Outsourcing of Custodial Services Would Save T/E School District Almost $1 Million . . . Should this Cost-Cutting Measure be Considered?

Last night was the T/E School District’s Finance Committee Meeting.  One of the solutions offered to help close the looming deficit for the 2011-12 school district budget is the outsourcing of the custodial services. Outsourcing of the custodial service is expected to save the school district an estimated $950K in the budget.  Last night, several members of the district’s custodial union (many of whom are township residents) attended the meeting to make the case to preserve the current custodial arrangement. 

From Pete Bannan’s article in today’s Main Line Suburban newspaper on TESD Finance Committee Meeting, Pete reports:

” . . . All the school-board members were present for the meeting and the pleas during the public comments did not fall on deaf ears. Finance chair Kevin Mahoney said the school board wasn’t doing this to save money but is required by state law to balance the budget.
 
“The options are evaporating,” said  Mahoney. “The governor’s budget turned a $2.2-million shortfall into a $3.6-million shortfall.  It’s simply a matter of economics.”
 
Mahoney said no decisions had been made. The proposal is due April 4 and the board has 120 days to review it. Mahoney also said the school board is open to ideas and constructive ways  to reach its goals. He suggested the public contact elected state officials, such as State Rep. Warren Kampf, State Sen. Andrew Dinniman and Gov. Tom Corbett, and ask for real pension reform. . . “

 Ray Clarke attended the Finance Committee meeting and offers the following notes for Community Matters readers.  As always, I am grateful for Ray’s attendance at school district meetings, his analysis and then for sharing them with us!

Monday’s Finance committee meeting vividly illustrated the problem TESD finds itself in.  

Very many TENIG (Tredyffrin Easttown Non-Instructional Group) members and others spoke about the value of the current system with experienced, stable, professional and flexible staff, compared to the risks of a possibly cheaper, but high turnover, less trustworthy, and less committed external provider.  There was also commentary about the impact on diversity.  There was much talk about membership in the T/E Family, and a wise – but unfortunately innocent – CHS student suggested that a family would sit down and work out a fair solution for all its members, rather than focusing on one group.  (No prizes for guessing the elephant in this particular family room!)

The out-sourcing analysis does offer a glimmer of hope, though.  The district has issued an RFP, responses due May 4, which then must be given to TENIG by May 11.  TENIG is allowed 120 days to respond.  Let’s assume that out-sourcing would really save the $950,000 estimate.  Now, the district has already identified overtime and substitute strategies that would save $150,000 with the existing staff.  Is it wishful thinking that the staff could use their professional experience to identify further cost-saving practices, and offer compensation roll-backs and benefits adjustments that could move the impact over 50% towards the expected cost savings?  Taxpayers might be very willing to pay a premium for service assurance.

After 90 minutes the committee got down to a review of budget projections.  The $1.3 million impact of the PA budget was confirmed, with the $1.1 million reduction in Social Security reimbursement to the 15% “aid ratio” being the real surprise.  Apparently it has been at 50% for as long as anyone in the room could remember.  I would think that this might be subject to lobbying: where is Kampf on this one?  It apparently squarely targets districts like TE that have a low aid ratio.

There was agreement to move ahead to crystallize a number of strategies listed with low or moderate impact on the education program.  The biggest ones:

– Change the prescription provider: Impact $250,000
– Eliminate raises for all non-union staff: $395,000
– Integrate Applied Technology into Elementary Core: $300,000
– Plan for a 5% increase in medical costs (vs previous 10%): $412,500
– Fees for extra-curricular activities: $80,000

The result of all of this is $2.3 million of fairly solid strategies (including all the above except the last) and $0.45 million of more speculative ones (including the last).  The current scenario assumes $0.15 million of the specualtive ones, for a total of $2.4 million of strategies.  Add in Act 1 and Exception tax increases of $3.2 million (3.8%), subtract the $1.3 million state cuts, the $8.9 million deficit comes down to – a mere – $4.6 million.

Board policy does place some limits on use of the Fund Balance, but one obvious use is to pre-fund approved programs implementation-limited by contractual attrition rules.  There was an example presented of how $1.1 million could be designated in this way in 2011/12.  (I worry that there might be a little double counting with the above $300,000 AT elimination – does that need attrition?).

It’s fairly clear that the $29 million Fund Balance could absorb the $4.6 million draw down, but beyond that the picture is bleak.  Annual deficit projections of $10 million or more (after Act 1 tax increases, driven by benefits) show that the district can not afford even flat TEEA salaries without the fund balance being wiped out in 2 years.

Here’s where the State House Bill to allow teacher furloughs to balance the budget comes into play.  According to Dr Waters, that would allow action even with a CBA in place.  However, Dr Brake reported that although the bill was up for Committee hearings, those hearings were abruptly cancelled (!).  But the legislative process does continue, apparently.

We know that there are some actions involving furloughs that are already approved as having minimal educational impact.  Others, like modest increases in class sizes, might be similarly low impact.  Getting to $10 million can hardly be done without real impact, though.  When it comes down to students and jobs versus union compensation, we might find out who is really part of the TE Family.

