T/E School Board Candidates Asked What’s Most Important Issue – Responses from Tredyffrin Democratic candidates & Easttown candidates, no Tredyffrin Republican candidate responses

We know that local elections are important and that the choices that you make on Election Day, Tuesday, November 8 will help determine the future of our community.  As a way to better understand the school board candidates and what they value as the most important issues facing the district, I sent a three-part question to all Tredyffrin-Easttown School Board candidates. Previously, I had received and posted the responses from Easttown school board candidates – Republican Pete Motel and Democrat Craig Lewis.

Following the League of Women Voters debate on October 25, I received responses to the question from Tredyffrin Democratic school board candidates.  However, the Tredyffrin Republican school board candidates declined to participate.

Below is the question and the responses from Tredyffrin’s Democratic school board candidates Karen Cruickshank, Jerry Henige, Scott Dorsey and Jenny Wessels.   Following their responses, I have reposted the responses from Easttown’s school board candidates Pete Motel (R) and Craig Lewis (D)

It’s a shame that the Republican school board candidates in Tredyffrin Twp declined to respond. One of two reasons — either the Republican school board candidates in Tredyffrin didn’t see any value in my question (and their answers) or they didn’t see value in Community Matters.  But then two of the Republican school board candidates (Tara LaFiura, Region 1 and Liz Mercogliano, Region 2) decided against participating in the League of Women Voters debate so perhaps I should not take their decision as personal.

Dear School Board Candidates:

Local elections are important.  In an attempt to inform voters for Election Day, as a candidate for the TE School Board, I hope you will participate in the following Q&A on Community Matters.

In 200 words or less, please respond to the following question. Incorporate all three parts of the question into your response and please be specific.  School board candidate responses will list on Community Matters in the order that they are received.

(1) In your opinion, what is the single most important issue facing the Tredyffrin Easttown School District?
(2) If you were elected, what would you do to help solve or improve this issue?
(3) The Tredyffrin Easttown School District needs problem-solvers; what in your background or job experience qualifies you to help solve this important issue?

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Karen Cruickshank
Democratic Candidate for School Director, Region 1

The most important issue facing the T/E School District is our fiscal outlook.

The School District faces a 5.5 million dollar budget gap for 2012 and increases to 17 million in 2015.

State controlled pension obligations will increase from 4.7 million in 2011 to 13.3 million in 2015. In 2001 state legislators gave themselves, state employees, and public school employees a big increase in pension pay outs. These increases were never OKd by local school districts or the public.

The second budget factor is a loss of 6.5 million in revenues since 2006 from commercial and residential real estate reassessments.

In response to fiscal issues the School District has cut 10 million dollars out of its budget. Our teacher’s union gave up half of their raises for this year and our non-teaching union gave up all of their raises.

If re-elected I will work with legislators, unions, administrators, and citizens to find solutions to fiscal issues. I will look for ways the District can become more efficient without hurting the quality of our schools.

A trained higher education professional, I understand the issues facing education. I am trained in conflict negotiation and am a proven consensus builder.

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Jerry Henige
Democratic Candidate for School Director, Tredyffrin Region 1

We have great schools that contribute to the wonderful quality of our neighborhoods. However, our great schools are facing serious financial challenges. For example, we are losing almost $3M a year due to property reassessments and this amount will continue to grow. And, based on bad decisions in Harrisburg, the amount the school district is being asked to pay into the pension funds will grow from $3M last year to $13.4M over the next 4 years.

At the same time Kevin Mahoney, the financial expert on the school board, is retiring leaving a critical skills gap. The financial challenges are too great to leave this gap unfilled. I believe that with my 30+ years of management and financial experience, I am the candidate that is best suited to fill this gap.

We need a school board that can work as a team to focus on potential solutions. We need to partner with parents and taxpayers, teachers and other school districts, our townships and employers to put pressure on Harrisburg to address the pension problem.

We need a school board that is prepared to work diligently to find common ground with all these constituencies. We need to be willing to try alternative approaches to education that may be more effective than what we are doing today. And we need to consider the plight of the retiree on fixed income, the family with a member who has lost a job.

I believe that I have the financial skills, temperament and energy to manage the serious financial challenges facing the school board.

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Scott Dorsey
Democratic Candidate for School Director, Tredyffrin Region 2

Today our district is facing a financial storm that threatens the excellence that we have come to expect from our schools.   $6.5 million in lost property tax revenues because of reassessments, and other revenue shortfalls will devastate programs that are vital to many average students.  Co-curricular and extra-curricular programs are also in danger. I have proven track record as a non- profit Administrator who is fiscally responsible, and I am personally opposed to the Earned Income Tax.

My background as an educator and community leader has inspired my passion for investing in children’s success. In response to TESD’s budget challenges, I propose to:

  • Collaborate with the public and private sector for solutions that combine best educational and business practices that will benefit every child
  • Fight to hold the line in the upcoming teachers’ contract
  • Find creative solutions to keep sports and other after-school activities from being cut
  • Work with the Unions to lobby the state legislature to fix the pension system
  • Work with the Township to build grant-funded sidewalks that could reduce transportation costs

I have deep experience as an administrator who has helped lead multi-million dollar non- profit organizations from the red to sound fiscal footing.   I am a skilled consensus builder.  I am the only school board candidate who has not sought union endorsement because I believe full transparency is required in the upcoming contract negotiations. I will lead with integrity, fiscal responsibility, and a dedication to investing in our children’s success.

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Jennifer Lightman Wessels
Democratic Candidate for School Director, Tredyffrin Region 2

The most important issue facing our school board is managing our limited financial resources while minimizing the impact on our educational program.  I will be a voice on the board committed to protecting our outstanding educational program.

To lessen the financial strain on our district, I will lobby Harrisburg for legislative reform.  I will use my training as a labor attorney to achieve a successful result during contract negotiations with the teachers’ union in 2012.  I will be open to innovative ideas, such as pursuing new income streams from advertising and private funding.  I will not, however, support the implementation of new taxes such as the Earned Income Tax (EIT) and I would oppose any move to enact an EIT in Tredyffrin Township.

As a parent of two young children in our school district and having served as the President of the PTO at New Eagle Elementary School for two years, I understand and care deeply about the issues facing our school district.  As a taxpayer, I understand the importance of balancing these concerns with fiscal restraint and responsibility.

Among all the school board candidates, I am unique in that I will bring both a parent’s perspective and a lawyer’s skill to this job.  I look forward to the opportunity to serve.

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Pete Motel
Republican Candidate for School Board Director, Easttown Township

The biggest challenge facing the T/E School District is maintaining the quality of education it delivers during the current economic downturn.

District revenue is down by millions of dollars primarily due to two reasons:

  1. Property tax assessment appeals resulting in decreased real estate tax collection;
  2. Decreased home sales resulting in decreased real estate transfer tax.  This is coupled with steep increases in the state required contribution to the state pension system – now millions above the contribution required last year.

Great efforts have been made by the Board to balance the District’s budgets without significantly effecting educational opportunities. The Board has implemented cost containment through administrative salary freezes, implementation of self-insured health insurance and more efficient scheduling of staff time.

With the economic recovery projected to take another several years, T/E Boards need to continue to cut expenses without reducing core educational programs.  Success will require detailed knowledge of District operations and proven leadership skills.

My experience on the T/E Board as Committee Chairs and past Board president, coupled with my professional experience as a small business owner, demonstrate that I have the proven skills to help guide the District through the next few years of difficult budgets.

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Craig Lewis
Democratic Candidate for School Director, Easttown Township

TE’s biggest issue is irresponsible budgeting.

