Crews Prepared for Plowing, Salting in Luzerne County

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PITTSTON TOWNSHIP — PennDOT plows were working to keep roads clear after a round of snow and sleet overnight in Luzerne County. PennDOT crews could be seen getting ready at the salt shed on Route 315 near Pittston early Wednesday morning. Trucks were loading up and heading out to get ahead of the morning commute.

What Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposal means for charter schools, your district

Posted by Reblog: Lehigh Valley News.

See how much cyber charter school funding your school district is projected to save under Gov. Tom Wolf's Fiscal Year 2016 Pennsylvania budget proposal.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s 2015-16 budget proposal revamps charter and cyber school funding, a move one charter school advocacy group said would shut down Pennsylvania’s charter schools.

Charter schools are privately operated public schools, funded by taxpayer dollars funneled from a student’s home school district. 

Wolf’s proposed $400 million increase in the state’s basic education subsidy restores a roughly 10 percent charter school tuition payment reimbursement for school districts. The practice of reimbursing districts ended under the tenure of Wolf’s predecessor Gov. Tom Corbett.

The loss of charter school tuition reimbursement has exacerbated Lehigh Valley school districts’ budget woes. For instance, the Bethlehem Area School District lost $15.4 million in charter school reimbursements in recent years.

The Keystone Alliance for Public Charter Schools said Wolf’s budget severely limits a charter school’s ability to provide a high quality education to students and removes school choice as an option for families.

“What the governor proposed today is a budget that would effectively shut down charter schools across Pennsylvania,” alliance Executive Director Tim Eller said Tuesday.

Wolf is proposing that charter schools be audited annually and forced to return money they don’t spent on students to their chartering school district.

“Although the governor targets charter school fund balances, he fails to point out that traditional public school districts have amassed fund balances totaling more than $1.7 billion — more than 10 times the amount held by charter schools,” Eller said. “If the governor is going to require charter schools to return excess funds to school districts, he should also require school districts to return their excess funds to taxpayers.

Charter schools receive about 20 percent less in per-pupil funding than traditional schools to account for district’s transportation and other costs that don’t disappear when a child attends a new school. 

“Fund balances help charter schools balance their budgets by financing unforeseen costs, year-to-year revenue shortfalls and emergency expenses,” Eller said.

Wolf is also wants to make permanent the ban on the charter school pension “double dip” payment. “Double dip” refers to the practice of charter schools receiving at least a 50 percent state reimbursement for their employee pension costs in addition to having it completely paid for by school district tuition payments.

Wolf is proposing a new cyber charter school funding plan that he says reflects the difference in operating costs for cyber and brick-and-mortar schools. The administration estimates based on 2013-14 school year data, Pennsylvania’s 500 districts would save about $162 million.

The reform plan sets the regular education student tuition rate at $5,950 and annually increases it by the Act 1 index. Special education rates would be set based on the Special Education Funding Commission’s student categories.

The Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools says the concept of one single cyber charter tuition rate is “based on grossly inaccurate comparative data and unilaterally proposes to redefine basic education funding.”

“The governor’s proposal should be seen for what it really is, a blatant first step in killing charters school options at the expense of children,” the coalition said in a statement. “There is no doubt in our mind that if this proposal is successful, the next attack will be on brick and mortar public charter schools, based on some equally flawed logic.” 

If you cannot view this chart in the post see it here.

Sara K. Satullo may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @sarasatullo. Find Bethlehem news on Facebook.

One lane of Route 33 South reopens hours after fatal crash at Stockertown interchange

Posted by Reblog: Lehigh Valley News.

There isn't a time frame for the right lane reopening, a dispatch supervisor says.

pennsylvania state policeView full sizePennsylvania State Police are investigating a fatal crash on Route 33 South at the Stockertown interchange. 

The left lane reopened about 7 a.m. Wednesday on Route 33 South after a fatal accident several hours earlier shut the highway in that direction at the Stockertown interchange, a Northampton County emergency dispatch supervisor says.

There wasn’t a time frame for opening the right lane, the supervisor said.

A fatal crash involving a box truck and a tractor-trailer was reported at 2:23 a.m. and one person was taken to an area hospital, the Northampton County emergency dispatch center confirmed. 

