House Tour, Hurricane Matthew, Fritz Lumber & T/E School District Finances!

Community Matters readers — I haven’t disappeared; it’s been a busy last month.  First there was the Trust’s 12th Annual Historic House Tour on Sept. 24 which I am delighted to report as extremely successful.  To the house tour guests and to the sponsors who support historic preservation and make the annual tour possible, we say thank you.  And a special thank you to the historic homeowners for opening their homes to the public – the historic homes really are the stars on house tour day!

Following the house tour, my husband and I went to our 100-yr. old house on Port Royal Island, SC for a few days.  On the intercostal waterways, the Sea Islands are located between Charlestown, SC and Savannah, GA, close to Beaufort, SC and Hilton Head.  We stayed on the island until Hurricane Matthew forced our evacuation and then spent the next 4 days wondering if our house survived. Although the area endured major destruction and many folks suffered great loss, I am happy to report that our house remained standing.  We did suffer some roof damage and are now maneuvering through the insurance process.

After returning from SC, my focus shifted to ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz … A Party in the Yard’ – a celebration of the Fritz family and the 153 years of the William H. Fritz Lumber Company in Berwyn on Saturday, Oct. 22, 7-11 PM. The property’s new owner Eadeh Enterprises is the presenting sponsor for the event — Company president Stacey Ballard has enthusiastically supported the event and the celebration of the Fritz family. On behalf of the Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust, we are excited to honor the contributions of the Fritz family to the community.  Guests will enjoy great food, live music and live & silent auctions plus the opportunity to walk the property for one last time. It really will be an evening to remember, tickets are available at .

Here’s another historic preservation update — John Zaharchuk, owner of Summit Realty Advisors invited me to a meeting a few weeks ago with himself and Heckendorn Shiles Architects.  Summit Realty is the developer for the CVS project at the Covered Wagon Inn site in Strafford. With restoration plans and drawings now in place, it was a privilege to see the PowerPoint presentation for the Covered Wagon Inn along with samples of proposed materials.  In a word – WOW.  I was truly impressed at their enthusiasm and with the level of preservation detail planned for the 18th century inn.  Yes, we will have a CVS pharmacy on the property but the Main Line landmark is saved (and restored!) in the process!  Thank you John Zaharchuk and Heckendorn Shiles!

Supervisor and school district meetings continue and I appreciate the diligence of  my friend Ray Clarke to attend, especially given my absence of late.

Ray reports that the TE School District finance meeting this week was particularly lively and offered the following three topics of note for me to share.  I hope that you will take the time to review Ray’s remarks and offer your own comments.  As always, thank you Ray —-

  1. Substitute teacher daily rates. TE is at the low end of the rates paid by our regional peers, and the fill rates for vacancies are down in the 80% decile from last year’s 90%.  This is a nationwide issue and reflective of lower teacher graduation numbers.  The Committee agreed to the Administration request to match the rate paid by Lower Merion (not the best comparison?), which would make our starting rate of $115/day higher than 10 of the 13 peers benchmarked.
  2. Bond advance refunding. Lots of technical issues here, but a notable bottom line: the Committee is recommending that the Board approve next Monday the parameters of a bond issuance, even though our long-time bond counsel, Saul Ewing, disagrees with the investment banker (not the district’s Fiduciary) about the IRS rules, the structuring of the issue and, as a consequence, the savings.   Between now and Monday the District is going to shop for a counsel to give a more favorable opinion to approve 10 year debt service savings of at least $500,000 and hopefully over $1 million.
  3. Budgeting. There was initial discussion of a proposal to replace the (now accepted, I guess) surplus budgeting of prior years with a specific “above-the-line” (ie: in the tax base) appropriation for capital expenditure.  At current capital spending levels of $6-7 million a year and 75% funding by borrowing this would phase in an expense item of over $1.5 million a year.  A number of assumptions in this:

a) that budgeting will henceforth be accurate

b) that current taxpayers should pay an assigned percentage (of whatever size) of capital expenditures benefiting future students

c) that current residents should pay anything while the General Fund Balance contains $32 million of current taxpayer money, including $5 million already committed for capital projects and over $9 million for PSERS (for which the district can and does tax every year).

There are really important issues in all of this, and I hope that residents can find some time assess the pros and cons and let the Board know their opinion.

Should the recent court ruling ordering Lower Merion School District to rollback tax increase make a difference in the way TESD School Board manages taxpayer money?

Tonight, Tuesday, September 20th is the TESD Finance Committee meeting, 7 PM at the TE Administration Offices, 940 W Valley Rd # 1700, Wayne, PA .  Residents encouraged to attend — your voices do matter!

With an agenda of 110 pages, the community is fortunate to have residents willing to review the information in advance of meetings.  Ray Clarke provides the following commentary regarding the agenda (click here for agenda).

There are a couple of items that the community might want to pay particular attention to in the light of the recent injunction ordering Lower Merion School District to roll back this year’s tax increase.

To recap, the Montgomery County judge found that LMSD (quoting from the injunction) deliberately over-estimated deficits, failed to predict surpluses, represented to PDE that costs for Special Education and retirement could not be covered without a tax increase, and transferred Fund Balance to assigned accounts to avoid the statutory cap of 8% of the annual budget while still raising taxes.  The judge found that LMSD’s Fund Balance commitments were funded out of the budget each and every year.

