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Senator Wayne D. Fontana

As a member of the Legislative Arts Caucus, Senator Fontana attended an event on October 23rd celebrating “Arts and Humanities Month” in Pennsylvania.

As a member of the Legislative Arts Caucus, Senator Fontana attended an event on October 23rd celebrating “Arts and Humanities Month” in Pennsylvania.  He presented a copy of the resolution designating October as Arts and Humanities Month that recently passed the Senate to Robert Lynch, President & CEO, Americans for the Arts.  Pictured are Sen. Pat Browne (Co-Chair of the Arts Caucus), First Lady Susan Corbett (Chair, PA Council on the Arts), Mr. Robert Lynch and Sen. Fontana.

Policy Committee Meeting – Tomorrow in Green Tree

On Wednesday, October 30th, I will host the Senate Democratic Policy Committee for a round table discussion on workforce training and connecting skilled workers with employers. The conversation will include legislators and feature representatives of the business and community college sectors in an effort to highlight the evolving needs and opportunities for workers, students and employers. The event is open to the public and I encourage you to join us for this important event to be held at 10:00 am at the Green Tree Municipal Building.

Click here to listen.

Dye Tests

Pittsburgh Water & Sewer AuthorityAn issue that is not discussed publicly much but that I am hearing from several constituents on is that of dye tests, specifically in the city of Pittsburgh.  In 2006, the City of Pittsburgh passed an ordinance that requires homeowners to perform dye tests prior to selling their homes to ensure that downspouts are not illegally connected to the city’s sanitary sewers.  This ordinance was put in place to help mitigate sewage overflows and maintain a functioning sewer system.

In recent weeks and months I have received emails and phone calls from homeowners and from realtors who have expressed to me their frustration over what has become a cumbersome and expensive process.  Prior to selling their house, a homeowner in the City of Pittsburgh must have a dye test performed to show where rain water is flowing.  The dye test shows whether the home is connected into the sanitary sewer illegally, and if it is, the homeowner is required to make corrections and have another dye test performed prior to selling.  Prior to completing the sales transaction, the homeowner must receive a compliance certificate from the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority (PWSA).

One problem facing many homeowners is a lack of consistency from both the PWSA and the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) as to what exactly constitutes a corrective solution.  Many city residents are told they must redirect storm water into the storm sewer while others have not been required to do so.  Tapping into the storm sewer can be a very expensive process for many homeowners, costing tens of thousands of dollars.  In some cases, homeowners have paid a plumber to disconnect them from the sanitary sewer to comply with the law and have had water redirected to their back yards only to be told by the ACHD that the particular corrective solution is not acceptable.

In addition to the lack of a consistent corrective solution policy, the expense to make repairs falls squarely on homeowners.  Many homes throughout the city of Pittsburgh are over 50 to 100 years old and were originally built with the existing systems in place.  A corrective solution for a home that fails a dye test that requires the homeowner to tap into the storm sewer is often a very expensive proposition.  These homeowners did not create the problem but are being asked to pay for the solution, and the solution is not consistent at that.

Over the past several weeks I have had numerous conversations with the PWSA on behalf of homeowners and realtors that have contacted me about their specific situations in regards to the dye test and the process of getting their corrections approved.  Last week, I sent a letter to both the PWSA and the ACHD laying out these issues and encouraging them to come up with and implement a consistent policy that is fair to homeowners. 

On October 11th, the PWSA Board of Directors approved a rate increase that will be used to make capital improvements to the system.  I have also proposed the PWSA dedicates a portion of that rate increase to provide subsidies for homeowners who are forced to disconnect from the city’s sanitary sewers and take corrective action.  Additionally, there are several green alternatives that are less expensive than tapping directly into the storm sewer that should be considered like rain barrels and dry wells.

As a realtor by profession, I understand the challenges homeowners face when selling their homes and the stressful situations that often occur right before a sale closes.  The current situation playing out in the city only increases the stress and costs in trying to sell a house and is unfair to both the seller and the buyer.  I am looking forward to continuing discussing this matter with the PWSA and ACHD and am hopeful a solution can be found that is in the best interests of homeowners.

Common Core Standards

TestIn September, the State Board of Education approved the Pennsylvania Common Core Standards by a vote of 13-4.  These assessments are the Commonwealth’s version of the national standards called Common Core State Standards that have been adopted by 45 states with the intention to make students more globally competitive.  Common Core Standards are written by governors and state education officials designed to create consistent outcomes for all K-12 grade students.  In 2010, Pennsylvania officials adopted the national Common Core Standards but reversed that decision largely in response to concerns over states’ rights. 