Pennsylvania State Police are investigating the crash that involved a box truck and a tractor-trailer. In addition to the fatality, another person was taken with minor injuries to an area hospital.

Bethlehem Area, Easton Area, Allentown, other school districts shut due to freezing rain, ice

Posted by Reblog: Lehigh Valley News.

The districts were previously on a delayed opening.

The Bethlehem Area School District will be closed on Wednesday due to hazardous weather conditions, Superintendent Joseph Roy tweeted.

“Freezing rain & difficulty removing ice prevents us from having all schools safely cleared,” he said in the tweet. The district was previously on a two-hour delay after a snow and ice storm Tuesday into Wednesday.

The Allentown School District announced its closure on Facebook. All activities are canceled. It previously had a two-hour delay as well.

The Easton Area School District, Saucon Valley School District, Parkland School District, Whitehall-Coplay School District, Northern Lehigh school District, Northwestern Lehigh School District, Northampton Area School District, Catasauqua Area School District, Bangor Area School District, East Penn School District, Wilson Area School District and Nazareth Area School District will also be closed after an initial delay, their websites say. The Pen Argyl Area School District is also close, WFMZ reports.

Most school districts in Warren and Hunterdon counties have delayed openings.

“Stay off the roads!” Easton Area High School Principal Michael Koch tweeted.

Many schools implemented delays on Wednesday morning.

Cedar Crest College ranks No. 13 on website’s list of best women’s schools

Posted by Reblog: Lehigh Valley News.

Twillie Ambar, president of Cedar Crest in Allentown, described the ranking as a confirmation of the college's commitment to its students and community.

Cedar Crest College is one of the top women’s schools in the U.S., according to College Choice.

The website dedicated to helping students find the right college ranked Cedar Crest at No. 13 on a list of the nation’s 40 best women’s schools. 

The Allentown college is one of three Pennsylvania colleges on the list. The others are Moore College of Art and Design at No. 40 and Bryn Mawr College at No. 4.

“Cedar Crest focuses on weaving leadership development through mentorship, specialized coursework, events, activities and internships from day one. Classes average 20 students and included a healthy representation of international students from more than 20 countries,” the site says.

“When students need a breath of fresh air or fancy a brisk walk, they look no further than the campus itself, as Cedar Crest is home to the William F. Curtis Arboretum.”

Cedar Crest President Carmen Twillie Ambar described the ranking as a confirmation of the college’s commitment to its students and community.

“We take great pride in providing an intimate, motivated environment where young women and adult students have the opportunity to achieve their educational goals, to truly get to learn from their instructors and to thrive in an atmosphere conducive to imparting the knowledge and skills they need to become leaders in their chosen fields,” she said in a statement.

The rankings are based on factors college freshman said were most important in their college decision, including academic reputation, financial aid offerings, cost and graduates success in the post-college job market, the site says.

Precious Petty may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @precpetty. Find Lehigh County news on Facebook.

Icy conditions on local roads across Lehigh Valley, northwest New Jersey, police, dispatchers say

Posted by Reblog: Lehigh Valley News.

Drivers are advised to use caution on area roads.

Local roads are icy as the sun rises behind cloudy skies Wednesday morning in the Lehigh Valley and northwest New Jersey.

At 6:15, it was 33 degrees and a light rain was falling in Easton. It’s expected to get above 40 degrees later in the day, but a snowstorm is forecast overnight. The police scanner was chirping at that hour with minor accidents across the region. Injuries did not appear to be severe.

There was a fatal crash overnight on Route 33 South at the Stockertown interchange. Pennsylvania State Police at Belfast say the highway will remain closed until at least 7 a.m. With troopers still on the scene, a trooper at the barracks couldn’t provide more information at 6:15.

Roads in the Slate Belt were icy and the trooper advised drivers to use caution.

There were minor accidents overnight on Interstate 80 in Warren County, a trooper at the New Jersey State Police barracks at Hope said. Local roads had ice and slush on them, he added; they were drivable but slippery.

A trooper at the Perryville barracks along side Interstate 78 in Hunterdon County couldn’t provide details on overnight accidents, but said local roads were icy. A westbound crash on the highway near mile marker 11.5 in Bethlehem Township, New Jersey, was cleared by 6 a.m., according to emergency radio reports.

