Multi-million T/E budget surplus (again) – $12.4 million surplus in 4 years! Property tax increases for 10 years in a row and still no health insurance for aides/paras!

budget surplusIn spite of $12.4 million in budget surplus the last four years, TESD residents have seen yearly tax increase and yet sadly, the District still does not provide health insurance coverage to their aides and paras.

I have regularly attended school board meetings and associated finance meetings the last 4 years and I have been amazed at the yearly District budget surplus. This week at the Finance Committee meeting, we learned that once again, the District has a multi-million budget surplus – yes, a review of the 2013-14 budget indicates a surplus of $2.2 million.

Thought it would be interesting to review the District’s budget surplus for the last four years. The surplus schedule is as follows:

2013-14: $2.2 million
2012-13: $5.0 million
2011-12: $3.9 million
2010-11: $1.3 million
Total: $12.4 million

Where exactly does the budget surplus go each year? We know that it does not go the cost to providing healthcare to all District employees. The aides and paras remain without health insurance, the residents continue to receive yearly tax increases and the surplus feeds the ever-increasing District’s fund balance. According to the District, as of July 1, the fund balance has grown to $32 million! Remember, the fund balance growth represents surplus from the District’s yearly budget. It would be surprising if this isn’t the largest fund balance of any school district in the state.

I truly struggle to understand how the District manages to add multi-million dollar budget surplus to the fund balance over the years but the residents continue to feel the sting of an annual tax increase. I recall the District’s business manager Art McDonnell’s explanation of the whopping $5 million surplus last year – primarily due to reduced health insurance premium costs for employees. Clearly, last year was not a fluke when you review the mega-millions in budget surplus over the years.

It would be easier to accept the yearly budget surplus if we did not also have a tax increase each year. In fact, you would have to go back a decade to 2004-05 to find the last time that there was no increase. A review of the District yearly tax increase since the last no-tax year is as follows:

• 2014-15: 3.4%
• 2013-14: 1.7%
• 2012-13: 3.3%
• 2011-12: 3.77%
• 2010-11: 2.9%
• 2009-10: 2.95%
• 2008-09: 4.37%
• 2007-08: 3.37%
• 2006-07: 3.90%
• 2005-06: 1.40%
• 2004-05: Zero Tax Increase

Where exactly does the budget surplus go each year? (We know that it does not go the cost to providing affordable healthcare to all District employees.) The aides and paras remain without health insurance, the residents continue to receive yearly tax increases and the surplus feeds the District’s ever-increasing fund balance. According to the District, as of July 1, the fund balance has grown to $32+ million! Remember, the fund balance growth represents surplus from the District’s yearly budget. TESD’s fund balance could well represent the largest in the state.

I fully understand the impact of the pension crisis and that unless there is reform; all Pennsylvania school districts are going to fall over the cliff in the near future due to the ballooning costs. I do understand that the District must protect resources for the pension crisis but at what cost to the residents?

Other items of interest from the Finance Committee meeting included responses to Ray Clarke’s questions. By now, most of you have probably heard about the 24 Dell computers fraudulently purchased by someone using the District’s Dell account. This matter is an ongoing police investigation. Ray asked about the District’s ‘purchase process’ and Dr. Waters confirmed that it was actually the internal District controls that uncovered the purchase and there was no financial loss as a result.

Ray referenced Unionville Chadds Ford School District’s receipt of $582K in state grants for construction costs and asked if similar funding was possible for the District’s classroom expansions. Ray’s suggestion sadly was dismissed as requiring too much work for the benefit.

Ray’s comment to me regarding the 2013-14 audit is as follows:

The audited financials showed revenue of $112.9 million, expenses of $110.75 million, for a surplus of $2.15 million, compared to the budgeted deficit (before contingencies) of $1.7 million. Fully one third of the favorable variance to budget ($1.325 million of the $3.9 million) came from “breakage” – the replacement of retiring staff and approved leaves with lower cost staff. This is entirely predictable and we’ve asked for it to be included at budget time for the past several years, but every year the request is ignored and the property tax increase is 30% more than it need be, all other things being equal. There is now $31.7 million of taxpayer money squirreled away in the General Fund Balance and that’s after a $10 million transfer to the Capital Fund a couple of years ago. Perhaps since next year is an election year the Board might turn up their hearing aids.

It continues to be a struggle for residents to receive clear explanations. Materials provided often only offer partial information with many of the suggestions/questions of residents at the Finance Committee meeting dismissed or deferred. No argument that T/E School District is a great school district as all the school rankings indicate —  but is the price for the District’s success no public input allowed?

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I attended Tredyffrin Township’s Board of Supervisors meeting in the last week, and the preliminary 2015 township budget was reviewed and discussed. In addition, the supervisors held a Budget Workshop this week.  The differences between school district and the administration and the supervisors, township manager and  staff are striking.  The next Community Matters post will provide an update.

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  1. This is really amazing. Did it ever occur to the Board that if they just do the right and moral thing, the Aides/paras wouldn’t try to be organizing a union? It’s difficult to be the person who is with the students everyday and yet be so undervalued by the Board. Apparently, they can afford to do the right thing. The majority of the out-sourced aides, most right out of college, are reading their kindles during classes and not involved with the students. Somehow, penny wise, pound foolish comes to mind. Sad.

