2 Weeks to Final Budget Vote & T/E Tax Increase Remains at 6% — Community needs to ‘Trust’ School Board Oversight!

With just two weeks until the final budget is approved for the school district, where is the school board in the process? We know that the 6% tax increase proposed in mid-December has not changed. Rumors continue that the school board will approve a lower tax increase yet the public remains in the dark.

For months, community members have requested school board action regarding the Special Ed $1.3 million accounting errors that impact the proposed (and future)budgets without resolution. Requests for the auditor to attend a public meeting are met with “not available” responses by the District’s business manager Art McDonnell. Then this past week we learned that the District posted a job opening for a new controller with a start date “ASAP” – apparently the District’s current controller is leaving for another job. Any secrets can remain safe if the controller is absent from public meetings and the controller leaves the District.

In my opinion, there is an imbalance in power and control in the school district administration. All roads lead back to (or through) Art McDonnell, the business manager. Many on the school board seemingly depend on (and support) the words of McDonnell, even when presented with evidence and opposing facts from financial experts in the community. Why is that?

We need to trust the school board as our oversight – to demonstrate leadership, courage and the will to govern on our behalf. At the core, the associated budget issues, including accounting errors, revolve around trust. As taxpayers, how are we supposed to trust the accuracy of this proposed budget (read “tax increase)?

We need a brave school board member to honor their responsibility to the community by making a motion requiring the administration to correct the $1.3 million Special Ed accounting error.

As a lead-up to the final budget vote on June 10th, there are two important meetings for school board members (and the public!) to speak out this week. There is a Finance Committee meeting Tuesday, May 28, 7 PM (click here for agenda) and regular school board meeting on Wednesday, May 29, 7:30 PM (click here for agenda).

Below Ray Clarke provides his personal commentary on the budget and related Special Ed accounting problem and his thoughts on the District’s business manager Art McDonnell.

Another month has gone by in the annual cycle of operas that is the TESD budget process.  On Tuesday the Finance Committee holds it last meeting before the June 10th vote on the Final budget.  It is increasing clear that the Board is ill-served by its Business Manager and that it is time for a fresh approach.

A few more facts are on the table.  In the last two weeks, the budget deficit for the current year has jumped by $700,000 of “Other” expenditures.  The Administration now presents a range of tax increases from the Index 2.3% to the erroneous Exceptions of 5.964%, and appears to be promoting 4.64%.  This is based solely on creating a budget deficit equal to the average of the last five years’ budgets without any further program changes. 

Also, the auditor’s Management Letter that accompanies the wrong financials for both years is quite clear that “our audit of the financial statements does not relieve you [the Board] or management of its respective responsibilities”.  The Letters for both years make no reference to the CCIU invoice mis-classification, even though dated in December of both following years, a month to a year after the issue came to light.

Some questions that arise:

  • Is the Administration proposing a $1.3 million budget deficit because they know that expenses are over- and revenues are under-budgeted?
  • What caused the last minute increase in projected expenses for the current year, and further, what impact does that have on next year’s budget?
  • How can the Board make informed budget decisions when the basic information about departmental level trends underlying that budget were presented so long ago (and in very broad strokes) and have been impacted by the disconnected list of programs under consideration? Most important, those financials are in one case just plain wrong.
  • Is the Board comfortable with basing a tax decision – impacting both this year and next – on authority granted by PDE based on erroneous information?
  • Has the Board received confirmation from its Auditor that, per its Management Letter, in December 2018 it either did not identify the CCIU error that was identified over 12 months earlier, or that it considered the matter “trivial”?
  • What is the Board going to do about Mr. Sweeney’s suggestion two weeks ago that the Budget process should be improved?

The mis-representations, cover up and associated taxing and budget debacle is the culmination of years of the TESD Board being treated by the Business Manager like a set of the proverbial mushrooms.  Other districts provide models for informed decision-making.  It’s time for the Board to exercise its contractual rights and make a change.

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14 Comments

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  1. Wow, as a parent of young kids in this District who has been following this issue primarily through your articles, Pattye, this latest update leaves me feeling not only incredulous that this type of behavior could be going on in our school district, but also incredibly frustrated and a little helpless. What can we do to demand that our School Board rectify this error? How can we as citizens register our dissatisfaction with the Business Manager? Is there a potential for any legal action to force correction of the error?

    [Reply]

    Parent Reply:

    This behavior goes on in the schools too. The Principals and teachers lie right to your face even when they see proof right before their eyes. They know they will be backed up by their superiors. They have no fear. I have come to the conclusion that the only way to set things straight is to get a lawyer and I don’t think that bothers them.

