Monday, May 11, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup May 11: Pa. legislature works on pension, property tax bills that Gov. Wolf does not support

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup for May 11, 2015:
Pa. legislature works on pension, property tax bills that Gov. Wolf does not support

SAVE The DATE: Northwestern PA School Funding Forum
May 28, 2015 7:00 PM Jefferson Educational Society 3207 State St. Erie, PA 16508

A one-man sit-in for pension reform in Harrisburg
WHYY Newsworks BY MARY WILSON MAY 6, 2015
Barry Shutt has a simple routine when he comes to the Pennsylvania Capitol. He heads for the cafeteria entrance, opens his folding chair next to a pillar, and sets up his sign.
“Pension reform,” the sign begins. “Borrowing money is not a fix. It kicks the can down the road and steals from our children and grandchildren.”   About two days a week, most every week, Shutt is here, by his pillar, talking to anyone who will listen about the urgency of paying down the state’s $53 billion debt to its two retirement funds — and doing so without borrowing more money.

Pennsylvania Senate expected to pass public employee pension overhaul
Trib Live By Brad Bumsted Sunday, May 10, 2015, 10:20 p.m.
HARRISBURG — A Senate vote this week on a bill to eliminate guaranteed pension benefits for state and school employees sets the stage for budget negotiations between Republicans controlling the legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat.  Curbing pension benefits for public employees is the Senate's top issue. The GOP-led House approved its No. 1 issue — selling the state liquor stores — in February.  Wolf is pushing a complex, $30 billion-plus budget that would shift taxes and boost education spending. Some taxes would go up. His aides have insisted lawmakers deal with his budget proposal as a whole.  Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson County, said the pension bill's expected passage Wednesday will set up negotiations among the Senate, House and governor on pensions, liquor and the budget, which lawmakers must approve by July 1.
This pension fight has to produce results, and here's how: Editorial
By PennLive Editorial Board on May 08, 2015 at 11:30 AM, updated May 08, 2015 at 2:03 PM
Senate Republicans have released their gameplan. Tom Wolf has said what he wants to do.
And neither side's strategy, we fear, will resolve the continued financial threat that is Pennsylvania's pension crisis.  This is a crisis for which taxpayers pay each time their school board raises property taxes, or state services are affected because of a lack of funds. It is affecting us all, and will continue to do so, until our elected officials fix it. We need to hold them accountable until they do.

Property tax relief to take center stage in PA state House
By Andrew Staub | PA Independent May 11, 2015
This is a big week for homeowners in Pennsylvania who want something done about their tax bills.  The state House is expected to take up legislation from state Rep. Stan Saylor, R-York, which, he says, would reduce school property tax bills by 40 percent to 60 percent in most districts. If it fails, lawmakers are willing to listen to other ideas, including Gov. Tom Wolf’s package, which includes another version of relief, said House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana.  “It will be what it will be,” said Reed, who expects it will take both Republicans and Democrats to reach the 102-vote threshold to change the antiquated school funding system.  As many as three or more proposals could be considered, and the debate could have a ripple effect on a much larger piece of policy.  Property tax relief is considered a cornerstone to budget negotiations between the Republican-controlled Legislature and Wolf, a Democrat in his first year as governor.

Pa. legislature works on pension, property tax bills that Gov. Wolf does not support
HARRISBURG - Pension reform and property-tax relief are two issues on which state legislators and governors have spent years trying to reach consensus.  Now, they will attempt to do so in less than two months.  This week, both issues will take center stage in the Capitol as the Republican-controlled legislature tries to solidify its negotiating position on two issues pivotal to any budget deal.  Senate leaders plan a vote on a comprehensive but controversial proposal to change future pension benefits and increase contributions from current employees. Their counterparts in the House will weigh a plan to hike sales and personal-income taxes and use that money to reduce property taxes.

