Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors – ‘Team Players’ and TESD Budget Discussions Get Underway

As is often the case, Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors meeting conflicted with the TESD Board meeting last night.  I attended the BOS meeting and Ray Clarke attended the TESD meeting and graciously offered his comments from the meeting.

The Board of Supervisors meeting saw the swearing-in of four supervisors —  Paul Olson and JD DiBuonaventuro returning for new 4-year terms, Mike Heaberg starting his first full-term and newly elected Kristen Mayock joining them.  Although rumored over the past few weeks, it was probably still a surprise to some that Michelle Kichline was named ‘Chair’ and JD as ‘Vice Chair’ of the Board of Supervisors.  The board members themselves nominate and vote on these positions and traditionally, these positions go to the longer serving members of the Board of Supervisors.  However, in this case, Michelle received the unanimous support of her fellow board members for the chair position after serving only 2 years as a supervisor and neither as a vice chair. Congratulations to her and to JD as Vice Chair.

It was obvious from the moment that Michelle was named chair that there is going to be a distinctly different tone to the Board of Supervisors – starting with gifts for freshmen supervisor Kristen Mayock and for Tom Hogan, Tredyffrin Township’s former solicitor and newly elected Chester County District Attorney.

Michelle made a special point in describing the qualifications and strengths of  each of her fellow supervisors and described the Board of Supervisors as members of the ‘team’ and here to serve all the people.  This team approach and sense of community could provide a winning combination for moving the township forward in 2012.  There have been some missteps by Board members in the past and we know the Board is faced with some unfinished business from 2011, so here’s hoping this upward movement and spirit of cooperation continues.

As I said, Ray Clarke attended the TESD meeting last night and provides us with some interesting notes below.  He mentions the Catholic Schoolclosings and the possible effect this could have on T/E school district.  I was surprised to learn that T/E has 600 students who attend Catholic Schools.  My guess is that the Catholic school closings may not affect many of these students as it is unlikely that schools which typically draw TESD students like Villa Maria, St. Monica’s, Devon Prep, Malvern Prep and Archbishop Carroll would be on the ‘closing school list’.  Nevertheless, this is another dynamic to consider in the school district budget discussions.

TESD Notes from Ray Clarke:

A fair turnout (~50?) for the TESD Board meeting on Monday. They voted 7-2 to apply for Exceptions that allow a property tax increase of 1.6% on top of the 1.7% increase allowed by the Act 1 Index. Much lip service paid to the fact that this was not a vote to actually increase taxes by that amount, although we do know how that works. Brake and Mercogliano were the two dissenters, with the former articulating the danger of the incremental policy-making that will just give us over the next ten years the 50% tax increase we had over the last ten. He wants to give taxpayers a break. He was also the only one to give a realistic assessment ofHarrisburg’s view of PSERS: the options are to increase taxes or reduce benefits – and neither is going to get any political traction in the near future.

Let’s think about PSERS for a minute, because no one seems to be being objective here.

The state allows school districts to increase taxes to fund the increase in contribution to PSERS. Next year that tax increase is $0.94 million, the net PSERS expense increase about $1.1 million – pretty much one for one. That tax increase is about 1%. All the other cost increases ($4 to $5 million in 2012/13) are for things other than PSERS, yet all the school board could do was blame Harrisburg. The PSERS increases for the next two years are a little more (about $1.3 million a year), and then fall $0.7 million in 2015/16, then little changed for a decade or so, before tapering off. We can deal with a $4.4 million net increase in PSERS costs with a 5% tax increase over 4 years, and if we use the $15 million of fund balance set aside for that purpose, we can spread out that tax increase over twice the number of years.

No one wants to think objectively and long term likes this, because that would force attention on the issues within the District’s control:

  • Pay salaries and benefits that the taxpayers can afford
  • Get really rigorous with suppliers of all purchased supplies and services
  • Manage the cost of in-house services (like janitorial, maybe maintenance?) to market levels
  • Accelerate the hard look at nice-to-have things like the extra paid in-service days

Much commentary that about the cuts in FTEs, programs and costs in recent years, but none about where all the money saved has actually gone: employee compensation (and not yet PSERS, either).

It’s time to stop passing the buck!

One factor outside the district’s control, and which could have a major impact on costs: which Catholic schools will the closed, and what will that mean for TE enrollment? There are currently about 600 students living in TE that attend Catholic schools. It was stated that there is to be an announcement of the school closings on Friday.

Another observation: new Board member Kris Graham was a consistent pro-teacher advocate, and tried to invoke the hoary old chestnut that the homestead exemption offsets the property tax increase! Not recognizing that the exemption actually makes the property tax even more regressive. Because the exemption is a fixed amount, unchanged for many years now, the lower the assessed value the greater the effect of a given millage increase. The 3.3% tax increase is actually 3.5% for a home assessed at $150,000 that claims the homestead exemption.

