The Clock is Ticking Down to TESD Budget Vote, Monday, June 8:  Includes 2.6% Property Tax increase, Administration Salary Increases (Business Manager +3.1%) and Elimination of ERB Testing

T/E School Board votes on the 2020-21 final budget on Monday, June 8, 7:30 PM.  Due to Covid-19, the meeting is held virtually — to access the meeting visit the T/E School District website, www.tesd.net.

Last chance to have your voice heard as the clock ticks down – Send your public comment to the school board at virtualboardcomment@tesd.net If you sent a comment prior to the June 1 Finance Committee, I suggest that you send another comment! Comments must reference Priority Discussion topic Final Adoption of the 2020-21 Budget and must be received before 6 PM on Monday, June 8. Make sure you include your name and township of residence (Tredyffrin or Easttown).

As it now stands, the District budget includes a 2.6% tax increase – the largest increase permitted by Act 1 guideline. Should the School Board approve the 2020-21 budget with a tax increase, it will mark sixteen straight years of a tax increase to the District’s residents.  How does the School Board respond to raising property taxes to people who are losing their incomes?

At a time when residents have lost their jobs, and every segment of our economy, including our local small businesses, are feeling the effects of the pandemic, could the School Board at the very least ensure no increase in property taxes.  Most all of us are finding ourselves in worse financial shape — freezing property taxes for District residents should be more than a nice thought!

At the Finance Meeting on June 1 (click here for video), it was obvious that I was not alone in my concern about the proposed tax increase.  At the end of the meeting [and only stopping because of video time constraints] at least twenty-five resident comments were read — and all but a couple asked for no tax increase and/or no to the elimination of ERB testing.

To his credit, Scott Dorsey has remained a constant, the only school board director who echoed the words of residents and asked for a zero tax increase in the 2020-21 budget!  Thank you Rev. Dorsey for understanding that we are all suffering because of the Covid-19 crisis and that now is not the right time to raise our property taxes.   Two other board members, Michele Burger and Mary Garrett Itin, asked for a 2% tax increase with the remaining six members apparently in favor of a 2.6% tax increase.

As noted in the 2020-21 budget agenda materials (see pgs. 311- 314), the School Board will vote on salary increases and bonuses for the District’s administration, supervisory and confidential employees.  Thank you to resident Ray Clarke for providing commentary on the proposed employee increases:

Once again, the final fiscal year Board materials contain proposed salary increases and bonuses for Administration, Supervisory and Confidential employees.

And, as usual, there is no information provided to allow the Board to assess the appropriateness of the increases, and perhaps we now see the reason why.

Increases have moderated this year, but the increases for employees in all these categories still add $141,987 to the annual budget, moderated a little by the replacement of some Supervisory/Confidential personnel by lower paid employees.  The straight average of increases for personnel in place both last year and this is 2.25%.  Increases are mostly in the 2% to 2.5% range, with the maximum of the Act 1 Index 2.6% being received by a few.

Note that the total of Administration increases still exceeds the 1.7% stipulated in the Act 93 contract.  At a time when other school districts are freezing salaries, it seems unlikely that this exceptional increase is required by “the competitive job market”.

However, there is one exception to the Index limit, and that is listed only in the Employment Agreement section of the TESD website.  No increase comes close to Business Manager Art McDonnell’s 3.1% annual increase to $216,427/year, stipulated by contract, regardless of the Act 1 Index, inflation, or taxpayers’ ability to pay. This increase is worth $6,507, and amounts to 4.6% of all the salary increases.

These increases average at about $2,000 a year for Supervisory/confidential personnel and $3,500 for Administration.  I hope that the Board considers the appropriateness of these substantial additional payments at a time of such economic uncertainty.

Adding insult to the residents, who are struggling in the midst of an uncertain future and a proposed 2.6% tax increase, is that the School Board would consider salary increases that exceed the Act 93 contract for administration, supervisory and confidential employees.  And further, that TESD Business Manager Art McDonnell will receive the highest salary increase, +3.1%!

There are school districts in Pennsylvania that are freezing employee salaries as a cost-savings measure for 2020-21. Not only is TESD not freezing the salaries, the Board’s vote to approve will increase salaries above the contractual agreement. School Board, how is this possibly fair to the taxpayers?

The administration, supervisor and confidential employee increases will add $142K to the District 2020-21 budget with no discussion to freeze the salaries for one year. Yet on the other hand, the proposed budget includes the elimination of ERB testing to save $85K as a cost-savings measure. Budget savings should not come at a cost to our students!

