T/E Finance/Budget Workshop Results: 6% Tax Increase Continues & re District Accounting Error, the School Board Dismisses Community Financial Experts to Support Business Manager … Good Governance?

This post continues to follow the T/E School Board’s proposed 6% tax increase and what some in the community believe is a significant accounting error in the District.  I attended the Finance Committee meeting this week which was scheduled for 7 PM with the Budget Workshop to follow at 7:30 PM.

First off, let me say that this is not the post I want to write nor had hoped would be necessary!  The scheduled half-hour Finance Committee went on for two hours, with the first opportunity for the public to ask questions not coming until 9 PM. The Budget Workshop started at 9:30 PM and went until midnight.

At the end of the 5 hour meeting, the public knew no more than when the meeting started. The tax increase remains at 6% and for many school board members, there is reluctance for “doing what’s right” regarding the accounting error. Instead, there is a preference to “stand by our man” Art McDonnell, the District’s Business Manager.

I don’t claim to be a CPA or have a lengthy financial career but fortunate for us, there are many in this community that do – including residents Neal Colligan, Mike Heaberg and Ray Clarke.  Each attended the Finance Committee meeting and Mike and Ray stayed until midnight for the Budget Workshop.  In my world, you should always “play to your strengths”; it would have been extremely valuable to the public if the school board really listened to these community members, rather than choosing to negate, dismiss and at times insult them.

It was obvious from the first comment period following the Finance Committee meeting that this was not going to go well, when the chair interrupted my comments to say he didn’t like my “tone”.  Mind you, that is after the public had waited TWO HOURS to comment!

I found it incredulous that since the last school board meeting two weeks ago, the Business Manager had not found time to review the impact of the accounting error on this year’s tax increase!  But more shocking was that School Board director Heather Ward stated she had asked McDonnell several times for the information and the Board still had not received it. McDonnell’s response as to when he would have the information – by next Finance Committee meeting a month away!! It should be noted that Ray Clarke, Mike Heaberg and Neal Colligan have already done the analysis caused by this accounting error yet the business manager doesn’t have the time.

The public was told at the March 23 School Board meeting to come to the Finance Committee meeting for answers! The only answer that we now know is that the District’s accounting error occurred in Oct/Nov 2016 and that the School Board was not told about the situation until January 2019 – 14 months later. I actually told the school board that I felt sorry for them in this regard – guess the Administration didn’t think that a $1.2 million accounting error was all that important. I also stated that we elected them (the School Board) for District oversight, not Art McDonnell, the business manager.

The continuing to “kick the can” on the accounting error by the school board is not just frustrating but shows a lack of leadership and ability to govern even as some in the public make suggestions of possible legal action.

Although the Finance Committee meeting was not televised and it becomes a “he said, she said”, the public can see the video of the Budget Workshop.  You don’t have to watch the entire video but I beg you to PLEASE review the comments which starts at time stamp 1:34:45.  Click here for the video.

It is extremely important that you hear the comments of Mike Heaberg, former member and chair of Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors and a financial management executive. After waiting over four hours to make his remarks regarding the District’s serious accounting error, perceived impact on the tax increase, possible legal action, etc., Mike’s comments were thoughtful and important. After the public comments, continue to watch and hear the responses from the school board, in particular the Finance Committee chair’s response to Mr. Heaberg. Truly unbelievable and this from the man who told me hours earlier that he didn’t like my tone!

The public needs to wake up (although one School Board member would have you believe that those in the audience don’t represent the community!) Let me repeat, Mike Heaberg, Ray Clarke and Neal Colligan are financial experts and have done the accounting analysis (even though the District business manager has not found time!) All three come out at the same place with regards to the impact of the accounting error on the proposed 6% tax increase. Who on this School Board comes close to their financial backgrounds and depth of understanding?  However, for many on the school board, the choice is to dismiss the comments/suggestions of the community financial experts in favor of the business manager – even as the trust in their ability to govern is questioned.

The end result of five hours of Finance Committee/Budget Workshop meetings and where the public expected answers – there were none. The tax increase remains at 6% and with suggestions of legal action afloat regarding the District’s accounting error, many on the school board remain committed to Art McDonnell. Not my brand of governance or leadership!

