not graduate high school face more difficult challenges and greater economic insecurity,” Miller wrote. “The reality is that in this economy, failure to graduate high school severely hinders future opportunities for our kids.”

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South Middleton Schools
Boiling Springs High School students donate turnout gear hangers to firefighters

One group of Boiling Springs High School students have gone beyond the normal hang-ups that go with being teenagers.

The local chapter of the Technology Student Association recently designed, manufactured and donated 32 heavy-duty coat hangers to volunteer firefighters in the Dillsburg and Franklintown area.

A dozen students worked about 100 man-hours on the project to produce hangers sturdy enough to withstand the weight of turnout gear coats, TSA adviser Luke Fetterolf said. The hangers are the latest in a string of projects TSA members have taken on over the years to help their school and community.

“They like to solve real world problems,” said Fetterolf, a technology education teacher. “They are always listening for what needs are out there. Necessity drives their decisions.”

Senior Elaina Clancy is the TSA chapter president. She was in the metal shop one day in January when a fellow student and volunteer firefighter said firefighters could always use heavy-duty hangers for their turnout coats.

The first step was to conceptualize a design on paper using ideas gleaned from online research, Fetterolf said. He said an early prototype was constructed of wire to test and adjust the angles and dimensions needed to finalize the design.

The students were able to use an actual turnout coat provided by Bill Stahl, a computer technician with the South Middleton School District and a volunteer firefighter with the Franklintown & Community Fire Company.

Each coat is made from double layers of fire retardant material designed to provide protection and a moisture barrier for the firefighters, Stahl said. This sturdy material is what gives each coat its heavy weight.

The students went through three revisions before arriving at a design that was put into mass production, Fetterolf said. The preliminary designs either had imperfections that caused the coat to snag on the hanger or did not open the shoulders and arms enough to allow for proper air circulation to dry out the coat.

Because time is of the essence in any emergency, firefighters can’t afford to have coats that snag on the hanger, Stahl said.

TSA members set up a production line where every student could experience the different manufacturing processes that transformed quarter inch square steel into a finished product in about 30 minutes.

The hangers were then loaded onto Stahl’s vehicle for delivery to the Franklintown fire company. The hangers will be shared with the Dillsburg fire company since both stations are in the process of getting state approval to become one fire department, Stahl said.

The student-led project saved the Franklintown and Dillsburg fire companies about $300, Fetterolf said. He based this estimate on the prices of similar hangers sold online.

“It’s a great thing for the kids to do for the community,” Stahl said.

In the past, TSA students at Boiling Springs High School constructed a book bag storage cabinet for the life skills classroom of the school. The students also helped with the installation of lockers at the Safe Harbour homeless shelter and with the design and fabrication of a monitor arm for a middle school classroom.