These findings will seem very familiar to those following the affairs of TESD.  Moving to the agenda:

Item 6, Bond Discussion: TESD is considering repayment of $18 million of higher interest bonds – arguably a sensible move – but by issuing yet more bonds at mostly 4%, when there is $32 million of taxpayer money sitting in the General Fund, supposedly “committed”, earning about 0.75%.

Item 7, Capital Funding/Fund Balance:  Seemingly to support this plan (only one option is presented), the district is re-publishing its Fund Balance Policy and Regulation (not always consistent with each other), along with the commitments from 2015/16, presumably to establish commitments for 2016/17.  There is no analysis of the capital spending plan.

A couple of questions:

–  Does TESD plan to continue the Fund Balance fiction that brought judicial sanction on LMSD?

–  Are we going to borrow another $18 million we don’t need at the second “generationally low rates” in two years?  (About a percentage point lower than those last generationally low rates).  And pay underwriters and lawyers $150,000?

Judge Tells Lower Merion School District to Revoke Tax Hike — Could the same thing happen in T/E School District?

A significant decision in the Arthur Wolk vs Lower Merion School District (click on bolded link to read 17 pg. decision) case  was rendered by Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Joseph Smyth this week.  Judge Smyth ordered Lower Merion School District to revoke its tax hike, claiming that the school district could not increase taxes for 2016-17 by more than 2.4 percent. If a Lower Merion resident could take on his school district for over-taxing (and win), this decision has far-reaching ramifications for other school districts, including T/E School District. Not only front page news locally in the Philadelphia Inquirer but the Associated Press has picked up the story with articles appearing in the Washington Post, Boston Globe and beyond.

In his decision, Judge Smyth ruled that Lower Merion School District had consistently understated revenues and overstated expenses so it could falsely raise taxes when in fact it had huge surpluses. TE School District residents are you listening?  Our school district has raised taxes for the last 12 years (see chart below) and continues to build its fund balance. The TE School District fund balance as of June 2016 school board meeting is $32,381,047. Just like Lower Merion School District, our school district continues to raise taxes and increase the fund balance. Folks, that is $32+ millions of taxpayer dollars!

Taxpayers in TE School District have seen their taxes increased for the last twelve years as follows:

  • 2016-17: 3.6%
  • 2015-16: 3.81%
  • 2014-15: 3.4%
  • 2013-14: 1.7%
  • 2012-13: 3.3%
  • 2011-12: 3.77%
  • 2010-11: 2.9%
  • 2009-10: 2.95%
  • 2008-09: 4.37%
  • 2007-08: 3.37%
  • 2006-07: 3.90%
  • 2005-06: 1.40%
  • 2004-05: Zero Tax Increase

Will the Court’s decision to revoke Lower Merion School District tax challenge the TE School Board to reconsider their budgeting approach?

Attending TESD Finance and School Board meetings over the years, we have witnessed knowledgeable, educated residents appeal to the District on this subject – Ray Clarke, Neal Colligan, Doug Anestad, etc. have repeatedly weighed in on financial issues with their comments and suggestions. The discussion of the TESD 2016-17 budget even had former Tredyffrin Township Supervisor Mike Heaberg  attempting to reason with the school board.  Sadly, the school board does not listen – but continues to increase our taxes, build its mountain of “fund balance” dollars and, for the most part, does so with a unanimous 9-0 vote.  Where does it end?

Having read the decision in the Lower Merion School District case, Neal Colligan (with input from Ray Clarke) provides the following economic analysis between LM and TE school districts.  Thank you both – and here’s hoping that the TE School Board reads it!

I know we’ve all been reading with great interest the results of the Lower Merion tax case which made its way to page 1 of the Inquirer today.  This is frighteningly similar to the operations of our School District and I thought it might be interesting to do some comparisons.

The resident case against the LMSD basically argued that they had District had entered into a pattern of projecting annual operating deficits during their budget (and tax rate increase) process and ended each year with large surpluses.  The lower Court judge agreed and ordered LMSD to rescind some of their current tax increase.  As you know; we’ve experienced the exact same pattern in T/E.  For each of the last 5 years; the District has projected a deficit in its budget deliberations; set an aggressive tax (sometimes the Max allowed in the Commonwealth) increase to “close the gap” ; and each year ended in a Surplus position.  It might be fun to dig deeper.

LM’s current budget allocates approximately $259 MM to District spending; T/E’s current budget is about $131 MM…just about half the size.  According to the press releases; LM accumulated $40 MM in Fund Balance over the last 6 years (16% of current budget); T/E has accumulated about $13 MM (10% of current budget).  In the prior six years LM taxes increases have been 21.01%; in T/E we’ve had 18.68%. (The Judge’s order states that since 2006 LMSD has increased its taxes by 53%; the increase in T/E has been 38%.  I used the more narrow, recent figure as LM’s increases were skewed in the early years).   LM’s accumulated Fund Balance is reported at over $57 MM (all Fund/Capital accounts included); T/E’s is about $42 MM (this includes Fund Balance and Capital Fund which was funded by Fund Balance transfer)…about 74% of LM.  Let’s go deeper: The Court commented in the LM suit that the District’s average overestimation of expenses was 5.5% and the average underestimation of revenues was 1.1%.  T/E has a similar history (I say it differently); in the last 10 years, our District has spent about 96% of its budgeted expenses (this budget drives the tax increase obviously) and collects about 101% of its budgeted revenue.  Does it all seem similar?

