Date – February 9, 2010

United in their Resolve, Tredyffrin Residents Speak Out Against Actions of Supervisors Lamina, Olson, Kampf & Richter

Last night’s Board of Supervisor meeting represented a victory for the people. 

‘New Matters from Board members’ of the meeting kicked off with Supervisors Lamina, Kampf and Richter making apologies to the community in regards to the St. Davids Golf Club motion and vote to return escrow which occurred at the last Board of Supervisors meeting. They took responsibility for their actions, admitted that procedure had not been followed and stated that they would try to ‘do better’ in the future. Mention was made that everyone makes mistakes and that they had learned from theirs.

As I listened to the apologies, I thought to myself . . . OK, they made a mistake, admitted their mistake and now they will just ‘fix it’.  But no, there was no offer of correction, no suggestion to ‘reverse the decision’, nothing.  Were they thinking that the community would just accept their apology, move on and act like the ‘mistake’ never happened?  I don’t think that they were prepared for what was to come next . . . it was the residents turn to speak.

I cannot remember the last time I was so proud of this community.  Freedom of expression is the cornerstone of democratic life.  And one after another, residents took to the floor.  People came from all over the township . . . Chesterbrook, Malvern, Berwyn, Strafford, Mt. Pleasant, Wayne.  It did not matter if the speakers were Democrats, Republicans or Independents, there was no political party agenda.  They were firefighters, lawyers, retired citizens, members of township boards, one after another, each passionately saying the same thing over and over.  Separately, the residents spoke, but united their message. Each person in his or her own way sought justice from the Board of Supervisors, appealing for the ‘wrong’ to be made ‘right’.

The ‘sidewalk’ became a symbol for something much larger . . . it represented how four individuals (Lamina, Olson, Kampf, Richter) thought they could be allowed to just make the rules and break the rules, without consequence or intervention for their actions.  What I heard loud and clear  was the powerful voice in this community of intolerance to their actions; residents are standing together.  Were the supervisors listening?

In the words of Martin Luther King, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”  Speaking out, many in the audience eloquently spoke of their distrust in our elected officials.  We elect these people because we believe that they will serve our best interests.  We entrust them to govern according to the rules . . . to follow the policies and procedures as set forth by the Home Rule Charter.  We rely on them to make the best decisions in our interests.

In the end, there was no resolution to ‘righting the wrong’ of the vote to return the escrow to St. Davids.  Not last night, but I believe that this matter is far from over.  I believe that between now and the next Board of Supervisors meeting, a way must be found to resolve this matter.

Trust in our elected officials must be restored.

TESD Finance Committee Meeting . . . reporting by Malvern Resident Ray Clarke

As we know, it is impossible to be 2 places at once . . . and last night was one of those nights.  I attended the Board of Supervisors meeting but I knew that I had coverage at the Finance Committee meeting with my friend Ray Clarke.  The Clarke family was busy last night, Ray at the Finance meeting and his wife Carol attended the Board of Supervisors meeting!  I thank Ray for providing his notes from the meeting and would encourage other readers to add their comments.

The TESD Finance Committee played to a packed house in the CHS auditorium last night.  We got through about 15 of the potential deficit-closing strategies, with the next session slated for March 8th, where the plan is to complete a pass through all of them.  My take-aways:

– There was great passion from parents and students who had benefited from, or who would be impacted by, the programs slated for change.  Hopefully, understanding the concerns will be helpful in finalizing the new program designs.  Although the majority spoke against change, particularly in the Middle School programs, there were some with experience (for example, of the proposed Advisory period) that spoke to the benefits experienced in neighboring districts.

– The Board expressed confidence in the Administration and, based on their performance, that seems to be well placed.  In particular I thought that Rich Gusick, Director of Curriculum and much else, was knowledgeable and made reasonable arguments.

– The Administration believes that the programs in the first “reference code” (those for the most part previously discussed, although you would not have thought so!) will result in the reduction of 19.3 FTEs, and that reduction could likely be met through retirements (7 known so far) and resignations rather than lay-offs – but this will depend on certifications needed and available.

– The drama came with a prepared speech from TEEA President Ciamacca.  She was very concerned that the possible increase in High School teaching periods from 5 to 6 would leave little time for the many functions performed outside the classroom.  (Note that we were progressing systematically through the strategies from #1 on, and had not reached that – #47 – yet).  She did, though, state that the TEEA wanted to be part of the solution and outlined an offer to work the last three days of 2010/11 for no pay (claimed impact $600,000) and also an early retirement offer (claimed impact $1,000,000).  She handed a letter to Board President Fadem, which I took to contain those offers (and from comments made, I was led to believe that this was the first official communication from the TEEA, and that written offers had been requested before).  Finance Chair Mahoney responded for the Board, welcoming the TEEA as a stakeholder, but sternly chastising the “grandstanding and unfair” tactic of presenting an offer for the TV audience rather than “sitting down across the table as in the past”. 

The devil is always in the details.  Is there in fact a mechanism for forgoing 3 days of pay?  For 2010/11, or for 2011/12 also?  How much would the district have to pay to save the $1 million from early retirement and thus, what’s the present value of that proposal?  Things that do need to be analyzed in a dispassionate way.  There’s clearly a communication problem, and from my perspective, since the TEEA is the only beneficiary of the situation here (compare the salary matrix for 2011/12!), they need to step up to the bigger role that I have advocated to them since last year.  If the objective is to increase compensation to a certain parity level, perhaps it might just be OK to get there in 5 years rather than 2?

– The 15 or so strategies reviewed so far have very real impacts – fewer middle school specials, fewer aides, fewer low enrollment CHS classes, reduced admin position, reduced contribution to clubs, etc. – but it seemed to me that for the most part the impacted areas are spread around, and plans are in place to mitigate the adverse effects.  (But still only the savings, not the costs, of closing the print shop are listed!).

A big issue for me is that many of the big strategies impact only next year: the $1.2 million supply/materials cost deferral, the $0.3 million food service fund transfer (but maybe make food service a profit center?), the $125,000 mothballing of the ESC (why one time?), the $0.3 million from issuing debt for capital items (next month’s meeting will start with an explanation of that (accounting wrinkle?)), and so on.  So the expenses will pop right back up, on top of the next round of contracted compensation increases, and we’ll be right back in the CHS auditorium, but with fewer options. One commentator mentioned a likely 2% Act 1 cap next year.  (And remember, the country is a whisker away from a foreclosure crisis, and school taxes are over two months’ typical mortgage payments…..).  The one time programs account for $2.6 million of the $8.3 million on the table (excluding programs not recommended).

The event seemed to me a good way to get the community engaged and to indicate the amount of thought behind the ideas (although there can always be more!).  We heard, too, about the 800 member Facebook group for students engaged in the dialog.  There could be a lot to learn from, and demonstrate to, that constituency.

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