Because I left following the Finance Committee meeting (I did however watch the Budget Workshop), Ray Clarke provides his remarks and commentary for us – and we thank him!

The combined Finance Committee/Budget Workshop on Monday was a five hour marathon, ending past midnight.  Unfortunately the audience, and possibly a few of the Board, came away as perplexed as before.

We heard a high level outline of the source and timeline of the error, pinned to a clerical mistake in the Department of Specialized Student Services that resulted in the CCIU invoices being recognized after the 2016-17 audit was complete in November 2017.  The auditor signed off on the incorrect financials for 2016-17 which then were submitted to the state.  A year later the auditor also signed off on the 2017-18 financials, and the two incorrect state reports then became the basis for the district-authorized Exception request to the state for next year’s Budget.  It appears that the Board learned of this sometime in 2019.

The Chair of the Finance Committee relied almost exclusively on the auditor approval to support his conclusion that the issue is not material.  Others felt that even though the numbers are incorrect, that’s OK because in their view moving the expense from one year to another just changes when the Exception can be taken.  (Partially but not totally true: packing expenses into one year increases the amount that is above the Index; and even if an Exception were allowed last year, the Board might not have taken it – as they claim they so often do not!).  There were no numbers presented in support of this, although Ms Ward said that she had requested the information two weeks ago.  She obtained a commitment from Mr. McDonnell that the analysis (which in essence has already been seen here on Community Matters) would be presented at the next meeting in four weeks’ time.

In the Workshop, the Board spent a lot of useful time debating the merits of individual programs that could be used to balance the budget in the event of a lower than 6% tax increase, which seems to be the universal desire.  There are strongly diverging views on the merits of selective fee increases that increase the cost to families (who choose to move to T/E “for the school district”, remember) versus elimination of headcount additions for, say, security.  There are certainly opportunities not yet baked into the Budget – areas like staff retirements and use of up-to-date assessment information (here, as Ms. Ward said of the tax issue: “show your work“).  However the Board did not come close to meeting President Dorsey’s goal, and the Admin request, to set parameters for the tax increase and deficit.  The best we got was his own preference for a 3.8% tax increase (which would be roughly the rate with the right Exception), and general discussion that implied that a $1 to 1.5 million deficit would be livable.  On the latter, it’s important to note that District Policy does not allow Fund Balance to be used for operations, so it will be important to identify programs like the $300,000 cost of setting up a new reading program that are legitimately one-time expenses – IF the expense is taken out of future year’s budgets.

Those of us in the audience were chastised by Mr. Boyer for not actually representing the community. My own sense from the people in my orbit about this is very simple:

– Regardless of the impact, the Board should not endorse incorrect state reporting

– If the district is to be managed effectively going forward, correct numbers must be used to analyze trends and cost drivers

– The District should limit the 2019/20 tax increase to the allowable maximum

– There’s a real trust problem when:

    — A Board does not learn of an issue that impacts taxation for over a year

    — A Board member has to ask the Business Manager to “show your work”

     — That request for information is not complied with

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56 Comments

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  1. Patty, Thank You for your efforts in keeping the community informed.
    Also, Thanks to Ray, Neil and Mike for stepping up and providing insight to this chaotic situation and representing the community—-something the Business Manager, who is being paid over $180,000, is not doing.

    As far as the board member who likes to admonish the community with his arrogance if they disagree with him, when you don’t own property in the community, it’s easy toTax and Spend!
    I invite him to represent ALL of the community and not just select, special interest groups.

    With that said, you are right Patty, parents, tax payers need to wake up and realize what is really going on with their school district and not fall under the spell, “We’re Number One”.

    The first thing we need to do is make it a requirement to live within TE, (property owner preferred) in order to be considered The Business Manager…he needs to feel the financial pain that he’s creating to our community, especially the elderly who built this community to be a great place to live.

    [Reply]

    Tredyffrin taxpayer Reply:

    Hold’n

    The Business Manager makes $199,000 plus benefits plus gold standard health care.

    His salary has been raised at rates no one can justify or believe except the Board who rubber stamps it every time the Administration tells them to. This happens all the while he tells tax payers how tight the budget is to the point kids life’s are at risk because he says we can’t afford for school buses to stop off of Old Eagle school road to pick up and drop off students at a safe place.