Some other interesting notes.  LM Enrollment growth in the last 4 years-9.03%; T/E Enrollment growth 1.46% (this statistic was used in the LM budget presentation to justify the tax increase).  Students (approximate): LM-8,200; T/E; 6,400.  Years in the last 6 that tax increase was in excess of Act 1: LM-6; T/E-5.  EIT in community: LM-No; T/E-No.  Special Education budget: LM-$46 MM; T/E-$20 MM.  Salaries: LM-$123 MM; T/E-$57 MM.

In many ways, we compare favorably to LM.  Remember that LM spends the highest amount on a per-student basis in the State.  Without getting too far into the weeds; the fact remains that we, like our neighbors in LM, have been given deficit budgets in each of the last 5 years followed by “necessary” aggressive tax increases.  Our results have been a production of SURPLUS in each of those years; just like LM.  That’s the fact pattern that this suit took to question.  The same fact pattern exists here…almost precisely.  It’s nothing new; we’ve talked about in the T/E Finance Committee meeting for years BUT now there’s a new finding from the Courts.

Come to your own conclusions…the facts are pretty easy to find.

The saga continues in TE School District — Court rules against TE School District regarding residency of alleged hazing victim

court decisionThe saga continues … Sexting offenses, alleged hazing and residency dispute all involving one TE School District family. Chester County court rules against the TE School District in a stunning decision by Court of Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Sommer regarding residency.

(The complete article from today’s Main Line Media News follows my comments).

After reading the article, the first word that comes to mind is “accountability”.  Under whose authority did this situation happen — the hiring of the private investigator (from Cloud Feehery & Richter) at tax payer expense ($12K +) over a specific residency issue?  Does the District pay the private investigator over each claim of non-residency or was it just trying to get this specific student out of the District after sexting offenses? Who made this decision? Was it at the direction of the TE School Board and/or Superintendent? Is the hiring of investigators in residency situations routine in the District?  Does the School Board approve the residency investigations or is decision up to the school administration?

In rendering his decision in this residency case, Judge Sommer stated, “We find that the hearing officer willfully and deliberately disregarded competent portions of (the father’s) testimony and relevant evidence which one of ordinary intelligence could not possibly have avoided in reaching a result, thus making his credibility determination arbitrary and capricious,”  The judge also determined that the alleged victim and his father were denied their right to counsel.

The ruling of Judge Sommer certainly points to incompetence of the private investigator and the TE School District. The judge calls the District’s investigator incompetent and the taxpayers are stuck with the bill.  School Board, where are you?  Were you aware of this specific investigation regarding the residency of the alleged hazing victim and the apparent mishandling of the process? Was this a way to get the student out of the District?  And how does the District Solicitor Ken Roos factor into the residency investigation — was the decision to engage a private investigator in this specific case at his recommendation/advisement?

Who is in charge, where’s the oversight and accountability? I note that the District declined to comment for the article, what about the School Board? Will we receive an explanation?

Court rules in favor of the alleged hazing victim; judge rules student was legal resident of T/E SD

by Adam Farence

Court of Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey R. Sommer ruled in favor of the alleged hazing victim with regard to his residency issue with the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District, reversing the school board’s original decision to stop funding the alleged victim’s education at Buxmont Academy. Sommer also ruled the victim does not owe over $13,000 to the school district.

According to court documents, Sommer drew his conclusion from two issues. First, he determined the hearing officer from an earlier meeting incorrectly concluded the alleged hazing victim did not meet the federal definition of homeless.

The victim was reportedly kicked out of his previous Devon residence by his great-grandmother after his arrest for sexting-related offenses in October 2015. After he was kicked out, the alleged victim’s father drove him back and forth between his Devon bus stop and his mother’s residence in Chester, Delaware County.

It was during this time period that T/E officials hired a private investigator from Cloud Feehery & Richter to determine if the alleged victim did actually live within the school district boundaries. After several months of surveillance, the private investigator determined the victim did not live there.

The school district spent $12,281.92 on services rendered by Cloud, Feehery & Richter, according to a Right-to-Know request filed by the Daily Local News.

The alleged victim could not claim the Chester residence as his, according to court documents, essentially depriving him the chance to pursue a free education in Delaware County, and Sommer determined the alleged victim met the federal definition of homeless. He also criticized the hearing officer’s original finding.

“We find that the hearing officer willfully and deliberately disregarded competent portions of (the father’s) testimony and relevant evidence which one of ordinary intelligence could not possibly have avoided in reaching a result, thus making his credibility determination arbitrary and capricious,” Sommer wrote.

Sommer also pointed out the hearing officer was employed by the school district. “It takes no great leap of faith to recognize that the hearing officer is being paid by TESD, their ‘adversary,”” he wrote.

Second, Sommer determined the alleged victim and his father were denied their right to counsel.

According to court documents, the victim’s father was notified of the Jan. 20 non-residency hearing with the hearing officer only a few days prior. Sommer also wrote that the school district did not notify the father’s attorney even though they had been told in writing to do so.

Originally, the family was represented by William McLaughlin Jr., before he passed away in late March. For the remainder of the case, the family was represented by a new lawyer, Robert DiOrio. “…TESD not only did not notify Attorney McLaughlin of this hearing but made the pre-hearing notice period so short as to effectively cut Attorney McLaughlin out of the process,” court records state.

At the Jan. 20 non-residency hearing, the victim’s father did say he chose to come without counsel and knew he had the right to proceed with counsel if he wanted, but according to court documents, the circumstances surrounding the hearing undermined due process.

“We are very pleased with Judge Sommer’s well-reasoned decision,” wrote DiOrio.

School district officials declined to comment.

