Author Archives: Lizzy Hardison

New HBG school budget keeps kindergarten, proposes cutting 31 staff across district.


Kindergarten cuts might not be coming to Harrisburg after all.

Members of the Harrisburg School District administration unveiled a new budget proposal tonight that would preserve the full-day kindergarten program in favor of cutting 31 district employees. The proposal calls for eliminating nine administrators, 11 teachers, and 11 AFSCME union members for a total of $2.132 million in savings, which would narrow the district’s deficit to $4 million.

The budget still calls for maximum tax hikes for the next three years.

District business manager Bilal Hasan said that over-hiring has contributed to the district’s annual deficits, which are projected to deplete the district’s fund balance by 2020. Thirty-seven teachers who have been hired since 2016 took positions that were not in the district budget, Hasan said.

Interim CFO Jim Snell explained that salaries alone don’t account for the district’s high expenses. Costs like healthcare benefits and pension payments only emerged in long-term budgeting projections, he said.

“When you start to look at the reality of recurring costs over multiple years, that’s when you appreciate the true consequence of those decisions,” Snell said. “Some of those consequences are starting to get in the way and cause financial challenges for us.”

Budget and finance chair Ellis Roy was incredulous when Hasan confirmed the extent of the over-hiring.

“You’re telling me we hired 37 people we had no money to pay for?” Roy said. “We’re self-destructing here.”

Hasan said that the district has not had a position control mechanism in place to monitor its total number of staff positions and vacancies. The administration has implemented a new policy so that no position can be added to the payroll unless it is approved and included in the budget, he said.

Hasan and Snell said that developing a position control program is a lengthy and tedious process that requires collaboration between the district’s human resources, IT and business departments. Employees must code each permanent position with a unique identification number, which can be difficult in a large organization with high turnover, Snell said.

“At any point in time there are staff coming and going, so there was a never a snapshot that said ‘at this moment in time, these are all our positions,’” he said.

The district’s mistake, Snell explained, was anticipating expenditures in line with previous years without accounting for vacant positions that the district wanted to fill. When the administration ramped up its recruiting efforts and hired dozens of new teachers at the beginning of this school year, it unwittingly took on employees that were not included in the budget.

The implementation of a position control system was one of the initiatives outlined in the district’s state-mandated recovery plan, which it adopted in 2013. The task ultimately fell to Hasan, who began developing the program in August 2017 and oversaw its implementation earlier this year.

“This will provide structure and order, and that was not always the case when we were hiring,” Snell said.

The board’s Budget, Finance and Facilities Committee will reconvene next Monday, May 14, at 5:30 p.m. at the Lincoln Administration Building.

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TheBurg Podcast: Dysfunction Junction


This week’s episode of the Burg Podcast takes a deep dive into the recent tumult in the Harrisburg School District, including back-and-forth votes over the superintendent and a burgeoning funding crisis. Lizzy and Larry also discuss the city’s new project to improve road safety and the latest challenge facing an embattled Midtown bar.

You can stream the episode on Soundcloud, or subscribe to TheBurg Podcast in the Apple or Android podcast apps.

Read more about this week’s topics on TheBurgNews.com:

Full-day kindergarten on the chopping block, tax hikes loom, as Harrisburg District struggles to balance its books.

School Board can’t un-do action on superintendent contract, solicitor says.

Burg View: Harrisburg’s School Daze (Editorial)

Burg View: End the Road Carnage Now (Editorial)

To Zero: “Vision Zero” aims for no auto-related deaths in Harrisburg.

Another Round: Third Street Cafe back in court, this time to defend liquor license.

TheBurg Podcast is released semi-monthly by TheBurg Magazine. It is recorded in the offices of Startup Harrisburg and produced by Lizzy Hardison. Special thanks to Paul Cooley, who wrote our theme music.

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School Board can’t un-do action on superintendent contract, solicitor says.

A recent attempt by the Harrisburg school board to reverse action on the superintendent’s contract does not stand under state law, district officials announced today.

Following a judgement from its solicitor, the board must now continue its search for a new superintendent, board president Judd Pittman said this morning.

Sitting superintendent Sybil Knight-Burney may participate in that search process if she wishes to keep her job. Her contract with the district expires on June 30.

Pittman welcomed the solicitor’s decision, saying it offered clarity for a board that has been tensely divided over Knight-Burney’s tenure.

“We need to have a clean break so we can start our search,” Pittman said in an interview last week.

The board voted in March to open a search for a new superintendent, but then rescinded that vote in a surprise action earlier this month.

Board Solicitor Samuel Cooper determined that the attempt to rescind the March vote conflicted with Pennsylvania School Code, which requires boards to take action on superintendent contracts at least 90 days before they expire. Before that deadline, the board must either notify the sitting superintendent that her contract will be renewed for a period of 3-5 years, or that other candidates will be considered for her job.

If the board fails to act before the deadline passes, the superintendent’s contract is automatically renewed for a one-year period.

Some board directors – including Tyrell Spradley, who motioned to rescind the March vote – believed that nullifying the board’s action from March would result in a one-year contract extension for Knight-Burney.

But Cooper’s reading of school code determined that the some of the options before the board were mutually exclusive. When the board chose to act before the 90-day notification deadline, it eliminated the possibility of a one-year contract extension.