My opponent, republican Dr. Motel, has mandated 5 study halls per week in Conestoga High (12% instruction reduction) AND a 20% increase in students per teacher.  TE was the 4th best high school in Pennsylvania.  Losing this rank will result in a 10% home price decline, reduced college acceptance, scholarships and earning potential.

  • My opponent diverted education money to purchase, tear-down and build non-educational facilities wasting millions of dollars.

TE’s projection shows out-of-control budget shortfalls.  Starting with the current year they are:

-$777,000
-$3,909,000
-$7,925,241
-$11,862,000
-$15,450,000

My fiscally conservative priorities to prevent this catastrophe are:
Stop wasteful spending

  • Halt all construction and real-estate acquisitions.
  • The teacher pay was cut and workload increased 20%.  Aggressive cost reduction has to look at all other areas.
  • Halt no-bid contracting

Preserve our premier school ranking

  • Repeal the 5 study-hall mandate.
  • Respect our staff; balance their workloads.
  • Initiate summer enrichment programs for profit.

Retirees deserve school tax relief – My opponent never did this, I will.

I have twenty years of experience in setting goals, developing strategies, creating and managing budgets, both departmental and enterprise wide.  This required creative approaches, engaging individuals from different departments to drive successful outcomes.

51 Comments

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  1. I repeat my comments posted elsewhere since Mr. Lewis has not retracted any of his dubious statements:

    I just attended the League of Women Voters school board candidates forum. I was not going to weigh in on this topic, as Pete Motel is my brother-in-law and I served with him on the TE school board from 1999 -2007, but I have to correct some serious factual errors in Mr. Lewis’ comments. (The comments made by Mr. Lewis at the forum closely followed his comments on this blog). Here are my comments:

    1) TE’s biggest problem is not “irresponsible budgeting” or “wasteful spending” as Mr. Lewis claims. In fact, TE is one of the best run districts in Pennsylvania. Here are the facts:

    * On a list of all 501 school districts in Pennsylvania, where #1 has the highest school property taxes and #501 has the lowest, TE ranks 467. There are only 34 districts with lower taxes than TE. Great Valley ranks 436, Radnor ranks 395, and Lower Merion ranks 392.
    (PA Dept. of Education Equalized mills 2009-10, the latest year available)

    * In FY 2011 per student spending in TE is $15,992. Great Valley is $17,803, Radnor $21,281, and Lower Merion is $28,141.

    * TE’s debt for all of that allegedly wasteful construction is approximately $58 million. Percentage of millage to service that debt is currently 6.27%. Twelve years ago it was 6.15%. The PA Dept. of Education’s latest figures for debt are for 2009-10. The total debt at the end of that fiscal year for our competitive districts was:

    T/E $53,829,669
    Great Valley $89,667,632
    Radnor $109,349,189
    Lower Merion $321,962,624
    (PA Dept. of Education website)

    2) There is not any “no-bid contracting” as Lewis claims. State law mandates all contracts over $10,000 must be competitively bid. For small contracts, there are vendors/services vetted through a state consortium.

    3) The Pennsylvania constitution prohibits treating one class of taxpayers differently than any other. Lewis is clearly not informed on this issue. The state legislature has been working on this for many years with very limited success, beginning with Act 50 in 1998, Act 72 in 2004 and finally Act 1 of 2006. The only thing the legislature could come up with is a complex scheme of funding “Homestead Exemptions” with gambling revenue. The TE school board has no legal authority to tax seniors or retirees differently than other taxpayers.

    4) Budget deficits are caused by the state created and state controlled pension system and the economic downturn, not by irresponsible spending by the TE board. In his forum comments tonight, Lewis himself admitted that school districts all across the state are in the red. Exactly . . . . .

    It is fine to run for office, but there is no excuse for going negative with such blatant disregard for the facts.

    [Reply]

    Craig Lewis Reply:

    The Candidate Responds

    Can you afford to lose another 10% of you home’s value?

    The results of degraded education will drop Easttown out of the Business Week top High Schools. The last rating had TE as the 4th best High School in Pennsylvania. This rank is what drives young families to seek out homes in the TE district. Real Estate professionals estimate the average Easttown homeowner will lose 10% of their home values. Easttown has an average value of $700,000, so the average loss is $70,000 (per real estate value site: Zillow.com). Real-estate value is all about the schools.

    TE School’s problem is both Irresponsible Budgeting and Wasteful Spending. Why?

    1) TE’s projection shows out-of-control budget shortfalls – It is irresponsible to plan for steadily increasing shortfalls. In the budget documents themselves, the final year is in default by $10 million dollars. This is irresponsible budgeting. The figures are from the TE finance committee 9-16-2011 meeting agenda page 92.
    My opponent was in attendance. The TE web location of the document is: http://www.tesd.net/cms/lib/PA01001259/Centricity/Domain/56/091211%20Finance%20Agenda.pdf

    2) The claim that retirement costs is a state problem is misleading. When the republican controlled state legislature and the republican governor passed the increases it was clear schools needed to significantly increase their retirement escrow. This was not done; instead my republican opponent made the smallest legally allowable payment. This was done for a decade. If you have a credit card that you always made the minimum payment the result would be financial disaster. This is irresponsible budgeting.

    3) By shorting retirement savings to the maximum legal extent, it gave a false perception of wealth. This is reflected in over the top spending and the contract negotiations. This is the result of irresponsible budgeting.

    4) Purchasing homes to tear them down and not at least rent them out? That is wasteful spending.

    5) Building a new maintenance facility by tearing down the existing building WHILE my opponent voted to force Conestoga to cut the school day by 12% is unaffordable, wasteful and irresponsible spending.

    There are bid contracts?

    YES. One is a no bid contract to Daley + Jalboot for $18,000 and the second is to Chester Valley Engineers for $39,600, far above thre $10,000 bid threshold. These were introduced by my opponent as part of the maintenance building tear down and replacement. While teacher head count is drastically cut there is no excuse for no-bid contracts such as these. This is documented June 13 school board minutes at the bottom of page 21. See TE web location: http://www.tesd.net/cms/lib/PA01001259/Centricity/Domain/56/jun13min.pdf

    Tax relief for retirees?
    Yes it is possible and legal under today’s law. It simply requires the TE citizens to vote on it. That vote is under attack by the Republicans; they are fighting to prevent TE residents from deciding the issue for themselves. I support allowing our citizens to vote and decide on such an important matter.

    Have I gone negative with blatant disregard of the facts?
    Absolutely NOT! I am not making false claims, such as the Swiftboat campaign. I am running a fact based campaign. The facts reflect the results of poor decisions by my opponent for short term gratification at the long term expense of Easttown students, parents and every homeowner.

    [Reply]

    Township Reader Reply:

    Mr. Lewis
    You are woefully uneducated about the differences between the past and the future. Easttown has no parks, no sports programs, no commerce. Housing prices in Easttown reflect a major increase in Easttown taxes without the Supervisors (which I believe your wife attempted to become) being willing to finance the township properly.

    You also do not understand about school law, public bidding, contracts and agreements. There is a major distinction WITH a difference, and before you accuse your opponent of making illegal agreements, I’d do some learning.