A form of assessment to guide instruction and reading, ERB testing has been used in TESD for many years to measure students’ progress and to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the District’s curriculum. TESD has no other tests that give grade level snapshots of students’ performance in reading and math – it is the only test of its kind!

ERBs are particularly important given the distance learning challenges faced by District families because of Covid-19. Parents need to know that their children are on track academically and many support the continuation of ERB testing as evidenced by the number of comments previously received by the District.

BUILD T/E, an advocacy organization in TESD for parents of children with learning differences, fully supports ERB testing in the District and opposes its elimination in the 2020-21 budget. Click here for BUILD’s latest blog post concerning the proposed elimination of ERBs in budget.

Do you have a comment for the School Board regarding the 2020-21 budget? Do you OPPOSE a 2.6% tax increase? Do you OPPOSE the elimination of ERB testing? Have a comment about employee salary increases in the proposed budget?

Send your comments to the School Board NOW — email the comments to Virtualboardcomment@tesd.net.  If you sent a comment prior to the June 1 Finance Committee meeting, I suggest that you send another comment!

Comments must reference Priority Discussion topic Final Adoption of the 2020-21 Budget and must be received before 6 PM on Monday, June 8. Make sure you include your name and township of residence (Tredyffrin or Easttown).

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32 Comments

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  1. I find it appalling that the school board is going to give Art McDonnell, the employee who hid a $1.2 million accounting error from the board for two years, lied to them about it during those two years, and then lied about the ability to fix it after it is found out, a 3.1% pay raise in addition to a bonus.

    I have not found one person in the public yet who doesn’t believe that he should have been fired for his actions.

    This is the same person who had a very questionable background before even coming to the school district.

    This is the same person who year after year gives us budgets that use fraudulent numbers in order to scare school board members into voting for the largest possible tax increases.

    This is the same person who with only six weeks left in the fiscal year is off by millions of dollars when estimating what the financial situation is for the school district.

    So basically, his department can’t keep tract of expenses, can’t forecast with accuracy, has a history of lying to the school board and the public, and doesn’t follow the accounting standards that school districts are supposed to follow.

    There is zero oversight with the school board. They do not understand what oversight is supposed to look like.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Thanks Doug for your comment – I hope that you will send your remarks before 6 PM to Virtualboardcomment@tesd.net .

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  2. Distance learning has been a colossal failure, ask any parent of an elementary school student. What better way to reward those responsible then to give them a raise and eliminate ERBs. Why not, you have us residents paying for those salary increases with our yearly tax increases. And giving the business mgr a raise on top of it is just disgraceful! We elected the school board to represent US, the taxpayer! But I’m still waiting for that to happen.

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    Pattye Reply:

    It is important that you share your distance learning experience with the school district. Please send your comments to TESD by 6 PM at Virtualboardcomment@tesd.net .

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    In Solidarity Reply:

    Could not agree more. It’s an absolute outrage!

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  3. Where is the shared sacrifice in the school district? I lost my job in April and am struggling to manage. Fortunately, I am on my own and family is able to help me. But I am incensed that myself (and others in TE) are having day-to-day difficulties and the school board is preparing to give raises to our highly paid administrators. As you say Patty, where is the fairness?

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    Pattye Reply:

    Thank you for your comment, please share with TESD before 6 PM at Virtualboardcomment@tesd.net .

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  4. Once again, the grown ups in the district are putting their needs above the kids’ needs.

    Did anyone propose a freeze on admin raises during the budget discussions? Why do ERB’s always come up as an option? Even if they would be replaced with another test, additional cost would incur with new comprehensive assessments. You don’t just stop assessing. Oh, unless you are TESD! This resistance to having performance data and relying on the less than adequate PSSA’s has been going on for years. Slowly but surely performance data has been removed. At the same time salaries have increased at levels higher than most.

    Until BUILD expressed concern about the removal of the ERB’s, it was strictly a budget decision. Then, when BUILD brought up valid reasons for keeping the ERB’s the administration shifted and targeted missing instructional time as the reason for getting rid of the tests. These are the administrators who could not lead their teachers to offer any in-person instruction to elementary students for almost 3 months!!

    School board put on your activist pants and hold the admin accountable! Do not concurrently give them a raise and take away one of the only metrics to rate their performance! These tactics and the ones you use when gaslight and limit public voice during you meetings do not align with the values you all ran on as Democrats. Instead, the tactics mimic those we are seeing at the national level. Put the kids first! OVERSIGHT of the ADMIN is key. Take away the ERB and there will be no academic oversight.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Thank you for your comment, please share with TESD before 6 PM today at Virtualboardcomment@tesd.net .

