Friday, July 25, 2008

Friday: I Have a Bad Feeling About This...

The district improved overall math and reading scores on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests -- by wide margins in some grades. In reading, math or both tests in various grades, the district also decreased the percentage of bottom-scoring students, increased the percentage of top-scoring students and narrowed the racial achievement gap. (P-G, Joe Smydo)

This is certainly welcome news.

The district did not provide test results for individual schools; officials said they would be provided to principals Aug. 4 and to the public after that.

No one can begrudge the Comet its opportunity to review and interpret the data before joining in the huzzahs.

There will also be a degree of grousing about "teaching to the test". We remember taking similar exams in our day -- the California Achievement Tests (CAT) or the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) tests. Students were keenly aware that the exams were strictly a measure for our teachers and administrators -- in other words, a fine day for sniffing glue.

Hopefully things have changed. Be sure to alert us when SAT scores go up, or better yet, when dropout rates decline.

Roosevelt introduced students and faculty members on stage to talk about improvements in their schools, and the session ended with a standing ovation for Roosevelt. (Trib, Tim Puko)

There'll be no living with him after this.


"As this job slips behind for days, or months, or even years, the price of the casino will double -- and that's if the casino is built on its current location. The cost will be even more at another location," said Mr. Keating, who added the price of steel and other construction materials have jumped considerably in recent months. (P-G, Tom Barnes)

So the question you've got to ask yourself is: do I feel lucky? Well, do ya? Punk?

"If things go OK and they open and demand is relatively good and there's a better economy and there are no delays in construction, then they could fare OK," Mr. Parmelee said.

Who's up for Wheeling Island?

State Gaming Control Board Chairwoman Mary D. Colins said she didn't feel "intimidated or threatened" by a 60-second phone call from state Rep. Dwight Evans, who stressed the importance of continued black ownership in a planned Pittsburgh casino. (P-G, Tom Barnes)

They're intent on making Pittsburgh have this argument full-on if it's the last thing they do, aren't they?


A proposed $72 million debt refinancing by Pittsburgh, expected to net $3 million in savings, is facing one city councilman's high-noon deadline today and a Wednesday showdown in City Council over how to spend any windfall. (P-G, Rich Lord)

The P-G is trying to tell you that debt refinancing can be interesting somehow. Be a sport and play along.

"Council has been informed from the very, very beginning of this process," said city Finance Director Scott Kunka. Some members, including Mr. Peduto, were notified July 14. "It's very disingenuous for Councilman Peduto to say he hasn't been informed.

Now that is interesting. Usually the administration responds to this kind of criticism with something more along the lines of, "Well, maybe next time. The dog ate our homework. We know exactly what we're doing. Just sign this before the city explodes."

There is a side-issue brewing over how to invest the $3 million. It may be a ruse to suggest first that there will actually be a $3 million, and that it cannot become $4 million or $5 million if we were to shop around outside the contributor database.


The Pittsburgh Housing Authority board voted yesterday to... (P-G, Rich Lord)

Can it vote on things without a council member present? We mean, if somebody had a problem with a decision or a contract, and was inclined to get litigious, what then?


A playground quarrel has created tension between the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh and its neighbors in the Schenley Farms section of Oakland, where residents fear that the squeals of kids could disrupt the quiet nights they savor.

Center officials and residents faced off before the city's zoning board of adjustment yesterday, and the three-member panel has about 12 weeks to decide whether to grant the code exceptions the playground would need. (P-G, Rich Lord)

We surmise that this article comprises a civics lesson on what the Zoning Board of Adjustment is supposed to contribute to society.

Ye Olde Lamare Advertising LEDe was finally to have come before the ZBA yesterday, but earlier in the week it was delayed again until September. In related news, George Bush is still preparing NASA for its manned mission to Mars.


Pittsburgh's Urban Redevelopment Authority will lose its finance director, marking the second time in three months that a top, long-serving official has chosen to leave the authority. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

When it rains, it pours.

Ravenstahl said he doesn't think the state Ethics Commission's investigation of suspended Executive Director Pat Ford is behind the recent departures.

Gotta figure we're going to hear something on that score sometime today.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Thursday: Summer Employment

The company trying to take over Pittsburgh's casino received junk bond status Wednesday from the credit rating agency Standard & Poor's, which tags the project as a high-risk investment. (Trib, Mike Wereschagin)

This is another great opportunity to write something pithy and poignant, so as to maybe score another mention in the P-G Casino Journal.