    [Reply]

  2. Well run districts will always budget conservatively and run a surplus. There is a big penalty for doing otherwise. In the TE case the surplus was about 2% of the budget. Let’s suppose the board can only guess at revenues and expenditures for the next year to within plus or minus 2%. Let’s suppose the board takes Pattye’s advice and budgets so there is no surplus. Let’s further suppose that next year it turns out there is a deficit of 2% because the nation fell into a recession causing tax receipts to drop. In the subsequent year the board has to raise taxes by 2% to cover normal inflationary increases (the teachers and support staff want their contracted raises), plus he board needs an additional 2% to cover the prior year’s shortfall. Here’s the penalty – the board can’t ask for a 4% increase without a referendum. The referendum won’t pass and the board is forced into cutting teachers.
    .
    Many people will say, “Use the reserve fund to cover the 2% shortfall”. That’s just a delaying tactic and works until the fund balance is depleted.4 or 5 years into the future.
    .
    If you want to see a slow motion train wreck in action just look westward to Downingtown. DASD has the state’s largest fund balance and the board is reducing it in two ways. One, they have had no RE tax increase for two years. Two, they have increased spending as evidenced by this week’s cushy teacher contract. The taxpayers are happy; the teachers are happy. Let’s see how happy they are when the fund balance runs out. Essentially, DASD is using one-time money (the fund balance) to cover recurring expenses (the foregone tax increases and employee compensation increases).
    .
    What’s the proper way to deal with an excessive fund balance? The best way, but unfortunately illegal, would be to write a refund check to each taxpayer. In TE’s case it would be an average $1,000 check. Another way is to use the fund balance for one-time capital improvements such as replacing light fixtures, replacing flooring, updating science rooms, changing entry ways for increased security, replacing roofs, etc. This is how UCF is reducing their fund balance.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Thank you Keith. Yearly budget surplus aside, I would like to see a very small portion of the $32 million fund balance used to insure all full-time T/E School District employees. That really was my intended focus of this post — annual budget surplus and tax increase but still no insurance coverage for all employees. instead of continuing to figure out ways around insuring (whether decreasing hours or outsourcing) why not insure them?

    [Reply]

    Neal Colligan Reply:

    Hi Keith/The rest of the gang;

    We all support conservative budgeting AND conservative taxing AND conservative spending policy/expense growth. Our District’s educational system is one of the strengths of this community. But we also support honest dialogue and a transparent approach to setting the funding levels for our public school franchise.

    I’ve gone to these Finance Meeting for a few years now…long enough to see the trend. Every Budget starts with a deficit imbalance, increased taxes are levied which fill some (but not all) of the gap, and the budget is adopted in a deficit (fund balance contribution needed) position. THEN, the audit results are announced as detailed above….fairly significant surpluses.

    Consider the last three Budgets passed:
    *2011-12: $4.016 MM deficit
    *2012-13: $6.308 MM deficit
    *2013-14: $3.244 MM deficit

    These deficits were AFTER the annual tax increases. Clearly, the narrative being developed is, “we need these new funds to continue to provide this excellent education to our children.” People can support that of course but it turns out to be a false narrative. In fact, the surplus results tell us something far different. In truth we can state that NONE OF THE TAX INCREASES IN THE LAST THREE YEARS WAS NEEDED TO SUPPORT THE CURRENT OPERATIONS OF OUR SCHOOLS!!!! Rather, ALL of those increased tax levies and MORE went to fund the District surplus.

    I agree that building up a reasonable surplus may be part of an overall financial plan. If that IS the strategy…just let the community know that. The repetitive dance of deficit budgets, the (unfortunate but necessary) needed tax increases and we’re STILL in deficit position at budget adoption followed by these multi-million dollars surpluses is getting to be an old story.

    I know I wrote about this at last year’s audit results…and here we are again. This staff is too good and too experienced to miss this often (and remember deficit to surplus is a bigger miss than the 2% you mentioned that would be Balanced to surplus) and always in the same direction. The budget process drives the tax rate and, I believe, that process is flawed. The evidence is in the actual results.

    [Reply]

    Shining Light Reply:

    Thanks Neal! Sounds like the old bait and switch to me. Maybe they want to build the surplus to justify the construction of the new elementary school. From my observations over the years, these things are planned in private, behind closed doors, and unveiled at the last minute when citizens are hard pressed to do anything about it. EG. tennis courts, site fencing etc.

    Pattye, this is the first I have heard about the construction of a new elementary school. Is your source a good one? How likely is this to happen and when? If enrollment is projected to rise slightly and then decline, why would they want to build a new school? Why won’t they tell us why?

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    In Tredyffrin Twp, there are two large development projects that are moving through the planning process — Chesterbrook Shopping Center and Wayne Glenn in Glenhardie. Both of these projects have residential components. Also last year there was Planning Commission meeting about a proposed highrise apartment building at Station Square at Central & N. Valley – Station Square by Paoli Train Station. There was a large turnout of residents in the immediate area who had an overwhelming negative response. I attended the meeting and it was obvious that project was never going to get off the drawing board. The property will be developed but probably more likely would be townhouses. Several members of the SB attended the Paoli Planning Commission meeting as well as other meetings re development in Tredyffrin Twp. Both the Wayne Glenn and the Chesterbrook Shopping Center projects are targeted for the 55 and over market who may want to downsize and stay in the area, with elevator options for instance. However, there is potential that these projects could add school age children to the District and therefore has some people concerned about the need for additional classrooms and/or schools. So I think that’s what the chatter is about — at this point, I have not heard anything concrete.

    Shining Light Reply:

    Thanks Pattye,

    When Toll Bros. began construction on the 179 homes in the GAW, in Easttown Township 20 years ago, most thought residents would send their kids to private schools. That did not happen, and as a result, Beaumont Elementary School was bursting at the seams for a few years. Ray reports that Beaumont is currently at 2/3’s the capacity of Valley Forge Elementary which doesn’t surprise me since real estate turnover has dropped dramatically in the last 6 years. It also doesn’t surprise me that the TEMS, which serves all of Beaumont Elementary students., all of Devon Elementary Students and half of Hillside Elementary students is now bursting at the seams: the highest student population since recording began. The GAW’s contains single family homes targeted for young to middle age people with children. It’s anyone’s guess if the Wayne Glenn or Chesterbrook projects will attract families with children. Chesterbrook already provides housing for many families with school age children.

