As follow-up to last week’s announcement by TESD Superintendent Dan Waters to hire former police chief Andy Chambers as a security consultant, I attended the District’s Finance Committee last night. The meeting started with Waters making a statement addressing the criticism of Chamber’s hiring. A couple of things I learned from his remarks — Waters stated that he had no knowledge of the issues surrounding Chamber’s departure from Tredyffrin Township police department a year ago. Waters also wanted to set the record straight that he did not ‘hire’ Chambers. He made the recommendation to the School Board; the decision required their approval.
I found it incredulous that Waters could claim to have this close association with Chambers yet know nothing of the controversy surrounding the former police chief. Tredyffrin’s supervisors suspended Chambers for allowing his son to drive a police vehicle that was involved in an accident and his failure to report the incident. An anonymous tip notified the members of the Board of Supervisors. Although Chambers was allowed to retire, he left the township under a dark cloud of controversy.
Following Waters statement, I sought further clarification from the school board. Unlike Waters and Chambers, T/E school directors do live in our community and could not claim to have not known the circumstances behind the police chief departure. Board president Kevin Buraks, read from Community Matters, quoting my words, “…The focus needs to be our children and keeping them safe, not the additional drama and controversy that a consulting contract with Chambers may present.”
Although I spoke of concern for the hiring of Chambers (given the circumstances), Buraks claimed that the police chief’s suspension has nothing to do with the safety of the kids and therefore has no bearing on his serving as a safety consultant for the District. Buraks said that the decision to hire Chambers was based on the recommendation from Waters and was a unanimous decision. I found Buraks complete disregard of former police chief Chamber’s actions (which caused his departure from the police department) incredulous.
I asked if Police Supt Andy Giaimo was aware of the District’s decision to hire Chambers before announcing to the public and the answer was yes. According to Waters, Chambers was hired at $125/hr. under contracted services and therefore there was no contract or RFP (request for proposal) apparently required. There was no further discussion of Chambers’ qualifications, other than restating that … he knows our community and the schools.
I believe that the public has the right to participate in issues and be privy to what elected officials are doing by seeing discussions and debates in the open with all the facts clearly stated. In the case of hiring former police chief Andy Chambers as a safety consultant for TESD, that opportunity did not exist. I understand the need to act quickly in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy, but I believe it is also vital to the community, that all options be adequately vetted and to have a voice in decisions. The school board directors, like the members of the Board of Supervisors, are in their elected positions to be the voices of the people.
Following the Andy Chambers discussion, the Finance Committee moved to their regularly scheduled agenda and discussion of the 2013-14 budget. It is interesting that the discussion of outsourcing the custodial staff was minimal. In the last couple of years, the TENIG union was often seen as the target for revenue savings but there was no date set for initiating a RFP for these services. Reading between the lines, I think the TENIG staff and the aides and paraeducators who were on the chopping block for possible outsourcing may be safe for another year. A new expense item in the budget is the District’s security enhancements – the costs of the protective 3M film for the school buildings is not yet known but the District has allocated $250K in the budget for upgrading the security. Some of the enhancements are already underway, including additional cameras and a buzzer system.
The 2013-14 projection model summary with Act 1 index revenue indicates projected revenue of $110,769,734 and projected expenditures of $113,567,247, which gives a projected budget deficit of ($2,797,513). Applying the Act 1 tax increase of 1.7%, $1,500,000 and the revised deficit is ($1,297,513). The District has applied for Act 1 exceptions but there was not a recommendation at last night’s meeting whether or not they will be used. The court date for Vanguard’s property reassessment appeals is April and, depending on the results, may have a significant impact on the District’s revenue numbers.
Another potential yearly source of revenue for the District is from tax-exempt properties that may no longer be tax exempt. Chester County is reviewing and identifying TESD tax-exempt properties – once the District receives the report, these properties will be sent a letter and questionnaire to confirm tax-exempt property use. If a property’s use is no longer tax exempt, there is potential for revenue for the District.
Note: Ray Clarke and Neal Colligan also attended the Finance Committee meeting; I would welcome their comments on the financial details of the 2013-14 budget from last night,