    Cutting Conestoga’s day by 12% No such thing was done. Conestoga has an 8 period day plus lunch. The “mandatory study hall” in fact reduced the ever increasing pressure on students to fill their schedule — so kids can only take 7 classes a day. Wow — what a decline in quality!!! In fact, your own elite children might have enjoyed an excessive course load, but the higher we raise the bar, the more children fall under it. And since you ignore the fact that the teachers are grieving teaching 6 periods, I guess you’ll blame some decision in 2005 by a governor for the fact that there has to be some way to reduce the upwards pressure on salary costs. I suggest YOU attend the screening of Race to Nowhere, because it is thinking like yours that is creating a generation of children without childhoods.
    Teacher pay has NOT been cut. They did defer their raises for 6 months, but the way compensation is calculated for teachers, they have their full base as their calculated salary for retirement purposes.

    So — you have gone negative by implication and throwing ideas in the air to see who salutes. Tell us what YOU would do. Tell us what makes your experience more valuable. You can denigrate Dr. Motel, but you cannot ignore the fact that the school board is a non-partisan body of 9 people, and every decision takes 5 votes. EVERY decision. Made in the SUNSHINE.
    Good for you that you support putting an EIT on the ballot. That is what you mean when you say “I support allowing our citizens to vote and decide on such an important matter.” Why don’t you say it? Because you dont’ want to explain yourself either.

    You don’t get to throw trash on the low road and pretend you live on the high road.

    No Bid Contracts are not the same as service contracts. Do you really think that the district should hire an architect based on the lowest bid? Would you design your house with the lowest bidder? I hope not. Would you like the school solicitor to be the cheapest lawyer in the state?

    And no — there is no legal provision for tax relief for retirees. Zero. Nada. Zilch. Ask Carole Rubley, who worked for most of her time in Harrisburg trying to craft property tax relief == the current Homestead exemption was the best they could come up with — and the referendum not only turned it down locally, it took it off the table into the future.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Grewell Reply:

    Mr. Lewis once again makes misleading statements and false accusations. The problems with his statements are not difficult to see if one pays attention to the facts. For example, the projected budget deficits arise out of a “perfect storm” of circumstances caused by bad decisions in Harrisburg and the economic recession. In 2001, the legislature made a “pension grab” by increasing the benefit multiplier – not only throwing a bone to the state employee unions (including teachers) but also richly padding their own retirement benefits. There was no plan to fund this liability, which the legislature passed along to the local property taxpayers. The TE school board for many years has set aside money in the fund balance to meet the anticipated pension liabilities. TE was doing fine until the economy crashed. The real problem came when the housing bubble burst, plunging the economy into deep recession and causing real estate tax revenues to fall. These developments unleashed a tsunami of red ink which threatened to wash over all of Pennsylvania’s 501 school districts. TE is not immune to the effects of these twin punches, but TE is poised to ride out the storm in much better shape thanks to the board’s forward looking and prudent actions in maintaining a fund balance – currently about $30 million. While TE faces tough challenges, the district’s sound fiscal management to date, together with its superior status as only one of five school districts in Pennsylvania to have a AAA bond rating, will enable TE to continue to provide high quality education throughout the crisis and into the future. Since his election, Pete Motel has been instrumental in providing the leadership which has made TE one of the best school districts in the state.

    I have already provided facts and statistics (see my previous comment, above) which document TE’s sound fiscal management. Mr. Lewis has not addressed these because they are FACTS, unlike the false accusations he makes. I will not repeat all of the facts again, but will highlight a few point and provide additional data to demonstrate the complete falsity of Lewis’ clams of fiscal mismanagement. Once again, it is undisputed that TE has among the LOWEST TAXES, LOWEST DEBT, LOWEST PER STUDENT EXPENDITURE and HIGHEST ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT of any school district in Pennsylvania. I urge readers to see my prior comment above, and provide the following additional highlights:

    Real Estate Taxes and Inflation:

    In 1970, the average TE home paid $814 in school property tax. In 2008-9, adjusted for inflation, that $814 is equal to $4,517. In 2008-9, TE’s school tax on that average home was $4,331 (TE Administration, Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI Inflation index). Conclusion – TE’s tax increases have NOT outpaced inflation. Pete Motel’s leadership is partly responsible for this result, his board service spans 10 years of the time period referenced in this example.

    Low Capital Debt:

    TE’s capital debt is $58,240,000, LOWER that Great Valley, Radnor, and Lower Merion (LM is well over $300 million). TE committed to a single High School which has excellent facilities and is one of the top High Schools in Pennsylvania, and ranks favorably in nation-wide surveys as well.

    Bond Rating and Tax Rate:

    There are 2800 municipalities in Pennsylvania: Townships, cities, counties and school districts. 12 have AAA bond rating. Only 5 of these are school districts. One of these is TE. TE’s debt is $58,240,000. The borrowing limit is set at $219,167,004 by state law. Mils of property tax used to service debt: 1.17 mils. Percentage of district property tax millage used to service debt: 6.27% of the millage rate. 12 years ago 6.12% of the millage rate was used to service debt. Conclusion: TE’s capital project budget has been well managed over the years Pete Motel has served on the board (many of those years as chairman of the Facilities Committee).

    Student Achievement:

    Number of public high schools in Pennsylvania: 670. Conestoga rank against other schools on the PSSA test: 3rd. Number of Public High Schools in the US: 18,743 (US News and World Report Dec. 2009). Latest Rank of Conestoga on a national survey of these 18,743 public high schools: 132nd. (Us New and World Report, Top Math and Science schools – 9/27/11). Number of merit scholars at Conestoga this year: 26 national merit semifinalists – #1 in the state of Pennsylvania.

    Now that we have added to the data, I will address Mr. Lewis’ accusations:

    No-bid contracting:

    Mr. Lewis is either ignorant of the facts or is deliberately misleading. He cites Chester Valley Engineers and Daley Jalboot as examples of no-bid contracts. Here are the facts: Professional services such as lawyers, engineers and architects are exempt from the bidding requirements. However, they are subject to Requests for Proposal or “RFP”. RFP means the professional firm submits a proposal with pricing. The board determines which firms have the capability to do the job and selects the lowest cost proposal. Incidentally, both of these firms were asked to cut their rates due to the economic recession and they agreed to reduce their fees by 20%. Again, there is not ANY no-bid contacting and there never was.

    Home Purchases etc.:

    Mr. Lewis makes a great deal about the purchase of properties adjacent to the high school. First, it should be noted that these were purchased in arms-length negotiations. No one was put out of their home. Second, Mr. Lewis is apparently ignorant of the situation the district faced when Conestoga was up for expansion and renovation. The high school is on a parcel of land much smaller than regulations would dictate. There was some question as to whether the project would be approved by the state. Ultimately, it was approved, essentially “grandfathering” the small footprint. The board felt it was prudent to acquire some of the adjacent properties if and when they became available due to this experience. If future renovation projects at the high school or TE Middle School are needed, there is a possibility that the footprint issue could block approval, forcing acquisition of property elsewhere and a second new facility instead of renovation of an existing facility. This could cost the taxpayers tens of millions extra. The board bought the houses for the land, to avoid a much greater potential cost in the future.

    Tax Relief for Seniors:

    Lewis is again either totally ignorant or deliberately misleading. Again, the Pennsylvania Constitution prohibits treating one class of taxpayer any differently than any other. The issue is handled under Act 1, of 2006 passed by the state legislature. The board did look into this issue several times over the years, and had a legal opinion by the district’s legal counsel. The problem is that there is no legal way to do this. The one and only way that might have been legal (and this was questionable, with a 50-50 chance of being defeated in a court challenge) was to employ seniors in our schools and pay them. This presented numerous difficulties including background checks, union issues, and legal challenges by non-senior citizen taxpayers. As for the EIT, it is worth noting that Mr. Lewis is in FAVOR of this additional tax. But he is again either ignorant or deliberately misleading. The EIT under discussion now, unlike the one which was placed on the ballot pursuant to Act 1, does not provide any legal mechanism for using the money to reduce the property taxes of one class of citizens. The EIT under discussion now is simply a revenue producer, not a tax-shift as in Act 1 of 2006.