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  2. I suggest that ALL residents need to watch the video. Patty’s right, just start at the comment section to hear Mr. Heaberg’s remarks. And then stay with it and hear the board response. The finance chair is unreal and how dare Boyer say that residents who stay to midnight to make comments don’t represent the community. And we elected these people to serve us?

    Its clear who is running this school district and its not the school board, its the business manager. And the superintendent is totally MIA. What a sham!

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  3. Years ago I blew a fuse when I learned that the School Superintendent was paid more than the President of the United States. Given the compensation package of the Business Manager plus this egregious lack of fiscal responsibility, I think big questions need to be asked. Who are they serving? And why are members of the School Board letting this slide? When you get your tax bill this situation will call for action from taxpayers.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Thanks for your comment Susan — here’s hoping that we move the dial to the taxpayer side in advance of them approving the 6% tax increase.

    The school board continues to say that they are working on reducing the tax increase yet when given an opportunity to review the impact of the $1.2 million accounting error that could impact our taxes, they don’t seem all that interested. This is a serious situation and as I said in the post, financial experts in the community are trying to steer the board in the right direction, yet their information is dismissed or marginally considered at best.

    No one needs to take my word for it — I just want everyone to watch the video of the comments. I respect and admire Mike Heaberg (former township supervisor and chair and CEO of an asset management company) and the public needs to listen to him!

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    LocalRes Reply:

    Mike Heaberg was very well spoken and stated the facts clearly, the board members who were critical were basically not happy that the Board is being called out on this for their lack of transparency. The reading of the auditors statement is typical boilerplate language and was pure deflection – the auditors deemed the $1.2mln ‘non material” , which is probably correct based on the audit being completed and considering the size of the budget. But it still is a material issue for the Board – both for the size of it as well as the procedure that allowed this to be missed.

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  4. From the Jan 28, 2019 school board meeting agenda
    The business manager’s new contract will begin on July 1, 2019
    Base salary $209,920
    Each July 1 increased by 3.1%
    Non discretionary 1% bonus June of each year awarded for the previous year

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    And a school board director has to ask him to show his work!

    [Reply]

    Ray Clarke Reply:

    A sobering comment. This issue was known to at least some in the Administration for over a year before that contract renewal. Would the Board have been willing to enter into this new contract had they known of all the facts that are now emerging?

    [Reply]

    Tredyffrin taxpayer Reply:

    The answer is yes they would have renewed the contract had they known. The Business Manager can do no wrong. This is hardly the first egregious or illegal activity by him over the years.

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  5. It’s time to take legal action. If there are any attorneys in the district, I hope you look into what legal remedies ae available. We are getting royally shafted by these tyrannical bureaucrats. They think out money is THEIR money. It’s time to put a stop to all the disrespect being shown to taxpayers.
    I will repeat: In T-E’s CAFR there is enough money to retire taxation forever – we would get control of the money back as we should because it is OUR money!
    Go to http://taxretirement.com/ , especially actuaries and mathematicians.

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  6. how would we go about filing a class action lawsuit against the school board so we may be legally represented for their incompetance and wrongdoing? after reading thru everything regarding the meeting and comments above, it seems there is no other recourse.

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  7. After watching the video and hearing how Mr Boyer tells the audience of taxpayers/concerned citizens that they (15 people) don’t represent the community…

    Here’s a couple of examples of how small number of people, who don’t represent the entire community, can influence the board, and make big changes:

    Six concerned parents showed up at the Education Meeting last fall requesting additional funding for the Special Needs Program—-as we all know, they got it.
    Note-two parents worked on Mr Boyer’s election campaign for the school board.

    Prior to that, Eight concerned parents showed up at a Policy Meeting to change the food policy for the ENTIRE school district because their kids had food allergies—-they got it.
    Note-one Parent was married to the Policy Chair.

    Fifteen concerned citizens show up at a finance meeting to gain understanding and provide feedback on a potential 6% tax increase….the way things are trending, does anyone know the Finance Chair?

    The sad current trend reflects, you can get what you want at TE, if you are politically connected.
    It’s no way to run a school district.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Thank you! At this point, I’d like to know WHO these school board officials are representing — and how are they protecting our bests interests?

