28 May 2009

Libraries respond to avoid cuts

Libraries across the state have begun mobilizing in response to a budget proposal by the Republican-controlled Pennsylvavnia Senate to reduce library funding statewide by 50 percent, to $37 million. In York County, the cuts would reduce state support by almost two-thirds, from $2.4 million to $900,000. Libraries are a key community resource, especially for lower-income families who might otherwise not have free access to computers and the Internet. And libraries are busier than ever, as more people look for work and interact with government aid agencies. The York County Library System has a "Libraries are a Lifeline" page set up that allows Web visitors to send a form e-mail to their state legislators. Gov. Ed Rendell's proposed budget would reduce the state subsidy by $1.75 million. Here's an analysis of Senate Bill 850 and the governor's budget by the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.

What's the value of a strong, well-equipped local library system? How much of a priority should libraries be in the state budget?

- Dan Fink

26 May 2009

More on swine flu, public health

CBS News reports the swine flu outbreak didn't turn out to be an international health crisis. But it did reveal "the precarious state of local health departments" at a time when those same departments are feeling the pinch of government budget cuts.

Here's a key point:

A review by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department in January noted great strides in preparedness but said many shortfalls remain. They include the ability to maintain public health functions such as food safety and daily needs during a pandemic, and the capacity to meet surges in health care demand and to strategically close schools.
Here at YorkCounts, we have made the point before that York County needs a countywide health department. This news story shows how difficult it would be to respond to a major public health crisis, even under the best circumstances.

Want to learn more? Go to Where's My County Health Department.

- Dan Fink

18 May 2009

Good Gov Monthly - April 2009

Found on the blog at yorkcounts.org
April 2009

In this issue:

  • Tragedy increases urgency of anti-gang work
  • A snapshot from the Indicators Report: Idle youth
  • IB charter school reaches milestone

Tragedy increases urgency of anti-gang work

The shooting death of 9-year-old Ciara Savage on Mother's Day showed in the starkest possible terms the need for a comprehensive approach to the problems that lead to gang violence. The county's anti-gang initiative, led by Beth Gill-MacDonald, will surely have more people willing to join its work. Safer York, the city's Weed and Seed anti-crime project, will find it easier to argue for continued support. Downtown Inc.'s effort to bring a more sophisticated approach to public safety should gain traction. The Stay in School project recommendations, due this fall from the United Way of York County and YorkCounts, hopefully will attract a little more attention. All of this will require the three Cs that David White talked about at the recent gang-prevention summit: cooperation, coordination and communication. Maybe Bev Mackereth, the county's new director of Human Services, and the next mayor of York - whoever that is - can begin a new period of ambitious, big-picture thinking to help these groups work together to develop a county plan to provide better education, more job opportunities and safer streets for the youth of York County.

A snapshot from the Indicators Report: Idle youth

The Indicators Committee added this measure to the 2009 report to show the number of youth who aren't working. These so-called "idle youth" are kids who dropped out of school or who graduated but haven't found a job or gone to college or a trade school. In the York-Hanover Metropolitan Statistical Area, 8.7 percent of youth ages 16 to 19 were considered idle by the U.S. Census Bureau. The percentage rose to 13.3 percent for ages 19 to 21. It's hard to draw many conclusions, since there's no previous data to use for comparison. But when hundreds of young people are out of school or not working, they are the most likely to turn to gangs, crime and drugs. Finding these kids, training them and helping them find decent-paying jobs is one of the education recommendations from YorkCounts' Metro-York group.

IB charter school reaches milestone

The effort to increase educational opportunities for York residents reached a significant milestone in April. A public K-12 charter school, one designed around what's known as an International Baccaleurate curriculum, identified two likely funding sources that will allow the YorkCounts Educational Opportunities committee to hire a consultant and begin considering potential sites in the city. If the effort succeeds, city residents will have a new option (see update) for a public education, in addition to the York City School District, and the first in central Pennsylvania with an IB program. It is hoped that an IB charter school will also make it more attractive for middle-class families to live in York, and their children would, in theory, help break up the concentrated poverty that interferes with student performance in the existing city schools.

Update, 5/21: To clarify, this IB school would be the fourth charter school in the city. Crispus Attucks YouthBuild, Lincoln Edison and New Hope Academy also operate as charter schools, according to the Pennsylvania Coalition of Charter Schools.

- Dan Fink

13 May 2009

A plea for help

Everywhere I go this week, it comes up: the crossfire killing of 9-year-old Ciara Savage in York on Mother's Day. This tragedy has reverberated through York County like a news event seldom does. And it demands action. Earlier this month, Penn State York held a gang summit, and some powerful speakers made the case that York County needs to find ways to keep our kids safe. But all of their eloquence and passion couldn't come close to making the point the way this senseless death does. And this single incident is tied into a whole range of other issues that stand in the way of making York County a better place to live: improving educational opportunities; providing safe community places for at-risk youth; creating good-paying, family-sustaining jobs that lift people out of poverty; and establishing more affordable housing opportunities across the county.

But on the most basic level, I'll say it again: We need to keep our kids safe. How are we going to do it? The time has passed for letting the passionate volunteers on the gang-prevention coalition try to figure it out by themselves. That group will likely be the leader in developing a broad response, and its next meeting is at 8 a.m. Friday in Penn State York's Conference Center. To join that effort, call Beth Gill-MacDonald at 495-7267 or send e-mail to bxg5@aol.com.

On Sunday, a unity march will bring two sets of marchers to Continental Square: one coming down Duke Street from Crispus Attucks, the other coming down Beaver Street from the Jefferson Center.

On Monday, Safer York, York's Weed and Seed anti-crime program, will host a public forum at Community Progress Council. The meeting starts at 9 a.m. at CPC, 226 E. College Ave., York.

The work won't end there. In the days and months ahead, the entire community needs to be involved, from the family in Dover to the cop on the street in Shrewsbury to the business owner in Hanover. In 10 years, will we be able to say this was a turning point? Will we be able to say we finally started dealing with the problems of poverty and gangs, as well as the cycle of violence they perpetuate?

We all have to ask ourselves: What can I do to help?

- Dan Fink

08 May 2009

Momentum builds for helping youth, fighting gangs

More than 200 people packed the Penn State York Conference Center May 1 for a gang prevention summit. They heard David White detail the results of his needs assessment, which had these two key conclusion: Gangs exist in every area of York County; and the current lack of coordination, collaboration and communication between service agencies frustrates, even angers, those who participated in the study. They heard Bev Mackereth, York County's new director of Human Services, who pledged to have the county take the lead in administering Pennsylvania Youth Surveys for all 16 county school districts. Here's why the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency says that's important:

The data gathered in PAYS serve two primary needs. First, the results provide school administrators, state agency directors, legislators and others with critical information concerning the changes in patterns of the use and abuse of these harmful substances and behaviors. Second, the survey assesses risk factors that are related to these behaviors and the protective factors that help guard against them. This information allows community leaders to direct prevention resources to areas where they are likely to have the greatest impact.
Finally, they heard York Police Capt. Wes Kahley, who provided the welcome. Kahley has been the leader here working for more than a decade in a multi-county effort to confront problems associated with gang activity. He is truly a York County hero. And the quest to find solutions to help our young people deal with gangs and drugs and a host of other issues is truly a York County problem requiring, as White noted, coordination, collaboration and communication.

What next steps do you think should the county take in this effort?

Update, 5/11: Authorities call city girl's death gang related. Read the York Daily Record story here.

- Dan Fink