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42 Comments

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  1. YES, this option should be seriously considered. As should approaching the teachers’ union for real, significant concessions.

    The School Board can blame the Governor all they want, but if they planned on a million dollars the state NEVER had, it is their fault, not the Governor’s.

    As for the rest of the deficit, it’s time to look at where the biggest spending increases have come from in the past few years (using that one-time federal money) and start cutting there.

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  2. I agree that it is unfortunate, but outsourcing custodial services has to be seriously considered. The school district is no longer in a situation where everything can be perfect and some hard choices are going to have to be made. Same thing goes for the teacher’s contract. Enough 5% raises and extra raises on top of that for moves on the infamous matrix.

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  3. You’ll never know how good they are until they’re gone.
    Over the years the experience my family has had with
    various custodians has been excellent. As a former police
    officer in Tredyffrin I’ve always witnessed the custodians
    loyalty and great work ethic. You’ll get what you pay for
    if you outsource. You can’t buy the positive traits these folks have.

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  4. I was part of the board when we negotiated to manage bus driver costs — and ended up outsourcing bussing. The goal should be to keep our own employees, but the steps to be able to do that require TENIG re-opening the contract. It was a sad but hard lesson to watch TENIG refuse to allow any differentiation between employee groups (TENIG is the TE non-instructional group which includes secretaries, security, mechanics, bus drivers, custodians…) In refusing to allow the board to directly negotiate with the drivers (or to carve out the drivers to retain them in another class), they basically forced the hand of the board.
    I can only hope that this exchange is helpful to the custodial staff to try to pressure TENIG (read: PSEA) to allow modifications in the contract. There are not too many non-public sector union custodial jobs in PA that include a pension and health benefits, which is why the job is “cheaper” to outsource. The whole notion of annual raises is simply part of the culture. It’s easier to outsource and bid the costs than to sit at a table with your employee and say no to a class of employees. As I said — my own experience is that it simply wasn’t possible. TENIG and PSEA protect the status quo — and I don’t know what else the district can do. But don’t be fooled — having in house custodians is not about being perfect. It’s about having people who do what it takes to get the job done — who are TE Proud — but who because of their job description and lack of clout in the union (?) are easily replaced. This is exactly what the TEEA grievance against online classes is about — protecting jobs from cheaper alternatives.

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  5. Bill DeHaven is right. It will not be easy to replace the custodians. You can hire cheaper workers, but the quality of the work will not be the same. TE custodians take pride in their jobs, and the quality of the facilities show this. But will the board be able to balance the budget without outsourcing the jobs?

    It does seem unfair to balance the budget on the backs of just one group of employees, but is there an alternative if TEEA won’t come to the table?

    Even if TENIG agreed to a pay freeze for all of its employees, would it be enough to keep the custodians in house? Based on my examination of the budget, I don’t think so.

    The biggest cost in the budget is teacher salaries. If the teachers and TENIG were to accept a pay freeze, perhaps there would be enough money saved to preserve the custodians from outsourcing until the economy improves. And teachers would still get pay increases– in the form of step increases and moves across the matrix. They just wouldn’t get an extra 4.5% (or is it 5%?) on top of these step/matrix changes.

    But is it likely that TEEA would agree to a salary freeze? Probably not. They have a contract guaranteeing them another raise for next year. And it may not be reasonable to expect TEEA employees to give up that money either.

    While many people would accept a pay freeze or even a pay cut to save a colleague’s job, do the teachers view the custodians as colleagues? Or do they view them as expendable?

    TENIG made its point quite eloquently at the meeting that it was wrong to view the custodians as expendable and that their efforts kept the classrooms clean, the facilities in good shape and enable the schools to quickly reopen after snow-storms because the custodians slept overnight in the school buildings in order to shovel sidewalks and parking lots in the wee hours of the morning. TEEA’s reaction will show us if they value the custodians or view them as expendable if it means preserving their raise for next year.

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    concerned citizen Reply:

    i must disagree that the Custodians would convert to being employed by the contractor because the custodians will refuse to work for $9 an hour. i am however sure that they along with the teachers will agree with an across the board pay freeze. and possible other concessions, these folks have families and do not deserve the “door prize” because the higher ups decided to spend millions to renovate and move into a buisness park that they still have to pay for. Plus all of the houses in berwyn that they decided to buy and sit on for years before finally deciding to knock down. So theres the truth thats a few main reasons why this is all happening!! Mismanged spending

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    School Observer Reply:

    The custodians will refuse to work for $9 an hour? That’s their choice. They can refuse to work then. Or they can find another job where they can make more than $9 an hour. It’s called supply and demand.
    Do I think it’s good or fair? No. “Pay freeze and other concessions” ….what is a concession about a pay freeze (except if you have the right to ao contractual raise…I understand that). If someone else will do a job for less money, you need to consider whether you will do the job for less money. It’s that simple (and that difficult). Not many custodial jobs in the state that offer pension and health care benefits. Perhaps the “value” of the job is not priced correctly, and the “cost” of the job has exceeded it.

