POTTSTOWN — With a 7-2 vote at its May 15 meeting, the Pottstown School Board adopted a $59.9 million proposed budget that would raise taxes by 2.9 percent if it is adopted unchanged as a final budget in June.
Board members Ron Williams and Thomas Hylton cast the only two votes against the proposed budget, which increases spending 5.6 percent and would increase the annual tax bill by $81.91 for the owner of a property assessed at $73,670 — the borough’s median assessment.
Board member Amy Francis said, “This is a very difficult decision for me because, like every other taxpayer, I am at the end of my rope, but I also feel we have a responsibility to get the job done that we started with the renovations at the elementary schools. We can’t do one without the other.”
POTTSTOWN — The school board has deciding against using as much as $225,000 in money it had not expected to receive from the state to replace the football stadium’s aging light poles.
Instead, the board agreed to reach out to the community to solicit ideas for how to raise the money.
“I’ve had a lot of feedback from the community about this,” said board member Amy Francis. “And we’re really between a rock and a hard place.”
POTTSTOWN — With a 7-3 vote Thursday night, the school board rejected a proposal to suspend work on designing additions to three elementary schools to allow the potential to save as much as $6.5 million to be explored.
The proposal, made by school board member Thomas Hylton, sought to take advantage of a recent change in long-standing state policy that was made with the passage of the most recent budget in Harrisburg.
Throughout the many years of discussion on the elementary school project, it has been state policy that it will not provide reimbursement to any school construction project that does not eliminate the use of modular classrooms.
The need to meet this requirement is among those driving the decision to add between 12 to 14 classrooms in additions to Rupert, Lincoln and Franklin elementary schools, which is where the $24 million project now stands.
Editor’s note: This is the story of Julia Dorothy Natalia Zion of Pottstown. Julia is the organizer of the Wednesday Community Meal in Pottstown. We did a piece on this last week asking for donations and volunteers to help Julia out. Here is her story!
On Wednesday, June 27th, I hosted my third Pottstown Community Meal for about 40-50 people at the nice little park at Washington and Chestnut streets. While I had prepared and hosted two other meals, this one was special. See, I was homeless for about a year. From Pottstown, I moved from couch to couch, from one shelter to another, finally ending up back in Pottstown at the Ministries at Main Street shelter, which at the time was being housed at Christ Episcopal Church on South Charlotte St. There I met one of the most amazing groups of people I’ve ever met. That experience changed my life and led me to where I am today.
The night before I came back to Pottstown, I had just spent the night on the streets in the Walnut-Locust Subway concourse in South Philadelphia. Not a great place, but it was somewhat sheltered from the elements. I did not know where to go, but I was told by a friend from Occupy Norristown to call up CHOC, the county run homeless shelter on the Norristown State Hospital Grounds. I called them up, but they were full. They recommended that I go up to the shelter in Pottstown. I thought, “Eh…I lived a year in Pottstown. It wouldn’t kill me to go back up there. I’m familiar with the town.” So, I put together the $4.50 that I needed for SEPTA and made my way up. It was November and the nights were cold. I was told to go to 75 Main St, which I found out was across the river in North Coventry, at no earlier than 9 pm and no later than 10 for intake. I got there and from step one, I was treated with the utmost of respect and dignity, something I didn’t get within the Philadelphia city run shelter I was in for 3 months. I was a bit scared since I had never been in an “emergency shelter” style program before, but I grew used to it. It helped that the staff and volunteers that ran the shelter were a mix of former homeless and people who had been volunteering for a long time. I became very comfortable there. I let my guard down, sometimes a bit too much, but the way the shelter was run made it easy to do. I sometimes stayed up chatting with other guests or with staff. Sometimes, I would just lie down on my mat and surf the web on my phone, trying to forget where I was.
Unlike the experience of some, my experience was a positive one within the shelter. There were two problems, though. One was that the shelter ran from 10 pm to 8 am only, leaving a 14 hours with nothing to really do. I wasn’t really thinking about finding a job up here. I wasn’t sure if I was staying in town. I still thought I might move back to Philadelphia at some point. The second was that we had to take all of our belongings with us every day, minus the bedding that the shelter provided. So, I had a trusty folding shopping cart. I took it everywhere and I got looks. I wasn’t allowed to have it in the library or, eventually, at the community college. I was even politely told at a local diner to walk out the back door that they never used because I had my cart. I was treated worse than a second-class citizen. I was treated like a third class citizen. Second-class citizens at least are allowed service or allowed in a store. It was a totally different story when I would get a chance to park my cart somewhere for the day. I got none of the looks. I got none of the prejudice. I got treated like a regular person walking down a street. It was amazing how people still judged by the cover and not by the content. The prejudice against the homeless is still around and it’s ugly.
