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MONDAY, AUGUST 27, 2012
THE TIMES LEADER www.timesleader.com
Margaritaville for Mohegans By WAYNE PARRY Associated Press
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Nucky Thompson, meet Jimmy Buffett. And both of you gentlemen, meet the Mohegan Indians. An unusual arrangement is coming soon to Atlantic City in which the operators of Mohegan Sun casinos in Connecticut and Pennsylvania will buy a piece of Resorts Casino Hotel and run its day-to-day affairs. The deal centers on a $35 million expansion that will bring a Margaritaville restaurant to the casino, splashing palm trees and parrots across its facade. But the casino’s existing Roaring ‘20s theme, adopted to take advantage of interest in the hit HBO series “Boardwalk Empire” about Prohibition-era Atlantic City, is staying, too. The idea is to bring new excite-
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construction or renovation. The decision should not affect local districts – major projects were either completed or far enough along to remain eligible for reimbursement. But it could put a chilling effect on future plans to upgrade or expand facilities. Pa. budget cuts still sting All of this comes in the wake of steep state budget cuts that prompted local districts to shed scores of teachers and staff either by furlough or attrition, curtailing programs and increasing class sizes. Couple that with an expected spike in the amount districts must contribute to underfunded teacher pension funds, and many administrators talk of facing the myriad challenges in a fiscal straightjacket. And it comes as districts struggle to keep up with – or at the very least, not get blindsided by – radical changes in technology. Do you curb cellphone use or incorporate it into the curriculum? Is it time to replace those quaint classroom notebook computers with digital tablets? Can you compete with online cyber schools? Are buildings wired for distance learning? And how do you define and curtail inappropriate student behavior in social media like Twitter and Facebook? Some of the changes have been coming for years. The idea of requiring high school students to pass a battery of subject-specific Keystone exams in order to graduate has been promised and delayed since at least 2009. The three tests mandated this year were administered last year, though the results had no consequences. Now they will. A specific percentage of 11th-grade students must take the test, and a percentage must score proficient or better, with that percentage rising periodically until reaching 100 percent. Current high school students do not have to pass the algebra, biology and literature Keystones in order to graduate, but the class of 2017 will. They are expected to take each test when the course is completed, with the opportunity to retest throughout their high school years. The class of 2019 will have to pass those tests and a composition test, while the class of 2020 will have a test in civics and government added to the mandate. Districts have been revamping curriculum accordingly. “We’ve already worked on this,” Hazleton Area Superintendent Francis Antonelli said. Seventhand eighth-grade math courses have been revamped, “raising the bar on expectations. They will be taking pre-algebra or algebra I.”
ment (and new customers with their new money) to a casino that has struggled since nearly having to close two years ago. The alliance with the Mohegans and their well-established casinos in Connecticut and Pennsylvania should give a big boost to Resorts, which was the first casino in the United States to open outside Nevada. “We are really excited about this,” said Mitchell Etess, CEO of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority. “It’s a win-win for everyone involved.” The arrangement must be approved by New Jersey casino regulators. A vote has yet to be scheduled, but one could come next month. It became necessary following the sudden death of Resorts coowner Dennis Gomes in February. grades three, four and five in February, with those tests becoming operational in 2014. Other exams will be field tested in other grades in the following years, with most of the new exams becoming operational by 2015. In recent months Wilkes-Barre Area School District’s outgoing Superintendent Jeff Namey has been warning the transition period will be “very difficult” because schools are essentially trying to teach to two standards, the current ones and the Common Core ones. The state Department of Education website contends the two are very similar, but Namey said they are not similar enough. The new teacher evaluation system and the looming spike in pension payments by districts have also been in the works for years. As use of the evaluation system ramps up, most district leaders are finding it takes more time to conduct the evaluations, without any real financial support from the state to compensate for that time. On the plus side, many seem to agree it fosters better cooperation between teacher and administrators, and charts a clearer path for teacher improvement. A state agency sets how much districts must contribute into the pension fund, and unless something changes, districts face huge increased in coming years. Antonelli estimates the changes under the current proposal will increase pension payments in Hazleton Area from $2.8 million to $17.5 million in five years. And there’s a another potential siphon of district money: the state’s new Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit program, which allows businesses to get a tax credit for money contributed to scholarship funds that can help some public schools students switch to private schools. The law was signed last month, and within weeks three scholarship organizations were set up and 10 private schools in Luzerne County had signed up to take advantage of the program. Technological challenges Amid all the other issues, districts are grappling with rapidly evolving technology. Local districts have started offering online courses to students who otherwise might be lured to publicly funded, online cyber charter schools. Districts are also trying to find ways to use modern technology in brick-and-mortar classrooms. Lake-Lehman took a giant leap into world of hand-held tablet computers this summer by buying 350 iPads. The district had experimented with the devices in two classrooms that went completely bookless and got positive results, Superintendent Jim McGovern said. McGovern envisions a day when students use their personal digital devices – notebook computers, tablets and smartphones – in their daily school work. It’s a future Namey, at Wilkes-Barre Area, is less confident will come soon. “We tried using smartphones in the classroom,” Namey said. The biggest problem was the small screens. Students spent too much time scrolling through and deciphering text and images on the little devices. “They really need pad computers,” Namey said. “And there’s no way we can afford that.” And the challenges continue.