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    concerned citizen Reply:

    yeah then its called collect unemployment until you find something simalar in pay and bennies. Then if things with all the new contractors don’t work out and they have to hire, retrain and try to get folks with the knowledge of those buildings which doesn’t happen overnight.

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  6. How can they know it will save $950K if they don’t even have the proposals back yet?

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    Dave Fillippo Reply:

    Exactly CJ; the $950,000 a bunch of bahoney! It is completely unfounded and slapt together; apples to apples not being compared here. This is the agenda of board member bullies and the TE buisness manager. TENIG has always been open to share ways to save money in the best; current BM was not interested in listening. My time is short but sad and disheartened to what may happen to TE schools. Our superintendent has given his recommendation; why doesn’t the board listen to him? Perhaps they should talk to Radnor board; they have experience with this!

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    give it a rest Reply:

    The paper today referred to the TE Custodian’s Union….do they have a separate union from TENIG? If they do, it would seem likely that they should be able to compete to retain the work. If they are part of TENIG, it would seem from past experiences that they will not be allowed to negotiate the results.

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  7. It does seem unfair to balance the budget on the backs of just one group of employees,…..
    This is probably the start of “belt tightening”. Look for other classes of workers (food service, transportation, security, clerical) of the TENIG to be outsourced as time permits. The private sector contributes much less for health care and retirement. Imagine a custodian working 25 hours per week (this is defined as full time in the contract) earning $18 per hour for a yearly salary of $18,000. The benefits cost (health care and PSERS) is more than the salary. The TENIG group has priced themselves out of the market. So have the teachers, but unfortunately, they can’t be outsourced (as evidenced by the recent grievance decision).

    …do the teachers view the custodians as colleagues?
    Having spoken with school directors that have been at the negotiations table, teachers will talk about solidarity in public, but will quickly sacrifice even their own fellow teachers for a better contract. The TENIG group will be an afterthought. Consider the phrase, “teachers will eat their own young”. The teachers at the negotiations table are ones with seniority. When programs and positions are cut their jobs, according to provisions in the contract, are safe; it’s the “young” that lose their jobs.

    How can they know it will save $950K if they don’t even have the proposals back yet?
    It’s probably an estimate based on an estimate from a private firm or based on a similar neighboring district’s costs that already outsourced.

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  8. As a parent whose kids who survived the outsourcing of busing in the first few years – the legendary ‘Company X Busing’
    disaster– I think this is a bad move.

    The custodians at the schools CARE about the schools and the kids there. The kids know them by name and they know the kids. I feel safer knowing that people who are around my kids have been thoroughly checked out by the District. I’ve donated to FLITE in the name of a custodian b/c she was such an asset to the school. The custodians seem reliable. Outsourcing will just lead to problems – poorly kept facilities by minimum-wage workers who have nothing invested in the District or the community. Plus, how well are those people checked out by the staffing companies who employ them?

    When T/E goes cheap and starts outsourcing, it’s almost always bad. The ‘Company X Busing’ was atrocious. Sure they offered the cheapest deal—which is clearly what attracted the School Board and District. But it was downright scary when your kindergartner arrived home 40 minutes late because a barely-trained driver got lost in a 10-block radius.

    Had anyone high up in the District or on the School Board Googled “Company X Busing” before they signed them on, they would have come up with numerous news stories about problems other districts were having with them.

    Kids would be waiting at the bus stop in the cold and dark for 30 minutes and no bus would ever arrive. As a working parent, it was not great having to rely on poor outsourced busing because you could never trust that the bus would actually show up in the morning. ‘Company Y Busing’ is marginally better, but the difference between District drivers and buses and outsourced drivers and buses is a huge gulf that still hurts T/E to this day. I would imagine the gulf between outsourced custodial staff and District custodial staff would be similarly wide.

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    Kevin Grewell Reply:

    Regarding your question “How well are those people checked out by the staffing companies that employ them?”

    Answer: State law requires all adults working with children in our schools to submit fingerprints and pass a state criminal record check, as well as obtain a state child abuse clearance. This should be the same for employees of outside vendors and contractors. For example, when the high school was renovated, all construction workers had to submit to these background checks even though they worked for contractors and were not TESD employees.

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    Kevin Grewell Reply:

    The current perfect storm of economic conditions, decreasing state funding, budget deficits, and public anti-union sentiment should present the board with an opportunity to achieve much more favorable results in the next round of negotiations. The board can and should exploit whatever bargaining advantages they have at any given time. The union does the same. All part of the process.

