Message from Chesterbrook resident Doug Anestad, “Stop the TE School Board!”

No FencingThe fencing situation at Valley Forge Middle School remains in a word – unsettled. Many Chesterbrook residents showed up for the Facilities Committee meeting on Friday with the hope that the matter would finally be resolved. Although there has been some progress including no fencing directly behind the Green Hills homes and no fencing through the woods, open issues remain.

The compromise for the fencing on Rt. 252/Valley Forge Road (next to Valley Forge Middle School) is for a white vinyl rail-type fence rather than the 4 ft. chain link fencing installed at the District’s other schools. The pricing for the vinyl rail fencing is not known; however, the discussion is for Chesterbrook residents to pay fifty percent of any additional costs.Because less fencing will be required at VFMS, perhaps any additional costs for the vinyl rail type fencing could be absorbed by the District.

Although the proposed decorative vinyl rail fencing is aesthetically more appealing than chain link fencing, it really does beg the question (again) … why the fences?  Clearly, a rail fence (even more so than a chain link fence) has no safety value and only serves to mark the boundaries of the school. Surely, the school board cannot use the District’s safety study as the rationale for vinyl rail fencing.

The frustration among Chesterbrook residents regarding the fencing continues to rise; much like a hamster wheel, the conversation just keeps going in circles.  Green Hills homeowner Doug Anestad is no longer standing on the sidelines in the discussion but has become proactive in his pursuit of change. A former math teacher in Philadelphia, he has more than a passing understanding of school safety.  A parent with two children in the District, Anestad supports maintaining quality education but believes that the District’s spending is out of control. Printing and mailing postcards to 4,000, Anestad is taking his vision for reform in the school district to the residents.

In his message for change, Anestad is asking residents to contact the school board and voice their concerns.  Direct in his approach, Anestad appeals to District 2 voters not to support current school board president Kris Graham’s bid for reelection and further suggests voting for Ed Sweeney (R) and Michelle Burger (D) on Primary Election Day, Tuesday, May19. I give Doug Anestad a lot of credit – engaged and direct, he’s not standing on the sidelines!  Let’s see if his plan works.

Anestad provided the following response when asked about the impetus for the postcard. (Front and back images of the postcard are at the end of the post). 

From Doug Anestad:

I want to let people know some of the background of the postcards that went out this past Saturday, May 16th and the history behind them.

For the past couple of months, I have been involved with conversations surrounding the fencing project for Valley Forge Middle School, T/E Middle School, and Conestoga High School. The community around Valley Forge Middle School was unaware of the fencing project until Tredyffrin Township notified neighbors next to Valley Forge Middle School at the beginning of this year that the T/E school district was planning for construction that might impact them.

What the community discovered was a fencing project for the three above-mentioned schools that would have fences around the sides and back of all three schools for a cost of around $237,000. One of my children is a student at Valley Forge Middle School and another at Conestoga High School. I taught for a decade in the School District of Philadelphia before going back into industry and I can attest to the harm done to the atmosphere of a school and the ineffectiveness of fences as a safety measure for children due to the nature of schools. There are some cases such as steering students away from dangerous areas and in elementary schools where fences are necessary, but in general, less is more.

For anyone who falsely believes that the fences around the middle schools or high school might improve safety for our students, you should know that the side fences would only be 4’ high and there would be no fence along the front of the buildings. All someone would have to do is to simply hop over the fence or walk around to the front. Basically, what this means is that we are changing the atmosphere for our inviting and beautiful schools to be more prison like with no improvement to safety.

To add insult to injury, the T/E school district is currently running a projected $5,268,067 deficit for next year – yes over five million dollars! They will make up most of that with a tax increase of over $3,630,000. Even after raising our taxes by over three million dollars, they will still be over $1,600,000 short.

The fencing project isn’t the only place where the school district is spending money it doesn’t need to right now. They are also working on a new maintenance and storage building that was originally projected to be around $2 million. The cost overruns have now brought it up to $4 million. At some point, shouldn’t they reconsider? In addition, they are adding expensive positions to the T/E administrative team. When you are running a $5 million deficit, is now really a good time to be growing the administrative overhead?