However, the decision to launch a superintendent search does not prevent the board from offering Knight-Burney another three to five-year contract. They may do so if she participates in the search process and emerges as the best candidate, or if they decide to abandon the search all together in favor of retaining her for another term.

An expert on school code questioned the board’s rescission vote in an interview last week, offering an interpretation of school code that was consistent with Cooper’s ruling.

“An attempt to rescind that after the deadline has passed is of questionable validity,” said Stuard Knade, chief legal counsel at the Pennsylvania School Board Association. “You can’t un-ring that bell.”

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Full-day kindergarten on the chopping block, tax hikes loom, as Harrisburg District struggles to balance its books.

School Board members at tonight’s budget meeting.

Faced with a structural deficit that threatens to eat its savings by 2020, the Harrisburg School District has proposed cutting back its kindergarten program to half-days indefinitely starting next year.

That’s even if the board authorizes maximum tax hikes over the same time period.

Almost 50 people heard budget projections at a public meeting tonight, where tempers ran high among board members, administrators and Harrisburg residents. Many residents demanded to know why the district’s finances had deteriorated so rapidly, given that administrators had been able to add to the fund balance as recently as 2016, when it reached almost $30 million.

Interim CFO Jim Snell explained that the district’s financial recovery plan had merely deferred difficult decision-making since it was implemented in 2013. The program is set to expire in June, the same month that the school board is required to adopt a final budget for the 2018-19 school year.

Snell explained that the district is facing healthcare and pension costs that are “beyond what they ever imagined.” He cited charter school enrollments and a stagnant real estate tax base as revenue limitations.

The district has not levied a tax hike since 2012, but, this year, administrators are proposing an increase of 1.0008 mills, or 3.6 percent of its current 27.8 millage rate – the maximum rate allowed under the Act 1 Index.

With a median home value of $42,800, the tax hike will cost the average city homeowner an additional $43 a year, said district business manager Bilal Hasan.

Budget projections call for an annual 3.6-percent tax hike every year through 2021.

Even with the additional tax revenue, the district will not be able to pay its employee salaries and benefits without cutting some of its programs.

Since it gutted its staff and academic offerings under its financial recovery plan, the district has very few non-mandatory offerings left to eliminate, Snell said. But Pennsylvania does not require schools to offer full-day kindergarten, making it one of the few areas where the district can cut back.

Reducing kindergarten to half-days would net the district $1.2 million in annual savings and eliminate 14 teaching positions, Hasan said.

Hasan said that no other combination of cost-cutting measures would generate the same amount of savings. Eliminating the entire athletic program would only save $700,000, and Snell said that cutting all other extra-curricular programs would not make up the difference.

Many residents pleaded with the school board and administration to preserve full-day kindergarten.

“The only way we can increase our tax base is by offering the services you want to cut,” said Kia Hansard, a district resident and parent. “How will we get people to move into the city, buy homes and stay if we cut kindergarten?”

Jodi Barksdale, president of the Harrisburg Education Association, said that reducing early learning opportunities put students at a disadvantage for the rest of their educational careers.

“Kindergarten through fourth grade is the foundation of education,” Barksdale said. “If we do not invest all of our efforts into the foundation of our children, we are going to crumble and fall.”

Board members said they would do what they could to keep the kindergarten program intact, but the funding gap before them is significant. Board President Judd Pittman said that district would approach private sources of wealth, such as the Foundation for Enhancing Communities, to appeal for assistance.

Even when combined with maximum tax hikes for the next five years, the proposed cuts are not enough to prevent the district from depleting its fund balance by 2020.

The fund balance stood at $21 million going into the 2017-18 school year. But the district’s expenditures have consistently outpaced its revenues, requiring a yearly drawdown of the general fund to bridge the gap.

Budget discussions will continue at the board’s monthly budget and finance meetings at 5:30 pm on Monday, May 7 and Monday, May 14. The board meets in full on May 21, one month before a final budget is due.

 

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The New Urban Guardians: How ordinary people played a role in the great crime decline.

The Bethesda Mission Youth center has provided after school tutoring and other enrichment activities for children and teens since 1990. They’ll soon expand to another building to double their 75-student enrollment capacity.

On Dec. 28, 1990, in the final days of one of the most violent years in the 20th century, the Harrisburg Patriot-News ran an editorial mourning the American city. “Urban life in America is in the throes of a social meltdown,” it read. “The symptoms of decay are everywhere. Violence has become an epidemic, and many major cities will set record rates of homicides this year.”

The image of an urban dystopia proliferated in the 1980s and 1990s, as American cities—abandoned by manufacturers, forgotten by policymakers and besieged by poverty—battled unprecedented levels of violent crime.

At the turn of the 21st century, though, almost as quickly as crime rose, it began to fall. Violent crime has plummeted in almost every American city since 1990, with some cities, including Harrisburg, cutting their violent crime rates almost in half. Harrisburg recorded a violent crime rate of 2,191 incidences per 100,000 people in 1990; in 2014, it had fallen to 1,113. With the exception of homicides, almost every category of violent crime—robbery, burglary, assault, property crimes and motor vehicle thefts—has fallen by a similar magnitude.

But why? Mayors, police chiefs and other students of crime data can say with certainty that cities have gotten safer since the great crime wave of the 1980s and 1990s. How it happened is a subject of more intense debate. Increased policing, prosecution and incarceration have contributed at least partially to the decline in crime. Researchers have pointed to other, non-intuitive societal shifts that could have curbed violent behavior, including increased access to abortion and decreased exposure to lead, and changes in the economy.