    To gain significant concessions the board may have to go to the brink. The board will not do so without a lot of support from the taxpayers and voters, which has never, at any time, been present before. Whether it is present now remains to be seen. It will take a lot more than a few people writing blogs.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Just another comment about the outsourcing of bussing — which I explained previously: it was never the goal of the district to outsource. It was the goal to adjust the compensation plans to allow us to continue to use our own drivers. The union representatives would not allow that. There was a deadline by which we needed an answer or we had to sign with another bus company. The Union allowed that deadline to pass without any effort to save the jobs of our transportation group.
    My own kids rode buses during that time period, so I wasn’t blind to the downside of outsourcing, and I hope you are simply venting when you suggest that the effort was done recklessly. The transition was difficult because the local residents successfully fought off having the busses parked down off the turnpike in VF, so the contractor hired predominantly people who were not familiar with our area (but lived near the bus depot). Learning this community prrior to GPS technology was slow. The difficulties had to do with where the drivers came from, not the contractor’s issues. If you google any company, you rarely will find glowing reports — that’s not what people report on.

    But as someone has posted above, the cost of using someone to drive busses or clean buildings is only a first cost when it comes to using your own employees. The cost of benefits and pensions for jobs that are not “highly compensated” are simply too high to keep the in-house alternative competitive.

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    T/E Mom Reply:

    Yes, outsourcing transportation to such a questionable vendor will go down as one of the all-time bad T/E School Board decisions. And it set the tone for what’s happening now. No money? Outsource. Who cares about the welfare of the kids, right?

    On the transportation topic, why is it that Radnor Township still has activitiy buses so that middle and high school kids can get home from after school activities? In T/E these same kids have to wait in the school lobby until a working parent can pick them up. Don’t give me the “we have so many private schools and we would have to provide transporation for them” excuse. Radnor Township has a lot of private schools.

    And who’s keeping an eye on these kids waiting in lobbies and school parking lots because there’s no after school activity buses? Right, our custodial staff — the same ones they’re trying to get rid of. They know the kids in the schools they serve. They keep an eye on them, and they fill the gap caused by the LAST round of T/E budget cuts.

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  9. Many true words being spoken here, from all perspectives. The challenge for the Board is to balance them.

    I especially agree with John:
    “We really need to hear from … those who seek to be on the board as to how they plan to deal with this crisis”
    but is there any chance that any candidate will say anything meaningful?

    To the question about the savings estimate: I believe that it is derived from prices charged by outside contractors who already do some work for the district. (Which itself maybe detracts from the “no outsourcing” arguments).

    Just from a quick scan of the TENIG agreement, some illustrations of why the economics are out of touch:
    – 25% cumulative salary increase over the 5 year contract life to 2013/14
    – 1 sick day per month, cumulative for ever; unused paid out at 50% on request or retirement
    – 20 vacation days per year for 14 years service (average is 12.5 years of service); 5 days can be carried forward every year, paid out on retirement
    – 2 personal days per year, unused paid yearly

    And a Corbett political strategy question: is there any chance he has come down so hard on higher ed and things like the TESD social security reimbursement, so that he can concede to the legislature on the Marcellus tax and return some of the education funds, while claiming he did not go back on his “no tax” statements to his funders?

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  10. If Ray Clarke is right about all the sick day, vacation day and personal day carry over. They have a good deal going there. And with all the carry over, a lot of money needs to go with it. WHY so much!!! Cutting this down would help the budget.

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  11. The teacher benefits are very good in terms of leave and vacation. One year, a teacher at an elementary school went out on maternity leave in October. Her class was given to a sub who did an awesome job. The kids adored the sub and they progressed very well academically. Then at the very end of May it was announced that the old teacher was coming back until the end of the year (for 3 weeks). It was very disruptive to the class. Kids were sobbing over it. Never quite understood why she bothered to come back for just 3 weeks but maybe it was to get summer pay. Parents were given to understand it was a union issue.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Most teacher placement – in and out – is a union issue. She came back because she had a right to come back…it was “her job.” Health care sabbaticals are legally limited (don’t remember the rules now). Summer pay is not pay by the way — teachers make an annual salary and can choose to receive it over 10 months or over a year’s time.

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    tredyffrinparent Reply:

    “As for the continual education and certification… Teachers are no better than lawyers, doctors, computer professionals, etc. A lot of folks continue to sharpen the saw. We should expect teachers to maintain their certification…just as we would expect dr’s and lawyers to do the same thing. They don’t get gold stars for that…why should teachers?”

    Under Act 48, teachers must continue receiving credit hours to maintain their certification within a five year period (the exact hours I do not know). This could be through coursework or certain in-service work.

    It is wrong of you to make it sound as if teachers do not do the work of any other professional and I think this is ill informed thinking is what detracts from the real discussion of education.

