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Union, Redbank ranked as 2018 best schools

RIMERSBURG and NEW BETHLEHEM – recently released its classification of the best school districts in Pennsylvania for 2018, and Union and Redbank Valley both earned spots on the list, with the website ranking Union School District 222 out of 497 of districts in the state.

At the local level, the Niche report ranked Union School District as the second best school district in Clarion County, behind only Clarion-Limestone School District, which took first. Redbank Valley also earned an honorable mention on the local list which only highlighted seven areas schools, including Clarion Area, North Clarion, Keystone and Forest Area school districts.

“I am pleased with, but not surprised by this recognition from the Niche Report,” Union School District superintendent Jean McCleary said on Monday, noting that in the last six years, Union has also received positive academic recognition from the state Department of Education and U.S. News and World Report. “Union High School has been named a Bronze Award winner for two years according to U.S. News and World Report, and the Department of Education has recognized both elementary schools as Title I Distinguished schools.”

According to the report, Union received an overall “B” Niche grade, earning an A+ in health and safety, A in teachers, B+ in clubs and activities, B- in college prep and a C in diversity, among others.

Niche also ranked Union as top dog in Clarion County when it comes to the best place to teach (104 out of 497 in the state), the district with the best teachers (98th in the state) and the safest school district (30th in the state).

“The teachers, staff, central office staff and administration work extremely hard in our school district, as demonstrated by their levels of commitment and dedication,” McCleary said, adding that 100 percent of the district’s staff are “highly qualified.” “The board of directors and administration foster professional growth and development and have a deep commitment to our students and staff while maintaining fiscal responsibility.”

As one of the top schools in Clarion County, Redbank Valley received an overall “C+” Niche grade, earning an A in health and safety, B+ in resources and facilities, B in teachers, B- in clubs and activities, and Cs in diversity and college prep.

In addition, Redbank was ranked second in safest schools (ranked 132nd in the state) and best places to teach (226th in the state) in Clarion County, and fourth in regard to the best teachers (321st in the state) in the county.

Redbank topped Union in the percentage of students proficient in reading and math — 64 to 60 percent in reading and 37 to 35 percent in math — but Union’s student-to-teacher ratio of 12:1 was slightly lower than Redbank’s 13:1. The national student-to-teacher ratio is 16:1, according to Niche.

Although McCleary explained that Union School District may face challenges in accomplishing its mission to “educate and empower students to become continuous learners in an environment which ensures that each student gains knowledge and skills, self-motivation and related position attitudes necessary to complete equitably with peers locally and globally towards meaningful and productive lives,” the dedication of the teachers, staff, administration, board of directors and community partners lends to the success of the district.

“I have been an administrator with the school district for 12 years and can attest to the passion and commitment our district has for our staff, students, parents and the community,” she said. “Our school district may be small, but we are mighty.”

Redbank Valley School District officials were not available for comment.

According to the website, Niche rankings are “based on rigorous analysis of academic and student life data from the U.S. Department of Education, along with test scores, college data and ratings collected from millions of Niche help families find the right school for them.”

Factors considered for ranking include academic grades based on state assessment proficiency, SAT scores and survey responses on academics from students and parents; teachers’ grades based on teacher salaries and absenteeism, state test results and survey responses from students and parents; and health and safety based on chronic student absenteeism, suspensions/expulsions and survey responses.

Evanne / By EVANNE GAREIS L-V Staff Writer 

YOU’RE NEVER TOO old to learn. Kindergartners at Redbank Valley Primary School (from left) Jace Rossman, Remy Fuqua, Crosby Willison, Lilly Moore and Stephenie Draa joined their peers and teachers in celebrating the 100th Day of School on Friday, Feb. 2 by dressing like they were 100 years old.

Rmbg. considers call system after water emergency

RIMERSBURG – On the heels of last month’s boil water emergency in Rimersburg, borough officials are now looking at implementing an automated call system to alert residents of emergencies.

Council president Roger Crick said he felt the borough’s efforts last month went well, but said an automated service would have been much easier. Instead, council members and borough employees spent a Saturday individually calling water customers to alert them of the boil water advisory that had been placed on the system.

Crick explained that while later testing showed there was no contamination in Rimersburg’s water, the boil water advisory was implemented by the state after flooding occurred at the water well sites in East Brady.

In addition to pricing two emergency call systems — one currently used by East Brady Borough, and one used by the Union School District — Rimersburg leaders stressed the need to first gather current contact numbers and email addresses for those living in the borough and the Rimersburg Municipal Authority’s service area.

