Tredyffrin Easttown School District

2014 Pennsylvania School District Rankings based on PSSA scores are in — Unionville Chadds Ford tops the list, Radnor moves up to third and T/E places fifth

Spring is PSSA time for public schools in Pennsylvania and the results for 2014 as reported in the Pittsburgh Business Times reveal exciting news for Unionville Chadds Ford School District (UCFSD).  For those interested in this type of school district rankings, UCFSD now tops the state’s list, having ousted long-standing Upper St. Clair School District for the number one position based on 2014 PSSA results.  The Upper St. Clair School District located in suburban Pittsburgh, had previously held the first place title for the last eight years but dropped to fourth in the rankings behind UCFSD, Mt. Lebanon (Allegheny County) and Radnor school districts for 2014.

The Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) formula ranks the school districts based on three years of state standardized test scores, giving the most weight to the current year. The PSSA is a standards-based assessment of what a student should know and be able to do at varying levels in reading, writing, science and math.  Reading and math is assessed in grades 3 through 8 and grade 11; writing is assessed in grades 5, 8 and 11 and science assessed in grades 4, 8 and 11. The rankings do not denote the overall quality and performance of the school district, only the PSSA scores.

Although the 2014 rankings show Upper St. Clair School District dropping to fourth place, another Allegheny County school district, Mt. Lebanon holds at second place.  This is the fourth consecutive year that I have tracked the top 15 school districts and the highlighted line in the chart below indicates  that T/E School District has moved from second in 2011, third in 2012, fourth in 2013 and to fifth place in the 2014 PSSA rankings.  Last year we saw UCFSD drop from second in 2012 to third in 2013.  However, UCFSD turned it around for 2014 and ended up first in the rankings.  Looking at other Main Line school districts, Radnor had dropped from fourth to sixth in 2013 but they also changed direction and are now third in the state.  Great Valley School District jumped a couple of spots this year and for 2014, their PSSA scores have them ranked at 11th in the state.

Looking at the ‘Top 15’ school districts in Pennsylvania (based on PSSA results), Allegheny County continues as the number one county with six school districts represented followed by Chester County with three school districts (Unionville Chadds Ford, Great Valley and T/E), Delaware County with three school districts (Radnor, Wallingford Swarthmore and Rose Tree Media) and Montgomery County with one school district (Lower Merion).

A review of other area school districts indicates that Downingtown School District continues to improve; moving from 25th ranking in 2012 to 24th in 2013 and places at 22nd in 2014. Phoenixville School District moved up four positions this year from 98 in 2013 to 94 in 2014.

A Pennsylvania school district that places in the top 15 or 20 out of 500 districts statewide based on the PSSA exams is an achievement for which  students, parents, teachers and administrators can all be proud.   Many view PSSA scores as a reliable predictor of future success.  As a tool for student assessment, the PSSA exam helps measure and provides useful information of what students are learning. The PSSAs measure the performance of the entire class and provide of measurement of how an overall class is performing.

Pennsylvania allows parents to exempt their children from standardized tests for religious reasons. Some elected officials, including State Sen. Andy Dinniman, have been publicly wary of the way standardized tests are used.  As Minority Chair of the Senate Education Committee, he offers ‘Eight Reasons Why We Oppose Keystone Graduation Exams’, believing that it is fundamentally wrong for three standardized tests to determine a student’s high school graduation.

Beyond bragging rights for a school district or as a sales tool for local real estate agents, how important are these test results?  Do children (and teachers) need this level of pressure to ‘measure up’?

PA School District Rankings, Based on PSSA Results for 2011 – 2014 years

School Rankings 14

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A Review of Radnor Twp School District’s Teachers Contract … Will the Results Help T/E Teachers?

The following Community Matters post, “Signed, Sealed and Delivered … Radnor Twp School District & Teachers Union Ink 3-year Contract with Salary Increase … Is there handwriting on the wall for T/E Teachers?”  is from March 23, 2011.

A year ago, the Radnor Township School District signed a 3-year contract with their teachers union( RTEA) that was surprising, given the economic situation of the times.  Fast forward to 2012, and T/E is in the midst of their own contract negotiations.  This post and the attached comments from a year ago, make for an interesting commentary to compare and contrast where we are in our own teacher negotiation process.  Can we learn anything from the decisions of our neighboring school district?