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    Andrea Reply:

    If you read my posts for the reason I post them(you aren’t interested in learning, just educating the rest of us), you would see that I am trying to elaborate in issues that typically get short shrift. No one knows better than I do (except obviously you) that teachers are paid an annual wage for the amount of time they contractually must work. They get that wage regardless. I was simply clarifying the TEMom hypothesis that perhaps the teacher had returned to qualify for summer pay.
    WHY do you consider information offered as some kind of one-upsmanship ? I have “insider information” John — nothing more. I don’t make excuses — I give explanations. You can assess them as you choose. I shared the bus information because while you choose to denigrate the pay level of a bus driver, what I wanted to illustrate was that it was not a goal of the board to outsource — but to fix the problem that the bus drivers were perfectly willing to discuss, but the Union would not allow to happen. There was no prospect of decertifying and going to court. Right now, the custodians are probably in a similar situation — they CANNOT address the issues because only their representative can, and since their representative takes marching orders from Harrisburg, they are pretty much sitting ducks.

    So — I again apologize to your viewing public that the debate is constantly interrupted by our little side spats — I am in no way apologetic for my time on the board. And yes the Union got along with me — because I gave them contracts they could sell to their membership for ratification — but not for the reasons you love to SPECULATE. And Dr. Waters — his bounty has come as a result of market forces and this current board. I became a real thorn in some members’ sides when I did my RTK request and confronted them on many, many issues.

    Oh wait — I’m making excuses again for my wasted 20+ hours a week for 3 terms….never mind. (I”m including this paragraph because I know that John P likes to redact some inane portions of posts so that he can comment on them)

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  12. As to the “screening process”..For the past 2 years the district’s outside landscaping company workers DID NOT have all their clearances and were followed around by a TESD employee.
    Also if money is so tight how can they even consider building a 2 or 3 million dollar maintenance/ facility.on Old Lancaster RD ?????

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    T/E Mom Reply:

    Wow, this really gives me pause. How much are they paying the TESD employee to follow around these unscreened landscaping company workers?

    Little League coaches are screened better than these people working within a few yards of our children.

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    CHV Reply:

    This went on for several weeks in the beginning of the grass cutting season. I asked about the cost at a Faciliites meeting and was told that the landscaping company would be billed for the TESD employee’s time.

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    give it a rest Reply:

    I would guess that the price of the job wasn’t worth most bidders getting the necessary clearances to qualify to bid — so paying for “cleared” supervisiion was just a cost of doing business. When I was a volunteer for the school fair, the PTA had to pay for a TE kitchen person to be present while we used the facilities in order to get the health department approval. Since that time, the requirements for security clearances has pretty much ended the use of kitchens by volunteers, and it is too expensive to bring in the whole school cafeteria staff…so you get a lot of pizza.

  13. >>Andrea…your part of the history that lead to the dismal shape the district is in now. I put you right there with Pat Wood, Lianne Davis, and the current group. You don’t a gold star for service alone.. It’s got to be distinguished service… such that more value than harm is delivered. <<

    Thought that bears repeating….given your part of hands on involvement during my time on the board. You have NO knowledge of the contracts I did, the credentials or effort I put forth, nor how I functioned. I do not bring my perspective to this blog to earn a gold star from you — and it makes me sad that you need to have the last word to take a last shot. I know Kevin will agree – we got all the things we expected when we did it…….

    I am very disappointed at your candor that you believe that Radnor and Lower Merion are ahead of TE, but that's a grass is greener view from someone who probably would always have that view wherever you lived. Not a very empowering endorsement for your kids. But I too don't plan to stay in this community much longer — we did the college thing already and will choose our next location in a place where school taxes are not important to the value of the house.

    As to me: Others posting have said they appreciate hearing a different perspective rather than what they observe at meetings and read in the papers, so I'll continue to provide comments on topics where I think my history (whatever word you don't find arrogant — since my use of almost any common phrase gives you new material to parse) might be useful. (substitute: instructive, enlightening, accurate, bs)

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  14. Three district rates for the 2010-11 budget year:

    LMSD 22.2895
    RTSD 20.4085
    TESD 17.97

    TE taxes have to go up 24% to catch up to LMSD. TE taxes can increase by13.9% to reach RTSD. Perhaps the adage is old because it is true — you do get what you pay for. Perhaps not — but I won’t comment on your assessment that LMSD tech resources (you know — the computer for every kid) are better. You’re the professional in technology. Again, resources can translate to quality.

    Act 1 is 1.4% and my reading is that the general impression on this board is that they should not exceed that.

    An observation:

    Salaries and Benefits: Using budget figures for 2010-11:

    TE : $55.4M Salaries $19.6 benefits — approximately 35% of the salary number.

    RTSD Salaries $37.1M 16.6M benefits — approximately 44% of salary number.

    LMSD — Salaries $103.1 M 41.1M benefits – approx. 39.9% of the salary number.

    This is NOT apples and apples — but if you look at projected numbers for these districts for this next year, the percent of benefits to salaries increases in all 3 districts….raises are contractual — cost of benefits are not. Only the benefit plan is under the current model.

    RTSD has already got a court order to permit a tax increase of .4 mills beyond the Act 1 limit to revenue decreases associated directly to assessment changes.

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    CHV Reply:

    Read their infrastructure reports..ESC is not big enough its 8.5 and they need 15 acres

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    give it a rest Reply:

    ESC isn’t big enough for an elementary school without applying for grandfathered status. The state would approve because they would have no recourse except to require the district to buy more land.