For the reasons above, I wanted to make sure that the community better understood some of the T/E school board issues before the primary elections this coming Tuesday, May 19th. My hope is that I may have accomplished that to some small degree.

Front of postcard:

Stop Spending pg 1

Back of postcard:

Stop Spending pg 2

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28 Comments

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  1. Mr. Anestad couldn’t have been much of a math teacher. A third grader knows $235.000 is not over a quarter million dollars. This is the same type of “not in my back yard thinking” that caused Chesterbrook to deny putting lights at the ball fields and even complain about the foul poles at the baseball fields. Kris Graham was instrumental in keeping TENIG employees from being outsourced. She was the lead negotiator on the latest teacher union contract and got concessions on increasing the teacher’s portions of the benefits payments. She also led the search for a new superintendent. So you can vote to keep you little piece of the world from changing or you can vote to keep and improve the outstanding education that is expected in this Township.

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    Farm Giveaway Reply:

    If Kris Graham had anything to do with the latest teacher contract it’s a great reason to send her packing. This year taxes are going up 3.81% largely because of this outrageous contract. Expect the same increase next year. Kris got a small concession on healthcare contributions, but gave away the farm on salary increases making TE teachers the highest paid in Chester County.

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    Shining Light Reply:

    Tom, You say.

    “So you can vote to keep you little piece of the world from changing or you can vote to keep and improve the outstanding education that is expected in this Township.”

    ————————————————————–

    Judging by your snippy, condescending comments, it sounds like you have a personal stake in Kris Grahams election outcome in November.

    I agree with you though, I think that current School Board Directors believe that $5M maintenance Buildings, $250,000 fences and top of the pay scale salaries for the creation of Admin. positions at District Offices:

    improves the outstanding education that is expected in this Township.

    as evidenced by what they support and vote for. Thanks for pointing that out.

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  2. There have been too many questionable decisions recently by the current school board, including fencing our schools and a $4 million maintenance building! Graham is one of 9 on the school board but unfortunately she is the only one up for reelection.

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  3. To clarify, for District 2 in the TE School Board race, there are four candidates for 2 positions. Republicans Kris Graham and Ed Sweeney cross-filed as did Democrat Michelle Burger. Democrat Alan Yockey is also on the Primary ballot, however he did not cross-file — Democratic only. Registered Democrats and Republicans can vote for 2 of these 4 candidates.

    Polls are open tomorrow for Primary Day, starting at 7 AM until 8 PM. Your vote matters!

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  4. Tom, you are correct. The numbers have been changing over time and I didn’t go back and fix the text. The numbers currently stand at $237,000 at the last official proposal.

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  5. Tom,

    ” A third grader knows $235.000 is not over a quarter million dollars.”

    If that’s the only criticism you’ve got, I’d say Doug did a pretty good job.

    Just wondering how you know:

    Kris Graham was instrumental in keeping TENIG employees from being outsourced”

    No one knows that. I wish we did but negotiations are kept very secret.

    Also,

    “She was the lead negotiator on the latest teacher union contract and got concessions on increasing the teacher’s portions of the benefits payments.”

    How do you know that? No one knows that.

    Also, “She also led the search for a new superintendent.”

    Honestly, there was no search. It was always going to be Rich Gusick. I wrote Kris Graham a long e-mail last summer regarding “the search” (wink,wink)She never got back to me. I even wrote other Board Members asking why I never heard from her. I lobbied hard to be included as a member of the “focus groups.” I was turned by every Board Member I contacted.

    And last but not least, $4M maintenance buildings, a quarter of a million dollars in fencing, and top of the scale salaries for the creation of new positions at the Admin level do NOT improve the “outstanding education that is expected in this township.”

    aides/paras and teachers (employees who actually work with and have contact with students) and programs for students – that’s what improves the outstanding education that is expected in this township.

    P.S. I’m a baseball fan too. Go Stoga!

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    CHV Reply:

    DO NOT think for one minute the cost will be 4 million for that maintenance building..add another $300,000 for all the past plans and another $265,00 for purchasing the property ..By the time you add Daley & Jalboot fees plus the “experts” ..hey they did a traffic study on Spring Break …Add the lawyer (for 2 zoning & 3 Planning meetings)……The next big issue “UNSUITABLE SOIL ” was discovered on site so unknown cost to be determined …THIS is going to be the most expensive project ever….PLUS the cost of moving the maintenance dept for one year until the building is ready …WHY.. because they have bond money to spend!!!!!