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“Signed, Sealed and Delivered … Radnor Twp School District & Teachers Union Ink 3-year Contract with Salary Increase … Is there handwriting on the wall for T/E Teachers?”
~ Community Matters, March 23, 2011

It is now official, Radnor Township School District and the teachers union, Radnor Township Education Association (RTEA) have voted to approve three-year contract, September 1, 2010 – August 31, 2013. Below are some of the highlights of the contract.

Salary Highlights:
Salary freeze September 1, 2010 – March 3, 2011 (6 months)

Year One Salary:

  • No step movement
  • Average pay increase after freeze: 1.57%
  • Top salary step remains at current level
  • Average lump-sum payment for top salary step: $749

Year Two Salary:

  • RTEA members move to next step
  • Average pay increase: 3.26%
  • Top salary step remains at current level
  • Average lump-sum payment for top salary step: $1,206

Year Three Salary:

  • RTEA members move to next step
  • Modest increase to top salary step
  • Average pay increase: 2.66%

Health Benefits Highlights:

  • RTEA members agreed to significant increase in the cost of health insurance
  • Stating March 4, 2011, teachers move from fixed contribution to a percentage-based contribution
  • Year One – salary contribution 0.75% – 1.5%
  • Year Two – health care plan changes from Blue Cross to lesser premium-cost plan, with increase co-pays doctor and hospital visits (salary contribution 0.85% – 1.5%)
  • Year Three – salary contribution 0.95% – 1.65%

Retirement Option:

  • Eligible teachers will receive a one-time retirement payment from $25K – $50K (depending on number of retirees). The retirement option is in effect for limited time to allow district to reduce payroll.

OK, so looking at the contract inked between the Radnor Township School District and RTEA, is the handwriting on the wall for T/E School District?  So much for Gov. Corbett’s recommendation for a one-year freeze . . .  Radnor’s teacher union only agreed to a 6-month freeze.  However, after the 6-month salary freeze, the teacher union pulled off 7.5% salary increase for the following 2 ½ years of the contract.

Remember, if a teacher qualifies for a step increase, his or her salary increase would actually be higher than the average yearly salary increase. Radnor’s teachers contract is remarkable given today’s economy and budget shortfalls!

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Underfunded Pennsylvania Pension Funds Need Real Reform

Pennsylvania is facing a multi-billion dollar public pension crisis – now is the time for pension reform in Harrisburg.  The Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS) and the State Employees Retirement System (SERS), the two systems administering retirement accounts for state and public school employees, are severely underfunded and will become insolvent without an increase in taxpayer contributions.

In discussing the need for pension reform, in December 2010, I wrote . . .

“did you know that more than half the state’s municipal pension plans are less than 90 percent funded?  Calculated as the ratio of assets to liabilities, 644 municipal pension plans are labeled as “distressed” by the state’s Public Employee Retirement Commission (PERC).  Of those, 26 are less than 50 percent funded and branded as “severely distressed.”

I cannot speak for the accuracy of those numbers thirteen months later, but I have to believe that they have not improved.

One of the last bills signed into law as Gov. Rendell was leaving office was HB 2497, which became Act 120.  But instead of reforming the defined-benefit pension system, this legislation ‘kicked the pension can’ further down the road, by deferring pension payments and increasing the unfunded liability by billions of dollars in lost investments and interest – in essence, leaving the problem on the shoulders of our children and grandchildren.

In the old days, the nature of traditional pension coverage in the private and public sector was quite similar; the majority of all employees were covered by a defined benefit plan where the liability of the pension lies with the employer. However, there is a reason why in the last decade that the vast majority of private sector employees have turned away from defined benefit plans to some form of a 401(k) type plan – the challenge of keeping a defined-benefit plan, particularly in our unstable economic climate, has proven too great for most companies to bear.

Defined-benefit plans may provide the best financial safety net for employees, but most private sectors can no longer afford to maintain them – the strain on the company balance sheets has proved too large for firms to withstand.  And even in the case where a company struggled to keep a traditional defined-benefit plan in place, the economic downturn has prompted plan changes whether they were preferred or not.