Corman's pension bill would make a bad situation worse: Michael Crossey
PennLive Op-Ed   By Michael Crossey on May 10, 2015 at 10:30 AM
Michael Crossey, a teacher from the Keystone Oaks School District, is the president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association.
I know a woman who has been a teacher's aide for more than 15 years. She helps care for students with special needs.   Her salary isn't very high. In fact, it's not high at all. But she loves her job and loves the kids she works with. She plans to retire someday. And when she does, she'll get the pension she's been paying for since her first day in the classroom.   It's about $25,000 a year.  I couldn't help but think of my friend when I read PennLive's recent story on the pensions the state's top 1,000 earners get.  Focusing on 1,000 people is fine. But there are hundreds of thousands of dedicated Pennsylvanians whose retirement security depends on the modest pension that they've worked their whole lives to earn and pay for.  For the average teacher, nurse, bus driver, and cafeteria aide, their pension amounts to $25,000 a year.

Lehigh Valley school districts scramble to meet Keystone Exams mandate
By Jacqueline Palochko Of The Morning Call May 9, 2015
Prescious Correa gets good grades as a sophomore at Dieruff High School in Allentown, acing pop quizzes and passing her courses.  But in the Keystone Exams, the state's standardized tests that Prescious must pass to graduate, she struggles. She said she gets nervous and overwhelmed and can't fill in the correct answers with her pencil.  The 15-year-old failed the algebra exam last year and had to retake it. She passed on a second try.  But the tests aren't over. This week, Prescious, who dreams of becoming a fashion designer, will take the biology exam, which she's nervous about.  If she fails, she'll take the biology test again in the summer. If she fails again, she'll have to do an alternative project mandated and assessed by the state before she can get her cap, gown and, most importantly, diploma.  Starting with the class of 2017 — Prescious' graduation year — students must pass the biology, algebra and literature Keystone Exams to graduate or they must successfully complete an assessment.

"Alongside the finding that 74% of voters support increased funding, the polls also showed 80% supported creating a fair funding formula—a crucial requirement if the state hopes to bring equitable educational resources to all of its students regardless of their zip code. Without a fair funding formula, schools that serve higher-needs students (like those from low-income families or English language learners) won't receive the resources necessary to support these students and give them high quality educational opportunities."
Polls Show Pennsylvania Voters Want Fair School Funding
National Opportunity to Learn Campaign Posted on: Wednesday May 6th, 2015
It should come as no surprise that recent polls show Pennsylvania voters care deeply about funding for their schools. In the most recent gubernatorial election, Governor Tom Wolf ran and won on a platform largely focused on educational issues and creating a fair funding formula for Pennsylvania's schools. Two polls taken earlier this year make Pennsylvanians' concerns even clearer, finding that increasing state funding for public education was the top priority for voters and they supported this funding increase by a ratio of more than 3 to 1.   To learn more, read The Campaign for Fair Education Funding's summary of the poll results here.

Some of the Pa. Supreme Court candidates are on the air - are you watching?
Penn Live By John L. Micek | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on May 08, 2015 at 3:42 PM, updated May 08, 2015 at 3:54 PM
So remember how I told you not long ago that the race for state Supreme Court is one of the most important contests you're not paying attention to?  Well, some of the candidates in this month's Democratic and Republican primaries would like to change your mind about that. And they've launched new television commercials to grab your attention.
Here they are -- make up your own mind about them.

Sen. Jake Corman: Wolf budget hits all with tax increase
Centre Daily Times Opinion BY SEN. JAKE CORMAN May 9, 2015 
Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, is the Senate majority leader.
The state’s Independent Fiscal Office recently released an analysis of Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed budget that showed a “net tax increase for all (income) groups.” The close examination of the governor’s plan for Pennsylvania just reaffirmed what I’ve been saying all along — under the Wolf budget everybody pays more.  Despite “property tax and relief, the low-income group realizes increases in tobacco and sales taxes, and modest increases in personal income and severance tax through higher utility prices,” the independent office recently wrote in its analysis of the revenue proposals for Wolf’s proposed budget plan.  \The IFO does not take positions on the topics it analyzes and, unlike the governor, it discloses all methodologies, data sources and assumptions used in reaching its conclusions. And for the governor, whose staff has attacked the independent office for its report, it seems the truth hurts.  Calling the IFO numbers “unsophisticated” and the work “shaky,” the Wolf administration chose to attack the source rather than produce their own numbers and methodology to defend their significant tax increase.

