2015 Pennsylvania School District Rankings based on PSSAs: Unionville Chadds Ford retains top spot, Radnor in 2nd and TE School District drops to 7th! Anti-Standardized testing movement gaining traction locally!

There is an opt-out movement against standardized testing in public schools playing out across the country. Opponents of the exams argue that too much time in public education is spent teaching to the test, stressing out students and teachers and detracting from real learning time. Locally, the anti-standardized testing is gaining traction among parents in Lower Merion, Radnor and Tredyffrin Easttown School Districts – just as the Pennsylvania school district PSSA standings for 2015 are released.

The Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) formula ranks the school districts based on three years of state standardized test scores, giving the most weight to the current year. The PSSA is a standards-based assessment of what a student should know and be able to do at varying levels in reading, writing, science and math.  Reading and math is assessed in grades 3 through 8 and grade 11; writing is assessed in grades 5, 8 and 11 and science assessed in grades 4, 8 and 11. The rankings do not denote the overall quality and performance of the school district, only the PSSA scores.

A Pennsylvania school district that places in the top 15 or 20 out of 500 districts statewide based on the PSSA exams is an achievement for which  students, parents, teachers and administrators can all be proud.   Proponents of standardized testing view PSSA scores as a reliable predictor of future success.  As a tool for student assessment, the PSSA exam helps measure and provides useful information of what students are learning. The PSSAs measure the performance of the entire class and provide of measurement of how an overall class is performing. But some parents have chosen not to have their kids participate, claiming the tests cause undue stress for kids, and have no direct benefit.

The Pennsylvania school district’s PSSA rankings for 2015 are now available and reported in Pittsburgh Business Times. This is the fifth consecutive year that I have tracked the top 15 school districts in Pennsylvania as ranked by the PSSA results. Results reveal that Unionville Chadds Ford School  District (UCFSD) in Chester County is holding on to top placement.  The yellow highlighted line in the chart below indicates that T/E School District has fallen in PSSA rankings each year during the last five years.  The District was second in 2011, third in 2012, fourth in 2013, fifth place in 2014 and for 2015 dropped to seventh place in the PSSA rankings.

2015  2014   2013   2012   2011           School District (County)
8 4 1 1 1 Upper St. Clair (Allegheny)
5 2 2 5 6 Mt. Lebanon (Allegheny)
1 1 3 2 3 Unionville-Chadds Ford (Chester)
7 5 4 3 2 Tredyffrin-Easttown(Chester)
10 8 5 6 5 North Allegheny (Allegheny)
2 3 6 4 4 Radnor (Delaware)
4 6 7 7 9 Hampton Township (Allegheny)
3 7 8 10 12 South Fayette Township(Allegheny)
6 9 9 8 7 Lower Merion (Montgomery)
12 12 10 9 8 Central Bucks (Bucks)
9 10 11 13 15 Wallingford-Swarthmore (Delaware)
13 13 12 12 11 Fox Chapel Area  (Allegheny)
16 11 13 14 13 Great Valley (Chester)
15 15 14 11 11 Peters Township  (Washington)
11 14 15 19 19 Rose Tree Media (Delaware)

After UCFSD (Chester County) in the PSSA rankings, Radnor (Delaware County) moved up to second place, followed by South Fayette (Alleghany County) in third, Hampton Township (Alleghany County) in fourth, Mt. Lebanon (Alleghany County) in fifth and Lower Merion (Montgomery County) moved up from ninth to sixth.

Interesting to note that Radnor and Lower Merion School Districts advanced on the state-wide PSSA rankings; both districts ahead of TE, which dropped to seventh. The TE School District has continued a steady downward movement in the PSSA rankings during the same period that Radnor and Lower Merion school district improved their scores. The question is why are the PSSA rankings going down in TE rather than up. The only other local Chester County school district represented at the top of the PSSA rankings chart is the Great Valley School District, which dropped from eleventh to sixteenth in the 2015 list.

We know that Pennsylvania parents that oppose standardized testing is advancing. In 2012, only 260 Pennsylvania students opted out of the math and reading PSSAs.  In 2014, more than 1,000 of the 800,000+ eligible students opted not to take the tests according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education. It will be interesting to see if the PSSA rankings change substantially as the students opting out of the standardized testing increases.

Parents in TE School District have arranged for the screening of the documentary, “Standardized Lies, Money & Civil Rights: How Testing is Ruining Public Education” created by a Berks County teacher is scheduled for the Saturday Club in Wayne on April 27 at 7 PM.  According to the film’s website, its purpose is to “shed light on the invalid nature of these tests, the terrible consequences of high-stakes testing, and the big money that’s involved.”

Fencing at Valley Forge Middle School is on the move: Plan now includes a “Zig Zag Fence to No Where”.

Chain_Link_FenceThe TESD Facilities Committee meeting was held on Friday, April 10 at 2 PM.  Although the agenda was available on the TESD website for a week, there was no mention of the Valley Forge Middle School fencing project. With the ongoing fencing discussions with the District, township and residents, it was odd that there was to be no discussion of the matter.  When we showed up for the meeting, we were surprised to learn that the VFMS fencing project was added to the agenda. No one was notified of the last minute addition – not even the adjacent Green Hills property owners most affected, the “abutters”.

When I asked about the last minute change in the agenda and lack of notification, Facilities Chair Pete Motel referred my question to Art McDonnell for the “policy” answer.  According to McDonnell, the Board can change the agenda has much as they want and anytime they want – that’s the policy. McDonnell added that the District was not sure if they would have a statement on the fencing (and apparently only decided minutes before the start of the meeting!).

Interesting that with 7 of the 9 school board members and Supt. Dan Waters all in attendance at the Facilities Meeting that it is the Business Manager who describes the District’s policy. Why do we need to pay for a Superintendent (and we currently have two – Drs. Waters and Gusick) or elect a School Board, when we have a Business Manager making so many of the District’s decisions?

Pete Stanton, Green Hills resident and abutter to VFMS property, was in attendance at the meeting and provided the following comments. (Pete, is the one who suggested the ‘green line’ location for the fencing at VFMS – click here to see the map of the project with the green line indicated.)

The Facilities Committee met on Friday April 10 and offered a counter proposal for the VFMS fencing project. As an affected homeowner, I was pleased to see at least some concessions made, but, in reality, I think there is much left to be desired in the new proposal.

