Purchase Line school board’s gun debate

Photo: The Trace

An analysis

By David Loomis

INDIANA – In political discussions about guns in schools, facts have come late to the debate. This appears evident among some members of the Purchase Line School Board.

At a recent meeting a year into the debate, board members deadlocked 4-4 (with one member absent) on a vote to pay armed guards to protect kids in school. Board member Roy Markle asked that the measure come up for a re-vote at a board meeting next month.

Absentee member Scott Beers did not respond to a Sept. 18 message sent to an address provided by the school administration. The message asked for his position on the proposal.

At the September board meeting, Markle pressed the issue by lobbying for one particular private security firm in Kittanning. Why that particular firm?

“Because we have been looking for a long time, and we need to do something,” Markle said. “A number of neighboring schools use them, including Marion Center. I’ve heard good things about them.”

Mr. Markel is correct about the popularity of policing school buildings with armed guards. It’s been a common public response around the country, not just around the county, since Columbine 20 years ago.

But a growing body of independent reporting and research shows that more armed guards in schools do not make school kids safer.

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Week in review: Snapchat III at IUP

Thomas Segar, IUP Student affairs vice president, Sept. 10, 2019, Elkin Hall. Photos by Nathan Zisk.

An analysis

By Nathan Zisk

INDIANA – With almost metronomic regularity, another racist Snapchat riled IUP students and rocked campus administrators last week – for the third time since December 2015.

The Sept. 6 video shows IUP criminology student Nicholas Enders in a car uttering racist slurs while a second student, also identified as a criminology major, laughs. In an interview with a Pittsburgh TV station, Enders later acknowledged involvement and expressed regret.

The university responded promptly to the racist 40-second video when Thomas Segar, IUP’s recently hired vice president for student affairs, sent a university-wide email condemning Enders’ remarks. Another university-wide email on Sunday, Sept. 8, invited the public to a  “Community Response to Hate at IUP” at 6 p.m., Sept. 10, in the Elkin Hall Great Room.

The room was packed. Despite the administration’s effort to restrict attendance to students and staff and to bar media, reporters and county residents joined the crowd.

The two-and-a-half-hour assembly was not long enough for some students, who expressed frustration that one meeting could address racism at IUP. As the meeting wrapped up, Segar announced a second assembly for the following night, same time, same place. An email addressed to students confirmed the gathering. IUP faculty did not receive the message.

The uproar appeared to diminish by week’s end. Enders’ rumored withdrawal from the university could not be confirmed. But Enders no longer is listed as a student in the online campus directory. He did not respond to multiple messages on email and social media. And neither did the second student seen in the video, although he remains listed in the campus online directory.

IUP President Michael Driscoll expressed satisfaction with his administration’s response.

A review of the week’s “conversation” suggests that not all concerned were as satisfied.

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Yet another racist Snapchat

Excerpt from Snapchat video posted to Facebook, Sept. 6, 2019.

An analysis

By David Loomis

INDIANA – On Dec. 8, 2015, the first day of fall-semester final exams at IUP. a racist Snapchat photo went viral and roiled the campus. On Dec. 9, university President Michael Driscoll addressed 50 protesters gathered at dusk outside Wallwork Hall.

Students twice questioned him about punishing the female student who had been identified as the offending photographer. Driscoll demurred.

“I can say that we’ve engaged with the student and we’re considering what steps we’ll take next,” he said.

Afterward, the president of the Student Government Association called for the offending student’s suspension.

“I think it’s absolutely intolerable,” said SGA President Vincent Lopez. “She needs to be suspended from the university. That’s something that’s not going to be accepted at this university.”

The university never revealed what, if anything, it did about the incident. And the female student, contacted in a March 10, 2016, text-message interview, said she still was enrolled, despite her name’s absence from the university’s directory. She denied wrongdoing.

By then, three months later, students who still recalled the incident might have felt dissatisfaction with campus justice delayed, denied and unsettled.

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Too toxic to trash

An opinion

By David Loomis

INDIANA – On Saturday, Indiana County’s recycling center will host its fourth special collection of hazardous household waste.