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  5. This is the email I sent:

    To the T/E School Board –
    I have lived (and voted and paid taxes) in Tredyffrin for more than 35 years. This is my second formal comment to the Board in all those years (the other was in 1999). I know most of you personally, and you know me. I have no children in the district, but happily pay my taxes because I believe in education, and the high caliber of educational opportunity afforded the students.

    However, I stand in opposition to the proposed raises and the tax increase.

    First, there is the issue of fairness. I am cognizant of the increased financial requirements all districts will face this fall to meet the social distancing and disinfection requirements wrought by the coronavirus. Further, there is no doubt that there is less state and Federal money available. However, many people in the district have lost their jobs, or had their hours cut, not to mention the hit to those who own small businesses and practices. The idea that you would consider raises on the backs of those in financial hardship is unfair and uncaring.

    The average salary of most elementary, middle and high school teachers is in the $60,000 range. Should it be more? In normal times, yes. But not now. Not when a lot of people in T/E are struggling by on much less. There should be shared sacrifice. Teachers have salary, benefits and pensions. Many in our town do not.

    Of special consideration, you want to give Art McDonnell a percentage raise larger than that to the teachers AND a bonus? The same guy who caused massive accounting errors and then lied about it? Lied to you, and to all of us taxpayers? I don’t understand how he gets to keep his job, much less gets a bonus. 

    While I’ve supported the previous increases, and paid without a word, this proposed tax increase, at this inflection point in history is wrong and immoral.

    Shame on you if you pass it.


    Regards,
    Jessica Weingarten, DC CSM WP
    Tredyffrin Taxpayer and Voter

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Thank you for sharing your email to the School Board, your words matter. Now really is NOT the time for tax increase!

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    Keith Knauss Reply:

    Ms Weingarten,

    Just for clarification –
    The average classroom teacher salary was $84,564.
    The highest teacher salary held by several was $114,834.
    http://www.openpagov.org/school_payroll.asp

    The highest paid employee is Superintendent Gusick. Next year he will make over $250,000 plus a guaranteed bonus of $2,500 plus a district owned car for business and personal use. His contract is on the district’s website.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Thanks for the clarification on the salaries Keith.

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  6. The TE District should not eliminate the ERB tests. When the ERB test results for my son at Beaumont Elementary showed “none” as the score for basic skills, I sprang into action to get him tutoring, summer reading camp, and important early interventions. Nothing was more important than the ERBs to show me that this IEP was not working.
    Copied/pasted below is how TE described the essential reasons for the ERB testing, which should continue to be important today:
    Educational Records Bureau
    • Students are tested in grades 2-4, 6, and 8 early in October so that teachers can use the results to identify strengths, relative weaknesses, and to assist with grouping decisions.
    – Grades 2 and 3
    • Reading Comprehension, Word Analysis, Math
    – Grades 4, 6, and 8
    • Verbal Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, Quantitative Reasoning, Math 1 & 2
    There is no valid reason for TE to eliminate ERBs, and if it does, then parents need to take a hard look at how TE is organized and run by the administration, and how the money that is pouring into the TE District can be put to the best use for the children in our District.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Thank you for your comment, I hope that you will share your remarks with TESD at Virtualboardcomment@tesd.net before 6 PM today.

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  7. Please do not cancel ERB testing. It is very important to see where our students stand especially after this distance learning and to determine their strengths and weaknesses. Many kids may struggle more than usual to catch up next year.

    Also I am concerned your plan to give a 3.1 percent raise to someone who hid a mistake that impacted the districts financials. It is human to make a mistake. It is unethical to hide one. Have we checked to make sure that the business managers salary is in line with other districts?
    Is there a strong justification for the increase at this time?

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Thank you Lynn for your comment. I hope that you will share your thoughts with TESD by 6 PM at Virtualboardcomment@tesd.net .

    [Reply]

  8. This is what I just sent:

    Hello,

    Firstly, regarding raising taxes. The idea of putting this to the vote shows gross disregard of the T/E residents during this challenging time, when many suffered partial or complete loss of income. Particularly our income had suffered 15% cut due to workplace’s decision to cut salaries because of the pandemic. Say NO to property tax increase.

    Then, regarding ERB testing elimination, and T/E distance learning approach in general :

    I have 2 kids in T/E school – Valley Forge Elementary.

    I spent the spring homeschooling my kids because the distance learning T/E style is marginally better than no schooling at all. There is no accountability: aside from 1 math review last week, the work was not reviewed at all.

    Today I had a chat with a mom who has a kid of the same 4th grade in Great Valley district.

    Here is what she wrote:

    “Great Valley school district uses Seesaw for assignments and Google Meeting for the classes. She has 2-5 classes/day.”