A breakdown of Gov. Wolf's plan for new education spending
By Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks on May 8, 2015 11:41 AM
What has Gov. Wolf proposed?
In the first year of his plan, the governor wants to increase spending for education, from pre-K through higher ed, by $1 billion.  Of this figure, $500 million would go to K-12 classrooms ($400 million to basic education and $100 million to special education).  Pre-K Counts and Head Start would received $120 million in new aid. The state's higher-ed system, along with community colleges, would get a $143 million boost in exchange for enacting tuition freezes.  Over four years, K-12 spending would get an additional $2 billion.  Wolf plans to pay for the increased spending by implementing a comprehensive tax overhaul.

"But Perkiomen Valley is hardly unique. School officials are reporting an unprecedented surge in outsourcing jobs once performed by district employees, and that trend includes classroom workers such as instructional aides and substitute teachers. The reason: to save millions of dollars in health insurance required by the Affordable Care Act and in skyrocketing pension costs.
"Any position that doesn't require a teaching requirement is pretty much up for grabs," said Jay Himes, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, which reported that outsourcing doubled this school year in districts it surveyed."
In budgetary crisis, school paraprofessionals, families left in want
For the last five years, Katina Velikaris of Schwenksville has watched Josh Jefferson act not just as a one-on-one school aide for her now-17-year-old son, Chris, but as his guardian angel.  Jefferson, 31, a paraprofessional with the Perkiomen Valley School District, rings their doorbell every school day at 7:10 a.m. to hop on the bus with Chris, helps him with schoolwork during the day, delivers him home at 2:40, and gives his mother frequent progress reports.  Jefferson even swings by occasionally in the summer to ride bikes or go to the creek as Chris has coped with behavioral issues. "He's come such a long way, and I owe a lot of it to [Josh]," Velikaris said, adding, "He knows him as well as I do."  That's why Velikaris said she was devastated by a district proposal to contract out the work performed by its 110 paraprofessionals - which Jefferson said would likely force him to quit because he'd lose health-care and pension benefits.  Velikaris called the potential impact on her family "heartbreaking" and said, "I don't think the school district gets it."

Editorial: An investment in Pre-K programs will bring dividends
West Chester Daily Local Editorial POSTED: 05/09/15, 6:30 PM EDT |
Debate in Harrisburg will soon begin in earnest to adopt a state budget for fiscal year 2015-16, and education funding will be front and center.  Among the proposals being sought by Gov. Tom Wolf is increased funding for Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts, an initiative that recently attracted outspoken support from some unusual kindergarten bedfellows: the law enforcement community.  District Attorneys Tom Hogan, Chester County; Risa Ferman, Montgomery County; Seth Williams, Philadelphia and Jack Whelan, Delaware County, held a press conference April 29 to introduce a report, “We’re the Guys You Pay Later,” by the Fight Crime: Invest in Kids coalition. The report makes the case that more money is spent on jailing adult defendants than on investing in education for children. That early investment can be shown, the report argues, to change the path for at-risk children from potential criminals to productive members of society.

Stock traders sink $6.65 million into Williams campaign for mayor
Inquirer by Chris Brennan POSTED: FRIDAY, MAY 8, 2015, 6:58 PM
If Friday's campaign finance reports were ranked by sheer size, then we have a winner in American Cities, an independent expenditure political action committee funded by three Main Line stock traders who support state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams for mayor.
American Cities reported raising $6,830,000 from Jan. 1 to Monday, according to a report filed today.  Of that, $6,651,000 -- or 97.4 percent -- came from Joel Greenberg, Jeff Yass and Arthur Dantchik, the founders of Susquehanna International Group.

