Three T/E School District Contracts Due to Expire in 30 Days … What is the Status on the Teachers (TEEA) Contract, Non-Instructional Group (TENIG) Contract and Act 93 (Administrators) Agreement?

The TESD Finance Committee meeting agenda for Wednesday, May 31, 6:30 PM is available here.

The school board is on the countdown to the approval of the 2017-18 budget on Monday, June 12 but there’s a major open issue as indicated in the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting. Actually, there are three unknowns or ‘TBD’ as stated on the draft budget as shown below:

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For the first time that I am aware, the school board is faced with the contracts of the District teachers (TEEA), the non-instructional group (TENIG) and Act 93 (administrators) all expiring on the same date — on June 30, 2017. In years past, the contracts terms were staggered. To my knowledge, there has been no update from the school board regarding any one of these three contracts that expire in a month.

In years past, the threat of outsourcing of some of TENIG’s employees was considered by the school board (as a budget savings).  In tight budget times, the District’s custodians, secretaries, maintenance workers and kitchen workers all became a target for outsourcing during budget negotiations.  Don’t get me wrong — I’m no fan of outsourcing.  (We don’t need to look any further than the school board’s decision to outsource the aides and paras and ask how that has worked out.)

In the current TENIG contract (July 1, 2014 – June 30, 2017), the custodians received a 2% salary reduction and additionally had to give back 1 week of their vacation.  (The rationale was that the District had to hire subs when the custodians are on vacation).  The other members of TENIG (security, kitchen, maintenance, and cafeteria) received a 4% salary reduction in the new contract but their vacation benefit remains intact.  Since the current TENIG contract required salary reductions, it does not seem plausible that these T/E workers would not receive an increase in the new contract (at least the new contract should bring the TENIG employees back to their June 30, 2014 salary level). The public doesn’t know the answer.

The current TEEA contract (July 1, 2014 – June 30, 2017) was ratified in February 2014, months in advance of its June 30, 2014 expiration date. The contract protected the jobs of the District teachers and included a ‘no furloughs or demotions’ clause through June 2017.  The teachers received salary increases based on their step movement in the matrix.  The contract included a Distance E-Learning Pilot Program that ran the length of the contract, expiring on June 30, 2017.  If you recall, TEEA previously filed a suit (and won) against the District over their implementation of distance learning so it was somewhat surprising to see its inclusion in the contract. Are we confident that the new TEEA contract will honor the ‘no furlough or demolition’ clause contained in the current contract?  The public doesn’t know the answer.

The third TESD contract due to expire in a month is the Act 93 Agreement — the District’s administrator compensation plan. The current Act 93 Agreement (January 29, 2013 – June 30, 2017) included a one-time bonus for service in the previous two and one-years and a one-time bonus of 1% of the individual’s salary award each June.

At the time the Act 93 contract was signed, there was discussion that the lowest paid groups – the TENIG workers – were taking a salary decrease whereas the administrators’ salaries were increasing.  So with the teachers, administrators and the non-instructional workers with contracts expiring in a month, it’s going to be interesting to see if fairness will prevail. Will the administrators continue to receive an annual bonus? The public doesn’t know the answer.

For me, the problem is that there’s been no update whatsoever in the contract negotiation process and the final budget is to be approved in a couple of weeks on Monday, June 12.

Although the draft budget includes a maximum tax increase of 3.4%, it indicates a $1.6 million deficit. The plan is to make up the deficit with a transfer from the District’s fund balance. Plus, we do not know the impact of the teachers, administrator and TENIG contracts on the budget. As indicated in the graphic above, the three contracts are ‘TBD’.

I re-read an old Community Matters post on this topic from April 2012, ‘Seeking Transparency in TESD Teacher Contract Negotiations’  which had a follow-up post on May 17, 2012, ‘TE Teachers Turn on Transparency Lights in Contract Negotiations’. In re-reading these posts and the many comments, what was striking was the need for regular updates to the public by the Board. The lack of information and/or misinformation during the contract negotiations aggravated an already difficult situation. In the CM post of May 17, 2012, I wrote,

” … making the teacher contract negotiation process transparent for the public would help the community understand how our children will be taught and how our tax dollars will be invested.  The relationship between teachers and school administrators is an important element in what shapes this school district.  There is no better way to understand this relationship than to observe the contract negotiation process. …”

Harping on the lack of transparency and public information by the school board does not seem to work – except maybe in an election year! (School board directors Doug Carlson, Virginia Lastner and Scott Dorsey are up for re-election although Scott has no opposing candidate.) No doubt the school board would lament that they cannot provide updates during the contract negotiating process as its explanation for keeping the public in the dark.

The final approval on the TESD 2017-18 budget looms in two weeks, Monday, June 12. When will the school board provide the public with the three contracts? When will the final budget (with the missing ‘TBD’ contract information) be made available to the public?  Perhaps some of these answers will be available at the Finance Meeting on Wednesday night.

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72 Comments

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  1. What is Act 93? Mandatory increases and bonuses for Administrators?

    Is Kris Graham still on the Board? Any Board Member on the Board when one was barred from a meeting should not be eligible for re election.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Act 93 Agreement is the compensation plan for TE School District administrators. Here is a link to the current agreement which will expire on June 30, 2017: https://www.tesd.net/cms/lib/PA01001259/Centricity/Domain/42/act93.pdf

    Kris Graham is no longer on the school board.

