School fencing is important school safety issue to TE School Board — Why not same level of safety concern for 5th grader?

stopped school bus

 During one of the two comment periods of the TE School Board meeting on September 21, District residents Mr. and Mrs. John Alexander asked the school board directors for assistance with a busing situation pertaining to their son Jackson. The Alexander’s, who live on Valley Forge Mountain, had previously attempted resolution through email and phone calls to the District but were unsuccessful. After their passionate appeal at the school board meeting, the District’s business manager Art McDonnell intervened to say that this was a bus schedule matter and any school bus policy changes need to go to the Policy Committee the following month. The Board concurred with no further discussion.

Although I may not have fully known the specifics of the situation, it was obvious that McDonnell understood the Alexander’s request.  A couple of days after the school board meeting, John Alexander called me.  After speaking with him, I asked that he provide me with a summary of the situation for Community Matters —

Our son, Jackson, is taking a school district shuttle bus from VFMS to VFES to ride the elementary school bus home two days a week, so that he can participate in 5th grade band and chorus as after school extracurricular activities since both my wife and I work outside of the home. The problem is that even though the elementary school bus passes right by our house twice on its route, the school district’s procedure is to only stop at the closest current elementary school stops. This means that Jackson has to get off almost a half a mile away at the nearest established elementary school stop and walk back to our house which unnecessarily increases his risk of being hurt or otherwise harmed, especially since there are no sidewalks on Valley Forge Mountain.

We had hoped that a simple phone call and/or e-mail requesting the bus to let him off at his old elementary school bus stop from last year would settle the issue and be a Win-Win situation since there would be less risk of danger to our son and the School District wins because there is less risk of an incident for which they would be liable while not impacting other students & families in any material way.

Our bottom line – It seems like the school district is more concerned with minimizing disruptions in their bureaucratic process & procedures rather than taking simple & reasonable steps to increase the safety of a child in returning to their home from school. Shouldn’t student safety be paramount and outweigh bureaucratic processes when reasonable alternatives exist? Now, we are faced with waiting for the Policy Committee to review this in the middle of next month with no guarantee of a favorable decision/ruling.

John Alexander

Over the last couple of years, the school board has focused much attention on school safety, including trying to convince residents that ‘fencing schools’ is the answer to keeping our children safe.  Yet, here we have a 10 year old boy walking ½ mile from the school bus on Valley Forge Mountain to his home, after the bus passes his house twice on the route.

The District is endangering a child and risking liability to allow this child to walk this distance and on roads without sidewalks! This makes no ‘safety sense’ whatsoever! The Alexander’s have been told that to change the bus route for them could mean that other families may want similar changes. However, when Alexander pressed McDonnell on how many ‘other’ families have ever had a bus schedule situation which required a change, he was given no response. The bus route included a stop at the Alexander’s house for the 2014-15 school year. As Alexander states, “Shouldn’t student safety be paramount and outweigh bureaucratic processes when reasonable alternatives exist?”

Beyond the obvious safety aspects of this situation, where is the open communication between the Board and this TE School District family.  Jackson is the youngest of the Alexander’s four children, so the parents fully understand how the school district works and are not seeking preferential treatment.  According to John Alexander, he had previously inquired about the existing “bus policy” cited by Art McDonnell; however, it was not provided. Rather than showing leadership and finding a reasonable solution, the school board accepted the business manager’s approach to “kick the can” to the Policy Committee meeting next month.

The Alexander’s have to wait a month to take their reasonable request (and simple solution) to the Policy Committee. To be clear, the Policy Committee can only hear the policy request and make recommendations. At best, the Alexander’s will have to wait until the next school board meeting for full board discussion. However, most policy changes, take more than one Policy Committee for recommendations so who knows how long this “simple family request” will take for resolution?

I do not understand “why” all school district roads seem to lead to Art McDonnell, the business manager. Beyond the expected business/financial related aspects of his job description, McDonnell is the keeper of the gate for the District’s communications and the Board’s emails from residents, the Public Information officer and the Right-to-Know request recipient. We learned at the last school board meeting that McDonnell ‘hand-picked’ the school safety consultant (without issuing an RFP) and now we find that apparently he is in charge of the District’s bus schedule!

I have sat through many regular and committee meetings of the District and have witnessed an alarming trend…many of the Board’s discussions/decisions seem to defer to Art McDonnell!  In my opinion, the decision making powers of Art McDonnell seems to extend well beyond the normal and expected business manager boundaries.  As of July 1, the District hired a new Superintendent; so where’s Dr. Gusick’s voice on these issues?

As residents, we didn’t elect Art McDonnell to govern the District – we elected the School Board. Plan to support those school board candidates in the upcoming election on November 3rd who will do their homework and govern with independent thought! We need effective leadership!

Next round on Valley Forge Middle School fencing project: TE School Board hires safety consultant

Fencing April 2015

What’s that proverb about a “bad penny always coming back”?  After last week’s TE School Board meeting, that could be a fair description of the Valley Forge Middle School fencing project.

Residents who attended the District’s June 12th Facilities Meeting expected the fencing discussion at Valley Forge Middle School to finally end.  But instead, the public learned that after many, many meetings and months of legal bills for the District (i.e. taxpayers), the Chesterbrook Civic Association and Green Hills homeowners, Board President Kris Graham’s proposed hiring a safety consultant for the Valley Forge Middle School.

The Board has repeatedly cited the 2013 safety report by Andy Chambers (the former Tredyffrin Township Police Chief) as the rationale for building fences around the District’s eight schools. However the public was not provided input for the safety study and the Board, citing safety reasons, never permitted the public to see the report.

Although District residents have not read the Chambers’ safety report, the Board claimed that its safety suggestions included fencing all schools. Taxpayers paid (“not to exceed $11,500”) for the safety report two years ago, so did the Board decide to spend more money on another study (to focus specifically on VFMS).  During the Facilities Committee meeting the Board was quick to point out that the District would send out a RFP for the VFMS safety consultant, which they admit was not done before they hired Chambers in 2013.