Here is the quick version of the new proposal:

-no fencing in front of abutting homes; Instead, 6 foot chain link following green line plan on upper fields.

  • 4 foot fencing all along VF Rd. by track up to Walker (fence on school side of current sidewalk)
  • 4 foot fencing running down VF Rd extending to northern border woods.
  • 4 foot fencing extending into woods at northern border, zig zagging through trees, ending at a residents outer property line, well within view of their home.
  • “enhanced signage” at locations TBD on or near the school borders. Facilities Committee will meet with Abutting households at date TBD to get input on these signs.

More importantly perhaps, there was much that wasn’t addressed by the new proposal. For example:

-nothing in writing or indication that the 2002 agreement between CCA and TESD would be amended to reflect the new TESD proposal.

-A connector path is not being planned on the upper field after the rest room kiosk that allows easy pedestrian access to the sidewalk along VF Rd. The Facilities Committee chairman has repeatedly said that they “reserve the right” to lock the gates at some point in the future during school hours. I think this locking will be done sooner than later without a new accommodation, which is what the new connector path (approx. 80 yards long by 4 foot wide) will provide.

-under the revised plan, the woods will definitely not be “Undisturbed” as expressly promised in the 2002 agreement … so this would be a violation of the agreement, unless an addendum to the Special Exception is agreed upon.

In my opinion, Tredyffrin Township needs to realize that what is being proposed is far from a satisfactory outcome for the residents of Green Hills and Chesterbrook. The Township needs to actively intervene and disallow any potential violation of the 2002 Special Exception.

It’s imperative that as many residents as possible go to the Tredyffrin Townships Supervisors meeting on April 20th to express the position to them that the School District has to honor the 2002 agreement. Again, this requires the School District to get in in front of the Zoning Hearing Board to get an amendment to the 2002 Special Exception agreement that my homeowners associations can agree to. Until such agreement is reached, this is still an active issue. Please encourage anyone else in Chesterbrook that you know to attend as well … it isn’t just a Green Hills issue; it’s an issue for all the residents.

Did the School Board actually think that the concession stated to a handful of people at a Facilities Committee meeting to move the fence was somehow going to end the debate?

The Facilities Chair Pete Motel continues to state and re-state that the District does not have to go before the township’s Zoning Hearing Board – that VFMS is District property and that they can do what they want with it.

Unlike the fencing at the other District schools, the fencing at VFMS is unique – the property consists of two parcels with different zoning and a legal agreement with the adjacent community.  The 2002 Special Exception by the Zoning Hearing Board set the parameters for TESD with Chesterbrook Civic Association and Green Hills Association – it would seem that any changes to that agreement would require review and updating.

This ‘new’ plan from the District does have the fencing out of the backyards of the abutters and moves the 6-foot fencing to behind the fields. (This will be the first 6-foot fencing at any of the eight schools.) However, the fencing will run the length of Valley Forge Road in front of the VFMS and into the woods that is shared with Green Hills.  Rather than ending the fencing at the woods, the fencing goes through the woods and will turn into the Chesterbrook community.  I asked if the District intended to take trees down in the woods – the response was no, that the fence would zig zag around the trees!  To be clear, the zig-zagging of the fencing will abruptly stop at the end of the woods at an abutter’s property line.  The fence will not connect to another section of fencing … the “fence to nowhere”.

If the handful of audience members who attended the Facilities Committee meeting are to believe what was stated – no further discussion is required with the township on the VFMS fencing, no approvals are required, no amendment to the 2002 Special Exception is needed. When asked if this decision to change the plans required a full TE School Board approval, the answer again was no.  In other words, the District can do whatever it wants at VFMS because the agreement was meaningless and implies that there are no deed-restrictions on the property.

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Tonight the District has a Finance Meeting (6:30 PM) and a Budget Workshop (7:30 PM) at Conestoga High School.  Click here for the agenda. Although the outsourcing vendors for the District’s aides and paras was on the last Finance Meeting a and the last School Board Meeting agendas, it does not appear on tonight’s agenda.

How are the 73 full-time aides and paras supposed to make a decision by May 1 on whether to go part-time (to remain a District employee) or go with an outsourcing company when they don’t know who the outsourcing company is or the benefits … ? 

Paoli Transportation Center moves forward … Included in SEPTA’s 2016-17 Capital Program

The following comment and photo was posted on Facebook today by Chester County Commissioner Michelle Kichline  —

County Commissioner Michelle Kichline —

I was delighted to hear the news that SEPTA has announced its 2016-27 capital program proposal recently. Among its projects that have been deemed ready for the next phase of design is the Paoli Transportation Center, a project I have had the privilege of working on as a member of the Paoli Task Force. SEPTA’s 2016-27 capital program shows funding for Phase I of the project, moving us closer toward a start of construction in 2016, as well as funding for the project’s phases thereafter for the Darby Road bridge and a parking garage. Paoli is on the move!

A user's photo.
Coincidentally, last night was the Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust’s Spring Lecture Series.  Our guest lecturer Greg Prichard presentation was “Pennsylvania Main Line Train Stations of Tredyffrin and Easttown Townships”.  Greg spoke about train station architecture and history, mthys vs. reality, evolution and growth of the railroad in our area and how past (and future) restoration efforts helped the stations to endure.  Discussing the train stations geographically from east to west, his presentation ended with Paoli Train Station.  During the Q & A following the presentation, I was asked for an update on the Paoli Transportation Center and I really couldn’t offer any new information.
So, after I saw Michelle’s Facebook comment,  I found SEPTA’s 2016 Capital Budget, dated April 2015 was just uploaded online. Below is a status on Paoli Intermodal Transportation Center contained in the recently released document:
SEPTA capital 2016
According to this graphic from SEPTA’s report, the $36 million Phase I design is underway with construction to begin in 2016. Phase I makes the station ADA accessible and includes a pedestrian overpass, elevators and new high level platform.
It appears that the “Paoli on the Move” website has not been updated in a year (April 2014) – perhaps with this exciting news from SEPTA, the timeline on the Tredyffrin Township website can be updated. It does look like the Paoli Transportation Center is taking steps in the right direction!

