The air was cool but mild Thursday morning, a change from days of rain that had made the grass at the Dickinson College athletic fields green and lush.
With the sky clear and sun shining, it was clearly baseball weather.
“I’m having a lot of fun,” Ellie Smarr said. “I love it because just seeing Nick and his friends smiling with these huge smiles is really brightening my day.”
Ellie is a sixth-grader at Wilson Middle School in the Carlisle Area School District. Nick is her brother who has Down syndrome.
What Ellie got to do Thursday was watch Nick and his fellow students from the Wilson Middle School and Carlisle High School life skills classes take part in a day of baseball with members of the Dickinson College baseball team.
The students, 19 in all, caught pop flies, stood on the pitcher’s mound and swung bats in the batting cages, all the while laughing, smiling and enjoying a day out of the classroom.
“It gives you a little perspective with how lucky we are,” said Alex Jacobson, who plays outfield for the Dickinson College baseball team. “With finals and everything it’s easy to just stay in and not really do anything for other people, but seeing the initiative Ellie took really inspired me. I think everyone on our team was really excited to be a part of this and get them out here doing some of the stuff we take for granted every day.”
Ellie made that happen.
She raised roughly $5,000; made arrangements with Dickinson College and the baseball team; purchased baseball gloves, balls and other equipment needed for the day; and arranged lunch for all of the students and everyone helping out.
“When she came to us, my husband and I looked at each other with deer-in-the-headlights looks, because we knew it would be a lot of work,” Ellie’s mother, Tori Smarr, said. “What we did tell her is, ‘This is your project. We won’t take over.’”
Ellie’s parents offered support in any way they could but, Tori Smarr said, “we told her, ‘You have to talk to the grown ups. You have to talk to the coaches and anyone else who’s involved in this.’”
The outgoing and self-confident Ellie gladly took on the responsibility.
“It’s incredibly impressive,” Dickinson College Baseball Coach Craig Hanson said. “I try to remember back when I was her age and I was more concerned with playing sports with my friends and being mean to my brother, and she went out of her way to do something nice for her brother. ... She is an incredibly impressive young lady.”
Ellie also arraigned for the two life skills classes to attend a Harrisburg Senators’ baseball game.
She said the Dickinson College Red Devils and the Senators are Nick’s favorite teams.
The project — which Ellie named Helping Another Hand — began at the beginning of the current school year when Ellie’s teacher Christine Rogers assigned the students a passion project.
Students had an hour every Friday to plan and implement an idea that could help make the world a better place.
Ellie said she wanted to do something for her brother. Nick enjoys sports, but while he does participate in Brazilian jiujitsu, he does not have a lot of opportunities to take part in organized sports.
“He’s very into sports,” Ellie said. “If he can hit it, catch it or throw it, he’ll do it.”
The concept of a half-day baseball camp came to her while watching TV with Nick this past winter.
She said the Steelers, one of Nick’s favorite football teams, finished their season and Nick was at a bit of a loss with what to do.
“The Senators’ ad came up on TV and Nick just started going, ‘Baseball time, baseball time,’” Ellie said. “He didn’t know what to do until he saw that.”
That was it. The light bulb went on and the gears started turning. Ellie would make Thursday’s baseball camp a reality.
“I am incredibly proud of Ellie for doing this,” Tori Smarr said. “I think she’s an amazing person and a wonderful sister for doing this. I am thrilled to get to watch my son out here with these college players hitting a ball, throwing a ball. It’s heartwarming. It just makes me feel really good.”
Any excess funds will be donated to the life skills classes, but Ellie said she hopes to continue the project in the future and may attempt to make it into a permanent charitable organization.
NEW YORK — Women campaigning against sexual assault and harassment hailed Bill Cosby’s conviction as a validation of the #MeToo movement and an emboldening signal to other victims unsure if they should come forward to seek justice.
“It takes a lot of courage to do that, but this will encourage other women who now see that having a powerful legal team and being a celebrity doesn’t buy you a pass,” said Debra Katz, a Washington, D.C., attorney specializing in sexual-harassment law.
Cosby, for decades one of America’s most beloved comedians, was convicted on Thursday of drugging and molesting Temple University employee Andrea Constand at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004.
He claimed the encounter was consensual, and his lawyers attacked Constand as a liar and a “con artist” who framed him to get rich. This was Cosby’s second trial on the sexual-assault charges. The first ended with a hung jury 10 months ago, before #MeToo became a global movement.