During the committee reports at the June 15 regular school board meeting, Dr. Motel (chair of the Facilities Committee) presented the following update,

The Facilities Committee met Friday, June 12 at the district offices on West Valley Road and the meeting was open to the public.

We discussed again the possible installation of additional fencing at Valley Forge Middle School. The committee has decided after many meetings of which this issue was discussed to obtain a second opinion from an additional safety consultant who will review the Valley Forge Middle School site specifically and make recommendations as to whether or not additional fencing at the site is advisable and if so what it should look like and where it should be placed.

The process will be an RFP will go out this summer for a school safety consultant. The selection of the safety consultant will begin at the next committee meeting in public with public input. I want to clarify that this means no new fencing will be installed at Valley Forge Middle School this summer.

Fast forward three months to last week’s school board meeting and the safety consultant discussion – a discussion which was troubling on many levels:

  1. Initially the hiring of the safety consultant appeared as part of the school board’s consent agenda but was later removed to allow for discussion.
  2. Contrary to what the Board previously stated on at the Facilities Committee meeting on June 12 and at the June 15 School Board meeting, no RFP was released.
  3. The Business manager Art McDonnell contacted three safety security companies and asked them for a proposal.
  4. McDonnell ‘picked’ the company, National School Safety & Security Service at a cost of $15,500.
  5. No District signed contract for National School Safety’s services. Responding to Board and resident questions, McDonnell suggested that a contract was not necessary and pointed to the company’s proposal on the TESD website. (The proposal is found on pg. 177 of the Sept. 21 school board agenda}.
  6. Residents asked the cost of the other 2 safety security companies. McDonnell did not have the exact figures but thought one was around $4,000 and the other $20K.
  7. National School Safety’s proposal contains no dates for the deliverables. Their consulting fee of $15,500 is for pre-visit phone calls and review of existing documents, 3 day visit which includes 1-1/2 days of interviews and site visits, 1/2 day of debriefing and presentation to committee and written report of recommendations.
  8. No public meeting on this topic is included in the company’s proposal.
  9. McDonnell stated that earlier fencing correspondence, emails, etc. would be given to the consultant. However, when further questioned on this topic, McDonnell acknowledged he was not sure how long the District kept emails!  (What is the policy on email retention?)
  10. When pressed on the need for the safety consultant to receive public input on fencing, etc., McDonnell referenced a proposed public meeting for Thursday, Nov. 19 with a preliminary safety report from the consultant to be given on Friday, Nov. 20 at the 2 PM Facilities Committee meeting.
  11. What is the value of resident input if the public meeting is held less than 24 hrs. before National School Safety delivers their preliminary report at the Facilities Committee meeting.
  12. Several residents and Board members questioned McDonnell regarding the ‘scope’ of the consultant’s work without the benefit of an RFP. How would the company know the District’s expectations?
  13. In the end, the Board offered that residents could send emails about the fencing project to and they would forward to the safety consultant. For the record, Art McDonnell is the public information person and all emails to the school board must go through him first.

I have attended many school board and committee meetings but the discussion to hire a safety consultant for Valley Forge Middle School had to be one of the most troubling I have ever witnessed.  The decision to hire the safety consultant lacked process …there was no RFP outlining the District’s expectations as the Board previously stated  – no dates for deliverables – no contract – no resident input provision, etc.  Even with all the questions and uncertainty the Valley Forge Middle School security consultant, the Board voted 9-0 to hire National School Safety & Security Services at a cost of $15,500.

Where’s the P.R.O.C.E.S.S.?  The public is repeatedly told that the ‘real work’ goes on at committee meetings. Really?

11th Annual Historic House Tour a Success!

Deilwydd rs

Deilwydd, c.1915

Thanks to everyone who helped make the Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust’s 11th Annual Historic House Tour a success!  On Saturday, September 19, eight private homes historic homes and gardens, dating from the Revolutionary War era to the 20th century, opened their doors to the public. Over 500 tickets were purchased for the house tour — the Trust’s annual fundraising event, which raised almost $30,000 for the Living Historic Center in Chesterbrook.

The 2015 house tour featured a select group of remarkable historic homes in Tredyffrin, Easttown and Willistown Townships. Volunteer docents were placed throughout the homes to discuss aspects of the architecture, historic preservation, restoration and creative modern interpretation for 21st century living.   Old friends spent the day together and new friendships were forged – all while stepping back in time and learning about the rich history of the community and the families who had lived in these houses.

The Trust is deeply grateful to the owners of the historic homes featured on the 2015 tour. They not only allowed visitors to come in their homes – they enriched the experience by sharing information and stories about the historic structures.  What a truly delightful group of old house owners on this year’s tour – the effort and time spent on details by each homeowner was remarkable. Historic house-owners are very special people, and our house tour participants were no exception.  In addition to the private homes on the tour, visitors enjoyed a stop at the Diamond Rock Schoolhouse, an octagonal one-room school house dating to the early 1800’s.

The event is a community event and would not be possible without our generous sponsors, the support of our volunteers and especially without those who so graciously opened up their historic homes to the public.

The 11th Annual Historic House Tour sponsor list:

11th Annual Historic House Tour sponsors list final

Update on TE School District Finances and Tredyffrin Township declares State of Emergency for Pope’s visit


Tuesday night marked TE School District’s first Finance Committee meeting of the new school year.  Although I was unable to attend the meeting, my friend Ray Clarke did attend the meeting and shared the following notes from the meeting.  Thanks Ray!

The TESD Finance Committee opened the 2015/16 season with a relaxed session on Tuesday night.  The meeting was attended by candidates Berger, Colligan, Kling, Hotinski and Kantorczyk.  A few highlights from my perspective:

Budget Process

– Finance committee approval of the Preliminary Budget is due in just three months.  After some discussion about teeing up review of opportunities in the district’s self insurance of its health plan and potentially of some special education risks, Doug Carlson requested that the Administration present the Committee with full district budget scenarios that start with expenses managed to revenues with no tax increase.  Hopefully we’ll get more than the standard operating procedure showing a $6 million deficit.

