Month – November 2011

Election Day 2011 — Make Your Vote Count!

Election Day 2011 . . . Your Voice Matters – Your Vote Counts!

Polls open from 7 AM to 8 PM.  Your vote helps guide the future, please vote today!

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The Clock Ticks Down to Election Day – Soon it will be up to ‘Us’, the voter!

In less than 36 hours, the polls will open on Tuesday at 7 AM, Election Day.  Soon it will be up to us, the voters.

Although I encourage everyone to take their voice to the polls on Tuesday, I admit that this political campaign season has disappointed.  Some would suggest that negative campaigning is the way to mobilize the partisan base.  Perhaps, but where does that leave the independent and swing voters?  Emotion-packed or personal attacks on campaign mailers play a different role than policy-based attacks.

The political rhetoric in this country has become too vitriolic . . . we are losing the ability to discuss things with civility.  The poisonous rhetoric is everywhere; turn on CNN or read the New York Times . . . ‘our national discourse’ has tumbled to new lows.  Regrettably, it is not limited to the national campaigns but it is right here; in our own backyard.

Certainly some of the campaign mailers and political signs have made good points, but it is the way they are presented.  The politicos are not trying to reach us intellectually; they want to draw on our emotions – make us afraid, angry, anxious.

We all understand that a natural part of any political campaign is opposition research.  After all, a candidate has to make a case to the voter that they are the more experienced, the better prepared, and the best ‘choice’.  Therefore, we should not be surprised that the next step is for the campaign camps to feel pressure to let voters know “the truth” about their opponent, especially if that person has already gone negative. The pressure builds between the opposing sides.  One side attacks and then the other side feels they have little choice but to respond in kind.  Yes, that is the name of the game . . . politics.

Often times during this campaign season, I watched with sadness as members of this community lobbied attacks against each other.  It is such a shame, because for every minute a candidate spends attacking his opponent that is one less minute that could be spent talking about legitimate differences on policy issues that actually affect the voters. Speaking of differences between the sides – at times it has appeared the candidates were more similar than different.

Where does all this leave us for Election Day; what is a voter to do?  There are no campaign enforcement police making sure everyone is telling the truth. My hope for all of you who hold the privilege to vote is to think for yourself.  Do a little research and use that developed human brain of yours.  Please try not to be influenced by the negative campaign ads. Your vote is worth more than a nay saying ad or a half-truth campaign mailer.

Think for yourself, beyond what your neighbor, your friend or co-worker favors. Know the candidates and support those who have shown principled behavior. Exercise your right to vote in a sane, thoughtful manner and make your vote count this Tuesday!

It is now up to ‘us’ . . . the voters.

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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.

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Is EIT the answer for T/E School District — Tax Study Group Presents their Pros & Cons

Election Day is Tuesday and based on campaign mailers, signs and general rhetoric that we were voting on the Earned Income Tax.  The EIT is not an issue for us on Election Day, at least not this election.

Much of this campaign discussion on the EIT stems from T/E School Board decision to form a Tax Study Group as part of their budget development process.  The goal of the committee of eight volunteers, including Michael Abele, Michael Benning, Rita Borzillo, Marie Falcone, William Mullin, Terri Smith, Andrew Snyder and Edward Stevens, was to study the effect that an EIT would have on the residents and the school district and provide the pros and cons.

The Tax Study Group held 5 public workshop meetings and presented their findings yesterday at two public meetings.  Based on the Tax Study Group’s findings, the school board will make a decision whether to include the EIT question on the April 2012 ballot. If the EIT question is placed on the primary election ballot in April, community members will hopefully be able to make an informed decision.

Although I was not able to attend the EIT meeting due to a prior commitment, it is my understanding that both were well attended.  I am on record as saying that I believe the process for a fair and open discussion of the Earned Income Tax has been tainted by the last few weeks of campaign politics from school board candidates.  Serious economic issues are going to continue to affect our school district and cause many challenges to the school board facing the 2012-13 budget and teacher negotiations.

If you were unable to attend either of yesterday’s public meetings by the Tax Study Group, the EIT presentation will be aired on TETV, Comcast Channel 14 and Verizon Channel 20 at 9 PM daily from November 4 through November 14.