New Twist in TESD Aides & Paraeducators Outsourcing — Neal Colligan v. Tredyffrin Easttown School District in PA Open Records Case

During the last two years, the aides and paraeducators working in the Tredyffrin Easttown School District have lived with the threat of outsourcing. Given that we live in a wealthy Philadelphia suburb with an award right_to_know_squarewinning, nationally ranked school district, it is difficult to understand how the TESD leaders would seek to outsource valuable employee jobs rather than offer health care benefits as required by the Affordable Care Act. Due to the delay of ACA compliance enforcement, the aides and paras were able to continue their employment through the 2014/15 school year.

With the outsourcing threat present since 2013, residents continued to support the aides and paras, the only group of District employees not covered by health insurance (and the only group of employees without collective bargaining status).  Many in the community questioned the Board’s decision to outsource to avoid the cost of complying with ACA and … if this was the right alternative for the TE School District.

The journey of the District aides and paras moved forward during the 2014/15 school year, knowing that the Board continued to discuss their outsourcing future as a budget strategy. In a surprise move, the School Board approved a resolution to change the employment status of the 73 full-time aides and paras at the February 3, 2015 TESD meeting. The action was taken without notice, other than listing ‘Affordable Care Act Update’ on the meeting agenda, and after five secret executive session discussions held on November 5, 2014, December 16, 2014, January 12, 2015,  January 20, 2015 and February 3, 2015.

The Board’s February 3, 2015 action to outsource disrespected our expectation of good government.  Some residents believed that a PA Sunshine Act violation had occurred by the Board’s action, whether by misinterpretation or misapplication of the language of the Act, or … by intention.  Adding insult to injury, the affected group of aides and paras, learned of the Board’s decision via email at 10:30 PM following the February 3 Board meeting.

The Sunshine Act defines when government bodies must conduct official business in public and private, when they should allow public comment, and how and when to advertise meetings. The Act is a mechanism to increase public participation in the democratic process by minimizing secrecy in public affairs.  The School Board has had a longstanding practice of meeting in executive session before its regular meetings. In the case of the February 3 policy decision regarding the Affordable Care Act, the discussions were held in private during 5 Executive Sessions, out of the light of the public eye and without benefit of public deliberation.

Believing that the Board’s actions of February 3 regarding the aides and paras violated the spirit and letter of the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, a small group of concerned citizens (Neal Colligan, Ray Clarke, Barbara Jackson, Peggy Layden, Jerry Henige and I) sent a February 13, 2015 letter to the Board.  The request was simple … they asked the School Board to re-open the outsourcing discussion at the School Board meeting on February 23, to provide a thorough financial analysis of the ACA options and strategies, an explanation of suggested policy changes, and to allow for adequate resident commentary. As residents, these residents believed that with quick action at the February 23 meeting, the Board could remedy the process and maintain the trust of the community in the integrity of the District’s governance. The resident’s suggestion to re-open the outsourcing discussion was disregarded.

In an email dated February 20, the District’s solicitor Ken Roos responded (on behalf of the Board) to the residents’ letter of February 13, stating in part, “… At no time was the Sunshine Act violated. Moreover, the February 3, 2015 Board vote on this fully disclosed agenda item occurred after a lengthy public presentation, public Board discussion and public comment in full compliance with the Sunshine Act…”

Troubled by the dismissive and trivializing response, it remained clear that the District had not provided adequate notice to the public regarding the proposed policy changes nor specific reasons for each of the five Executive Session discussions of the Affordable Care Act; further adding to the Sunshine Act violation case. Residents and signers of the February 13 letter appealed to the Board to step from behind the words of the solicitor, to take the situation seriously and to think independently.  Again, there was no response from the Board in this regard.

Lacking an adequate response from TESD and the School Board to the February 13 letter, Neal Colligan filed a Right-to-Know Request with the District, on February 18 with the following request:

“All records relating to the implementation and execution of the TESD Resolution of February 3, 2015 regarding the Affordable Care Act updates since November 1, 2014, including all documents used to formulate, communicate, explain or justify the ACA Resolution not disseminated in public meetings.

Of particular interest are the 5 closed (Executive Session) meetings referenced by the Board President on 2/3/15, and all written communications and meeting notices and records thereof related to the discussion on this topic.”

On March 27, Colligan received a response to his RTK request from the District’s Open Records Officer Art McDonnell with two attachments – the public power point presentation of the Affordable Care Act presented at the February 3 Board Meeting and an email exchange between School Board member Virginia Lastner and a resident. Neither of these items related to the Executive Session ‘behind closed door’ ACA discussions and the outsourcing of the District’s aides and paras.  McDonnell’s response to Colligan’s RTK request:

Art McDonnell response

Colligan resplied to McDonnell and the School Board via email on March 27, 2015, noting that that both his first and last name were spelled incorrectly in the response and added that,  although his RTK request was made using his personal e-mail address, McDonnell’s response was sent to Colligan’s business email. The remainder of Colligan’s email reads as follows:

Your response and timing of response in this matter is very disappointing to me.  I’ve made a number of Open Records requests over the years and this is the second one DENIED.  Interestingly, those are the only two responses that took the maximum 30 days to receive.  While you are certainly within the boundaries of the law on these responses, I would think a Denial could be formulated much sooner in the process.  Water under the bridge….

My request was plainly written and, I assumed, easy to understand.

I was asking for the documents related to the closed Executive Sessions that occurred before the presentation on February 3, 2015 on this year; to the extent they were available and public.  What I received (attached) was the Power Point presentation from the 2/3/15 meeting and several e-mail chains between citizens and Mrs. Lastner dated after this critical meeting date.  Added to this was your denial that includes three different legal reasons for the denial of the request.  Wholly unsatisfying to this member of the community who was as puzzled as the rest of us regarding how a sensitive issue like this could have been made in a series of closed-door Executive Sessions.  I was hopeful that some light could be shed on your deliberations and decision-making thought matrix but that is not going to be the case.

It seems you have done a great deal of legal work here although the legal opinion and defenses articulated in your reply likely did not take outside research.  I’m sorry if you choose to spend valuable legal dollars just to deny this request.  If that was the intent, the response could have been forwarded last month when I made the request for Open Records.  The inclusion of post 2/3/15 items was outside of the scope of my request and it is my firm hope that you did not pay for legal review of these (and other post meeting communications) for redaction/exclusion for this Open Records response.