"There are some disturbing things about three rich donors accounting for more than half of all the spending the mayor's race, and I'll have more to say about that in another piece. My point today is that this free-spending PAC doesn't represent the return of the special interests who used to fund mayoral campaigns in this town. It's almost a freak of political nature – three guys with money to burn and a passionate commitment to one issue."
Who didn't fund Philly's super PACs
By now, it's not a shock to learn that super PAC's spent twice as much as the candidates in the Philadelphia mayor's race this year, according to campaign finance reports filed Friday.
And if you follow this stuff you know the U.S. Supreme court has opened the floodgates of spending from independent expenditure committees, which can ignore contribution limits as long as they don't coordinate with candidates they're supporting.  But there's something interesting in who did, and didn't fund super PACs in the mayor's race this year.

Filings indicate reforms working
Philadelphia's campaign-finance rules have limited big money's power and don't seem to have hampered candidate fund-raising.
The limits are working.
Yes, they are working under a $9 million shadow. But for the third mayoral race in a row, Philadelphia's attempt at campaign-finance reform seems to have done much of what it was intended to do: dampen big money's power to buy the city's next chief executive.  Yes, the 2015 Democratic mayoral campaign is awash in millions of dollars being put up by labor unions and Main Line financial traders - $9 million in all, according to spending reports filed Friday.  The full impact of that money, especially on TV ads between now and the May 19 primary, has yet to be seen. But that type of outside spending is there, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, and is beyond any local control.

Sen. Kim Ward to serve as interim appropriations committee chair
Penn Live By Jan Murphy | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on May 08, 2015 at 4:34 PM, updated May 08, 2015 at 4:50 PM
Sen. Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland County, will fill in as the Senate Appropriations Committee chairwoman while Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh County, recovers from injuries sustained in a DUI-related motorcycle crash.  Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson County, and Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre County, indicated this change in the Senate GOP leadership line-up in a statement issued Friday. The Senate GOP leaders also voiced  confidence that Browne will return to his role as the Republican-elected appropriations committee chairman as soon as he has recovered.

PA Sen. Pat Browne charged with DUI for third time, police say
By Manuel Gamiz Jr. and Steve EsackOf The Morning Call May 8, 2015
Police: Pa. Sen. Pat Browne drunk when he crashed motorcycle on I-78 in Allentown
Pa. Sen. Browne faces drunken driving charge after motorcycle crash in Allentown
When Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Browne crashed his Harley-Davidson last weekend as he exited Interstate 78 at the Lehigh Street ramp, he told a state trooper he wasn't injured.
Browne, 51, of Allentown, was sitting on the guardrail on the westbound exit in the southwestern part of the city as he explained to a trooper how his motorcycle slid on cinders and crashed, according to court documents.  As Browne explained, the trooper smelled a strong odor of alcohol and noticed Browne's speech was "slow and slurred," court records show.  The trooper had Browne, who was twice nabbed in the 1990s for drunken driving, perform field-sobriety tests. After an initial test, the trooper noticed several signs of impairment, the records say.

Sen. Pat Browne's BAC 0.09 less than an hour after motorcycle wreck
By Sara K. Satullo | For Email the author | Follow on Twitter on May 08, 2015 at 4:48 PM, updated May 08, 2015 at 9:30 PM
Less than an hour after crashing his motorcycle on I-78 in Allentown, state Sen. Pat Browne had a blood-alcohol content of 0.09, court records indicate.  Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh ( file photo)   On Friday, Pennsylvania State Police filed charges of driving under the influence and driving vehicle at a safe speed against Browne, 51. Penalties begin for most drivers at a BAC of 0.08.  The Republican lawmaker has represented parts of the Lehigh Valley in the state Legislature for almost two decades. He chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Saucon Valley teachers, board near to arbitration
By Christina Tatu Of The Morning Call May 8, 2015
Saucon Valley teachers agree to nonbinding arbitration of contract agreement cant be reached
If the Saucon Valley School Board doesn't agree to the latest contract proposal submitted by the teachers union , the two sides will enter nonbinding arbitration, said the district's labor attorney Jeffrey Sultanik.  While Thursday night's six-hour bargaining session did not result in a contract agreement, the teachers have agreed to have a single arbitrator hear the issues in lieu of going on strike this school year.  Details of the teachers' latest proposal submitted Thursday night are confidential, but it is based upon the union's March 23 offer, which was summarily rejected by the board, Sultanik said.  For this reason, he believes it is likely to be rejected by the school board, which will review it during an executive session prior to its regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday.  If the two parties agree to the proposed schedule, nonbinding arbitration would begin on or around May 26, Sultanik said.

