TESD Facilities Committee proposes fees for VFES tennis court usage

The monthly TESD Facilities Committee meetings are held at a time that makes it difficult for many to attend – Friday at 2 PM, and the Friday, June 15 attendance proved the point.   Ray Clarke attended the comittee meeting with 3 other residents and provided the his notes for Community Matters.  In addition, I spoke with him for clarification, specifically in regards to the infamous tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School.  If you recall, Zoning Hearing Board granted the variance last month so that the District could build the additional parking spots and leave the tennis courts intact.

I had assumed that once the tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School received their ‘stay of execution’, residents would continue to enjoy them free of charge.  However, based on Ray’s explanation, it looks like the District views the courts as a revenue source.  According to Ray’s notes, initially the Facilities Committee proposed two options for the tennis courts – an hourly rate for usage ($15-$25) or a flat annual fee of $28K to be paid by an association!  It is unclear what ‘association’ the District had in mind — the neighbors next to VFES?  Looks like tennis court neighbor Michelle Berger temporarily thwarted a PR nightmare for the Board with an agreement that the resident usage fee will not start until the fall.

June 14, Facilities Meeting Committee Notes … from Ray Clarke

Well, an audience of four at the Facilities Committee was treated to a detailed exposition of the process underlying the Infrastructure Plan.  On one hand, we were told the plan took 332 hours of Daley and Jalboot time at the bargain rate of $12,200 (plus $8,000 for mechanical engineering), using annually updated CAD drawings of every building, inspections of every building, meetings with the Maintenance staff, using cost projections updated for 4% annual inflation, etc.  Bbut on the other hand, we were told that we should pay no attention to the fact the resulting cost estimate is over $50 million, and in fact, that to even mention that number is inflammatory and “foolish”!

I wondered about the status of the Infrastructure report.  I was told it was approved in “the May Board meeting”.  I see that the minutes of the 5/13 School Board meeting includes the Facilities Committee report: “Also on the May 13, 2013 consent agenda is the infrastructure report, which is a ten year renewal of the plan”. However, there is no record in the published agenda or in the minutes of the actual item.  The only related item in agenda or minutes is “Daley + Jalboot 2013 Projects/Fee Proposal/Infrastructure Implementation”.  So, is it possible that the Plan was not only put on the Consent Agenda, but also added verbally at the meeting (and not recorded clearly in the minutes), so only those still awake at midnight would be aware of it?

I proposed that the Board and the community might benefit from a detailed discussion of a plan that sets the tone for the next decade’s capital spending – a discussion that might be needed once every 10 or maybe five years.  Perhaps the items could be prioritized — essential to nice-to-have.  Perhaps payback identified for those projects that would reduce costs.  These ideas were met with derision —  the Facilities Committee has managed things just fine for the last ten years, we spend an amount only equal to the auditors’ arithmetical calculation of depreciation, our debt service is constant at $6 million a year, most of the school kitchens are original (although equipment has been renewed), told I didn’t know the difference between capital and operating funds,  etc., etc.   It seems to me that the whole reason that there is such interest in the affairs of the District now is that in fact there really is a “new normal” where funds are not so readily available and trade-offs must be made.  Prudent governance should recognize that.

The discussion of the VFES tennis courts provided further indication that this Board leadership just doesn’t get it.  Two usage fee options were presented: a) fee of $15/hr. weekday, $25/hr. weekend, or b) an annual fee to an “association” of $28,000.  This was to be implemented July 1st.  The courts to be locked and monitored.  Thank goodness, for a sensible and articulate local resident, Michelle Berger, who was persistent and managed to get through to the Committee, suggesting that this approach would be a total PR disaster and that it was better to involve the community to figure out a practical approach than an abrupt implementation of a bureaucratic plan.  Tennis camps and any other organized groups will be charged right away – I think at the $30 per court hour that the township charges.  Fees for residents will start in the fall.

So common sense thankfully prevailed here.  But it’s really unfortunate that the Board has developed such a bunker mentality.  I wish I could offer a solution.  Perhaps the Board candidates will offer realistic commitments for change that we can hold them to.

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  1. wow! thanks Ray for the great work on reporting the Facilities meeting fiasco… Pete Motels baby..Amazed but not shocked at the reaction to your questions… Perhaps they are running an efficient facilities program.. But Motel is really pushing it with his disrespect and contempt for anyone questioning him and the committee. Perhaps he will get frustrated and if not resign, not run in 2 years.. 2 years can be a long time :)

    Consent agendas, surprises that seem to sock it to the community, punitive really…. Our leadership..