I’m not a lawyer and will not argue your various legal reasons for denying the request.  I know plenty of smart lawyers would tell me the counter to each of these defenses but I’m not looking to play that game.  I do know that there are many groups/organizations/people/firms dedicated to good and open government in the Commonwealth.  I’m also aware that the process for appeal of Open Records denials is a fairly simple and user friendly process…this is to insure that average citizens can shed light on the deliberations of government bodies in PA.  I’m very likely to take those steps and seek that help.  First I will confer with the other members of our community who supported me in this endeavor.  But I ask each of you: Is this the level of openness and transparency that you think appropriate for this issue?  Really, when you stood for election to your seat; is this the relationship with the community you wanted?  This is not the first time that transparency has become as issue; isn’t there one/some of you who would like to see this relationship change; the School Board become more open in process?  I know the answer is YES but we need someone brave enough to voice the opinion and insist on transparent government and it can’t come from the public.

Colligan shared the District’s response to the RTK request and his reply to Art McDonnell (above) with the other signers of the February 13 letter.  The District’s response did not support the claim for exemption from public access and those claims are not applicable in this specific case.  Although McDonnell states that the RTK was granted ‘in part’ —  neither of the two records provided are germane to the request. The District’s RTK denial request contained provisions for an appeal to Pennsylvania Office of Open Records, part of PA Department of Community and Economic Development, within fifteen business days.

On March 28, 2015, Colligan took the next step in the process and filed an appeal with the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records office. He provided requested background documentation, including copies of the original RTK request, response and records from the District. The case, Colligan v. Tredyffrin-Easttown School District, Docket No. 2015-0442 is assigned to Appeals Officer Jill Wolfe, Esq. in Harrisburg.  Colligan is required to provide all supporting information and a legal argument by Wednesday, April 8 to the Open Records Office.  A final ruling on the appeal will be made within 30 days.

Transparency in government is not a new issue. John Adams, 2nd president of the United States, wrote, “Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right and a desire to know.”  Through his Right-to-Know request and his open records appeal, Neal Colligan is asking for transparency and easily accessible information which should be public information.  He is not looking to unearth government secrets … simply asking for public information.

Stormwater Management, Why Does it Matter? Open Land Conservancy Annual Meeting, Tuesday, April 7, 8 PM

When it rains, it pours!

When it falls from the sky, we call it rain. But once those April showers hit the ground, the rain becomes something more ominous-sounding … “stormwater” … and its effects have become more complicated and expensive. We’ve seen fast-moving, drenching thunderstorms virtually paralyze parts of Tredyffrin Township, sometimes the water so damaging it causes roads to close.

The Annual Meeting of the Open Land Conservancy is tackling the complicated issue of stormwater and the public is encouraged to attend on Tuesday, April 7, at 8 PM at Great Valley Presbyterian Church, 2025 Swedesford Road, Malvern, PA 19355. Guest speaker Michele Adams, a water resource engineer and founder of Meliora Design, a civil engineering firm specializing in sustainable site design and water resources planning in Phoenixville, will discuss stormwater management, the issues in Tredyffrin and offer suggestions for homeowners.  Ms. Adams will talk about the stormwater problem in general, issues specific to Tredyffrin, and suggestions for homeowners.  Following her presentation, Ms. Adams will answer questions from the audience.

The OLC is Tredyffrin Township’s largest non-government landowner, with six preserves in the township. In total, the OLC has nearly 500 acres of open space, either owned or in conservancy.  Each year OLC provides a public meeting focusing on an environmental issue of local interest.  This year’s stormwater topic is particularly relevant, especially given some of the new development projects in Tredyffrin – the large assisted living building on Lancaster Avenue in Daylesford, Chesterbrook Shopping Center redevelopment and Wayne Glen (Richter Tract) carriage and townhouse community in Glenhardie area.

Stormwater management has been a top priority in the proposed Wayne Glen plan as the first township land development project to utilize the Trout Creek Overlay District ordinance. The proposed plan requires extensive engineering to control the storm water in the Trout Creek tributary that runs through the property.  How the Wayne Glen developers will manage the stormwater in Wayne Glen continues to be one of the major sticking points for the residents living in this development area.

The issues surrounding stormwater affects all of us; the run-off rainwater on parking lots, driveways, roads, homes and office buildings, all of which used to be absorbed by the ground but now is covered with pavement. The gutters, retention basis and storm sewers carry the water into area streams already swollen with rain. Beyond the obvious erosion to the creek banks, severe flooding and property damage, the water also sweeps pavement pollutants like motor oil, anti-freeze, brake fluid and other garbage into the streams that often feed major sources of drinking water.

Like individual homeowners, the managed preserves of OLC are  subject to erosion from stormwater run-off from neighboring properties and roads.  Stormwater management is a real problem facing this community. The growing problems with stormwater runoff are in direct proportion to the amount of impervious surfaces that are being built and the amount of soil-compacting construction activities that are taking place.

Plan to attend Ms. Adams presentation and learn how efficient stormwater management techniques can reduce the damaging impacts of stormwater runoff on water quality, on flooding, and on sensitive ecosystems impacted by all of that water

TE School Board’s proposed fencing at VF Middle School costing taxpayers thousands of dollars, Tredyffrin Township Solicitor and Board of Supervisors now involved

legal feesThe legal bills to the taxpayers continue to mount because of the TE School Board’s fencing decision at Valley Forge Middle School.

Last week, residents of Green Hills in Chesterbrook sought a compromise at a meeting with members of the District’s Facilities Committee, (Pete Motel, Liz Mercogliano, Kevin Buraks and SB President Kris Graham), Art McDonnell, Dr. Gusick, attorney David Falcone of Saul Ewing, Tom Daley of Daley & Jalboot Architects and the District attorney Ken Roos, regarding the planned 6-ft. chain link fencing.

In addition to the homeowners, attorney Brian Nagle of MacElree & Harvey represented Chesterbrook Civic Association and Michael Gill of Buckley, Brion, McGuire & Morris represented Green Hills Homeowners Association at the meeting. The meeting ended with no compromise to the proposed 6-foot chain link fencing.