– By the way, somehow in an environment of last 12 months US inflation of 0.2%, the Act 1 index is 2.4%.  Half of the index is the increase in the Federal school employment cost index, showing how contract awards get baked into future taxes.

Current Financials

– August YTD expenses/encumbrances are up across the board, total up 12% versus last year, driven by special ed instruction up 32% (over $3 million) YTD.  I don’t recall the explanation for this but I didn’t hear any immediate concern that the overall 5% budgeted expense increase would be exceeded.  One number that does stand out for the full year budget is the $770,799 (11%) increase in the Administration budget.

– For those of use that liked to do a quick scan of the month’s check register from high to low, the task has been made harder by a switch to reporting the check register by pay period in alphabetical order.  This seems arbitrary; when asked why, no reason was provided.

– The actual results for last year are still months away, awaiting the external audit.  The Business Office is working through the encumbrances and deciding what should be released; an interesting exercise, no doubt.

Department of Unintended Consequences

– Restricting part-time employees to 27.5 hours has caused a significant shortfall in the number of teachers/aides available to support the after-school homework clubs, and this is becoming a real problem with the clubs usually starting up in October.  Part of the program is funded by FLITE, which is not able to contract with employees of our out-sourcing company, CCRES.  The District is looking to advertise specifically to hire homework club leader and assistant positions at $28 and $17/hour, which FLITE would apparently be able to continue to fund.


– Kris Graham brought up the need to fully air condition all of the elementary and middle school buildings in the light of the current heat wave.  She did not offer a cost estimate for this.

Residents also learned on Tuesday that the Tredyffrin  supervisors voted to declare the township a state of emergency for the upcoming Pope’s visit, citing expected traffic and congestion. According to Police Supt. Giamio, there will be over 16,000 train riders during the pope’s visit and that the highest number are expected to use the Paoli station!  Yikes!  As an aside, I am glad about my decision to move the annual historic house tour up a week to Saturday, Sept. 19 ( to accommodate the Pope’s visit.

We should plan around the Pope’s visit as if the weather people were predicting a blizzard — get to the grocery store and don’t forget your medication before the storm hits (or rather, the Pope lands).

“If walls could talk, what stories they could tell!” — Historic House Tour tickets available

The 11th Annual Historic House Tour (hard to believe that it’s been 11 years!) is coming up in a few weeks and final preparations are in full swing!

Tickets for the 2015 house tour on Saturday, September 19, noon – 5 PM and Jazz & Just Desserts, the house tour preview party, on Sunday, September. 13, 6-9 PM at Duportail House are available online at . The house tour is the largest annual fundraiser for Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust and all proceeds from ticket sales and sponsorships support historic preservation and the completion of the Living History Center at Duportail.

The 11th Annual Historic House Tour features an interesting mix of eight private historic homes in Tredyffrin, Easttown and Willistown Townships plus the Diamond Rock Schoolhouse, an octagonal one-room school house in the Great Valley.  Discover the beauty of historic preservation on the tour, everything from a mid-1800’s French Normandy hunting lodge on Valley Forge Mountain to Deepdale, the original 19th century stone farmhouse and the 1915 English Cotswold revival estate, ‘Deilwydd’.  Enjoy stops at two different 150-year old carriage houses and marvel at how the owners skillfully adapted the buildings to 21st century family homes.

Also included on the tour is a sprawling 1900’s brick farmhouse in Malvern built by sisters, Ellen and Rebecca Winsor. Pro-suffrage activists from Haverford, the Winsor sisters were among 17 Pennsylvania women imprisoned for their “Silent Sentinel” picketing of the White House under President Woodrow Wilson.

We are still accepting sponsorships for the house tour, which helps to make the annual event possible. Ticket and sponsorship information is on the Trust website or you can email me at

It’s great to see many individuals and companies supporting historic preservation through the house tour, along with a number of elected officials and candidates. Its history and the preservation of our historic buildings helps to make this community special!

As the saying goes, “If walls could talk what stories they could tell.” Each featured property on the house tour has generations of original stories to tell!  Hope to see you on the tour!

11th Annual Historic House Tour Poster


Easttown Township School Board Candidates for TE School Board, Kate Murphy and Francis Reardon, respond

TE School Board Candidates for Easttown Township, Region 3
Kate Murphy
Francis Reardon

The TE School Board candidates were asked to answer the following question in 500 words or less.

Although there are many important issues facing the TE School District, what one issue will you focus on should you be elected?  As a school board director, what in your background, experience or education prepares you to help with this specific issue.

The two candidate responses follow below in alphabetical order according to last name.  If your question and/or comment is for a specific candidate, please refer to that individual by name so as not to confuse. Voters will select one of these candidates in November for the school board.

TE School Board Candidate Kate Murphy
Easttown Township – Region 3

The School Board’s central challenge is sustainably delivering a high quality product at a reasonable cost. In addition to benefiting our children, excellent schools keep our community healthy by attracting and keeping families, companies seeking the best employees, and businesses to serve this robust community.

Part of what makes our schools effective in their educational mission as well as being a productive part of our community is their efficiency.  Productive schools, like productive homes or businesses, do not run themselves. Our school board has a long tradition of affordably providing excellent results, and there is no more important work I could hope to do than to help continue that tradition.

An effective school board brings together a variety of perspectives from the community, with the hope that the consensus the board reaches advances the common good. My perspective is primarily a mother of three young children who are (or will soon be) in the district’s schools. My husband and I are both Conestoga graduates; between us, we are alumni of Valley Forge Elementary, Devon Elementary, Valley Forge Middle School, T/E Middle School, and Conestoga. After living in all different parts of the country for twelve years after graduating from Conestoga, we returned to T/E (first daughter in tow) eight years ago to raise our children here, in large part because of the schools. Because the schools here mean so much to my family, we want to give back. Growing up, my parents were constantly active in public service in this community, and they instilled in me a passion for service as well.

