Questions continue regarding VF Middle School fencing — still no resolution!

No FencingThe TE School Board approved the 2015 graduating class of Conestoga HS at Wednesday, May 27  school board meeting.  Commencement will take place on June 2, 7 PM at Villanova University.

Although the infamous Valley Forge Middle School fencing project was not on the Board’s agenda, Green Hills (Chesterbrook) resident Doug Anestad utilized the public comment period with a list of questions to the Board.  His statement and questions –

Doug Anestad, Green Hills

First, I would like to say congratulations to the class of 2015.

This school board has heard from many residents both in person an in email about the proposed fencing project. Not one person has spoken out in support of the fencing project.

Here is my first question

How can the school board continue to hear from the residents in person, in email, and in the voting booths and continue to be deaf to them?

My second question is how many emails have you received so far from residents in the past couple of weeks asking you to stop the fencing project.

I would like to conclude with an observation

The residents in TE Region 2 are really starting to get upset with the under representation that we have on this school board. TE Region 2 has almost as many people living in it as TE Regions 1 and 3 combined. That means that we have half the representation per person.

Perhaps this is why you feel that you can keep shoving this fence project down the throats of the parents of students and residents who live here.

This situation feels like TE Region 1 and 3 coming in like a bunch of carpetbaggers and ignoring the opinions of the people in TE Region 2.

Here is my third and last question

How many more residents do you need to hear from before you halt the current fencing plan and reconsider the scope and placement of proposed fences, this time with actual community input?

I will conclude with the same request that I made at the last school board meeting. I would really like for someone on the board to please make a motion to table the fencing project for further cost benefit analysis and someone else second that motion.

While you are at it, it would be likewise helpful to have someone make a motion to table the new facilities building until a cost benefit analysis is done. That is another project where the school board needs to step in and give guidance as it is running way over the original budget.

Thank you.

For the record, Doug Anestad reports that not one Board member answered any of his questions. Why doesn’t the Board respond to resident questions?

For example, all emails addressed to the school board filter through the Public Information Officer Art McDonnell, who then in turn forward them to the individual Board members. There is no question that residents have contacted the Board with their opposition to school fencing and the use of taxpayer money for fencing.  I have heard from several residents who tell me that they have sent emails regarding the fencing but received no response from the District.  Resident’s emails to the Board are private but there is no reason that the ‘number’ of emails received on an issue is not public.  Not every resident question should require him or her to file a right-to-know with the District to receive an answer!

Doug Anestad is the frustrated District taxpayer who mailed (at his expense) an anti-school fencing postcard (below) to all residents residing in TE School District Region 2.   Timed to arrive days before Primary Election Day, Doug suggested that voters support Michele Burger (D) and Ed Sweeney (R) versus incumbent school board president Kris Graham (R) for the two Board openings.

No one can say if it was the power of Anestad’s campaign strategy or simply coincidental but the election results had Burger and Sweeney receiving the highest number of votes with Graham in third place.

Stop Spending pg 1

Stop Spending pg 2

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Anestad is representative of a growing concern on a number of issues, including the District’s use of taxpayer dollars for fencing projects and an overpriced maintenance building while continuing to raise taxes. The overall lack of public input and communication between the Board and the residents seems to be the core of the problem.

Regarding the VF Middle School fence project, residents have received mixed messages from Board members resulting in a ‘he said-she said’ conflict rather than resolution.  If the debate continues over District spending on fencing and the multi-million dollar maintenance building, the November election results may not be what School Board President Kris Graham wants.

Discussion regarding the school fencing project and the District’s $4 million++ maintenance (“Taj Mahal”) building will continue at the Friday, June 12 Facilities Committee meeting.  It is my understanding that if the committee does not reach consensus, the issues go to the full Board on Monday, June 15.

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12 Comments

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  1. What’s brought about this attitude to ignore the public’s input?

    Last time I checked, school board members are elected to represent the public/taxpayers and partner with them to provide the best education for our children. They fail miserably in communicating with them. Sure, they grant the opportunity for the public to “speak” to them in 5 minute increments. Unfortunately, they don’t really hear what’s being said, discuss it or most importantly respond to them. It’s as if the comments go into a black hole, unless legal counsel is retained. The board has fallen far from the proactive approach of the Public Information Committee goals of the Debbie Bookstaber era. It’s sad.

