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LV school board accepts business manager's pending retirement

Ligonier Valley School District will be seeking a new business manager in the coming months after the district’s school board on Monday accepted the resignation of business manager Michelle Krebs for retirement purposes, effective June 30.

Krebs has been employed with LVSD since 2014 and spent more than nine years as business manager at Altoona Area School District prior to coming to Ligonier Valley.

“I truly appreciate all the hard work that you’ve done for our district,” board member Kimberly Dickert-Wallace told Krebs. “Though I’m very sad to see you go, I’m happy that when I’m coming into Giant Eagle at 6 p.m., your car will not be there,” — a reference to Krebs’ dedication to her work.

Krebs said she looks forward to spending more time with her family and grandchildren following her retirement.

The school board did not take action at Monday’s meeting to advertise seeking candidates for Krebs’ position.

The board also approved seeking bids for a new Video Management Software (VMS) solution for the district’s video surveillance.

Superintendent Dr. Christine Oldham said following the meeting the district is looking to expand its current video surveillance system throughout the district by adding cameras in any areas where “blind spots” are a concern and reconfiguring network and server infrastructure. The district plans to fund the upgrades using a Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency 2020 Meritorious Grant.

In other business, the school board approved:

  • Adding modifications to the Ligonier Valley Middle School entrance canopy to the Act 39 project at a cost not to exceed $132,945;
  • A Pennsylvania Master Naturalist Service Project as a partnering organization to facilitate the design and potential construction of a rain garden at LVMS;
  • Pay application No. 21 to Constellation NewEnergy, Inc. for $116,452.21;
  • Awarding bids for diesel fuel for the 2020-21 school year to Ports Petroleum, the lowest responsible bidder meeting specifications at a fixed rate of $2.038 per gallon;
  • Increasing the maximum scheduled amount in the long-term disability insurance policy to $9,800 per month, except as stated in the Proof of Loss provision, to accommodate increases in salaries beginning July 1, 2020;
  • An agreement with New Story to provide educational services at a cost of $308 per day, beginning Nov. 11 through June 3, 2020;
  • An agreement with PLearnMC to provide professional development on Nov. 8-9, 2020, at a cost of $4,000 plus lodging cost;
  • A resolution pertaining to the sale of acreage at Eastern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center (EWCTC); Derry Township is purchasing 2.25 acres of land in the far northeast quarter of the EWCTC property for $11,500 to construct a stormwater retention pond;
  • Accepting the resignation of Dr. Timothy Holloway as the district’s school dentist and the transfer of service to Dr. Steven M. Patt at the current rate of $7 per dental exam and $25 hourly rate for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year;
  • Accepting a PDE Mobile Science Grant in the amount of $50,000 to be used toward creation of an outdoor classroom in the LVHS courtyard, purchase of wireless microscopes, TI-Rovers/Hubs and Virtual/Augmented Reality Headsets;
  • For John Gregorich to submit a “Grosh Cares” grant in the amount of $2,500 for musical expenses;
  • For Dana Dorian to submit a “Pickleball Encourages Lifetime Fitness” grant to the Ligonier Valley School District Foundation Inc. in the amount of $1,500. Board members Irma Hutchinson and Mary Gamble, who are on the foundation’s board, abstained from the vote;
  • The Ligonier Valley School District ESL English as a Second Language Handbook;
  • A memorandum of agreement with Southwest Behavioral Care Inc. (SPHS Behavioral Health) to provide district learners with on-site substance abuse services for the 2019-20 school year at no cost to the district;
  • A letter of agreement with SPHS Behavioral Health regarding available services beginning Jan. 1, 2020, through Dec. 31, 2021;
  • For LVHS National Honor Society to experience a field trip to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland, Ohio on May 1 at no cost to the district;
  • For Adam Storey, Tammie Saxton and Josh Suszek to attend the PA Educational Technology Expo & Conference in Pittsburgh on Feb. 23-26 at an approximate cost to the district of $1,800;
  • Hiring the following substitutes for the 2019-20 school year: Laura Bruno, elementary; Jennifer Kober, cook, retroactive to Nov. 18; Laurel Ross, Lauren Friscarella and Donna Knepper, secretary;
  • The resignation of Bradley Snyder, payroll/bookkeeper, effective Jan. 14;
  • Retroactively to hire Elaine Ferry as interim payroll/bookkeeper at an hourly rate of $29.40;
  • Hiring Danielle Bates as payroll/bookkeeper beginning Jan. 14 at an hourly rate of $23.30;
  • Hiring Kober as a three-hour cook at Laurel Valley Elementary beginning Jan. 14 at an hourly rate of $10.25;
  • Hiring Michael Deist as maintenance/part-time supervisor with a beginning date to be determined;
  • Salary and benefits for the maintenance/part-time supervisor position for the period Jan. 14, 2020, through June 30, 2023;
  • Hiring Karen Harding as library aide at Ligonier Valley Middle School and Ligonier Valley High School beginning Jan. 14 at an hourly rate of $10.50;
  • Retroactive approval to increase the pay per game for scorekeeper/statistician/press reporter and scoreboard operator from $30 to $35 beginning July 1, 2019;
  • Retroactive approval for Lyla Barr, a home-schooled learner, to participate in the LVMS girls’ basketball program for the 2019-20 school year at a participation rate of $50;
  • Gary Stouffer as a track and field program volunteer for the 2019-20 school year;
  • Retroactively hiring Tyler Foust as assistant junior high wrestling coach for the 2019-20 school year at a supplemental salary of $2,873;
  • Five “Learner Discipline Matters” and accompanying expulsions of one full calendar year in each disciplinary matter. The board and administration do not comment publicly on disciplinary actions;
  • Final approval of policies regarding Title I Comparability of Services, withdrawal from school and health examinations/screenings;
  • Tentative and final approval to a policy regarding homeless learners;
  • The Ligonier Valley School District Homeless Handbook.