Patrick Sharkey, a sociologist and crime researcher at New York University, acknowledges these influences but also offers a more encouraging, hopeful thesis for why urban spaces have gotten safer. As the criminal justice system expanded and became more punitive, Sharkey says, another force began to coalesce in America’s parks, streets and neighborhood centers. The people responsible weren’t police officers or prosecutors, but ordinary residents.

In his latest book, “Uneasy Peace,” Sharkey calls these people the “new urban guardians.” He says that local nonprofit groups successfully fought crime by building playgrounds, opening youth centers, organizing neighborhood watch groups and picking up trash. As they slowly reclaimed their neighborhoods, working long hours with little to no pay or recognition, these citizens made a crucial, but often overlooked, contribution to safety in American cities.

“The changes that took place weren’t just about the expansion of the prison system and the increasing aggressiveness of police,” Sharkey said during a recent conversation at Midtown Scholar Bookstore, where reporters interviewed him about his research. “It was also a mobilization among the residents and organizations in the communities hit hardest by violence. That has been completely left out of discussions about why violence fell, but I think it’s a crucial part that deserves much greater credit.”

Sharkey explained that, since the 1990s, the nonprofit sector exploded as residents in neighborhoods mobilized against violence. New groups focusing on youth mentorship and neighborhood enrichment proliferated. This trend was partly a direct response to rising crime rates, but was also enabled by a separate expansion in private, philanthropic wealth, possibly due to strong gains in the national economy in the 1980s.

With the help of a research assistant, Sharkey tried to quantify the effects of neighborhood nonprofits on crime reduction. Drawing on data from the National Center for Charitable Statistics, the pair determined that, in a given city with 100,000 people, every new organization formed to confront violence or build stronger neighborhoods led to about a 1-percent drop in violent crime.

“These organizations were designed to take back city streets, not through law enforcement but by building stronger communities, and they were extremely effective,” Sharkey said.

Someone to Trust
As Emily Badger writes in the New York Times, Sharkey’s findings validate what community leaders across the country know to be true about the relationship between neighborhood development and violent crime. While many of the active nonprofit organizations in Harrisburg aren’t explicitly involved in violence prevention, their leaders recognize that, by providing essential services to their community—including mentorship, education and beautification—they’ve become participants in the fight against crime.

“Nurturing relationships and building community is an absolute prerequisite to keep violence from occurring,” said Scott Dunwoody, executive director of Bethesda Mission. “We’re reaching out into the community one man, woman and child at a time.”

Founded in 1914 as a men’s ministry and homeless shelter, Bethesda Mission began to expand its programs in Harrisburg at the same time as crime rates climbed. In 1983, it opened a women and children’s shelter on S. 18th Street; in 1990, it started a youth center in an old fire station on Herr Street. Whereas its shelters offer residential programs, Bethesda Mission’s youth center bleeds into the community surrounding it. Today, more than 75 kids from the 1st through 12th grades attend programs there after school, on weekends and throughout the summer. Volunteers help students with homework, teach cooking classes and supervise sessions in the gym or computer lab. These services are so in demand that Bethesda Mission has made plans to expand its youth center into an adjacent building next year, which will allow it to double its programming capacity.

Both Dunwoody and Serina Brown, director of the Youth Center, say they’re in the business of building relationships and strengthening families, not policing the behavior of kids and their parents. But Brown said she wasn’t surprised to hear about the causal relationship between community nonprofits and violent crime rates. While tutoring sessions and leadership classes may not look like violence prevention techniques, they do offer kids attractive alternatives to criminal activity.

“When you’re with someone through the good and the bad in life, it would make sense that it would prevent crimes because you have someone to trust,” Brown said. “Imagine if every family in the city had that.”

When asked how the center measures its efficacy, Dunwoody cites a fact about graduation rates. Over the course of five years, 86 percent of the students who participated in Bethesda Mission’s youth programs graduated from high school—much higher than the city’s district-wide rate of 55 percent. He also points to the North Allison Hill neighborhood where the center is located. Quiet, leafy and well maintained, North Allison Hill has less visible blight and fewer incidences of violent crime than the South Allison Hill neighborhood close by.

“We don’t want to brag and say we’re the reason why this neighborhood is stable, but we are a big part of it,” Dunwoody said. “Centers like this can have an immense role in giving life to a community. It’s the heartbeat.”

Common Sense

Some neighborhoods have anchoring institutions and physical spaces like the Bethesda Mission Youth Center where residents can meet and build relationships. Others have anchoring organizations for citizens to address their shared challenges. These groups, many of which rely on volunteers, are responsible for countless cosmetic and institutional enhancements across Harrisburg.

In 2008, residents in Camp Curtin formed Camp Curtin Neighbors United to address problems of blight and trash, crime and economic development in their Uptown neighborhood. The all-volunteer organization held beautification days, mapped blighted buildings and drafted a strategic plan to outline short-term and long-term neighborhood objectives. They opened a tool co-op on the grounds of Wesley Union AME Zion Church and later started a grant-funded pre-school in the church’s basement. It currently employs two teachers who care for 15 children five days a week.