Agreeing that proposed fencing violates the terms of the 2002 agreement with the Chesterbrook Civic Association, attorneys Nagle and Gill filed official Complaint letters with Tredyffrin Township yesterday on behalf of their respective clients.  The letters were sent to Tredyffrin Township’s solicitor Vince Donohue with copies to the Board of Supervisors and Township Manager. (Click here to read Nagle’s letter; click here to read Gill’s letter).

After reviewing the records, attorneys Nagle and Gill each concluded that the proposed fencing would violate a condition which Tredyffrin’s Zoning Hearing Board imposed on TESD in granting the 2002 Special Exception. The Special Exception does not permit the installation of a fence in the 250’ buffer area next to the Green Hills homes.  In his letter to Donohue, Gill states that “ … TESD’s present proposal to introduce an invasive and visually offensive fence into the agreed upon 250 foot buffer is a material change to the development to which our clients agreed and requires the Zoning Hearing Board’s approval.”  Gill further states that, “…the Township must not permit or otherwise allow that proposal to succeed.”

With this official Complaint letter, the School Board, under the leadership of Kris Graham, has caused additional costs to the taxpayers to defend their proposed Valley Forge Middle School fencing project. In addition to paying legal fees to the District’s attorney Ken Roos and to Saul Ewing attorney David Falcone, taxpayers can now add the legal fees of Tredyffrin Township solicitor Vince Donohue to the cost of fencing at VFMS. Plus, the TESD taxpayers of Green Hills in Chesterbrook must pay the legal costs of Nagle and Gill.

Here’s my question to the members of the TE School Board – when is this going to end? This isn’t YOUR money that you are using to defend your decisions, it’s OUR money – it’s the taxpayer’s money.  School Board, how many thousands more taxpayer dollars are you going to spend on legal defense of your decision?

Kris Graham, as President of the School Board, we challenge you to lead!

TE School Board’s idea of ‘compromise’ at Valley Forge Middle School … Green Hills homeowners to get 6-foot high chain link fences in their backyards instead of previously announced 4-foot fences

Green Hills residents met with TE School District representatives regarding the proposed Chesterbrook fencing project last night and learned that compromise isn’t in the school board’s vocabulary.

Representing the TE School District at the meeting were school board members Pete Motel, Kevin Buraks, Liz Mercogliano and Kris Graham in addition to Art McDonnell, Dr. Gusick, attorney David Falcone of Saul Ewing, Tom Daley of Daley & Jalboot Architects and the District attorney Ken Roos. Motel, Buraks and Mercogliano are all on the Facilities Committee and School Board President Kris Graham attended in the absence of Virginia Lastner, the fourth member of the Facilities Committee.

In addition to the homeowners, attorney Brian Nagle of MacElree & Harvey represented Chesterbrook Civic Association and Michael Gill of Buckley, Brion, McGuire & Morris represented Green Hills Homeowners Association at the meeting.

With the proposed chain link fencing planned extraordinarily close to the abutting properties, residents appealed to the school board for a reasonable discussion of the project. However, rather than finding common ground and understanding, the affected property owners learned that their backyard fencing would not be 4 feet high as previously stated at the District’s Facilities Meeting. No, in a surprise announcement, the Green Hills residents learned the District has changed the height of the chain link fencing in their backyards to six feet!

It seems to me that these homeowners are being targeted – the Valley Forge Middle School fence project calls for the two sections of fencing along Chesterbrook Boulevard and Valley Forge Road to have four foot high fencing whereas the Green Hills residents are facing 6 foot chain link fences in their backyards. I don’t’ think any of the other school fencing projects have 6-ft. high fences, do they? You have to wonder what the District uses as their criteria for 4 ft, 5 ft. or 6 ft. fencing.

I thought that you needed a variance for 6 foot fencing in Tredyffrin Twp and we know that that the District previously withdrew their variance request. However, the District sidesteps the ZHB application process by putting a 4-ft fence along Valley Forge Road, which is technically the front of the school. According to Tredyffrin Township Zoning Ordinance 208-119, the back and rear yards at Valley Forge Middle School (which includes the Green Hills-TESD property line) only requires a permit for the 6-ft. fence not a variance. (Note – as of late today, the township had not received a fence permit request from TESD).

Green Hills resident and abutting property owner Pete Stanton attended the meeting and provides his summary below.

Summary of meeting 3/25/15 with representatives of the TE School Board and concerned citizens of Green Hills and Chesterbrook regarding proposed VFMS Fencing project.

- No agreement was reached over fencing. The status is that the School Board is still determined to place the fence at or near their property line. They plan to notify residents in the near future exactly where the line of the fencing will go.

- In a surprise turnaround, the Facilities Committee Chair Peter Motel announced the fence facing Green Hills homes would be 6 feet high. Previous Facilities Committee discussions that I attended had indicated the fence near our properties to be a four foot fence. No explanation for this change was offered. The Contractor is making an application for a fencing permit to Tredyffrin Township.

- The fencing architect from Daley and Jalboot reinforced the idea that the primary goal of the fencing on their property line was border identification. The School Board had evidently not considered any other option to fencing to “mark” their borders, such as signage.

- Attorneys for Green Hills, Chesterbrook Civic Assn and the School Board’s attorney as well as their outside Counsel were all present. There was some back and forth questioning, but nothing substantive at this time.

- The invited guests presented a wide variety of commentary … the excess expense of the fence in time of fiscal crunch for the school District, the security flaws inherent in their planned fence placement and deployment, and the general disruption to all residents in cutting off the continuous access to the Rural Conservation (RC) zoned areas and paths to the fields, St Isaac’s etc.

- An alternative fencing line was proposed by a citizen (non-Green Hills resident) as a “compromise” which places the fencing well out from the homes but still cuts off access to the paths. This proposed alternative is certainly an improvement to the District’s plan, but may wind up costing the District more (due to needed new path construction) and in my opinion does not go far enough in allowing unfettered access to the 20.7 acre RC zoned open area. I have color coded the 2 alternative proposals for consideration. Please see the attached map showing my desired fencing line, (the green line plan), the Citizen’s “compromise” fencing route (red line plan) along with the pathway needed for that plan (new path is blue line). Click here for map of VF Middle School Fencing Plan.