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    Kevin Grewell Reply:

    John,

    “Student Teacher Ratio” is a misleading concept and meaningless unless you know exactly how that is defined in a given school district (something I learned during the effort to reduce class size in T/E, which was the issue I ran on in 1999). “Class Size” is the actual number of kids in each class. You can calculate an average class size too, which saves you from having to look at each and every class in a given grade or school, but that still is not the same thing as student teacher ratio.

    Student teacher ratio is the total number of students in a school (or grade, or district – you have to know that too) divided by “teachers” in the school/grade/district. You also have to know how “teacher” is defined. For example, guidance counselors, special needs instructors, aids, tachers who are not class room teachers but only teach “pull outs”, music, art, gym, etc., even though those teachers are not in the core curriculum class room, are often included in student teacher ratio calculations. There are schools with very large core curriculum or instructional classes, which have deceptively low “student teacher ratios”. The statistics you cited, without more, tell us nothing about the average class sizes in Harriton or Lower Merion, or for that matter T/E.

    You also have to realize that research on class size primarily deals with grades K-3. Very little research is done on the higher grades and in fact, it is believed that the older kids can do quite well in classes significantly larger than the recomended K-3 size. Given our academic record, I don not beleive you can make the case that we are short changing our kids when it comes to class size or anything else for that matter.

    JP – when I was on the board (1999-2007) we knew for a fact that T/E had just about the best class sizes of any of the local districts. I don’t know how much that has changed since I left, but I doubt it has changed all that much.

    As for your assertion that we “cram” 2000 kids into the high school, you were obviously not around (or not paying attention) during the debate over expanding and upgrading the high school, vs. the demand (by some, a minority) for two high schools. Without going into too much detail, the two high schools option was politically impossible, economically un-affordable, and would have been (in hindsight, with knowledge of current events) an incredibly stupid idea.

    Had we built a second high school, given the current economy, state funding cuts, Act 1 taxation limits, and the fact that the taxpayers are fed up, you would have two smaller but very inferior high schools, programatically speaking. How would you like to try to pay for two schools, two sets of administrative staff, etc., under current post-Act 1 conditions? How would you like another $100-plus million in debt to service? Program cuts would have to be even deeper, harming the students even more. So you would have one old high school, and one state-of-the-art new one (like the wonderful Radonr middle) with large class sizes, few sports and extra curricular opportunities, the bare minimum of guidance, administrative, and mental health services, etc. Great idea, John!

    When we had the Act 34 hearing on the high shcool expansion project, I spoke in favor of the concept of a single high school (angering many of my original class size supporters, who had graduated from class size to campus size). I said since a second school was not economically or politically feasible, we all needed to get behind Conestoga and make it the best we could possibly make it – the trade off for the taxpayer was, no we are not going to spend over $100 million dollars for a second school, but we are going to spend the money necessary to make ‘Stoga great – keep class sizes reasonably small, make sports and extra-curricular activites fully available, keep the ratio of guidance counselors and mental health professionals high (we have the highest number of counselors of any local district).

    The choice turned out to be the right one. The record speaks for itself. Among the very best HS in the state, and still among the lowest school property taxes. Not bad. And as for the rest of our facilities, I submit that you are quite wrong – they are excellent and well maintained.

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    citizenone Reply:

    I’m having problems with John’s figures of merit. He admits that TE is on an academic par with Radnor and Lower Merion, but then complains about, the high student/teacher ratio, the lack of technology, the quality of the buildings and the low tax rate.

    Shouldn’t we be celebrating TE’s ability to provide an excellent education in an efficient manner? Maybe TE is directing money to the factors that matter rather than those that make a district look good.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    CAVE
    Citizens Against Virtually Everything

    Thanks Kevin for the history.

    JP’scomment that “a modern high school would have been” illustrates the fact that John clearly paid zero attention to the process by which we expanded Conestoga. I wish the website we had with the 10+ options we considered were still around — because we hypothesized about every option we had. I remember the student who came to one of the hearings who was opposed to a 2nd high school: “Would you have a pool at one of the HS and a TV Studio at the other? Or would you build two equal schools?” Every point you make, Mr. Petersen, was made, debated and decisions were made. Prior to that, the class size people who turned to campus size wanted us to build more elementary schools because we were “cramming” 500 kids into those. The request was for more “small, neighborhood schools”….and for a second high school that wouldn’t “supersize” Conestoga. If wishes were dollars.

    Since John objects when I reference my history, I won’t — but the long term plan I supported (and the current board did not) included moving TEMS by acquiring the land adjacent to the ESC property, and making the TEMS site the administrative building. For I’m trusting were very good reasons, instead, they moved the Admin offices to an office condo setting, and they upgraded the football stadium complex. They did not move forward to acquire the land parcel. There are all kinds of issues associated with the land that is in Easttown that AIS tried to acquire. I believe the school district should have moved mountains to acquire it — but I don’t sit in the executive sessions on that any longer (I left in 2002, so the ship has sailed a very long way from that place). I do know that what appears to be easy solutions are not decisions easily reached.
    .
    Thanks CitizenOne for going beyond the superficial analysis that JP does — while he may not practice as a lawyer, he certainly uses this forum to play Devil’s Advocate.

