26 January 2010

The truth about YorkCounts

Every now and then, I'll leave a comment on one of the York newspapers' forums. Because it can be challenging to have reasonable discussions on those forums - those of you who read the comments know what I'm talking about - I thought I'd use one exchange to make a point here.

Someone who identified themselves as Truth took exception to my agreement with a York Daily Record editorial supporting regional police services. Here is Truth's full response to my comment:

"Dan, please don't distort the truth. Those of us who were present at the various meetings know full well that the suburban police chiefs did not tell YorkCounts that police services should be provided regionally. That has been a perpetuated misleading statement recited by YorkCounts on countless occasions. What SOME, not all, of the suburban chiefs said was that concept is worth exploring, but the chiefs did not jump on board with your concept. Now, THAT'S the truth. There is no reliable data that suggests that regionalization will reduce crime. None."

Had I chosen to respond again on the forum, here's what I would have said:

It's not me who's distorting the truth. The position of the chiefs at those meetings - and we have the names of participants who spoke on the record - was that fighting crime could be done more effectively with a regional department. It was not about "exploring the concept." One of those suburban chiefs - Darryl Albright from Northeastern Regional - felt strongly enough about it that he asked to sit in on meetings to discuss how to do a study of the issue. That's the truth.

Other critics claimed current collaborations such as the York County Drug Task Force are sufficient. They say West Manchester Township is correct in its critiques of YorkCounts' vision of a regionalized force, that it will end up as a bailout of the city police.

And I say: Nobody knows for sure - not people who prefer their small-town department, not West Manchester Township officials, not YorkCounts - how a regional police department would deliver services compared to the way things work now. But we know from talking with a consultant that regionalizing services has worked elsewhere to the benefit of all involved. Our position is: The chiefs said there's a better way to do it; we want to do a study to see what's possible here; and we'll keep working to make that happen.

Others say the city should pay for its own police. Guess what: Books have been written that show how the resources in cities across the country have been sucked dry by the land-use and transportation policies of the past 60 years - policies established by federal, state and local governments to encourage suburban development. It's not York's fault that the middle class moved to the suburbs in the '50s and '60s. It's not York's fault that downtown merchants followed. It's not York's fault that the majority of people who remain in the city are poor renters. So what does a shrinking tax base, concentrated poverty and increased demand for services add up to? It means you don't have enough money or staff to do what needs to be done. YorkCounts advocates for municipal policies that increase affordable housing throughout the county, smart growth that invests in established communities, and fairer taxing policies that would allow cities to shift away from property taxes.

How do you respond to questions about YorkCounts and its work?

- Dan Fink

20 January 2010

Teen takes spotlight at town hall

For our town hall at William Penn Senior High School Tuesday night, we had our Stay in School experts, Bob Woods from the United Way and York County Judge John Uhler, to talk about truancy and keeping kids in school. We had representatives from York City School District to talk about the challenges of keeping city kids engaged in school.

That much was all planned.

Then Ginia Moorehead grabbed the spotlight. Ginia, a senior at William Penn, was the first one to raise her hand during the Q&A session at the end of the meeting. She marched to the front of the auditorium, took the microphone and spoke from the heart for close to five minutes. She told her own personal stay-in-school story, how she went from repeating grades and not caring about school to being excited about her classes and proud of her 3.6 GPA.

She said she has started a group at William Penn, called T.E.E.N. (Teaching, Empowering and Encouraging the New generation), so that she can pass on the lessons she learned to help other young girls going through the same situations.

Ginia was impressive. She put a human face on the issue of keeping kids in school. She showed the importance of doing more to help more kids get themselves turned around. By speaking up, she spoke for the hundreds of kids around the county who struggle with societal pressures and problems of all kinds.

And her message was simple: We are worth saving.

- Dan Fink

13 January 2010

Documentary chronicles one town's truancy fight

I've been reading a fair amount about truancy lately, and I came across this documentary by KVIE-TV, a public television station in Sacremento, Calif. "High School Dropouts" was part of the station's "ViewFinder" public affairs program, and it looked at the problems truancy and dropouts cause in one California community and that community's attempt to deal with it.

YorkCounts is in the middle of a series of town halls that focus on this subject. We're trying to throw a light on the same problems that exist in York County, by focusing on the United Way's Stay in School Report, and to tell folks that there are programs that exist that can help keep kids in school. The next town hall is 6:30 p.m. Jan. 19 at William Penn Senior High School.

The numbers in the United Way report are compelling, but they don't quite tell the story the way this film from California does. If you want to see the human toll that truancy has on a community, watch this video. Then come to our town hall and hear what we can do right now to help parents, challenge students, engage businesses and make all of our public schools better.

- Dan Fink