    As an aside, The TE Insight Mailer: News about the T/E School District for an Informed Community, is on the chopping block. The editor for the new glitzy local magazine, Easttown/Tredyffrin, gave Administrators (Chris Connolly in Communications), a proposal promising to change the name of the publication to Tredyffrin Easttown if Administrators agree to submit School District information to this publication. It wouldn’t cost the District anything and would save the $7,000 in publishing costs we spend on the TE Insight. The editor is promising 6 pages to the School District. V.P. Kris Graham stated that she heard these local publications are the only ones that are going to make it in the future, before she expressed concern that if the publication didn’t make it, she wasn’t sure the editor would let us know in time, which would make it impossible for the District to get a mailer out on time. If you care about the TE Insight Mailer, best to write or talk to the Board now.

    My only concern is that the School District Information would be buried in the pages of a magazine that presents itself as a community wide source for information.

    The TE Insight is a stand alone publication from the District. It’s very well done and I enjoy receiving it and reading it. I know exactly what it is when I receive it and I’m not sure I would flip the pages of a glitzy local magazine to locate information about the School District. But that’s just me. I would like to hear opinions from others. Thanks!

    Keith Knauss Reply:

    Neal,
    I have a few comments I’d like to share. Contact me at kknauss@verizon.net. Thanks, Keith

    [Reply]

  3. Let’s have a theoretical discussion.
    .
    The district doesn’t provide auto insurance or home owners insurance. Why should they provide health insurance? What’s wrong with having all employees purchase their own insurance? That way, employees could tailor their health insurance to the level of coverage they want and the premiums they are willing to pay – just like for home and auto insurance.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Hmmm … so, the discussion assumes no ACA compliance issues with no health care coverage provided. Taking that stance, it becomes an all or nothing for school district employees — if employees were to be on their own for health care coverage, it would need to be ALL employees (administrators, teachers, aides/paras, kitchen, public works, etc. etc) purchasing their own insurance. That would be a fair playing field. What is unfair and discriminatory, would be to ask some District employees to purchase their own insurance and others to have it through their employer. Which is the current problem in TESD — some employees have health care coverage through their employer and some do not. It’s about fairness, don’t you think and equal treatment for all. I believe UCFSD offers health insurance for all their full-time employees, does’t it?

    [Reply]

    margaritiaville Reply:

    Keith, only if that would be true. open markets, such as with auto, homeowners would be ideal… not happening.. at least up to now there is no market for health insurance.. And if you apply this model to the aides, why not the highly compensated teachers and administration? This is an issue perverted by monied and political interests…

    [Reply]

  4. Well, I have problems with the word “fair” and “unfair”. My definition for those words is probably different than yours. If everyone agreed on the definitions we wouldn’t have gridlock in Washington.
    .
    I think you would agree that no school district follows the “equal treatment for all” doctrine. If they did they would pay administrators the same as teachers and the same as support staff. How can you argue that it’s fair to pay teachers triple what the support staff makes, but argue it’s unfair if they don’t have the same healthcare benefits?
    .
    My definition of fair is that both participants (employee/employer) are fully aware of the rules (duties/hours/compensation) before they enter the game (employment) and either participant is able to withdraw (terminate/quit) whenever they want. And it’s fair to have different rules for different players as long as both participants are aware of the rules and voluntarily enter into the game.
    .
    At UCF we have different benefits for those working less than 25 hours. (is that fair?) And we have quite different healthcare benefits for full time employees who started employment this year. (is that fair?)

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Yes or no Keith — does UCF offer all of its full-time employees healthcare benefits? The point isn’t the pay scale variances of District employees as all employees receive a salary. Different pay for different jobs. At UCF, just like salaries, there are variables in healthcare benefits but all full-time employees receive healthcare benefits. Like every other school district, there are pay scale variances of TESD employees. However, what sets TESD apart from a school district like UCF is healthcare benefits. Some of the TESD employees have healthcare benefits and some do not. That is my definition of unfair.

    [Reply]

    Keith Knauss Reply:

    Yes, UCF offers healthcare to all full time employees.
    .
    Why the fixation on healthcare. Why not argue for a $5,000 a year salary increase instead? It’s the same thing.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    My ‘fixation’ on healthcare as you call it, is about fairness for all T/E School District employees.

    I’m glad that the full-time employees of the Unionville Chadds Ford School District had
    other school board members and/or administrators advocating for their healthcare benefits. Guess in your mind, your UCF School District would be better off without healthcare benefits. Gosh, if UCF didn’t have to pay healthcare benefits, think how that would increase your fund balance.

    Keith Knauss Reply:

    It seems I’m having a hard time getting across the concept that there is little difference between getting “free” healthcare from the district or getting a salary increase equal to the cost of healthcare.
    .
    In my mind, employees would be better off if districts offered cafeteria plans. That way the employee can decide whether they want all their salary in cash (subject to taxation) or direct a portion of their salary (pre-tax) to the cost of healthcare or other benefits.
    .
    And I don’t appreciate your attempt to demonize me by say you are glad that “the full-time employees of the Unionville Chadds Ford School District had other school board members and/or administrators advocating for their healthcare benefits”. Goodbye and good luck.

    Shining Light Reply:

    “And I don’t appreciate your attempt to demonize me by say you are glad that “the full-time employees of the Unionville Chadds Ford School District had other school board members and/or administrators advocating for their healthcare benefits”. Goodbye and good luck.”