    TE has examined parcels in the community, done extensive analysis on transportation patterns, done mock hearings on taxpayer responses to land acquisition etc. All is moot now that our community is in a serious recession.

    At any single moment in time, this “race” between districts is just that — a single moment in time. For 10 years TESD had choices and made them and we functioned well. Radnor was in chaos for several years over the fight on the Middle School — and the LM capital program ran off two superintendents. I’m too tired of the back and forth or I would look up the debt strctures of all the districts….but again, it would only be a snapshot.

    So there is no defending things here. This is not a court of anything but public opinion. Fear of overcrowding is momentary — and well documented. 5 years from now the people in Unionville will be up in arms over the poor state of their high school — having twice in the past turned down referenda required to renovate and upgrade.

    It is my opinion that the best lesson we can all take from this is that it should matter to us who serves us in elected office. You can look back and make any determination of those who served, but it’s only looking forward that will proactively affect our community. Complaining here does nothing to advance the solutions. Go to meetings, meet the candidates, encourage participation. If used productively, this blog and places like it are places to learn. I again thank Pattye for her efforts to keep the information on the front burner.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Thanks Andrea — I’m trying :)

    Re Candidates:
    Just today I contacted all Tredyffrin special election, Tredyffrin supervisor and TESD school board candidates (including incumbents) asking for resumes by March 30. As I did for the interim supervisor appointment process, I will post the resumes during April. I will separate the races and post the candidates resumes for each race. Both the Dem chair Dariel Jamieson and Rep chair Mike Broadhurst were notified of my plans and received copies of my resume request sent to the candidates.

    The primary reason to post the candidate resumes is to educate voters about the candidates. By greater engagement from the community, ‘hopefully’ this will equate to greater voter turnout for the May primary and November general election. Voter turnout is historically extremely low (I know this all too well) and I am determined to see the best and most qualified supervisors and school directors elected — there are too many important issues facing our community NOT to get involved.

    school observer Reply:

    Nothing artificial about low taxes. It’s real money I think.

    TE Taxes are much lower. I also think market prices in TE are lower than LM and taxes in Radnor are really high on houses that are priced the same.

    I know people have issues with schools, but isn’t it easier to move than to spend your neighbor’s money to get what you want.

    [Reply]

  15. *In terms of Middle Schools, T/E is a disgrace, insofar as facilities are concerned. The building is a relic.*

    Gotta agree on this one… they have 1,000 kids crammed into a building built for maybe 750 max. It’s pretty decrepit, too. Overcrowding is only going to get worse as the Devon Elementary (feeder school) population is exploding. My kid has three more years at T/E… just hope it doesn’t become a fire hazard.

    [Reply]

  16. John,

    In reply to your reply to my reply (above) –

    Re: student teacher ratios – hey, YOU made the argument. Why don’t you take time to contact all the local school districts and ask them for actual class size data, and prepeare us a spread sheet? Be sure to use actual class sizes, not bogus student teacher ratios, so as to compare apples to apples.

    I stand by what I said as far as my time on the board goes. We saw class size data each and every year, and we also had access to what other districts were doing, For the time frame I referenced, T/E compared very favorably, and in almost all cases beat, other local districts in terms of class sizes. I suspect that is still the case.

    Regarding you comment on how politics drives everything here – yep. And it drives everything in the other districts you mention too. Don’t kid yourself.

    You have to be realistic about what you can get done. To keep on our example, the second high school was the main issue on which four candidates ran for school board. All were defeated. They spent a hell of a lot of money and effort too. ALL FOUR- not a single seat could be won using campus size as an issue.

    This is unlike class size, where I ran an independent campaign and was a registered Democrat who defeated an endorsed Republican candidate. That issue had “legs” but the campus size issue never had any.

    We’re talking the result of an election – the PUBLIC, THE VOTERS said they did not want a second high school, not some back room Republican committee. It was obvious from the last election that there was no way to get that done.

    Besides the election, we had no land, our two townships are pretty much built out, few available parcels left of sufficient size, and the board had previously looked in great detail at EVERY LAND PARCEL OVER 15 ACRES. There were many problems with these parcels – wrong location, sinkholes, environmental and conservation easements, deed restrictions, wetlands, transportation access, etc, etc.etc. Most likely a second high school would have required the use of condemnation of land already developed. Lots of costs, delays, litigation, etc. If you started that process it would be stopped in the next two year election cycle when the board turned over to anti- project candidates. (this happened in Lower Merion, board turned over and back again for ten or more years while nothing got built and the kids really were stuck in crummy circumstances).

    I would not have supported the idea even if it was politically possible – the consumption of considerably more than 100 million would have been a very detrimental thing for the kids and their education, period. And it was not necessary.