    [Reply]

  2. “Harping on the lack of transparency and public information by the school board does not seem to work – except maybe in an election year” – How true are these words. With Carlson and Lastner up for re-election, their vote on this budget could be a deciding factor for this voter!

    [Reply]

  3. No one can evaluate or judge the process with no information or evidence of what is happening. It would merely be opinion based on ignorance.

    How can we have faith in elected officials who operate under a cloak of secrecy and who won’t reveal information that effects the financial lives of all us who pay for the decisions they make in secret?

    [Reply]

  4. Let’s remember that the 3 contracts mentioned by Pattye make up around 70% of the budget. (teachers ~45%, support staff ~20%, administration ~5%) In essence, the increase in taxation is overwhelmingly driven by the compensation increases given to the employees. The budget that will be passed in June is just a byproduct.

    For a current example of a district that values community involvement and feedback look at Coatesville School District and read their negotiations update.

    http://www.casdschools.org/domain/716

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Thanks Keith for the link. Wow — Coatesville Area School District has a dedicated negotiation update website! The stated purpose of the website:

    The Coatesville Area School District is a caring, community school district. The School Board values the impact the community continues to have on school in various partnerships and initiatives. This page is being built to provide up to date, accurate, information to our community on the ongoing teacher negotiations.

    TESD teachers, administrators & non-instructional staff contracts make up 70% of the District’s budget and with 2 weeks before approval, the public is supposed to accept ‘TBD’. Updates? Feedback? Transparency? I do not even know which school board members are sitting at the contract negotiation table. I emailed a school board director but there’s been no response — In past contract negotiations, the public was given this information. There’s no reason that this should be secret.

    [Reply]

  5. The school board is not obligated to share intimate details of a negotiation process. The other sides may feel this is inappropriate/unfair and that information may be used against them per their rights to collectively bargain for salary, benefits, work conditions, health care.
    The other side may also grieve if the Board did reveal the details.
    What specific information would the public nee to see?
    Start there? Can a union member or representative reveal their side or comment?

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    In November 2015, I posed the following question to school board candidates:

    Negotiating union contracts (teachers and support staff) will be important tasks for the new Board. In Lower Merion School District, a secret deal is playing out between their school board and the teachers union. Much to the chagrin of Lower Merion taxpayers, the union members get to review the contract before signing but the public is left in the dark and provided no information.

    During the last teachers’ contract negotiations, the TE School Board moved in the correct direction with periodic updates to the public. Assuming that there are no secret “Early Bird” deals already in discussion between the current Board and the union, [if elected] where do you stand on publishing any proposed contracts to the public at the same time as the unions send it to their members? In addition to publishing the terms of the contract to the public before signing, to also include the full annual cost of the contract for each year (including PSERS, salaries, benefits, etc.) with an explanation of how the Board will pay the costs.

    All candidate responses were posted on Community Matters. Two candidates Ed Sweeney (Tredyffrin West, Region 2) and Kate Murphy (Easttown, Region 3) went onto successfully win school board seats. Here are Ed and Kate’s responses from 18 months ago (pre-election):

    From Ed Sweeney, Tredyffrin West, Region 2 candidate:
    I would strongly agree to the first proposal if it was consistent with current agreement between the School District and the Union and with the provisions of relevant labor law. As far as his other proposals, I need more information but I am a proponent of maximum disclosure at the appropriate time.

    I agree with the principle of “MORE” . . . more transparency, more public disclosure, more committee meetings convenient to working parents, and more involvement of residents and stakeholders at an early stage of committee consideration of issues. In my view, more = better. More increases public confidence and protects the taxpayer.

    From Kate Murphy, Easttown, Region 3 candidate:
    In Pennsylvania, salaries and benefits make up the lion’s share of any school district’s budget, generally between 70% and 80%. Pension benefits (PSERS) are set legislatively by the General Assembly and the Governor, and are not negotiated by local school boards. All collective bargaining agreements must be available to the public for review and comment well in advance of the public vote to approve such agreements. Periodic updates during the negotiations can be a helpful tool to inform the public. District estimates of the full annual cost of the contract for each year should be available for timely public examination.

    The words of school board candidate Kate Murphy really resonated with voters — now as a school board director, we are just asking for All collective bargaining agreements must be available to the public for review and comment well in advance of the public vote to approve such agreements. Periodic updates during the negotiations can be a helpful tool to inform the public. District estimates of the full annual cost of the contract for each year should be available for timely public examination

    [Reply]

    Taxpayer voter Reply:

    We’re not asking for every intimate detail of the negociating process.

    Instead of keeping negotiations behind closed doors—-as the school board is doing—–they should give updates to the people who will be bearing the cost of the contract between the school district and the union:::: The taxpayers

    It’s hard to believe what past school boards have given. They gave away the store. There is a limit and that limit was hit years ago.

    Lack of transparency does not look good for taxpayers.

    [Reply]

    Keith Knauss Reply:

    Liz is correct. The board has no obligation to reveal any details of negotiations until the contract is ratified, signed and finalized by both sides. However, there is nothing to prevent either side from revealing information to any level of detail. It all depends on how transparent the board wants to be and what possible negative and/or positive effect it might have at the negotiations table.