    In summary, it is clear that Mr. Lewis is either totally ignorant of the facts or is deliberately misleading. In either case, he is unfit to hold public office.

    [Reply]

    Dave Reply:

    I guess we know now who’s behind those ludicrous “Lower Home Values, Vote Republican” signs. The 10% depreciation of home values comment just shows pure politicking. You have not a clue.

    [Reply]

  2. Inaccuracy in the last letter – teacher pay has not been cut. The teachers union agreed to go without a raise for six months. The rest of the staff is going without a raise for the whole year. No one has had a salary cut.

    [Reply]

  3. Pattye
    Thank you for these posts on the BoS and School Board candidate’s view points and qualifications. It is very helpful having this information side by side for each of the candidates. It would have been nice if the Republicans would have participated. Maybe I will just choose from the candidates that did participate so I don’t have to go do my own research on the others.

    [Reply]

  4. I appreciate these comments and these posts. I have one additional challenge to some of the information the candidates have offered:
    Jenny Wessels claims she brings a unique perspective as a parent and lawyer. Karen Cruickshank has childrenin the schools and came from New Eagle and Kevin Buraks is a lawyer with kids at New Eagle. So the idea that Ms. Wessels brings a fresh perspective is woefully inaccurate — it’s a perspective of someone who NEEDS to worry about the school day for her kids more than about my tax burden. The district has a lawyer who does negotiations with board direction — we really don’t need one more lawyer (note that Molly Duffy’s recent mailer doesn’t even acknowledge she too is a lawyer) in the system. Someone with young children absolutely has the least amount of perspective available — someone without children is a better option because they are not vulnerable to the decisions made that may have conseuqences to their children. Tara LaFiura is also a labor lawyer, a Conestoga graduate, and without children in the schools. She can give us her experttise without having an agenda she needs to protect (her kid’s day).

    [Reply]

    TEishome Reply:

    If Tara is the correct person to serve on the school board why didn’t she attend to address the public and their questions? What was she afraid of ? Obviously it wasn’t her kids busy schedule. (Sports, doctors, homework the daily grind we all face).

    I believe Mrs. Wessels experience as an attorney, most especially her lobbying experience may be a breath of fresh air as we face negotiations with the teachers and a new contract.
    Obviously on these tough times we’re faced with things the board hasn’t dealt with. The last contract was under totally different circumstances.
    While we need to hire and contract teachers who want to be in TE we need to secure they are treated well, they shouldn’t have a carte blanche future.
    Hopefully someone on the school board will lobby to have a merit based pay scale.
    Make it easier to get rid of a tough teacher and most of all appreciate the hard working people who are in education to make a difference in a child’s life.

    We’ve lost the direction of what matters most in TE.
    Is it about the kids anymore? All I see or read here is $$.

    If you have kids in the schools you can see the attitude of teachers is different. Fear is part of the daily vocabulary.

    We need to regroup and do what is best for the district as a whole but all I hear and see is the almighty $$ sign.

    People with children belong on the school board and want to make a difference not just for their own child but for tomorrows.
    Tara should have shown up to chat. Showing she didn’t shows she’s selfish.
    We need selfless people in TE that’s what serving on any board is about.
    Truth be told that is the person I want on our school board.
    Jenny Wessels, Karen Cruickshank are two women that care deeply about our schools it isn’t just about their own children it is about all the children.

    [Reply]

  5. Are you recommending the same Tara LaFiura would couldn’t bother to show up for the League of Women Voters debate???? She may not have children but does she really have the ‘time’ required to be a school board director? If she’s too busy to answer resident’s questions at the debate, I think that tells it all. Same goes for the other candidate that couldn’t bother to show up.

    [Reply]

  6. Fact 1 – Tara LaFiura works at the same law firm as Mike Broadhurst, if not directly for him.
    Fact 2 – Tara LaFiura was hand-picked by Broadhurst
    Fact 3 – All the SB candidates were told not to go to the debate by Broadhurst. Only two had the guts to attend, despite his demand.
    Question – Do you really believe she will enter office without an agenda? If so, who’s?

    [Reply]

    Township Reader Reply:

    WHen she was on the SB running for re-election, Sandi Gorman did not attend the debate. Working with a school board requires skills that a public debate do not necessarily highlight. It’s a factor in evaluating the candidates. Do with it what you choose.

    [Reply]

  7. Wow — were this anti-LaFiura talking points or are these on your own? I didn’t “recommend” her — I just stated the facts — ONLY facts as well:

    I’m looking at two labor lawyers — one with kids in the school (elementary — same elementary as lawyer Kevin Buraks, already on the board). TLF is a labor lawyer who went to Conestoga (so has some K-12 perspective) and no kids. What agenda do you believe she could have since she has no kids to come home at the end of the day when the teachers complain that they work too hard, aren’t appreciated and more. Did you read the comments on this blog yesterday when a parent said his HS student couldn’t get time with a teacher “because the teacher teaches 6 periods a day? I hate to confuse this debate with information.

    You can make this be about whatever you want, but for me, what it is about is who is most likely to approach this job professionally, without any vulnerability. I could care less about someone who is a party leader — because a school board is made up of 9 individuals who work together in a non-partisan atmostphere.

    The vulnerability comes from spending my money to keep your kids happy. One New Eagle elementary parent with a law degree is enough for me. Karen Cruickshank is also a former NE PTO president.

    And please explain to me what “hand picked” means? Do we think Jerry Henige, a long-time resident who keeps touting his business background (he’s a computer guy) involved in Democratic politics isn’t “hand picked” in the same context? For LaFiura, does her being handpicked mean someone who went to Conestoga and lives in the community responded to a request for participation?

    Did anyone on this Blog think that you needed to be asked to run? And if you were asked, did you run? Stepping up….another sin.

    I guess you don’t remember the parent uprising when a teacher was terminated at NE –activism to handle their own issues.

    So many agendas — so few lemmings. Wait — so few agendas, so many lemmings?

    [Reply]

  8. Pattye-

    If candidates didn’t respond to your questions, isn’t it possible that they didn’t view you as an impartial journalist? You wrote a post saying that the Republican candidates sent a deceptive mailer– which the Tredyffrin Democratic Party and Chester County Democratic Party both used on their websites. If you truly are impartial, you should get all of the facts before condemning the Republican mailer as untrue.

    Do the Democrats actually oppose putting an EIT on the ballot? Or is the opposition mentioned in Jenny Wessel’s statement merely philosophical? Why can’t we get a straight answer from the Democratic candidates on this issue?

    Pattye- why won’t you ask that question?

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    If candidates don’t want to respond to me — they certainly don’t have to. I made the same offer to ALL of them. I certainly don’t know the personal reasons why some answered and others choose not it; it’s their business. Could be they just didn’t see the value in responding — who knows & does it really matter.

    To be real clear — there’s one huge difference between me and the newspaper reporters — I’m not getting paid to do this! I asked the question to the candidates that I thought was most important — it was the one question that I wanted them to answer. Some candidates took the time to respond, some didn’t. Maybe as the candidates point out — visit their websites, talk to them in person, watch the debates online, send them an email, etc. you can get answers to the questions that you want to know.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Grewell Reply:

    Taxpayer –

    We don’t really know the Republican candidates’ position on the EIT. I have not seen or heard any detailed positions from them – other than general assertions on this blog that they are somehow “against” an EIT. That is no different than the Democrats’ statements. Where, if anywhere, have the Republican candidates said they would not vote to place an EIT on the ballot? Correct me if I am wrong, and in that event please provide the appropriate citation so I can check it out.