    I’m truly glad that Mike Heaberg waited until 11:30 PM to deliver his comments so that there is a record of what he said and of the responses from the school board. As you heard from several Board members, Mike was also chastised for waiting for the cameras. It’s hard to hide when the cameras are rolling — remember, there are NO cameras at the Finance Committee meeting.

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  8. Mike Heaberg did the right thing even though Todd Kantorczyk made a lame attempt to berate Mike for waiting to speak when the camera’s were on. Mike’s points were respectful and FACTUAL. The board is publicly ignoring the FACT that the assessed tax base of property in the district is going UP, which means the projected revenue increase from any tax hike is higher than the absolute tax increase.

    This is one of the reasons that i don’t have an issue with new REASONABLE redevelopment projects in TE like the Paoli train station apmts (Replacing the hideous office buildings) or the Senior living Facilities (which generally replace run down commercial buildings).

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  9. They encourage taxpayers to come to meetings and participate, when they do, we are treated like dirt and told that our FACTS don’t matter because we don’t represent the community. The bureaucracy clearly is in charge, shamelessly raising their bloated salaries while preaching about a tight budget and the need for 6% tax increases to an already taxed to death public. Cut the Business Managers salary, the Super. Salary and all the salaries of the bureaucrats around them. That will pave the way for a 0% tax increase.

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  10. The only way to stop this is to vote the finance chair out. Pattye said he’s running unopposed. If he’s this arrogant and disrespectful now, a new 4 year term in November will only empower him more. An actuary or mathmatician in his District would get plenty of public support.

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  11. In addition to this travesty regarding our taxes, the questionable behavior of the Business Manager has also cost us valuable time, resources and taxpayer dollars which should have been spent more effectively on behalf of the students. Last year, the public was erroneously told that Special Ed expenses increased by $4.6M (a 22% increase) in 1 year. The public and Board members pushed for a study to understand why. Admin resources were dedicated to examining the issue. In March, the results were presented – based on inaccurate numbers – with no actionable findings. Art McDonnell knew about the accounting error last year but remained silent for months throughout all the angst, discussions and meetings. Only at the end of March’s Special Ed presentation, Chris Groppe mentioned that there had been an accounting error. Thus the increase was actually $2.2 M (more comparable to previous increases).
    All this time, effort, and TESD resources wasted. If only Art McDonnell had been honest with us. Once again, the cover up is worse than the error!

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  12. We are reaping what we have sown. New members to the Board were put in office despite their lack of experience; I believe they benefited greatly from reaction to national politics. They unfortunately are not seasoned enough to address issues which they are now responsible for (whether they are at fault or not). Whether they change or otherwise adapt remains to be seen, as this matter is not going away. If anything, I don’t think the common household in T/E even knows about it. Wait until the tax bill arrives……

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  13. I am surprised that this was not caught in the annual audit, as any knowledgeable auditor should be comparing line item expenses on a year over year basis. So the initial year where the $1.2 mln was not included would have shown a drop in this expense from the previous year, and should have triggered the auditor to ask the business manager for a explanation for the drop – and that should have triggered the question” what’s missing”. I’m guessing there are VERY few line item expenses in the TE school budget that ever go down yoy, so it should have stood out.

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  14. Several of the board members are explaining away the $1.2M account error by saying “we had a clean Audit so that means nothing needs to be fixed”. This explanation shows the naivete of the board.

    First, we need to understand that the PA Dept of Ed (PDE) granted the Act 1 exception based on the Annual Financial Report (AFR); not the Audit. PDE never sees the Audit; it is not sent to PDE; it is of no use to PDE; and even if it were sent to PDE the numbers in the Audit could not be used to calculate an Act 1 exception.

    PDE uses numbers in the AFR to calculate the Act 1 exceptions and the Auditor makes no representation as to the accuracy of those numbers. The Auditor’s signature is nowhere to be found on the AFR document. Only the administration certifies the accuracy of the AFR’s numbers. That would seem to be a problem for whoever signed the certification; especially if they knew of the accounting error.