    The district and union, by law, have been negotiating since February. The TEEA will be represented at the table by a Uniserve representative. The Uniserve rep is an employee of the PSEA and his/her major mission is to negotiate contracts and they are good at it. The typical mode of operation is for the union to initially ask for outrageous salary and benefit increases and slowly wear the district’s team down to where unreasonable increases seem acceptable. The district then ratifies the contract and releases a press statement hiding the true (embarrassing) cost.

    At UCF we publicized both offers and did an accurate costing so each person (teachers, board members, public) could decide for themselves which offer was reasonable. The publicity was an incentive for both sides to come to the table with reasonable offers and to move the process along quickly.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    I attended the Finance Committee meeting tonight. Sadly, public information and transparency was not possible. A recommendation was made for a 3.2% tax increase which includes a $1.6 million deficit and no updated information on the status of the teachers, administrator or non-instructional contracts. Apparently, the school board can vote on the budget in 2 weeks on June 12 without having these three contracts signed.

    When I asked the chair of the Finance Committee Todd Kantorczyk which school board members were sitting at the negotiation table, I was told that they were not going to give out that information. When I said that historically that information was made public, I was told by Todd Kantorczyk that I was incorrect and that this information was not made public.

    I came home and found that in the last two TESD contract cycles for the TEEA and TENIG contracts that the board representatives was made public. What was interesting was that current school board director Kevin Buraks represented the board in August 2012 on the TEEA contract negotiations. In August 2013, Kevin Buraks was the school board president and publicly announced the members of the school board on the 2014-17 contract negotiations for TEEA and TENIG. The only sitting school board director personally involved in the last two contract negotiations (Kevin Buraks) sits there in complete silence tonight — as I am told by his fellow board member Todd Kantorczyk that this information is not made public.

    What is the big deal about which school board members are representing the board — it has no bearing on the negotiations! Something simple like what board members are sitting at the negotiation table and yet its treated as a ‘State Secret’ — really makes you wonder what is really going on?

    According to the Finance Committee, the 2017-18 budget can be passed on June 12 without the three signed contracts, which expire on June 30. There’s no contingency in the 2017-18 budget for any increases in teacher, staff or administrator salaries. The budget assumes status quo. So what happens next — apparently, the District can open the approved budget at any point when the contracts are approved and — there’s no time limit. It strikes me that the school board could be opening the budget multiple times unless the three agreements are all signed at the same time. Whatever tax increase is approved in the budget cannot not be increased if they have to reopen the budget. If the contract costs increase, I guess it comes from fund balance????

    Truly an unsatisfactory meeting ………….. I really hope that no current school board director running for re-election uses T-R-A-N-S-P-A-R-E-N-C-Y in their campaign promises!

    [Reply]

    anon. Reply:

    Who is Finance Committee Chair Todd Kantorczyk? Is he a R or a D? Is he up for re election? Who are all the current Board Members up for re election? Has it been announced who is running against them?

    Isn’t Todd Kantorczyk’s leadership style (secrecy, lying, obstruction) exactly the same leadership style that has gotten the District into the legal boiling pot we’re in now?

    Leadership style starts at the top and is modeled to employees down the chain to the janitor.

    You say Ed Sweeny and Kate Murphy ran on MORE transparency and using public input as a tool. When are they up for re election?

    Pattye Reply:

    The Finance Chair is Todd Kantorczyk (D) and he was elected in 2015. I need to be clear — although it was a Finance Committee meeting (members Todd Kantorczyk, chair, Roberta Hotinski, Kevin Buraks and Scott Dorsey), ALL the school board members were in attendance. In the past, some of the leadership styles of the Board may have not been exactly to my liking, but I have NEVER been told by a school board member in a public meeting that I was wrong and that I didn’t know what I was talking about — until last night.

    In August 2012, school board members sitting at the TEEA negotiating table were Karen Cruickshank, Pete Motel, Kevin Buraks and Betsy Fadem. Information was made public at a regular school board meeting.

    In August 2013, then School Board president Kevin Buraks (!) told the public at a regular school board meeting that the Board representatives for the TENIG contract were Jim Bruce, Betsy Fadem and Rich Brake.

    Buraks further stated to the public om August 2013 that the Board representatives for the TEEA contract were Karen Cruikshank, Kris Graham and Pete Motel.

    None of these school board members are currently serving with the exception of Kevin Buraks — he participated in 2012 and as board president in 2013, yet last night when Todd Kantorczyk is arguing with me, Mr. Buraks never opens his mouth to clarify that yes, in the past, the board has provided this information. The odd part is that I could not figure out the purpose of Kantorczyk’s argument over this simple information except to say he’s an attorney (as is Buraks and Sweeney) and maybe arguing with the public is what he does.

    To be clear — I came home and sent emails to the school board with the historic details on board representation at contract negotiations.

    anon. Reply:

    When you stood before Finance Committee Chair Todd Kantorczyk and told him that historically the information was made public, he told you a bold faced lie that it wasn’t made public. Now that you have offered undeniable evidence that the information was made public in the past, we will see if he continues wrong doing. The other board members are just as guilty. They condone this dishonorable act with their silence.

    Pattye Reply:

    In addition to Kantorczyk, SB members (Sweeney, Hotinski, Burger and Murphy) were not on the board during the last TEEA and TENIG contract negotiations so perhaps they did recognize that this information is historically public. However, school board members Carlson, Lastner, Dorsey and Buraks were on the board during contract negotiations and the signing of the last TENIG and TEEA contracts — Buraks was Board president and know exactly what was public.