“We do not discuss individual student matters and therefore do not intend to comment on this specific case,” wrote district Solicitor Ken Roos. “However, the district remains committed to enforcing its policy of only permitting district residents, including anyone properly qualifying as homeless, to attend district schools.”

The alleged hazing victim’s father received a bill late January for over $13,000, after the school district originally determined he and his son reportedly lived outside the district’s boundaries. The father reported the alleged sodomy to school district officials about a week later in early February, and Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan announced assault related charges against three Conestoga High School football players on March 4. Over the course of a few days, news of the charges and the alleged sodomy spread across the nation.

Timing is Everything: Conestoga High School reporters on alleged sodomy charges & victim’s residency dispute


In today’s Spoke, Conestoga High School’s newspaper is the article, “Sodomy allegation followed victim’s residency dispute with TESD” by Andy Backstrom, former Co-Editor-in-Chief (2015-16) and Caleigh Sturgeon, Manager Web Editor. Backstrom is a 2016 graduate of CHS and will be attending Boston College in the fall and Sturgeon is a CHS senior.

Backstrom and Sturgeon review the facts surrounding the hazing investigation and alleged sodomy of a freshman football player by three senior varsity football players. The alleged victim was previously involved in a middle school sexting incident, but reportedly there was no connection. One development has centered on whether the victim is a “legal” resident of the T/E School District or was he living in Delaware County.

There has been no update from the District Attorney’s office regarding the case against the three Conestoga football players. Because the accused are juveniles (or where at the time of the alleged crime), the information is protected from the public. Since the case does not appear to have advanced in the court system, where does that leave these three former Conestoga football players?

After reading Backstrom and Sturgeon article below, the timing and connection between the alleged victim’s sexting incident, residency questions and claims of sodomy certainly make the situation suspicious. What really did happen? Aside from the criminal case and whether he was actually a ‘victim’, the freshman football player was also a pawn in his father’s hand.

Read the article — what do you think?

Sodomy allegation followed victim’s residency dispute with TESD

By Andy Backstrom, Former Co-Editor-in-Chief (2015-16), and Caleigh Sturgeon, Managing Web Editor

The Spoke collected the information included in the story below from public records searched by The Spoke at the Chester County Court of Common Pleas, articles published elsewhere and statements issued by Chester County District Attorney Thomas Hogan.

While there appears to be no news about the sodomy charges against the three varsity football players at Conestoga High School filed in March, or the hazing investigation, more facts are available than have been widely reported. There is no official conclusion in the case, but documents recorded in another case raised questions, concerning the cloud formed over the Conestoga community.

Many months before the commencement of the hazing investigation, the Tredyffrin Easttown School District (TESD) held an expulsion hearing for Conestoga’s lone freshman varsity football player on Nov. 10, 2015. The previous week (Nov. 3), Tredyffrin Easttown Police announced charges against three students in TESD for “cyber bullying” teenage girls, as the students were found sharing sexually explicit images in the spring of 2015. The freshman was among the students charged.

Yet, the freshman was not expelled.

Instead, TESD made a deal to pay for him to attend Buxmont Academy, a private school for troubled youth that charges almost twice the cost of attending Conestoga. A condition of the deal was that the student reside in the district. The student and his father agreed. But, almost immediately, TESD acted on suspicions that the freshman actually lived in Delaware County.

Based on returned mail from the student’s given home address, TESD hired private investigator Michael J. Leyden, who conducted surveillance of the student during the last three months of 2015. On Jan. 12, 2016 TESD wrote both the student and his father that the investigation determined that they had not been residents of the school district since March 5, 2015.

On Jan. 28, after a hearing, a TESD hearing officer, A. Kyle Berman, found that the student was not a district resident and that the father had made false statements about the student’s residence.

“The testimony of Parent is not at all credible relating in any way to the place that he and Student reside,” Berman wrote.

TESD demanded that the father reimburse the district both for the days the student attended Conestoga as a non-resident and the days he attended Buxmont as an alternative to expulsion.  The assessment includes March 5, 2015 – Nov. 13, 2015, the student’s last day at Conestoga, at the rate of $70.12 per day, as well as Nov. 16, 2015 – Jan. 22, 2016, when TESD stopped paying for student’s alternative tuition, due to violation of a “Waiver of Expulsion” agreement, at a rate of $136.02 per day. TESD presented the father with a bill for $13,442.92.

In addition, Director of Assessment and Accountability, Mark Cataldi, threatened that failure to pay the balance within 30 days would result in criminal investigation.

“The District will seek prosecution to the fullest extent of the law, including fines and imprisonment for theft of educational services from the District and providing false information to the District regarding your residency,” Cataldi wrote.

Within the next week, by Feb. 5, the father reported to TESD that his son was sodomized by three varsity football seniors back on October 15, 2015 with a broomstick. TESD notified the District Attorney, prompting the hazing investigation at Conestoga.

The father’s report places the hazing incident less than a month both before the student was charged for his role in the “sexting scandal” and his expulsion hearing.

On February 17, the father and the student sued TESD to halt the district’s efforts to collect the $13,442.92. A Chester County Judge was due to hear their case on March 4, but, on March 1, TESD agreed to postpone the hearing and suspend its collection campaign temporarily. Three days later (March 4), Hogan made national news announcing sodomy charges based on the account of the student and his father.

Hogan told The Philadelphia Inquirer that, “no evidence suggested” that the hazing case is connected to the earlier sexting case but did not dispute that the victim in one was the accused in the other.