    One might ask, “How could the district get a “clean audit” if there was a $1.2M accounting error? The audience for the audit is bond buyers and firms that do business with the district. The $1.2M accounting error just shifted the amount from one fiscal year to the next and would not have a material effect on financial decisions made by bond buyers and businesses. Further, realize that the Auditor has no knowledge of the Act 1 exception process and how a $1.2M accounting error could be a problem. Hence, the Auditor was correct in giving the district a “clean audit”.

    TESD board members need to understand that the “clean Audit” is not an excuse for inaction on their part

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Thank you Keith — “TESD board members need to understand that the “clean Audit” is not an excuse for inaction on their part” YES!

    Some on the school board believe that those residents who show up at meetings and stay to midnight to give their comments don’t represent the community. However, there is a building awareness of the proposed 6% tax increase, the District’s $1.2 million accounting error and subsequent handling of information to the public, etc. leading to transparency and governance questions.

    School board, you have no magic wand and cannot wish away these problems. Inaction is not the answer, you need to act NOW.

    [Reply]

    T/E Anonymous Parent Reply:

    But I don’t think they are going to act, at least not promptly. This has caught them flatfooted and I think they will continue to take a defensive approach, intimidating actually. What’s the annual budget, $150 million? Would a $150 million company want their company board comprised with individuals possessing our School Board’s credentials? I understand running a school district is much different than running a company – many more and diverse credentials are required to run a school district. However this being said, there is still a business side to running the district, money counts and numbers matter.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Yep — money counts and numbers matter! Trying to remain optimistic that the Board will do the right thing. That’s all we want, just do the right thing. You don’t need an MBA from Wharton!

  15. This is why you don’t make local elections a referendum on national politics. Shouldn’t matter if there is a D or an R next to their name, they should be qualified to handle these types of issues and provide reasonable explanations and resolutions

    [Reply]

    T/E Anonymous Parent Reply:

    Amen to that!

    [Reply]

  16. Thanks for all the people who stepped up and fight for the accountability of the school board. You all did great job!

    I sent an email to the school board, just to assure them that what they did and how they behave have already raised a huge concern among many T-E residents! They will not get away with this chaos by ignorance.

    [Reply]

  17. After watching the video of the budget workshop and the subsequent comments, it is obvious that this school board has authority over matters they have no experience with and shouldn’t control.

    To the financial experts in the community that are trying to help, we say thank you! To the board member who says they don’t represent the community, I say I’d rather have any one of these experts on the board than you. The responses from some of the school board indicate a complete lack of understanding of the financial seriousness of the situation.

    I am not certain this school board is actually capable of monitoring the district’s performance, providing high-level oversight, and holding the superintendent accountable. In the reporting structure of the school district, the business manager should be subordinate to the superintendent but it appears that the roles are reversed. The school board has empowered the business manager to the detriment of the superintendent.

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  18. The Business Manager is in a very powerful position. In my experience typically there is no one in the administration or the board that will challenge the Business Manager due to a lack of school-district-related financial knowledge. There may be school directors with MBAs. There may be a school director with an accounting degree. Maybe one has run a company. But unless someone is willing to dig into the details of PA’s laws, PA’s accounting procedures and PA’s budgeting requirements, the Business Manager remains unchallenged. Some Business Managers are helpful, responsive, transparent and open to criticism. Mine was at Unionville. Others maybe not so helpful.

    [Reply]

    Ray Clarke Reply:

    Thank you, Keith, for taking the time to add your expertise to our struggle for transparency and integrity. I hope all CM readers take your comments to heart.

    I have noted here before that the Board is faced with an especially uphill battle here in T/E, and that the best intentions can be thwarted.

    There are so many governance and financial reasons why it makes sense for the District to fix the problem and the cover up, and I for one am hoping that Dr. Gusick steps up to the opportunity for leadership.

    [Reply]

    Tredyffrin taxpayer Reply:

    Ray,

    It’s clear the finance chair, Todd, and the Business Manager have this worked out between themselves. The finance chair empowers the Business Manager. Since the finance chaiir is up for re-election, energy spent finding someone to run against him would help most.