Now that I have a small apartment here in town, I can look back at all of those experiences and think about where I was and where I am today. Then, my thoughts come to those who are not as fortunate as I to have a roof over their heads. We are a society that doesn’t give many homeless and poor people a fair shake. As much as the religious community does stuff within the auspices of their churches, sometimes, congregants walk out that chapel door and don’t participate in what they are being taught. Sometimes, they take what they’ve learned about serving and helping the poor, use it in church, with a church sponsored dinner or food pantries, and then walk away saying they’ve done the work of the lord, doing their one good deed. Sure, serving food at a community dinner is a wonderful thing, but when you leave, do you do anything else? Do you instead go back into your homes and forget about all the people who were hungry and needed that meal until the next time you serve? This is the problem with people these days. I’m not trying to knock religion at all. I’m saying that serving the homeless and poor populations should not end at the church parking lot. It should continue onto the streets and in the parks. It should continue at the encampments in the woods and in the back alleys where people sleep. People, no matter how much money they have, no matter how they look or if they push a cart everywhere deserve the same amount of respect regardless of life standing. This does not happen in Pottstown. Cheryl Atkinson was allowed to lay dead in a very visible park at a very visible fountain for 8-12 hours before someone saying, “Ya know? Maybe we should do something.” What does that say about this town and it’s residents?
The community meal on Wednesday nights was first run by Pastor Kork Moyer, the same pastor who runs the Ministries at Main Street shelter during the winter. He has seen his numbers for his actual church dwindle to the point where he and his wife could no longer get the support and wouldn’t have the time to do it themselves. So, he gave up on the dinner. I saw an opportunity and picked up the responsibility for myself.
I wanted to keep this meal going because I want to give back to the community that gave me so much. This place is an amazing ray of sunshine at the farthest reaches of Montgomery County. I have met some of the best people, been a part of some great activities and frequent the vibrant High Street markets on a regular basis. I love this town and wanted to give back in the only way I know how, which is to cook. (I am a culinary student, by the way.)
I also saw a need. All the community meals run by the Cluster are in church basements. That can get quite boring from time to time. Why not jazz it up a bit and hold one every week at a park with a pavilion, amphitheater seating, a playground, even electrical outlets.
Finally, I am trying to do this as a kind of protest over these idiotic and discriminatory laws trying to clear the streets of homeless people. In Philadelphia, I would be arrested for holding these meals outside. There is now a ban on groups serving the homeless outside in Philadelphia and similar laws have sprouted up in places such as Orlando, Florida. All these laws do is force the homeless elsewhere so the rich and business owners can forget they exist and do nothing to fix the problems that led to the homeless being there in the first place. It’s like the homeless population is being treated like vermin and it is wrong. This is why I decided to get the Occupy movement involved. I was looking for a way to join up again and helping the community serve the homeless and poor and treat them with respect and dignity is something that Occupy is totally about.
That being said, the Occupy Pottstown movement came through like gang busters this week. The first two weeks of the meal had drained my food stamps and finances. So, without the wonderful people from Occupy, there would not have been a meal this week. I got in contact with a few people through a friend in Occupy Norristown and the whole thing exploded into a dinner that serves 40-50 people with about 12 of them being help. We had burgers and hot dogs. We had potato salad and pasta salad. We had desserts. We had a donation of hummus and pitas from iCreate Café on High Street. We had someone playing banjo. We even got a $25 gift card donated to us by Giant Supermarket to help with some of the costs. This was just amazing and it was a real community effort. In all of 3 days, we put together a meal that served the community and got loads of smiles and gratitude. People are excited about the meals to come.
I think Occupy Pottstown has the right attitudes to keep this type of effort going for years to come. I think I have the energy and skills to keep this going and growing and thriving. We have a nice core group of people up here who are energetic, full of ideas and up for a challenge. We put together a meal that served 45-50 people within 3 days! That is just amazing and they deserve most of the credit. We had donations coming at us from friends of friends. We had ideas coming from anywhere. Heck, we’ve also had an offer for someone to come play a didgeridoo at the next meal. The community came out strong to eat and to help.
To come from losing my home in April of 2011 to running my own community meal in June of 2012, I have grown quite a bit. I used to be a very selfish person until my best friend almost broke ties with me. It jolted me into reality and from then on, I have done things I never thought I could. I have become a part of organizations that I never knew existed for which I never had the need before becoming homeless. I want to make a difference in this town. The homeless are treated horribly here by the general public. Why else do you think someone like Cheryl Atkinson could be left by the side of a very visible fountain in a very visible park on a very hot day for 8-12 hours before being noticed? Why else was I getting all those stares when I pushed my cart around town? It’s sad and that needs to be changed. I hope the Wednesday Night Community Meals can change opinions…one plate at a time.
It appears congratulations are in order for Mary-Beth Lydon, Andrew Kefer and Judyth Zahora for winning spots on the November Democratic Ballot for Pottstown School Director. Sadly, Amy Francis and Michele Pargeon will not be joining their running mates from the Friends Of Pottstown Public Education. Code Blue will now have two candidates on the November ballot.
Voter turn out was pathetically low. I suppose people do not think Primary Elections are important and make no effort to vote. However, by not voting in the Primary Election you are allowing others to dictate your choices in November. This is how good candidates are removed from voter consideration while others creep in by default.