    Right now, we have only assertions on this blog that they will not place an EIT on the ballot. Not from them, but by bloggers who hide behind false names. Since the R candidates will not comment here, and since two of them did not show up at the League of Women Voters candidates forum, we really do not know much about their positions – if the indeed have positions – which is impossible to evaluate from their silence on the issue.

    Even the R candidates who attended the LWV forum said nothing more than the Democrats said on the issue. The Tredyffrin Republican party website has no information on the EIT, and under the school board candidates only has CV’s, no position statements.

    So why don’t you ask why the Republicans won’t clearly state their position on the issue?

    With respect to the mailer – the poblem is it is a gross distortion of the facte – in short, a lie. This is quite objective and beyond reasonable dispute. The facts are:

    Fact 1:

    The Tax Study Group appointed by the school board was initiated in the finance committee chaired by Republican Kevin Mahoney. Kevin was in a group photo on one of Warren Kampf’s campaign mailers. Republican incumbent and Region 1 candidate Jim Bruce, serves on the committee as well. (I am not critical of the decision – I have said elsewhere it is prudent under the circumsatnces) (also I have nothing personally against Mr. Bruce – I frankly doubt he had anything to do with the mailer, but he should repudiate it if he does not agree with it)

    Fact 2:

    The School board has no power to enact an EIT. All they can do is place it on the ballot for voter approval.

    Yet the Republican mailer omits those facts, and says that the “Democratic team” “wants to impose an income tax” and “has begun the process” to do so. See the problem?

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Thank you Kevin. At this point, I think all the school board candidates have now said they are opposed to the EIT. I received a robo call today from the Dem school board candidates and it listed all of them as being opposed to the EIT. OK, so we have the Republicans and the Democratic school board candidates opposed to the EIT – so my read on it would be is they are opposed to an EIT, how could they vote to put it on the ballot? Wouldn’t make sense.

    The other thing that really doesn’t make sense to me is WHY did the school board directors bother with the tax study group in the first place. We now know that 2 of the school board candidates running for re-election (Bruce, (R) and Cruickshank (D)) are opposed to an EIT.

    Personally, I feel bad for the volunteers on this tax study group – the pros & cons from the committee were to be given at 2 public meetings today, one this afternoon and the other tonight. How would I feel if I was one of those volunteers that spent all those hours, when apparently people have made it into a campaign issue before it is even an issue. Regardless of the election results and regardless of the tax study group findings — I don’t see how it is at all possible for a fair and open discussion of an EIT. More than just the ‘handwriting’ on the wall on this topic!

    I feel bad for the volunteers serving on the tax study committee, and I feel bad for the residents, that this is the road that all the school board candidates decided to take. I guess some would say, “you have to do what you have to do” . . . is this what it takes to get elected these days?

    [Reply]

    From The West Reply:

    At this point, I think all the school board candidates have now said they are opposed to the EIT

    ******************

    Unless I am mistaken, they have all said they “personally oppose the EIT.” That is NOT the same as saying you won’t put it on the ballot or oppose imposing it on others.

    This is a distinction with a difference — one that the Dems have obviously found out is hurting them since they have become so vociferous in trying to sound like they oppose an EIT.

    If all the Dem Supervisor candidates and all the Dem Sch Board candidates represent the values, etc. of the people in their party, please don’t waste money to put this question on the ballot — it will lose 99 to 1.

    Or, perhaps, that distinction is as important as it seems to be.

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Yes, the SB candidates have all said that they oppose an EIT. I’m not sure if ‘personally’ was always added to the statement. But does it really matter . . . ? From my side of world, it they say they ‘oppose an EIT’ or if they say the ‘personally oppose an EIT’ I don’t exactly see how they can then justify voting in favor of it at some future point on a voter referendum. But personally, after all of this back & forth between the Republican and Democratic candidates over the EIT, do I really think that it’s ever going on the ballot as a voter referendum? No. People’s minds are all made up without receiving all the facts from the tax study group.

    And for the record — do I want to pay another tax to pay, absolutely not. But do I believe that ALL options should be left on the table and carefully reviewed — ABSOLUTELY (and I just think that this option got off the table before it was fully understood!) If further educational programming cuts are required or staff reductions or outsourcing of custodial services are required to meet the financial demands in the school district, I sure hope that I don’t hear people lamenting over the EIT and how unfair it was that it wasn’t seriously reviewed. Just sayin’ –

    Kevin Grewell Reply:

    I agree it is unfortunate that the tax study group is being undermined because of politics before it even gets to report findings. However, it is still possible for 5 or more board members to be persuaded to place this on the ballot if there is a truly compelling case presented supporting an EIT.

    I think some of the scool board members who are not currently candidates may have a more open mind. Mr. Mahoney, to his credit, in my experience has always acted independently and has, I believe, simply done what he thinks is best for the school district. His independence (like it or not, depending upon your point of view) was demonstrated in his last election when he tried to do something non-partisan, or at least bi-partisan, by running with the endorsement of the TT Dems and supporting Art Post, the Democratic canidate, over Debbie Bookstaber. I won’t comment further on that, but I will re-state my opinion that creating the EIT tax study group is a prudent thing to do because of the situation the school district finds itself facing.

    I am on record as not liking an EIT any more than many of the commenters here like it, and I have pointed out many times the extreme uphill battle it would face in a voeter referendum – it is very unlikely to pass – but I also think under the circumstances that the responsible thing for any school board member to do right now is wait to hear all of the facts and then decide.

    We need to know the impact on:

    taxpayers (homeowners in general)
    home values and prices
    renters,
    young working couples (probably renters)
    businesses
    students (impact to educationla program)
    retirees (particularly seniors on fixed incomes)

    AND – is it realistic or not to expect that the EIT might take some pressure off of property taxes, so that future property tax increases could be reduced?

    Ray Clarke Reply:

    Most seem to agree that the party and candidate tactics have sunk to a new level. It’s unfortunate that once one side has set the bar so low above the mud, everyone has to limbo under it and get really dirty.

    However, let’s play this out. There seems to be little chance of an EIT on the ballot in 2012, which is fine because there’s that $30 million fund balance.

    Next year there will be more data available: impending school district bankruptcies elsewhere in the state, PSERS liability or funding changes, a new union contract (or quite likely, not), and – on the record – a thorough list of data-based pros and cons to an EIT from a citizen committee. CAN A SCHOOL BOARD IGNORE THIS LAST WITHOUT BREAKING WHATEVER OATH THEY HAVE TO TAKE?

    So maybe they will be forced to have a reasoned debate in a year or two’s time?

    The one wild card: year-on-year cumulative property tax increases. Will the new Board rely on these stealth maximum allowable property tax increases? Are all these candidates anti-EIT, or pro-property tax, or anti-taxes in general? Will they want voters to have a say, or will they cut off dialog? And exactly what data does FTW have that says voters are 99:1 against an EIT? Certainly not the BAWG report. Nor the response of the audience at the TSG presentations.

  9. Reading these statements (or lack of them) carefully can provide indeed some insights.

    For my own part, I’m very nervous about the upcoming contract negotiations. So, I was kind of surprised and very encouraged by Mr Dorsey’s statements about “holding the line”, and not seeking union endorsement. On the other hand, Ms Wessell’s comments above and in the debate leave me sharing TR’s concern about her priorities. But – ex-teacher Ms Graham seems even more in the union pocket. Ms Mercogliano has been missing in action; her resume lists 25 years as a TE union employee.