    ————————————————————————————

    Keith,

    According to the article I posted below, other School Board Members in the UCFSD (Do and DeWilde) as Pattye’s claim states, advocated for healthcare for full time employees last November and, according to the article, you advocated against healthcare for full time employees by pushing for an outsourcing contract even using the Tredyffrin Easttown School DIstrict as a “case in point where there is that side by side relationship and there is no trouble.” (the timing of our comments was beyond the ordinary)

    I don’t understand your indignation. Pattye is not demonizing you. She is stating what happened. I’m wondering if you now believe it is demonic to outsource full time employees, replacing them with contract workers who don’t receive healthcare benefits from the UCFSD. Could you please explain.

    Please do not stop posting your comments on this cite. I always enjoy reading your comments and learning about your perspectives. I am sincerely interested in hearing about the results of the pilot program. Is it now Policy in the UCFSD to replace departing aides and paras with contract workers like we do in the TESD? What is the ratio of contract workers to full time employees? Thanks!

    [Reply]

    margaritiaville Reply:

    keith, there is a difference between 5k salary and 5 k in health benefits.. the later would be cheaper for the district because with salary there is matching social security taxes..

  5. School District Unionville-Chadds Ford SD
    County Chester

    2012-2013 District Budget $70,746,316.00
    District Reserves $6,805,939
    Reserves in Comparison to Budge t 9.6%

    2011-2012 District Budget $67,074,721.00
    District Reserves $6,550,898
    Reserves in Comparison to Budget 9.8%

    2010-2011 District Budget $67,198,644.00
    District Reserves $4,185,539
    Reserves in Comparison to Budget 6.2%

    2009-2010 District Budget $66,382,586.00
    District Reserves $3,427,109
    Reserves in Comparison to Budget 5.2%

    School District Tredyffrin-Easttown SD
    County Chester
    2012-2013 District Budget $116,903,965.97
    District Reserves $29,518,034
    Reserves in Comparison to Budget 25.2%

    2011-2012 District Budget $101,678,178.84
    District Reserves $34,959,750
    Reserves in Comparison to Budget 34.4%

    2010-2011 District Budget $101,348,330.45
    District Reserves $31,026,455
    Reserves in Comparison to Budget 30.6%

    2009-2010 District Budget $104,423,163.69
    District Reserves $29,561,817
    Reserves in Comparison to Budget 28.3%

    Keith,

    I’m reading where you say well run districts always budget conservatively and run a surplus and that the TE surplus was 2% of the budget.

    Is TE more well run than UCF,, because our reserves in comparison to our budgets overall in the last 4 years dwarf yours?

    [Reply]

  6. Report cards, contracts and farewells at U-CF
    Posted by Rich Schwartzman on November 21st, 2013

    It was a mixed bag at the November meeting of the Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board. Administrators gave a brief report card on district performance while outsourcing contracts were approved and members bid farewell to others leaving the board.

    The outsourcing contracts — to CCRES and CCS Technical Services — are for potential support staff vacancies, not for teaching positions, and are a pilot study through June. The number of personnel contracted through the staffing agencies would be limited to 10 percent by category. The vote was 6-2 with Kathy Do and Leticia Flores DeWilde voting against.

    Do said she was concerned that workers from a staffing agency might not have full benefits, such as healthcare, and that might cause a problem within a school environment where they work side by side with district employees doing the same job, but with benefits. She said the contracted employees might not feel a part of the district.

    Although Flores DeWilde said the contract is now better than what was originally under consideration, she still isn’t certain that this is the best approach to staffing.

    “Providing an education is unlike any other business. Our public differentiates between office support provided to other businesses and educational services and positions that require people to interact with our children. This is particularly true at the elementary schools where people work with our youngest students,” Flores DeWilde said. “Despite the possible short term financial benefits, I have concerns about the long term effects, including the level of service and quality being provided to our schools and I know that our current contracted services sometimes leave our schools understaffed.”

    The third Region C representative, Gregg Lindner, said he’s dealt with contract services in his business life and that he supports the current concept because of the discussions and changes made to the contract during the last month.

    Vic Dupuis addressed one of Do’s concerns saying there already are contracted employees working side by side with standard district employees and there is no problem.

    He agreed that, as a pilot program, the board and administration would have to look at the level of productivity and the impact on employee relations and on the students.

    Keith Knauss said concerns about regular and contract employees working side by side are “over blown.” He cited the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District as a case in point where there is that side by side relationship and there is no trouble.

    “But this is a pilot [program], so let’s evaluate it and find out,” he said.

    Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. In May 2011 he became a columnist for the Future of Freedom Foundation. He is also an award-winning photographer.

    —————————————————————————-
    I find it amazing that Keith Knauss knows that there is no trouble in the TE School District with contract workers and regular employees working side by side. Thanks Keith for letting the citizens of UCF know how the employees in the TE School District feel about working with each other.

    Could you give the citizens of TE a report on how that pilot program in your district is going? Did you evaluate it yet? I would love to know what you found out. Thanks!

    [Reply]

  7. It seems Mr. Knauss can dish it out but he can’t take it. He sees the provision of healthcare to full-time employees as nothing more than a bottom-line business decision which no school district is obligated to provide unless legally or contractually obligated. And the ACA is giving employers until 2018 to be fully compliant.

    Fairness is open to interpretation. Wait, it’s fair because all aides and paras knew there was no healthcare when they took their jobs? And are free to leave if they don’t feel valued or accept the inequity of working in the same building with a custodian and clerical staffer fortunate enough to be protected by a union contract? Right.

    And yet I’m guessing taxpayers will be paying the Act 1 increase in 2015-16, And we haven’t heard the end of seven-figure surpluses.

