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Super-rich Pa. school sued by its own board member


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Your Postmasters: Colin Deppen and Sarah Anne Hughes
April 16, 2021
Hershey school lawsuit, Trump's shadow, Wolf's vaccine, flat tuition, Perry provokes, Cutler has COVID, and Mr. Rogers' neighborhood. It's Friday. 
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A director and alumnus of the Milton Hershey School claims he had to sue the institution, America’s wealthiest private school, to find out where its money goes, Spotlight PA, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and ProPublica report.

For over a year, lawyer Bob Heist, then-chairman of the Milton Hershey School’s board, says he sought internal financial records detailing the spending history of the $17 billion charity, which has a mission to educate low-income students for free.

He now says he is being denied records he needs as a board member charged with overseeing the Pennsylvania boarding school’s operations. (The school says it has provided Heist with “extensive financial information and will continue to respond to any reasonable requests in his capacity as a board member.”) 

Earlier this month, Heist took his push for access to court, filing suit against the school — an extremely unusual step for a sitting board member, taken against an extremely unusual institution.

THE CONTEXT: The Milton Hershey School controls 80% of the Hershey Co. candy giant’s voting shares and reaps profits from the sale of Hershey chocolate bars, Reese’s peanut butter cups, and SkinnyPop-brand snacks sold in thousand of U.S. retail stores.

Two previous financial controversies raised questions about whether the school’s spending was serving the needs of its roughly 2,100 students, as required by law and enforced by the state attorney general’s office.

Heist's suit also raises new questions about board oversight of the vast Milton Hershey fortune, donated by the candy company’s founder to help poor and at-risk children. 

For months, Spotlight PA, The Inquirer, and ProPublica have investigated this and other issues, including whether school leaders and board members have fulfilled that mission to a degree commensurate with the charity’s vast resources. The publications will share their findings in upcoming stories.

» Learn something from today's edition? Pay it forward so someone else can tomorrow by making a contribution of any amount to Spotlight PA.


“We know the policies and solutions needed to curb gun violence in Philadelphia. Partnering with the NRA is not one of them." 

—Adam Garber, of CeaseFirePA, on a newly abandoned plan to host an NRA youth gun safety program at Philadelphia rec centers
VACCINE UPDATE: Pennsylvania has extended its pause on Johnson & Johnson vaccines to April 24, or until federal health officials issue new guidance. A CDC panel is investigating rare reports of blood clots linked to the J&J shot — one involving a Pennsylvania resident. For vaccine providers, check Spotlight PA's map and county-by-county listing.
» FIGHTING MISINFORMATION: Join Spotlight PA at 5 p.m. April 20 for a conversation and reader Q&A about how partisan groups are masquerading as local news in Pennsylvania and undermining public trust. RSVP FOR FREE

POST IT: Thanks, Christine F., for this shot of Yellow Breeches Creek. If you look closely, you can see a few ducks enjoying the water too. Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us at @spotlightpennsylvania.
SHADOW CAMPAIGN: Donald Trump may have lost Pennsylvania in 2020, but his influence looms large over the 2022 Republican race for U.S. Sen Pat Toomey's seat. “You’ve got super-MAGA Trump, Trump-adjacent, and not-so-much Trump," a longtime GOP consultant told Politico of the likely and confirmed candidates.

VACCINE PLAN: Gov. Tom Wolf's office told Spotlight PA this week he has made an appointment to be vaccinated, making him one of the last governors in the country to do so, according to Business Insider. The governor, who tested positive for COVID-19 in December and who's been vaccine eligible for months, said he waited because supply was low.

TUITION FREEZE: Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities will freeze in-state tuition for a third year straight, PhillyVoice reports. It's the longest such streak in the system's history. "Students deserve our full support as they continue focusing on attaining a degree through the pandemic," said Board of Governors Chair Cindy Shapira. 

'REPLACEMENT THEORY': U.S. Rep. Scott Perry (R., Pa.) echoed a white supremacist talking point in a hearing on immigration this week. According to the York Dispatch, Perry said many Americans believe immigrants are "replacing national-born Americans, native-born Americans to permanently transform the landscape of this very nation."

CONFIRMED CASE: Pa. House Speaker Bryan Cutler has tested positive for COVID-19 days after a confirmed exposure sent him into quarantine. Cutler (R., Lancaster) said his symptoms are mild and he'll continue to work from home. At least 15 members of the General Assembly have tested positive for the virus, per the Capital-Star.

ROGERS' NEIGHBORHOOD: The Pittsburgh home shared by Mr. and Mrs. Rogers in the 1960s is up for sale, NEXTpittsburgh reports. The Squirrel Hill five-bedroom, four-bath was listed last week and is already under contract. Looking for something much smaller? TribLIVE has a lead.

CLOSE SAVE: An Underground Railroad site and abolitionist meeting ground in Montgomery County may be spared from developers after all. Main Line Media News reports a pending sale to a local nonprofit could protect the site once graced by the likes of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Beecher Stowe.

STINK TREE: If you’re new to Pennsylvania, first off, welcome. Second, let us explain that smell. They’re called Callery pear trees, and while beautiful to look at, the invasive species’ aroma has been compared to rotting fish and many other stinky things. NPR has more.

RUNNING MAN: Tarik Khan had mere hours to get COVID-19 vaccine doses to homebound Philadelphians before those doses expired. Reporters from The Inquirer were there to document his race across the city

SWEAT STUFF: Penn Medicine researchers have pinpointed evolutions in the human genome that gave us a much higher density of sweat glands than other Great Apes and made us the coolest of the primates — well, almost the coolest

Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

Yesterday's answer: Adapted

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Bob R., Al M., Christine M., Neal W., Ben S., Michelle T., Irene R., Patricia M., Ron S., Leslie G., Susan D., Theodore W., David I., Mary Ellen T. (double winner, missed on Thursday's list), Karen W., Dixie S., Jill M., Steve D., Ken S., Bill C., Mark O., Yvette R., Elaine C., Brian B., Charlotte M., Kevin H., Scott R., Jennifer C., Daniel M., George W., Betsy R., Christine M., Patricia R., Becky C., Bruce B., Dennis M., James B., Jackie S., Kim C., Dianne K., Mary Kay M., Carol D., Bette G., Tish M., Kerri G., Anna T., Alice B., Beth T., Rosalie B., Lance L., Fred O., Elizabeth W., Laura B., George S., Tom M., Suzanne S., David W., Rick D., Christopher R., Joel S., Janice S., Ellen M., Florence M., Bruce B., Brandie K., and Bonnie M. 
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