    It seems likely that a majority of the new Board will be able to truly represent all the district taxpayers, but everyone needs to be very careful with their vote. TR definitely has this one right.

    [Reply]

    Ray Clarke Reply:

    BTW, I meant to also comment on a piece I heard on the radio yesterday. The Freakonomics folks have analyzed municipal election results, and concluded that teachers have contracts worth 3-4% more when school boards are elected in off years (like this year) than if elections are on the same cycle as Congress. The theory being that candidates are more beholden to union support when there a fewer reasons to get out and vote. Goodness knows how they corrected for all the variables involved, but local data wouldn’t suggest a counter to this conclusion.

    And for a somber dissection of the global forces at work, read this:
    http://blogs.reuters.com/mohamed-el-erian/2011/10/31/could-america-turn-out-worse-than-japan-2/
    Local politicians can’t possibly overcome such macro forces. Who is best suited to understand those forces and react accordingly?

    [Reply]

  10. I’d see most candidates cite the growing budget deficit as outlined in the Projection Model. As an example Karen Cruickshank says “The School District faces a 5.5 million dollar budget gap for 2012 and increases to 17 million in 2015″. I wonder if any of the candidates understand that the Projection Model that forecasts the $17M budget gap uses unrealistic assumptions for the next 3 years – for instance there will be no RE tax increase in the next 3 years, state funding will not increase and employee salaries will not increase. All these assumptions are highly unlikely to play out in the future. I wonder why the finance committee didn’t plug in some reasonable numbers.

    [Reply]

    Ray Clarke Reply:

    I think that the assumptions in the projection model are intended to reflect what is known and to avoid any political choices, such as what, if any, taxes are increased, and by how much.

    For example, if the district is unable to reach reasonable union contracts, wages will stay flat, while the benefit plan will be unchanged and so likely to increase in cost at recent rates.

    One assumption that is perhaps a little pessimistic is that increases in purchased services will continue at recent rates; I think there is some argument that the rate of increase can be slowed.

    To TR’s advocacy of a $1,000 activity fee elsewhere on CM: That particular plan does seem unrealistic, but I do note that an EIT would also shift the expense of the schools a little towards school-aged families – those more likely to be employed – and away from businesses and the unemployed.

    [Reply]

  11. Ray,
    .
    I think the finance committee would have served the community better by projecting several plausible scenarios – some pessimistic and some optimistic.
    .
    To me, it makes no sense to project flat RE tax revenues. The district raised $3.2M in additional RE tax revenues this year just by using the Act 1 Index plus exceptions. The projected $18M budget deficit in 2015-16 decreases to $2M with this reasonable assumption. (here is the projection I’m using, page 14, http://www.tesd.net/cms/lib/PA01001259/Centricity/Domain/56/11may2finage.pdf)
    .
    Likewise, the assumption that salaries will remain flat into the 2015-16 school years seems unrealistic.

    [Reply]

    Ray Clarke Reply:

    So, essentially you would prefer a 15-20% property tax increase to a 1% EIT. (Based on your $16 million deficit reduction on a ~$88 million property tax base)

    That’s OK, perhaps your income is more than ~40% of your property’s assessed value, so the property tax would cost you less.

    But in aggregate TE taxpayers would pay $3.4 million more, and every voter’s circumstances are different.

    Also, that strategy takes off the table the use of that $30 million fund balance, which is earning no interest and is way more than needed to maintain the bond rating and cover known contingencies other than PSERS.

    I just don’t think it’s appropriate for the district to be making political judgments in their budget projections.

    [Reply]

    Township Reader Reply:

    Ray
    It’s not that the property tax would cost less — it’s that the INCREASE in the property tax would BE less than a 1% tax on earned income. The hard part is that an EIT would go up every year that incomes improved — and we all know that the school district would only get 1/2%. So while voters can to look over the implication of rising property taxes, rising EITs would happen without anyone affirmatively doing anything. I get a raise — I pay more taxes. True — I get fired I pay fewer taxes, but even in a 10% unemployed population, more people are likely to see a rise in their income over time than lose their jobs.

    I have to say that I am offended by the robo call I got today on behalf of Jerry Henige, who is touting himself as a replacement for Kevin Mahoney — “providing a skill set” the board lacks. May I remind readers that the school district has business managers, auditors and consultants at their disposal. We got into this financial pickle despite having the “expertise” of Mr. Mahoney. Our superintendent got his “bonus” converted into a permanent raise on Kevin Mahoney’s watch. We borrowed 10M on a bond last year despite his public pledge that he would not support it.

    I’d like to see the full board be comfortable with the information — and that means having it presented so everyone can understand it. SOmeone who has been doing computer support and design for “30 years” is hardly providing a “needed skillset.” If the current board understood the finances better, they would not have these empty campaign comments about “fiscal discipline.” They don’t have the first clue what that even means or requires.

    [Reply]

    CHV Reply:

    The bond was 15 million

    michelle Reply:

    I must laugh…
    You’re worried about paying more with Eit because your income will improve from year-to-year, but yet you and others expect the teachers’ and staff’s pay to remain flat or even decline because the taxpayers can’t pay more! Huh? I wonder if they are taxpayers too??? YES! My sister is a teacher who I frequently debate with, but now I see the hypocrisy she talks about by reading TR’s and others posts.

    Township Reader Reply:

    The Finance Committee is a group of board members. The district has a Business Manager, an ass’t mgr, and an auditor. I suggest we go to the meetings and ask the questions…they will produce the models that will get the questions answered.

    [Reply]

  12. Let’s go back to candidates who “show up.” We know Tara LaFiura and Liz Mercogliano willingly chose not to attend the debates, even though the debates had been agreed to by both parties months in advance.

    A little checking of the Chester County Voter Services data (which goes back to 2001) shows that neither Tara or Liz has EVER voted in a LOCAL election till the May 2011 primary in which they were running. Liz has attended a few EIT Study meetings, but both have been pretty much absent from School Board and Sub-committee (eg Finance) meetings. Considering how much work is involved in serving on the School Board, is either of these candidates a good risk for showing up?

    And I received a Republican campaign mailer that stated about Tara LaFiura: “T/E school district resident and taxpayer for 22 years.” Tara is only 34. If that is her best numbers work, how will she deal with a multi-million dollar budget in crisis?

    [Reply]

    Township Reader Reply:

    Michelle
    Laugh all you want, since you clearly missed not only the primary point, but any point.

    I am not worried about paying more with EIT — it is that reason that EIT will never pass in this area. An increasing percentage of a fixed asset (property taxes) is something you can plan for. A fixed percentage of what one hopes OVER TIME is an increasing source of income is something the voter cannot control. Your teacher pay by law may NEVER decline, and by law, she/he cannot lose their job absent a clear and present danger. The taxpayers will pay more — it just depends out of which pocket. So call it hypocrisy on the part of the taxpayer, but if your sister teacher had the first clue about anything but expecting annual raises and demanding free health care, much of this would not even be an issue. If it was even close to a shared sacrifice, (the high school teachers are GRIEVING teaching an extra 50 minutes a day — leaving them only 2 hours not in the classroom). So it’s not about paying more — it’s about how out of control spending can be in a recovery without any accountability for the rise in tax revenues. Learn a little….kind of like I wish the candidates would.

