State Board of Ed. adds Erie community college discussion to agenda; Supporters ask for more

In a press conference Empower Erie co-founders and Erie County Council members announced that the state board of education has voted to add a discussion about the proposed Erie County community college to the agenda of their May 6 meeting. 

“The board made the point that they would hold a hearing within six months, and that six months is rapidly approaching on May 14,” Empower Erie co-founder Ronald DiNicola said during the conference on April 29. “So we need a hearing. Not just another discussion about having a hearing. We need to have an actual hearing.”

Erie County Council President Andre Horton said that a vote is more important now as “COVID-19 has illuminated the lack of equity, particularly in technology in the Erie School District.” 

County Councilman Carl Anderson added, “We certainly are respectful and understand the situation that we are in with the COVID crisis … But we are also of the mind to know that there are other meetings being held.” 

The community college advocates are “willing to change the way in which we have to potentially have this hearing, whether it’s a virtual hearing … [or] we are willing to come to Harrisburg, whatever it is that we need to do,” Anderson said. 

“We know that opposition folks will be saying that, under this crisis, financial means need to be spent in other areas. But those are just excuses,” Anderson continued.

According to the council member, local funds are already set aside by gaming revenue and local philanthropic groups to fund year zero-to-one operating and capital costs for the community college. 

Anderson, DiNicola and Horton expect the board’s ultimate vote to go in favor of establishing an Erie County community college. 

In anticipation of a positive vote, Erie County Council — who have been given the job of staffing the college’s board of trustees — have had “preliminary discussions” about seating the board Horton said. 

Empower Erie and local officials have not had discussion with the administration of Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati or Northern Pennsylvania Regional College (NPRC). Both entities were elected to present sides opposing the community college during the public hearing originally scheduled for March 18. 

“County council has not had any discussion with the Northern [Pennsylvania] Regional College or Senator Scarnati,” Horton said. “We don’t think that it’s appropriate at this time.”

“In more political terms,” Anderson elaborated.“We understand and know that NPRC and Senator Scarnati would prefer never getting this hearing back on the agenda and never having to sit down in front of us and conduct this hearing because they know that we will clearly show that the criteria has been met.”