“We’re going to make an effort to get good contact information for each account,” Crick said.

Although no action was taken on which company to use, council members seemed to favor Public Alert, the company currently used by East Brady. The proposal from the company included 4,000 calls per year for $325.

Borough officials said they hoped to collect the contact information from residents first, and would work on developing a form that could be placed on the borough website or mailed to customers.

Officials said that in the case of rental properties, they would also need to determine if the calls would be made only to the landlord or to the tenants as well. Crick said that the borough does not have the names or contact information for some tenants, despite a requirement that landlords provide that information each year.

In addition to emergencies, officials said the call system could also be used to alert residents about water line flushing or other notices that could be targeted to certain streets or neighborhoods, rather than calls to everyone.

In other business at Monday night’s meeting, the council talked briefly about possible changes to the borough’s rental inspection procedures.

Councilman Scott Myers, chairman of the Public Safety and Police Committee, said that he plans to meet soon with new rental inspector Rick Renwick to hear Renwick’s ideas for improving the inspection procedure.

Myers said the council may also need to decide how far it wants the inspector to go into enforcing the International Property Maintenance Code.

Other Business

• Southern Clarion County Regional Police Sgt. Nicole Peck told the council that police have been sending out letters to property owners who have not cleared snow and ice from their sidewalks. Council members also asked Peck to enforce a borough ordinance related to barking dogs.

• Borough maintenance supervisor Frank McNaughton said that his crew repaired two water line leaks in recent weeks, one on School Street and one on Monterey Road. The repairs brought the borough’s water losses “under control” again, he said.

• The council approved seeking bids for this summer’s paving work along Baker Street and Blue Row, as well as seal-coating along School Street.

• Approval was given to donate $2,500 to the Union Council of Governments for the Union Pool Park in Sligo, with the other half of the money Rimersburg budgeted to be released later in the year.

• The council gave permission for Hope For Your Future to hold a 5K race on June 22, and for the Eccles-Lesher Memorial Library to hold a 5K race on May 19. Approval was also given for a “mom-to-mom” sale to be held in the Rimersburg Community Building on Feb. 24 to benefit Hope For Your Future.

County funds road projects in area communities

KITTANNING – A dozen Armstrong County road projects received funding last week, including projects in Mahoning and Bradys Bend townships.

A total of $173,000 was doled out by Armstrong County Commissioners Pat Fabian, Jason Renshaw and George Skamai as part of the county’s annual liquid fuels county aid allocations.

“Every municipality is getting their fair share of the pie,” Fabian said, pointing to the process put in place several years ago to help ensure that the county’s limited money gets spread around each year.

County planning director Rich Palilla said that 41 of the county’s 45 municipalities have received funding in the past several years, from the county’s smallest municipalities to its largest.

This year, 12 boroughs and townships shared in the $173,000 the county had available, with maximum grants of $15,000.

In total, Palilla said, 23 municipalities applied for funding this year, requesting $322,000.

He said the applications are reviewed, with the county favoring projects that improve safety and access, as well as having matching funding. The local matches for the 12 selected projects totaled $325,000, Palilla said.

Locally, Mahoning Township was awarded $15,000 for paving on Water and First streets, while Bradys Bend Township was awarded $15,000 for guiderail replacement along Seybertown Road.

Other projects receiving funding include:

• Hovey Township — $15,000 for sealing Greenhill, Robinson, Bennertown and Coal Bank roads.

• Kiskiminetas Township — $15,000 for guiderail installation on Glorietta Road.

• Kittanning Township — $9,150 for culvert replacement and installation of guiderails along Roofner Road.

• North Apollo Borough — $15,000 for paving multiple roads.

• Perry Township — $15,000 for culvert replacement on Hillville Road.

• Rayburn Township — $15,000 for rebuilding Iron Bridge Road.

• Rural Valley Borough — $14,000 for paving Line Street after a culvert replacement project.

• South Buffalo Township — $15,000 for Kissick Road rehabilitation project.

• Sugarcreek Township — $15,000 to reseal Porterfield Hill Road.

• Worthington Borough — $15,000 to seal coat and surface treat alleys.

In other business at the commissioners’ Feb. 1 meeting, bids were opened for several projects, including an upcoming sidewalk project in South Bethlehem Borough.

Four bids were received for the project, with the apparent low bid of $35,100 submitted by Ron Gillette Inc. of Natrona Heights. Bids ranged up to $48,587.