Teachers and state workers should not be targeted as public enemies because of their benefit packages. However, I just do not see how their defined-benefit plan (in its present form) is sustainable for the future.  Clearly, pension reform should not affect any vested state employees or pensioners already in the system – changes should only affect future employees.

From the taxpayer side, we are angry because we have to make up the state’s pension fund losses as we watch our own 401(k) accounts depleting. The teachers argue they never took a vacation from paying into the system and that a pension is necessary to attract and keep good teachers.  Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) the state’s largest teachers union is on record that will oppose any proposed changes to Act 120, such as a 401(k) type of defined contribution plan. This is a catch-22 situation; we want to maintain a high quality of teachers and state workers in Pennsylvania, but we cannot afford the current pension price tag.

During the last election cycle, there was much discussion from school board candidates about the District’s financial situation and possible solutions, including imposing an earned income tax.  Some candidates believed that because the financial problems were caused by Harrisburg, that it should be up to the state to find the solution, not the school districts (taxpayers).  Candidate and now re-elected school board president Karen Cruickshank called on the state to “fix your mess” and suggested that residents contact their legislators and the governor to push for pension reform.

State Rep Warren Kampf (R-157) has an editorial, “Change the pension system to help taxpayers” in today’s Phoenixville Patch. In the article, Kampf states that his pension reform legislation,

“will require all new state employees and those hired by school districts to participate in a defined contribution plan (like the 401k-style plan that is prevalent in the private sector) where the taxpayer would  be required only to match the employee’s contribution. This would be in lieu of the traditional defined benefit pension plan”. 

Under Kampf’s plan, state employees would have a system similar to the private sector where an employee owns their 401(k) plan and takes it with them if they leave the job.  In a Community Matters article from December 2010 (cited earlier) I wrote,

“. . . As another form of fiscal responsibility, Kampf announced that he would not be taking the state’s defined-benefit pension plan and will work on the creation of a defined 401K-type plan for legislators and state employees.” 

I have not agreed with all of Kampf’s votes since he took office, but to give credit where due . . .  Kampf’s promise to work on pension reform were made prior to his taking office in 2011, and today we learn that he plans to introduce his proposed reform legislation this spring.  (Click here to read the Phoenixville Patch editorial).

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College Remains Important but Choosing the Right Major Could be Key to Employment

As a community, we focus on the T/E school district’s educational quality and its sustainability during these economic challenging times. Many in this community believe that there is a direct correlation between the quality of education provided in this school district and their property values.  For other residents, they look at the quality of our school district as a contributor to their children’s college experience and future job prospects.

Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workplace conducted an extensive study on the projection of jobs and education requirements through 2018.  A new report was recently released from the center, ‘Career Clusters: Forecasting Demand for High School through College Jobs 2008 – 2018‘ which offers some interesting trends and forecasts.

Everything we know about the job market tells us that a college degree is a passport to employment that provides a decent wage and benefits, albeit some benefits in the workplace are fading in today’s world.  We all know that having a college degree does not guarantee employment.  However, without a college degree the chances of securing a job providing a decent wage are far less.  The Georgetown study reports that by 2018, 62% of all jobs will require at least some college education.  The United States will need 22 million new college degrees but the study says we will fall short by at least 3 million.

“A bachelor’s degree is still the best path to middle-class employment and wages in the United States, and while those with only a high-school diploma can achieve the same status, it will become harder for them to find and secure such jobs.” according to the study.

The reports indicates that there are jobs for those with high school degrees, but those jobs are mostly in male-dominated careers – manufacturing, architecture and construction, distribution and logistics and hospitality.  The study makes an interesting point that women need education beyond a high school degree to be able to earn the same wage as a man with only a high-school education. This analysis would suggest that at the lower educated levels, women have not advanced as far with their paychecks as those women of higher education.  Although there remains a disparity in many workplaces between the salaries of women and men that gap has become narrower in the last decade.  This report suggests that the paycheck gap between the sexes is wider among the lower educated.  The higher the education, the lesser the salary gap between women and their male counterparts.

In the future, a person with only a high school diploma will have to work harder to reach a middle-class status versus a person with only a few college credits.  Opportunities go up proportionately based on the level of education and that growing fields of employment with better salaries will require college degrees.  The bottom line . . .  a college education is still important and valuable, even in a bad economy. It is the economy that is putting a high value on college degrees.  Putting students on a track to reach the college or university level and emphasizing the importance of a degree remains important.

