Keystone Crossroads

PA School Districts Brace For Prolonged State Budget Battle

Aug 26, 2015
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

The school year is soon to begin, and districts across the state of Pennsylvania are faced with a troubling proposition: How do you stay afloat when a very large chunk of your budget is nonexistent?

Lots Of Red Tape For Building Waterfront Projects In PA, But It Could Be Worse

Aug 19, 2015
Diana Robinson / WITF

Antonia Hinnencamp and a few friends are about to start a bike ride on the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail. The 6.5-mile paved stretch opened last spring, and Hinnencamp says she’s done it twice since then. She says it’s well worth the 20-minute trip from her hometown in Lancaster for such an ideal setting: flat, shaded, closed to pedestrians.

Philadelphia Starts Small (And Cheap) With Delaware River Waterfront Revitalization

Aug 18, 2015
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

For a long time, Philadelphia's Delaware Riverfront was...underwhelming.

Each winter, the city operated a harbor-side ice skating rink. There were also summer concerts and festivals on the waterfront, bursts of life that would fizzle out as soon as the events ended.

But most of the time, people didn't venture down to the river. For one thing, getting to the waterfront requires finding a place to cross I-95, the 10-lane highway that cuts through the city.

The Historic Waterfront Development That Helped Transform Pittsburgh: Point State Park

Aug 17, 2015
Irina Zhorov / 90.5 WESA

On a recent weekend stroll at Point State Park, in Pittsburgh, visitors sunned themselves in the grass and along the low walls of the park. The park is a triangle of green at the very place where the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers meet to form the Ohio River. At the tip of the Point kids splashed in a fountain, and a rainbow shimmered through the spray. Looking east along the rivers bridges stitched the city together with yellow seams.

Number Of PA Students Opting Out Of State Tests Rises Dramatically In 2015

Aug 13, 2015
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

In a sign that the opt-out movement continues to grow, the number of elementary school students who refused to take Pennsylvania's state standardized tests rose dramatically over the past two years.

Between 2013-14 and 2014-15, opt-outs on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment math test more than tripled – from 1,017 students to 3,270. That's a 220 percent jump.

Keystone Crossroads Presents Urban Waterfront Series

Aug 12, 2015
Hannaford / flickr

The Keystone Crossroads initiative looks at the challenges facing cities in the commonwealth.  Today, marks the beginning of the initiatives urban waterfront series. Keystone Crossroads reporter Irina Zhorov and editor Naomi Starobin join us to talk about the series and how cities can make better use of their waterfronts for economic and recreational development.

Irina Zhorov / 90.5 WESA

Christoph Mertz spends his days looking at cracks in the street.

“Once you’re involved in something like this, you see every crack in the road, every pothole, you say, ‘ohhh, this is interesting,’” he said as he wove around sizeable potholes on the narrow streets behind Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh.

Emily Previti / WITF

After nine years of state intervention, Nanticoke’s got a balanced budget, most debts paid off and a full complement of financial management staff in place.

But it all happened at the expense of taxpayers and required changing the city’s form of government. 

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Eve Picker takes her computer out of her bag and clicks through a mostly empty website of filler text and stock photos. Picker is a Pittsburgh-based developer with a portfolio of complicated projects, but she says this one is probably the most difficult thing she’s ever done. In just a few weeks, the newest real estate crowdfunding platform, Small Change, will launch.

Pennsylvania's Population Becoming Older, More Diverse

Jun 30, 2015
AP Photo/Matt Slocum

Pennsylvania's older and minority populations continue to grow, according to a new report released by Penn State Date Center. 

The number of Pennsylvania residents 65 and older reached more than 2.1 million in 2014 — that's one in six people — continuing the trend of the state's increasing older population.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Scranton’s double-pension payments – offered as a retirement incentive to 35 city workers – were improperly implemented, and cost the city $2.9 million in unapproved costs.

State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale released a report this morning which found “the transactions surrounding the doubling of pension payments revealed a disregard for the applicable laws governing pension plans by the officials charged with fiduciary responsibility for the Plan – the Mayor, City Council, and the Pension Board.”

Pittsburgh has been trying to attract immigrants to bolster the city’s population – less than half its peak in the 1950s. Monday Mayor Bill Peduto released the plan detailing how, exactly, to do that best.

Aside from growing the city’s population and increasing diversity there’s an economic reason to woo immigrants: they tend to be more entrepreneurial  than native-born Americans.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Pennsylvania cities have more low-income households and fewer higher-earning households than the national average.

The Brookings Institution, analyzing data from the American Community Survey, broke up cities’ populations by what quintile of the national income distribution households fell into. The Brookings analysis found that “collectively, the smaller cities mirror the national income distribution almost exactly. In large cities, by contrast, both low-income (bottom 20 percent) and very high-income (top 5 percent) households are overrepresented.”

Gridlock And Grudges: Toxic Relationships In Pennsylvania Cities

Jun 11, 2015
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

The Commonwealth’s Act 47 program to help cash-strapped local governments doesn’t address how elected officials might get along better, despite how critical relationships are to their financial well-being.

Local officials who have trouble getting along have some options for mending their relationships.