- Green Hills and local Chesterbrook residents and the 5 “abutter” families seem clear that they want unfettered access to the 20.7 acre open area behind their homes as they have for decades. By placing the fence as a continuation of the four foot fence already in place on the upper fields closest to the school, the School District will enhance student safety. By being able to visually monitor the entire fenced area directly from the School plant, continue to allow resident path access that they have utilized forever, and save the District thousands of dollars in fencing costs… All these arguments taken together are compelling for the District to alter their current plans and strongly consider the one that I am offering here. With the “green line plan”, everyone wins.

It would seem that supporting the District’s proposed chain link fencing project is not a particularly smart political move for anyone seeking reelection to the school board. Board President Kris Graham (the only incumbent seeking reelection) and her unfavorable position on the Valley Forge Middle School fencing plan could pose a political hurdle for her in November.

It is my understanding that some members of the school board have agreed to a walkabout at the Green Hills fencing location with the five affected homeowners. I still contend that if all the board members would take the time to walk the abutting neighbor’s property, they would agree to a compromise discussion.

Here’s hoping that there is still time for reasonable people to make reasonable decisions on the Valley Forge Middle School fencing project.

Valley Forge Middle School … Do Fences Make Good Neighbors?

The struggle between the Green Hills residents in Chesterbrook and the TE School District regarding the proposed chain link fencing project continues. As the last Community Matters post and many of the associated comments would suggest, residents are asking for an open, respectful dialogue and are not confident that the school board is listening.

Some people have asked about the agreement between Chesterbrook Civic Association and TESD. Click Here to read a portion of the 2002 Agreement TESD-CCA as presented in September 2002 by Stephen Aichele (with Saul Ewing and legal counsel to TESD at that time). This agreement from 13 years ago precludes the fence construction and provides for landscaping buffer. Also included in the agreement is the community use of the fields and nature trails – the fencing will cut off accessibility.

There appears to be some confusion regarding the ‘fence permit’ between the District and Tredyffrin Township. It was announced at last week’s Facility Committee by its chair Pete Motel, that the District had received the fence permit. However, when residents have inquired at the township, they were told that the township has not issued a permit and stranger yet, the residents were told that no permit application from TESD has been received. As an aside, there appears to be some question whether the District even needs a permit for the proposed fencing. Which is it? Does the District need a permit or can they just put the fencing up?

There is some encouraging news – at the school board meeting it was stated that only the 5 ‘abutter’ homeowners were permitted to attend the upcoming March 25 meeting with the District but now an additional three Green Hills homeowners have received invitations.

I continue to receive emails and phone calls from Green Hills residents, including Joel Greenberg. Dr. Greenberg attended the Facility Committee meeting and wanted the following included on Community Matters:

I live on Brandywine Lane in Chesterbrook, and although my property does not directly abut the school property, I do see that their plans will be detrimental to the community of Green Hills. And, as outlined, will NOT provide additional safety for the school children. Yesterday I posted on the Nextdoor site a few of my observations from attending several recent meetings: School Board, TESD Facilities Committee meetings, TESD Budget meeting, Supervisors meeting, and Township meeting.

It appears that the Township feels that the problem is not theirs and that we should voice our objections with the TESD. The TESD appears to just want to erect the fence as they have already planned. Get it up quickly, realizing that once it is up, it will very, very difficult to get it moved (which would involve significant sums of money). Following is the text that I submitted to the Nextdoor site:

I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments expressed by Peter Stanton and others on the Nextdoor site. The facilities committee of the School Board of TE has shown absolutely no interest in listening to the opinions of the concerned residents.

They autocratically have made decisions to serve their own interests and specifically are trying to enact a plan for fencing the Valley Forge Middle School that is ill conceived with regard to safety, and is in violation of an agreement that they made in 2002 with regard to the land behind the Valley Forge Middle School that borders Green Hills.

The school board has obtained a permit and has a signed contract to erect a chain-link fence within several feet of houses bordering the school property. This was all done without consulting the affected neighbors. They consented to a meeting with ‘some’ of the neighbors of Chesterbrook only after many vocal complaints. Additionally, they unilaterally picked a date and time without consulting any of the neighbors and specifically said that only a few select neighbors could attend this meeting – those whose homes bordered the school property.

When asked if invited participants could send a representative if they were out of town and could not attend, the chairman of the Facilities Committee stated that he would absolutely not allow this because one of the representatives might be an attorney and he didn’t want any attorneys present. Considering that many people appoint a representative to attend closing on a house if they are unable to be present, it seems entirely out of place for this to be disallowed for a meeting with members of the School Board on issues that affect the tax-paying residents.

Joel Greenberg

One of the abutter homeowners, Pete Stanton took the following photos from his Green Hills neighborhood and overlaid the approximate proposed fencing onto the photos.  Looking at the photos certainly gives you a sense of the invasive fencing into the Green Hills community.

Chesterbrook fence 1 Miller-Stanton fence

The left side of the photo is Green Hills abutter properties and the right side is the school district’s property at Valley Forge Middle School. The proposed fencing is indicated on the photo.

View of proposed fencing from entrance to Green Hills train at Salomon.  Valley Forge Middle School is so far from this proposed fencing, it is not visible.

View of proposed fencing from entrance to Green Hills path at Salomon. Valley Forge Middle School is so far from this proposed fencing, it is not visible.

This is a photo of an abutter's home on Hancock in Green Hills indicating how close the proposed fencing is to the house!

This is a photo of an abutter’s home on Hancock in Green Hills indicating how close the proposed fencing is to the house!

VF Middle School chain link fencing closing in on Chesterbrook residents (literally!)

The saga surrounding the TE School Board’s decision to ‘mark its boundaries’ at local schools continues. Although the District withdrew its application to Tredyffrin Township’s Zoning Hearing Board, to seek a variance for 6-ft. chain link fencing, the Board remains determined to see the proposed fencing go up as a means to mark the school property lines.

In Chesterbrook’s Green Hills community, the District’s proposed chain link fencing at Valley Forge Middle School is set to go within a few feet of some of the homes. Affected homeowners in Chesterbrook have attempted to have a reasonable discussion with the school board but unfortunately, to date, those attempts have been unsuccessful. There are many issues at play that are seemingly ignored, including a 2002 agreement between the Chesterbrook homeowners and TESD regarding development of the property and the inconsistency of Green Hills Association bylaws regarding chain link fencing. The District’s chain link fencing may not comply with the Tredyffrin’s RC zoning district. According to the zoning ordinance, any wall or fence used as a buffer cannot conflict with the character of abutting district. Green Hills Homeowners Association are very strict about fencing and what is and is not permitted – I know of no chain link fencing used by any of the homeowners.