    I asked whether those 2-5 classes are real-time video lessons with teachers.

    She wrote to me: “Yes, she has classes with real teachers(Reading, Writing, small group reading, Math, physical, Art, Music, library, STEAM(coding)). Great Valley School District did good job during quarantine. So we like the school. She also has Science and Social Study, too. I think she is learning same subjects as she learns at school. GVSD started this a week after the quarantine started.”

    In contrast, with T/E: kids have real live classes only for elective Music (band/orchestra). The rest of live encounters: once a week session with math teacher to ask a question, and 1 session a week “class meeting”, during which core teacher reads a book aloud. Other than that, I have to send an e-mail daily to confirm that kids do schooling. Yes they do, but in addition to T/E, and that schooling I had to organize by signing kids up to available programs, and purchasing classes on Outschool.

    With this comparison in mind, I can not help but wonder how long T/E ratings will stay at the present level.

    Eliminating ERB testing – is eliminating accountability tool and motivating T/E to relax standards even further.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Thank you for sharing your comments to the school board.

    Re distance learning (from what I understand from TE parents) is the high school and middle school (for the most part) students handled the independent learning OK but that it was the elementary school age children where the breakdown was most evident. This seems to line up with your experience.

    [Reply]

    Tatiana K-L Reply:

    I am glad tp hear middle and high had better approach. However, the eye-opening comparison was with the same 4th grade. Great Valley elementary had vastly better approach than the top-rated T/E.

    [Reply]

    Middle School Parent Reply:

    I am a TE middle school parent and my child had zero live instruction in any class since March. Office hours were short and meant for questions. Curious to know what other parents observed?

  9. Pattye, Thank you so much for sharing this information with the community. The leaders of BUILD T/E (www.buildte.org) shared this letter to be read at tonight’s regular board meeting regarding our concerns with eliminating the ERBs:

    June 8, 2020

    Dear T/E School Board Members,

    BUILD strongly opposes the elimination of ERBs next year as a budget strategy. Here’s why:

    1. The $85K in savings by suspending the ERBs for next year is a drop in the bucket when there’s a $7.5 million budget deficit in the $154 million total budget.

    2. Suspending ERBs next year will cause parents and the District to lose the ability to see the ERB data point when assessing a particular student or looking at a particular grade, in reading and math, over the years. The last thing the District should be doing now is getting rid of a low-stakes, low-stress source of comprehensive data. In the possible well-intentioned effort to “preserve instructional time”, the District is actually creating a blind spot–a hole. This blind spot is the last thing our kids need.

    Also important to note is that the ERB is one of only a few grade level, normed assessments that are used when looking at year-over-year growth for students with IEP’s. This is an important component of determining if that student is catching up to their grade-level peers, whether or not that child’s individual goals were met, or if their disability needs to be supported in additional ways.

    3. The District, and members of this very Board, have long argued the benefits of ERBs. Suddenly recommending their elimination for next year, after school closure due to COVID-19, seems at best bad timing and at worst, slightly suspicious. Why would you want to have less data on our students now after such an unusual learning period? It’s more important than ever to fully grasp what has happened to our students’ progress in learning because of COVID-19 related closures. This is a reality that needs to be confronted straight-on, without egos, or hurt feelings.

    4. The argument that the ERB’s won’t be normed the same way is lacking at best. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. But moving forward, likely everything in our lives will be normed differently because of the pandemic. The ERBs of ‘20-21 will still provide great insight when comparing to ERBs in the past. The ERB is normed to administer online or on paper. It is also normed to be given twice a year, fall and spring.

    5. The assertion that the tests take too much time to score and do not inform fall instructional groupings does not match the experience of many TESD parents. Many parents have received ERB results as early as mid-October from principals who hand-score them so that they can place them in instructional groups.

    6. If cost is an issue, TESD can choose to administer the assessment online, saving the cost of scanning and testing materials. This option would also give immediate results once all students complete the test. Given the addition of new devices for students across the district, the online administration should be considered for students in middle school who will now have laptops.

    Let’s focus on assessing our students with ALL of our tools, including ERB’s, so T/E can be best equipped to move forward in understanding our students’ needs since school closure. This gives our students the greatest chance for future success. So, again, please reconsider suspending the ‘20-21 ERB’s.

    Thank you for your consideration and collaboration,

    BUILD T/E

    Wendy Brooks, Maggie Gaines, Kate Mayer & Jamie Lynch
    Tredyffrin & Easttown Townships

    [Reply]

  10. We need to save ERB….they are minimal in cost compares to the o real SD budget and the only way of independently tracking reading progress on our kids, which is so important in these times as our kids academic progress may have stalled. We need to maintain objective measures of reading progress to appropriately teach our children in the SD.