Specifically, the Pennsylvania Common Core Standards establishes proficiency requirements for kindergarten through 12th grade in the three core areas:  science, math and language arts.  Under these regulations, Commonwealth students have to pass Keystone Exams designed to be end-of course assessments to test proficiency in various subjects.  Keystone Exams were given statewide for the first time during the 2012-13 school year and are aligned with the Pennsylvania Common Core Standards: 

  • Beginning with high school graduates in 2017 (currently 9th grade) must demonstrate proficiency in Algebra I, Biology I, and language arts on the Keystone Exams or a state-approved alternative assessment. 
  • The Class of 2019 (current 7th graders) will be required to pass four Keystone Exams – Algebra I, biology, literature and composition.
  • The Class of 2020 (current 6th graders) and future classes will be required to pass five Keystone Exams – Algebra I, biology, literature, composition, and civics and government. 

The composition and civics and government exams will only be implemented if state funding is available.  Furthermore, students who fail a Keystone Exam multiple times will be permitted to do a project on the same subject instead, or district superintendents will have the authority to grant a small number of waivers from the testing requirements. 

Even though many schools have already implemented teaching for both the Keystone Exams and Common Core, the standards proposal advances through Pennsylvania’s rule-making process, which requires them to win approval of the state’s Independent Regulatory Review (IRRC) Commission as well as be reviewed by the Attorney General for form and legality. 

Although I am supportive of efforts to make Pennsylvania’s learners in line with development, educational growth and prepare students for college, trade schools or post graduation employment, there are many aspects of these provisions that concern me. 

To begin, when the Keystone Exams were first being developed, an agreement was reached that would make these tests count only as one-third of a course grade in a specific subject.  However, the board replaced this agreement and made the exams high-stakes standalone tests that determine whether a student graduates from high school. 

Furthermore, the Common Core Standards for Pennsylvania gives the Secretary of Education the authority to grant graduation test waivers on a case-by-case basis when requested by a chief school administrator.  With so many districts having more than twenty five percent of their students scoring less than proficient, a case-by-case basis could be used for potentially thousands of students.  Can the department even handle this scenario let alone in a timely fashion?  And if graduation tests are so necessary, then isn’t this waiver inclusion in contrast with setting graduation standards in the first place? 

To add to my apprehension about the waiver, how would the transcripts look of a student who received a waiver?  Will they be marked the same as the students who were able to pass a Common Core graduation test?  What about the students who have a learning disability and need a project-based assessment?  Will the Common Core guidelines create a “tiered diploma system?” 

Perhaps the most alarming aspect of the PA Common Core standards is that this is an unfunded mandate.  Although the budget included a significant allocation increase to the Basic Education Subsidy for this school year, Governor Corbett cut over $1 billion from classroom spending when he took office over two years ago.  Pennsylvania still remains nowhere close to where it once was in funding for education needs and now an even larger burden will be placed on school districts forcing the local taxpayers to once again have to cover this cost. State officials have stated that districts do not need additional resources to comply with the state Common Core requirements because districts train teachers and revise curriculum routinely. 

There are too many questions that still remain with the Pennsylvania Common Core assessments that creates great concerns for many public school districts.  The administration should not be implementing unfunded policies that set not only the students up for failures but schools also. 

Last week, the Senate Education Committee passed Senate Bill 1113 (SB 1113) which would require comprehensive financial reporting by the State Board of Education during the regulation process.  Vague statements of cost without real numbers don’t provide the information needed for the General Assembly to make judgment or comment on a proposed regulation proceeding through the Independent Regulatory Review process and I co-sponsored this legislation because I feel that it can be the first step to solving some of the concerns I have stated about the Pennsylvania Common Core proposal. 

Offices Closed – Election Day

Vote PA All Senate offices will be closed on Tuesday, November 5th for Election Day.  Polls open at 7 a.m. and will close at 8 p.m.  Don’t forget to vote!

PennDOTRoute 51/88 Public Meeting Rescheduled

A public meeting being hosted by PennDOT in conjunction with the Federal Highway Administration to discuss the Route 51/88 construction project has been rescheduled for December 9th.  The original meeting had been scheduled for October 21st.  The project involves widening to provide four standard width travel lanes and left turning lanes on Route 51 and standard width through travel and turning lanes on the Route 88 approach to the intersection among other upgrades.  The meeting will now take place on December 9th at St. Norbert’s Church, located at 2413 St. Norbert’s Street and will begin at 6 p.m.

