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Highspire group takes court action to get decision on moving students to Middletown district

The group of Highspire residents seeking to transfer their students to Middletown Area School District has filed a petition with Commonwealth Court, requesting the court direct the Pennsylvania Department of Education to make a decision on the matter.

“We understand relocating Highspire students requires careful consideration,” Ken Becker, a spokesman for the Highspire Education Coalition, said in a statement issued on Tuesday, Feb. 21, accompanying the coalition’s filing of the petition with the state court.

“Historically, the department takes about 15 months from when it first receives a request like this to make a decision. We are approaching 30 months and the only response we received from the department is that they continue to evaluate the educational merit of the move without any assurance of when we can expect a decision,” Becker said.

The coalition in 2014 conducted a door-to-door campaign seeking support throughout Highspire for the transfer of students from schools in Steelton-Highspire School District to those of Middletown Area School District. The coalition believes that the students will get a better education by transferred from Steelton-Highspire to Middletown.

Ninety-three percent of the people that the coalition spoke with during the door-to-door campaign favored the transfer, leading the coalition to submit its request for the move to PDE through Dauphin County Court in August 2014.

“Pennsylvania law requires the department to assess the ‘educational merit’ of the move,” Becker said. “All of the information requested by the department to assess educational merit was provided to the department by March 2015. Nearly two years later we are still awaiting the department’s decision. The department’s inaction keeps these students trapped in a failing school district.”

Issues cited in the request by the coalition justifying the transfer include Steelton-Highspire School District students “continually significantly underperforming on standardized tests and state assessments,” according to the coalition statement.

The coalition statement also noted a Pennsylvania Auditor General report finding “significant noncompliance” with various state laws, regulations, contracts, grant requirements, and administrative procedures; and PDE placing the district on Financial Watch Status in 2013 as a result of the district’s general fund deficit exceeding $2.6 million.

Commonwealth Court can order the department to make a decision within a specific period of time, Becker said. The department has 30 days to respond to the coalition’s petition filed the state court.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 February 2017 16:23

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Middletown man arrested after fleeing police; he had warrant out for his arrest

Lower Swatara Township police on Wednesday arrested a Middletown man who had a warrant out for him on a prior robbery charge.

Howard Carnell Pease III, of Middletown, was charged with flight to avoid apprehension, resisting arrest, false ID to law enforcement, operation of a vehicle while under suspension, and other summary offenses. He was taken to the Dauphin County Judicial Center for arraignment. On Wednesday, Lower Swatara police stopped a vehicle for an equipment violation in the 1300 block of South Eisenhower Boulevard. The driver provided false information to the officer, according to police. As the officer was attempting to confirm the operator’s identity, he got out of the vehicle and ran. 

Officers followed the suspect and took him into custody without further incident. His identity was confirmed as Peace. He told the officers he ran, because he knew there was a warrant issued for his arrest. Officers confirmed that Lancaster County had a warrant in relation to a prior robbery charge. 

Lancaster County was notified of the arrest and will be filing a detainer to take custody of Peace should he be released from Dauphin County. 

Anyone with information on this incident is asked to call Lower Swatara Township police via Dauphin County Control at 717-558-6900, contact Dauphin County Crime Stoppers at 800-262-3080, or visit their website at www.dauphin.crimewatchpa.com and click on the “submit a tip” link. 

Last Updated on Monday, 20 February 2017 07:36

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Residents take dim view of regional policing in Middletown, but it is "premature" to say if it's good or bad, Kapenstein says

Middletown residents want to keep the borough police force as it is, if tonight’s Feb. 15 meeting held by council to discuss police regionalization is any indication.

But council only heard from nine people, two of whom do not live in the borough.

Close to 50 packed council chambers for the meeting, some of whom had to stand because they couldn’t find a seat. Among those attending were 12 of the 15 full and part-time officers now with the Middletown Police Department - including interim Police Chief George Mouchette. None of the officers addressed council.

Councilor Diana McGlone also spoke out against regionalization, calling it an unjustified diversion from what should be the borough’s real objectives.

But after the meeting Council President Ben Kapenstein said it is “premature” for anyone to say whether the borough entering into some kind of regional police arrangement will be good or bad for the town, because not enough is known.