Bids were also opened for a similar sidewalk project in Elderton Borough, with Gillette also submitting the low bid of $72,075. Four bids were received for that project, ranging up to $107,385.

Both bids were tabled for review, with formal approval expected at the commissioners’ next public meeting.

Only one bid was received for a county bridge maintenance project.

Clearwater Construction of Mercer submitted a bid of $100,000.

The project includes preventative maintenance work on four county-owned bridges, including the Climax Bridge in Mahoning Township.

That bid was also tabled for review.

Palilla said that the bids for all three projects came in within range of the original engineering estimates.

Fundraising begins for NB planter project

NEW BETHLEHEM – The fundraising phase for New Bethlehem’s Downtown Planter Project has begun, and Mayor Tim Murray said that if the money can be raised soon, the decorative flower planters could be blooming in Newbie by late spring.

Murray said the effort is a community project, partnering the borough with the Redbank Valley Chamber of Commerce, Redbank Valley High School and downtown businesses.

“We are looking at installing 10 planters in the downtown business district this year to reinvigorate our main street and it’s appearance,” Murray said. “Green space has been documented to slow traffic and increase pedestrian traffic by as much as 12 percent, so I feel that this could be a great asset for our downtown businesses. I have been working on this project for over a year now and hope to be able to implement it by the growing season this year.”

To help pay for the planters, Murray said a benefit auction will be held at the chamber of commerce’s annual dinner of March 24 at the Hawthorn Fire Hall. Donations of auction items are now being collected. For those wishing to donate auction items, contact Murray at (814) 275-3669 before March 17. Items can be dropped off at the chamber office in the Jewelry Shop, or arrangements can be made to pick up the items.

The project will also involve local students, especially those in Redbank’s horticultural classes.

“I look forward to working with [teacher] Kate Gruver and the school horticultural students in deciding the proper soils, fertilizers and plants that will do the best in the environments we will be placing them in,” Murray said. “We also would like to involve the students in the design of the plantings. I also look forward to working with local nurseries for information and supplies for the project.”

The planters are designed to hold water and would only require watering every two weeks if precipitation necessitated it.

“We will be looking at low maintenance plantings that offer the best appearance and can help beautify our downtown,” Murray explained.

A total of $5,000 to $6,000 is needed for the complete project.

The Redbank Watershed Association has earmarked $2,600 to go toward the planters, Murray said, because the planters will help divert runoff as rainwater will be absorbed by the planters.

In addition to the upcoming auction, Murray said that businesses can “adopt” planters to have one located near their storefront. To do so, contact Murray at the above number.

“We will try and honor those on a first-come, first-served basis as we will only be placing 10 of these and they will need to be spaced appropriately,” he said.

Planters can also be sponsored by local residents, or in memory of a loved one. A plaque will be placed on any sponsored or memorial planters.

“We look forward to get this up and blooming by late spring of this year and hope this project will be shared by the community both in it’s support, volunteerism and appreciation of the beauty that this will offer our community,” Murray said.

He also noted that Subway in New Bethlehem will hold a benefit day on March 30 to help the cause. On that day, $1 from the purchase of every footlong sandwich and 50 cents for every six-inch sub will be donated toward the project.

Firefighters collect items for sick boy who wants to be a fireman

NEW BETHLEHEM – When Jim Lamont of Rimersburg recently saw a television news report about a young boy in Texas who is suffering from kidney disease, and then learned that the boy had dreams of being a firefighter, the story really hit home.

Lamont, a longtime firefighter who has underwent two kidney transplants in the past two decades, said he wanted to reach out to the Texas youngster and do something to lift his spirits.

“I know where this little boy is coming from because I’ve had kidney problems myself, and I’m a kidney transplant survivor,” Lamont said on Friday from the New Bethlehem Fire Hall, where he gathered with New Bethlehem Fire Chief Barry Fox and company president/captain Wayne Livingston.

The firefighters got together to announce the collection of local fire company T-shirts and other items that they plan to send to 8-year-old Karter Whittenberg of Eustace, Texas.

The youngster has been receiving shirts and messages of support from fire companies all over the country since the report of his illness made national news. Lamont said he saw the report a couple of weeks ago on WTAE and starting looking into the boy’s situation.

“My hopes are it gets out to enough departments and we can make this a big thing for this boy,” Lamont said.

The local firefighters have reached out to some of the local fire companies, asking them to donate shirts and other items. But Lamont said he wants to do more.

The goal now, he said, is to gather shirts, patches or other items from companies across Clarion, Armstrong, Butler and Jefferson counties, and beyond.