    Clearly, people who work closely with our children are very important to the quality of education delivered in T/E. More and more I see a revolving door of poorly compensated, uncommitted aides and paraprofessionals, and a strategy to replace them with contract employees. It has already started to drive some families with special needs kids out of our public schools. But then maybe that is the intent.

    [Reply]

  8. I dont personally know Keith Knauss, In reading this blog, it looks like he is on Unionville school board. But as someone who works as a aide, you have no idea what you are talking about. Those aides that are from the outsourced companies come and go and mostly are uncommitted to the job. I know a situation where 2 outsourced aides left a building for a break and never returned. Many are sloppy and unprepared. Like someone else said it another comment, its a revolving door. Often the TE aides are forced to pick up the slack for those from the outside. If you think that doesnt cause a rub you are very mistaken.

    [Reply]

  9. “Ray referenced Unionville Chadds Ford School District’s receipt of $582K in state grants for construction costs and asked if similar funding was possible for the District’s classroom expansions. Ray’s suggestion sadly was dismissed as requiring too much work for the benefit.”

    ————————————————————————————

    This statement is baffling to me. I need more information. Ray, could you please offer further detail so I can understand how $582, 000 in state grants for construction costs is not worth going for because it requires too much work for the benefit.

    Do I understand correctly, that $582,000 is a drop in the bucket to the school board? Whose responsibility would it be to apply for this money? Art McDonnell? The last time I viewed Art’s job description on the district web site, it seems to me that his current duties would allow more than enough time for him to apply for this money. But of course I could be wrong.

    Keith, could you please comment on the amount of time and effort it took for your district to win this money from the state. Whose responsibility was it to apply for this money? Kudos to you and your district. Ray, a little more detail would be much appreciated.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Below is the information about U-CF state funding for construction. Ray mentioned this information and asked if TESD could apply for similar grant for construction in the schools. The response from Art was that the the District would take too long and the process and the approval process for the construction was already underway. Art referenced the PlanCon grants go to lower income school districts – which was shocking, given that we are talking about Unionville Chadds Ford School District which I would never consider in the ‘low income’ category. There was an obvious lack of interest in Ray’s suggestion and considered not worth the effort nor a willingness to slow up the proposed construction projects, even if it would mean saving money.

    Unionville-Chadds Ford and Kennett Consolidated Schools to Receive More Than $759,000 in PlanCon Funding 11/6/2014 HARRISBURG – Rep. Chris Ross (R-Chester) announced today that the Unionville-Chadds Ford and Kennett Consolidated school districts have been approved to receive state allocations to partially reimburse construction projects at schools in those districts.

    “This funding, available through the Planning and Construction Workbook, or PlanCon, reimburses schools for a portion of the cost of school construction and renovation projects,” said Ross. “The Pennsylvania Department of Education recently approved nearly $22 million in PlanCon reimbursements to schools.”

    “In my legislative district, Unionville-Chadds Ford School District received approval for reimbursement of more than $582,000 in improvements at Unionville High School, and Kennett Consolidated School District has been approved to receive $177,000 for work performed at Bancroft Elementary School,” said Ross. “The reimbursements will benefit these schools by enabling them to direct more funding into the classroom.”

    The current state budget increased PlanCon funding by $10 million, which is helping to reduce the backlog of schools awaiting reimbursement and relieving schools of having to seek additional taxpayer assistance. The projects made possible through this program help to create a safe and modern educational environment for children, Ross said.
    PlanCon is designed to document a school district’s project planning process, provide justification for a project, determine a district’s compliance with state laws and regulations; and establish the level of state participation in the cost of a project.

    For additional information about the construction reimbursement program, visit http://www.education.state.pa.us and enter “PlanCon” in the “PDE Search” feature.

    [Reply]

    Shining Light Reply:

    PlanCon is designed to document a school district’s project planning process, provide justification for a project, determine a district’s compliance with state laws and regulations; and establish the level of state participation in the cost of a project.

    ————————————————————————————

    Since the state increased PlanCon funding by 10M dollars this year and we are scheduled to spend 1.1M on classroom construction for NE, wouldn’t now be a good time to start the application process with PlanCon?

    Maybe decision makers in our district don’t want the state to be involved in our district matters. “It would take too much time” is too ridiculous a statement to be taken seriously.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    SL,
    The question was asked at the Finance Committee meeting but according to the Business Manager, the District is too far into the New Eagle construction process to make a PlanCon grant application. Apparently the application has to be done before the process starts and to do anything now would delay the project.

  10. The response from Art was that the the District would take too long and the process and the approval process for the construction was already underway. Art referenced the PlanCon grants go to lower income school districts – which was shocking, given that we are talking about Unionville Chadds Ford School District which I would never consider in the ‘low income’ category.
    ————————————————————————————

    Thanks Pattye, Why didn’t Art apply for the aide before the construction started? They ask for donations on the District Web Site, Students pay parking fees (right Keith? $200.00 in your district) parents pay activity fees, student programs are cut, class sizes have ballooned and Art can’t (won’t) take the time to apply for this amount of money? I agree, I do not consider UCF a low income school district. The fact that they were granted this money is justification for TESD to at least summit an application.

    Keith, is UCF considered a low income district? Is this a reason your district was granted these funds?

    Was there any comment from a Board Member regarding Arts’ response.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Pete Motel anecdotally referenced some past construction project at CHS where there was a PlanCon grant involved and how long the process took for the money. (Don’t know which CHS project Pete was referencing or when it occurred). I don’t recall any other board member commented. Ray had brought along the newspaper clipping about the U-CF grant. As a taxpayer, rather than dismissing the suggestion, I wish they would have asked Art to explore this particular grant and its parameters and report back on his findings. Since there are long range construction plans in the District, why not some exploratory research?

    [Reply]

    Shining Light Reply:

    So the reasoning goes that it takes a long time to get the money so that’s reason enough not to apply for it? This is unbelievable.