    When looking back at an October 2013 Community Matters post regarding the 2014-17 TEEA contract, I wrote the following:

    The current TENIG contract as well as the TEEA (teacher) contract run through June 30, 2014. When questioned on public communication and transparency issues, Buraks was very specific that the public would be informed of the process although it was not clear how much notice there would be for public review of any proposed contracts.

    Buraks (and Fadem) responses to residents was counter to the rumblings that some of us had heard regarding the ‘early bird’ contract discussions. Nonetheless, because there was an overt attempt by several Board members to suppress any resident complaints on lack of transparency or public discussion, it was my expectation that the Board leadership would make certain that the public was kept informed.

    Re-read that last sentence — 3-1/2 years ago, the same complaints about lack of transparency and public discussion. And the school board wonders why members of the public don’t show up to meetings? The school board stands behind the accolades of the school district as its excuse. Just because TESD is one of the best in the country shouldn’t make the lack of transparency somehow OK.

    CHV Reply:

    I asked at the March school board meeting which board member was at the table …been attending for years
    First time this has happened no details.. not even a status report.

    Pattye Reply:

    Thanks! I told the school board last night that I had reviewed every TESD Board meeting minutes since January and found no update on the contract negotiations or which school board members were participating. As you know, in prior contract cycles, some updates were given during the process (albeit oftentimes limited).

    It was a complete stalemate last night from the school board – absolutely no answers or updates on the contracts, flat out refusal. I didn’t think it was possible, but there is LESS transparency than during the last contract negotiations three years ago!

    With the contracts expiring in 30 days and the June 12 school board to approve the budget in just a couple of weeks, Ray Clarke actually commented to the board, that he hoped their intention was not to spring something on the public at the last minute.

    anon. Reply:

    It doesn’t seem like this school board wonders why members of the public don’t show up to meetings. It allows them to conceal and lie.

    When the public isn’t there, the public can’t doubt what they see. They can’t question what is shown to them right in front of them. This way they have to believe them down to the last detail and trust them implicitly when there is every reason to doubt them entirely. We place blind pathetic faith in them and this is what we get.

    Pattye Reply:

    Absolutely correct.

    Taxpayer voter Reply:

    It doesn’t breech intimate negociations to reveal the Board Members doing the negoatiating.

    It’s important that tax payers know who on the board supported the union, and who supported the taxpayer.

    [Reply]

  6. Isn’t that what most Directors run on? Transparency?

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    The buzz words of school board candidates — increased transparency, public involvement, etc. etc.

    [Reply]

  7. It’s a good idea to vote someone on the Board who wants committee meetings televised.

    Promises of transparency will mean something!

    http://www.mainlinemedianews.com/mainlinesuburbanlife/news/year-old-villanova-grad-runs-for-seat-on-t-e/article_1faf19b3-1749-5e28-b2ca-eac0

    Asked what she’d like to accomplish if elected to the school board this fall, Ward said, “Greater transparency with the community. We currently don’t televise committee meetings and that’s where a lot of decisions are made.”

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    We’ve always been told by the school board that the decisions are made in the committee meetings — so does that mean that we will hear the answers at tonight’s Finance Meeting?

    [Reply]

    Doug Anestad Reply:

    Televising the committee meetings would not lead to more transparency. It would lead to quite the opposite. The School Board meetings are carefully orchestrated and controlled. There are numerous procedures in place to control public comments and questions at the school board meetings. At the school board meetings, the school board and administration avoids responding to questions they don’t have easy answers to or that expose positions they know the public might not agree with.

    That is because they are being televised. If the school board decided to televise the committee meetings, there would be less information given to the public, more questions would be ignored, and the public would be given less time to speak.

    It is currently the committee meetings where things are discussed in a much more transparent and open manner.

    This discussion about televising committee meetings was discussed at length in the past. Even the school board members acknowledged that the committee meetings can be more open (therefore transparent) because of the lack of cameras. I agree with them.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    I am sorry but I did not find the last committee meeting — the Finance Committee meeting – transparent nor did I feel that the school board was particularly interested in the public comments. I will have to disagree with your statement that “It is currently the committee meetings where things are discussed in a much more transparent and open manner” — at least as it applies to the Finance Committee meeting.

    However, I will agree that the public comments are not ‘timed’as is the case at the regular school board meetings and that residents are permitted to speak more than once at a committee meeting on an issue, which also is not permitted at the regular school board meetings.

    [Reply]

    Doug Anestad Reply:

    Each committee takes on the personality of its chair. I am not saying that every committee nor committee chair is as open or transparent as it should be. However, on a whole, the committees are way more open and transparent than the school board meetings. There are a some chairs that are very good at getting public input and answering public questions.

    I stated that the committee meetings are “much more transparent and open”. It is a relative statement and I stand by that statement.

    Think of the OJ Simpson trial in terms of cameras. Even though the lawyers should have been focusing solely on judge and jury, it was apparent that the lawyers were spending too much time talking to, dressing for, acting for the tv audience. The same thing happens with the T/E School Board meetings.

    Taxpayer voter Reply:

    At the school board meetings, the school board and administration avoids responding to questions they don’t have easy answers to or that expose positions they know the public might not agree with.
    ________________________________________________________

    Isn’t this what committee meetings are for? So citizens can expose positions they don’t agree with?

    Your comment is exactly why and how our President got elected.