    [Reply]

    Lilibet Reply:

    I finally have to comment on who is or is not in favor of an EIT. Late this summer a S.B. candidate came to my door and I asked what they thought of an EIT. Reply: Will have to wait until I hear from the TSG to make any kind of decision. Too bad I didn’t tape that conversation. Interesting… I then sent an email to another S.B. candidate asking the same questions. Reply: Will have to wait until I hear what the TSG has to say before making a decision. Too bad I erased the reply. Interesting again. Remember, I asked the question prior to the start of the TSG meetings & long before any R signs were put out. At that time, those responses were the correct ones. The Rs were the ones to make the EIT issue a political football. Reminds me of what is going on in Washington. No wonder there are Occupy movements throughout the country.

    I was able to attend only 1 TSG meeting, but did watch the telecast last night. I agree with Pattye that the TSG put a lot of time & effort into these meetings – probably all for naught. I say let the voters make the decision and WITHOUT any comments from either the R or D party (no signs/campaign literature). The pros & cons are public and are available to all voters if they care to read them.

    [Reply]

  13. So, the EIT is DOA. That is unfortunate, since that does not serve the kidsor the community well.
    Here are some things to consider: Assume the following are FACTS:

    1) You will not get enough financial concessions from the teachers union to solve the problem

    2) The state legislature will not help, and may in fact make things worse

    3) The exceptions to Act 1 will be removed

    4) Act 1 referendums to exceed the inflation cap will likely not be approved by the voters

    Now what? What are the alternatives? What we are left with are deep cuts to the educational program to the great detriment of our kids and our community. The impact to our kids and their future should end the argument, but for those of you who do not care about kids (some of you do not), how do you like declining home value? And that’s not all. Our economy will continue to decline and we will become a second class nation instead of remaining the leader of the world because we will not even protect our good and successful schools.

    I just got yet another Republican mailer on the EIT issue. (How’s that for wasteful spending? Anyone?) Great, we know Republicans oppose the EIT. But that is the entire campaign. What do they propose to do to solve the problem, assuming #1-4 above are facts? (don’t kid yourself – 1-4 are VERY likely). Don’t be fooled by the claims of “focusing dollars on the classroom” or “contol non-essential spending.” That’s pretty vague and I can attest that there is not that much fat left. Most of that work was done years ago. So now we are getting into bone and muscle. How are they going to avoid the deep cuts? Are they OK with that? Are You?

    [Reply]

    Township Reader Reply:

    Maybe you don’t get the Dem stuff? All touting the benefits of Jerry H’s “30 years of business” (how many board meetings do you think he has witnessed?). Let’s face it Kevin — you were more qualified than Karen C. when she beat you last time — it’s not about who is qualified — it’s who has the more “expensive” message. Clearly Dariel J and her cohorts have a treasure chest and will spend dollar for dollar — though half of my Dem mailers are paid for by mystery sources.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Grewell Reply:

    Thanks for the compliment!

    I am not bitter about getting beat, however. I am supporing Karen this time simply because I think that is better for the district – I always do what I think best for the community as a whole, and I am not partisan about it. I respect anyone’s right to disagree – that’s democracy (small “d”).

    I will grant you there is politics on both sides – to some extent that is expected and even legitimate. Sure, the Dems will spend money on mailers too. And I have already said elsewhere that a certain amount of “spin” (defined as presenting your case in the light most favorable to your side) is expected and the voters are capable of sorting that out. But lies are poison to the process.

    As you no doubt know by now, I have a huge problem with the Republicans making this about the EIT – when that is based upon gross omissions and distortions of the facts. I have zero respect for that, and if the Democrats do it in the future I will speak out against that too (for example, I thought “Mr. Tredyffrin” was horrible, but thankfully they don’t do that kind of thing anymore).

    The Republicans could have legitmately said anything they wanted to about the EIT – they could have said they oppose it, and will never, ever, under any circumstances vote to place it on the ballot – but they went way beyond that, and it amounts to a lie.

    I know there are a lot of great Republicans – they are better people than that – and I am sure they are equally appalled, or will be when they learn the facts.

    [Reply]

  14. To Ray,
    .
    You said, “So, essentially you would prefer a 15-20% property tax increase to a 1% EIT. “
    .
    No. I have no opinion as to whether an EIT is the desired solution or not. My only point is that a 15% to 20% RE tax hike over the next 4 years can, in an optimistic scenario, balance the budget and it can be done by school board fiat without a referendum.
    .
    To Kevin,
    .
    You found highly likely that, “The exceptions to Act 1 will be removed.”
    .
    I find that highly UNlikely. First, the legislature already modified the Act 1 legislation in the spring removing some of the exceptions while specifically leaving intact the PSERS exception. Second, the legislature understands that local school districts need some reasonable way to pay for the legislature’s mistake of 1991.
    .
    You expected that, “You will not get enough financial concessions from the teachers union to solve the problem.”
    .
    The teachers are the key. Depending on who is doing the negotiations (hopefully, not a PSEA representative) you may find an understanding of the district’s dire financial situation. Has the district considered using the fund balance for one-time teacher bonuses? This would be preferable to step and matrix increases that compound yearly.
    .
    You said, “What we are left with are deep cuts to the educational program to the great detriment of our kids and our community.”
    .
    I wouldn’t characterize a 2% to 4% budget cut as “deep”. Let’s remember that study after study finds little correlation between spending and academic achievement. Adding programs rather than cutting is preferable, but sometimes the only viable solution is not pretty.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Grewell Reply:

    Keith,

    You make some good points, but I must respectfully disagree to some of your comments.

    I was the Legislative Rep. for the TE school board from 1999 to 2007, and I followed legislative developments in some detail. Based upon my experience, I do not share your optimistic view of the legislature’s likely actions in the future. A few more years of property tax increases – using PSERS exception – and you will see the legislature renew efforts to take that exception away.

    The teacher negotiations always have been influenced by the state union leadership. That is not likely to change.

    The studies you mention regarding the correlation (or alleged lack thereof) between spending and student achievement are not applicable to TE.

    SEE MY COMMENTS ABOVE – FIRST COMMENT ON THIS TOPIC –

    we already spend only $15,992 per student, far less than comparable districts, and rank 467 out of 501 school districts in the state in terms of having among the LOWEST school property taxes.

    We looked at that, and adjusted for inflation, found that the school tax is about the same as it was in the 1970’s. In fact, I think it came in at a percent or two lower.

    We keep hearing about the increase in property taxes in the last decade or so. But inflation was 28% for the years 2001 – 2011 (Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI calculator – check it out!).

    Also, during that same period, TE’s student population increased by 20% –

    AND the period saw increases in use of technology, and costly unfunded mandates such as PSSA testing, No Child Left Behind, etc. So we have to do MORE with MORE STUDENTS and inflation was 28%. Yet we still are one of the best districts at nearly the lowest cost (only 34 districts in PA that have lower school taxes!)

    A lot of the so-called “fat” has already been cut, there is not a lot more to be gained there. So it is not relevant what some study shows regarding correlation of spending to student achievement. We already have very efficient spending and very high achievement.

    As for cuts being deep – you ain’t seen nothing yet.

    [Reply]

  15. Hi Kevin,
    .
    I appreciate your comments and gentle tone. We’ll agree to disagree.
    .
    I wouldn’t use TE’s low tax rate as a “merit badge” of school district financial performance. From my point of view, TE’s low RE tax rate is a byproduct of the large industrial/commercial base and has little to do with decisions current or prior school directors made. The figure of merit I subscribe to is spending per student and TE’s figure of $17K ($109M/6300) is just average for the 60 districts in the 5 county Philadelphia area. In fact, I’d expect it to be on the low end due to the small numbers of ELLs and impoverished families.
    .
    TE’s excellent academic performance is a byproduct of the wealth and educational attainment of the district’s population, not necessarily any decision current or prior school directors made.
    .
    I’d ask you to look at the academic performance and the per student spending of Lower Merion, Radnor, New Hope, TE, Great Valley, Unionville and Central Bucks to see if it so easy to dismiss the low correlation between spending and academic performance. I bet some people in LM and New Hope are saying, “A lot of the so-called fat has already been cut, there is not a lot more to be gained there.”