There is a strong core of leadership and teachers in the district. I plan to put my full energy and enthusiasm into the job of helping them excel and providing them with guidance from the community. I am committed to learning about the challenges facing the district, and believe it is important not to rush to judgement. There is usually more than meets the eye to any difficult problem.

One “issue” in particular that concerns me is sustainability. Every day, the district leadership is bombarded with new and important demands. Because of my perspective as a parent of young children and a lifelong resident, I would hope to keep an eye on where we will be in five, ten, or twenty years. By planning not only for tomorrow, but also for the long term, we can responsibly provide the next generation with at least as many opportunities as we had.

My professional background – a degree from Cornell University in communications and experience in marketing and public relations for some of the world’s largest law firms – colors my perspective as well. A thorough yet organized flow of information among all the relevant stakeholders – students, parents, residents, administrators, teachers, businesses, and so on – is certainly vital for an effective board.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment, Pattye, and thank you and everyone else who gets involved in our collective mission to keep T/E a wonderful place to live.

TE School Board Candidate Francis Reardon
Easttown Township – Region 3

My name is Francis Reardon, and I live in Easttown Township.  As a candidate for School Board Director the one issue that caught my attention was the plan to privatize and subcontract out the employment of our current teacher aides, substitute teachers, and para-educators.  The stated reason given by the School Board was that the school district could not afford to provide this group of employees, who average about $20,000.00 per year in pay, with health insurance.  We were presented with cost numbers picked from close to the top end of the insurance cost scale which seemed to have no relation to the employees in this group. This process played out over a two year period and the final decisions were worked out in private sessions without knowledge of or input from the taxpaying public of TESD.  During this process it was astounding to see how money is spent and justified by the school board.  They seemed to have forgotten the value of the dollar.

In my personal life, after high school I spent two years in the United States Army Infantry.  Soon after the Service I attended Temple University, receiving a Bachelors of Science Degree in Education.  I was a substitute teacher in the Philadelphia School system and then taught at a high school in Chester County. I soon discovered that I was better suited for a different career.  I started working in construction in 1973 and retired in 2006.  For thirty of those years I had my own construction business and was very fortunate to be doing business in Chester County during that whole time period.  In 1980 my wife and I moved to our present home and raised our six children here where they attended St Norbert School, Archbishop Carroll High School and Conestoga High School. My family has been blessed with the opportunities provided both by our community and Conestoga High School.

Our school employees should have the same opportunities.  Together with common sense decisions we need to show common decency in how we treat our school district employees.  I think we have failed our teacher aides, substitute teachers and para-educators. All groups of school district employees should be treated the same and the school board can correct this situation.

In the future the school district will have to continue to make many important decisions in the area of personnel.  Beside salaries, the pension and benefits have to be structured to work long term.  We cannot promise everyone long term benefits and fail to fund it short term. We have created a situation where one group of employees works to protect their interests to the detriment of other groups of employees in the school district.  I believe my past experiences have given me the background and common sense decision making skills to continue the excellence of the TE school district.  If given the opportunity I hope to serve the community and everyone involved with the school district as a director of the Tredyffrin Easttown School Board.

Tredyffrin, Region 2 Candidates for TE School Board respond

TE School Board Candidates for Tredyffrin, Region 2
Michele Burger
Kris Graham
Ed Sweeney
Alan Yockey

The TE School Board candidates were asked to answer the following question in 500 words or less.

Although there are many important issues facing the TE School District, what one issue will you focus on should you be elected?  As a school board director, what in your background, experience or education prepares you to help with this specific issue.

The four candidate responses follow below in alphabetical order according to last name.  If your question and/or comment is for a specific candidate, please refer to that individual by name so as not to confuse. Voters will select two of these candidates in November for the school board.

TE School Board Candidate Michele Burger
Tredyffrin, East – Region 2

Thank you for the opportunity to introduce myself. I’m Michele Burger, School Board candidate for Region 2. My family and I moved to the Glenhardie neighborhood in Wayne 17 years ago. As parents of three young children, we considered a number of communities but chose Tredyffrin because of its nationally ranked schools. We are very pleased that we did. All of our children have received excellent preparation for college and beyond.

Over the past 15 years, I have volunteered Mat every level of my children’s schooling including serving as PTO president at Valley Forge elementary. I have actively participated in monthly School Board meetings as well as finance and facilities subcommittee meetings. I have been a community activist and liaison regarding School Board decisions that impact residents of Region 2.

These experiences have afforded me the opportunity to work with many different committees, levels of school district personnel, township personnel, and community members. In every instance, I strove to maintain open communication, to look for creative solutions when needed, and to consider our tax burden and District spending priorities. With my degree in Business and my professional career as a manager of a large sales force, I have experience with negotiating employment contracts, setting measurable goals, and managing budget expenditures.

If I were to only focus on one issue that is important to me, it would not be a true picture of how I would approach my responsibilities on the School Board. There are a number of key standards that I will uphold, if elected.

1) I will work to maintain the highest quality education for all students at an affordable price to taxpayers.

2) I will establish better avenues for open communication and transparency. This would include but is not limited to posting community questions and school board responses online.

3) I will gather community, student, teacher, and administrators’ input as well as the views of fellow school board members prior to making fiscal and educational decisions.

4) I will fight to eliminate Keystone exams as a graduation requirement.

With these standards in mind, the one “issue” that I will give extra focus to is the District’s spending priorities. Over the past several years, I have a track record of questioning the District’s spending – especially the $4 million maintenance building that was recently approved.  I have questioned the need for security fencing that provides no real security and has an impact on homeowners whose properties are adjacent to our schools. With the help of others, I was able to stop the destruction of the VFE tennis courts, a valuable community resource, which in fact saved money and allows the PTO and School District to generate revenue through usage fees to outside organizations.