    [Reply]

    Doug Anestad Reply:

    Not sure I understand your point nor how that relates to our President getting elected.

    Yes, committee meetings are for first level of discussion of topics.

    My point is that if the committee meetings were televised, the school board would create all kinds of new rules about how/when the public could ask questions and give comments. In addition, they would be way less likely to give their honest opinions because they knew that it was being televised.

    People who have regularly watched the school board meetings and committee meetings this past year can easily see the difference in how open school board members are in the school board meetings compared to the school board committee meetings.

    average joe Reply:

    I think you should stick to local issues. There are enough here for us to chew on. But it does occur to me that with all these local issues and discontent here in TE I can understand the chaos and self interest on the federal level more clearly. Webs of deceit, corruption and self preservation. Both sides of the isle.
    I wonder if the school board is opening themselves up for legal trouble. I recall how we were always told of deficits only to later, after tax increases to be told of surpluses. I love living here in TE school district but I’m not sure where we are headed. Lawyers lawyers.

    Ward for the Board Reply:

    Directors should be open and transparent whether they are on T.V. or not. Not sure how the O.J. trial is a good analogy. There are no celebrities or Judges at School Board Committee meetings and the public has a right to know how it’s tax dollars are being allocated T.V or no T.V.

    It is suspicious that Directors act differently when cameras are present.

    If cameras were present at the last Finance Committee meeting, maybe Todd K would have answered Pattye’s question honestly instead of dishonestly by saying that the names of the Employee Contract negotiating team have never been revealed in past negotiations when they have been revealed in past negotiations.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    LOL Oh, I’m confident that Mr. Kantorczyk’s response would have been entirely different if the cameras were rolling. And for the record, I think that as elected official, owning your words ‘on camera’ is a good thing — I don’t think that the school board members should respond differently based on whether or not they are on camera. Committee meetings are just as public as the monthly meeting and if District residents take the time to show up (to any meeting), they should expect honest answers in their questions and transparency in the process. It should not matter who is the committee chair or the board president.

    [Reply]

    Doug Anestad Reply:

    I agree that school board members should not respond differently based on whether or not they are on camera. Unfortunately, as politicians, they do.

    My point about O.J. is has nothing to do with celebrities. It has to do with the fact that people behave differently if they know they are on tv.

    As per Mr. Kantorczyk’s answer, if it was televised, I could see him responding with “thank you for your comment” instead of trying to answer the question at all. That is the usual comment from board members at school board meetings when they get asked a question they don’t like. So, yes, I agree the answer would have been entirely different, just not a good different.

    Ward for the Board Reply:

    There is no predicting what someone might have done or said regardless if cameras were rolling.

    All the more reason to have cameras at Committee Meetings. Mr. Kantorczyk is shutting the public out of the process with spite.

    Ward for the Board

    [Reply]

    CHV Reply:

    I agree with Doug on the difference between televised board vs committee meetings . What would be the benefit of TV ? Better
    yet… how much would it COST and who is going to watch it ?
    Unless there is a hot button issue the average committee meeting is not “packing them in ” Over the years budget meetings have had less than 10 members of the public in attendance and they are televised.

    Doug Anestad Reply:

    I have over two years of observations of the school board both at their televised school board meetings and their non-televised committee meetings to base my observations on. I have probably attended more school board committee meetings over the past two years than any other public community member.

    Having televised meetings has not stopped the school board from shutting the public out of process with spite. That was obvious to anyone who was following the Valley Forge Middle School fencing project evolve.

    What having televised meetings has done is to stop some school board members from speaking their mind due to fear of how it will be perceived or because they want to be on good terms with other school board members they disagree with but want their vote on other issues. I am not saying this is a good thing. I am just saying that this is what happens on a regular basis.

    As a pretty consistent general rule, school board members have been more open and transparent in the committee meetings than at the school board meetings.

    I would prefer not to lose that.

    Enough Reply:

    If any current board members are truly “afraid to speak their mind” because a meeting is televised they should resign immediately. Generally speaking they all seem to be (and have been) a bunch of cowards who are only willing to push back against transparency, public input and public will.

    Doug Anestad Reply:

    I too, wish that the school board members would speak their mind more.

    I would like to point out that there are real consequences for doing so. Because of our highly partisan elections, anything a school board member says publicly can and will be used against them.

    As a school board candidate, I am breaking a cardinal rule not to post to social media. In addition to this site, I have posted long threads on my school board Facebook page having discussions with parents.

    I can guarantee you that this information will be taken out of context, twisted, and sent in a postcard days away from the November election.

    The other candidates are playing it safe, because safe tends to win. As a matter of fact, I am going against the cardinal rule by posting here and having real conversations on my Facebook page like that one on the redistricting. Notice that no other candidate is doing that. They are posting safe, pre-packed videos or statements.

    I would rather lose than join the “afraid to speak their mind” group because I agree with Pattye, Keith, anon, CHV, , Ward for the Board, Enough, and all the others – there should be greater transparency.

    That is most likely to happen when voters start to reward such behavior at the voting booth.