Understanding the importance of a college education, if you look at the original report from the Georgetown University Center of Education and the Workplace, the data suggests the following:

Consider that, since 1983, among prime-age workers between the ages of 25 and 54:

• Earnings of high school dropouts have fallen by 2 percent;
• Earnings of high school graduates have increased by 13 percent;
• Earnings of people with some college or an Associate’s degree have increased by 15 percent;
• Earnings of people with Bachelor’s degrees have increased by 34 percent;
• Earnings of people with graduate degrees have increased by 55 percent.

Although unemployment affects all economic levels, the report suggests that those individuals with postsecondary education will fair better through this recession than ‘high school educated only’ individuals.   In addition, that the country’s future economic recovery will focus on skilled rather than unskilled labor jobs.  In other words, those that lost jobs that only required a high school education will find that their jobs may be permanently lost; lost either to automation or through outsourcing to foreign competitors.

Using the data from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workplace, the Wall Street Journal created an interactive tool where users can search for the average employment rate and median income of people who studied each major.

Current top 10 college majors with the highest unemployment (10% employment rate or higher)

1. Clinical psychology 19.5%
2. Miscellaneous fine arts 16.2%
3. United States history 15.1%
4. Library science 15.0%
5. (tie) Military technologies; educational psychology 10.9%
6. Architecture 10.6%
7. Industrial & organizational psychology 10.4%
8. Miscellaneous psychology 10.3%
9. Linguistics & comparative literature 10.2%

One obvious trend to recognize is anyone with some form of an undergraduate psychology degree is struggling to find employment.  Due to the slowdown in the construction industry, it is not a surprise to see architecture on the list.

The most employable college majors (with accompanying unemployment rate):

1. Actuarial Science 0%
2. Astronomy and astrophysics 0%
3. Educational administration and supervision 0%
4. Geological and geophysical engineering 0%
5. Pharmacology 0%
6. School student counseling 0%
7. Agricultural economics 1.3%
8. Medical technologies technicians 1.4%
9. Atmospheric science and meteorology 1.6%
10. Environmental engineering, nursing and nuclear industrial radiology and biological technologies 2.2%

College students should take note of some recession-proof degrees. There are at least six fields of study whose graduates are virtually 100 percent employed right now. That’s right – certain majors, such as pharmacology, produce graduates who face a zero percent unemployment rate. That’s not bad considering last month’s joblessness rate for people with a college degree or higher was 4.4 percent. Jobs are available for science and technology majors but also it is good to see that education and school counseling majors should be able to find employment.

Looking at the county’s unemployment rates and the rising costs of a college education over the last three decades, we should not question the value of a postsecondary degree as the Georgetown University study confirms its value. However, even if we can agree on the importance of a four-year education, especially once the country struggles out of recession into recovery mode, a pressing problem remains.

Beyond the cost of the college degree is the bigger problem . . .  and that is how to pay for it!

I feel like we are living in the slow motion era of the 2nd Great Depression.

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Decision Time – Will T/E School Board Directors Vote in Favor of an EIT Voter Referendum Question?

Monday night is a case where I would like to be in two places at once . . .

Tredyffrin’s township finances and the proposed 2012 budget is on the Board of Supervisors agenda at 7:30 PM while the T/E school directors will hold a Finance Committee meeting at 6:30 PM followed by a special school board meeting at 7:30 PM to discuss the EIT. (Both school district meetings will be held in Conestoga HS cafeteria). I will attend the Board of Supervisors meeting and I am counting on my friend Ray Clarke to attend the school district meetings.

In reviewing the agenda for the T/E Finance Committee meeting and the draft minutes from their October 17 meeting, I read the following:

Education Committee Recommendation:

At the prior Finance Committee meeting the Committee was informed that the State reinstated $1.3 million in funding that was not included in the District’s 2011-12 budget. In light of this information, the Committee authorized the Superintendent to restore education program cuts made in the 2011-12 budget. Dr. Richard Gusick presented the proposed reinstatements of budget cuts to the education program and explained that they were already reviewed by the Education The Finance Committee asked that the proposal to reinstate these budget cuts be presented at a future Board meeting.