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  2. So the initial plan was to get rid of the tennis courts, but now the plan is to keep them and charge for their use? Was any rationale given to justify imposition of the fee or the proposed amount? Are there specific costs that need to be offset? Did these costs have anything to do with the original plan to dismantle to courts (I thought that was more about parking). It would be great if you could clarify.

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    Ray Clarke Reply:

    According to Mrs Fadem, it has been stated all along that the District would institute a usage fee, as it has for third party use of all other district facilities.

    This seems appropriate and fair to me. It is also prudent for the district to ensure that users have liability coverage.

    For me this all comes down to implementation. Any pricing strategy needs user research, and when your users are also your shareholders it makes sense to take extra effort. The Facilities Committee sitting in the TEAO bubble doesn’t seem to have a good sense of the dynamic here.

    I like the idea of forming some kind of association (assuming a minimum number of commitments), with a reasonable fee for annual membership ($100?) which is forwarded through to the district. Just as hunting clubs do a good job of policing poachers on lands for which they have been granted the rights, perhaps the court users could limit need for district enforcement.

    Presumably the fee would cover specified district maintenance costs (nets every so often?) and perhaps the “association” could commit to whatever routine maintenance (sweeping?) might be needed? Doubtless there are more issues to be addressed (combination lock? sign ups?, etc.): more reason for a working group I advocated.

    While I’m here, one recognition that the Administration did just make the Board’s job a little easier, by providing the current year’s rates for contracted services along with the 6/17/2013 consent agenda request for approval of next year’s rates. That way the Board can get a sense of overall pricing trends (a nice addition would be a note of the current year’s spend with each vendor). Most vendors seem to be holding their price, but it’s nice to see that a few are down (eg: Delta-T (para-professional services, Saul Ewing) but also rather troubling that a few are up (eg ePlus (a vendor for network upgrade (?)), up 11%) and the solicitor (up 5.7%).

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    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Ray, an annual fee of $100 for usage sounds a heck of alot better than $28K for ‘association’ fees. I am sure that neighbors who use the tennis courts would gladly contribute a reasonable fee. However, the implementation for the use of the courts has to be simple so as to avoid necessary District employee costs to manage. A citizen working group to help with the details is the way to go.

    A reminder that the 2013/14 budget will be passed at tomorrow night’s school board meeting — 7:30 PM, Conestoga HS. In the budget, the District’s solicitor, Ken Roos of Kistler Pearlstine will receive a 5.7% rate increase from $158/hr to $167/hr. Other attorneys from Roos’ law firm that assist TESD will receive a 7.86% rate increase, from $140/hr. to $151/hr. Due to the economy, shouldn’t we expect vendor rates to be negotiable — and decreasing.

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    Shining Light Reply:

    So we’re being hit with pay to play fees, our children’s academic, educational programs are being cut, we are told we can’t afford to give aides (who have one on one contact with every student in the district, daily) basic health care yet:

    Ken Roos (school solicitor; also Lower Merion school solicitor: Is this a club?) receives a 5.7% rate increase and other attorney’s from his firm are receiving a 7.86% rate increase?

    Administrators in TESD received raises and bonuses and healthcare benefits so outlandish they come with a luxury tax?

    So the administrators give themselves and the vendors who support them raises (did the architectural firm get their hourly rate raised too?) and we, the tax paying citizens get hit with additional fees on top of having taxes raised the amount the law allows. The very people who make all the decisions enrich themselves more and more and more and the tax payer and children continue to suffer.

    This is insulting.

    T/E aide Reply:

    Okay! Really? This is all about revenge. Just like the aides issue. How dare you question us, we will show you!
    Liability issue come on. And people agree with this? How about all the residents who use Stoga’s track. Or VFMS track. Or the dad and son who play baseball on the field at VFMS? This has nothing to do with anything but to make some money and a payback to the people who questioned them.

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    shining light Reply:

    This is a good point by TE Aide. Citizens use school facilities every day. Liability issues have never been discussed. Why are they suddenly an issue for the tennis courts.

    If administraors would simply agree to look at their health care benefits for relief, student programs would not have to be cut and citizens would not have to charged for student activity fees and tennis court time which generate very little revenue anyway. Real cost savings lie in the governor like salaries of many administrators in our district who are proposing these pay to play fees on tax paying citizens in this community who fund their very high salaries.

    margaritaville Reply:

    TE aide, good points. Did some one bring that up at the finance meeting? Maybe someone should bring that up tonight?? Will they look to charge for track use? Field use??? for those examples you sighted?

  3. for what its worth, my understanding is that a member of the community was taking care of the upkeep, quietly and in an unassuming good neighbor way.. So it would make sense maybe to charge in order for the district to maintain the courts. Guess it is too expensive to include it into budget without additional revenue. Question? are there any other courts that come under the jurisdiction of the district and if so will there be or is there a fee to play?

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