    Pattye Reply:

    Thank you Doug. ALL school board candidates are encouraged to weigh in, but sadly I agree with Doug that they “play it safe, because safe tends to win”. We see that candidates that don’t engage and have real discussions/debates get elected and the struggle for public information and transparency continues …

    At the risk of some suggesting that I am giving Doug Anestad preferential treatment, I applaud his participation in the discussion on Community Matters. I wish other T/E School Board candidates — Kyle Boyer, Heather Ward and Tina Whitlow plus those seeking re-election Scott Dorsey, Virginia Lastner and Doug Carlson saw the merit of participation. Many residents do not know the candidates except for what may be read on their political campaign cards. And as we have learned in the past, the buzz words of public engagement, transparency, etc. appear on campaign literature but the reality of serving can be much different.

    anon. Reply:

    Doug,
    Thank-you for your courage, honesty and willingness to communicate.

    Everyone, even if you don’t completely agree with Doug on all issues, it’s important that we elect people like Doug who is showing he backs up what he says with action.

    If you live in Doug’s region, I think Chesterbrook, vote for him and tell your neighbors to vote for him too.

  8. For clarity:

    The administrator’s agreement is not negotiated in the legal sense of the word. There is no contract. The board is obligated to “meet and discuss” compensation issues if a majority of the administrators desire to do so. In the end, the actual compensation is dictated by the board and the administrators can decide whether to accept the offer or find other employment. Think of your own employment. Do you have a signed contract?

    The teachers are represented by a union (TEEA) and negotiations are defined by Act 88 of 1992. This act limits the ability to strike, but, in return, guarantees a teacher’s compensation can never be unilaterally reduced.

    The support staff are represented by a union (TENIG) and negotiations are defined by the Public Employees Relations Act (PERA)

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Thanks Keith for the clarifying the contracts/agreements — TEEA, TENIG, Act 93 which all expire in 30 days on June 30, 2017. The 2017-18 budget will be approved on June 12, and as we learned last night the contracts/agreements are not yet signed.

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  9. I have never heard that announcing selected board members or giving out updates at meetings has effected negotiations in the past 20 years. Why the hush hush this year ?

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Completely agree — announcing the board members sitting at the negotiation table and updates to the public should be a matter of course. My new tagline for the TE School Board … “Public Information & Transparency Matter”.

    [Reply]

  10. Pattye, why do you think the Board has chosen to keep the details confidential?

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    Pattye Reply:

    In a word, yes. With 30 days before the teachers contract, TENIG contract and Act 93 expire on June 30 and 2 weeks before the budget is passed on June 12, the public is completely in the dark.

    [Reply]

    Question Reply:

    Yeah, but WHY is my question.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Sorry, I have no idea. Doug Anestad spoke of his experience, as a former Philadelphia teacher, of teacher contracts. Doug commented that when contracts were close to getting settled, his experience was that an update is given explaining where both sides were in the process. The agenda for the June 12 school board meeting typically comes out the Friday before — which would be next Friday, June 9. The budget needs to get approved and as we now know, TEEA, TENIG and Act 93 all have ‘TBD’ listed on the preliminary budget. When Ray Clarke commented that he hoped that the school board would not to something at the 11th hour (without giving the public adequate review) there was no response from Finance Chair Todd Kantorczyk or any of the other school board members.

    So — no public information provided and we have no idea why.

  11. It’s clear that school district financial planning follows no rational model and we should just give up worrying. Keith and the appellants in Lower Merion revealed the truth: budgets are constructed with the sole aim of supporting a tax increase figure, usually the maximum allowed, but in our case fractionally less, so that the School Directors can position themselves as heroes heading into the election.

    A couple of notable points from last night. Dr Gusick gave updated figures for the additional FTEs needed due to enrollment, and in fact the definite/highly probable need is for 3.9 FTE less than the 15.1 in the budget. But you wouldn’t know it from the opaque presentation and subsequent discussion. Only at the very end after questioning did they decide to take out 3 FTE from the budget.

    Then of course the issue is: if there are new labor contracts after June 12th that increase costs (which Mrs Lastner said they would), how will those be funded within the constraints of the approved spending levels in the budget. It emerges that one option is to re-open the budget; however, Finance Chair Kantorcyzk offered three revealing options (my parentheses):
    1. Revenues will be higher than budget based on the known condition of the real estate market (So why don’t we budget for we actually expect?)
    2. We have a healthy fund balance and can use that (only until it runs out of course)
    3. The Administration has ways to cut costs (!!)
    So that budget, despite effusive claims of endless work involved in its preparation, is not worth the paper it is written on.

    [Good news for taxpayers who like to pay their taxes at the last moment in person, you can do that at the TEAO; otherwise, the nearest office of the new bank is Exton]

    [Reply]

  12. If there is anyone in Easttown or the T/E School District I would want tasked with the challenge of balancing services and costs it’s Doug Carlson and Virginia Lastner. Seasoned financial and executive management skills are extremely hard to come by among those willing to run and serve in a volunteer capacity.

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  13. Frankly, there’s no good reason to keep the details confidential. No good comes out of carrying out government business ——-especially contract negotiations——- behind closed doors. I urge Board Members to keep their campaign promises of transparency and ensure that the public isn’t kept in the dark about the workings of the government meant to serve them. The people have a right to be kept up on the decision making process and to weigh in when appropriate. What does it say when Board Directors are unwilling to subject themselves to public view during the process? Salaries and bonuses are paid for by the public and the public has a right to know about the process that increases their tax obligations due to an increase in salaries and bonuses.

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  14. The confidentiality door swings both ways. Perhaps the board members–who are well known in the school community, and have kids in the schools–feel more comfortable driving a hard bargain on a confidential basis. How much lost leverage and money is this sense of transparency worth?