    [Reply]

    Kevin Grewell Reply:

    And I appreciate that you post under your name – I respect that. I may have more to say on this later, but for now I am fine with “agree to disagree.”

    [Reply]

    Township Reader Reply:

    KK

    Unless you look at the DEBT of each district, you cannot just look at the spending per student. You know well that you can spend a lot on your house and have a low mortgage…and you only worry about the payment. TE could certainly have spent lots more and borrowed lots more — mortgaging the future.
    One other caveat — you need to look at the special education population in districts. The spending per student does not carve out extraordinary expenses per student….
    TE’s low tax rate is due to decisions made about how to spend money — we renovated buildings, we didn’t replace them. We have contract busing vs. our own buses. Expecting it to be on the low end because of “better” demographics is a fools errand — because the litigation that goes on in higher end districts is very expensive. “Impoverished families” rarely expect the services that districts like Radnor, LM, TE are routinely required to provide. That’s the problem with the way the state funds special ed….parents do indeed chase the services and move to districts (or force their local district) to provide services poorer districts could not consider.

    [Reply]

  16. KK
    Glad you acknoledge that the teachers are the key, but sadly, the teacher’s sole representation will come from the PSEA — they have a “uniserve” rep assigned to the district. They will call every shot. It is NOT coincidental that the past two TEEA Presidents have stepped down from the job. The teachers will NOT have any concessions. Bonuses are compensation and could not be withdrawn in subsequent years. The constitutional complications to the entire process are why I strongly advocate that the next board team of negotiators have ZERO parents on it, and it’s why I don’t support people with young kids running. Right now, the high school teachers are “not available” for conferences or meetings. That’s all part of a state-directed strategy to win the grievance against teaching 6 periods. The grievance against distance learning was intended to prevent online courses. They already won that, so to be able to offer online learning will be required to be negotiated. There’s one big piece the PSEA is going to charge for. OUR teachers are not the problem — UNION LEADERSHIP is always more about their own power than their membership. If you will consider a teacher similar to a plantation slave — sorry to use the analogy but it’s the mentality that the state union preaches — without admitting the process– the state union convinces them that it is the district’s JOB to take care of them, and it is the union’s responsibility to protect them from the evil plantation owner — the Board. They victimize their own members by polarizing them to believe (as Michelle did above) that without the PSEA, they would be undercompensated. As it is, they convince them they are under appreciated and overworked, and they want benefits and job guarantees and they want to define their work day. So the local union — no power there — is pretty much controlled by the state. Talk to a teacher about fairness — they don’t believe it is the DNA of a school board to be fair. They are convinced that without the PSEA, they would lose tenure and pensions. And TE is not going to make any “concessions” that the state doesn’t want for other districts. They cherry pick what one district offers and other district offers and try to put together packages that do not reflect give and take.

    It’s just the way it is. There will be NO salary cuts. Can’t be. There will be no slowing down the step increases. There might be more time on a step, and higher co-pays, but that accomplishes little. Even this year where they board is touting that the teacher’s took a pay freeze — NOT TRUE. The teachers moved to the next step — they just delayed the move by a semester…so their is a “reduction” in what they were GOING to get, not in what they were earning. And they moved to the next step — they didn’t reduce the value of the step. It is a difference with a major distinction. Their base went up the full value.

    This is all so difficult. The US of A is in an economic turmoil, and our district is but a tiny example of the problems all over the country. There are few if any viable solutions — so these platitudes about watching over our children are just that — only taxpayers can enact an EIT for the schools. Not going to happen. Too much self-interest for people to even learn about it. The TSC went forward because Kevin Mahoney decided not to run again. He therefore had Political Cover and could advocate for it. It’s the “danger” of vesting too much in one person, which based on the campaign approach, this board clearly did with Kevin Mahoney. The skill set is to be decison makers. Nowadays, boards have no power, and if the community really is behind the idea of labor peace coming at too high a price…..wait and see.

    [Reply]

  17. TR,
    .
    First, a clarification – one time bonuses are just that – one time. They do not become part of a teacher’s base salary. They do not compound
    .
    I see that posturing before the start of labor negotiations in January has begun. The “6 period grievance” is, as you know, part of the union’s negotiating strategy. I’ve found this link to be quite useful: http://www.mackinac.org/8291 Has the district informed the public about the grievance and the union leadership’s directive to curtail meetings? Silence plays into the hands of the union leadership. The public would love to know just how many minutes a high school teachers works and would love to know how the union leadership can justify withholding after school help from students in need. It’s outrageous!
    .
    In contrast to the union leadership, I’ve found the vast majority of teachers to be logical, dedicated and moderate. Treat them with the utmost respect (they will be teaching your kids for the foreseeable future) , let them hear both sides of the story and a reasonable contract settlement is possible. The keys are respect and “the light of day”. Board silence ensures that teachers hear only the union’s story. Publicize the union leadership’s exaggerated financial demands. Expect rallies and mass attendance at meetings. Respond to every lie. Address every petty grievance and baseless unfair labor practice. In the end, the teachers will reject the union leadership’s unreasonable demands.

    [Reply]

    Township Reader Reply:

    Keith
    I hear you and wish it were possible, but that’s why I am so strongly opposed to anyone running for election/re-election that has kids in school — because you have no idea of the pressure in your day when your kids are in the building. And I hear what you say about bonuses, but bonuses across the board in PA have been viewed as compensation, and that’s permanent. Regardless, it’s moot because the teacher contract is in place and the only way to avoid vertical steps is to negotiate them away — and that’s not going to happen because of the “prospective” promise of earnings. It’s all far more complicated than even the savvy board members understand. This constant referral to Kevin M being the financial guy — ask him how Dr. Waters got a stipend to pay for his kids college tuition which became part of his compensation when his kids were finished school — because no one understood the “no reduction in prospective compensation” rules.
    Yes — individually teachers are great. Collectively, they are represented by the PSEA. At the most recent negotiations, the PSEA did ALL the bargaining. The past two TEEA Presidents resigned — presumably due to the stress of the position.
    The grievance == if the board is too public about it, there are cases where the “decision” factored in unfair labor advantages. Sigh. And teachers rarely reject anything that comes from the Union Leadership — because of the victimization mentality previously articulated.
    As to the minutes worked etc — I posted it here and you are the ONLY response to it. People don’t want Facts — they want what they want. Race to Nowhere is playing at the TEAO on Nov 17 at 9:30 in the morning. People should attend.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Do you have a link to the ‘Race to Nowhere’ information — I’d like to post it.

    [Reply]

  18. Tired Of –

    Agree. If a candidate can’t make the effort to show up for a debate, I have to question their commitment to attend SB meetings and subcommittee meetings.

    Thanks for the info on their votting history. When I was on the committee, one of the first things ever asked and answered concerned their voting record and in which party they were registered. I can’t believe the TTRC didn’t check this. I guess the TTRC couldn’t come up with any qualified candidates. It also appears that their PR firm personnel cannot add (she started paying taxes when she was 12?) – doesn’t anyone check ad copy?. I have to guess the TTRC is getting very sloppy putting out information. And those EIT and school signs. Don’t get me started.

    [Reply]

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