Jean Cutler, a founding member and former president of CCNU, said that the neighborhood organization has become an organized, effective forum for citizens to voice their needs and find recourse. By investing in education and beautifying the neighborhood through tree plantings and trash cleanups, Cutler and the other members of CCNU hope that Camp Curtin will shed its reputation as one of Harrisburg’s most distressed, crime-ridden neighborhoods.

“Making the environment around you better is a huge part of trying to stop the crime,” Cutler said. “People will be more respectful of the neighborhood, and we will have lower tolerance for outliers. I’m not a criminologist, but most of this is common sense.”

According to Sharkey, that’s sound logic. He explained that having more eyes and ears in public spaces reduces the opportunities for criminal activity and signals to would-be criminals that a neighborhood isn’t theirs for the taking. Essentially, residents must respond to crime the same way they might regard at an unsightly building project or waste site: by saying, “Not in my back yard.”

“Violence doesn’t come out of nowhere; it comes when a place is abandoned,” Sharkey said. “It comes when a place empties out, when there are not strong institutions, when the community isn’t organized, and it’s left on its own.”

Just ask Jeannine and Jeremy Domenico, who literally have eyes on the street from their residence in South Allison Hill. The Domenicos moved into their rowhome on South Summit Street, a narrow one-way that connects the busy thoroughfares of Derry and Mulberry streets, just before Christmas 2013. When they first bought their home, Jeremy (who goes by Jay) wouldn’t let the couple sit in the living room that looks out onto the street. They watched TV and took visitors in another room on the first floor, which was set back from the main entranceway, closer to the backyard. That way, Jay said, any stray bullets would travel farther to hit them.

“There were gunshots every night,” he said. “Our main concern was drive-bys, and we figured, if we were in the back room, there would be four walls for bullets to go through.”

The Domenicos may not have landed in a neighborhood of choice in 2013, but the neighborhood was theirs—and they wanted people to know they were there to stay. By their account, they spent the better part of the next year trying to build a community. They hosted their first block party, which is now an annual event. They led trash cleanups and gained local fame for the elaborate decorations they put on their doors for every holiday – as well as for the four security cameras that keep watch over the front of the street and the alley behind their home.

Over time, they say, the space around them transformed. They no longer had to lead trash pickups—neighbors were doing it themselves. Gunshots sounded less frequently, and drug dealing no longer took place on their street. Cars still speed down the street the wrong way, but the activity that drove them inside their homes has dramatically fallen.

“It’s easy to go inside and shut your door when you see bad behavior,” Jay said. “It seems like, if you live in a bad area, you get terrorized into staying in your house. But, when we’re outside working, we messed up people’s game plans.”

Repaying a Debt

The idea that social cohesion can inoculate neighborhoods against crime isn’t lost on law enforcement officials.

Capt. Gabriel Olivera, chief information officer for the Harrisburg Police Bureau, said that line of thinking is “absolutely” consistent with trends he’s seen in the city over the past two decades. He pointed to Harrisburg’s Midtown neighborhood as one example. In the 1990s and early 2000s, he said, the intersection of Green and Muench streets was known among police officers as “Green and Murder.” Over time, as residents bought homes, beautified streets and formed a neighborhood watch association, the police bureau received fewer calls to the area.

The progress that’s been made against urban crime has relied, in part, on vast amounts of unpaid labor by volunteer residents. If crime across the country is going to continue its downward trajectory, Sharkey said, the people who fight it at every level ought to be compensated.

“The people who volunteer time to make communities safe are doing work on behalf of their city,” Sharkey said. “When they’re given respect and that role is valued, it makes a huge difference.”

Mayor Eric Papenfuse said that he finds that argument compelling, and paying the work of community organizers is something that the city can consider in the future.

“It’s an intriguing concept, and one that warrants thoughtful consideration,” he said. “There are some serious questions surrounding implementation, but I’m willing to explore them and possibly put forth some funding in next year’s budget.”

But not all of Harrisburg’s urban guardians agree that they should be paid for their work.

Claude Phipps, a community organizer who lives in Bellevue Park, has seen local institutions wax and wane in Harrisburg his whole life. Growing up at 6th and Peffer streets, he watched the city reel from the devastation of Hurricane Agnes in 1972 and from financial hardship that followed. He reckons that the city hit “rock bottom” in the early 2000s and made a turn for the better in 2010.

Today, Phipps said he’s happy to volunteer his time as a neighborhood watch coordinator and conflict mediator. He sees it as “repaying a debt” to the long-ago neighbors who guarded over him as a child.

Cutler, the Camp Curtin advocate, said that citizens ought to have “sweat equity” in their neighborhoods.

“When you fund salaries, there’s no money left for projects,” she said. “There needs to be some volunteerism, because, bottom line, you’ll need money to do these projects.”

I posed the question of pay to a coalition of faith-based community leaders, who were meeting in the chilly basement of Derry Street United Methodist Church to plan a summer camp for children. They stressed that the diminishing funds in a crowded nonprofit sector made it hard to ensure programming year to year.

Bill Jamison, a leader of the Allison Hill Ministry, which provides after-school mentoring, outdoor education and field trips for students, said that he earns $17,000 a year while working 60 hours a week. Some years, his program receives more funding; other years, it gets less. He wouldn’t object to more funding for his volunteers, but he also knows his work is too essential to cease over money disputes.

