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Buck a Book gets word out at elementary schools

It made perfect sense to Nasia Carothers for a bookworm to be a librarian.

“I went off of background knowledge,” the Carlisle girl said Thursday. “Wordy Worm is good at reading. He’s good with kids. Librarians have to be good with books and kids.”

A fourth-grader at Hamilton Elementary School, she is among 59 students across the Carlisle Area School District whose writing will be featured in an upcoming book as part of the annual Buck a Book Literacy Campaign.

Hundreds of students from seven local elementary schools submitted entries last fall to the essay contest portion of the campaign. It precedes the launch of two-week drive where children read books for pledge money or donations that support adult literacy programs at the Employment Skills Center in downtown Carlisle.

Teams of volunteers visited all seven schools Thursday over the lunch periods to rally support among the students for the reading drive that officially starts next Tuesday and runs through Jan. 31.

Carothers is ready to get involved. Last year, she raised four to five dollars reading a handful of books. “Older people should learn how to read,” she said. “I want to see them learn how to read and succeed.”

Each year the essay contest features a number of prompts based around a theme and tailored to the skills of the grade levels. Themes tend to revolve around Wordy Worm, the bespectacled mascot of Buck a Book.

Carothers thought “librarian” when she saw the writing prompt “Wordy Worm gets a job.” Third-grader Jenavieve Thomas went with “teacher” because the whole theme of Buck a Book reminded her of her current instructor.

“I like it,” Thomas said of the campaign. “It is helping adults and kids learn how to read.”

Alanna Justice, the Hamilton school librarian, spent part of Thursday gearing up for an exciting time. Her favorite week of Buck a Book is when volunteers from all walks of life come into the schools to read books to children and get them excited about the campaign.

“They share what they are doing and their love of reading,” said Justice, adding that guest readers illustrate the importance of literacy through everyday applications.

Each elementary school within the district competes for trophies for the most money raised, the greatest student participation and the most creative fundraising campaign.

At Hamilton, Justice is having students design the spine of a book by writing in an illustration why they like to read or why they are looking forward to being a Buck a Book kid.

Justice plans to assemble the paper book spines into a bookshelf on a hallway wall so students could read what their peers wrote. Sometimes a message sticks better with kids when kids are the ones delivering the message, Justice said.

“We’re always looking for any way we can get students to read,” said Monique Pannebaker, the school principal. “Being able to tie community with literacy is fantastic.”

In past years, Buck a Book organizers held a public event to kick-off the campaign. This year teams of volunteers went directly to each elementary school to talk to the students during lunch periods.

“We thought it would be a better way to touch all the kids and get the message to all of them,” said Art Kunst, Buck a Book coordinator. He said one goal of the campaign is to convince students that even though they are young, they can still make a difference in the lives of others.

A lot of students, especially the very young, are not aware there are adults in the community who need help with literacy skills, said Malinda Mikesell, reading supervisor for the Carlisle Area School District. She said some of the guest readers at schools are past and present students of the Employment Skills Center.

Nick Smith and James Smiley were the volunteers presenting the Buck a Book campaign to students at Hamilton Elementary School Thursday. “Doing it this way makes it more personal for each school,” Smith said. He is the chairman of the skills center board of directors.

“As an organization, Buck a Book gets our name out in the community,” said Smith, who is the manager of a Members 1st Federal Credit Union branch in Enola. “It’s about kids being active and helping the adults we are trying to educate at the center.”

The campaign has incentives built in to encourage children to read as many books as possible for individual and schoolwide prizes. M&T Bank, the chief sponsor, and other contributors donate money to offset the overhead costs of running the campaign so all the money raised by the children goes directly to the skills center.

“We like to support the community and get our people involved,” said Smiley, a vice president with the Wilmington Trust, a subsidiary of M&T Bank.

This year, English honors students at Carlisle High School reviewed the entries of the Buck a Book essay contest and selected the winners. The 59 students will have the opportunity to read their entry to friends, family and the public at a wrap-up event scheduled for March 11 at Bosler Memorial Library in Carlisle.

The March event will also feature authors and illustrators of children’s books and performances by the choirs of local elementary schools.

Michael Bupp, The Sentinel  

Tanner Fahnestock relaxes during the Pennsylvania State Farm Show Wednesday in Harrisburg. For more Farm Show coverage, see Pages A3 and A4.

Bill Tracker
Bill Tracker: Eliminating driver's license suspensions for drug convictions

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

On Wednesday, the Washington, D.C., based civil rights organization, Equal Justice Under the Law, filed a lawsuit against Gov. Tom Wolf and PennDOT, aimed at eliminating driver’s license suspensions for people convicted of drug offenses.