    Telly you what – why don’t you run for the board on the issue of tearing down and replacing the allegedly decrepid T/E Middle School? See if you can get elected on that. You can promise to pay for it all with the money you will save by breaking the teachers union. Go for it. I dare ya!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Let’s meet in a parking lot and scream it out :)

    Yea Kevin.

    Officially not CAVE.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Grewell Reply:

    Andrea,

    Thanks as always for your comments.

    You know, you and I have not always agreed on everything, especially the first couple years I was on the board (but then I still had a LOT to learn) but I have always respected you and the more I learned about these complex issues, the more I either agreed with your positions or at least saw your positions as among the spectrum of reasonable choices.

    In the long term, you may be right that we should have acquired the land you referred to next to the ESC(above) but it would have been a really big and nasty political sh–t storm, and with all of the other things going on, it just never seemed like it was feasible. It would have brought out the environmental people and the powerful Brandywine Conservancy. As you have pointed out, you need 5 votes to do anything, and I’m not sure we ever had 5 votes for that, but we had close to it at times. As for moving the middle school, that would have been great but it was probably a “bridge too far.”

    I don’t think either one of us is defending or justifying our time on the board – no need for that really – but it is fair to answer criticism, particularly when it is unfair or uninformed. There is also something to be said for adding historical information. John does not like that because it often undermines the argument he is making.

    So many things to say re JP’s comments – the HS is modern and state-of-the-art. Many examples of upgrades and modernizations could be pointed out. Here is just one for the readers: when the HS expansion was done, the science wing was updated with modern classroom/lab facilities. There are many other examples, but let that suffice for now.

    The class size people did morph into the school size people (there had new people too, and other issues, but it was really largely about school size- something they tried to deny later at the Act 34 hearing). This was really awkward for me because for a lot of reasons I ended up on the opposite side when it came to school size, particularly the second HS, which I thought then, and still think would have been a disaster had we gone that route. In any event, the voters spoke rather loudly – only one of the 4 candidates even came close to winning a seat.

    As for “giving the store away” it is hardly fair to tar you with that brush since you left in 2002. I don’t even think it is fair to tar me with that brush. As I pointed out above, at no time did the conditions exist for “breaking” the union as John suggests. It remains to be seen whether they truly exist now. It would take a lot of public support and some changes in Harrisburg too. And be careful with talk of “breaking” anyone – we still need good relationships with good teachers to get the job done, and there is a limit to what is prudent. I think tough bargaining is fine, but at the end of the day you need to preserve the relationship too.

    And to your last point – it is all moot – these things were decided long ago and we are in a deep economic recession. It would be better if more people focused on constructive ideas going forward instead of criticising past decisions. And they should communicate those ideas tot he current board and to board candidates.

    [Reply]

  17. At the risk of bringing back another reign of s..t from JP because you and I are representative of the “bad guys” (i.e., people who know mroe than him about the facts and were there through the bad times, not just taking shots at them now), I agree with the substance of what you are saying. And you know — I hope — that I understand the decision about the property and freely admit that I was not in the continuing exec sessions, and even questioned privately the decision to keep getting advice from the same people who may have been somewhat politically more sensitive.

    No decision is a bad one unless you delay it forever and exacerbate the conditions of the time. I left the board in 2002. My final act was approval of the contracts to renovate Conestoga, and given all kinds of reasons, you know that I considered that necessary and stand by it. And regardless of JP’s concerns that anyone gave away the store, he doesn’t consider the tax rate to be a relevant issue, so I guess had we spent more money, we’d still have given away the store, but we’d have nicer stores? “Building Envy” was the phrase we coined back then. We knew we would face it and had we had 5 votes to do several other things, some of this owuld be moot. I like to remind myself that it was a dog fight to get 5 votes to air condition Conestoga — and the system we have was bordering on antiquated from the start, but it was cheaper. When I left the board, the big push in the community was for an Aquatic and Tennis Center….so I guess we can see how times have changed….don’t hear a lot of demand for bigger and better nowadays. Just that old building envy thing.

    Thanks Kevin. And my appreciation to the Community Matters posters as we “former board members” reminisce about all the fun opportunities we squandered (again, have to throw in a phrase that JP can parse and highlight. He did the last one even when I said that was why it was there.)

    [Reply]

  18. There are to many intangibles that an outsourcing company cannot provide. Whether it be helping a teacher, helping a student, going above and beyond their job. Instead the outsourcing company can say “not my job”. With outsourcing you get BOTTOM LINE work. Bottom line work is shabby and overall disgusting. They do not care because they are not apart of the community. In house custodians allows the district to select good people (possibly from the community) who will care for everyone in the building. A school should be a family. There is no I’s in a team and no I’s in a family. Everyone must work together and money should not be involved in every decision. Sometimes you must do the right thing even if it costs a little bit more. Outsourcing has resulted in theft, lies, work not getting done. These board members who consider it should be voted out next election!

    [Reply]

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