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    Pattye Reply:

    Looks like if you total the cost of plans, fees, lawyers, architects, traffic experts, etc. it is closer to $5 million than $4 million! Wow. Maybe the next post should be about our mega-million dollar maintenance shed (no, for $5 million it certainly is no shed!)

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  6. Thank you Doug!

    Pay no attention to the earlier snide remark about math. Your point remains valid, TESD does not need to put up such fences! They are costly, ugly, and will provide no discernible benefit where they have planned to put them up.

    In fact, a four-foot high chain link fence around the outskirts of our school properties may actually DECREASE the safety of our children. It will limit egress in times of emergency. It will force students to walk/run along the fence line to find an open exit, which could make them even easier targets for a bully or a stalker. And, as you noted, such a fence will EASILY be scaled/hopped/avoided by somebody determined to enter the property. Only small school children will have trouble getting over it in times of emergency. It seems highly unlikely that a ne’er do well would somehow be thwarted by such a fence.

    In the end, our current TESD Board may still (probably will) stick it up as soon as classes end. But, just because they have the power to do so does not mean that they won’t hear loud and clear from the community on this. This includes Kris Graham, BTW.

    Thanks again Doug.

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  7. If Kris Graham had anything to do with the latest teacher contract it was a direct conflict of interest.

    Kris Graham is an ex-teacher. Of course she gave away the farm on salary increases. If true, the fox slipped in the hen house and farmer Brown was out to lunch.

    The President of the School Board should not be an ex teacher. The President of the School Board should represent tax paying citizens first.

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    Pattye Reply:

    My records show that Board members Kris Graham, Pete Motel and Karen Cruickshank negotiated the last teacher contract and that Board members Jim Bruce, Betsy Fadem and Rich Brake negotiated TENIG’s last contract. Kevin Buraks was president of the school board during the last teachers contract and last TENIG contract negotiations.

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    Shining Light Reply:

    Karen Cruickshank is an ex-college administrator. Where do you think her allegiance was? Wow, Wow Wow

    Dan Waters must have been smiling from ear to ear.

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  8. Farm,

    TE teachers are the highest paid in Chester County? Where can I find information substantiating this claim.

    Thinking about it, it would make sense. Dan Waters is the highest paid Supt. in the County so I guess all salaries for positions below his would reflect that. Wow!

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  9. The current school board has been wasting quite a bit of money lately and will be raising taxes this coming year by the maximum allowed by law without a referendum.

    However, the current spending per pupil isn’t completely unreasonable yet. T/E SD spends $17,640 per pupil which is 34% ($9,168) less per pupil than the highest school district, Lower Merion SD. In terms of spending per pupil we rank 26th in the greater Philadelphia region. We spend $1,726 more per pupil than Wester Chester Area SD.

    The short version is that we do not spend anywhere near the most in the greater Philadelphia region and a little bit more than the average per pupil for Chester County.

    Data from which comes from Pa. Department of Education, Data Bank

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  10. Doug,

    Thanks for the information. TE enjoys a broad corporate tax base which helps. And just because other school districts spending is spiraling out of control does not mean we’re O.K. because ours isn’t as bad as theirs. We’ve got to get a hold on this now or we will be just like them and soon.

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  11. The entire Tredyffrin community supports the basic idea of keeping our kids safe. I have heard several people state their opinion that it could not happen here. That is not a position the school board or the police can adopt. They must prepare for worst case scenarios. However fencing adds minimal protection to our kids. Michele Burger and Alan Yockey would have voted against fencing if we had been on the board. And we would have involved the citizens in the neighborhoods around VFMS. The neighbors and the school will need to cooperate on issues long after the current board has retired.

    I attended the Facilities meeting on Friday afternoon. The neighbors and the school board have reached a compromise plan which needs a final vote. Fencing will not be installed near private homes. Fencing will not cut off residents from walking paths. Fencing along Valley Forge Road will not be chain link and will match other fencing near the Green Hills entrance.