If elected, I will utilize my business background, my track record of questioning the District’s spending priorities, and my key standards as guiding principles to serve students, employees, and taxpayers of the Tredyffrin-Easttown School district.

For additional questions, please contact me at or 484-254-6515.

TE School Board Candidate Kris Graham
Tredyffrin, East – Region 2

I, Kris Graham, have the privilege to currently serve as president of the Tredyffrin Easttown School District. I spent forty years as a classroom teacher. I am a wife and a mother of two adult sons – both Conestoga graduates. I treasure two grandchildren and my husband and I nurtured eleven foster children over a dozen years. They too benefitted from the TE schools.  I have served for three and a half years on the T/E School Board chairing the Legislative and Education Committees, two years as vice-president, and led the Negotiation Team and the Superintendent Search Committee. My advanced degrees in education and teaching certificates in multiple areas enables me to work three mornings a week at a local school that serves at risk adolescents and maintain a private tutorial practice.

Ms. Benson invited me to submit an essay on one topic that I will concentrate on as an incumbent school board candidate. My campaign pledge comes directly from the TE School District mission statement crafted by TE stakeholders:

“To inspire a passion for learning, personal integrity, the pursuit of excellence and social responsibility in each student.”

I also commit to maintaining Conestoga among the elite high schools in the United States as recently recognized by

“Conestoga ranked number two overall (nationally) — trailing only Horace Greeley of Chappaqua, NY — (number one in Pennsylvania), 59th best in facilities (11th in the state), 19th in teaching faculty (third in the state) and the 54th safest high school in America (fourth safest in Pennsylvania).”

The survey compared 21,000 schools in the United States. I invite you to read the entire article, as well as all of the other achievements of our students and faculty, on Tredyffrin Easttown School District’s acclaimed website:

I enjoy meeting you as I knock on doors, attend school functions and civic engagements. I look forward to working with this supportive community, sharing our TE pride, and continuing the TE legacy of academic excellence!

You can contact me via –

Thank you!

Kris Graham

TE School Board Candidate Ed Sweeney
Tredyffrin, East – Region 2

Dear Neighbor:

Pattye Benson has laid down a real challenge: state what is the one most pressing issue facing the school board and what are my qualifications to address it.  Check out my Facebook EdSweeney4TE to review specific reform issues I am proposing in various areas, such as restoring applied technology and languages in elementary school, combating drug use, and using a more “user friendly” model for public comment.

Let me introduce myself.  My name is Ed Sweeney and I am a local attorney who fights on the side of people like yourself.  I will fight, effectively, for Tredyffrin’s interests and Region 2’s interests. My wife, Franny, and I have an 8 year old at VFES, Katie, and Franny volunteers regularly as a “library mom” and records the children singing.  For 20 years, I have tried to develop my volunteer leadership skill sets to effectively and efficiently obtain results in areas including government, church (Saint Isaac’s), charitable, and political venues.  This includes 15 years on volunteer Boards in Tredyffrin’s government, including Planning Commission and Zoning Hearing Board.  I have fought vigorously as a political leader to keep Tredyffrin affordable and competitive, and against budget busting school taxes and the PIT and EIT.

Our focus needs to be keeping Tredyffrin affordable for middle class families while improving the already fine academic quality in the School District.  We are not high priced Radnor.  The mistake Radnor and other school districts have made is placing scarce resources in building schools or on administrative costs.  We are drifting down a risky path of borrowing $24 million of capital without specific publicly articulated goals, installing expensive fences that bring little safety value, and a $4.8 million maintenance facility that is twice its forecast costs.  I agree with the comment: “no one likes to see money spent on facilities and not the students.”  The ability to make our total local tax obligations affordable makes Tredyffrin attractive to businesses which pay crucially important transfer taxes.  Affordability also is a magnet for families that chose to settle here based on value.

Our philosophy should focus expenditures on students and teachers.  We should treat our employees fairly.  Transparency and effective public contribution help keep our system working well and is an important check on government.

Tredyffrin residents should also speak with one bipartisan voice on Pension Reform for new employees.  The Pennsylvania School Board Association (PSBA’s) has urgently declared that “the system is unsustainable and must be fixed now.”  I am in favor of a mixed system compromise as recently proposed.

Given the current dynamics of the Board, we need Directors who fight skillfully for Tredyffrin’s priorities both in public and “behind the scenes.”  As a PC member, I opposed with success proposals harmful to homeowners such as trying to make residents put in sidewalks and expanding the definition of “historic building” to apply to even post war homes.  Experience matters in a Board setting.  I am dedicated to earning your support.  Learn more about me on Facebook: EdSweeney4TE.

TE School Board Candidate Alan Yockey
Tredyffrin, East – Region 2

Hello. My name is Alan Yockey and I am a candidate for TESD School Board Director. I have spent 40 years in Information Technology as a programmer/analyst, business consultant, and IT Director. Before that I was a mathematics teacher. I know firsthand the rewards and frustrations of education. Now I am retired and have the time and experience to use serving our community on the school board. We moved to Tredyffrin in 1994 when our son was starting kindergarten at Hillside. He graduated from Conestoga in 2007.  I know the schools are excellent, and I would like to serve our community to maintain that excellent quality.

The first priority of any school board director should be to maintain the high level of excellence in our district. I will approach this on several fronts.