“We don’t know anything about what the specifics are,” Kapenstein said, referring to meetings that he and Mayor James H. Curry III have been holding in recent months with representatives of Lower Swatara Township. “I can’t tell you if I am for it or against it at this point until I see terms of any deal. Do I think we should explore it as a potential cost savings while keeping the same or better level of service? Yes. I would continue it if it is up to me. We will see if that is what council wants to do.”

No further meetings have been scheduled between the borough and Lower Swatara to discuss the issue, Kapenstein said. He sees the next step as council having “a discussion” - possibly during its next meeting on Feb. 21 - to decide whether to continue exploring police regionalization.

Curry, who as mayor is head of the police force, was not at the meeting due to what Kapenstein called “a work conflict.”

Otherwise, all of council’s other members - except former long-time mayor, Robert Reid - were present, including Vice President Damon Suglia and members Anne Einhorn, Dawn Knull, McGlone, and Ian Reddinger. Solicitor Adam Santucci was also present.

Kapenstein opened the session with a brief Powerpoint presentation talking about why the borough is exploring entering into a regional police arrangement, and what the benefits to the town could be.

The chief factors driving regionalization include the rising cost of the borough having its own force, the lack of adequate supervision within the department, and the cost to borough taxpayers of adding more police officers, Kapenstein said.

Every new full-time officer costs about $120,000 in salary and benefits, which costs just under $48 a year in property taxes for a resident with a property assessed at $100,000, Kapenstein added.

On the other hand, the borough becoming part of a larger force could lead to better police coverage than now, better supervision, better working conditions, more opportunities for officers to advance up the ranks, and cost savings that the borough apply to other things like paving streets, improving parks, and the like, Kapenstein said.

Of the two potential models - the borough contracting with Lower Swatara to provide police services, or forming a new regional force - Kapenstein said that to him contracting out could be the better option. A regional force would require establishing a regional commission that “by the nature of it gets highly political,” he said.

The borough’s three objectives that must be met in going into any regional police arrangement are to have the same or better level of service than now, cost savings, and to protect the officers who are now with the Middletown force, Kapenstein noted.

In addition, there would have to be officers physically present in Middletown at all times in order for Kapenstein to go along with any deal.

“This council would not vote for any agreement where there are not going to be officers in Middletown” at all times, he said. “The only difference is there would be a Lower Swatara uniform” on the officer.

But several residents spoke of what they see as the advantages of the borough having  its own police force, and what could be lost if the town opts for a regional alternative.

“There is alot to be said for police officers having a personal connection with the community,” said Dan Valley, suggesting that officers who aren’t as familiar with the town would lead to longer response times.

“We need to keep our police,” said Karen Clark. “If you get rid of our guys and bring in strangers that don’t know the people, when they go to a domestic they don’t know what they are walking into. Our police know this borough inside and out. When you send somebody strange into these houses their lives matter, and so do ours.”

Having a police presence in the community “is priceless. There’s really no price to put on that,” said Jo Ruch, who credits Middletown police officer Jeff Weaver with saving her son’s life.

Ruch and her husband Kevin live in New Cumberland, but she said that her son while 7 years old was coming to Middletown for visitation to a parent who no longer has custody. The child did not feel safe, and wanted to see a borough police officer, she said.

Weaver had the boy take off his shoe, so that Weaver could write his home phone number inside of it.

“That little boy really needed a police officer and he needed a good one,” Jo Ruch said. “He got lucky. He got that...I’m not sure he would be here today if it wasn’t for Officer Weaver.”

Middletown becoming part of a regional force could potentially “compromise the safety” of borough residents, added Kevin Ruch, who said he was director of the West Shore Council of Governments in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and also in charge of the West Shore Law Enforcement Center.

Regional policing in the West Shore has not been of benefit to the residents there, according to Ruch.

“When they went to a West Shore regional department things were sacrificed, that’s just the facts,” he said. “There were a lot of promises made but there’s a big gap between promise and performance from my perspective. (The borough) should look at other alternatives to save costs. Do not compromise safety. West Shore regional was a great theory but in practice it did not work out so well. I would hate to see the residents of Middletown suffer a similar fate.”

Resident and former borough councilor Rachelle Reid said she would gladly pay an additional $47 in property taxes if that’s what it takes to keep the Middletown force as is.

The one voice urging council to continue pursuing a policing arrangement with Lower Swatara was Joseph Hoover, a former borough police officer who left the department in 1968 to join the state police, from which he is now retired.