I am confused. Although I was aware that the State had reinstated $1.3 million in funding to the T/E school district, I was not aware there was a decision as to whether (1) restore the district’s education programming cuts or (2) add the money to the fund balance.

According to these minutes, the Finance Committee (or Education Committee?) authorized the money go to restoring education program cuts. Restoring which programming cuts? Latin in the Middle School? Foreign language in the elementary school? Technology purchases? Specifically, which education program cuts did the committee authorize restored? In addition, are we to assume that the option of adding the $1.3 million to the district’s fund balance is off the table for consideration? These are questions for the school board directors at Monday’s meeting.

I also noted that the Finance Committee meeting minutes indicate that the school district will wait until 2012 to release a RFP for the outsourcing (if needed) of custodial services. It is not clear at this point if custodial outsourcing will be on the budget reduction strategy list.

Immediately following the Finance Committee meeting tomorrow night, the school board will hold a special meeting at 7:30 PM to consider notification to Tredyffrin and Easttown townships of the intent to levy an EIT. November 16 is the deadline for the School Board to provide the townships with notification so the board will be taking a vote at this special meeting. The school board will vote on whether to include EIT as a voter referendum question on the primary election ballot on April 24, 2012. For school districts to levy an EIT requires voter approval. The maximum that TESD could levy is 1%. If approved by voters, all residents, including renters, in Tredyffrin and Easttown Townships would be taxed at 1% on earned income. If an EIT were to be approved, the townships have the legal option to request one-half of the 1% collected by the school district.

Leading up to Election Day, we watched as EIT become the ‘buzz’ word of the local campaign season. Early on, the local Republican Party took a stand against an earned income tax and furthered the issue by labeling the Democrat candidates as EIT supporters. Feeling the pressure, all the Democratic school board candidates responded that ‘they’ were personally opposed to an earned income tax.

The politicizing of the EIT prior to the public presentation of TESD’s tax study group troubled me. The EIT became a political football between the local political parties and in my opinion, damaged the community’s ability to completely understand the EIT as presented by the tax study group. Not to mention the confusion that occurred at the polls on Election Day! Three different precinct judge of elections have reported to me that there were some confused voters — asking where the EIT question was on the ballot. Based on the campaign mailers and political signs, many in the community came to the polls on Election Day expecting to vote on the EIT issue.

Now that we are on the other side of the election, how can newly re-elected school board members Karen Cruikshank (D) and Jim Bruce (R) now vote in favor of taking the EIT issue to the voters. I do not know whether re-elected Easttown school board member Pete Motel (R) made a public statement one way or the other re the EIT. Based on the pre-election political hype of the EIT, the vote count of the school board members will be interesting. Will we see the school board members following the lead of their political parties?

If the school board members vote in favor of an EIT voter referendum question on the April primary ballot, do many of us really think that the residents would vote in favor of this new tax. During the school board budget cut strategy meetings, there were residents asking for tax increases vs. further educational programming cuts.

Faced with the possibility of further programming cuts in the next school district budget, would there be sufficient support from voters for an EIT?

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Election Day 2011 is over . . . Looks like much will remain the same!

Election Day 2011 has now passed and the ‘unofficial’ results are in. The full results for all races can be found at the Chester County website, www.chesco.org. In reviewing the results, all incumbents prevailed in the supervisor and school board races. Other than Karen Cruickshank’s re-election as school board director, it was a clean sweep for the Republicans for the T/E School Board and Board of Supervisors.

SCHOOL DIRECTOR TREDYFFRIN EASTTOWN REGION I
VOTE NOT MORE THAN 2
JAMES D BRUCE (REP) . . . . . . . 1,443     25.33
TARA G LA FIURA (REP) . . . . . . 1,336     23.46
KAREN CRUICKSHANK (DEM) 1,635    28.70
JERRY HENIGE (DEM) . . . . . . . 1,280      22.47
WRITE-IN. . . . . . . . . . . 2 .04

SCHOOL DIRECTOR TREDYFFRIN EASTTOWN REGION II
VOTE NOT MORE THAN 2
ELIZABETH A MERCOGLIANO (REP). . 2,416      25.71
KRIS GRAHAM (REP). . . . . . . .                2,428     25.84
JENNIFER LIGHTMAN WESSELS (DEM) . . .   2,322        24.71
SCOTT DORSEY (DEM) . . . . . . .                 2,229         23.72
WRITE-IN. . . . . . . . . . . 1 .01