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    I guess eventually we’ll find out how “hard a bargain” the school board drove on these contracts. Time will tell if the lack of public updates and transparency was worth it …

    [Reply]

    Answer Reply:

    ——-The confidentiality door swings both ways. Perhaps the board members–who are well known in the school community, and have kids in the schools–feel more comfortable driving a hard bargain on a confidential basis. How much lost leverage and money is this sense of transparency worth?———

    This isn’t a very compelling argument for keeping negotiations in the District opaque. I question the logic. Directors knew as office holders they would be open to public scrutiny and that was the choice they made for themselves and their families. They can’t have it both ways. Tax payers have a right to know how their money is being spent and the decision making process behind making the decision.

    The arguments for keeping tax payers in the dark are weak, and the people have a right to know and to be involved with every part of this monumental decision and to weigh in on it.

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    Taxpayer voter Reply:

    Agree. As Directors, their loyalty is to taxpayers (parents) and students first. If they fear those that work for them, they should not have agreed to hold the position. How can they effectively represent taxpayers?

    Who is in control? It doesn’t sound like the Board is in control.

    We did not vote in care givers. We thought we voted in leaders, not people afraid of criticism. If they are afraid of the consequences of speaking up and representing the taxpayer, the taxpayers are in big trouble and need to vote in people who aren’t afraid to do their job.

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    Keith Knauss Reply:

    A school director cannot “drive a hard bargain on a confidential basis” to protect their children. First, the rumors from the teachers at the negotiating table spills out to the teaching workforce. If there is a hard bargainer at the table their identity will be known. Second, each director has to vote on the contract in public. The terms of the contract become know and the taxpayers will know who “bargained hard”.

    [Reply]

  15. Seems like waiting to decide on the contract would benefit Act 93, TEAA, and Tenig.
    The longer it is not complete the more revenue from the real estate transfers and the new construction sales flows into the budget. If I was an emoyee, I would hold out. There is nothing to lose. Employees go to stays quo and when new contract comes to fruition, the employees will be made whole.
    Don’t forget the matrix protects seniority and credit for educational degrees. All fair and unchangeable.
    The question becomes where will the money come from?
    Fund balance?
    Operating budget?
    The contracts are a large piece of the pie.
    Next year, the Superintendent’s contract comes up followed by the business manager.
    Likewise the pension crisis plateaus.
    (If the private investors can’t make money in th current market…?)
    In the end sharing information with taxpayers when appropriate under the PA labor laws
    Is healthy and necessary.
    Our residents are ready willing and able to help.
    Let them!
    Videoing and transparency won’t help if the Board won’t accept reasonable and intelligent input from the taxpayers.
    There is a wealth of business experience, accounting, tax and School budget information in the the residents.
    Why are you afraid?

    [Reply]

    Help for the taxpayer Reply:

    Agreed.

    What is the Board afraid of? Who is the Board afraid of?

    Taxpayers have a right to know how their government is spending their money. The deck is already stacked in favor of the Union. They should not make a bad situation for the tax payer worse by shutting us out of decisions that we will be stuck paying for.

    When will this end? What about the next contract negotiation? Will teachers soon make $200,000 with full pensions and the best healthcare? They’re pensions already make them beyond wealthy.

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  16. Why do you think all the townhouses are going up? Families can’t afford housing, that’s why. Salaries have stayed stagnant. Employees are not receiving raises and if they do, they are in the 1 to 2% range, making it impossible to afford a home.

    Healthcare? Look at the stats. up to 30% paid for by the employee with no pension.

    Do your research. Why should people who pay salaries for teachers make less than them, with inferior healthcare costing way more and no pension?

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  17. I’ve been reading this blog for a while but too afraid to speak out. Many parents are too so they whisper to each other in private.

    The tax increases are small compared to what parents are expected to pay themselves. Parents pay for things they can’t afford because they feel shame and to keep up with the few who can. Most parents are good people who will do anything to help, including giving money they don’t have because they’re led to believe the District is financially hurting.

    It’s staggering to see what teachers make, especially when parents give even when they can’t afford it.

    [Reply]

    Doug Anestad Reply:

    It is important for parents to speak up. I have spoken up in the past, and I have not personally seen any type of action against either of my children (who are currently students at Conestoga) as a result. Any such action coming from an administrator would be reprehensible and unacceptable. While there are exceptions, as a general rule, the administration is good about listening to parent input. I would encourage you to speak up in the future.

    I emphasize with how much it costs to support your own children in school and school activities. This is made worse with student fees. It has become common for the T/E School Board to saddle more and more student fees on parents over time. This goes directly against the idea of a free public education.

    [Reply]

  18. True. The School Board saddles more and more student fees on parents, and it’s insulting when they then raise salaries for employees telling parents that the District is in financial difficulty. We pay tax increases and hundreds, if not thousands in student fees while our salaries stay the same and theirs go up and up and up.

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  19. 100% of your tax increases go to salaries and pensions for District Employees.

    School Board Directors are puppets for Bureaucracy that raise your taxes so they get salary increases at a rate double or triple what those who are paying get.

    There are hundreds and hundreds of qualified applicants standing in line to take these jobs at a fraction of the cost tax payers pay, yet citizens and parents are threatened with program cuts. Why is it not a consideration to cut salaries?