    Next Steps:

    The Valley Forge Middle School 2015 Fencing Project will return to the Facilities Committee for discussion on June 12 at 12:00 at TEAO. A document outlining the compromise was sent to Mr. Miller as president of the Chesterbrook Civic Association. It will be reviewed for committee input and approval.

    The Facilities Committee recommendation will be reviewed by the full Board at its June 15 meeting at Conestoga High School at 7:30 pm. Since there was no consensus among committee members,the height of the interior fences will go to a full Board vote.

    Residents should continue to attend school board and facilities meeting until a final vote is taken. Michele and I plan to attend and observe that the school board formally approves the compromise agreement.

    [Reply]

    Doug Anestad Reply:

    Alan, you must not have attended the same facilities meeting that I did. While the two sides are getting closer together, there is no agreement.

    As a matter of fact, David Miller sent out an email to people involved in the fence project yesterday at 2:18pm that included “Overall it has been a very frustrating week. I would like to think they are trying to wear us out, but unfortunately, I think this is just how the TESD school board operates”. Does this sound like someone who has reached a final plan?

    Alan, the safety issue is not that it can’t happen here. The safety issue is that the fences will not make our kids safer. There are many way to improve safety for our students. This is not one of them. Four foot fences along the sides with an open front for the middle schools and high school do not make our students safer. I currently have a student in Valley Forge Middle School and Conestoga High School. I do not believe that these fences will make either of my children any safer.

    I do agree with you that residents should continue to attend school board and facilities meeting until a final vote is taken.

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    Shining Light Reply:

    Alan,

    You say,

    “Michele Burger and Alan Yockey would have voted against fencing if we had been on the board. And we would have involved the citizens in the neighborhoods around VFMS.”

    Alan, think about that. Pete Motel has been on the Board 16 years, 16. You say had you been on the Board you and Michele would have voted no. Pete has been nursing this project for years. He’s the longest serving Director, he has the support of the rest of his colleagues and you say you would have voted no. It’s not that simple. I appreciate you standing up, asking for the opportunity to serve by running for the Board, but Directors who are already on the Board don’t stand up to Pete. Directors who are against the fencing don’t vote no, and Directors who are against (or say they were against) outsourcing vote for it by choosing an outsourcing company, giving the appearance they were for outsourcing all along. (Brilliant, BTW)

    Something happens to people once they cross that “I’ve been elected to the School Board” line. They become isolated by Administrators. Information they hear is filtered through the Administrator filter while collaboration with citizens becomes less and less until it is non existent. Their allegiance to administrators who create the budget, and tell them “how things work” becomes stronger than their allegiance to citizens who want to collaborate with them on how things could be.

    I don’t know about you, but I know Michele Berger and I know she knows what I am talking about.

    As an FYI, I heard this straight from a Directors mouth……….

    “Don’t come to School Board Meetings, By the time an issue makes it to a Board meeting, votes are taken on decisions that have already been made.” Directors know exactly how they are going to vote on issues tabled at school board meetings.

    Any chance of influencing the Directors will happen in committee meetings where most are held in the early afternoon making it inconvenient for most citizen to attend.

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  12. not a mending wall

    this is not a mending wall.
    my cows will not sully your fields.
    your pine cones will not detract from the enjoyment of my land.

    this is not a protective wall.
    my children will not be safer from a truly deranged individual.
    the children will continue to pour forth onto my land; as they should.

    this is not an inexpensive wall.
    my children will not read Salinger on this wall, will not write a poem on this wall, will not understand algebra because of this wall.
    resources will be denied others because of this wall.

    mr Reagan will never say, “tear down this wall.”
    I will say do not build this wall.
    there is no mending here in building; only division, only extreme cost, only a barrier that harkens to penal views.

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  13. Sorry Shining ..I disagree ..if you really want to make your point go to the board meeting and bring it up on TV ..reach the ones who can’t attend a committee meeting . The district & the board hate publicity. I’ve attended Facilities for 20 years and have witnessed how the different chairpersons ran it. At one time this committee was VERY conservative and listened to the public ..hopefully we’ll have that again.

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  14. Yes, what started out as an equipment shed has turned into Pete’s Motel. Hopefully , whoever steps in will listen to the public, as you say.