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  11. Where are the savings on busing? Should be millions. Zero mention. They’ve also beefed up their own workshops this summer. If I read one correctly it is 40-50 people for five days, five hours a day and $40 hour on distant learning. The topic is important but they didn’t go past June 10 even though they took days as shut/snow days, and didn’t make them up and have time this week too. They also said Wednesday’s would have planning. They could have used that time for these sessions and not double dip. That one workshop on distance planning will pay about $50k in bonus pay to teachers but the ERBs end? Thank you for being a watchdog for folks afraid to use their names and can’t write the school board or survey without a name. Neither can my kids. Need accountability here.

    [Reply]

  12. We are the parents of a rising first grader and rising sixth grader in T/E, residing in Tredyffrin Township. We’re very concerned about the removal of ERB testing to reduce the budget.

    As an instructional designer for a local company, I also had to design for the change in training delivery methods due to the pandemic. Monitoring learner progress informs nearly every decision a designer (and instructor) makes, especially when changing instructional modalities and techniques. Without well-established data collection tools (like the ERBs are for our teachers), I have difficulty knowing if all my learners are “with me” or if they’re falling behind.

    The removal of ERB data would further complicate an already-complicated situation for our teachers, who have been tasked with flipping instruction upside down during a global pandemic, often while balancing their own families. The information these tests provide is invaluable, especially now.

    While this removal seems like a reasonable idea to reduce our budget deficit, one could compare it to forgoing lab tests to save a copay, only to realize a year later that the patient needs a liver transplant. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Please don’t take this tool away. Not this year.

    [Reply]

  13. My Comment the the Board for what it’s worth:

    I lend my voice to those in our community asking you to consider 0% tax increase for the next fiscal year. The unprecedented economic harm caused by the reaction to the pandemic is being felt across our community in negative ways. The “Fair” treatment of our citizens is to forego your tax increase this year.

    Consider than in the last two fiscal cycles, you’ve run Surpluses to the tune of almost $7 MM ($4.7 MM last year and a projected $2+ MM this year). These are recent tax increases that provided increases to the District’s surplus (rather than being spent on education). The District Fund Balance is over $30 MM at this point. That IS taxpayer money and this IS the emergency for which that Surplus should be used. PLUS, your budgets are FAR from accurate in any given recent year…I’m not sure the Tax Increase is even needed to cover education expenses…most of you know the budget to be inaccurate.

    Eliminating the ERB Testing is not a serious budget proposal…the amount is diminumus. If you want to get rid of bench-mark data…then have the courage to do it and not hide it as a Budget Strategy.

    Further I ask you look at the long-term effects of the Recession we are entering. Now is the time to seriously look at right-sizing and stream-lining your operation. Everyone: families, for-profit companies and not-for-profits are all taking a hard look at their long-term spending commitments. Failure to do this now can have huge near-term effects.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Thanks Neal for sharing your comment with us which was sent to the Board!

    [Reply]

  14. Having experienced the middle school instruction, it was greatly lacking. At least the teachers communicated with students and parents and provided assignments and links to videos but very little if any feedback, assessment and instruction occurred. Neighboring districts executed much better. The resistance to connect live with students and to require work/ participation really hurt kids.

    It has been mentioned that the union pushed back on live instruction which is shameful if true. They are contracted to work for certain hours and should have been live for some of those hours each day!! When millions of students and districts across the country are struggling because of lack of resources but manage to top the schooling provided by TESD one has to wonder if we really need to be padding the coffers??

    [Reply]

  15. Hi Keith —

    While I see your source, I had used this source.

    https://jobs.teacher.org/school-district/tredyffrineasttown-school-district/

    And I have no desire to fight with you — if your source is more correct than my source, you have made my point stronger still.

    [Reply]

    Keith Knauss Reply:

    No need to fight. The data from teacher.org is from “Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2013, MSA: Philadelphia”.

    The data is 5 years old and not specific to TE, but takes into account all the 61 school districts in:
    Bucks County, PA
    Chester County, PA
    Delaware County, PA
    Montgomery County, PA
    Philadelphia County, PA

    Look up any school district in the area on teacher.org and the salaries will be the same.

    [Reply]

  16. The removal of ERB is precursor of waive SAT exam in college admission. Its not just about cost, it is about equality as some people claim.

    [Reply]

    Got it backwards Reply:

    At least with respect to the ERBs as they are used in TE to identify student and curriculum needs, the test clearly promotes equality and social justice.

    [Reply]

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