Garnet Valley teachers, board reach tentative deal
Delco Times By Susan L. Serbin, Times Correspondent POSTED: 05/10/15, 11:32 PM EDT
CONCORD >> After a marathon negotiating session May 8, the School Board and the Garnet Valley Education Association reached, in principle, a tentative agreement.  “The board and the teachers’ association will now finalize the specifics of the agreement and, upon its completion, each will need to go back to their full groups for a vote. If the agreement is approved, there will be a settlement,” district Superintendent Marc Bertrando said in a statement. “Since the parties are in the process of drafting the official tentative agreement, we are not at liberty to share any of its specifics. We will be sure to keep everyone informed as new information is available. We are all very pleased with the progress that was made today, and both parties are optimistic that we will soon have a finalized agreement.”

Stroudsburg Area School District budget looks 'bleak'
Board is determined not to raise taxes
By Lynn Ondrusek Pocono Record Writer Posted May. 7, 2015 at 12:09 PM Updated May 8, 2015 at 10:38 AM
Board members were quiet during budget talks at Wednesday night’s Stroudsburg School Board meeting.  What usually becomes a heated conversation was almost silent as school board members listened to Business Manager Donna Tolley give an update on the district’s budget going into the next few weeks. She provided board members with revised spending numbers up to May 6.   Tolley confirmed to solicitor Jeffery Sultanik that if the board doesn't raise taxes, and assuming the district isn’t getting anything from the state, there will be between $500,000 and $600,000 left in the reserve fund moving into next year.

Kane school board OKs preliminary budget
Bradford Era By CHUCK ABRAHAM Era Correspondent Posted: Thursday, May 7, 2015 10:00 am
KANE — The Kane Area School Board approved a preliminary budget for the 2015-16 school year on Wednesday.  The motion passed 9-0.  District business manager Stephen Perry requested the approval of the $17,845,457 budget, saying that nothing has changed since he first discussed the spending plan at last week’s school board work session.   As it currently stands, the proposed budget calls for a 0.39-mill increase for the McKean County portion of the school district, which amounts to an increase of $14 per year on average for residential homeowners, according to Perry.  Meanwhile, the board approved the capital reserve fund budget of $250,000 for the next fiscal year. Additionally, the board of directors approved a resolution to transfer $1 million to the capital reserve fund and an additional $1.37 million to the general fund retirement rate stabilization fund.   School board vice president and finance and operations committee chairman Maj. Thomas Kerek (Ret.) said the additional funds came from the $2.3 million PlanCon reimbursement the district received from the state after building the current elementary and middle school building in 2010.

Pottstown High School has second best test score among urban schools in PA
By Evan Brandt, The Mercury POSTED: 05/10/15, 2:00 AM EDT |
POTTSTOWN >> One of Pottstown School Superintendent Jeff Sparagana’s frequent frustrations is the way in which Pottstown test scores are used to compare the district to the largely suburban districts which surround it.  Given Pottstown’s higher level of poverty, higher population of special education students and more transient population, it’s not a fair comparison, he has noted.  Better, he says, to compare Pottstown’s schools to others which teach a student body similar to Pottstown — in other words, an urban population.  “It’s better to compare apples to apples than apples to oranges,” he likes to say.  So recently, he did just that, comparing Pottstown High School’s 2013-2014 School Performance Profile score of 77.8 with the high school scores of the 34 other districts that are members of the Pennsylvania League of Urban Schools.