  1. Insure our teachers get the training and support to make them excellent in the classroom. Monitor class size. Reduce constraints imposed on teachers from standardized testing. The number one objective for teachers should be opening minds and developing critical thinking. Not having high scores on multiple choice tests.
  2. Involvement of the Community-Whether in academics, finances, art and cultural, or sports the school board needs to lead the way in providing opportunities for parents and community members to be involved. Put more material on the web. Require committees to schedule meetings both during the day and in the evening. Have more workshops like the budget workshops which both provide information and allow for citizen input. Put questions, responses and supporting material for citizen questions on the web. Agendas items should be sufficiently clear so that interested parties can be easily identified.
  3. Students-Prepare students to be well rounded adults. Make sure all students are exposed to academics, music, art, manual skills, etc. The goal is to allow every student to find their area of interest and excellence. We cannot measure the success of the schools by counting the number of students who are National Merit Scholars.
  4. Finances-Work with the administration to balance our resources among the complex mandates and demands levied on the schools by government, by the community, by the students, and by the teachers. Use my 40 years of analytical experience to evaluate needs and costs. Think long term. Do not make decisions today which will hurt the quality of our schools in the future.

Producing “Well rounded adults or citizens” is a goal for our education system and for parents and for the community. For our education system to succeed at this goal we need school board members who take a holistic approach to the school system. As an IT Director I balanced end user demands, budget, IT and end user resources, training requirements, government regulations, safety concerns, and corporate goals to achieve an optimum solution. I will do the same on the school board.

TE School Board Candidates for Tredyffrin, Region 1 respond

TE School Board Candidates for Tredyffrin, Region 1:
Neal Colligan
Roberta Hotinski
Todd Kantorczyk
Neill Kling

The TE School Board candidates were asked to answer the following question in 500 words or less.

Although there are many important issues facing the TE School District, what one issue will you focus on should you be elected?  As a school board director, what in your background, experience or education prepares you to help with this specific issue.

The four candidate responses follow below in alphabetical order according to last name.  If your question and/or comment is for a specific candidate, please refer to that individual by name so as not to confuse. Voters will select two of these candidates in November for the school board.

TE School Board Candidate Neal Colligan
Tredyffrin, East – Region 1

In Pennsylvania, the State is mandated to provide education to our children.  Local municipalities are permitted some autonomy in operating educational franchises.  This autonomy is centered on fiscal management and meeting established minimum standards…districts that fail come under State control.  We achieve educational excellence in T/E for reasons schools succeed anywhere…engaged parents who value education, experienced professionals in the education function and a socio-economic demographic that promotes physical and mental health.  T/E will continue to excel educationally because you (and I) will accept nothing less.

In selecting SB members, we should understand the power we give them. The Position we’re discussing regards the management of the local educational operation; largely relegated to business/organizational decisions and setting a local tax rate.  Educational excellence is the over-riding mission but THIS JOB is very specific.  The inalienable right of the SB Member is to levy taxes…that affects every household and business in our community…THIS JOB is to assure the money is spent wisely.   To “keep our schools great” or “make education better”, one should seek a position in the Education Department…curriculum is State mandated.  To change the State’s funding of PSERs, the election venue would be State Representative.  No person in this race is running for teacher, coach, administrator or good parent…those jobs feature direct contact with students.

I’ve been a Tredyffrin citizen for 20 years, attending School Board meetings for 5 years.  From the “EIT Study” until today, I continue to educate myself on the operation of our District. I became an activist, speaking out was necessary.  I’ve written in The Suburban many times regarding T/ESD finances, worked with a group of para’s/aides (at their request) to prevent their outsourcing, compelled the Board to release documents in the PA Open Records Office case Colligan vs T/E School District and continue to speak out on District issues that impact the community.  I’ve worked with some great people…R’s and D’s and I’s.  You can read about the positions I’ve advocated by searching this site.  I am who I am and will continue to be…that’s my BIG promise.

The job is straight-forward. Deliver excellent education while operating efficiently….that’s what you deserve.  Basics:  be honest with the community in financial matters, welcome community input, adhere to established rules regarding transparency, focus on long-term viability of the system and be a good community citizen.  Follow that path and the T/ESB won’t be constantly locking-horns with the public….TEMS fence…$5 MM garage…deficit budget/maximum tax increase/annual surplus cycle…outsourcing paras/aides…secret meetings that s/b public…shouting down community members…ALL can be in the past.

The attitude of “we know better”…”the community doesn’t need to know”…”they’re OUR schools” needs to change…THAT’s the #1 issue.  I’m (uniquely???) qualified for THIS position…my accounting degree and MBA provide the education necessary for the task, years of educating myself prepare me for the position and I’m not too full-of-myself. My record is easy to access…watch the last/any video of a SB meeting, search here if inclined.  Know the candidates: prepared?…share your values?…have leadership qualities?  Change is coming…  Thanks for listening.

TE School Board Candidate Roberta Hotinski
Tredyffrin, East – Region 1

As a geoscientist with a Ph.D. from Penn State who has spent the last 12 years working at Princeton University, I have spent most of my career in environments of educational excellence.    After working in research, I moved into science management and communication, gaining extensive experience in project coordination and outreach to the public, including teacher professional development.   I am currently the project manager for a $3.5 million/year ocean research initiative at Princeton (, which has given me additional experience in budgeting and consensus building among stakeholders.

As a scientist and parent with children in T/E, the single most important issue for me is preserving the quality of education that has made our district and our community so successful.   If elected, I will work to guarantee that:

1. Spending is focused on students.
Recently the Board has committed to significant expenditures for capital projects that were not adequately justified to the community, including issuing $24 million in bonds for future projects and approving a $4.5 million facilities building. Funding decent and safe school buildings is important to the education program, but I would push to provide details on design and costs long before the meeting where a final vote is held.  In addition, with over $30 million in our reserve fund I believe the Board should set a formal target for an adequate fund balance and develop strategies to limit the fund’s growth, such as committing surpluses to the following year’s operating expenses or increasing contributions to capital projects.

2. Our district is providing a competitive 21st century education.
I am concerned about the impacts of high stakes testing and would propose an internal review of how much time (and thus money) is being devoted to preparing for PSSA’s and Keystone Exams, plus the costs of remediation.   I would also propose actively soliciting input from parents, teachers, and administrators on how current curricula and services are working for our students.  As a particular area of interest, I would advocate strengthening partnerships with local universities and businesses to enhance STEM initiatives, including internships and after-school or summer programs.