SCHOOL DIRECTOR TREDYFFRIN EASTTOWN REGION III
VOTE NOT MORE THAN 1
PETER MOTEL (REP). . . . . . . . 1,256     61.51
CRAIG A LEWIS (DEM) . . . . . . 785       38.44
WRITE-IN. . . . . . . . . . . 1 .05

Karen Cruickshank (D, Jim Bruce (R) and Pete Motel (R) were re-elected for TESD Region 1 and Liz Mercogliano (R) and Kris Graham (R) were elected for TESD Region II. In Region III, incumbent Pete Motel won by a significant margin against his opponent. If you recall from the school board debate, the candidate who made personal attacks was Craig Lewis against Pete Motel. Maybe this win indicates that voters from Easttown did not appreciate Mr. Lewis tactics. Cruickshank is currently serving as president of the school board and her win reflects a vote of confidence from the voters on her performance.

Looking at Mercogliano’s win, I am reminded that neither she nor Tara LaFiura participated in the League of Women Voters debate. If I had been a betting person, I would have thought that would have harmed her chances of winning. But she was only 12 votes behind the winner Kris Graham who did participate in the debate.

Here are the unofficial results from the Tredyffrin supervisor races:

TOWNSHIP SUPERVISOR AT-LARGE TREDYFFRIN TOWNSHIP
VOTE NOT MORE THAN 2
MICHAEL C HEABERG (REP). . . . . . 4,020    27.09
KRISTEN KIRK MAYOCK (REP) . . . . 4,042    27.24
MOLLY DUFFY (DEM). . . . . . . .               3,636       24.50
F MICHAEL MURPH WYSOCKI (DEM). 3,137       21.14
WRITE-IN. . . . . . . . . . . 4 .03

DISTRICT SUPERVISOR 1ST DISTRICT TREDYFFRIN 1ST DISTRICT
VOTE NOT MORE THAN 1
PAUL W OLSON (REP) . . . . . . . 1,331      50.21
VICTORIA SNYDER (DEM) . . . . . . 1,318      49.72
WRITE-IN. . . . . . . . . . . 2 .08

DISTRICT SUPERVISOR 3RD DISTRICT TREDYFFRIN 3RD DISTRICT
VOTE NOT MORE THAN 1
JOHN JD DIBUONAVENTURO (REP) . . . . 1,616    98.54
WRITE-IN. . . . . . . . . . . 24 1.46

Incumbent Mike Heaberg (R) was re-elected along with Kristen Mayock (R). Only 22 votes separated those two spots. Unopposed in the race, JD DiBuonavnturo (R) was re-elected for District 3. In District 1, Paul Olson (R) will retain his seat on the Board of Supervisors. Tory Snyder (D) gave Olson a real run and came within 13 votes of unseating him.

Based on these results, Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors will continue as an all-Republican board. Mayock’s election to the Board adds a third woman – it has been awhile since we had that dynamic. Personally I’m looking forward to that new element and what that will mean for the residents.

In an upset, Jeremy Blackburn (R) was unseated by Analisa Sondergaard (D) as District Judge. I was one of those who believed that our District Judge should be an attorney so I am very supportive of Sondergaard’s win in this election.

MAGISTERIAL DISTRICT JUDGE DISTRICT 15-4-01
VOTE NOT MORE THAN 1
JEREMY M BLACKBURN (REP) . . . . .   1,847   48.36
ANALISA SONDERGAARD (DEM) . . . . . 1,971    51.61
WRITE-IN. . . . . . . . . . . 1 .03

In the Chester County District Attorney race, I am pleased that Tom Hogan (R) won this race and will serve the county as our new DA.

DISTRICT ATTORNEY
VOTE NOT MORE THAN 1
TOM HOGAN (REP) . . . . . . . .  45,036   60.07
SAMUEL C STRETTON (DEM). . . . . . 29,826   39.78
WRITE-IN. . . . . . . . . . . 106 .14

In the County Commissioner race, the three incumbents, Ryan Costello (R), Terence Farrell (R) and Kathy Cozzone (D) were all re-elected to another term as Commissioners.