Former township Police Chief Richard Brandt leaving presented “the perfect opportunity” for Lower Swatara and Middletown to merge police departments, but the window has reopened with the departure of former Chief John Bey from Middletown in December, Hoover said. He suggested council keep Mouchette as interim chief but not make him permanent.

“Now you have the time to sit here and intelligently make decisions and get together with the people from Lower Swatara Township, and then let’s see some transparency,” he said. “We have the basis right here. You have the basic Middletown police and you have your experienced Lower Swatara police. It works, if you just sit back and look at it, it works.”

“You people will be the biggest” obstacle to a combined force not succeeding, Hoover said, referring to the elected officials in Middletown and Lower Swatara. “If it doesn’t work it will be on your shoulders and Lower Swatara Township’s shoulders.”

Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 February 2017 23:16

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One of Penn State Harrisburg's first faculty members returning for talk Feb. 20

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As part of the college’s 50th anniversary celebration, the Penn State Harrisburg School of Humanities will present Henry Glassie, an internationally renowned author and educator and one of Penn State Harrisburg’s first faculty members, at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 20 in the library’s Morrison Gallery.

The award-winning author of “Vernacular Architecture,” “The Spirit of Folk Art,” and 22 other books on world arts and culture, Glassie will take guests on a global tour of traditional buildings and landscapes to uncover a new way to conceive of a history of humankind. 

Professor emeritus at Indiana University in Bloomington, Glassie began his academic career as assistant professor of American studies at Penn State Harrisburg in 1969 (known then as Capitol Campus), after having served as director of the Ethnic Culture Survey for the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. He later held positions at the University of Pennsylvania and Indiana University, where he held appointments in folklore, Turkish studies, near eastern languages and cultures, central Eurasian studies, American studies, and India studies. 

His books have covered the traditions and arts of Turkey, Brazil, Bangladesh, Northern Ireland, Nigeria, and the United States. Recent titles include “Vernacular Architecture,” “The Stars of Ballymenone,” “The Potter’s Art, Art and Life in Bangladesh,” “Turkish Traditional Art Today,” and “Prince Twins Seven-Seven: His Life in Nigeria, His Exile in America.”

Among his many honors and awards are the Charles Homer Haskins Prize for lifetime scholarly achievement in the humanities from the American Council of Learned Societies, Award of Honor for Superior Service to Turkish Culture from the Ministry of Culture of the Turkish Republic, Certificate of Honour from the Ministry of Cultural Affairs of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, Cummings Award for the best book on North American vernacular architecture from the Vernacular Architecture Forum, the Lifetime Scholarly Achievement Award from the American Folklore Society, and a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship. He has served as president of the American Folklore Society and Vernacular Architecture Forum.

For more information and to register, call 717-948-6201, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , or visit harrisburg.psu.edu/calendar/event/henry-glassie

Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 February 2017 16:07

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PennDOT to replace Route 743 bridge over Spring Creek in Hershey

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The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation recently set work zone signs announcing that at 6 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 19, the bridge that carries Route 743 over Spring Creek between Hersheypark and ZooAmerica in Derry Township will be closed for reconstruction.

PennDOT advises travelers that the bridge will be closed for up to 63 days as its contractor demolishes the existing superstructure and sets pre-cast portions of the new bridge into place. Until then, motorists should allow for additional time in their plans and use U.S. 422, and Hersheypark Drive as alternate routes. This section of Route 743, known locally as Park Avenue, averages more than 11,500 vehicles traveled daily.
PennDOT awarded the $2,995,254.20 bridge superstructure replacement contract to J.D. Eckman Inc. of Atglen, Chester County. Work includes coordinated utility relocation, demolition and replacement of the existing two-span concrete T-beam superstructure over Spring Creek with a single-span steel plate girder bridge supported by integral abutments, and curb cut work that will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The existing bridge was built in 1921, and once replaced will be removed from the list of structurally deficient bridges.

Later this spring, once the work is completed for the pre-cast and cast-in-place portions of the new bridge superstructure, approach slabs, sidewalks and ADA curb, the new bridge will be opened to traffic. Milling and paving work will be conducted after the bridge is opened to traffic under short-term single-lane alternating traffic patterns. The entire project is expected to be completed in early July.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 February 2017 10:56

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