    They have found that it is much easier for them to turn to the tax payer for more money instead of taking advantage of every opportunity available to the district. They’ll outsource aides, at the expense of the students, they will assess fees that don’t amount to much revenue at all for the district yet burdens further the students, and tax payers who already have endured tax increases year after year after year, but they won’t budget their time or spend any effort to apply for money that could save the tax payer maybe $582,000?

    Does anyone else see this the way I do? One of the times I would appreciate Keith’s input and he goes silent. I agree with TE Parent. Keith can dish it out but he can’t take it.

    [Reply]

    CHV Reply:

    What long term construction projects ?
    From the Capital 10YR Plan
    1.1 mil for classroom additions at New Eagle 2015/16
    3.1 mil for the maintenance building 2015/16 (which doesn’t count … PlanCon .has to be for education )
    Rest of the costs are Capital Improvement 1.1 mil
    Deferred Maintenance 3.1 mil

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    I keep hearing rumblings about rising enrollments and need for a new elementary school to accommodate — if there is any truth to that rumor, it would meet the criteria for the PlanCon grant. And you are correct, the PlanCon grants are for education only, such as the New Eagle classroom additions or any other school additions or retrofit of classrooms. The maintenance building would not qualify for this grant.

  11. Step away for a moment and miss all the action! A few reactions to some of the commentary above.

    We did get an answer to the grant question four days later at Facilities. To be eligible for the PlanCon grants the project has to increase classroom capacity by more than 20%. The two classrooms at New Eagle are less than 10% of the capacity. I would have thought that this answer could have been provided at Finance.

    Re Keith’s comments on “guessing at revenues and expenses”. Well, on the revenue side, 80% of revenues from property tax are known pretty much for certain at budget time. State subsidies – basic, special education, transportation, property tax reduction, another 8% of revenues – may change depending on state budget outcomes, but last year were pretty much exactly as budgeted. Other big revenue lines like PSERS and social security vary with expenses. Transfer taxes do vary quite a lot – that’s a reason to use a rolling average. (And BTW, the Township is reporting very robust transfer tax revenues due to economic activity and changes in state law). All in all, not a lot of guessing involved.

    The problem is on the expense side as noted above, where it seems that the Administration is not prepared to even make any kind of guess at “breakage”. So there is a systematic bias in the district’s budgeting. And the argument that we have to have a surplus because “supposing a recession cause[s] [next year’s] tax receipts to drop” is a complete red herring. Suppose any other scenario, too.

    TESD has been blessed with a high commercial mix and historically strong performance which has kept taxes relatively low and attracted motivated parents and students, continuing the virtuous cycle. It’s tempting for those in charge to feel the results are entirely due to them and to always know best. A case in point: the District hired and new demographic consultant, did not like the prediction of a short term rising and then declining enrollment, and so is now talking up the need for a new elementary school anyway. This while enrollment at Beaumont Elementary in Eastown is just two thirds that of Valley Forge Elementary in Tredyffrin, which has just 10% more regular classrooms.

    We congratulate ourselves on interest saving from bond issue – well, hardly a great surprise since we are replacing long term money with one to five year money. As Neil has suggested, the District might just as well have repaid the $18 million bond with some of the $30 million fund balance, charged the “deferred maintenance to the P&L as CHV alludes to, and saved the interest and investment banking fees. And yes the timing was good: it just so happens that just as the District was first contractually able to refinance the muni market was coming off a good run, after a big uptick in rates last Fall due to issues in Puerto Rico. Rates are still higher than at the beginning of 2013. And yet there is discussion of borrowing even more money than the historical averages to fund the Capital Plan.

    And regarding that: The $24 million Facilities need reported by CHV is based on the Infrastructure Report, which we have noted here before has many nice-to-have items like new kitchens and is not, to my knowledge, developed with any consideration of how much money the District has available, nor of any other competing demands like healthcare or PSERS expenses. It’s a bureaucratic process with a life of its own. One way that organizations counter the tendency for this to happen is to institute term limits for Directors and Committee Chairs. This might be something for TESD to consider.

    I was becoming hopeful that Dr. Gusick, despite coming from within the system, might be able to bring his critical thinking to District leadership. Hope does spring eternal, but I notice one Education Committee Agenda item that gives me pause: A proposal to return the “lost” free period to CHS teachers at the expense of increasing class sizes and the hiring of five FTEs. I don’t know how the Committee responded to this apparent attempt by the union to flex its muscles.

    A closing thought. The District seems terrified of new development bringing in more students. The higher that taxes are raised, the more likely those on fixed incomes with no burden to the District are to leave, to be replaced by school-age students, raising costs higher, increasing taxes more, causing more on fixed income to leave, and so on and so on.

    Taken as a whole: we need to pay attention!

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Thank you Ray for your thorough commentary! I appreciate the explanation re the grant that you received at the Facilities and yes, I too would have liked that same discussion at the Finance meeting. Thanks!

    [Reply]

    margaritiaville Reply:

    pattye, I am thinking that the reason they don’t pay the aides and paras health insurance is because they don’t have to.. they are getting away with it now, with some aides being local moms with or without teaching experience and some aides from delta t… it just seems that there is no push, no real need to pay… market forces.. I would venture to say some of the delta T aides are doing a good job too, further diminishing the need to provide insurance..

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Yes, the school board does not have to give healthcare to the aides and paras or any other uninsured District employees. The ACA only requires 70 percent employee compliance for 2015 and because the non-insured District employees is a small number, they would meet that requirement for the 2015-16 school year. However, my understanding of ACA compliance, is that the 70 percent moves to 90+ percent for 2016. When that compliance requirement kicks in the school board will have three choices — (1) comply with ACA and offer all District employees healthcare benefits, (2) decrease hours of all uninsured District employees to below 30 hours or (3) outsource all uninsured District employees.

