Bethlehem: Council OKs LVPA grant
Bethlehem City Council voted 5-2 to approve a $3 million Redevelopment Assistance Capital Grant for the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts (LVPA) at its June 18 meeting.
The grant was awarded by the state and city council did not have any input on how the grant should be awarded. Council's vote was only for the approval of the grant money.
The LVPA is building a new high school on the Southside of Bethlehem at East Third and Polk streets. The school's executive director, Diane LaBelle, said at 450 students, they have outgrown their current space.
"We need a building that can accommodate the true size of the dreams, ambitions and talents of this special group of students," she said.
The planned new school can handle about 200 additional students and includes a 350-seat theater in the heart of the building.
"This building will not only benefit the school, but the entire community," LaBelle said.
Bethlehem Area School District President Michael Faccienetto objected to the charter school receiving the grant. Faccienetto said the site of the new charter school is on Tax Increment Financed land and as a non-profit, the LVPA will not pay taxes. He also said that no new jobs would be created.
"This is the zone where we've given over $30 million," Faccienetto said. "Now to take an extra $3 million of state money that could fund any number of projects, we don't want to be a part of that. They have every right to buy the property, but we do not have every right to make it easier."
Faccienetto added that if 100 of the 200 new students come from Bethlehem, it will cost the school district an additional $1 million annually.
"We are not eligible for [the grant], we are a public school entity, we are a nonprofit," Faccienetto said. "To pass through this grant and then pass it on to LVPA is not fair to us and it's an insult to public education."
Council members Eric Evans and J. Williams Reynolds also objected to the grant and voted against it.
Evans, who teaches at East Hills MS, said he is philosophically opposed to charter schools.
"Charter schools are very expensive for our citizens," Evans said. "At some point as a local board, we need to stand up and support the things that we believe in and that we should stand beside them. Although we are not the school board, we are the city council, I support their thoughts."
Council member Karen Dolan, a former Liberty HS teacher, said political issues should not get in the way of good development occurring.
"I don't like the slippery slope of attacking a political issue in a fashion that in no ways connects to what you're actually hurting with the attack," Dolan said. "If we want to get at Governor Corbett and take a stand with the school board, let's do that directly. I'll be the first in line to do it."
Council member Michael Recchiuti added that while the Tax Incremental Finance zone has been around for 15 years, the parcel of land that the LVPA hopes to develop on has sat vacant for the duration, so the TIF has not helped with development.
"We always say that SteelStacks is on an island," Recchiuti said. "This helps bridge that gap."
The next city council meeting is July 2 in City Hall.
See a related opinion column on page A14.