Schools In 40 PA Counties Would Struggle With Keystone Graduation Requirement

Jun 10, 2015
Map via Research for Action

Pennsylvania students in the class of 2017 are the first who will be required to pass standardized Keystone exams in algebra, literature and biology in order to graduate high school. A new brief details how complicated it could get to help students graduate who can't pass those exams.

State law passed under Gov. Ed Rendell and implemented under Gov. Tom Corbett says that if students can't pass the tests after two tries, schools must help them to complete a project-based assessment.

Irina Zhorov / 90.5 WESA

Hormann Flexon makes high-speed roll-up doors for commercial buildings. The company, located west of Pittsburgh, has doubled in size over the past three years and recently moved into a new building. Company President, Mark Haley, attributed the growth to shrinking lead times; Hormann Flexon delivers a custom door in two to three weeks, significantly faster than their competitors, he said.

State Pension Crisis: Where Do We Go From Here?

May 21, 2015
Emma Lee / WHYY

There may not be three more yawn-inducing words in the English language than: "public employee pensions."

But considering the $53 billion dollars worth of state employee pension debt currently saddling the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, those words are at the center of nearly every conversation in Harrisburg this spring.

State Pension Crisis: How Did We Get Here?

May 19, 2015
AP Photo/Chris Knight

Pick your favorite issue or cause in Pennsylvania: public education, services for the poor, tax breaks for businesses.

Chances are, there's going to be less money for any of these moving forward because the state's public employee pension bill is growing exponentially, with a current unfunded liability of $53 billion.

How The Port Authority Is Trying To Make It Easier To Ride The Bus

May 12, 2015
Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Have you ever tried to take a city bus without planning ahead? We're talking no Google maps, no bus tracker apps, no folded paper timetables. Just you, walking around a neighborhood, trying to catch the bus somewhere.

Probably not. Because in most places, that's not easy to do.

Irina Zhorov / 90.5 WESA

Homer City Police Chief, Louis Sacco, is one of just three people – two active and one retired – in his pension plan. He drives around the tiny borough, about 50 miles East of Pittsburgh, with views of looming power plant stacks in the distance and a partly shuttered Main Street.

Emily Previti / WITF

Some Pennsylvania lawmakers say the rules governing public pensions need to change, but not everyone follows the guidelines already in place.

And it looks like they might not have to.

Sounding The Alarm For Volunteer Firefighters

May 6, 2015
Kate Lao Shaffner / WPSU

The idea of volunteer fire departments originated in Pennsylvania and it's certainly a hallmark of the state: around 90 percent of Pa.'s fire departments are volunteer. But these departments are facing big challenges. Volunteer numbers are down and for many municipalities, funding is an ongoing headache.

Is It Fair For City Workers To Use Overtime To Spike Their Pensions?

May 6, 2015
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

At the end of 2011, the city of Allentown had a problem. There was a gaping hole in its fire department.

No, not a literal hole. Forty-three of its firefighters retired at once. Not only did the city lose wisdom and experience. But suddenly, it owed millions of dollars more every year in retirement benefits it couldn't afford.

Are Young Municipal Workers Bearing The Brunt Of Pension Reform?

May 5, 2015
Kate Lao Shaffner / WPSU

Many Pennsylvania municipalities are already taking steps towards reforming their pension plans. Because municipalities cannot legally break pension obligations already promised, reform usually means changing the pension plans for new employees while older employees' pensions remain intact. So what does that mean? Is the younger generation bearing the brunt of pension reform?

Irina Zhorov / 90.5 WESA

Standing in a sun-drenched room, Jim Rosipal pointed to a framed assemblage on the wall. In it, a police officer’s uniform shirt, a medal for valor, a gas cap cover from the Harley Davidson he rode, and valve stem covers in the shape of little pigs. “Back in those days we were called pigs every now and then,” Rosipal said. “Didn’t bother us at all.”

At Penn State, Researchers Looking For The Next Big Thing In Infrastructure

Apr 27, 2015
Kate Lao Shaffner / WPSU

On the surface, Dr. Farshad Rajabipour's job might not sound that interesting. He's an associate professor of civil engineering at Penn State. And he studies concrete.

"It's actually a material that's used pretty much everywhere in the world," Rajabipour said. "It's so common that people don't notice it."

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

In this first podcast in a new series called Multiple Choices, senior education writer Kevin McCorry joins with Paul Socolar, publisher and editor of the Public School Notebook, and Notebook contributing editor Dale Mezzacappa to explain and explore the history, complexities and controversies of public education funding in Pennsylvania.

via Keystone Crossroads

Jonathan Waldman’s new book — "Rust: The Longest War" — is an exploration of how corrosion eats away at the United States’ infrastructure, military equipment and monuments.

The U.S. spends $400 billion a year fighting rust. And it’s certainly something Pennsylvania’s cities—once producers of so much steel, now part of the Rust Belt — spend a lot of time dealing with.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Community colleges educate almost half of all college students in the country. And a new report by University of Pennsylvania researchers finds these institutions play an oversized role in educating blacks, Latinos and Asian-Americans.

Investments in Pittsburgh companies and the city’s technology sector continue to grow. A report by Innovation Works, an investment firm, and Ernst & Young LLP, a professional services company, found:

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