In the time since Cosby’s first trial, sexual-misconduct allegations have toppled countless influential men in entertainment, politics, the media and other sectors. Cosby’s conviction came in the first big celebrity trial since the #MeToo movement exploded and gave abused women a collective voice.
In the pre-#MeToo era, said Katz, women who reported rape and harassment “were reflexively disbelieved and smeared, particularly when they raised allegations against celebrities and powerful men.”
“As a result of the courage of millions of women who spoke out ... our society has changed,” she said. “In effect, this jury agreed that Time’s Up.”
Sandra Park, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Rights Project, said the #MeToo movement had helped educate the public about the pervasiveness of sexual assault and the factors that prompt some victims to delay coming forward for long periods of time.
“The tactic of villainizing the victim has traditionally worked — so you would look for the perfect case that was reported right away,” Park said. “#MeToo has showed that there’s a wide range of sexual-assault cases that don’t fit in a neat box.”
Constand, a former Temple women’s basketball administrator, said Cosby knocked her out with three blue pills he called “your friends” and then penetrated her with his fingers as she lay immobilized, unable to resist or say no.
Although only Constand’s case went to trial, more than 60 other women came forward over the past few years to accuse Cosby of drugging and molesting them over five decades. Their accusations against a well-known superstar were a precursor to #MeToo.
“One of the big lessons we’ve been learning over last six months is that people we admire, people we feel we know well, can also do bad things,” said Fatima Goss-Graves, president of the National Women’s Law Center.
Celebrity attorney Gloria Allred, who represented some of Cosby’s accusers, evoked the movement in remarks on the courthouse steps in Norristown, Pennsylvania, after the verdict was delivered.
“The #MeToo movement has arrived and is well and is living in Montgomery County, throughout this nation and throughout this world,” Allred said.
For some women, news of the verdict was electrifying.
“I did my happy dance,” said Danielle Campoamor, a New York-based writer and editor who says she was sexually assaulted by a co-worker five years ago.
But Campoamor, in an email, said her elation was tempered by memories of her own experience, when she had to wait a year for a rape kit to be processed and then was told there wasn’t enough evidence to proceed.
“So when a man in a position of power, a man like Bill Cosby, is held accountable for the trauma he inflicted on his victims, I feel hope,” Campoamor wrote. “But it isn’t ‘mission accomplished.’ There is still work to be done, and we must do that work until these convictions are no longer the exception to the rule, but the rule itself.”
The Cosby verdict is likely to energize efforts to expand and strengthen #MeToo. Several leading feminist groups have formed an Enough is Enough coalition, and they met this week to advocate for legislation to address sexual assault and harassment and to find new ways to support women who have experienced such abuse.
The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they grant permission, as Constand has done.
South Middleton School Board members may consider a 3-percent tax hike to reduce part of a projected $1.3 million budget deficit for 2018-19.
The tax hike uses a combination of increases allowed under the Act 1 index and two Act 1 exceptions to generate $591,170 in new revenue, said Matthew Ulmer, district operations and business manager.
The administration is also recommending the board base revenue projections on known state and federal levels for 2017-18 and on a 96-percent instead of a 95-percent collection rate.
The combination of the tax hike, the higher collection rate and changes in state and federal subsidies could yield enough additional revenue to reduce the deficit to $544,426, Ulmer said.
The plan is for the board to vote on June 8 to publish notice of intent to adopt a final budget on June 18.
This past Thursday, Ulmer presented a list of options the board could consider to close the deficit, including a .3145-mill tax hike from the current 10.2483 mills to a proposed 10.5628 mills.
The average home within the district is assessed at about $225,000, Ulmer said. Based on that, the tax hike would mean an increase of $70.73 for the average property owner.
This is the second year in a row the board authorized staff to apply for Act 1 exceptions in an attempt to give the district more options to generate revenue above the Act 1 index.
The index is an attempt by the state to allow for an annual adjustment to account for inflation and cost-of-living increases, but to keep school districts from passing on larger tax hikes.
This budget cycle staff applied for two Act 1 exceptions that would allow the district to raise the property tax beyond the base index of 2.4 percent for 2018-19.
After going through the application and review process, South Middleton was successful in obtaining Act 1 exceptions that account for cost increases to special education and in the annual contribution the district makes to the Pennsylvania Public School Employee’s Retirement System.
The Act 1 index, on its own, would enable the district to hike taxes by .2460 mills to generate $466,402 more in revenue. This accounts for $55.32 or about 78 percent of the $70.73 increase for the average homeowner.