“If we take these services away, that’s where crime comes from,” Jamison said.

But Nashon Walker, CEO of Hoodrise Global, a mentorship program that works in Harrisburg city schools, thinks that community leaders and mentors should demand more pay for their work.

“Inner-city outreach has been underfunded and undervalued,” Walker said. “I don’t have a poverty mentality.”

Walker also pointed to an irony that has led politicians and researchers across the political spectrum to call for criminal justice reform. America’s incarceration spree, effective though it may have been in curbing criminal activity, has borne immense social and economic costs.

“This country pays billions to incarcerate,” Walker said. “Why can’t we pay now to set people free?”

When presenting his research, Sharkey is careful to note that America’s progress against crime is tenuous. Many cities across the country are seeing upticks in violent crime after years of decline. This crossroads, he said, should force American lawmakers to trade in the country’s punitive criminal justice policies for programs that focus on reinvestment and economic development in cities. The good news is that these programs could look a lot like what is already in place in cities like Harrisburg, where neighborhoods self-police by tending to their public spaces, their children and their shared social bonds.

“This is how violence is confronted in a sustainable way without the collateral costs of locking up half the community’s population,” Sharkey said. “It’s an alternative model, and it should be the model.”

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Art & Stroll: At Wildwood Park, the beauty is all natural.

Mash-up might be a newish word, but it’s certainly not a new idea—fusing together two or more unrelated items or concepts, then something inspiring springs from the mix.

“Art in the Wild” is Harrisburg’s mash-up of an art gallery, a student film project, a contest and a hike.

From now through October, you can walk the 3.1-mile trail encircling Wildwood Park’s 229 acres and wetlands to see unique expressions from area outdoor artists. The theme for the sixth annual contest, “Natural Abstraction,” lends itself to creative interpretations through 17 works, all composed of natural, native elements like logs, vines, branches and herbaceous materials.

According to committee Chair Elizabeth Johnson, you will find entries from both talented individuals and groups—first-timers and seasoned outdoor artists.

Veteran contributor Beau MacGinnes designed his sculpture this year with the goal of showing the beauty of the world around us.

“I like to only use things found in nature,” he said. “The past two years that I won first place, I incorporated dead or fallen sticks and branches. In past years, I’ve transplanted moss from other locations to my site.”

For MacGinnes, season changes also hold appeal. In April, the canvass is colorless from winter. Then a little magic happens.

“Spring and summer fill the pieces with lush greens and other colors,” he said. “Each art piece shapes around its background, growing into the environment.”

Brook Lauer, first-place winner in 2013, said that her entry plays upon interactivity with natural surroundings. Her sculpture, “Natural Connections,” is a simulation of heart and brain neurons using vines and sticks united with rainbow-colored yarn, symbolizing biological links.

To further connect the public with her piece, visitors can write a word or phrase of gratitude on a nearby rock and place it in a heart-shaped basket.

“[It shows] the “importance of our human experience and its connection to our natural environments,” she said. “How we need each other to survive.”

Main Driver
“Art in the Wild” also has a community component, with participation by students at the Capital Area School for the Arts. This year, 16 students in the film and video program shot a video, designed for those who cannot walk the trail themselves.

CASA teacher Mick Corman said he enjoys this project for its fast-paced, documentary-style filming. The video features how some pieces in the exhibit were created, along with artist interviews.

“It gives [students] the ability to film artwork outside the usual gallery setting,” he said. “Students have been happy with the resulting video and to work on a great project.”

The exhibit also inspired a Dickinson College “art and sustainability” class, which submitted an entry as a class project.

Well Received
To encourage and reward artists, “Art in the Wild” is a juried exhibit, featuring a prominent outdoor artist as judge. This year, it’s Roy Staab, a Wisconsin-based artist who has mounted sculptures throughout the world, including along the Hudson River, in New York’s Central Park and in Finland.

“It is important that this exhibition is well received in Harrisburg,” Staab said.

In judging the pieces, his criteria are materials and how they are used, how well the exhibit is crafted, siting, originality and creativity, he said. A first-place prize of $600, a second-place prize of $400 and a third-place prize of $200 will be awarded.

An extra layer of community voting offers more chances for honors and prizes. So, when you’re walking around the loop, be sure to cast your ballot for the People’s Choice Awards, which will be announced at the “Celebrate Wildwood” event on Sept. 23. Winners will receive monetary awards and a year’s membership with Friends of Wildwood.

Over the years, “Art in the Wild” has become one of the main drivers for visitors to Wildwood Park. Park, said Manager Chris Rebert. He cited a record attendance in 2017 of more than 100,000 visitors—a 40 percent increase from six years ago.

“I believe ‘Art in the Wild’ pushes people to get out and exercise and see beautiful sculptures while doing so,” MacGinnes said. “I really hope to see more parks adopt similar ideas.”

“Art in the Wild” runs through October at Wildwood Park, Harrisburg. For more information, visit www.wildwoodlake.org.

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Meet the 10th: The midstate’s new congressional district puts Harrisburg in the center of the action.

Due to a recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling, every resident of Burg territory is living in a new congressional district.

The new districts take effect for the 2018 mid-term elections, meaning that most of you will be voting for a new person to represent you in Washington, including in this month’s primary.