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  19. I listened to the Budget Workshop and I was disturbed that savings from “breakage” was not included in the estimate of expenditures. For those unfamiliar with the term “breakage” it refers to the cost savings when a high salaried teacher earning over $100K retires and is replace with a new teacher earning less than $60K. Historically, “breakage” amounts to about 1% of the $45M total cost for TE’s teacher salaries or about $450K.

    To put this into perspective we had the board president Scott Dorsey publicly agonizing over whether to increase student fees by $80K when an anticipated savings of $450K was hidden. Why did it take a question from the audience to reveal the unaddressed $450K savings? How can the board make any reasoned decision without full transparency?

    [Reply]

    Tredyffrin taxpayer Reply:

    Thank-you.

    Why was the $450,000 breakage savings hidden from the public and Board? Did Scott Dorsey know it was hidden? Was it a ploy to try and make overtaxed parents pay even more? What other savings are hidden from the public and possibly the Board? Why doesn’t the Board act on this information? Why is the finance chair, Todd, so close and protective of the Business Manager? Why is President Scott Dorsey so quiet and unwilling to listen and consider what smart, knowledgeable, experienced, citizens have to say? Why are Board Members angry and rude to tax paying citizens they represent and are supposed to listen to?

    [Reply]

    Tredyffrin taxpayer Reply:

    Why won’t the Business Manager hand over the information requested by Board Member Heather Ward? If it was an innocent error, what’s the problem? Why doesn’t the Super. and the Board demand that he hand over the information? Is the Board and the Super. afraid of the Business Manager? Why?

    Very very clear the Business Manager has enormous power over the Budget and the Board. Why doesn’t the Board bring in experts for a third party, independent transparent audit?

    [Reply]

    Keith Knauss Reply:

    It’s so much easier to run a school district when there is a surplus of money to satisfy interested parties.

    It’s much easier to get a union contract when there is money for above inflation raises. Who wants to anger teachers and expose parents to the threat of a strike?

    It’s much easier to keep parents happy when there is money for new programs. Who wants to deny three dozen angry parents a new reading program?

    It’s much easier for school directors to raise taxes rather than agonize over which cuts can gather 5 votes and for administrators to help with underestimated revenues and overestimated expenditures. It’s hard to resist the natural propensity to raise taxes as high as possible. An involved citizenry helps.

    [Reply]

    Tredyffrin taxpayer Reply:

    Thank-you.

    The new reading program cost less than $200,000. Look what parents had to go through to get that. It’s a pittance compared to the $150M budget.

    It’s about the union contract. It’s about accumulating an abundance of funds so it appears painless to give raises to already bloated union salaries. The salaries are bad enough, the retirement plans and out of this world healthcare benefits are what is killing hard working families.

  20. They must be additionally collecting at least $600k in taxes for the 120 new units in chesterbrook that are selling for at least $600k.

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  21. Parents pay out of pocket for EVERYTHING.

    Even art supplies. If your child wants a chance at participating in any activity, it costs parents hundreds but mostly thousands of dollars. Sports are businesses for the teachers/coaches. It’s pay to play. If you don’t patronize their year round clinics, opportunity is extremely limited. We donate and give and give and give. It doesn’t stop. Many who can’t afford it, do it so theirs kids can participate. It’s wrong.

    [Reply]

  22. As Ray Clarke has says, “There are so many governance and financial reasons why it makes sense for the District to fix the problem and the cover up, and I for one am hoping that Dr. Gusick steps up to the opportunity for leadership.” Although I agree with Ray that it may make sense for the school board/administration to fix the problem and cover-up, herein lies the problem — they have to acknowledge that there is a problem and to date, they are all unwilling to do so.

    As I said at the school board meeting, finance committee meeting and multiple times in posts — they have to own the accounting mistake, correct it and then we can all move on.

    We’re at a complete stalemate – not only is there a refusal to admit there IS a problem, we have Art McDonnell not providing the financial impact of the mistake. The taxpayers are caught in the crossfire, held hostage by the business manager. As I have also repeatedly said, both on Community Matters and in school district meetings, the public did NOT elect Art McDonnell, we elected the school board!

    Does the school board not recognize that the longer this goes on, more residents become engaged which will highlight the serious governance and transparency issues. Negative publicity is never good.