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  2. I am continuously amazed that some members of the school board continue to protect an employee who

    1) Failed to notify the board of over a million dollar misstatement of financial information to the state for the 2016-2017 school year that directly impacts the taxing authority of the district

    2) Lied to the board and the public during the 2017-2018 budget discussions when asked why the actuals came in much lower than the budget for 2016-2017

    3) Lied to the board and the public during the 2019-2020 budget discussions when asked why the actuals came in much higher than the budget for 2017-2018

    4) Continues to lie about being able to fix the financial statements with the state

    The real reasons for items 2 & 3 above was because $1.2 million from 2016-2017 was incorrectly accounted for in 2017-2018. Art knew the real reason for months before item 2 occurred and for over a year when item 3 occurred.

    Over and over again the public has first been dismissed when a concern was raised only to be vindicated later. Even after the continuous lies listed above from Art, the board still seems to believe him. Apparently the board never heard of the old saying “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

    Many members of the public and school district employees understand that Art has lied to the public for many years. Why does the school board not see it? If they see it, why is Art still employed by the district? Why does the board want such a dishonest employee representing them to the state and the public?

    Make no mistake about it. The board is very close to passing a budget that would not be allowed if the district used the real numbers. The state only gave the district the permission to raise taxes by 5.964% this year because Art submitted and then refused to correct the $1.2 million financial mistake. If Art had used the real numbers, the district would only be allowed to raise taxes by 3.91%.

    This means that the school board might be about to commit fraud. When you use deception for financial gain, that is fraud. The numbers the school board are refusing to correct are not just deceptive, they are just plain wrong.

    Where is the oversight? It does not seem to be coming from either the superintendent nor the school board.

    The public should demand that the school board fix the financials to be the actual numbers and that administrators stop lying to the public.

    Truth matters – at least it should.

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    T/E Anonymous Parent Reply:

    I feel the board is broken into two factions. One faction believes terminating Art would unnecessarily make matters unstable. The second faction has no idea what is going on, as their intentions on being a board member was to address social issues, not understanding they are responsible for a district budget as large as T/E’s.

    My guess is the board approves the large tax increase, and does so with an uncomfortable large majority. They pass it with the hopes the summer months will cause this issue to die away, and they’ll justify it as a ‘slight increase to the average homeowner of $X”.

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    Doug Anestad Reply:

    I unfortunately think that your two faction concept is more accurate than it should be.

    We will find out tonight if you are correct on the large tax increase part.

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    T/E Anonymous Parent Reply:

    Out of the 3 or 4 new board members, which one of them has the guts to stand up and say no to the tax increase? Not one. Right there you have a plurality – all you need is a few more and then there’s the majority. From there, the ones who were debating whether to vote against the tax increase feel the pressure and find more safety in numbers (voting for the increase) as opposed to putting a stake in the ground and claiming ‘the buck stops here’.

    Tredyffrin taxpayer Reply:

    From Pattye April 26

    The vote on the proposed final budget (5-4) was as follows:
    Burger yes
    Hotinski Yes
    Boyer Yes
    Whitlow Yes
    Kantorczyk Yes

    Dorsey No
    Ward No
    Sweeney No
    Murphy No

  3. Coming late to this but thank you so much Doug Anestad for such a precise and informative summary.
    I believe a public petition to the School Board requesting the firing of the district administrator is urgent.
    I’d be happy to make one online if I could use your wording from above. Please let me know.
    Thank you

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Thank you! I spoke to Doug Anestad and he’s fine with the use of his wording for a petition. Thanks for offer of help and let us know when the petition is available.

    [Reply]

    Doug Anestad Reply:

    I should mention that the next school boarding is tomorrow, Wednesday the 28th at 7:30pm at Conestoga High School.

    [Reply]

    Doug Anestad Reply:

    Having an online petition would only really be effective if people used their real names and at least the street that they lived on.

    Having people show up to the televised school board meetings is usually more effective.

    You can also email them at schoolboard@tesd.net.

    Let them know what you think of the school district standing by an administrator who is willing to hide financial misstatements for over a year from the board and while repeatedly lying about it.

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  4. This is outrageous, and we need to take back control of the school district. It is OUR money not theirs. They think our money IS theirs and treat us with distain as if we are so much dirt under their feet.
    The entire school board should be forced out of office, and replaced with people who have ethics, morals, and guts.

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  5. Doug..Finance Committee is tonight Tuesday 28th 7pm TEAO

    School Board meeting Wed 29th 730 pm at Conestoga

    [Reply]

    Doug Anestad Reply:

    Yes, I will be at both.

    I mentioned the regular School Board Meeting on Wed 29th to people because the school board seems to care more when the cameras are rolling.

    [Reply]

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