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Charges pending after teens recorded toddler vaping

State police at Indiana report charges are pending against a 17-year-old Seward girl and an 18-year-old Armagh woman accused of allowing a toddler they were babysitting to use a vaping device as they recorded and posted video of the incident to social media.

Police received an anonymous Safe2Say Something tip regarding the video, posted to the social media platform Snapchat, on Sunday, prompting an investigation. Police have not identified the suspects.

According to police, the 17-year-old Seward girl was babysitting a 2-year-old boy at a home on Jan-L Street in St. Clair Township on the evening of Jan. 9.

The toddler took the vaping device from a nightstand and began to use it as the 17-year-old and the 18-year-old Armagh woman who was also at the home watched. One or both of them made a video recording and posted it to social media, according to Tpr. Cliff Greenfield.

Greenfield said the toddler and the two females are not related. Police believe the vaping device contained nicotine, but not THC, the psychoactive chemical found in marijuana. The boy was seen coughing after being allowed to inhale from the device, but did not show any other visible effects from using the vaping device, Greenfield said.

Police notified the boy’s parents, who were unaware of the incident, and reported the incident to the Westmoreland County Children’s Bureau.

Police are continuing to investigate and charges of endangering the welfare of children are pending against both suspects, Greenfield said.

Pa. ramps up census push with statewide tour

Pennsylvania Second Lady Gisele Fetterman on Monday announced plans for a statewide census tour — aimed to raise awareness of this year’s U.S. Census Bureau count and encourage residents to respond to the census — that will begin later this month.

Fetterman, whose husband is Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, said she will visit Philadelphia and Centre, Erie, Allegheny, Lancaster and Luzerne counties over the next three months.

“In Pennsylvania, everyone counts, and that’s why we need to ensure that everyone living in the commonwealth participates in the 2020 U.S. Census,” DCED Secretary Dennis Davin said in a news release. “Our representation and billions of dollars of funding for critical resources depend on an accurate count of all residents, no matter who they are or where they live.”

“Having spent my career working to address issues of equity, I understand how the individuals at the greatest risk of not being counted are the same ones who would be disproportionately affected by an inaccurate count,” Second Lady Fetterman said.

The Census captures increases, decreases and changes in community demographics, and is used to decide how many seats each state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives. It also determines the amount of federal funding Pennsylvania can receive for important programs and services, including Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the National School Lunch Program, Title I Grants to Local Educational Agencies, Special Education grants, Head Start, highway planning and construction, very low to moderate income housing loans, rural rental assistance payments, and unemployment insurance administration.

Through the U.S. Census count, Pennsylvania receives $26.8 billion annually for federally-funded programs, amounting to about $2,000 per Pennsylvanian per year. That funding includes:

  • The Nutrition Services component of the Older Americans Act, which uses Census data to direct more than $31 million for Nutrition Services for older Pennsylvanians;
  • Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) program, which constructs affordable housing and public facilities, infrastructure enhancements and job creation initiatives, and receives more than $196 million in funding;
  • More than $1.68 billion in funding authorized by the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, the largest portion of it designated for maintenance of national highways and construction and repair of bridges and other highway facilities;
  • More than $365 million allocated to the Children’s Health Insurance Program;
  • Six programs targeting rural communities amounting to $760,728,267 (Very Low to Moderate Income Housing Loans: $610,322,282; Rural Electrification Loans and Loan Guarantees: $18,000,000; Water and Waste Disposal Systems for Rural Communities: $54,938,900; Rural Rental Assistance Payments: $33,889,200; Business and Industry Loans $26,410,000; Cooperative Extension Service: $17,167,885);
  • Education assistance, including more than $5 billion for Federal Direct student loans, $840 million for the Federal Pell Grant program, $567 million in Title I grants for schools, and $436 million in special education grants.