    [Reply]

    Tredyffrin taxpayer Reply:

    By asking Art M. for information, Heather Ward has demonstrated she thinks there may be cause for concern. She is a school board director who is standing up to the Business Manager and demanding accountability, but she has no power. I don’t see the Suoer. standing up to the finance chair or the Business Manager.

    Find a qualified, willing citizen to run against Todd. Maybe then the Board will vote Heather Ward the finance chair and she can call for an independent audit.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    To clarify, at the Finance Meeting Heather Ward did ask McDonnell to “show his work” and for multiples times for the accounting impact, but this response was a result of comments from residents at the prior school board meeting and multiple emails from financial experts in the community. Also, Tina Whitlow requested that auditor attend the next board meeting, although McDonnell was not certain that the auditor’s schedule would permit it (how convenient!).

    Because there is no opponent to the finance chair on the primary election ballot, it would take a write-in campaign. Interestingly, CPA/financial expert Neal Colligan lives in the right district. Not certain how it would work — don’t know how many votes are needed as a write-in candidate in the primary election to then have the candidate appear on the ballot in November’s general election. Maybe someone more schooled in the political process than I am, could answer that question.

    [Reply]

    Keith Knauss Reply:

    Just remember that no one board member whether it be the president or the finance chair has any power to do anything. It takes 5 votes to force any action. One would hope that the administrators would want to show their work or make sure a representative for the audit firm was present at a meeting. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Heather Ward and Tina Whitlow should be making phone calls to other board members to gather support. Then there should be motions at the board meeting to force debate and get an affirmative vote.

    Pattye Reply:

    Agree. Heather and Tina are freshman on the school board and for reference, it was the third freshman board member who told the residents at the budget workshop that they did not represent the community. It should not matter your position or how long you have been on the school board when it comes to doing what’s right.

    You are correct, let’s see a member of the school board step up, put a motion on the floor and have an open and honest discussion. The public does not need (or want!) a school board who stands in the shadow of the business manager!

  23. Tredyffrin taxpayer

    Please clarify WHICH UNION you are referring to with your comment about “bloated union salaries “.

    One of the 7 or 8 who sat through both meetings.

    [Reply]

    Tredyffrin taxpayer Reply:

    Teachers unions aren’t, and never have been, about the students. They spend their time and energy protecting their own power and their members’ jobs, salaries, benefits and retirement. That’s it.

    [Reply]

  24. Pattye, thank you so much for bringing these issues to light for those of us with young children who are unable to make it to many School Board meetings due to early kiddo bedtimes and lack of nighttime childcare. I am unclear on who exactly the Business Manager reports to? What recourse if any do taxpayers who feel he may not be well-representing the interests of the District have? Is his work reviewed by anyone? The comments to this article make it seem that Mr. McDonnell has an inappropriate amount of control over the School Board.

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    Pattye Reply:

    Thank you for your comment. Your perception of the business manager’s role in the school district is accurate. From the school district org chart standpoint, the business manager (Art McDonnell) reports to the superintendent (Dr. Gusick). The members of the school board are elected and serve as the governing body for the school district, placing them at the top of the org chart. At the finance committee meeting, I actually commented to the school board, that the public elected them (members of the school board) as oversight to represent ‘us’, not Art McDonnell, the business manager — that is how ridiculous the situation has become.

    It has long baffled me the level of power/control (whatever you want to call it) that McDonnell seemingly has over the school board and the superintendent. When there is outrage from members of the public over the $1.2 million accounting error – and the fact that the Art McDonnell kept the school board in the dark for 14 months! – the board chooses to “stand by their man”. I cannot imagine this playing out this way in the private sector!

    With the taxpayers facing a 6% tax increase, you would think that the school board would want to explore every possible means to avoid/reduce, including the potential impact of the accounting error. But no, many on the board, continue to push back to those trying to help (including a freshman school board member telling us that we don’t represent the community) in favor of their support for the business manager, regardless of the potential tax savings to the public.

    As a result of the actions (or rather in-actions) of the school board regarding the school district’s $1.2 million accounting issue, a formal complaint was officially filed yesterday with the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The school district, including the superintendent and members of the school board have been notified of the action. After comments/suggestions at various school board meetings in addition to emails and personal discussions, it is remarkable that as residents and taxpayers, we viewed this as our only recourse.