More than 149,000 people in Pennsylvania had their driver’s license suspended between 2011 and 2016 for drug offenses, including possession of a small amount of marijuana, according to the group.

“Losing a driver’s license is an extraordinary punishment that negatively affects virtually every aspect of a person’s life,” the group wrote in a news release. “Without the ability to drive, people can’t find and maintain employment, pursue education, keep medical appointments, or care for loved ones.”

Federal law requires states to suspend driver’s licenses in these cases or the states risk losing federal highway funds. However, states can opt out and 38 have already done so, according to Equal Justice Under the Law.

Several lawmakers, including Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Allegheny County, had introduced legislation to do what the lawsuit is asking prior to Wednesday’s filing.

Saccone’s bill is House Bill 163.

“(We) have seen an alarming number of individuals who are at a disadvantage after paying their debt to society by not being able to drive and re-enter the workforce,” Saccone wrote in a co-sponsorship letter.

“(It) is my hope this legislation will be the final step in allowing individuals who have paid their debt to society to fully make amends for their decisions, and become a productive member of the public,” he wrote.

The state must first pass a resolution informing the federal government of its intention to end license suspension. Doing so eliminates the risk of losing federal highway funds.

Rep. Dan Miller, D-Allegheny County, has introduced a resolution to do this.

“This mandate prohibits our state from providing flexibility to courts that assist in recovery and rehabilitation goals while also balancing public safety concerns,” Miller wrote in a co-sponsorship letter. “Many of our drug-related suspensions do not even involve the operation of a vehicle, and clearly each individual found in possession of a narcotic has different treatment needs and individual goals that, if met, can reduce recidivism and improve lives.”

House Resolution 76 was sent to the House Transportation Committee on Feb. 10, 2017, and has not been brought up for a vote.

Saccone’s bill, Miller’s resolution and two other similar bills were the subjects of a joint House Transportation and Judiciary Committee hearing in October.

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Walmart boosts starting pay, closing dozens of Sam's Clubs

Walmart confirmed Thursday that it is closing dozens of Sam’s Club warehouse stores across the country — a move that seems sure to cost jobs — on the same day it announced that it was boosting its starting salary for U.S. workers and handing out one-time bonuses to others.

The world’s largest private employer said it was closing 63 Sam’s Clubs over the next week, with some shut already. A company official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss details of the decision publicly said about 10 are being repurposed into e-commerce distribution centers. He said it was too early to say how many people would lose their jobs since some will be placed at other Walmart locations or be rehired to the e-commerce sites.

On Twitter, Sam’s Club responded to people’s queries by saying, “After a thorough review of our existing portfolio, we’ve decided to close a series of clubs and better align our locations with our strategy.”

Walmart had earlier cited tax legislation that will save it money in announcing the higher hourly wages, one-time bonuses and expanded parental benefits that will affect more than a million hourly workers in the U.S.

Rising wages reflect a generally tight labor market. The conversion of stores to e-commerce sites also illustrates how companies are trying to leverage their store locations to better compete against Amazon as shopping moves online.

Online retailers typically pay warehouse employees who pack and ship orders more than store jobs pay. Job postings at an Amazon warehouse in Ohio, for example, offer a starting pay of $14.50 an hour.

“This is about the evolution of retail,” said Michael Mandel, chief economic strategist at the Progressive Policy Institute. “The rise of e-commerce is leading to higher wages.”

Large employers also have been under pressure to boost benefits for workers because unemployment rates are at historic lows, allowing job seekers to be pickier.

Low unemployment has meant that retailers have had trouble attracting and keeping talented workers, experts said. Walmart employees previously started at $9 an hour, with a bump up to $10 after completing a training program. Target had raised its minimum hourly wage to $11 in October, and said it would raise wages to $15 by the end of 2020.

“They raised the minimum wage because they have to,” Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, said. “The labor market is tight and getting tighter.”

Many small and independent retailers struggle to find workers even when they try to pay well and offer benefits.

Laurie Rose, owners of Olde Naples Chocolate usually has six workers during the winter months, the busy season in the resort city of Naples, Florida. But right now, she has three. The store pays $12 an hour and offers a 401(k) account after a staffer has worked for a year, but Rose realizes that may not be enough for many potential workers. Rose would like to pay more, but she’d have to raise her prices and fears that would turn away customers.

While many department store chains such as Macy’s and Sears are struggling, retailers as a whole are still trying to hire. The retail industry is seeking to fill 711,000 open jobs, the highest on records dating back to 2001, according to government data. The longer those jobs go unfilled, the greater pressure on employers to offer higher wages.