Common Core standards The Common Core standards have been in the works almost as long. An initiative launched and guided by the states, not the federal government, Pennsylvania was the18th state to agree to adopt the standards in 2010. The idea is to make sure students throughout the country learn the same things, but how they learn it is left up to state and local officials. Pennsylvania is changing state reading and writing tests to reflect adoption of the Common Core standards during the next three years, field testing new exams for different grades each year. Mark Guydish can be reached at New writing tests will be tested in 829-7161.
Protest marchers move with a puppet depicting Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney during a march Sunday in Tampa, Fla. Hundreds of protestors gathered in Gas Light Park in downtown Tampa to march in demonstration against the Republican National Convention.
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the New Orleans area on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. That storm killed 1,800 people and devastated the city. “We’re 100 percent full steam ahead on Tuesday,” said Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, expressing confidence the oneday delay would be the extent of the cancellations. Despite concerns about the weather, a mammoth pre-convention celebration went on as planned Sunday night, attended by thousands of delegates and others who flocked to the Rays major league baseball stadium turned into a party venue in nearby St. Petersburg. Priebus said Romney’s nomination would take place on Tuesday, as would approval of a conservative party platform. The former Massachusetts governor delivers his acceptance speech Thursday night before a prime-time TV audience, then sets out on the final leg of a quest for the presidency that spans two campaigns and more than five years. Polls make the race a close one, with a modest advantage for President Barack Obama. For all the Republican attempts to make the election a referendum on the incumbent’s handling of the economy, other events have intervened. An incendiary comment more than a week ago by Rep. Todd Akin, the party’s candidate for a Senate seat in Missouri, is among the intrusions. In an interview, he said a woman’s body has a way of preventing pregnancy in the case of a “legitimate rape.” The claim is unsupported by medical evidence, and the congressman quickly apologized. Romney and other party officials, recognizing a political threat, unsuccessfully sought to persuade Akin to quit the race. Democrats have latched onto the controversy, noting
A newspaper headline is seen on the floor of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday, as weather forecasts continue to show Florida in the path of Tropical Storm Isaac.
not only what Akin said but also his opposition to abortion in all cases. “Now, Akin’s choice of words isn’t the real issue here. The real issue is a Republican Party — led by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan — whose policies on women and their health are dangerously wrong,” said a recent letter from Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party. The party also posted a Web video that emphasizes the Republican Party’s opposition to abortion and digitally alters the Republicans’ “Romney-Ryan” logo to say “Romney Ryan Akin.” Interviewed on Fox, his comments broadcast on Sunday, Romney said the controversy over Akin “hurts our party and I think is damaging to women.” Romney spent the day in New Hampshire, where he has a summer home. Aides said he was spending part of his afternoon practicing his convention speech with the use of a teleprompter. Delegates marked time as the storm raked the Florida Keys to the south of the convention city en route to a projected landfall along the Gulf Coast. “Somebody raised the prospect of marathon Monopoly. I favor the game Risk, but we’ll see,” said Tom Del Beccaro, chairman of the California dele-
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The convention starts today with an abbreviated 10-minute session due to Tropical Storm Issac’s approach and concludes Thursday evening. “I’m sure it will be a very busy time for me,” Gordner, 50, said. “It’s going to be all about the economy; that’s the No.1, 2 and 3 top issue.” He said he is looking forward to hearing the GOP message of how the party will turn the economy around and create jobs. “The national unemployment rate is at 8.5 percent,” he said. “And the country has the largest deficit in history. Gov. (Mitt) Romney and (vice presidential candidate) Paul Ryan have the leadership ability to get a budget done and get the country’s finances under control.” Gordner is especially interested in hearing New Jersey Gov.