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    Ray Clarke Reply:

    By all appearances the relationship between the Board and the Business Manager has moved from unfortunate to harmful. The Board is hamstrung by the Business Manager’s absolute control of the flow of data (which in any event rarely bears any actual information) and have not been able to exert any authority.

    It seems to me that the only recourse for taxpayers is to lobby their School Board to demand change. There is now a litany of issues that have eaten away at the trust we deserve to have in those that manage such a big portion of our tax dollars.

    Not least of the issues is that the Board agreed in January to the renewal of the Business Manager’s contract for a second five year term, while apparently unaware that previous years’ Financial Reports to the Dept of Education – on which authorization of the proposed tax increase is dependent – contained information known to the Administration to be false.

    If the Board could gather itself to find that this is unsatisfactory, then the contract currently in place does give them a very narrow four month window around the expiration of a renewal term to act to restore trust.

    How would my neighbors feel about me, as the Treasurer of our Homeowner Association, if I paid five quarters of our landscaping bill in one year, and used the inflated annual total to justify an increase in their dues for the next year?

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  25. I cannot afford a 6 percent tax increase. My kids are no longer in the schools (graduated a year ago) but all I ever heard was how they couldn’t afford anything. They cut back on the open gyms for middle school students on Saturdays because they were greedy and wanted money from for-profit leagues. They cut back on bus stops and forced kids to wait at dangerous intersections. They never offered a “late bus” so that kids with working parents could stay after school for activities and have a way to get home. TESD is NOT “all that” in any sense of the word and in no universe can it justify a 6% tax increase in ONE YEAR. I’m tired of paying TESD administrators’ fat salaries while they enjoy golden benefits packages. They should know what it’s like to work in real jobs where you have to pay $600 a month out of pocket for healthcare benefits for your family even when employed full-time. Time for the corruption to stop.

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  26. Agree with longtime TE taxpayer. Every school meeting, the Administration cry’s poor and tells us how tight the budget is and how we can’t afford basic services for students. As parent said, we pay out of pocket for everything. It makes you angry to learn about how much teachers and administrators make especially when they make us believe our financial situation is dire. Stop the lies. Stop the corruption.

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  27. The 6% increase passed with a vote of 5-4. Who were the Board Members who voted for it?

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    Pattye Reply:

    Although the school board approved the “proposed final budget” there remains an opportunity to reduce the increase before the final approval in June. But as it now stands (as it has since their first announcement in December!) the T/E taxpayers are facing the largest increase in decades — a staggering 6%. The vote was 5-4 in favor and split out as follows:
    Opposing the budget with 6% tax increase – Scott Dorsey, Ed Sweeney, Kate Murphy and Heather Ward
    Voting in favor of the budget with 6% tax increase – Michele Burger, Roberta Hotinski, Todd Kantorczyk, Tina Whitlow, Kyle Boyer

    There remains open issues surrounding the school district’s $1.2 accounting error and its impact on the proposed tax increase. An official inquiry has been opened with the Pennsylvania State Department of Education by concerned residents — we are seeking resolution on the accounting mistake (hopefully before the final budget approval). More on this in a future post.

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    T/E Anonymous Parent Reply:

    Tax and spend
    Tax and spend
    Tax and spend

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  28. Your points are extremely valid and reasonable to me, Ray and Pattye. Is the flow of data through the Business Manager in T/E unique (I.e., do other school districts follow the same protocol?)? I was very surprised to find that when I tried to email the School Board about a bussing issue that my child was experiencing, which I had already discussed with Mr. McDonnell, that my message to the Board went through Mr. McDonnell as the Secretary of the Board! I didn’t want him to be the gatekeeper of my email and I have friends who felt the same with their comments to the Board on redistricting! We had little confidence our comments were being heard. It just feels to me like there is something totally amiss with this whole process…BM reports to Superintendent and School Board is top of org chart yet can’t get information they request from the subordinate BM???? Where is the Superintendent in all of this??? It really seems to me that there is some very serious mismanagement going on and I wish I understood the issues/processes better b/c as a taxpayer it feels very frustrating to think we are being stonewalled by a BM who does understand the system and who happens to hold a lot of valuable financial information.

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