"Therein lies the difference: The civil rights organizations who made their statement against opting out see high-stakes, standardized testing as a solution to educational inequality, while others, like myself, see ample evidence that high-stakes, standardized testing is exasperating educational inequality and therefore needs to be rejected as an inherently damaging measure."
Just whose rights do these civil rights groups think they are protecting?
Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog By Valerie Strauss May 9 at 11:15 AM  
A dozen civil rights groups this week issued a statement contending that parents opting their children out of high-stakes standardized tests are harming at-risk students. That sparked a response from the Network for Public Education, saying that high-stakes standardized tests are hurting these young people, not the opt-out movement. You can read both statements here.  Here’s a different look at all of this, by Wayne Au, an associate professor in the School of Educational Studies at the University of Washington Bothell, and an editor for the social justice teaching magazine Rethinking Schools. Most recently, with Joseph J. Ferarre, he co-edited the book, Mapping Corporate Education Reform: Power and Policy Networks in the Neoliberal State. His research interests include critical analyses of high-stakes testing, critical educational theory and practice, curriculum studies, and multicultural education.

"The SAT will remain a weak predictor of undergraduate success. High school grades will continue to forecast college graduation chances more accurately than any test does. The exam will still under-predict the performance of young women, students whose home language is not English and older applicants. Well-to-do families will not stop buying their children test-prep “steroids.” SAT scores will remain a better measure of family income than college readiness."
NYT Letters: The New SAT: Will It Be Better?
New York Times Letters MAY 8, 2015
Re “The Big Problem With the New SAT,” by Richard C. Atkinson and Saul Geiser (Op-Ed, May 5):  We applaud the writers for recognizing that the new SAT is a “more straightforward test of material that students encounter in the classroom.” However, their overall claim is outdated. It is no longer true that because the SAT provides normative score comparisons (to the performance of other students), it can’t measure student learning. The new SAT draws on advancements in assessment design such that classroom content now comes first, and students perform against that bar.

School directors, superintendents and administrators are encouraged to register and attend this event.
Bucks / Lehigh / Northampton Legislative Council
Wednesday, May 20, 2015 from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM Quakertown Community School District, 100 Commerce Drive  Quakertown, PA 18951
Welcome by Paul Stepanoff , Board President , QCSD
Introduction of Paul Clymer, State of State Education

Mr. Glenn Grell , PSERS Executive Director
Introduction by Dr. Bill Harner, Superintendent QCSD

Panel of Superintendents and Elected School Directors from Bucks / Lehigh / Northampton Counties
Introduction by Mark B. Miller, Board Vice President, Centennial SD

1) The status of 2015-16 budget in their district (including proposed tax increase)
2) PSERS impact on their budget
3) Proposed use of any new funding from Commonwealth

Larry Feinberg and Ron Williams
Benefit and need for County Wide Legislative Council in Delaware and Montgomery Counties respectively

Dr. Tom Seidenberger (Retired Superintendent ) - Circuit Rider Update

SAVE The DATE: Northwestern PA School Funding Forum
May 28, 2015 7:00 PM Jefferson Educational Society 3207 State St. Erie, PA 16508
Conneaut School District
Mr. Jarrin Sperry, Superintendent, Ms. Jody Sperry, Board President
Corry School District
Mr. William Nichols, Superintendent
Fort LeBoeuf School District
Mr. Richard Emerick, Assistant Superintendent
Girard School District
Dr. James Tracy, Superintendent
Harbor Creek School District
Ms. Christine Mitchell, Board President
Millcreek School District
Mr. William Hall, Superintendent Mr. Aaron O'Toole, Director of Finance and Accounting
Keynote Speaker
Mr. Jay Himes, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials

Sponsored by Coatesville and Media Area NAACPs
9:00 AM – 1:30 PM SATURDAY, MAY 16, 2015
Our children have to pass the state mandated tests in order to move on with life. SO - it is time for the PA Assembly to provide adequate and equitable funding to the public schools of Pennsylvania.
Pre-Registration is required for meals. Deadline for Pre-registration is May 12, 2015

PHILADELPHIA—The School District of Philadelphia, in partnership with local organizations, will host community budget meetings. District officials will share information about budget projections and request input on school resources and investments.  Partnering groups include the Philadelphia Education Fund, POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower & Rebuild), Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY), local clergy and community advocates. All meetings will be held 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The dates and locations are as follows:
 Tuesday, May 12
South Philadelphia High School2101 S. Broad St.
 Thursday, May 14
Congreso, 216 West Somerset St.
 Wednesday, May 20

Martin Luther King High School6100 Stenton Ave.

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