    It’s true, the District and the Board don’t like publicity, I’m just not sure how many citizens tune into the Board Meetings.

    I have always found e-mail to be the quickest and most effective and efficient mode of communication. Can’t beat it.

    Doug, e-mail your post card. Blast it out to all your friends and neighbors and don’t forget to include,

    FORWARD AT WILL!

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  15. I heard that Ed Sweeney was not happy that his name was used on this mailer without his approval. I also learned at the polls today that the fence money could not be used towards the deficit, they are two different pools of money. Common sense does say that a fence wouldn’t be much protection, but if it came from a security expert how can i argue with that, i also can’t imagine the liability IF something did happen and fencing was just ignored. Just something to think about.

    I remember Lower Merion going through almost this exact same debate recently. School tells citizens a fence is going up, citizens mad they weren’t notified sooner, debate ensues and it even includes a Freedom of Information Act request. Let me see if i can find that info.

    Petition with updates at the bottom: https://www.change.org/p/lower-merion-school-district-facts-before-fences-meet-with-penn-wynne-residents-to-explain-your-reasons-and-plan-for-fencing-penn-wynne-elementary-school

    Safety report. This is pretty interesting, seems the main purpose of fencing at younger schools is to protect against abduction. My mind always just jumps to shooter when i think about this stuff (which is sad): http://www.lmsd.org/data/files/gallery/ContentGallery/2013_sstf_report_to_board.pdf

    [Reply]

    Ray Clarke Reply:

    There’s an important point here – “two different pools of money”. Yes indeed, capital fund for the fence and general fund for operating expenses. But: IT’S ALL OUR MONEY! The only difference is whether the expense is recurring (eg teachers) or one time (eg fences and buildings). Those one time capital costs eventually hit the operating fund and your tax bill through bond repayment (and so are 50% more than the original cost, with interest!).

    The current Board has shown no interest in controlling capital spending and I’m pleased that the fence issue has raised voter awareness, as we saw yesterday. There’s still an opportunity to let the Board know your views before they proceed with the ever-escalating Maintenance and Storage Building. Estimated $4 million dollars, plus $266 per square foot for just construction! Is there really no better alternative? Is it appropriate to saddle the incoming Board with this project?

    [Reply]

  16. http://www.tesd.net/site/default.aspx?PageID=1
    Click on Facilities Committee Update summer 2015

    Return to Headlines
    Facilities Committee Update on 2015 VFMS Fencing Project
    The following is a description and summary of the site fencing project and the work that will occur at the Valley Forge Middle School during the summer of 2015.

    4 foot white vinyl split rail fence will be placed along Valley Forge Road. The incremental cost increase for the upgrade from black chain link to vinyl split rail fencing will be shared equally by the Chesterbrook Civic Association and the School District pending verification that the cost to the school district for the entire VFMS 2015 fencing project is reduced due to the decrease in overall linear footage.

    Height of any new interior black vinyl chain link fence (4’ vs 6’) on the upper athletic field plateau will be put to a full Board vote at its regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, June 15, at 7:30pm, Conestoga High School.

    There will be gates placed at existing pathways entering the property and at other locations designated by the owner (School District). Gates at the existing paved paths will remain open but the District reserves the right to close and/or lock the gates for emergencies.

    Signs that designate school property will be placed at the pathways onto school property approximately three feet from the property line. Signs will read “Entering TE School District Property.”

    Existing property line monuments (survey markers) will be located and made more visible at a height not to exceed 36”. Property line monuments will be located at intervals in the woods area that will approximate the same distance that exists for the monument markings on adjacent residential properties. Any missing property line markers at lot line corners and intersections will be placed and made visible at a height not to exceed 36”.

    The property owners that abut at the rear of the VFMS property may maintain vegetation on school property, however this does not indicate that the TE School District relinquishes its ownership rights to its property or indicates any Adverse Possession rights of the abutting property owner.

    The evaluation of a new path and any redundant fencing related to this VFMS site is referred to the Facilities Board Committee as a potential summer construction project.

    The final placement of the fencing that abuts the VFMS parking lot will be determined with student use of the area recognized as a priority.

    [Reply]

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