Hogan did not respond to The Spoke’s request for comment on today’s story.

A final court decision on the freshman’s residence and the debt to TESD is expected this summer. However, there is no telling when the three, now, former seniors, who graduated from Conestoga on June 7, will learn their fate. A juvenile matter, their case is not public unless Hogan decides to announce its outcome.

Until May of this year, Pennsylvania’s anti-hazing law was limited to colleges and university.  New legislation was approved by PA Gov. Wlf in May that expanded the state’s anti-hazing law to include public and private middle and high schools, making it a third-degree misdemeanor when a student is forced to take part in abuse or humiliating conduct for initiation into a team or group. Schools are required to post anti-hazing policies online and provide copies to all athletic coaches.

Abandoned House in Chesterbrook – Owner Deceased, Who is Responsible?’

Few things rattle a neighborhood like an abandoned home. Run-down and abandoned homes can make an entire neighborhood look bad. Trash, overgrown grass and pest problems can spill over into neighboring properties. But abandoned houses can be more than just an eyesore — they can bring down property values, create safety hazards and invite crime. But who owns these properties, and what can you do to make them take responsibility for their home?

There’s a difference between a home that is simply vacant, meaning everyone in the neighborhood knows when and why the last residents left, from an abandoned home, where people sort of left without saying good-bye.  Such is the case with a single-family home in Chesterbrook – the residents left one day four years ago and never returned.


At the end of the Tredyffrin supervisors meeting on May 16 , under ‘New Matters’, a group of citizens from the  quiet Armstrong Court cul-de-sac in the Fox Hollow community of Chesterbrook spoke about the abandoned home on their street.  They passionately described a deteriorating overgrown house where the residents simply disappeared about 4 years ago, in 2012.

The neighbors went on to describe unusual activity at the house during the past winter – different people regularly coming and going during the middle of the night, departing by sunrise each day.  Concerned for their safety and the rundown, overgrown appearance of the house, they told the supervisors that they had made phone calls to the police – one neighbor reported her concern was dismissed and told that she was a ‘busy body’.

For those that may not know, the Fox Hollow development is located in theFox Hollow 6 far western section of Chesterbrook. The rear yard of the abandoned house backs up to the PA Turnpike; and very little separates the speeding cars from the property. Concerned about its unkempt appearance, neighbors admit that they took turns keeping the grass mowed, so as not to detract from their own properties.

Following the May supervisors meeting, I have had contact with several of the Armstrong Court homeowners.  Visiting the neighborhood, I tried to assure the residents that between the township staff, supervisors and police, help was on its way.  It has been a month since the last supervisors meeting and unfortunately, the neighbors report no follow-up contact and little change.

Fox Hollow 4

Walking around the house, it is obvious that the house is in complete disrepair. Due to severe deterioration, it’s unclear if the building is salvageable.  There are holes in the roof and on the end of the upper floor, piles of trash bags and furniture parts on the driveway and garage area, uncovered utility pipe in the front yard, water and electric turnoff notices littering the walkway and the front door is adorned with official-looking vacant/abandoned stickers.

I checked Chester County public document database for property ownership and discovered that the owner of record (who neighbors claim never lived in the house) purchased the home in 2005 at the age of 88.  According to the neighbors, it was the owner’s son and his family who occupied the property until abruptly leaving in 2012.  According to her obituary, the elderly owner passed away in May 2011 at the age of 94 in a Wynnewood nursing home.  Public records indicate that the mortgage was satisfied in April 2013 and that property taxes are current. Although the owner (who never lived in the house) passed away four years ago, her name remains listed as the sole owner in 2016.

Single-family homes in the Fox Hollow community of Chesterbrook are valuable. A quick check on Zillow indicates a house, around the corner from the abandoned Armstrong Court home, sold for $700K last September. Why pay off the mortgage and stay current with taxes and let the vacant house fall to disrepair for 4 years.  It makes no sense.

The neighbors need help; which is why they spoke publicly at the May supervisors meeting. They are worried about their safety (remember the house backs up to the turnpike), possible illegal activities, devaluation of property values … and the list goes on and on.  The owner of the property is deceased, so what can these folks do?

Tredyffrin Township’s elected officials, staff, solicitor, police … Who is responsible for helping these Tredyffrin Township residents?

Downingtown Area School District Approves Zero Tax Increase for 4th Year in a Row – TE School District Set to Approve 3.6% Increase (12th consecutive year of tax increase)

Tax-increase 2016

At tonight’s TE School District meeting (7:30 PM, Conestoga High School), the school board will vote on the 2016-17 final budget and property tax rate.

In January, the board had adopted the preliminary budget which contained a 4.3% tax increase – they approved the budget with the Act 1 Index of 2.4% and allowable Act 1 Exceptions of 1.9%.  At the April 25, 2016 regular school board meeting, the proposed final budget reduced the property tax rate from January, from 4.3% down to 3.875%.

According to the meeting agenda and budget materials (click here) the board will vote on the District’s 2016-17 final budget with an Act 1 Index of 2.4% and Referendum Exceptions of 1.2% for a 3.6% tax increase to the taxpayers.

The following chart shows TESD tax increases over the last twelve years.   2004-05 was the last zero tax increase year.