Ray Clarke attended yesterday’s Tax Study Group and offers his candid remarks from the presentation:

The Tax Study Group matinee played to a packed house – probably a hundred or more residents in attendance. I whole-heartedly encourage anyone interested in the fiscal and educational future of T/E to attend the evening performance. Of the 30 slides, two thirds are devoted to background – really important to place the discussion in its proper context. The pros and cons of the EIT were fairly presented, although not weighted nor compared directly to alternatives (it was not the TSG mandate to do that). The audience seemed engaged throughout, and the questions at the end added much to the discussion.

The elephant in the room: what will be the attitude of the Townships? Will they take 50% of any money the voters may want to apply to their children’s education? Easttown and Tredyffrin may be very different, and I think we all need to have a very long memory about campaign promises made by Tredyffrin Supervisors. (The $30 million TESD fund balance did not go unremarked as a short-term support).

A lot of hard work and thought went into the research and analysis, and in developing a communication that is accessible to everyone. Shows how important the process was and what a travesty it is to try to short-change it. Hopefully many voters will be able to see the evening performance or the video and draw their own conclusions.

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Community Matters Clarification on BOS and School Board Candidate Responses

It has come to be attention that some readers may be confused about the last couple of Community Matters posts and are questioning why Tredyffrin Republican supervisor and school board candidates did not respond to my questions and that the Democratic candidates did. Hope this post will offer clarification.

In early October, I sent an email to all the Tredyffrin Republican and Democratic supervisor and school board candidates.  In addition, I sent the Republican and Democrat school board candidates in Easttown the same email.  The email asked the candidates to (1) idenify what they thought was the most important issue facing either the school district or the township, (2) the candidate was asked what they would do to help or solve the issue if elected and (3) what in their background or experience qualifies you to help solve the issue.  I was specific and asked that the 3-part question be 200 words or less and gave them a deadline that was prior to the League of Women Voters debates.

The Easttown school board candidates Pete Motel (R) and Craig Lewis (D) responded with their answers prior to the deadline and those responses were posted on Community Matters on October 19.   In that October 19 post, I also explained that the Tredyffrin Republican and Democratic supervisor and school board candidates had declined to participate.  Here is an excerpt from that post:

. . . Believing that it is important for voters to make an informed decision on which candidate they elect to serve us, I saw no downside to the candidates participation in May nor did I at this time.

Much to my surprise, the individual Tredyffrin Republican supervisor and school board candidates declined my offer, suggesting that voters could visit their websites for information and that, “We are more than happy to answer questions from individual voters across Tredyffrin – and are doing so while going door-to-door, attending community events, and more.”

The chair of the Tredyffrin Democratic Party Dariel Jamieson responded on behalf of the Democratic supervisor and school board candidates, declining to participate until after the League of Women Voters debates.  Here is an excerpt from that email:

“Our BOS and School Board candidates prefer not to submit answers to the questions you posed to them until after the LWV [League of Women Voter] debates. The questions were all ones that were asked in the debates two years ago – as they should have been, they are key questions – but to have our answers published first is not fair to the LWV and makes the job of our candidates harder to distinguish themselves in the debates.

Following the League of Women Voters debates, I received responses to my questions from the Democratic supervisor and school board candidates.  Although the responses were past my original deadline, I thought there was value for the voters in posting them.  But so everyone knows, I actually sent a courtesy email to the Republican candidates last week to explain that the I had received the Democratic responses and offered the Republican candidates a second opportunity to answer the questions. My email to the Republican candidates stated that that no response was required if they were not going to participate; and for the record, there was no response to my email.

So there is absolutely no question in anyone’s mind — if the Republican supervisor and school board candidates would like to answer the 3-part question — I am now making a third offer to them.  Candidates — answer the 3-part questions in 200 words or less and email them to me at: tredyffrincommunitymatters@gmail.com  I will be happy to post your responses!  I hope this clarifies the timeline and that I gave all candidates exactly the same opportunity.  I am sorry if there was any confusion!

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