State Sen. Andrew Dinniman, D-19th District, held a town hall meeting last Saturday morning to openly discuss any items that citizens of Chester County wished to bring forward.
The 10 a.m. meeting, held at Grace Assembly Church on 1271 W. Bridge Street in Spring City, continued well into the early afternoon as Dinniman navigated through topics of local education, constitutional rights, transportation, unemployment and the state budget.
As expected, a number of Owen J. Roberts' school board members and school district citizens continued to voice their concerns regarding the unpopular majority vote that resulted in the termination without cause of contract of Superintendent Myra Forrest. Dinniman recently proposed a pending "lame duck" legislation to the Senate that was a direct result from the OJR's board's case.
With anticipation that it will make it within the Senate this fall, the drafted bill will make it impossible for a school board with three or more members in lame duck status to take action on a superintendent's contract.
In researching the matter with the education committee, Dinniman said that they were "astonished to find that Pennsylvania was one of three states that elected school board members through partisan elections." The two other states also possessing the elections are Mississippi and Massachusetts.
"We should just let it be in the general election," he said. If Pennsylvania would remove school board elections from the primaries, incoming board members would be seated only three weeks after the November election, as outgoing board members would maintain lame duck status for only three weeks, in contrast to the current five months for those who lose in the primaries.
"The state would love to take over education if they could," said Dinniman. "It's a complicated problem and the question is, 'what obligation do people have on a local level as opposed to a state level?'"
Other school-related issues were addressed, including the senator's belief that every student should have an "educational choice because not all children march to the same beat." Although a deep supporter of the public school system, he believes schools can no longer just make money through the customization of the standardized schools.
"Identifying and solving the individual problems of the students, and then, adding value through knowledge will offer many choices and opportunities in education," he said.
With strong beliefs that the "public office has responsibilities to serve," Dinniman filtered through Chester County's residents further questioning, which included the discussion of the land site formerly Pennhurst State School and Hospital. The asylum's property, part of which was sold privately, was in question due to the possibility that it may become a recycling or compost center. "The state can't take over the rights of private property," he said. "East Vincent has the authority to decide over that matter."
However, Dinniman's goals to free 96 acres of the East Vincent property to the township were a success and are aimed at the extensive care of the living veterans at the Southeast Veterans Center. Currently open for development, the Veteran Center will expand, with the increase in beds available, as well as an exceptional boost in accessible space for residents. With the expansion of legroom, the senator announced that the center will soon be in need of more volunteers. Those interested, please contact him at www.senatordinniman.com.
"Citizens had to tolerate Pennhurst for decades," he said. "The state owed the community for that."
To continue the open forum of Dinniman's town meeting, he highly encouraged members of the community to continue to personally voice their concerns at their leisure by visiting his district's office in West Chester at One North Church Street, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
"I was appointed to the Senate to create change," said Dinniman. "It's the right thing to do to embarrass those [within the Senate] who are doing a bad job at it."