    Speaking of black holes, that’s also where taxpayer dollars have been going with the multitude of expensive capital projects beginning with the grand idea to purchase the TEAO office space as “an investment property”. Really?, you say. That’s how it was spun back then. That led to the demolition of the ESC, closing down the in house print shop (now outsourced), relocating all of the IT requiring a complete gutting of the old HS building at Conestoga and Howellville, hanging cable all over townships to the tune of 100’s of thousands of dollars and finally demolishing the maintenance building on Howellville Rd. The domino effect of that first decision is still playing out today as the board is pushing the ultimate money pit project being shoe-horned into a property that is ill-fitted for a maintenance facility. Even more troubling is the lack of fiscal concern about the doubling of the costs of this project. The board has the checkbook and they’re not afraid to spend it, even though the public is communicating that they would like to see other options. Meanwhile, taxpayers have seen their bills rise repeatedly year after year funding all of these capital projects. And now the board is burdening future taxpayers by taking out bonds of $24M, insuring that school taxes will be going up each and every year for at least a decade.

    All this and they haven’t even addressed the funding of retirement obligations. That’s going to be huge. They will cry “poor” once again.

    I sympathize with the fence group, the paras, the maintenance group, and whoever else challenges the bubble of board decision making that will be ignored.

    How did this get to this point?

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    How did this get to this point?

    As some of the school board members have been known to say, “respect is a two-way street”. I couldn’t agree more and I look forward to a more open transparent dialogue between the residents and the Board.

    [Reply]

    Shining Light Reply:

    Speaking of black holes, that’s also where taxpayer dollars have been going with the multitude of expensive capital projects beginning with the grand idea to purchase the TEAO office space as “an investment property”. Really?, you say. That’s how it was spun back then. That led to the demolition of the ESC, closing down the in house print shop (now outsourced), relocating all of the IT requiring a complete gutting of the old HS building at Conestoga and Howellville, hanging cable all over townships to the tune of 100’s of thousands of dollars and finally demolishing the maintenance building on Howellville Rd. The domino effect of that first decision is still playing out today as the board is pushing the ultimate money pit project being shoe-horned into a property that is ill-fitted for a maintenance facility

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    Hi, Thanks for this information. When you say “That’s how it was spun back then referring to the purchase of the TEAO buliding, what do you mean? That’s how who spun it? Why did they demolish the ESC and what does ESC stand for?

    Please talk about the relocating of the IT and the gutting of the HS building on Conestoga and Howellville. What old HS Building?

    Hanging cable all over the township? Why? Because they relocated IT? And WHY did they demolish a maintenance Building on Howellville Rd. Why would they do that?

    [Reply]

  2. Just because the board doesn’t give you the answer you want, that doesn’t mean they are deaf. I still do not see the controversy over the fence. A significant amount of the VFMS property is already fenced.

    Let’s talk about the two candidates Mr. Anestad is supporting and is asking others to support. Ed Sweeney is a GOP committee person and is responsible for the people that have been elected (the very people Mr. Anestad is upset with) to the school board. In other words, Sweeney worked to get Ms. Graham elected and still supports her today. Somebody is going to have to explain to me how Mr. Anestad reconciles that.

    As for Ms. Burger, don’t know her and I’ve never heard of her. She’s a complete unknown to me. Just because she is somebody different is the last reason to vote for her.

    Let’s start from the premise that the T/ESD is an A-rated district. Looking just at Chesterbrook, a home there doesn’t stay on the market very long. In fact, the most cited reason for that is A: the price point relative to other parts of the district is quite affordable and B: it gets people into a desirable school district.

    The maintenance building…

    It’s labeled as over-priced and not needed without any offer of proof to support those conclusions. The district is a big enterprise that requires maintenance. That effort has to be supported. I think this is another case of people, without experience or knowledge, substituting their judgment in place of others. That’s their right to do so, but it is an un-informed opinion. To expect others to just go along with their choice because they simply do not like any sort of spending is arrogant. It’s also hypocritical because these same people have accused the school board of the same kind of arrogance.

    What is the real end game here? If Mr. Anestad wants to spend his own money on mailers, that’s his choice. It will not have any bearing on who I choose to cast my vote for. The mailer is biased in favor of what appears to be a minority opinion.

    This endless chatter over challenging every nickel and dime the district spends is akin to slaying windmills. It’s a completely contrived controversy.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Challenging $5 million of taxpayer dollars for a school district maintenance building falls far from the realm of ‘nickel and dime’spending. “Contrived controversy” … no, it’s called reality.

    You say that Mr. Anestad’s mailer is “biased in favor of what appears to be a minority opinion”??? Are you actually suggesting that the majority of the residents WANT school fencing? I think a poll would find that far from the truth, which is probably exactly why the Board did not respond to Mr. Anestad’s questions on the topic.

    [Reply]

  3. -from http://www.tehistory.org The paragraph below gives a snapshot in time just when the decision was made to move T/E administration out of the ESC. The ESC didn’t survive, as we now know.