  • 2015-16: 3.81%
  • 2014-15: 3.4%
  • 2013-14: 1.7%
  • 2012-13: 3.3%
  • 2011-12: 3.77%
  • 2010-11: 2.9%
  • 2009-10: 2.95%
  • 2008-09: 4.37%
  • 2007-08: 3.37%
  • 2006-07: 3.90%
  • 2005-06: 1.40%
  • 2004-05: Zero Tax Increase

The TE School District residents can take solace that they are not alone in their tax increase. According to Adam Farence’s Daily Local article, 11 out of the 12 school districts in Chester County contain 2016-17 budgets with tax increases.

The only Chester County school district without a 2016-17 tax increase is Downingtown Area School District.  DASD recently approved their 2016-17 budget with no tax increase but what is more fascinating is that this is the fourth year in a row without a tax increase!

Looking at TESD tax increase chart above for the last four years, you have to wonder how it is that DASD delivered zero tax increases to its residents during the same time period. According to the Daily Local article, the DASD chief financial officer Rich Fazio “attributes the four-year streak of not raising taxes to the foresight of prior school boards.”  Fazio states that, “We were fortunate to prudently allocate funds and accumulate savings. Because of that we have not had a tax increase for four years.” He further indicated that DASD “will strive to duplicate a zero increase in taxes for as long as possible.”  

The total operating budget for Downingtown Areas School District is $210 million versus TE School District operating budget of approximately $129 million. DASD has a fund balance of approx. $24.5 million versus approx.  $32 million in TESD indicating that both districts understand the importance of saving for the future.

Someone is going to have to help me understand how these two Chester County school districts can operate so differently financially – and yes, I understand that TESD is ranked academically higher than DASD.

TE School District has always been an academic powerhouse, so other than 20 miles of separation between the two Chester County school districts, how is it possible that DASD repeatedly holds the zero tax increase to its residents and TESD has had 12 consecutive years of tax increases? Perhaps TESD business manager Art McDonnell could have coffee with DASD chief finaicial officer Rich Fazio to compare notes and discuss financial strategies!

DASD proudly displays the following 2015-16 tax increase chart on their website:

Tax Increase vs Act 1 Index Chart

According to the agenda budget materials for tonight’s TE School Board meeting, there were spending cuts before, during and after budget approval to reduce expenditures in the 2016-17 budget.  An explanation of those specific reductions would be helpful to taxpayers.

Back in January, school board members Ed Sweeney and Scott Dorsey spoke out against the preliminary tax increase of 4.3% as unacceptable … will they now be OK with 3.6% tax increase?  Instead of a typical roll call vote on the TESD 2016-17 final budget, I encourage board members to be accountable and offer the public an explanation of their vote.

Many of the newly school board members used fiscal responsibility and accountability as a campaign platform – now is the time to deliver on those promises.

Brightview Senior Living approved without township notification to Homestead Road neighbors of the project!

Just as land development projects are not created equal, neither are neighbors oppositions to these projects.

You may recall the abandoned Duffy property on Lancaster Avenue in Berwyn and the subsequent construction of Daylesford Crossing, an assisted living facility on the site.  Daylesford Crossing was a long, drawn out redevelopment process that required approving a text amendment to permit senior living facilities as a by-right use in C-1 (commercial)  zoning.   Some argued at the time that the zoning change to permit senior living in C-1 was ‘spot-zoning’ to accommodate this specific project and others questioned what this would mean for future C-1 development in Tredyffrin Township.

Although there was major push-back from the Daylesford neighbors to the assisted living facility, the project was completed in 2015 and with the developer providing concessions to the immediate residents in the way of lighting, traffic flow, landscape buffering,  etc.  Daylesford Crossing was a turbulent situation with residual effects that some claim cost Michelle Kichline her reelection bid to the Board of Supervisors in 2014.

Now fast forward to Brightview Senior Living, a recently approved senior living land development project on E. Conestoga Rd. in Strafford.  The project is located behind Devon Whole Foods, across from Nudy’s and next to the one-way underpass. (This is a very congested area, especially at lunchtime on that small section of E. Conestoga Road off of Lancaster Avenue).

Brightview Senior Living first surfaced of the Tredyffrin Township’s Planning Commission in April 2015. There was a preliminary discussion and sketch plan of an assisted living facility on properties located at 293, 301, 309 and 319 E. Conestoga Road – all in in the C-1 (Commercial) district.  The facility was described as having a range of care and services, and “would consist of approximately 143 apartments (including independent/assisted living and dementia care).” There was no mention of length, width or height of building in the meeting minutes.

We next see Brightview Senior Living on the Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) agenda in August 2015. The developer sought a variance to decrease required parking spots and increase the building height (from 4 floors to 5 floors). When asked if Homestead Road neighbors had been notified of the proposed project, David Holland (VP of Development for Brightview) responded that yes, neighbors received letter of introduction but that he had not heard back from anyone.  In a recent email exchange between myself and Mr. Holland, he provided a copy of the draft introduction letter and a list of 8 Homestead homeowners that he said received the letter in April 2015.

Brightview 1

A review of the notification list sent to residents from the township regarding the Zoning Hearing Board meetings indicates no Homestead Road names/addresses.

The Brightview Senior Living land development application was presented to the Planning Commission on January 21, 2016.  At that meeting, we learned that the building would be 5-story and 196 beds. (The sketch plan discussion of April 2015 mentioned 143 apartments). As was the case for the ZHB meeting, the township’s list for notification for the Planning Commission meeting on the Brightview Senior Living project did not include names/addresses of Homestead Road residents.