In three earlier one-day events dating to September 2017, the center reports citizens recycled nearly 12 tons of paints, pesticides, pool chemicals, propane tanks, batteries, bulbs, ballasts and other stuff the EPA defines as corrosive, explosive, flammable, reactive or toxic. In your home.

Those recyclers are serious citizens. They must take stock of their household waste and make a 10-minute appointment with the recycling contractor for a drop-off time between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.  When they arrive on Saturday, their waste must be weighed. Then they must pay — $1.50 a pound mostly — for the privilege of protecting the planet.

These local recycling efforts are praiseworthy. But they represent the tip of a dirty environmental iceberg. By some estimates:

— The United States generates about 230 million tons of trash every year – about 4.6 pounds per person per day. 

— The United States produces more trash than any other nation on earth – 5 percent of the world’s population produces 40 percent of the world’s waste.

— Less than one quarter of our trash is recycled. (Germany, the world’s best recycler, recycles more than half of its waste.)

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Academic, economic new year resolutions

IUP President Michael Driscoll, State of the University remarks, Aug. 23, 2019. Photo excerpted from YouTube video.

An analysis

By David Loomis

INDIANA – “Best wishes for a strong start to this new year,” IUP President Michael Driscoll said in concluding his Aug. 23 State of the University remarks to open its 2019-2020 academic year, his eighth and the university’s 144th. Note: He did not wish anyone a happy new year. Nor did he predict a happy end to the year in May.

One reason for the restraint rather than the customary rah-rah that attends such auspicious occasions is the university’s enrollment. It’s not official yet, but fall 2019 IUP enrollment is whispered to have plunged to a bit above 10,000 from a peak of 15,379 in academic year 2012-13. That would amount to a decline of one-third in seven years.

The last time IUP enrolled 10,000 students was in 1969 — 50 years ago,  as the Baby Boom generation was cresting on college campuses. From 1963 to ’69, IUP enrollment nearly doubled in six years.

Moreover, the current decline only gets worse, according to projections. Around 2025, just in time for the university’s 150th anniversary, a demographic cliff is projected to arrive — and not only at IUP.

“Demographic projections show that the decline in new high school graduates … will accelerate after 2025,” Driscoll said. “The likelihood in our professional lifetimes of returning to the days of a 15,000-plus enrollment is slim to none.”

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Herding cats during dog days with deer

Three bucks, residential driveway, Indiana borough, summer 2019. Photos by David Loomis. Click to enlarge.

An opinion

By David Loomis

INDIANA – While lamenting deer overpopulation during the dog days of summer, borough Council early this month performed a public service by alerting cat owners to the long reach of a local ordinance – specifically, Borough Code Chapter 138-2 (E), “animal nuisances,” which reads in part:

“No person shall permit any dog, cat, or other animal to run at large within the Borough of Indiana. Any animal on a leash or similar apparatus shall not be considered at large, providing that the leash is no more than 15 feet long.”

A cat bust could bite you for six Benjamins, plus costs.

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Zombie property-tax ‘reform’

State Rep. Frank Ryan, R-Lebanon, speaks at a recent rally. Photo by PennLive.

An analysis

By David Loomis

INDIANA – A banner headline on the front page of The Indiana Gazette recently featured a familiar idea from an unfamiliar lawmaker. Rep. Frank Ryan, R-Lebanon, proposes to eliminate the property tax in Pennsylvania, and he plans to formally introduce his kill bill this week in Harrisburg.

Ryan’s idea is not new. It has been a staple of populist politics in Pennsylvania since Gov. William Penn enacted the first property tax in 1683, according to Jeffrey A. Weber, Ph.D., former associate dean at East Stroudsburg University and former deputy director of the Pennsylvania Senate’s Republican Policy Development and Research Office. Two weeks after enactment of Penn’s property tax, Weber has written, a complaint was filed.

Then, as now, “reform” stalls. “The Commonwealth has a long and valuable history of well-intentioned failure when it comes to the property tax,” Weber wrote.

Rep. Ryan says his bill would “bring Pennsylvania into the 21st Century.” Another property-tax critic, state Sen. Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, has called the levy “archaic.”

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Indiana County’s digital divide, reset

Indiana County Commissioner Rodney D. Ruddock at the state Senate Communications & Technology Committee hearing, Blue Spruce Park lodge, August 7, 2019. Photo by David Loomis.