Glossy smear-tactic postcards evidently did the trick for the five candidates Mr. Hylton supported via his Pottstown Citizens For Responsible Government political action committee. Hopefully in November voters will turn out in greater numbers and do more research before voting. Otherwise the Pottstown School Board will become a one-way voting block.
In other election news, Roy’s Rants congratulates Sixth Ward Councilor and “man of the people” Jody Rhoads for his re-election victory. Jody handily defeated his opponent and will be running unopposed in November! “Fight When You’re Right”
We thank everyone who voted today and exercised their constitutional right to take part in a free election. Your vote does make a difference.
Power to the Pottstown People!
Tomorrow’s election is crucial to the progress of Pottstown. Everyone needs to get out and vote!
The Pottstown School Board race will decide how well the school district and the borough continue to work together. If we are going to move forward as a community, cooperation between these two bodies is essential. We can continue to work together or go back to infighting and agendas, which have gotten us exactly nowhere. The choice is yours, but at least make a choice and vote!
If you truly want “citizens for responsible government” running Pottstown, then Friends of Pottstown Public Education and Sixth Ward Councilor Jody Rhoads need your vote tomorrow and NOT the people on the glossy postcards from 222 Chestnut Street (that have flooded our mailboxes in the last several days).
I had the pleasure to sit down with four of five Pottstown School Board candidates running as a group. Their slogan is “A new perspective built on experience.” We had a spirited discussion about the issues facing Pottstown School District, Pottstown Borough and where we need to head.
Andrew Kefer (Pottstown Planning Commission, Pottstown Community Land Trust)
Amy Francis (former Pottstown School Board member and Code Blue cofounder)
Michele Pargeon (current Pottstown School Board member and a volunteer with many community activities)
Mary-Beth Lydon (Community Land Trust, Code Blue)
Judyth Zahora (former Pottstown School Board member and Pottstown School District Treasurer) are running as a block of concerned citizens who support “public education in Pottstown” and are not looking to “save buildings”.
Our conversation touched on many subjects facing PSD. The school district’s financial sustainability is a core issue for the group. Pottstown has long relied on state and federal government funding. Those days are coming to an end. PSD needs to find more private funding and be open to new ideas in these trying economic times. Before these people would take office, if elected, the Task Force will have already made recommendations that will shape the school district’s future. This group will need to carry out the recommendations of the Task Force. Finding ways to increase efficiencies and working with the Borough of Pottstown to increase property values are key goals. Pottstown School District and Pottstown Borough share the same space and are thereby linked together. If one sneezes, the other catches cold.
Andrew Kefer, Mary-Beth Lydon and Michele Pargeon have lived in Pottstown for between 6 – 10 years. Amy Francis grew up in Pottstown and graduated from Pottstown High School. Judyth Zahora was unable to join us due to previously scheduled commitment, but her bio states she has lived in Pottstown for about 25 years and has been very involved with the PSD. Four of the five candidates have children in PSD. All are homeowners and have invested in Pottstown. These candidates want to improve the quality of life and educational opportunities for all residents of Pottstown.
Working for the common good, exploring possibilities and belief in Pottstown are qualities these five people have. This group wants to build up leaders for tomorrow. Today’s children are the future and will one day be running Pottstown. We need to create opportunities to keep our young people here and stop the brain drain. In order to accomplish this arduous task, people need to “leave their egos and politics at the door” and work for the betterment of the community. Being respectful, agreeing to disagree, civility, and being open to new ideas and different perspectives is the group’s strength.
A crucial issue is Pottstown’s eroding tax base and the already high taxes. PSD needs to work hand in hand with the borough to attract middle class residents, business and industry to Pottstown to stabilize neighborhoods, cut taxes and provide gainful employment for residents. The school district and the borough have started working more closely together and we hope this continues! These candidates would make sure this new-found cooperation does continue.
The group feels PSD needs to market itself better and emphasis its strengths, like PSD’s nationally recognized PEAK program. The district’s high transient rate creates extra challenges and cost. With a more stable population of homeowners, the transient rate would naturally decline. Economic development, revitalization, blight eradication and a vibrant downtown are needed to stabilize the tax base and the school district.
Many thanks to these candidates for taking time out of their Saturday morning to discuss the issues with Roy’s Rants. The primary is May 17, 2011. Educate yourselves on the issues and make sure to vote!
For more information about the candidates and their campaign you can check out their website at http://votefppe.org/
Amy Francis reports that the Code Blue & Positively Pottstown Fundraiser turned out very well. The fundraiser, whose genesis came about from a post by Sue Repko of Positively Pottstown, was a 50/50 raffle to benefit the Pottstown 4th of July Committee. As Amy put it, this was very last-minute but through the efforts of everyone involved, they turned over $600.00 to the 4th of July Committee and the two winners each received $300.00! In 13 hours, $1200.00 was raised!
Hats off to Code Blue & Positively Pottstown for doing their part to help fund the 4th of July celebration here in Pottstown! Everyone can make a difference!