New Home for Pittsburgh Public Market

Neighbors in the StripCongratulations to Neighbors in the Strip who re-opened the Pittsburgh Public Market on October 23rd at their new location at 2401 Penn Avenue in the Strip District.  I was proud to support funding through the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County to assist Neighbors in the Strip with their move and am pleased they are moving forward in their new and expanded space.

Pittsburgh Public Market first opened in 2010 as an incubator for small businesses looking to get off the ground and grow and as a destination place for shoppers wishing to support local merchants.  Since opening, the Pittsburgh Public Market has assisted more than 72 local businesses in becoming established, created more than 150 local jobs and attracted over 450,000 visitors.

Neighbors in the Strip works tirelessly to promote economic development opportunities while preserving the personality, integrity and character of the Strip.  The Pittsburgh Public Market re-opening is the latest success they have achieved in this endeavor and I wish them well in the future.

Internet Essentials

Last week, Comcast announced a re-launch of their Internet Essentials program at an event held at Langley K-8.  Internet Essentials is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive broadband adoption initiative for low-income families. 

The Comcast program offers affordable internet access, the ability to purchase a low-cost computer and free internet training.  To be eligible, households must be located where Comcast offers internet services, has at least one child eligible to participate in the National School Lunch Program, has not subscribed to Comcast Internet service within the last 90 days, and does not have an overdue Comcast bill or unreturned equipment.

Since Internet Essentials first debuted in August 2011, more than 50,000 new families have enrolled every six months.  Comcast wants more low-income families to be aware of this program and take advantage of the lower rates for internet access.  If you are interested in this program, or know someone who is, you may visit www.internetessentials.com or call 1-855-846-8376 for more information.

Did You Know…

Did you know that in just 22 months, Comcast’s Internet Essentials program has connected more than 220,000 families, an estimated 900,000 people, to the internet at homes all across the United States?

Meals on Wheels Fundraiser

Meals on WheelsThe Lutheran Service Society’s Meals on Wheels Program is hosting Chefs Harvest Against Hunger on November 7th to raise funds for the program.   The event is from 5 – 8 p.m. at the Mt. Lebanon United Lutheran Church.  Chefs Harvest Against Hunger will feature food tasting where talented chefs will dazzle attendees with samples of a featured appetizer, soup, or light fare dish.  Guests will vote on their favorite creations with the winners being announced at the event’s conclusion.  There will also be an opportunity to bid on great prizes during the evening’s silent auction.

All funds raised during the event will benefit Lutheran Service Society’s Meals on Wheels Program which serves over 1,500 people each year in western Pennsylvania.  For more information on Chefs Harvest Against Hunger or to purchase tickets, please contact Amy Kappel at 412-734-9330 or akappel@LSSWPA.org.  Only 200 tickets will be sold, on a first come, first served basis.

Brookline Business Feature

This week’s featured Brookline business is the Brookline Chiropractic Center, located at 901 Brookline Boulevard.  The Brookline Chiropractic Center has been open along the Boulevard for 15 years while Dr. Valerie Zipay has been practicing for 26 years.  Dr. Zipay works with patients of all ages, ranging from infants to seniors, to relieve them of back and neck pain, headaches, personal and sports injuries, automobile and work injuries, whiplash and more.  The Brookline Chiropractic Center is open Monday and Wednesday from 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Friday from 8:30 a.m. – 6 p.m.  For more information on their services, please call 412-341-4366.  Please continue to support local merchants during the Brookline Boulevard Streetscape Project and remember:

Brookline is open for business!

Fontana Fact

PumpkinsWith Halloween right around the corner and Thanksgiving soon to follow, the use and display of pumpkins are showing up in residences and businesses everywhere.  In addition to being used in pies, soups, breads and other desserts, many also use pumpkins as decorations.  The carving of pumpkins into Jack-o-lanterns has become a popular Halloween tradition that originated hundreds of years ago in Ireland.  Originally, Jack-o-lanterns were made from potatoes and turnips until Irish immigrants settled in America and began utilizing pumpkins to make this popular item.

Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana

  Brookline District
932 Brookline Blvd.
Pittsburgh, PA 15226
Phone: 412-344-2551
Fax: 412-344-3400
Harrisburg
543 Main Capitol
Box 203042
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Phone: 717-787-5300
Fax: 717-772-5484
Kennedy Township
Kenmawr Plz.
524 Pine Hollow Rd
Kennedy Twp, PA 15136
Phone: 412-331-1208
Fax: 412-331-2079
Beechview Satellite
1660 Broadway Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15216
Phone: 412-343-2080
Fax: 412-343-2418
PennDOT Neighbors in the Strip Pittsburgh Public Market Comcast Internet Essentials Dye Test