Walmart, which reported annual revenue of nearly $486 billion in the previous fiscal year, said the wage increases will cost it an additional $300 million in the next fiscal year. The bonuses will cost it about $400 million in this fiscal year, which ends on Jan. 31.

“The wage increases will make a big difference to Walmart’s lowest-paid associates, but do not yet match Target’s commitment to raise pay to $15 an hour,” said the Organization United for Respect at Walmart.

It joins dozens of other companies including American Airlines, AT&T and Bank of America that have announced $1,000 worker payouts following the passage of the Republican tax plan that slashed the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. The companies say the bonuses they’ve announced are a way to share some of their bounty with their workers, though in some cases it’s a very small percentage of their gains, and are less valuable to employees than permanent pay raises.

Walmart has invested $2.7 billion in higher wages and training for workers to reduce turnover and make the shopping experience more appealing.

The company said the wage increase benefits hourly U.S. workers at its stores, including Sam’s Club. Hourly employees at its websites, distribution centers and its Bentonville, Arkansas, headquarters, will benefit from the wage increase. The one-time bonus between $200 and $1,000 will be given to Walmart employees who won’t receive a pay raise. The bonus is based on length of service, with workers with at least 20 years qualifying for $1,000. In all, Walmart employs 2.3 million people around the world, 1.5 million of which are in the U.S.

Parental leave has been another area in which retailers including Target and Ikea have been trying to offer better benefits. Walmart on Thursday promised full-time hourly U.S. employees 10 weeks of paid maternity leave and six weeks of paid parental leave. Before, full-time hourly workers received 50 percent of their pay for leave. Salaried employees, who already had 10 weeks paid maternity leave, will receive more paid parental leave.

For the first time, Walmart also promised to help with adoptions, offering full-time hourly and salaried workers $5,000 per child that can be used for expenses such as adoption agency fees, translation fees and legal or court costs.

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South Middleton Schools
South Middleton School officials seek public input on superintendent search

As a renewed search for a superintendent gathers momentum, the public is invited to a community focus group discussion Jan. 16 to express their views on the direction of the South Middleton School District.

Professional search consultant Tom Templeton will facilitate the discussion scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. in the Brenneman Auditorium of Boiling Springs High School.

The community meeting will be an extension of focus group discussions Templeton will have with faculty, staff and students earlier that day, board president Randy Varner said.

The purpose of the Tuesday night event is to hear public comment on the strengths and challenges facing the school district. The intent is to review issues that need to be addressed in the next year and beyond and to determine what critical skills will be needed in the next superintendent.

The board reopened its search for a superintendent in early November after it was unable to reach an agreement with an unnamed candidate for the position.

An expedited search the board launched in July came after Al Moyer announced his plan to step down as the district superintendent effective Aug. 18.

A board majority on Aug. 7 agreed to pay Templeton Advantage of Newport a maximum fee of $11,750 to conduct that expedited search.

The board had hoped to announce a selection in November, but that fell through prompting the renewed search that will cover a broader area beyond parts of Pennsylvania.

The board this Tuesday approved an addendum to the agreement it had with Templeton for additional search services that will include the focus group discussions and at least two rounds of interviews with applicants.

Because Templeton and the school board view the renewed search as an extension of the initial expedited search, there will be no additional fee beyond the costs of advertising the position across a broader geographic area, Varner said.

He said Templeton already has given the job position a regional and national reach by posting the vacancy on professional websites through the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators.

“Tom Templeton is casting a wide net,” Varner said. “We expect to have all the applications in by the end of this month. We hope to start interviewing in mid-February. A second round of interviews will happen in late February and early March.”

The goal is to have a new superintendent in place before July 1, which is the start of the 2018-19 school year, Varner said. He said that, ideally, the board would like to name a successor much earlier than that to give the new person an opportunity to train under acting Superintendent Bruce Deveney.

The board in late June 2013 appointed Al Moyer the superintendent following an open process that included an early June town hall meeting in which the public could ask the final contenders direct questions.

“We will remain flexible to that kind of idea, but we are not going to set that up ahead of time,” Varner said. He said much will depend on what the “landscape” looks like.

“When you are talking about a superintendent search, we have big concerns for confidentiality,” Varner said. “A lot of times the candidates do not want it to be known that they are looking.”

So far, South Middleton School District has made two payments to Templeton Advantage for work connected with the initial expedited search. Under the agreement addendum, two additional payments of $2,625 each will be made for services rendered during the renewed search process.

The first payment will be made within 15 business days of the school district receiving an invoice from Templeton. The second payment will be made after the next superintendent has been selected and within 15 business days after the district receives the second invoice.

The addendum includes the possibility of additional limited costs for travel expenses for the final candidates.