The new districts will transform Pennsylvania’s political landscape. Most congressional incumbents running for re-election have seen their districts changed considerably, meaning they have to appeal to new constituents in elections that will likely be more competitive. And if recent voting patterns hold, the Democratic Party should gain at least three seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The impact will be particularly strong in the Harrisburg metro area, which is more unified in the newly drawn 10th congressional district. This reasonably compact entity encompasses all of Dauphin County, the eastern half of Cumberland County to Carlisle and a northern chunk of York County that extends just south of the city of York.

“The new map puts Harrisburg at the hub of a metropolitan area, and that makes a lot of sense,” said Democratic congressional candidate George Scott. “It’s a beneficial change for the region as a whole.”

One of his primary opponents agreed.

“I am a fan of the new map because it’s more compact,” said Shavonnia Corbin-Johnson. “The needs of Harrisburg are a lot more similar to the needs of York and Carlisle.”

Entire County
Republican legislators drew Pennsylvania’s current congressional map in 2011, following the 2010 census. They intentionally divided Harrisburg into two districts to dilute its predominantly Democratic voters into two mostly rural, Republican districts.

This “cracking” of an opposition party’s voters is a common practice in gerrymandering, the drawing of district boundaries for partisan advantage. The 2011 map has consistently produced a 13-5 Republican advantage in the House despite Democrats outnumbering Republicans statewide.

On Jan. 22, the Democratic majority in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that this gerrymandered congressional map violates the state constitution’s clause on free and equal elections. After Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Tom Wolf failed to compromise on a new map, the Supreme Court imposed its own map, with more compact districts and fewer county and municipal splits. This map survived Republican challenges in federal court and the U.S. Supreme Court.

The new congressional map has mostly good news for residents of Harrisburg and the metro area in general. The 2011 map not only split the city into two districts, reducing its political influence, but it split Dauphin County into three districts. With the new map, all of Dauphin County is united, along with the West Shore suburbs in Cumberland County.

“Whoever is elected to Congress in the new 10th District will certainly need to be responsive to the interests of Dauphin County,” said Dauphin County Commissioner Mike Pries, a Republican.

Rogette Harris, chairwoman of the Dauphin County Democrats, agreed.

“I am very happy that Dauphin County is now in just one congressional district,” she said. “During election time, it makes us all much stronger as a voting block, and it makes candidates and elected officials focus on the entire county rather than just a certain segment.”

The boundaries of the previous, Harrisburg-area congressional districts preserved solid Republican majorities. But the newly minted 10th district is more evenly balanced, with Republicans holding a slimmer, 5.5-percent advantage in party registration.

Incumbent Rep. Scott Perry, who previously represented the 4th congressional district (York and Adams counties, the eastern third of Cumberland County and southern Harrisburg), is running unopposed in the May 15 Republican primary. Four Democrats are facing off to oppose Perry in the general election: Scott, Corbin-Johnson, Eric Ding and Alan Howe.

Corbin-Johnson and Scott hail from York County. They were planning to run against Perry in the old 4th district, but the new map forced them to shift their campaigns northward. But these Democrats actually face better odds in the new district, as the old 4th had an 11-point Republican edge.

Scott said that he was slightly disappointed in the new map because he had built strong relationships in areas of the 4th that were not included in the new 10th. But, he admits, the district is better overall for Democrats.

“The composition of the 10th district is significantly more moderate than the 4th district was,” he said. “I would not say the playing field is completely level, but it’s certainly much more level than it was before.”

Corbin-Johnson said that she’s happy to run wherever the congressional lines happen to fall, and she thought that the reasons for the redistricting justified the Supreme Court’s decision.

“The district lines have changed, but my commitment to each and every community has not,” she said. “I haven’t flip-flopped on policy or values with the changing of the lines.”

Own Peril
The new map did cost Pries a chance to serve in Congress.

He was planning to run in the old 15th district, which includes the southeastern portion of Dauphin County and parallels I-78 all the way to New Jersey. This seat was vacated when incumbent Rep. Charlie Dent announced he was retiring.

Because both he and Perry now live in the new 10th district, Pries decided to drop out rather than challenge a Republican incumbent.

“The long period of uncertainty around the maps was definitely a burden for many candidates, incumbents and non-incumbents,” Pries said.

He added that he looks forward to helping send Perry back to Washington for another term.

The 10th district does lean Republican, but Democrats have been energized by the Trump presidency and by recent special elections, such as Rep. Conor Lamb’s congressional victory in western Pennsylvania.

“This is going to be a very competitive race, and I think it’s a race that we, as Democrats, can win,” Scott said.

Corbin-Johnson said that the new, compact district boundaries will make it much easier for people to know who their representative is, which, in turn, will make it easier for people to engage in politics and keep their elected officials accountable for their actions.

“It will make sure that a representative will be more present in the community,” she said.

Amid the Democrats’ renewed optimism, Pries added a word of caution.

“Any candidate who underestimates an opponent in this election cycle would be doing so at their own peril,” he said.

The race is on.

To learn about the congressional candidates’ positions on various issues, visit https://hersheyhit.dudaone.com. The primary is May 15.

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Mind the Belt: Saddle up for Bike Month and the Tour de Belt.

Burg in Focus: Capital Area Greenbelt Association from GK Visual on Vimeo.

Are you ready, Greenbelt? It’s almost time for your closeup.