Um ... Ummm ... how about THIS BLOWS!

"There's actually a lot of good news in this," said Dan Fee, spokesman for Holdings Gaming Borrower, the umbrella company encompassing the investment team trying to take control from PITG Gaming.

Holdings Gaming Borrower. That has to be the second most sketchy-sounding name for a development company in the whole city.


Penny Folino, owner of Folino's Ristorante and Tom's Diner on East Carson Street, called the decision to move "unilateral" and said the future of the South Side business district and a large source of city tax revenue is at stake.

"It's going to become like the next Hill District. And all the revenue is going to be gone," she said. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Relax -- thanks to the drink tax, all those businesses are already headed straight for bankruptcy and ruination. So crime isn't going to be a problem down there much longer.

Seriously, although this framework of moving police stations to follow crime hot-spots is not encouraging (it smacks of terrorist whack-a-mole), it seems like there are solid reasons to move this police station up the hill. The fact that it was a political no-brainer to anyone casting a nervous eye upon their southern flank is just gravy.


That nine members of Allegheny County Council attempted to ramrod a patently illegal referendum onto November's ballot is outrageous. (Trib, Edit Board)

Oh, so now it's patently?

The matter today goes back to County Council's Government Reform Committee. That's where it should die. And that's where the council should screw its head back on.

Here here!


"I think it's an obvious issue," said Councilman Patrick Dowd of Highland Park. "I don't want to be serving on City Council when something horrible happens, like the collapse in Minnesota. I want to know the state of our bridges." (Trib, Jim Ritchie)

Ah, but what of the condition of the bridges between yourself and your colleagues?

"He's like the linebacker who stops in the middle of the play to figure out what direction he should be going. You just don't have time to do that," Friedman says. "If Patrick doesn't realize that you have to be prepared to line up on one side or another, he's going to be the 2008 version of [former city councilman] Dan Cohen." (C-P, Charlie Deitch)

The analogy about the linebacker is apt. We can't say much about the analogy with Dan Cohen, because we don't know anything about Dan Cohen. That itself maybe ought to be troubling to anyone sharing an analogy with him.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Shangri-la. The five-vote majority that reformers longed for has failed to materialize. Early attempts at reform, like efforts to reduce the city's vehicle fleet and to overhaul the wide-open system of financing local election campaigns, have collapsed.

Point of information: the five-votes materialized exactly as scripted for both of those measures. It was mayoral vetoes that scuttled reform.

And if anything, the bickering around council's table has gotten more heated. Broadcast on cable, council meetings are more like reality-TV disputes than harmonious discussions intent on moving the city forward.

You want harmony? Join an a capella group. You want to move the city forward? Pick a forward and start moving.

We all know there was an unprintable elephant in the room during every one of those seemingly pointless arguments -- that being, whether or not and to what extent the case of the Grant Street Transportation Center ought to have been utilized to expose questionable decision making in the administration. For better or for worse, that issue is not going to return to council, so we needn't fret over the council's ability to conduct all kinds of other wondrous progressive city business.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Monday: Rapid Fire

Slots, poker, horse racing, dog racing, lobbying. Meet the Rooneys. (Trib, Conte and Prine)

50% politics, 40% sincere gut instinct, 10% nefarious URA plot. (P-G, Steve Mellon)

It feels as though somebody threw down a gauntlet declaring that the name East Allegheny be banished from history, lest the intransigent forces that enabled Barbara Burns ever again hold sway o'er the land. (P-G, Vivian Nereim)

Bob O'Connor said churches should be able to decide whether or not their buildings must become historic landmarks. Only he was wrong. Only he might have been right. (P-G, Abra Metz-Dworkin)

Did anyone else read this Matt H post about the Housing Authority entitled Good vs. Evil? It's a start. Everyone around the old Canasta table seems to be in agreement that there are Issues at HACP, but danged if anyone will circulate any details. The Comet heard rumors of 52-inch plasma screens gracing the office walls -- which would not at first blush appear to help fulfill the mission of providing for dignified housing for all city residents.

That's about it, though. That and a seeming overemphasis of representation emanating from Northview Heights.

The Housing Authority board still lacks any representation by a city council member as required by law, much like the Stadium Authority and the Parking Authority. Unsurprising then that oversight issues would develop at all three; surprising that there persists a holdup in making the appointments. Isn't it about time for a remedy to this situation?