And finally: it was notable that Mike Broadhurst showed his hand, advocating for keeping the janitorial out-sourcing option on the table, not “going too far” with tax increases so that “Harrisburg’s hand will be forced again”, questioning many of the projection model assumptions, and drawing attention to the hardly-new-news that the employee benefit cost is $1,040 per year for a family (but not completing the calculation to show that this is merely 1.2% of the median $85,000 teacher salary).

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20 Comments

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  1. Don’t let Kichline fool you. She is a hard core Republican made from the same mold as Judy D. She’s just better at hiding it (or rather, “faking it”), which in my book is even worse than someone like Lamina who puts it out there.

    Same old, same old. Until the Democrats get one member on that board (how hard is that by the way? concentrate on one seat!) things will not change.

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    Version Reply:

    People like you crack me up, you get a women in there and she is hard core. A man acts the same way and no one calls him hard core. If she is a little tough, she has to be to deal with crap like this!!!!!

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    Version Reply:

    Oh, by the way I am a registered independent.

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  2. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt unless and until they prove themselves unworthy of it. Ms. Kichline has conducted herself professionally, and over the last two years has been a voice of reason, especially regarding upholding the Home Rule Charter and St. Davids’ contract to build a paved path.

    However, the seven current Republican supervisors under the sway of a very activist Republican Party will most likely be charting a course for Tredyffrin that coincides with the TTGOP vision of the township.

    Heck, three out of seven supervisors serve as Republican committeepeople, Kichline being one of them. Aside from serving as a CP, E.J. Richter works for our Republican state rep Warren Kampf, who is running for re-election this year. (Guess what her first priority will be?) A fourth supervisor is a major contributor to Republican causes and candidates and has been heard identifying citizens who speak at BOS meetings as “Democrats”.

    In all likelihood, the party line will be carefully towed in 2012.

    Personally, I think J.D. Di Buonaventuro was most deserving of and should have been chosen BOS Chair. He is not only a “regional expert in public safety”, as Kichline described him, JD has been a leader and a resource for thousands of Tredyffrin residents affected by the upcoming turnpike expansion. No other supervisor has come close to investing the time to learn the issues and developing the contacts with PTC officials.His work has been invaluable.

    JD also has a solid background in finance and has served as a watchdog of our tax dollars for the last 4 years.

    As I see it, JD was the hardest working and most effective supervisor during the last 4 years. He was unfairly passed over, and I believe party politics played a big role.

    Government by the people, for the people? Time will tell if a new leaf has been turned over, or it will be (backroom) business as usual…..

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    Ray Clarke Reply:

    Excellent analysis.

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  3. Just the fact that Ms. Kichline made the following public comment gives me hope that Mr. Lamina’s style and inclinations will not be repeated:

    ” I think you are going to see a different approach – a team approach. I ask anybody to reach out to any of us. We’re all working together.”

    I have high expectations that she and John D. will lead the Board well and keep in mind that the half of the township voters are either Independents or Democrats (like me).

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  4. Did I read that right? The school district approved a contract that allows employees to pay a little over $1000/year for family premium medical insurance? Our family pays four times that amount per year in the private sector – and that is for mediocre insurance with a huge deductible. Something is wrong with the school district’s financial planning. I don’t consider that to be prudent use of taxpayer dollars.

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  5. The current board has not the first clue how to deal with benefits. The previous administrative contract had eliminated defined benefits and had switched to defined contribution. But the current administrative contract has not only returned to defined benefit, but in fact has a larger benefit than the teachers. This for a group that has ZERO negotiating power, and has various other benefits to encourage participating as an administrator. The fact is — people in education only know people in education — and this board takes its direction from that perspective — keeping employees happy but not having the first clue how to challenge the status quo. Look at the backgrounds….and wonder where possibly a NEW IDEA might come from. The health care plan contributes to the rising cost of health care when people who have the benefit have no incentive to be consumers — $1,000 premium is peanuts, but the deductibles and copays are almost non-existent. Who cares what it costs when you aren’t paying?

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  6. Caroline,

    Welcome to the unusual world of public sector benefits. You’ll find that most public sector unionized employees at the local, state and federal level have health care benefits and retirement benefits that far exceed those in the private sector. At one time it made sense because public sector employees enjoyed excellent benefits to compensate for low wages. Now they have excellent wages and excellent benefits. You need only to look toward Wisconsin (and Indiana and Michigan) to see how hard it is to change those benefits.