The size and scope of this senior living facility is massive – In Tredyffrin, C-1 commercial zoning limits the building length to 160 ft. The Brightview building is 450+ ft., approximately three times the legal limit of C-1 buildings permitted in Tredyffrin.  Tory Snyder, the Planning Commission chair raised concern over the overall length of the building. Other concerns included safety, parking, etc.  With all the questions/concerns from the Planning Commissioners, you could assume a long process for the developer with input from the community and ultimately a scaled down final version.


On April 21, the Brightview Senior Living project was back in front of the Planning Commission seeking preliminary and final land development approval.  The applicant presented a laundry list of waivers, all of which were unanimously approved with the exception of the length of the building. Again Ms. Snyder commented on the size of the building (450+ft. versus the 160 ft. legally permitted in C-1) but she represented the sole dissenting vote and that waiver too was passed.

In the end, the Planning Commission voted unanimously (6-0) to grant both Preliminary and Final land development approval for the gigantic 450+ft, five-story, 55-ft high building totally 181,000 sq. ft. on E. Conestoga. (As a reference point, Daylesford Crossing on Lancaster Ave. is approx. 80,000 sq. ft.)  And again, the residents living on Homestead Road were not on the township’s notification list for the Planning Commission meeting.

The final approval information of the senior living project has recently made its way to neighboring Homestead Road residents, leaving them shaking their heads and wondering how this happened without any notification from the township during the process. When Matt Bauman, Director of Zoning for the township was asked by a Homestead resident, why they were not notified of the project, his response was to provide them with the following:

Per the requirements of Section 208-147 Notice of Public Hearing, E    When the Zoning Hearing Board shall so order, by mailing notice thereof to the owner if his residence is known or to the occupier of every lot on the same street within 500 feet of the lot or building in question and of every lot not on the same street within 150 feet of said lot or building. Failure to give the notice required by this subsection shall not invalidate any action taken by the Board.

The Township met the obligation of this section of the Code.  Additionally, while there are no requirements for neighbor notification for Planning Commission applications but as a courtesy the Township followed the same requirement for the ZHB notices and sent notifications.

So … what does all this mean?  It basically means that although the township could/should notify property owners on Homestead Road that live 150 ft. from the proposed development, they don’t have to legally!   Using Chester County mapping tools available on website, Ray Clarke measured that several neighboring Homestead Road properties are in the 150 ft. range from the Brightview property.  Interestingly, these same Homestead Road residents have told me that they are routinely notified by the township of projects at the Devon Whole Foods shopping center and on Lancaster Ave —   which are located much further away than Homestead Road properties than the Brightview project.

There’s no way for us to know whether the lack of township notification to Homestead Road residents was an oversight or deliberate. Or is it possible that some in the township didn’t want to see a repeat performance of neighborhood input on this project as was seen on the Daylesford Crossing project? In the end the result is the same – the Homestead Road neighbors were not given a voice in the process.

Brightview Senior Living is nearly 2-1/2 times the square footage size of Daylesford Crossing with twice the number of beds. The building will be located in a very congested commercial area on E. Conestoga Road, directly next to a one-way underpass and the Homestead Road neighbors were not part of the discussion! Amazing!

For the supervisors and township staff, I suggest an internal review of property owner notifications procedures on land development projects so that something similar doesn’t happen again. There needs to be strictly enforced guidelines for property owner notifications by the township, not randomly choosing when to notify.

In the case of the Brightview project, lack of notification to Homestead Road residents and therefore, lack of input int the process, has many in the neighborhood worried about their future property values. The Homestead Road residents were entitled to have a voice in this process. And there should be concern that the approval of the over sized building now will set precedent for future C-1 projects in the township.

What can be done at this point?  As I see it, the outcome in this land development project is not the fault of the developer. The Brightview Senior Living developer reached for the moon and the stars and received it from Tredyffrin Township! However, In my communication with David Holland of Brightview, I found him to be straightforward and sincere, so I am hopeful that an appeal to him by the Homestead Road neighbors may bring some concessions for them in the way of landscape buffering, exterior lighting, etc. I have seen photos of Homestead Road backyards and during the fall/winter months – this new 5-story building will forever change their backyard viewscapes.

I suggest a meeting of Homestead neighbors with representatives from Brightview Senior Living, township staff and a couple of interested supervisors – although the project has received final approval from the township’s Planning Commission, maybe there is still some goodwill concessions that can be given to the neighbors.

It’s Official — Covered Wagon Inn is saved! Local history will coexist with CVS Pharmacy – thank you Summit Realty Advisors!


At last night’s Planning Commission meeting in Tredyffrin, the proposed land development project to construct a new CVS pharmacy building with drive-thru on the corner of Old Eagle School Rd. and Lancaster Ave in Strafford was back in front of the planning commissioners.

Much has happened since the developer of the project, Summit Realty Advisors, first presented their redevelopment plans for the property in January which included the demolition of the Covered Wagon Inn.

As I have said from the start, the property owner John Hoopes and the developer for CVS Pharmacy, Summit Realty Advsiors and owner John Zaharchuk, were within their legal rights to demolish the Covered Wagon Inn as originally planned. There is no current historic preservation ordinance in Tredyffrin Township that protects the community’s historic buildings — not even those that are registered as National Historic Register properties!

To change the redevelopment plans  for CVS Pharmacy project to include saving the Covered Wagon Inn was time-consuming and expensive for the developer — John Zaharchuk met the challenge and was successful!

It is important to acknowledge and thank those involved for saving the Covered Wagon Inn which I did publicly last night on behalf of myself and Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust. We know that redesigning a significant redevelopment plan to save a 250 year old inn was not easy (and was not legally required) — yet you did and we thank you!