The remaining 22 percent will come from a combination of the two Act 1 exceptions the district qualified for, the special education exception and the PSERS exception.
The state granted the district an exception to raise $67,813 more for special education, which equates to a .0376-mill increase or an $8.46 increase on the average home, Ulmer said.
The annual contribution school districts make to PSERS is causing a strain on public education across the state. South Middleton applied for and received an exception to raise another $55,655 in revenue, which equates to a .0309-mill increase or a $6.95 increase on the average home.
The current version of the budget includes five new positions: A middle school guidance counselor, a school resource officer, a psychological services intern and two special education teachers — one for an elementary school and one for the high school. Administrators also recommended the board set aside $400,000 for a future roof project at the high school and $200,000 toward the eventual replacement of the track surface and artificial turf at the stadium.
The projected 2018-19 budget includes an estimated $35.19 million in revenue and $36.496 million in expendutures. Ulmer has suggested options the board could use to close the $1.306 million deficit. For one thing, the board could cut the money set aside for the roof project, the stadium project or both to save $200,000 to $600,000.
The downside is not setting aside money now could make for a bigger financial burden when the condition of the roof, the track or turf become an issue.
Ulmer said the board could also use about $300,000 in uncommitted fund balance to bridge the projected deficit. The problem with that approach is it would leave no money in that account. About $288,000 of the $300,000 is in the form of a contingency the district has set aside in the event of an emergency.
Ulmer has also suggested the board restructure the $3 million in committed fund balance it has allocated toward debt service payments in the hope of freeing up money.
Board member Denise MacIvor said she would like to see revenue and expenditure projections out to at least the next five years. “It would be short-sighted for us to only look at this year and talk about using fund balance,” she said.
MacIvor said the district will be approaching a fiscal cliff in the next few years as the annual voluntary contribution from UPMC Pinnacle will fall off from $500,000 for the 2018-19 year to $225,000 starting in 2020-21.
The school board on Nov. 20 approved a five-year education contribution agreement with the health care system regarding the tax-exempt status of its Pinnacle Health Carlisle Regional Medical Center.
In recent years, the district received about $700,000 in tax revenue from the hospital, which was the single largest taxpayer in the township. The township and school district have a common geography.
Lastly, Ulmer said the board could eliminate the $75,000 in funding for a proposed school resource officer.
The Feb. 14 shooting of 17 students and staff at a high school in Parkland, Florida, has caused school districts to take a harder look at security, board president Randy Varner said. “It is something we are looking at but have yet to discuss as a board.”
After the budget workshop was adjourned Thursday, board members held an executive session to discuss personnel issues. The outcome of that closed-door session may influence some of the staffing decisions that impact the budget.
“We need to talk about personnel first before deciding whether to cut a recommended SRO [school resource officer] or reducing some long-term project funding,” Varner said during the workshop. “We have to discuss things all together. We can’t discuss things individually. It makes no sense to start talking about a resource officer until we know what the personnel options are.”
Representatives for Parx Casino will make a presentation to the Carlisle Borough Council at its Wednesday workshop meeting.
The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. at borough hall, 53 W. South St.
In February, the owners of Parx Casino in suburban Philadelphia picked a general location along Interstate 81 in Cumberland County for its Category 4, or mini, casino. The minicasino could be built anywhere within 15 miles of a centerpoint in South Newton Township.
Parx Casino, which bid $8.1 million, is controlled by London-based businessman Watche Manoukian. The new casino could become the fourth in Pennsylvania in which Manoukian has a stake, although three of the four remain unbuilt.
The casino owners have roughly four months remaining on their six-month window in which to apply to the state for a Category 4 slot machine license. That application will contain the precise site of the proposed casino, as well as details about the casino.
The borough falls within the required 15-mile radius, but its council voted 4-2 in December in favor of opting-out of allowing a casino. The legislation governing the casino licensing process allows a borough to opt back in later.
“In general, I’m looking forward to having a conversation and asking questions of Parx to see what the community impact would be,” Councilman Sean Crampsie said.
Those questions concern the size of the local share of the casino’s profits and what the casino owners may do to assist fire, police and EMS crews. Crampsie said he has looked at what Parx has done in Bensalem, where it appears it has been a “good community partner.”
“In a time when Harrisburg is not giving us many funding options as local governments, we need to explore what those funding options can be,” he said.