With a chain link security fence steps away from your backdoor, one has to question if the Board has considered the reduced property values of affected homeowners?

Valley Forge Middle School property is nearly 50 acres and the fencing at the Chesterbrook-Green Hills property line is located at the farthest point from the school. The proposed fencing is so far away in fact, that it cannot be seen from any point in the school. Other than to damage the values of adjacent property owners and prohibit local homeowners and children from ease of access, what exactly is the point of the fencing? Plus there’s the cost — The fencing estimate costs of the two middle schools and high schools was $250K plus an additional $100K in costs for the variance request that the District subsequently retracted.

Reasonable people should be able to have reasonable discussions. Why should residents face confrontation from the TE School Board when they ask questions and/or suggest compromise? Some Board members believe that once they are elected, it is their ‘right’ to make all the decisions. On one hand, School Board President Kris Graham regularly invites the public to attend committee meetings (“where the real work gets done”) but on the other hand, residents learn very quickly at the committee meetings that decisions have already been made and … that their opinion is neither needed or valued.

Some will suggest that ‘we’ elected these people so, therefore we get what we voted for and some on the Board will point to the high ratings of the District as proof they are doing a great job. I have heard Board members say that there are only a few dissatisfied malcontents in the community … and that everyone else believes that they are doing a great job. I’d say that the small group of malcontents is growing – just ask some of the Chesterbrook homeowners.

There’s only one currently serving TE School Board member seeking reelection – Kris Graham, who serves as TESD president. All of Chesterbrook’s 28 villages, including Green Hills, are located in the TESD District 2 voting district, which happens to be in Ms. Graham’s district. With 3,400 registered voters and their votes at stake in November, Ms. Graham may want to re-think her stance on the Valley Forge Middle School chain link fencing project in Chesterbrook. I suggest that Ms. Graham read the following letter from Green Hills resident, Peter Stanton, a long-time Chesterbrook homeowner who attended the District’s Facilities Meeting on Friday to discuss the VFMS fencing project.

I am writing to express my great disappointment over the secretive and disrespectful way the Tredyffrin Easttown School Board is treating me and fellow residents recently. I grew up believing that elected officials in our country are there to serve the public interest in an open and transparent way. I guess I am naïve in believing that inclusiveness is a key to our democracy. Recently, an example of the School Board’s disdain for the public they serve has arisen in the Chesterbrook community.
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As many residents of Chesterbrook and the surrounding communities already know, a massive chain link fencing project is about to begin in June, virtually encircling the perimeter of Valley Forge Middle School’s huge (nearly 50 acre) campus. The ostensible goal of the fencing is for student safety in the wake of Sandy Hook, Columbine and other school-based atrocities. No one is disputing the desirability of enhancing student safety. However, it is dubious whether perimeter fencing is a desirable or even effective way to protect school children. What is clear, however, is that this project has been unilaterally rammed down the throats of the surrounding community with virtually no input until the project was approved and contracted out. (with a scheduled June start date)

Here’s why there is community consternation over this project:

– One of the first rules of security is the tighter the perimeter being guarded, the better. The security fence being proposed offers anything but security. The northern perimeter of the fence, abutting 5 homes directly, is nearly a quarter mile from the school itself and totally out of the sightlines of the school. Any potential intrusion at this perimeter location would go undetected, fence or no fence. A four feet high chain link fence out of sight of the school itself, poses minimal resistance to anyone desiring access.

– The fencing project violates a written understanding between the Chesterbrook Civic Association and the School Board, from 2002, to create an easement space of 250 feet between the homes of Green Hills and the athletic fields that now comprise the open space. In fact, berms were constructed in 2002 to help mark this ‘buffer zone’, and assist the residents in maintaining the peaceful nature of their environment. This was a good faith, respectful solution to a difficult problem that is now being summarily ignored by the same people who made the agreement in the first place. With the proposed fencing, open access to Chesterbrook ‘s wonderful system of interconnected walking paths and trails would be seriously compromised.

– Cost: Overall, the entire fencing project will wind up costing Tredyffrin Easttown residents about $190,000. Apparently, this exorbitant cost doesn’t faze our School Board at all. Seems to me that at least some of these funds could be directed towards retaining some of the 73 employees they plan to lay off this year to save employee benefit costs? (yet another example of the School Board’s penchant for operating under cover of darkness). I guess fencing is a higher priority than retaining loyal employees.

– The northern perimeter of the fence borders Green Hills homes directly. There are 5 homes directly on this border (mine included) where the fence will cut off access to long-enjoyed open space and forest. The 5 homeowners average 20 years of residency here, so open access would be sorely missed. There are also several other homes just off the School border, which would also be seriously impacted. For some homeowners, this planned fencing would come to literally within several feet of their homes back entrance. This is totally disrespectful to these homeowners, especially because satisfactory and effective alternatives are available.

So what should the School Board do to protect the students? My fellow residents and I are not anti-security, and we are advocating a “reasonable man” approach here. What’s “reasonable”? What about a perimeter fence that could actually be monitored visually from the School? Supplementing the existing fencing already in place around the upper athletic fields would provide direct sightlines to the secured area, thus a better level of security while probably costing the taxpayers a lot less. …At the same time, signs announcing the school boundaries could be posted at the actual border where potential intruders would be put on notice.

At the last School Board meeting in February, impacted residents were promised a choice of mutually agreeable dates to meet and discuss the project. Since then, the School Board has awarded the contract, obtained a Township permit for building the fence, then unilaterally scheduled a “take it or leave it” meeting date with the residents, which some residents will not be able to attend (with no chance of a proxy being allowed either), and an agenda not to discuss the project, but to determine if residents want to pay for fancier fencing!

So, T.E. School Board..…In addition to a more open discourse with residents on projects affecting the entire community, please come up with a better plan to secure our children’s safety. And at the same time, honor the commitments you’ve already made to the community.