It was a pleasant surprise to see writer Michaella Bond of the Philadelphia Inquirer in the Planning Commission audience. Michaella’s continued interest and support of the Covered Wagon Inn has been much appreciated — her latest installment appears in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer:

Plans for new CVS store in Tredyffrin that preserves historic inn advances

by Michaelle Bond, Staff writer

Plans to build a CVS pharmacy in Strafford, revised last month to preserve a historic Main Line landmark on the property, moved forward Thursday when Tredyffrin Township officials approved the new preliminary proposal.

The plans that Ambler-based developer Summit Realty Advisors submitted to the township on April 22 call for a 12,900-square-foot store with a drive-through and a stone facade. The proposed project no longer includes the demolition of the Old Covered Wagon Inn, an 18th-century fieldstone structure at Lancaster Avenue and Old Eagle School Road. The inn, which measures about 800 square feet, would remain on the corner of the property with the CVS beside it, according to Summit’s latest application.

The six members of the township Planning Commission who were present voted unanimously to approve the preliminary land development plans. The developer still must meet several requirements, including measures to control storm water runoff, streetscape improvements, and a written promise that the inn would be preserved.

The developer will restore the exterior of the inn and provide four parking spaces for any potential tenant that moves into the building, said Lou Colagreco, a lawyer for Summit.

Summit first brought the project before the commission in January. But after residents learned that the developer planned to raze the inn, citizens and preservationists rallied to save the building, where Duke Ellington and other famous musicians performed, where residents attended wedding receptions and got together for family meals. More than 4,300 people have signed an online petition to save the onetime tavern along the first turnpike.

The developer said in February it would come up with a compromise.

“They’ve come back successful,” said Victoria Snyder, chair of the Planning Commission. “We thank you so much for that.”

The company went with a plan that had worked in Lower Providence Township, Montgomery County. There, the Audubon Inn, built in the 1750s, was included in the development plans for a CVS and kept on the corner of the property. The Audubon Inn houses law offices.

Plans for the CVS in Strafford still include the demolition of an addition put on the Covered Wagon about 50 years ago that housed several restaurants through the years and provided space for the Thos. Moser furniture store, the most recent tenant of the Covered Wagon building. Residents focused on saving the historic building.

Pattye Benson, president of the nonprofit Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust and leader of the campaign to save the inn, acknowledged that the developer and property owner would have been within their rights to demolish the historic building.

“To me, this represents really good development and how you can put a new building in and still save a historic building,” she said.

Are voter ID laws good policy? Will the laws impact the general election in November?

Image result for voter identification

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a total of 34 states have laws requesting or requiring voters to show some form of identification at the polls. 33 of these voter identification laws are in force in 2016. West Virginia’s law, signed on April 1, 2016, goes into effect in 2018, missing the November general election.

In Pennsylvania, a law requiring voters to present photo identification was signed into law by former Gov. Tom Corbett in March 2012. However, the PA Commonwealth Court held that the in-person proof of identification requirements were unconstitutional. The Court’s ruling on proof of identification applied only to identification requirements for voters who appear to vote at their polling place – the ruling left in effect previous rules regarding identification requirements for first-time voters at the polling place. If a voter is voting for the first time in an election district, the voter must show proof of identification, either photo or non-photo identification. Returning voters need not show any identification.

Nothing is more fundamental to American democracy than the right to vote. As the November general election nears, how much of a difference could voter ID laws make in the results across the country? I read recently that some are speculating that voter identification laws could be the next “hanging chads” in the upcoming election.

On the issue of voter identification, I received an editorial from Dr. George Anderson of Devon, titled “The Importance of Voter IDs”. (You may recall that Dr. Anderson was a TE School Board candidate in the last election cycle. However, he withdrew from the race citing the work demands of international travel during the campaign season.)

Dr. Anderson supports identification requirements for voters —

The Importance of Voter IDs

For a nation to exist there does not have to be agreement on every issue but there does need to be a generally accepted set of civic norms;  the processes by which things are done. The perceived validity of the decision making process is in fact, more important than individual decisions. That is why the myth of “Cultural Diversity” is so dangerous.

It is not the fact that the concept of “All Cultures are equal” is demonstrably nonsense. If the myth of cultural diversity is accepted, the societal common bonds start to disintegrate, ultimately leading to competition between groups, social and economic chaos.

For a Constitutional Republic to exist there needs to be a general acceptance of the importance of the Law, the process which creates and upholds the law. Without such acceptance and obedience to the Law, at best we are a tribal society with each tribe competing to enforce it’s will upon the others.

Since the disappointing loss suffered by the Democratic Party in the 2000 Presidential election the division between Americans has been growing. There were Democrats who claimed the election was invalid even though there were multiple counts of the same ballots by members of both parties and witnessed by a judge. (Disappointing yes but invalid, no.) There were Republicans who claimed the 2012 election was invalid, with counties reporting more votes than registered voters and precincts reporting 100% participation and 100% straight Democratic vote. (A statistical impossibility.)

What you see very much depends upon where you stand. Attempts to institute voter ID Laws have generally been denounced by those on the Left as an attempt to restrict voting.  Those on the Right respond it is true, limiting the vote to one each for US Citizens over 21 is appropriate. The tragic truth is, if we cannot agree that American Elections should be limited to one vote per mature citizen then the divide in this country is truly wide and the civic norms which tie us together have become very tenuous.

The terrifying prospect is the logical conclusion to such civic separation.

George E. Anderson III, PhD


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