Chris Christie’s keynote address. “I’m incredibly impressed by him,” Gordner said. “He has taken over a very difficult situation in New Jersey, and he has made many difficult decisions.” Christie will be at a reception that Gordner is invited to and he looks forward to talking to him one-on-one. Gordner represents the 27th Senatorial District, which includes parts of six counties, including Luzerne. Aaron Kaufer, 24 of Kingston, is the Republican candidate in the 120th Legislative District who is trying to unseat incumbent Phyllis Mundy. D-Kingston. He is attending the convention with his two brothers, Seth, an
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, arrive at Brewster Academy for convention preparations on Sunday in Wolfeboro, N.H.
gation. “I think people will just be ready for Tuesday and be pretty energetic then.” Hundreds of miles away, Romney said he was concerned for the safety of those who “are going to be affected” by the storm, which is predicted to worsen into a hurricane as it heads for landfall along the Gulf Coast. In a presidential race defined by its closeness, Republican office-holders past and present said the party must find a way to appeal to women and Hispanics, and they said the economy was the way to do it. “We have to point out that the unemployment rate among young women is now 16 percent, that the unemployment rate among Hispanics is very high, that jobs and the economy are more important, perhaps, than maybe other issues,” said Arizona Sen. John McCain, who lost to Obama in 2008. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush agreed, saying that Romney “can make inroads if he focuses on how do we create a climate of job creation and economic growth.” If he succeeds, “I think people will move back towards the Republican side,” Bush added. Obama leads Romney among women voters and by an overwhelming margin among Hispanics, but he trails substantially among men. The result is a race that is un-
predictably close, to be settled in a small number of battleground states. An estimated $500 million has been spent on television commercials so far by the two candidates, their parties and supporting outside groups, nearly all of it in Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, New Hampshire, Ohio, Iowa, Colorado and Nevada. Those states account for 100 electoral votes out of the 270 needed to win the White House. Republicans have made no secret that they are eager to expand the electoral map to include Pennsylvania, Michigan, perhaps running mate Paul Ryan’s Wisconsin and even Minnesota, states with 68 electoral votes combined. All four are usually reliably Democratic in presidential campaigns. Yet Romney has a financial advantage over the president, according to the most recent fundraising reports, and a move by the Republicans into any of them could force Obama to dip into his own campaign treasury in regions he has considered relatively safe. Making his case for the support of female voters, Romney said in the Fox interview: “‘Look, I’m the guy that was able to get health care for all of the women and men in my state. ... I’m very proud of what we did.”
THE 40TH REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION
Kaufer said he enjoys political conversations. “I’m sure there will be plenty of them at the convention,” he said. “Political theory makes the world go ‘round.” Holly and Mike Anderson of Dallas also will be in Tampa – Holly is an alternate delegate who hopes someone doesn’t show up so she can step up to the plate. “It will be a learning experience for me,” she said. “This is a whole new thing for me.” Anderson, 27, said she feels everyone should participate in the political process at some level. “This is an important election year and I felt I needed to get involved,” she said. Anderson graduated from Dallas High School and she earned an associate’s degree in applied science from Luzerne County Community College. “I guess you can say I’m just curious,” she said. “But I’m not interested in running for office anytime soon.”
The GOP convention will be held in Tampa through Thursday, when 2,286 delegates and 2,125 alternate delegates from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories gather together to nominate Gov. Mitt Romney as their candidate to run for president.
alternate delegate from Philadelphia, and Adam. “I’ve always wanted to go to a national convention,” he said. “Who knows, I may never be able to attend another.” Kaufer has a degree in government/law and international affairs from Lafayette College. He said he looks forward to hearing the discussions at the convention. “The party is a group of people with many opinions,” he said. “I want to listen, but I intend to offer my opinions as well.”
Published on Aug 27, 2012