“The Department of Human Services administers many of the critical programs to families that are funded according to Pennsylvania’s census count, and we simply cannot afford to jeopardize that funding or those programs,” said DHS Sec. Miller. “For the health and safety of our residents, for the health and safety of our communities, this funding must be preserved; and to do that, everyone must be counted.”

Residents can respond to the form by mail, by phone, and for the first time ever, online. Most households will receive their census invitation in the mail by April 1. Households that are in remote areas or use a P.O. Box will be visited in person by a census taker. Beginning in April, census takers will visit college campuses, senior centers, and group homes. In May, the Census Bureau will begin visiting those who have not responded. Population counts will be submitted to the federal government in December 2020.

Residents do not need to be concerned about safety and security, as census answers can’t be used against an individual, and data security is managed by security experts operating at the highest levels. Under Title 13 of the U.S. Code, the U.S. Census Bureau cannot release any information that identifies individuals, and anyone who breaks this law faces a fine of up to $250,000 and/or up to five years in prison.

For more information related to the 2020 census, visit pa.gov/census.

Lawmakers, officials announce new push to fight Pa. Medicaid fraud

Pennsylvania lawmakers and the state’s Attorney General’s office announced on Monday they’re teaming up to fight waste, fraud and abuse in the Medicaid system.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers will sponsor bills in both the House and Senate aimed at protecting the health insurance program for 2.7 million of Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable residents.

The proposals come nearly nine months after a state grand jury released its recommendations to curb fraudulent claims from siphoning funding from the public program.

“This is a nonpartisan issue that brings people together to solve a challenge,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, said at a Monday news conference in Harrisburg.

The proposals include a bill that would create a state version of the federal False Claims Act, which the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) uses to recoup fraudulent Medicare expenditures.

Shapiro said Pennsylvania is the only state among the top eight Medicaid spending states that does not have a False Claims Act on the books.

That means while the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit in Shapiro’s office was able to make 292 arrests, get 173 convictions and reclaim $34 million in taxpayer funds in 2017 and 2018, it was not able to reclaim all the funding it could have.

State Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, will sponsor the House bill that will allow the state, as part of national settlements, to regain an additional 10% in funds for false claims made against the state’s Medicaid program. It will also allow Shapiro’s office or a district attorney appointed by the attorney general to look into cases where fraudulent or other improper claims may have been submitted.

State Sen. Lindsay Williams, D-Allegheny, will sponsor a similar bill in the Senate.

“I applaud Attorney General Shapiro for bringing to light the glaring problems our Medicaid program faces. Every misspent or fraudulently used dollar is another dollar hardworking taxpayers have to make up for,” Grove said.

Also among the bills is a proposal state Rep. Tommy Sankey will sponsor that requires any Medicaid managed care organization (MCO) to enter into an agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services and allow the state to recoup any Medicaid funding that paid for such erroneous services.

Among the money misspent includes $43 million approved by MCOs for what the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services deems as “provider preventable conditions.” That would include cases where mistakes were made, such as the removal of the wrong appendage during an amputation.

In addition, state Rep. Wendi Thomas will also file legislation that would make knowing or causing a fraudulent claim to be file a crime.

Any claim over $2,000 would be a third-degree felony, with claims valued at $100,000 or more becoming a second-degree felony.

Pa. needs renewed focus on middle-skilled workers, lawmakers told

Pennsylvania mirrors the nation when it comes to job trends for people with some college experience but no bachelor’s degree.

That was one of the key findings members of the Higher Education Funding Commission hearing held recently at West Chester University.

Nearly half of the nearly 2.5 million “good jobs” in the state are filled by workers who do not have a bachelor’s degree, said Martin Van Der Werf, an associate director of editorial and postsecondary policy at the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce.

He said the center defines a good job as one that offers full-time work with benefits and pays more than $35,000 a year, or $45,000 for workers 45 and up.

Those non-bachelor’s individuals with good jobs are considered middle-skill workers, an important sector the state will need to make sure gets the training needed to work in a job market where technology is changing skills sets needed at a rapid pace.