Sincerely,

Peter Stanton

In the photo below, Green Hills homeowner Gary Wu at 1452 Brandywine in Chesterbrook is standing right on the property line indicating how close the School District’s chain link fencing will go to his backdoor. Wow!

Fence border Chesterbrook

Slate of Candidates Final for Tredyffrin Board of Supervisors and TE School District Races

If you are a candidate for the TE School Board or the Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, Tuesday, March 10 marked the last day to circulate and file nomination petitions at Chester County Voter Services for Pennsylvania’s May 19, 2015 Primary Election.

TE School Board candidates must file a petition signed by at least 10 qualified voters of the school district for the political party with which the petition will be filed. Generally, school board candidates cross-file. To cross-file in a primary election (that is, to run on both parties), a registered Democrat or Republican must circulate a proper petition for the other party. The petition must contain signatures as previously mentioned. If elected on both party ballots in the May primary, a candidate will appear on both party ballots in the general election in November.

Between the Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors and the TE School Board, there are a total of nine seats available and of those nine seats there are only two incumbents seeking reelection. In addition, the current Tredyffrin Township Auditor Bryan Humbarger (R) is not seeking reelection. The candidates for Tredyffrin Township Auditor are Mary McCracken (D) and Lynn Shine (R).

For Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, the Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee has endorsed the following candidates:

• District 1 East: Paul Olson *
• Supervisor at Large: Sean Moir
• Supervisor at Large: Trip Lukens
• District 3 West: Heather Greenberg
* Incumbent

For Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, the Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee has endorsed the following candidates:

• District 1 East: Tory Snyder
• Supervisor at Large: Elva Bankins
• Supervisor at Large: Lou Horvath
• District 3 West: Yolanda Van de Krol

In a review of the slate of supervisor candidates, there are some familiar names and some not so familiar names among the list. The District 1 East supervisor race has a re-match between Tredyffrin Township Planning Commissioner Chair Tory Snyder (D) and long-serving Republican supervisor Paul Olson, president of ANA Laboratories, Inc. If you recall in 2011, this particular Tredyffrin supervisor race was extremely close with Olson (R) receiving 1,331 votes and Snyder (D) receiving 1,318 votes. Only 13 votes separated the two candidates four years ago, it will be interesting to see what happens in 2015.

Besides Snyder, there are two other Tredyffrin Township Planning Commissioners seeking elected office – At-Large supervisor candidate Trip Lukens (R) and TE School Board candidate Ed Sweeney (R). Lukens, a principal at Lukens & Wolf, a real estate appraisal and consulting company ran with current Chester County Commissioner Michele Kichline (R) as at-large supervisor candidates two years ago but lost the election to Democrats Mark Freed and Murph Wysocki.

Another interesting twist in the 2015 supervisor candidate race is at-large candidate Sean Moir (R). Owner of Western Heritage Mapping, a historical mapping service, Moir isn’t new to the local campaign circuit. Moir previously ran as a Tredyffrin at-large supervisor candidate six years ago but as a Democratic candidate. I was on the Democratic ballot as an at-large supervisor candidate with Sean but following our defeat in 2009, I changed my political party status back to Independent whereas Sean’s path took him to the Republican Party.

New names to the Tredyffrin Board of Supervisor races includes candidates Heather Greenberg (R), Elva Bankins (D), Lou Horvath (D) and Yolanda Van de Krol (D). A quick Google search indicates that Greenberg is a CPA working as Director of Finance and Administration at ModSolar; Bankins is management consultant and leadership development coach and speaker; Horvath is Director of graduate online health services at St. Joseph’s University and Van de Krol is Vice President, Relationship Manager at Customers Bank.

Looking at the TE School Board, there are five open seats available this election cycle – two for Tredyffrin Region 1, two for Tredyffrin Region 2 and one for Easttown Region 3.

The Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee has endorsed the following candidates for the office of Tredyffrin-Easttown School Director:

• Tredyffrin, East – Region 1: Neal Colligan
• Tredyffrin, East – Region 1: George Anderson
• Tredyffrin, West – Region 2: Kris Graham*
• Tredyffrin, West – Region 2: Edward Sweeney
*Incumbent

The Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee has endorsed the following candidates for the office of Tredyffrin-Easttown School Director:

• Tredyffrin, East – Region 1: Roberta Hotinski
• Tredyffrin, East – Region 1: Todd Kantorczyk
• Tredyffrin, West – Region 2: Michele Burger
• Tredyffrin, West – Region 2: Alan Yockey

In addition to the Region 1 and Region 2 seats in Tredyffrin Township, Region 3 in Easttown Township has one seat available. Currently serving school board director Dr. Pete Motel (R) is not seeking reelection. Republican candidate for Region 3 is Kate Murphy and the Democratic candidate is Francis Reardon, owner of a local construction company.

Democrats on the ballot for Tredyffrin East Region 1 are Dr. Roberta Hotinski, a geoscientist at Princeton Environmental Institute and environmental attorney Todd Kanatorczyk, a partner at Manko, Gold, Katcher & Fox. Republicans opposing Hotinski and Kanatorscyk in Tredyffrin East Region 1 are Neal Colligan, a commercial mortgage banker at CKPP & Associates and Dr. George Anderson, Director of International Student Development at Valley Forge Military Academy. I am pleased that my friend Neal Colligan, a mainstay at regular school board meetings and finance committee meetings, is a candidate for the school board. A longstanding supporter of the District’s aides and paras, he has continually offered background and expertise on the District’s finances.

Currently serving as TE School Board President, Republican Kris Graham is seeking reelection to another term. Attorney with Wusinich & Brogan and current Tredyffrin Township Planning Commissioner Ed Sweeney (R) is running with Graham for Tredyffrin West Region 2. Opposing Graham and Sweeney are Democrats Michele Burger and Alan Yockey. You may recall, Michele Burger was front and center on the Valley Forge tennis court issue, helping to save them from demolition by the school district. Joining Berger for Region 2 is Alan Yockey, a retired IT consultant.

Here’s hoping that the focus of the local 2015 political campaign season is about the issues and the candidates that best represent the vision of the community. It’s important to know the person that you are voting for and whether or not the candidate best represents your views. It’s your school district and your township – make your vote count! Thank you to all of the candidates for stepping up to run for office!

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