Lamont said Karter’s mother and aunt started a Facebook page, asking fire companies to send in shirts that are autographed by the local firefighters. They plan to make a quilt from the items that they receive.

Lamont said that when he started having kidney problems years ago, the local fire companies stepped up to help him, holding dinners, golf outings and other benefits to help he and his family with medical expenses. He underwent a kidney and pancreas transplant in 2004, and a second kidney transplant in 2011.

“A lot of firemen stepped up,” he said of the help he received. Now, he wants to pass that support along to young Karter.

“He’s eight years old — it’s a scary thing at any age,” Lamont said. “I’m hoping and praying he gets his life’s dream to become a fireman, and can look back on all the departments that cared for him.”

Fire companies can send items to the New Bethlehem Fire Dept., P.O. Box 39, New Bethlehem, PA 16242, or by calling Lamont at (814) 473-6289 or Fox at (814) 275-3000.

Lamont said that with 16 fire departments just in Clarion County, more than 30 in Armstrong, more than 40 in Butler and more than 20 in Jefferson, he’s hoping for a good response.

“I’d like to have a couple hundred shirts to send,” he said.

Leisurely Visits

We can’t tell you yet who won in the various categories of this year’s Readers Choice Awards contest in The Leader-Vindicator, but we can tell you that we had way more ballots submitted this year than in any of the four previous years for the contest.

And some races were so fiercely contested — we’re looking at you, local car dealerships — that we weren’t sure how they would turn out until last Friday’s deadline.

The winners will be announced in the Feb. 21-22 issue of The Leader-Vindicator, so be sure to stay tuned to see who the winners are this year.

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We’ll also soon be able to announce the winners of this year’s Valentine’s Day prize give-away — but you still have time to turn in your entries to win big.

Just complete the form that can be found inside today’s L-V and return it to our office by the deadline this Friday at noon, or email your name, address and phone number to

Prizes include a night’s stay at the Inn at Deer Creek Winery, a $100 Freedom Furniture gift certificate, flowers, candies, restaurant gift cards and more.

Three winners will be chosen Friday afternoon and announced in next week’s issue of The L-V.

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Contests must be the thing this time of year.

The Pennsylvania Great Outdoors Visitors Bureau has begun the Great Outdoors Getaway Giveaway contest. This contest features the chance to win one of three $250 gift certificates redeemable at any Pennsylvania Great Outdoors Visitors Bureau lodging member through Dec. 31, 2019.

Enter online at through March 31, 2018.

“We feel this is great way to get travelers to visit our website as they start to make their 2018 vacation and travel plans,” says John Straitiff, executive director of the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors Visitors Bureau.

The Pennsylvania Great Outdoors Visitors Bureau is a membership-based travel promotion organization serving five counties in northwest Pennsylvania: Cameron, Clarion, Elk, Forest and Jefferson.

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Punxstawney Phil saw his shadow last week, which means his annual prediction involves six more weeks of winter.

With the way this winter has been going, we can’t say we are surprised.

But, there’s still plenty of fun to be had in the wintry weather, including the upcoming Snowman in the Forest event at Cook Forest State Park.

The annual celebration of winter will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 17, at the ice skating pond along River Road.

Activities will include ice skating (some skates available), sledding (bring your tubes or sleds), a chili cook-off, horse drawn sleigh rides, the happy dog contest, and a visit from Smokey the Bear.

There will also be hot dogs, kraut dogs and chili for all. Dress warm!

For more information, call (814) 927-8400, email or visit

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In addition to being Valentine’s Day, next Wednesday, Feb. 14, is also Ash Wednesday, the start of the Lenten season.

That means that Tuesday, Feb. 13, is the big pre-Lent celebration, otherwise known as Mardi Gras.

Some fun facts about the Mardi Gras season:

• The official colors of Mardi Gras are purple, gold and green. Purple signifies justice, gold means power, and green stands for faith.

• Mardi Gras is also known as Pancake Day. In Ireland, England, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, people celebrate Mardi Gras by eating pancakes and participating in pancake themed activities.

• King’s cake (or three kings cake), is eaten throughout the world during carnival season. In the U.S., it is traditionally purple, green and gold, with a trinket baby Jesus inside. Whoever gets the baby Jesus is said to have good luck all year!

• New Orleans has been celebrating Mardi Gras with parades since 1837. The first floats appeared in the parade in 1857. And yes, it’s illegal to ride on a float without a mask! The original purpose of the mask was to get rid of social constraints for the day, allowing people to mingle with whomever they chose.