    “The Tredyffrin/Easttown School District has determined to move its administrative offices from the current Education Services Center (former Berwyn Elementary School on First Avenue) and on June 12 voted to purchase two adjoining condominium units in the West Valley Road Business Center. The cost of buying the 22,700-square-foot space, renovations, and moving the staff will be about $7.2 million. The Board anticipates that the building will be occupied during the 2007-2008 school year. The existing ESC site will be available for other district educational uses in the future.”

    This was the decision that had a cascading effect on all of the other areas mentioned in my previous post. The board didn’t exactly get a deal on it. The taxpayers paid top dollar.

    The maintenance building was demolished to make room for a parking lot for the IT employees and provide TEMS overflow.

    [Reply]

    Shining Light Reply:

    Thanks…………Oh boy………….head spinning again.

    $7.2 Million!!!!

    So why didn’t the Education Services Center survive? Why did they tear it down? Was that the plan all along? And they just said it would be used for future educational uses?

    When they demolished the maintenance building, what did they use for storage after it was gone? Did they have a plan? Boy, the school board is very committed and loyal to providing parking spaces in the district. Forget about language programs and all the rest, get those parking spaces in there.

    And what about the old high school building on Howellville and Conestoga. What is it used for?

    If you want to e-mail me directly, ask Pattye for my e-mail address, or I can get yours from her if you like.

    [Reply]

    From a Distance Reply:

    A bit more history on the fate of the ESC – from an article in the local paper, 2010

    http://www.mainlinemedianews.com/articles/2010/05/02/main_line_suburban_life/news/doc4bd8440895a55148850947.txt

    If you’re ever by TEMS, the stand alone building on the corner with the parking lot is the district IT facility, which was a very costly renovation for the taxpayers. For example, all of the windows and exterior doors were custom designed to match original period details but be energy effecient. It’s nice,but that comes with a price.

    [Reply]

  4. I went over there yesterday. It’s called the NOC, Network Operating Center. It houses maintenance staff, IT and space is rented to a counseling Service. I was told that the renovation cost was $1M, but others, in the know, put the true cost at $3.3, and yes, it’s very “nice”, but at what cost? I was told the purchase of the 2 condos, renovations to both sites, the move, the poles from the NOC location to W. Valley far exceeded the $7.2M sited above. There was a maintenance building on the site. It was demolished.

    In the MLMN article you site, Pete Motel is quoted saying:

    “”””Along with all these reasons, Motel explained that the tight budget year has also driven the decision-making about the building.””””””

    He continues to talk about the tight budget and then spends millions on projects, that have nothing to do with the education of our children.

    This purchase/renovation/move was at the same time the language arts program was being cut. Parents went wild over that. Some left the district over that. I stood silent when parents called for my help to save it. I was wrong and I apologized to every single one of them. That will NEVER happen again.

    Did you know the brick used to build the maintenance building will match the brick used to build Teamer Field? We’re doing this so we can squeeze an ill fitting maintenance building in the middle of a neighborhood. We want it to look “nice” and suit the aesthetics. It’s “nice,” but worth the cost? The budget is tight, and gets tighter every year.

    Why don’t we investigate industrial parks in the area and lease space to put supplies in a building that doesn’t need to be encased in bricks because it’s located in an industrial park, and will fit in fine with it’s surroundings?

    [Reply]

  5. Could you do a little publicizing and call a meeting of parties wanting to learn more about the fencing and tax increase issues in the district. The meeting could be held at duportail house perhaps or one of the church halls. Could we use VF middle school auditorium? Ha!

    I have read articles from the web site. People may not take the time to read but if you advertise brief meeting regarding an increase in taxes, MAYBE YOU COULD DRAW 50 people. MAYBE. I do not think anyone really knows about all this extra spending. I have not come to the school bd meetings either so I cannot point any fingers. I know this spending is absurd. School Board meetings are long and drawn out affairs on critical issues and controversial issues are discussed at the end. It is a dreadful process.

    Would people come to a meeting? Is it worth a try? You have a packed website full of good information. Unfortunately, most of us will not read entire articles. I know I should do something but sitting at school board meeting is so unappealing. I wish it were different. Might a brief succinct meeting be attended? I do not know but it might be worth a try? Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Thank you for your suggestions. I understand that the board meetings can be tedious – and then as the school board members regularly point out, the committee meetings are where the ‘real work’ is done. And those committee meetings are not necessarily held at a time that is conducive to most people’s schedules — example, Fridays at noon for Facilities Committee meeting make in impossible for a lot of folks to attend. And it is at the Facilities Meeting that capital expenditures such as fencing and the maintenance building are discussed.

    Five of the 9 school board meetings are up for election in the November election. Because only one of the 5 seats is currently held by an incumbent (Kris Graham), there will be a major change in the make-up of the Board. It is going to be more important than ever to really know the candidates and their opinions. A school board candidate debate is planned for the fall and should present an opportunity for voters to ‘know the candidates’ before they cast their vote.

    [Reply]

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