Each year, the Capital Area Greenbelt Association rolls out the welcome mat for the Tour de Belt, a leisurely ride along the 20-mile trail that weaves through Harrisburg’s biggest parks and landmarks.

Around 800 bikers are expected to join this year’s ride on June 3, according to Dick Norford, who co-chairs the planning committee alongside Diane Kripas. The two work to coordinate the event and the 100 or so volunteers who assist riders that day.

The Tour de Belt is meant to be a fun, family event.

“It’s not a race,” Norford said. “It’s a ride.”

With the price of admission, participants receive free snacks and drinks at the ride’s two rest stops and, afterwards, free lunch and a T-shirt. All funds raised go towards supplies for the upkeep of the trail done by volunteer crews.

Over the years, the weekend of activity has expanded beyond the tour itself. Several rides, including Bike the Burg and the Five Bridges Tour, are planned for Saturday, June 2, the day before the big ride around the Greenbelt.

So, how did all this biking get started?

At the turn of the 20th century, Harrisburg was a city with unpaved streets, factories polluting the air and a riverbank full of residents’ trash, coal ashes and sewage. In 1901, the City Beautiful Movement spurred the effort to improve Harrisburg’s living conditions.

Soon after, landscape architect Warren Manning, a protege of Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted, created what is now known as Riverfront Park along the Susquehanna River and Wildwood Park at Wetzel’s Swamp. He also proposed the expansion of Reservoir Park on Allison Hill and suggested that the park network should be connected to a path around the city—the Greenbelt.

By 1915, the riverfront had been cleaned up and, as the parks were being built and expanded, the Greenbelt began to grow. But due to the Great Depression, the rise of automobile and the migration of city residents to the suburbs after World War II, the last section of the loop—from Reservoir Park to Wildwood Park—was abandoned.

CAGA was formed in 1990, after a group of arborists re-discovered the trail. The organization secured a grant to complete the circuit, and the Greenbelt was finished in 1999. To celebrate its completion after nearly a 100-year hiatus, the first Tour de Belt was organized in 2000.

“It’s become a little bit more than a bike around the city,” Norford said.

It’s also become a grand finale of sorts—the culmination of a string of biking events each May organized by the bicycle advocacy group, Bike Harrisburg. According to Marilyn Chastek, president of the Harrisburg Bicycle Club, National Bike Month came to Harrisburg about five years ago.

During Bike Month, two of Harrisburg’s biggest events include the Ride of Silence, locally organized by the founder of Recycle Bicycle Harrisburg, Ross Willard, and the Searsucker & Lace Ride.

The Ride of Silence, which commemorates Pennsylvania cyclists who died in traffic accidents over the past year, will take place May 16. It encourages drivers to be more courteous and careful when sharing the road. Cyclists ride from Camp Hill to the Capitol steps, where Willard and his team set up a display of crumpled “ghost bikes” painted white—one to represent each cyclist fatality.

This year, Willard has invited Andrew Brown, a cyclist who almost died after a car made a left turn into him at a red light, to speak at the event.

“This event is probably my favorite because I know the impact it has,” Willard said.

For another type of event, the Seersucker & Lace Ride will take place on May 21. Historically, it’s been the second biggest ride of the monthlong series, after the Tour de Belt itself, usually attracting around 85 people. Riders dress up in old-timey finery to take a guided tour of Harrisburg’s murals and snap pictures with vintage furniture.

“It’s like a fashion show on wheels,” Chastek said.
The Tour de Belt takes place June 3, starting at 9 a.m. from the HACC Harrisburg campus, 1 HACC Dr., Harrisburg. More events, including several additional rides, take place on June 2. For more information, including registration and cost, visit www.caga.org/tour-de-belt.

May I Ride?
May is National Bike Month and, locally, Bike Harrisburg has a host of events planned, including:
• May 6: Garden Faire at Fort Hunter, all day. Ride your bike to Garden Faire and receive a voucher for a free tour of the elegantly restored Fort Hunter Mansion.
• May 9: Spoke ‘n Gear Bicycle Expo, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Field (across from the Capitol fountain).
• May 14: Rally to Support Cycling In PA, 10 a.m. Ride your bike into Harrisburg and meet at the Capitol steps on 3rd Street for the rally.
• May 16: Ghost Bikes at the Capitol, all day, and International Ride of Silence, begins at 6:30 p.m. at Camp Hill Borough Hall.
• May 18: HBC Friday Night Social Ride, 6:15 p.m. Meet at the HACC Midtown parking lot on Reily Street. Dinner afterwards at the Broad Street Market.
• May 19: “Highlights of HBG” Bike Tour, 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Meet at the east end of the Walnut Street Bridge near Front Street.
• May 20: Seersucker & Lace Ride, 2 p.m. A fashion show on wheels. Meet at the Underground Bike Shop, 1519 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg.

For a complete list of Bike Harrisburg’s National Bike Month events, visit www.bikeharrisburg.org.

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The Young and the Best List: Orchestra showcases the next generation.

JT Mullins

JT Mullins was 5 years old when music piqued his interest, and he began playing piano.

Years of study and practice have paid off for this Hershey High School junior who recently won the West Shore Symphony Orchestra’s Concerto Competition. He will perform with the symphony this month at its final Family and Masterworks concerts.