COUNTY COMMISSIONER
VOTE NOT MORE THAN 2
RYAN A COSTELLO (REP) . . . . . . 42,232      29.40
TERENCE FARRELL (REP) . . . . . . 40,629    28.29
KATHI COZZONE (DEM) . . . . . . .    31,933     22.23
SUSAN BAYNE (DEM). . . . . . . .  28,736      20.01
WRITE-IN. . . . . . . . . . . 111 .08

To all the candidates, thank you for all the time and energy spent over these last few months with your campaigns.  To our newly elected officials, the community thanks you and remain hopeful that you will stand behind the campaign promises that you made to the residents.

Yesterday I visited several precincts and spoke to many people.  There was a constant theme in our discussions; I learned that many people in this community were deeply troubled by the campaign rhetoric of the political parties.  They spoke of the infamous yellow signs, the negative campaign mailers and of the robo-calls.  I actually had several people say that they almost stayed home in protest and knew that would not help with the message.  Regardless if you are the winning side or not, please know that the tactics during this campaign season was not what many in the community want.  I hope that in the aftermath of Election Day 2011, the local Republican and Democratic party will take the time to reflect on their campaign strategies for the future.

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T/E School Board Candidates Asked What’s Most Important Issue – Responses from Tredyffrin Democratic candidates & Easttown candidates, no Tredyffrin Republican candidate responses

We know that local elections are important and that the choices that you make on Election Day, Tuesday, November 8 will help determine the future of our community.  As a way to better understand the school board candidates and what they value as the most important issues facing the district, I sent a three-part question to all Tredyffrin-Easttown School Board candidates. Previously, I had received and posted the responses from Easttown school board candidates – Republican Pete Motel and Democrat Craig Lewis.

Following the League of Women Voters debate on October 25, I received responses to the question from Tredyffrin Democratic school board candidates.  However, the Tredyffrin Republican school board candidates declined to participate.

Below is the question and the responses from Tredyffrin’s Democratic school board candidates Karen Cruickshank, Jerry Henige, Scott Dorsey and Jenny Wessels.   Following their responses, I have reposted the responses from Easttown’s school board candidates Pete Motel (R) and Craig Lewis (D)

It’s a shame that the Republican school board candidates in Tredyffrin Twp declined to respond. One of two reasons — either the Republican school board candidates in Tredyffrin didn’t see any value in my question (and their answers) or they didn’t see value in Community Matters.  But then two of the Republican school board candidates (Tara LaFiura, Region 1 and Liz Mercogliano, Region 2) decided against participating in the League of Women Voters debate so perhaps I should not take their decision as personal.

Dear School Board Candidates:

Local elections are important.  In an attempt to inform voters for Election Day, as a candidate for the TE School Board, I hope you will participate in the following Q&A on Community Matters.

In 200 words or less, please respond to the following question. Incorporate all three parts of the question into your response and please be specific.  School board candidate responses will list on Community Matters in the order that they are received.

(1) In your opinion, what is the single most important issue facing the Tredyffrin Easttown School District?
(2) If you were elected, what would you do to help solve or improve this issue?
(3) The Tredyffrin Easttown School District needs problem-solvers; what in your background or job experience qualifies you to help solve this important issue?

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Karen Cruickshank
Democratic Candidate for School Director, Region 1

The most important issue facing the T/E School District is our fiscal outlook.

The School District faces a 5.5 million dollar budget gap for 2012 and increases to 17 million in 2015.

State controlled pension obligations will increase from 4.7 million in 2011 to 13.3 million in 2015. In 2001 state legislators gave themselves, state employees, and public school employees a big increase in pension pay outs. These increases were never OKd by local school districts or the public.

The second budget factor is a loss of 6.5 million in revenues since 2006 from commercial and residential real estate reassessments.

In response to fiscal issues the School District has cut 10 million dollars out of its budget. Our teacher’s union gave up half of their raises for this year and our non-teaching union gave up all of their raises.

If re-elected I will work with legislators, unions, administrators, and citizens to find solutions to fiscal issues. I will look for ways the District can become more efficient without hurting the quality of our schools.

A trained higher education professional, I understand the issues facing education. I am trained in conflict negotiation and am a proven consensus builder.