Pennsylvania State Police at Bethlehem reported things were “nice and quiet,” although there were lots of reports of icy local roads. A Lehigh County dispatcher said, “Everything is good; nothing’s going on.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation continues to work through the storm, which could last more than two days. A spokesman said crews will focus of secondary roads that need cleanup before considering a pretreatment plan ahead of Wednesday night’s snow.

Backlog in Northampton County civil division continues to linger, judge says

Posted by Reblog: Lehigh Valley News.

Northampton County court officials raised concerns in January after docketing fell weeks behind.

Northampton County’s civil division is still catching up on a major backlog of dockets, a reality court officials don’t expect to change anytime soon.

A combination of the holidays, a surge in retirements and a hiring slowdown in Northampton County led the division to fall weeks behind in asbestos docketing, court orders and status orders, according to a Jan. 15 court memo. 

While a new file clerk started Monday for the division, President Judge Stephen Baratta said the courts are not expecting a change in the status quo anytime soon.

“As far as I’m aware, it’s not a situation that’s not going to improve dramatically until they’re fully staffed,” Baratta said.

The hiring process, Baratta said, could take months. In order to fill vacancies, positions must be posted for internal and external candidates, and Director of Administration Luis Campos previously said they would hire new employees in batches so they could be trained. Even with the addition of the new employee, seven of the 19 positions in the department remain vacant.

Executive John Brown said his administration has monitored the division but did not respond to questions asking for specifics on the current size of the backlog or the estimated timetable on getting the division caught up. Employees in the division have routinely worked overtime shifts in the past few months in order to keep pace with the workload.

“In most service areas the division is caught up to date,” Brown said. “There have been staff increases to assist with the work load. The administration will continue to implement service improvements.”

Brown attributed the long lines the past few months to a surge in passport applications in the county the past two months.

While the division primarily serves the courts, it is controlled by the county’s Department of Court Services. Baratta said the courts will continue to work with the administration to get the division back on track.

“It’s been a bit frustrating. They’re not easy slots to fill right now. It’s a difficult career path to go through civil,” Baratta said.

The backlogs have delayed the justice systems at times, as judges have received files missing key documents and relied on attorneys to appraise them of recent motions. In some instances, judges have issued summary judgements because litigants appeared to miss deadlines only to later learn it was the court system lagging behind.

Slate Belt Council of Governments looks to join other groups for salt purchasing power

Posted by Reblog: Lehigh Valley News.

The Slate Belt Council of Governments would like to create a purchasing cooperative with other groups to gain better control of municipal rock salt deliveries.

Two consecutive cold and snowy winters have created a large demand for rock salt used to treat roads during winter storms, and some Northampton County municipalities are having difficulty getting contracted deliveries.

Joint purchasing may provide better leverage when dealing with rock salt distributors, according to Slate Belt Council of Governments officials.

The COG has been discussing plans for its municipal members to create a purchasing cooperative that would also include other councils of governments in the region.

“There’s always more bang for your buck if you order together with others,” David Houser, Bangor’s representative on the COG, said. “Price hasn’t been an issue but it is the logistics of delivery. We want a rock solid contract about deliveries.”

Roseto purchases its supplies from Morton Salt via the Pennsylvania COSTARS program, which is designed to give municipalities joint buying power.

However, Roseto has been waiting over two weeks for much-needed salt that is supposed to be delivered within five business days of order. Pen Argyl has been waiting 11 days for its shipment to arrive from Morton Salt.

“It has been a severe winter weather season and our customer orders have surged in recent weeks,” Denise Lauer, communications director for Morton Salt, said. “At this late point in the winter, our inventory is challenged but we are doing our best to balance the needs of all our customers.”

Bigger customers often get better customer service, according to Plainfield Township Supervisor Steve Hurni. Plainfield does not participate in COSTARS and bids out its salt supply purchases.

Roseto and Pen Argyl buy salt from Morton Salt for $62 per ton of salt. This year, Plainfield awarded Cargill the contract for $65 per ton of salt and hasn’t had any problems with deliveries, Hurni said.