“It’s important that you meet them where they are and in a way that can maximize their potential,” Van Der Werf said. “It might change the way you think about your funding formulas.”

He added that 54% of middle-skill Pennsylvanians are working blue collar jobs. However, that’s changing, too, as more skilled-service jobs are opening. From 1991 to 2015, Pennsylvania lost nearly 246,000 good blue-collar jobs for non-bachelor’s workers. The state gained 143,000 good skilled services jobs during the same span.

Joan Wodiska, CEO of Pioneer Management Consulting, told the commission that middle-skill job holders have a unique need in that they must receive continual training as technology advances.

“Middle-skill jobs are the heart and soul of the American economy, without question,” she said. “And they are the future of U.S. competitiveness.”

In Pennsylvania, those workers make up 54% of the state’s labor market, she said. However, only 43% have sufficient training for those jobs.

She said that all workers must have access to the postsecondary education and training they need to compete for and obtain the good jobs that will be available. That training must be flexible to meet the students’ needs and it also must be affordable.

As a result, high-speed broadband access will be a necessity for workers, especially in Pennsylvania rural communities. Along with that, higher education institutions will also need to change with the times. The era people completing their education with a high school diploma, a training certificate or college degree is winding down.

“Education is no longer a finish line, it’s now become a life’s work that’s never done,” Wodiska said.

The commission is a 19-member panel created from a state law passed last year. The lawmakers and officials from the Wolf Administration that serve on the commission have been charged with determining how higher education funds should be distributed.

State Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-West Chester, the minority chairman of the Senate Education Committee, helped arrange Wednesday’s session. From this and other meetings, the group will report its findings to the administration and lawmakers by July.

“Our job is to figure out and provide a draft, a chart of possibilities, and to make sure that our spending reflects where we need to go in terms of our economic prosperity,” Dinniman said at the hearing.

Photo by Ernie Sistek  

On an unusual warm January day, brothers Nathan and Jacob Mickinac took to their front yard in Unity Township this past weekend to perform an impromptu concert. Among their repertoire was “Happy Birthday” and some songs they wrote themselves. Isn’t this the way it should be?

State lawmakers balance higher education funding with changing economy

Pennsylvania lawmakers looking into changes in higher education funding are focused on how to balance increasing access to higher education with a changing marketplace.

The Public Higher Education Funding Commission is working to develop a funding formula for the state’s public institutions.

As part of their work, the 19-member commission, which recently held a pair of hearings at West Chester University’s Business and Public Management Center, is identifying factors to determine the distribution of funding among state schools.

“The industrial economy is a thing of the past, and so should the industrial version of education where we assume that we can teach every student to a standardized, synchronized approach,” state Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-West Whiteland, said during the hearing. “… So how do we now create a new structural arrangement?”

Laura Perna, a professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania, said achieving statewide goals should sit at the center of any approach.

“Increasing degree attainment is not as simple as giving more resources to institutions that have higher graduation rates,” Perna told the commission. “So if we have a funding formula that rewards certain outcomes, graduation rates, for example, we have to recognize the potential unintended consequences of having that metric alone.”

Perna suggested lawmakers would not want to incentivize a funding formula that pushes institutions to enroll only the students who are the easiest to serve.

“I would suggest that the goals should include things like enabling and incentivizing institutions to use the resources they have to increase higher education opportunity and outcomes for underserved students, recognizing differences in institutional mission and then finally ensuring that all Pennsylvania residents have geographic access to high quality higher education,” Perna said.

Brian Fleming, vice president of innovation and strategy at Southern New Hampshire University, urged lawmakers to seek clarity rather than certainty.

“We in higher ed are really down on ourselves right now,” Fleming said. “‘We’re not changing fast enough; we’re changing too fast.’ I actually would propose that it’s not a question of whether you’re changing fast or slow. It’s not really a question of whether you’re going to get disrupted or upended or pushed out of your market or whether you’re going to be the disruptor. You don’t really know, but you can adapt, and you can think critically about the world around you.”

Pennsylvania, like other states, is grappling with building a workforce that meets the changing needs of the economy — and how lawmakers should allocate tax dollars to support that mission.

“When a paradigm changes and when an economic imperative becomes a reality, never assume that what brought you success in the previous paradigm will bring you success today, and indeed that’s the reason we usually fail,” Dinniman said. “And I’ll take the liberty of saying if we’re gonna revise the State System of Higher Education … you can’t assume that structure that was of the past will continue to work in a new economy and in a new way.”