    Shining Light Reply:

    You are right, —— there is no push from the aides so there is no need to pay. It doesn’t mean the aides aren’t hurt, humiliated and angry, because they are. I’m not sure the main reason for the no push except that they may feel afraid and intimidated.

    My child benefited from the services of an aide who submitted her resignation last Spring/Summer. A host of aides quit at the same time, right after the request to unionize was withdrawn.

    My child told me she was the smartest “teacher” in the school and there was no way they would ever let her go. She came from a Major National Space Program and was very good at helping with Math at any level. (For her services and level of expertise, she probably made $10.00 t0 $13.00 per hour) When I asked my child who replaced her, he/she said no one – they didn’t replace her. When I asked His/her teacher, they said yes, there is a replacement, but in your child’s view, no one can replace …………… I think my child is right. And if they mentioned those aides who resigned last Spring or Summer in the Summer Insight Bulletin with all the others who retired, including Sue Teide, I didn’t see their names. It’s as if they didn’t exist, and this woman had a huge effect on my child.

    margaritiaville Reply:

    they will do what is most cost effective within the confines of the law as it stands now…

  12. Thanks Ray. 5 new FTEs’? Do you know what for?

    Your idea for term limits for Directors and Committee Chairs is a good one. I was told by Directors recently that new committee chairs are appointed by the President. This will happen next month when new officers take over too. I will be surprised if Kris graham is not the new President. As it stands now, Karen Kevin and Kris are the decision makers.

    [Reply]

    CHV Reply:

    Officially appointed yes but the board members sign up for the chair/committee they want (hence the need for term limits )
    Past history vice pres goes in next .. Very a few exceptions over the years.

    [Reply]

    Shining Light Reply:

    Thank-you CHV.

    I very specifically asked this question in a committee meeting last week and I was told in no uncertain terms, that the President picks the new Committee heads. No one at the meeting (administrators or Board members) stated that Board Members sign up for the chair/committee they want.

    I surmised that the new President will be one of the Directors who is up for re-election. Kris is V.P. and up for re-election. And she is one of the “3K’s” so unless Karen and Pete and the others up for reelection get voted out, we’re looking at 4 more years of the same.

    [Reply]

    CHV Reply:

    Sorry I gave bad info . double checked to make sure this time.
    There is no formal protocol. all depends on the president..In the past board members have been asked , some lobbied or just assigned. We’ll all find out in January.

    Shining Light Reply:

    Thanks again CHV.

    I asked Scott Dorsey if he was going to be the Committee Chair for the Public Information Committee. He looked directly at Kevin, Kris and Karen and said I don’t know, the President picks the Committee Chairs. Kevin, Kris and Karen agreed with him. He said the process gives Board Members experience in all areas of School District matters. It made sense to me.

    I don’t know who you double checked with, but I want to be clear, there was no ambiguity or response from President Kevin B, Vice P. Kris G. and Long time Board Member Karen C. when Scott directed his attention to them and said the President appoints the Committee Chairs. I don’t know of anyone, except Dr. Waters, who has more power or information than the 3K’s.

    I’m reading where you say…….. it depends on the President………

    so I’m assuming the President will be Kris Graham so therefore she will appoint the Committee Chairs and that is also in keeping with the information I was given that the President appoints the Committee Chairs.

    ——————————————————————————-

    Ray says:
    And regarding that: The $24 million Facilities need reported by CHV is based on the Infrastructure Report, which we have noted here before has many nice-to-have items like new kitchens and is not, to my knowledge, developed with any consideration of how much money the District has available, nor of any other competing demands like healthcare or PSERS expenses. It’s a bureaucratic process with a life of its own. One way that organizations counter the tendency for this to happen is to institute term limits for Directors and Committee Chairs. This might be something for TESD to consider.

    ——————————————————————————–
    I agree with Ray that term Limits for Directors and Chairs might be something TESD should consider.

  13. A case in point: the District hired and new demographic consultant, did not like the prediction of a short term rising and then declining enrollment, and so is now talking up the need for a new elementary school anyway.

    ————————————————————————————

    Ray, could you give more detail on the above statement. Why did the District not like the prediction of a short term rising and then declining enrollment? Because they want to build a new elementary school? Why?

    Because I agree with TE Parent that actions taken in Policy over the last year indicate to me that they don’t want to attract new families. Special needs or other.

    [Reply]

    Ray Clarke Reply:

    Your guess is as good as mine. District knows best, I suppose.

    [Reply]

  14. School Board Holds Annual Reorganization Meeting on December 1, 2014

    At its annual reorganization meeting on December 1, 2014, the Tredyffrin/Easttown Board of School Directors elected Kris Graham as Board President and Doug Carlson as Board Vice President.

    Mrs. Graham was elected to the T/E School Board in 2011 and served as Board Vice President in 2013 and 2014. Mrs. Graham was chair of the Education Committee and served on the Legislative and Public Information Committees in 2014. A representative of Tredyffrin Region 2, Mrs. Graham has been a District resident for 33 years. Her children are Conestoga High School graduates.

    Mr. Carlson was elected to the T/E School Board in 2013. He was chair of the Legislative Committee and served on the Finance and Policy Committees in 2014. Mr. Carlson represents Easttown Region 3 and has two children attending T/E schools.

