VFES Tennis Courts: Looking for an explanation from TESD President Kevin Buraks

The Valley Forge Elementary School tennis courts are on tonight’s agenda of the TESD.  Every time you think that this situation has moved forward, it takes a couple of steps backwards.  As a result, it is unclear exactly what is going to come out of tonight’s meeting — will the courts stay or will they go?

At the District Facilities Meeting on Friday, April 12, the committee voted to recommend to the school board that the tennis courts be saved.  Having attended the Facilities Meeting, I took that to mean that their recommendation would be discussed at the next regular School Board meeting (tonight).  I presumed that the Facilities Committee would first make the recommendation; but then it would be up to the full School Board to ‘act’ on that recommendation.

However, at the same time that the Facilities Meeting was going on, a draft tennis court agreement was sent from the District to the Township.  We learned of that proposal at the Board of Supervisors meeting on Monday, April 15 from chair Michelle Kichline.  Kichline, with concurrence from Township Solicitor Vince Donohue, suggested  legal problems with the proposal … specifically, that the District was asking for stormwater relief from the Township, in exchange for the tennis courts.  After all the discussion that has taken place on this topic, it is impossible to understand why the School Board cannot accept that a stormwater-tennis court trade is not legally possible.  Why would the School District submit such a proporal to the township that included storm water relief? We were led to believe at the Facilities Committee meeting, that the school district was interested in a reasonable settlement of the tennis courts situation.  However, the proposed agreement suggests otherwise. Who wrote this draft agreement … the School District Solicitor Ken Roos?

Beyond the legalities of the proposal, I am struggling to understand how this agreement was sent to the township before the School Board reviewed it.  How could the School Board review the draft agreement before the Facilities Committee even sent them their recommendation?  Did School Board president Kevin Buraks review the tennis court proposal and authorize its release to the Township?   Doesn’t proper procedure count for anything?  Where’s the sunshine?

The outcome from the Board of Supervisors meeting was the suggestion for the School District and Township solicitors to prepare the tennis court agreement.  Donohue and Roos are left to ‘hash’ out the agreement between the two entities at the taxpayer’s expense.  Neither TESD nor Tredyffrin Township can afford the legal expense that has now been created by this situation.   With all the talks of cuts in the school district, threats of outsourcing, etc. where’s the fiscal responsibility?

But here we are with the tennis courts on tonight’s School Board agenda.  The saga continues …

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  1. Let’s suppose the board president or the superintendent or the business manager or the facilities manager or any combination thereof asked the solicitor to construct and send a draft proposal to the township. If so, there is no violation of the Sunshine Act in letter or spirit. The Sunshine Act is violated only when a quorum deliberates or takes official action in secret.
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    Our administrators and solicitor routinely initiate, review and modify draft contracts before they are presented to the full board for official approval. Imagine the logjam if every revision of a contract had to have prior review by the full board.
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    Also, who better to hash out a legal agreement than the lawyers? That’s what they are paid to do. One might argue that they are paid too much or their work is substandard, but imagine the trouble the District could be in if a solicitor didn’t review contracts.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Keith,
    So, Kevin Buraks as TESD president, superintendent Dan Waters, business manager Art McDonnell or Pete Motel, Facilities Manager could ask Ken Roos, the District solicitor to send a draft agreement without the rest of the School Board seeing it. OK, you are a school board member so I will accept that this does not violate the Sunshine Act. But I don’t see how, at taxpayer expense, it is then OK for the proposal to include the stormwater/tennis court trade. Tredyffrin Twp has a very strict stormwater ordinance, http://www.tredyffrin.org/modules/showdocument.aspx?documentid=2129. The proposed agreement asks the Township to set aside the stormwater requirement in exchange for saving the tennis courts. The township manager and engineer have repeatedly told the District that the saving the tennis courts will not negate the stormwater requirement. Yet, the draft agreement is written (at taxpayer expense) and sent to the township with stormwater relief in exchange for the tennis courts. So … if the you are correct and the solicitor wrote this agreement — TESD residents paid for the agreement and now get to pay the same solicitor to re-write it. I still contend it doesn’t look fiscally responsible.

    [Reply]

    Keith Knauss Reply:

    Pattye,
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    There are four issues that you raise – violation of the Sunshine Act, adherence to the storm water ordinance, fiscal responsibility and sound legal advice on the storm water issue. I see no violation of the first. I have no expertise on the second issue and therefore no comment. As to the third, I would gladly pay a reasonable fee for a solicitor to draft a legally binding agreement. I have no expertise on the fourth issue and therefore no comment.

    [Reply]

  2. http://articles.philly.com/2003-03-07/news/25474108_1_school-board-sunshine-act-board-agenda

    From the article: no official action is required. deliberates OR takes action??

    However, in November 1993, Davis had advised DeFlaminis that “since committees of a ‘body’ governed by the [Sunshine] Act are included within the definition of ‘agency,’ it would follow that meetings of committees which are ‘held for the purpose of deliberating agency business’ are subject to provisions of the Act.”

    Cons: Moving beyond information-gathering risks violating Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act. A tradition of meeting behind closed doors can create distrust among residents and limit the diversity of views of public meetings.

    The law: The Sunshine Act mandates that official action and deliberations by a quorum of members of an agency must take place in the open. Under the act, a committee authorized to render advice to the larger body is considered an agency.

    Sanctions: Actions based on closed meetings can be voided. Board members can be convicted of a summary offense and fined $100.

    http://articles.philly.com/2003-08-28/news/25454379_1_board-meeting-monthly-meeting-school-board

    while all this was 10 years ago, it resulted in the resignation of the superintendent…because the constant scrutiny destroyed productivity…?

    [Reply]

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