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  7. Did Cruickshank really say that “the only people who have paid into the (PSERS) system fairly are the teachers, 7.5 percent (of their salaries)”?
    .
    Does she not understand the 30 year historical payment history of PA districts? Over the last 30 years the taxpayer has contributed far more than the teachers – an average of 11% of salary to the fund; the teachers 6%. Over the last 20 years 8.2% vs. 6.3%.
    http://www.psers.state.pa.us/content/pfr/resources/ERC%20and%20EE%201955%20TO%202010%20REVISED.pdf
    .
    Does she not understand the mechanics of a defined benefit retirement program? The employer bears all the risk, upside and downside, depending on market returns. In some years it is expected that the employer contribution rate will be low; in other years, high.
    .
    Does she not understand the legal restrictions on PSERS contributions? The district can pay no less nor no more into the fund than mandated by the legislature. There is no concept of “paid … fairly or unfairly.
    .
    Crickshak’s statement is troubling. The fair share concept is misdirection from the union playbook. ” the school districts and the Commonwealth have not paid their fair share in any of the last 10 years.”
    http://www.psea.org/uploadedFiles/Publications/Voice/SpecialPensionSection_Dec09.pdf.
    .
    I hope she doesn’t embrace that concept across the bargaining table. I can hear the union negotiator now. “Yes, I know that the combination of our salary demands and the high PSERS contribution rates are putting a strain on the taxpayer, but that’s only because you didn’t pay your fair share. The teachers should be penalized for the district’s failures.”

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    Keith Knauss Reply:

    The last sentence should read, “The teachers should NOT be penalized for the district’s failures.”

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    papadick58 Reply:

    Maybe she was referring to the fact that the Superintendent, with his 225,000 base salary can not afford to pay his 7.5% so the taxpayers pay yet another perk to the man and pay it for him…..

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    Ray Clarke Reply:

    Keith

    You are quite right to highlight all the reasons why highlighting the steady employee 7.5% presents a slanted perspective. Another point: a simple back of the envelope calculation suggests that a career of 7.5% contributions pays for about a quarter of the expected value of the pension. Yet, in private industry these days half of the contributions into a 401k defined contribution plan come from the employee, up to about 5 or 6% of salary . And, the investment risk is all on the employee.

    Apparently the composition of the TESD negotiating team was announced on Monday also – after I left – has anyone seen the names?

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    Carla Williams Reply:

    Ray:

    The team for the District, announced at the end of the meeting by Mrs. Cruikshank, as part of a statement she read, are Dr. Waters, Art McDonnell, Sue Tiede, and the attorney. Interestingly, no members of the School Board…

    Carla

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    Township Reader Reply:

    Carla — if that is correct — that is not only scary, it is abdication of responsibility. The very same people who are feeding at the public trough have clearly little incentive to change the status quo. I have great respect for the administrators listed above, but I also am appalled by the information I posted above — that the administrators somehow changed from a defined contribution back to a defined benefit. That and the fact that administrators argued for raises for themselves via the Superintendent despite the fact that every year in the job results in 2.5% increase to their pension….so even a minor raise is compounded and is dumped on the state pension system as well.
    Papadick — I understand the frustration with the district paying the Superintendent’s PSERS share — but that is a very typical (if not almost universal) “perk” for superintendents in PA, and once it’s done, you cannot take it back.
    THanks Ray for your pointing out that the contribution to PSERS is laughable compared to the benefit. The typical employee working today will have a pension well over $100,000 at retirement….that would take about $4M in savings. And one comment — you say that employees cover half of the 401K contributions? Welcome to 2012 — our company hasn’t matched in 20 years….and has no plans to . Unlike the state, the match provision is a decision, not a right.
    Oh — and federal health care plans are in their last year of “first dollar” type insurance….they don’t get to negotiate, but their plans are changing to significantly increase deductibles and copays in the next fiscal year.
    And as for the Cruickshank comments — I believe some of us said during the campaign that being liked is important to many of these board members — and that sitting in negotiations would be difficult. Well — see what we get.

  8. The Catholic School closing list was just released to the public. Archbishop Carroll rumored to be on the school closing list is safe as well as Devon Prep, Malvern Prep, Villa Maria and St. Monica’s in Berwyn.

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  9. Correction:

    Pattye, unfortunately, St. Monica’s will close at the end of this school year and combine with St. Patrick’s in Malvern to form a regional elementary school going forward.

    St. Norbert’s will remain open with no changes.

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    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Thank you for the correction, I had not seen St. Monica’s on the list. So … perhaps as was discussed at the TESD meeting, the closing of a local school may affect the school district. I wonder how many of the 600 students from T/E school district attending Catholic school are enrolled at St. Monica’s. Of course, some of the students will continue on at St. Patrick’s in Malvern or perhaps transfer to St. Norbert’s.

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