Organizations like the South Hills Area Council of Governments Purchasing Alliance have inspired Hurni to create a similar program for local municipalities.

South Hills, based in Allegheny County, has 20 municipal members and it joined forces with seven other nearby COGs to form its cooperative purchasing group.

Plainfield ordered 1,000 tons of salt at the beginning of the winter, and Roseto ordered 200 tons.

In comparison, the South Hills COG ordered 180,000 tons of salt, which is second only in the state to the amount the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation buys.

PennDOT has not encountered supply issues this year, according to Sean Brown, a department spokesman.

PennDOT District 5, which includes Berks, Carbon, Lehigh, Monroe, Northampton and Schuylkill counties, used 90,000 tons of salt as of Feb. 27.

Last year in the same period, District 5 used 114,000 tons of salt.

Ordering those massive amounts would offer better leverage with salt distributors when asking for on-time deliveries, Hurni said.

Several regional entities are already locked into salt contracts through next winter, Hurni said, but he would like to continue conversations with the Nazareth Area COG, Saucon Valley Partnership COG and the Two Rivers COG, which serves Easton and its surrounding suburbs.

Hurni also plans to contact groups outside the Lehigh Valley like the Pocono Mountain COG. If they can join efforts, salt distributors would be dealing with the buying power of dozens of communities instead of dealing with each individually.

“SHACOG is ordering 180,000 tons at a time,” Hurni said of the Allegheny County group. “They’re getting attention.”

Snow, ice lead to delays at Lehigh Valley, northwest New Jersey schools

Posted by Reblog: Lehigh Valley News.

The temperature in the predawn is just above freezing and local roads are treacherous.

UPDATE: Freezing rain closes schools

Hackettstown public schools will operate on a 90-minute delay Wednesday morning, town police report, while the Bethlehem Area School District was on a two-hour delay, Superintendent Joseph Roy tweeted.

Many roads and sidewalks in the Easton area were ice-coverd at 5:15 a.m., but many highways were wet and passable. Interstate 78 at mile marker 11 was slippery at that hour from ice, according to dispatches from a wreck in Bethlehem Township, New Jersey. Salt trucks were dispatched; the crash was cleared just before 6 a.m., emergency radio reports say.

The temperature was supposed to warm into the low 40s during the day, but in the predawn, it was just above freezing and raining lightly.

“Conditions throughout the district and region are very ICY this morning!” the Southern Lehigh School District said on its website.

Pay attention to WFMZ’s list, because it’s possible some of these delays become cancellations, based on early morning conditions.

The Allentown School District, Northwestern Lehigh School District, Northern Lehigh School District, Southern Lehigh School District, Catasauqua Area School District, Whitehall-Coplay School District, East Penn School District, Parkland School District, Nazareth Area School District, Bangor Area School District, Easton Area School District, North Warren Regional School District, Northampton Area School District, North Hunterdon-Voorhees Regional School District, Wilson Area School District and Saucon Valley School District were on two-hour delays, according to their websites.

The Pen Argyl Area School District is also on a two-hour delay, WFMZ reports.

The Phillipsburg School District, Washington Township (Warren County) School District and Hunterdon Central Regional High School were on 90-minute delays, according to their websites. The Warren Hills Regional School District will open at 9:30 a.m., its website says. Memorial School in the Washington School District opens at 10 a.m. and Taylor Street School at 10:15, the district’s website says. Alpha Public School will open at 9:30, its website says. Elementary school students in Lopatcong Township begin class at 9:20 a.m., while middle school students start at 10 a.m., the district’s website says.

PennDOT restores speed limits on Lehigh Valley highways

Posted by Reblog: Lehigh Valley News.

Interstate 80 remains at 45 mph between Interstate 81 and Interstate 380, PennDOT reports.

Highway speed limits which were cut to 45 mph during Tuesday afternoon’s snow and ice storm were returned to normal just after midnight on most roads, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation reports.

PennDOT was continuing to treat area roads and will continue to do so as long as necessary, according to a news release. To keep up with highway traffic conditions, view and

Interstate 80 between Interstate 81 and Interstate 380 was still under a restriction at 3:45 a.m. Wednesday.