Video of Jenkintown School Board Meeting

Our efforts in the name of transparency eventually prompted Jenkintown Borough Council to livestream its monthly meeting. Now it’s the School Board’s turn.

For well over a year, the JSD tip-toed into the 21st century by providing audio archives of its meetings. At the time, that was much more than its Borough counterpart bothered to do, it’s become painfully obvious that their effort is insufficient. While audio does provide a record of what was said, it does not make it clear who is saying it. It still does not indicate the nuances of the meetings, the expressions, the glances, the body language.

It does not show who actually pledges allegiance and who, like Council President Deborra Sines-Panco, simply stands mum with their hands at their sides.

It’s our intention to start a livestream of the meetings, but the meeting room works like a Faraday cage, inhibiting the cellular signal. In the meantime, please enjoy our archived video of this week’s School Board Business meeting.

yard sign

For the good of the Boro, sit out the primary

Something curious has sprung up on many front lawns here in Jenkintown. Yard signs advertising our incumbent council members, none of whom have any competition, have infested the town. I’ve lived here for 19 years, and until 2017, I never voted in a municipal election — not because I don’t vote — but because I never saw any evidence that one was going on.

When you live in a town with a voting block about 75% Democratic, why bother going through the trouble of campaigning? Indeed, why bother with outreach and town halls or, even in the era of social media, any public discussion about the issues? Council and committee meetings are open to the public, after all, so for what purpose would it serve to spend a day a month on outreach?

The yard signs I’ve seen so far support the reelections of Jay Conners, Jennifer Lugar, and David Ballard (at this writing). Let’s consider their records.

Jay Conners (Ward 4) currently serves as the Council’s Vice President, and he leads the public works committee. On his watch, George Locke turned our sidewalks into a joke thanks to the ill-advised policy of random inspection causing a contractor free-for-all where we all paid double to triple a fair price for sidewalks that are already crumbling. Mr. Locke’s public works department has become the Gang that Can’t Dig Straight as evidenced by the shoddy stormwater work on the 200 block of Runnymede that left brand new curbs and pavement severely damaged. The town is riddled with code violations, embroiled in a civil rights lawsuit, but that doesn’t stop Jay from voting in favor of a 23% pay raise.

Jennifer Lugar (Ward 4) has barely spoken a half-dozen sentences on Council during her tenure. She’s a lovely person, and someone I’ve had in my house, but she fills her Twitter feed with nothing but her gun control advocacy. I understand her very personal motivations for this, but how does gun control bring more business to the commercial district? How does gun control solve our looming sewer issues? 

David Ballard (Ward 3) occasionally posts interesting trivia on the Jenkintown Community page but advances little except voting in lock-step with Deborra Sines-Pancoe’s self-serving agenda of opacity.

And all three of them support George Locke, Sean Kilkenny, and Deborra Sines-Pancoe, one of whom really runs the show. 

This is, frankly, the most do-nothing, rubber-stamping group of party sycophants I’ve witnessed in my long-time observation of local affairs, here and elsewhere. That all said, twelve Republicans would do no better. 

Make no mistake, Jenkintonians: We are sailing into some stormy seas. We ended the last fiscal year with a half-million dollar deficit, this despite ten years of national economic expansion. Our business district, which the entire community depends upon to stay afloat, limps along. A weaker town center means higher school tax. High school tax means lower property values. 

Surrounding towns have left us in the dust. Right now, I hear no one wanting their town to be the “next Jenkintown.” 

I believe that more democracy is better than less. More debate is better, as is more transparency and more outreach. Few things damage a society more than denying its people a voice on issues that affect them directly, and few things threaten Jenkintown’s delicate viability than Council’s endemic floundering. 

What do do? It pains me to suggest this but since a trip to the polls will change nothing, I see little point in going. Please sit out this plebiscite. If you really want to make a statement, then write in “Anyone Else” or perhaps “No One”. 

Jenkintown experiencing the lowest voter turnout in its history could be the best way to send a message to the Machine, which is this: Maybe we can’t get rid you, but we will not support you. 

Less local news coverage = more municipal monkey business

Jenkintown residents should easily identify with a segment aired on today’s Saturday Weekend Edition with Scott Simon. In that segment Scott spoke with professor Meghan Rubado, who explained how shrinking newsrooms can potentially impact the number of candidates who run not just for mayor, but for any local elected position.

After the remarkable election Jenkintown had two years ago where a write-in candidate for mayor garnered more than 35% of the vote, it looks like we’ll be getting back to normal this November. In Jenkintown, no one runs for office. They are appointed and serve until they’re sick of serving. This describes both Borough Council AND the Jenkintown school board.

Ms. Rubado’s study asserts citizens left unaware of their officials activities won’t find motivation to launch a challenge. Sound familiar, Jenkintown?

Runnymede storm drain fixes break sidewalk and curb work

Last week, Jenkintown Public Works under the supervision of George Locke made an attempt to address an ongoing water drainage issue on Runnymede Avenue. According to the Borough, it seems that a spring somewhere between Hillside Avenue and the 200 block of Rodman gets expecially overactive after snowmelts and rainstorms and gushes water down the hill and into the yards of properties on the 200 block of Runnymede. In the winter, this is especially problematic since the water that pours into the street tends to freeze, creating a hazardous condition.

Mr. Locke proposed expanding the capacity of the storm drains on the 200 block of Runnymede to handle the overflow. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not civil engineer, but it seems to me that it might make more sense to address the water at its source.

That said, JPW dug into the street to lay pipe and to install new drains. The work caused damage to existing and recently repaired sidewalks, aprons, and curbs — some of it severe. This section of Runnymede was repaved in 2015, and the patch applied promises to accelerate the eventual deterioration of the street.

We’ve stated this on many occasions: For a town that prides itself on its walkability, it seems to actually care little about it. This is not workmanship worthy of such a town.

For the record, George Locke earns a salary of more than $125,000/year plus benefits.

This gallery shows some of that work.

Jenkintown School District

Peeking under the rock of the Jenkintown School District

Dr. Takacs suggested that I do my research on the school budget, and so I have. In some ways, it’s even worse than I originally believed.

Dr. Takacs asserted that a capital budget can’t be used on things such as lunches, pencils, and laptops, and she is of course correct. What she didn’t say is that this capital budget comes from yet another $1.2 million loan acquired by the school with no specific capital intentions. This additional debt adds to the district’s $19.7 million liability it services to the tune of over $1.2 million per year. The District’s total budget outlays for this year are projected to be $16.3 million, or $3.4 million less than its total debt.

I will admit to you right now that I’m not an accountant, but it sure seems an unhealthy place in which to be where your annual income is so much less than what you owe the bank. Maybe I’m wrong.

The original estimates for the vestibule came in at about $350,000. Why it escalated another $150,000-plus I don’t yet know, but in listening to the several of the meetings on Soundcloud, I heard a few people essentially agree with my take on this reckless expenditure.

Sadly, the one person who blew Dr. Takacs whole case out of the water, a clinical psychologist and a professor, who cited more effective methods of diffusing such dangers through proper counseling and a better prevention folded under Dr. Takacs withering — and largely unsupported by science — rhetoric.

So, no we can’t spend the half million on school lunches, but in truth, the picture is even worse. We’re borrowing the money for this folly.

I welcome anyone to step forward to fill in the details for me or to express their own feelings about this — as some already have. You can count on my complete discretion.

You can download the JSD budget from this link. You will NOT find it at their website.