3) Community members are active partners in improving our district.
I am committed to transparency and accountability, improved communication with the public, and mining community talent to help improve our schools.  Specifically, I advocate
–  Increasing two-way interaction at Board meetings, providing a mechanism for the public to ask questions between meetings, and publishing answers to public questions online
–  Utilizing the expertise of our community members by creating citizen task forces or committees on complex issues

Residents of T/E deserve to feel confident that their tax dollars are being used wisely to provide a first-class education for every child in T/E.  I believe my background and professional experience have prepared me well to safeguard the interests of both students and taxpayers, and I hope voters will agree.   I am happy to answer questions and can be reached at or (484) 320-7470.

TE School Board Candidate Todd Kantorczyk
Tredyffrin, East – Region 1

My name is Todd Kantorczyk, and I’m a candidate for Region 1 T/E School Board Director.  Serving on the board of a successful public school district like T/E requires directors to devote attention to a wide array of issues, many of which arise or shift significantly over the course of a school year.  Accordingly, choosing a single issue above all others would not be an accurate reflection of how I intend to approach my responsibilities as a school board director if elected.  With that said, I do believe a critical issue that will require much of my focus is ensuring that our district continues to provide a high quality education in an environment that demands consistent and transparent application of sound fiscal principles.

By all objective measures, we have excellent public schools.  Our schools provide a wide array of benefits, all of which maintain our home values and help define us as an outstanding community where people want to move and live.

But it will be a challenge to maintain this excellence looking at the financial pressures facing the district.  For example, the district will face almost $44 million in pension obligations over the next five years plus increases in unfunded mandates such as high stakes testing.  At the same time, the primary sources of revenue for the district are taxes from residents and businesses, and recently the current board has asked the community to shoulder additional tax burdens.  Accordingly, it is critical to ensure that: (1) funds are being managed in a fiscally responsible manner that adequately supports our excellent educational programs; and (2) requests for additional tax revenues are scrutinized and minimized.

My background and experience demonstrate that I am up for this task.  For example:

  • As the father of three current students in our district, I have a good sense of the issues schools face “on the ground” and the resources necessary for the district to deliver a high quality education;
  • As an environmental attorney, I find innovative solutions to complex issues, including land use and development matters, through input and buy-in from wide groups of stakeholders;
  • As a partner at a law firm, I understand the financial principles employed by Fortune 100 companies and small businesses; and
  • As the child of a former school board president, I appreciate the important role that committed local leaders can play in making sure that public schools deliver for our children and the entire community.

Finally, I feel strongly that our neighbors can provide valuable input on this and many other issues.  To that end, I would like to explore ways to increase public engagement and board transparency, including revising the procedure for interaction at monthly board and committee meetings.  Moreover, I hope to advocate for more local control of our schools so that our community, rather than Harrisburg or Washington, can decide how to focus our educational resources.

For additional questions, please contact me at or 484.832.8888.  Thank you.

TE School Board Candidate Neill Kling
Tredyffrin, East – Region 1

I welcome the opportunity to speak to what I believe is the most pressing issue facing the T/E School Board:  how to transition from the strong leadership of Dr. Waters and work with incoming Superintendent Gusick to keep our school district the best that it can be without overspending taxpayer money.  This will require cooperation and foresight, and it should be undertaken by those with the humility to listen, the energy to think about where the district needs to be several years from now, and the courage to take steps now to make that possible future a reality.

The question is, will the Board sit back and let administrators decide most everything, merely providing a rubber stamp for their plans on the theory that educators know best what they need?  Or will the board members be proactive, strategic and constructively critical partners, offering their own unique insights and always listening keenly to the parents and the taxpayers with the understanding that we all have to live with the consequences whether we use the schools or not?  To my mind, the answer must be “no” to the former and “yes” to the latter.  There are a great many things that educators are uniquely equipped to handle – e.g. the curriculum and the quality of the hired teachers – but there are many other areas in which the citizens and their representatives must have significant input – e.g. salaries and benefits, administrator to teacher ratio, how much we should provide for facilities and safety, and how all of that that impacts the taxpayers and the quality of life in the surrounding community.  It appears that the District has managed the education side quite well, but there is always room for improvement on the other issues, along with earning the confidence of the citizens that their voices are being heard throughout.

What qualifies me to join the team of school directors in what promises to be a new era is the insight that comes from working cooperatively to manage a business enterprise.  I am a graduate of Lafayette College and the Law School of the University of Pennsylvania.  My day job is as a commercial litigator in Philadelphia with the law firm Harkins Cunningham LLP where I have spent 23 years representing companies large and small in lawsuits involving state and federal law.  But I don’t just practice law, I also help manage my firm.  I know what it means to meet a payroll, to lease real estate, to manage mostly wonderful and occasionally not-so-wonderful employees, and to do so in an environment that requires the consensus of a small group of very dedicated, intelligent people who are not afraid to speak their minds.  I also understand neighborhood concerns about the aesthetic health of our community, having served on the Tredyffrin Zoning Hearing Board since 2007.  I hope to continue my service by helping to set the future course for a school district that I have called home for over twenty years and to which I have and will entrust the secondary education of two of my children.  I will be honored to have your vote to enable me to do so.

Voters to select 5 T/E School Board Directors in November – All 10 Candidates provide responses

Your vote mattersIn November, voters in the TE School District will go to the polls to select five school board directors. People bring different backgrounds and qualifications to the job of school board director and as voters; we need to make the right choices on Election Day.

To assist voters in the decision-making process, it is important for the public to know the candidates. In early July, the following question was emailed to the ten T/E School Board candidates:

Although there are many important issues facing the TE School District, what one issue will you focus on should you be elected?  As a school board director, what in your background, experience or education prepares you to help with this specific issue.

I asked that the candidate’s response “not to be a political campaign plug or a laundry list of school district issues”. Their personal response was to “(1) focus on ‘one’ issue that is important to you and (2) to explain how your background/experience qualifies you to tackle this issue. All TE School Board candidates were invited to send a response not to exceed 500 words by August 1.