    The School Board and Administration are dishonest with TE citizens when every year they report there is a deficit in the budget when in fact there are large surpluses at the end of every year that go into a General Fund in excess of $30M. This is against the law as a Judge in Lower Merion has ruled against the School District for doing the same thing.

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  20. The board culture at TE is quite different from what I experienced at UCF. Resident questions at UCF were answered immediately if possible and when research was needed the question would be answered in a timely fashion. Board members were fully briefed on the issues, had formed their own opinions and were not afraid to express dissenting viewpoints. So, why are TE’s board members reluctant to express their opinions? Don’t understand the issues? Afraid of going against the administration? Afraid of making a mistake? Want to present a united front? Are too lazy to research the issues and have an opinion?

    Don’t these people understand that a democracy relies on the free exchange of information, ideas and opinions?

    By the way – Lower Merion has the same “bobble-head” board culture. TE and LM have another thing in common – the solicitor Mr. Roos who sits with and advises the board.

    [Reply]

    Ray Clarke Reply:

    A spot-on observation from Keith. It’s way past time for a change in representation that has not served TESD well. And a good election platform would be: Independence.

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    Watching from the sidelines Reply:

    We all saw where Ken Roos took the Lower Merion school board. If T/E school board is taking its cues from Roos, is this what we want for our district? What is the compelling reason that T/E school board has to be in lock step, what’s that about. Can’t they think for themselves?

    [Reply]

    Doug Anestad Reply:

    I second Ray Clarke. Keith’s comment is spot on.

    Keith,

    Yes, the T/E School Board members have been afraid to voice their opinion if they are in the minority.

    Yes, the T/E School Board members sometimes are unprepared in committee meetings to have detailed discussions about topics. I have seen multiple instances where it is not the school board members fault – the administration purposefully introduced a topic at the last minute and stated that it had to be voted on during that committee meeting because of some reason. The school board members have been afraid to vote no in those situations. Most of the time, those situations involve spending money or approving some other financial situation (handling bonds, facilities, etc). I have rarely seen it happen on the academic side.

    Yes, the school board members historically have wanted to present a unified front.

    Yes, the way the school board has been operating (especially on the financial side) has mirrored Lower Merion way more than is good for our district.

    I also agree with Ray’s comment that the school board needs more independent thinkers. Rubber stamps do not give the oversight that is supposed to come from a school board.

    [Reply]

    Keith Knauss Reply:

    Doug,

    Thanks for the explanation. Sometimes board members don’t understand that they are the bosses and the administrators are the employees; not vice versa.

    After speaking with another former school director at Great Valley I now understand that the GV school directors have the same aversion to answering resident questions. And what firm does the legal work for GV? You guessed it – Wisler Pearlstine

    [Reply]

    Democracy Now Reply:

    In America, Democracy is a conversation, not a unilateral decision.

  21. Televised meetings have nothing to do with school board directors not speaking their mind because they want to be in good terms with other school board members. This happens whether they’re televised or not. Strong unions, spineless school boards and controlling administrators are bankrupting America.

    [Reply]

  22. Arthur Wolk, the attorney and Plaintiff, filed another suit this week stating that the District is held in contempt for failing to refund tax money from last years budget.

    http://www.mainlinemedianews.com/mainlinetimes/news/lmsd-to-announce-lowered-tax-hike-wolk-files-new-documents/article_8c57e21f-9017-550c-997c-6a9bb3681966.html

    According to the latest filing, Arthur Wolk, the plaintiff and the attorney in the suit against the district, said the district is in violation of Montgomery County Judge Joseph Smyth’s order from last summer when Smyth called the district budgeting practices “illegal” and ordered the district to rescind a portion of the 2016-2017 tax hike. The district appealed the decision and placed the money in a separate account while the case remains on appeal.

    In his filing this week, Wolk said the district never put the money in escrow since the money remains under the control of the district and is not being held by a third party.

    Lower Merion has just announced a lowered tax hike from 2.99% to 2.48% for the 2017 – 2018 school year.

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  23. Arthur Wolk lawyer and LM citizen filed a new motion that the District is in contempt for failing to return their tax money a Judge ruled was gotten illegal using the same tactic TESD has used for years.

    After Mr. Wolk filed this motion, it is interesting that the District then issued a statemen that they were lowering LM’s taxes AGAIN to 2.48%, down from 2.99%

    In a statement in relation to its latest filing, Wolk said he is asking the court to find the 2017-2018 budget illegal.

    “I am asking the Court to declare the tax increase for the [2017-18] budget to be null and void for violating the Taxpayer Relief Act and for committing a fraud on the taxpayers of Lower Merion and Narbeth and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Education. It is not an attack on school funding, it is not an attack on teachers’ salaries, administrators’ salaries, school programs, private vs. public schools or anything else. This is about false representation, false swearing, false budgeting, false statements to the taxpayers of Lower Merion School District about the need for tax increases for ten years and the obtaining of the tax increases as a result of that fraud. It is about the retention of the money thus obtained, and the failure to honestly disclose it and return the money to Lower Merion taxpayers.”

    Since TE employs Ken Roos, the same Solicitor LM employs, will our tax rate be lowered? Will a citizen lawyer need to file another lawsuit to stop the District from raising taxes illegally in our District?

    Are lawsuits the only way to get School Boards and Administrations to respect the law?

    [Reply]

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