    ——————————————————————————–

    I’m not surprised that Kris Graham was voted in as President. I am surprised that Doug Carlson was voted in as V.P. Mr. Carlson hasn’t served a year yet, and he’s V.P. already? What about Liz Mercagliano? I’m not sure how long she has served but it has been at least 3 years because I started paying attention 3 years ago and she was on the Board then. If Mr. Carlson is eligible for office, Scott Dorsey must be eligible too. Was he condidered fo the V.P. position? Does anyone know how this works? Radnor and Unionville Chadsford School Districts send out press releases on this. Unionville Chadsford transparently states those who were nominated for the positions and the Board Members who voted for and against them.

    I would like to have the same info for the TESD. It would explain alot about party politics. Doug Carlson is a R. Kris is a D. Do they support each other? Does Kris support Scott D.? A fellow Dem. Or, as some have suggested, are party affiliations left at the door when it comes to School Board matters?

    Why doesn’t Liz M. have a louder voice and bigger presence? How long has she been on the board?

    Why doesn’t the School Board release all of the results on voting? How can I get this info.? Since Radnor and UCF post the results, we must have a right to it as well.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Kris Graham is a Republican as is Doug Carlson. Liz Mercogliano (R) nominated Scott Dorsey (D) for Vice President and Virginia Lastner (R) nominated Doug Carlson (R) for Vice President. The vote for Vice President was 6-2 for Doug Carlson. (Jim Bruce was absent for the vote). What is interesting to note is that there are only 3 Democrats on the TE School Board — and Democrats Karen Cruickshank and Kevin Buraks voted against their fellow Democrat Scott Dorsey for Vice President. Scott and Doug were elected to the School Board at the same time so don’t understand why Cruickshank and Buraks would vote against their fellow Democrat. Again — only 3 of the 9 school board members are Democrats, yet two of them voted against the third! For those people inside the local Democrat camp, I can’t imagine that this vote count was received positively!

    [Reply]

  15. That’s not how the school board operates. There’s a myth that school board members operate under a partisan umbrella. We’ve had situations where it has been 100% R’s and tax increases, when not warranted, were levied. We’ve had R’s jump party lines to endorse a D (Mahoney endorsed Art Post). We’ve had D’s support R’s and vice versa on the board. About the closest we’ve seen political ideology on the board was Rich Brake. Look what happened to him. Besides that, only when the EIT was up for discussion did we see politics creeping in. History has shown how flawed that report was. We still, as a township, give away millions of dollars a year to other townships that have levied the EIT. Given the fiscal issues we have, especially with infrastructure, it is amazing how we still don’t have an EIT. The notion that it is pro business to not have one is ridiculous. There hasn’t been a single case reported where a company went on record to admit the reason why they have a Tredyffrin office is because there is no EIT.

    Honestly, I don’t see the TTDEM’s caring one way or the other. To the credit of both political organizations, they tend to take a hands-off approach when it comes to the school board.

    If you understand how the school board actually works, it turns out to be anything but interesting or curious.

    [Reply]

  16. The notion that it is pro business to not have one is ridiculous. There hasn’t been a single case reported where a company went on record to admit the reason why they have a Tredyffrin office is because there is no EIT.

    ———————————————————————————–

    I agree, but An EIT does not address the root of the problem. The root of the problem is on the expense side of the equation, not the revenue. side. Townships and school districts have raised taxes over and over and over again. It does not solve the problem, it makes it worse.

    We have a school director who during the debate last November spoke about not raising taxes and about pension reform. This director not only voted to raise taxes, she voted to grant the school business manager (no questions asked) a $22,000 annual raise on top of his already generous salary, making his pay on par with the highest paid governor in the country. How does this help pension reform? How does this help tax relief? It doesn’t. It makes both problems worse. And just because citizens don’t publicly talk about this and more, doesn’t mean they don’t know about it and it doesn’t mean they don’t care about it.

    So the answer has been to raise taxes, do nothing about pension reform, raise salaries, grant bonuses and add to the teacher work load at the High School by making them teach 6 classes instead of 5. And you know who suffers the most? The students and the parents. Do you know how hard it is to have a dialog with your child’s teacher at the High School.. Impossible.

    Kris Graham is not a R.

    [Reply]

  17. Agreed. Funding sources have to be matched with responsibility. The irresponsible behavior has gone on for a while and you have to ask yourself why the same kinds of people get elected.

    Unfortunately, while places like this have the capacity to be an informed place of discussion, the sad fact is, there is a lot of dis-information. I’ve largely tuned out Ray because he is so far in the thickets of spreadsheets and numbers that he’s lost the forest through the trees. His analysis has gone to counting pennies and what he has to spend as an individual taxpayer. As I understand it, he’s not alone. Often is the case when people don’t have children in the system, their view points change.

    The fact is, in our capitalist society that is the US, the success of the public educational system is based on what are socialist goals. In other words, the public good as oppsed to individual gain. Education is part of the bedrock of any civilized society and in this country, as capitalstic as it is, the right to a free appropriate education isn’t just a right, it’s a fundamental right and that fundamental right costs money. And yet, as a community, while collectively, we like the trappings of a first class public education system, we don’t want to pay for it.

    We really need to delve into motives. Most that seek a school board seat have one of three major considerations. A – they have kids in the system and they want some some influence. B – they are fiscal watchdogs and want to control taxes. C – they have have nothing better to do.

    I have yet to see somebody run for and get elected to the school board that was really about education and not so much about a personal motive.

    Pension reform? That’s a joke. That’s a Warren Kampf talking point. Sounds good. But at the end of the day, assuming you had 401 K type things in place for new teachers, it will be another 50-75 years before there is any real benefit. The folks that are calling for pension reform ARE THE SAME FOLKS who where cool with deferring pension liabilities. They were cool with that because it was a politically expedient and convenient thing for them to do.

    Finally, let’s remember the EIT helps the municipal gov’t too. Although they are at least as big of fools as those who are in the school board. They just threw away 100+K due to their negligent handling of the sewer system.

    [Reply]

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