After reading the responses from the candidates, you be the judge whether or not the candidates successfully answered the question. Since many of the candidates spoke of transparency and communication with the public, it will be interesting to see if they respond to questions or comments.  I would ask you to remember, that these candidates are our neighbors — they are one of us – and I ask that all comments/questions be respectful and not personal attacks.

In the Tredyffrin, District 1 school board race, Dr. George Anderson withdrew from the race; therefore, his statement will not be included. On July 30, Neill Kling announced his candidacy to replace Anderson in a Tredyffrin, Region 1 candidate. With the receipt of Kling’s response today, I can now say that all ten candidates have provided a response for Community Matters.

The school board candidate responses will appear on Community Matters in alphabetical order (by last name) according to the region race. The schedule is as follows:  Tredyffrin, Region 1 on Wednesday, August 5, Tredyffrin, Region 2 on Friday, August 7 and Easttown, Region 3 on Monday, August 10.  Below is the list of candidates by region:

Candidates for Tredyffrin, Region 1:
Neal Colligan
Roberta Hotinski
Todd Kantorczyk
Neill Kling

Note: There are 2 seats available in Tredyffrin, Region 1. The two candidates receiving the highest number of votes in November win. Colligan and Kling endorsed by Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee; Hotinski and Kantorczyk endorsed by Tredyffrin Township Democrats.

Candidates for Tredyffrin, Region 2:
Michele Burger
Kris Graham*
Ed Sweeney
Alan Yockey

Note: There are 2 seats available in Tredyffrin, Region 2. The two candidates receiving the highest number of votes in November win. Burger and Yockey endorsed by Tredyffrin Township Democrats; Graham and Sweeney endorsed by Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee.

Easttown, Region 3:
Kate Murphy
Francis Reardon

Note: There is 1 seat available in Easttown, Region 1.  The candidate receiving the highest number of votes in November wins. Murphy endorsed by Easttown Township Republican Committee and Reardon endorsed by Easttown Township Democrats.

This is not Ferguson, Los Angeles or Baltimore … it’s Berwyn, Pennsylvania in 2015

This post is about an upper middle class family who live in the Berwyn Estates community of Easttown Township, where house values average in the $1 million+ category. The parents, the father a vascular surgeon and the mother an attorney, have twin teenage sons.  The 15-year old boys, both boy scouts, attend Friend’s Central School and Lawrenceville School respectively, and are active in their church.  The family is African-American.

On Friday, July 24, the brothers along with a friend, rode their bicycles to a friend’s house in the Greens of Waynesboro to go swimming.  Another upscale neighborhood in Berwyn, the ‘Greens’ is located next to the Waynesboro Country Club and its streets are named for famous golf courses (St. Andrews, Augusta, Stanwich, etc.)  It is my understanding that currently no African American families reside in the Greens.

The mother of the twin boys (remember, she is an attorney) shared ‘Biking While Black’ of what happened next in a letter to friends, neighbors and on social media.  She recounts that “a white woman with short dark brown/black hair who was driving a white Jeep SUV” followed and videotaped her sons and their friend as they cycled in the Greens.  As they were leaving the neighborhood, two Easttown Township police cars stopped the boys because “suspicious activity” was reported. The mother of the twins states that, “the boys were sandwiched in between the [police] cars and terrified.” The police filed an incident report with the Easttown Township Police Department.

After hearing the story from her sons, the mother went to the Easttown police station and was told that the complainant (the Greens resident) called the police because of recent burglaries and that she was worried because she was leaving town and that the “boys had on backpacks”.  According to the mother of the boys, the backpacks contained wet swimsuits and towels.

In her letter shared with the Greens of Waynesboro community, the mother of the twin brothers states,

“… We all know that the real reason the call was made to the police was because they are black. I understand that there have been several recent burglaries in your community and everyone is on a heightened sense of alert because of that. I want you to understand the kind of heightened alert I am on every day and every time my sons leave the safety of their home.

To the woman who was following and videotaping my sons, you frightened two young men who have lived in this community their whole lives. Please explain to me why my sons were so frightening and suspicious? Do you fear every child riding a bicycle in your community? Are backpacks the Berwyn PA equivalent of a hoodie?

Please understand where my heightened alert comes from. Whatever you think of the Trayvon Martin verdict several things are clear. The young black man (who is now dead) was perceived as one who was “suspicious and did not belong in that community”. These are the words told to the police about my boys.

To the parents in the Greens at Waynesboro, how would you feel knowing that a stranger has a video tape of your children? How would you feel knowing that there is now a police incident report with your children’s names, address and birthdays permanently a part of an official record? How would you feel if your children tell you now that they no longer feel comfortable going to their friends’ homes, or riding their bicycles?

The mother closes her letter with a plea for people to, “please stop seeing stereotypes” and to instead “see human beings.”

In a follow-up comment to her initial letter, the mother graciously explains why she chose to make this situation public,

I have gone so public with this event because I understand that racism is a part of all of us. It’s impossible not to have quick impressions when confronted by a group of people or things that are different. We all live in a country where the media seems to thrive on perpetuating fear and stereotypes. What we do with those reactions is what makes the difference.

I hope through this very public display of our families experience, a few more people will stop….acknowledge the fear/thought they have as a reaction that should be changed…breathe….and then see the person they are interacting with as just another one of God’s children.

We all watch the news but this story brings the troubling, ugly side of racism right to our doorstep. Racial discrimination is a deep-rooted part of this country’s history, and it’s going to take substantial work for change to happen. People talk about diversity in communities during Black History Month, but other times of the year, this conversation disappears. Black Lives Matter – All Lives Matter.

I applaud the mother for standing up and speaking out but I don’t know that I could be as tolerant and gracious in my response. Bravo to her for setting the bar high as a parent and as a role model to us all!

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