If devotees of classical compositions had concerns about their favorite genre getting old and dusty, they only have to look at Mullins and the other seven finalists chosen from more than a dozen applicants as hopeful signs that Mendelssohn and Mozart are in the expert hands of the next generation.

“These events provide an opportunity for students to perform for their peers in a highly selective, specialized setting,” said Jennifer Sacher Wiley, the orchestra’s music director and conductor. “The concert in May, featuring the winner, is the West Shore Symphony Orchestra’s way of recognizing young musicians in the region and our support of music education.”

Wiley admitted having “mixed feelings” about music competitions since she believes there is a place on the stage for many individual musical voices, but finds value in providing performance opportunities for young artists as they launch their careers.

“This particular competition was a nice way for me to build relationships with community members and music educators in the region,” she said.

Mullins is grateful for the opportunity. He is a member of his school’s concert band, is the principal trombone with the Harrisburg Youth Symphony, and recently auditioned into the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association All-State Concert Band for euphonium.

He will play Grieg’s Piano Concerto, a popular piece that listeners will easily recognize from the start. The prospect of winning the competition and his upcoming public performance has the young pianist “beyond excited,” he said.

“My family, most especially my mother, and my teacher, Eun Ae Baik-Kim of Dickinson College, had worked tirelessly with me to ensure that I was as prepared as possible, and I was extremely happy to see all of our hard work come to fruition,” Mullins said. “My mother is the best manager, photographer and chauffeur that I could ask for, especially because I pay her no salary.”

The competition’s judges noticed the results of Mullins’ hard work, said Wiley.

“In my experience, judges tend to pick pieces that would engage an audience, performed with confidence, technical command and with flair,” she said. “JT certainly had all of those qualities when he competed for our panel of judges in January.”

Mullins admitted that one audience member, his little brother, Jesse, was never as impressed as those judges. At home, whenever Mullins would begin to practice a slow, classical piece that he’d be working on that week, Jesse would almost instantly fall asleep on the couch.

“Those who know my brother know that getting him to fall asleep is, in fact, not much of an accomplishment,” Mullins said. “But I choose to take it as a compliment.”

Along with Mullins’ upcoming solo performance, the West Shore Symphony Orchestra’s May concerts will showcase composers whose music is inspired by nature. Audiences will hear recorded bird sounds in these performances that share the theme, “Sounds of Our World: Past, Present, Future.”

“Of particular note is a 2015 composition by Tan Dun, American composer of Chinese descent,” Wiley said. “Tan Dun recorded bird sounds on ancient Chinese instruments that are intended to be played on cell phones, as audience participation, and on the phones of orchestral players, as part of the piece.”

JT Mullins will perform at the West Shore Symphony’s concerts on May 5 and 6 at the Pollock Performing Arts Center, Camp Hill. For more information, visit www.westshoresymphony.org.

Along with Mullins, other young performers will take to the stage for those performances. These include two middle-school orchestras, Mechanicsburg’s Eagle View Middle School under the direction of West Shore Symphony Orchestra’s Concertmaster Margeaux Katz-Sgrignoli, and a middle school from Alexandria, Va., led by Veronica Jackson. On Friday, May 4, Jackson will lead a clinic for area orchestra directors and hosted by Sgrignoli at Eagle View Middle School.

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A Quiet Desperation: Characters long for connection in “Ha’har.”

Tzvia (Shani Klein) is a soft-spoken, pleasant woman who lives with her husband and four children next to a cemetery atop the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. It is not a very fulfilled life that she lives.

It is a point of embarrassment that they, an Orthodox Jewish family, live so close to the cemetery, but Tzvia’s husband, Reuven (Avshalom Polak), who spends the majority of his time away at work, doesn’t seem too concerned.

He comes home late most nights to eat dinner and sleep—and sometimes not even that—leaving Tzvia with little adult contact except the connections she seeks on the mountain. Every day, she sends her children off to school and bides the time until they come home by meandering through the cemetery, occasionally stopping to talk to the gravedigger, Abed (Hitham Omari), a concerning prospect, since he is a man and not of the Jewish faith.

As Tzvia begins to realize how lonely she is, she ventures out into the cemetery at night, discovering a group of prostitutes and their male patrons amongst the tombstones. The unsavory company does not inhibit her visits, however, and, in fact, prompts her to begin making soup for them.

The film may be as quiet as Tzvia is, but its story speaks volumes. Each character has much to tell the world despite the few words they each say. Each moment is intentional, each event holding weight throughout the span of the film. Klein breaks our heart with her desperation for companionship, and the plot slowly becomes more and more upsetting as it unravels.

“Ha’har” plays as a part of the Edward S. Finkelstein Harrisburg Jewish Film Festival at Midtown Cinema, 250 Reily St., Harrisburg, May 10 to 17. For more information, visit www.midtowncinema.com.

MIDTOWN CINEMA
MAY SPECIAL EVENTS

Jewish Film Festival
May 10 to 17
Schedule available at www.hbgjff.com

Down in Front!
“Red Hook” (2009)
Friday, May 11, 9:30 p.m.

Mother’s Month Series
“Psycho” (1960)
Sunday, May 13, 7:30 p.m.

“Serial Mom” (1994)
Friday, May 18, 9:30 p.m.
Saturday, May 19, 12 p.m. (#BringtheBaby)

“Mommie Dearest” (1981)
Tuesday, May 20, 7:30 p.m.

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