An analysis

By David Loomis

ERNEST – In early May, Blue Spruce Park, a gem of the Indiana County Parks & Trails system, hosted an environmental competition that drew 150 students and county Commissioner Rodney D. Ruddock. Enthused by the event, he whipped out his mobile phone and sent a message to invite his commissioner colleagues at the county courthouse five miles east.

Ruddock’s message did not get through. When he checked his cell phone an hour later, he realized it had no internet service.

So he tried to use the device to make a phone call to the courthouse. Again, no service.

Ruddock recounted his frustration on Wednesday before a state legislative hearing on high-speed, broadband internet expansion at the park lodge. Several officials remarked on the appropriateness of the venue, given what state Rep Cris Dush, R- Brookville, described as the locale’s “broadband desert.”

The discussion opened with a suggestion that the standing-room-only audience should turn off cell phones, not because ringing might disrupt the proceedings.

“You probably will just drain your battery,” state Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York, the panel’s chair and a founder of the legislature’s Broadband Caucus, advised the audience.

 

THEY’RE NOT THE ONLY ONES. A yearlong study by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania and Penn State researchers reported in June that “there isn’t a single Pennsylvania county where at least 50 percent of the population received ‘broadband’ connectivity.”

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Indiana County’s opioid epidemic, by the numbers

Number of opioid pills distributed per person, per year, by county, 2006 through 2012. Darkest concentrations = 150-plus pills. Source: Washington Post, based on federal Drug Enforcement Administration and Centers for Disease Control data. Click to enlarge.

An election-year analysis

By David Loomis

INDIANA — Last week, well into the second century of the nation’s endless war on drugs, The Washington Post and The New York Times independently reported on the opioid epidemic with an element absent from much anecdote-driven coverage of the ongoing crisis:

Data.

The Indiana Gazette’s local angle on the national story featured how many prescription oxycodone and hydrocodone pills (which together account for three-quarters of all U.S. opioid pills shipped between 2006 and 2012) that pharmaceutical companies delivered to drug stores in Indiana County. (The source was federal Drug Enforcement Administration records released July 23 in lawsuits filed against some of the nation’s biggest pharmaceutical companies.)

Blairsville Pharmacy dispensed the most opioids in Indiana County, according to the DEA data. The drug store filled prescriptions for 2,071,400 oxycodone and hydrocodone doses in a community with a 2012 population of 3,415 – the equivalent of 600 opioid pills for every resident during that seven-year period.

 The local facility edged out the Wal-Mart pharmacy in Indiana, which dispensed 2,061,060 pills during the period, according to the DEA.

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Reviewing Burrell’s bike-path roadblock

Bike path, Black Lick, Burrell Township, Pa., June 25, 2019. Photo by David Loomis.

An opinion

By David Loomis

INDIANA — Last week, it finally dawned on Burrell Township supervisors that their lonely four-year fight against a decade-long effort to extend a regional network of bicycle and pedestrian pathways across their dominion lacked one critical supporting element:

A good reason.

At their July 17 board meeting, the supervisors appeared to face the fact that their arguments might have been contrived.  They announced that the Indiana County Office of Planning and Development had revised and resubmitted the hike-and-bike plan they formally rejected on May 24.

That two-page rejection letter, signed by township board Chairman John Shields, expressed objections, for example, as a circular argument or as a mountain made out of a molehill.

— Circular argument:

“The plan does not adequately consider how bicycle and pedestrian traffic will access the north side of the pedestrian bridge, given that there is currently no bicycle or pedestrian trail in the vicinity of the proposed bridge site.”

Translation: Burrell supervisors themselves have gone so far to impede hiker and biker traffic to the designated bridge site as to remove trail markers posted along the way.

— Mountain/molehill:

“The (April 11, 2013, PennDOT) email identifies US Route 422 as the right of way that bridge will be crossing over, when in fact Route 22 is the correct road that the proposed bridge would be constructed over.”

Translation: We can’t bother to correct a typo.

Now, county planners have addressed those concerns, and township supervisors are resigned.

“Our attorney told us there is nothing we can do to stop them if they comply,” said township supervisor Larry Henry at last week’s board meeting.

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