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Jerry Henige
Democratic Candidate for School Director, Tredyffrin Region 1

We have great schools that contribute to the wonderful quality of our neighborhoods. However, our great schools are facing serious financial challenges. For example, we are losing almost $3M a year due to property reassessments and this amount will continue to grow. And, based on bad decisions in Harrisburg, the amount the school district is being asked to pay into the pension funds will grow from $3M last year to $13.4M over the next 4 years.

At the same time Kevin Mahoney, the financial expert on the school board, is retiring leaving a critical skills gap. The financial challenges are too great to leave this gap unfilled. I believe that with my 30+ years of management and financial experience, I am the candidate that is best suited to fill this gap.

We need a school board that can work as a team to focus on potential solutions. We need to partner with parents and taxpayers, teachers and other school districts, our townships and employers to put pressure on Harrisburg to address the pension problem.

We need a school board that is prepared to work diligently to find common ground with all these constituencies. We need to be willing to try alternative approaches to education that may be more effective than what we are doing today. And we need to consider the plight of the retiree on fixed income, the family with a member who has lost a job.

I believe that I have the financial skills, temperament and energy to manage the serious financial challenges facing the school board.

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Scott Dorsey
Democratic Candidate for School Director, Tredyffrin Region 2

Today our district is facing a financial storm that threatens the excellence that we have come to expect from our schools.   $6.5 million in lost property tax revenues because of reassessments, and other revenue shortfalls will devastate programs that are vital to many average students.  Co-curricular and extra-curricular programs are also in danger. I have proven track record as a non- profit Administrator who is fiscally responsible, and I am personally opposed to the Earned Income Tax.

My background as an educator and community leader has inspired my passion for investing in children’s success. In response to TESD’s budget challenges, I propose to:

  • Collaborate with the public and private sector for solutions that combine best educational and business practices that will benefit every child
  • Fight to hold the line in the upcoming teachers’ contract
  • Find creative solutions to keep sports and other after-school activities from being cut
  • Work with the Unions to lobby the state legislature to fix the pension system
  • Work with the Township to build grant-funded sidewalks that could reduce transportation costs

I have deep experience as an administrator who has helped lead multi-million dollar non- profit organizations from the red to sound fiscal footing.   I am a skilled consensus builder.  I am the only school board candidate who has not sought union endorsement because I believe full transparency is required in the upcoming contract negotiations. I will lead with integrity, fiscal responsibility, and a dedication to investing in our children’s success.

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Jennifer Lightman Wessels
Democratic Candidate for School Director, Tredyffrin Region 2

The most important issue facing our school board is managing our limited financial resources while minimizing the impact on our educational program.  I will be a voice on the board committed to protecting our outstanding educational program.

To lessen the financial strain on our district, I will lobby Harrisburg for legislative reform.  I will use my training as a labor attorney to achieve a successful result during contract negotiations with the teachers’ union in 2012.  I will be open to innovative ideas, such as pursuing new income streams from advertising and private funding.  I will not, however, support the implementation of new taxes such as the Earned Income Tax (EIT) and I would oppose any move to enact an EIT in Tredyffrin Township.

As a parent of two young children in our school district and having served as the President of the PTO at New Eagle Elementary School for two years, I understand and care deeply about the issues facing our school district.  As a taxpayer, I understand the importance of balancing these concerns with fiscal restraint and responsibility.

Among all the school board candidates, I am unique in that I will bring both a parent’s perspective and a lawyer’s skill to this job.  I look forward to the opportunity to serve.

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Pete Motel
Republican Candidate for School Board Director, Easttown Township

The biggest challenge facing the T/E School District is maintaining the quality of education it delivers during the current economic downturn.

District revenue is down by millions of dollars primarily due to two reasons:

  1. Property tax assessment appeals resulting in decreased real estate tax collection;
  2. Decreased home sales resulting in decreased real estate transfer tax.  This is coupled with steep increases in the state required contribution to the state pension system – now millions above the contribution required last year.

Great efforts have been made by the Board to balance the District’s budgets without significantly effecting educational opportunities. The Board has implemented cost containment through administrative salary freezes, implementation of self-insured health insurance and more efficient scheduling of staff time.

With the economic recovery projected to take another several years, T/E Boards need to continue to cut expenses without reducing core educational programs.  Success will require detailed knowledge of District operations and proven leadership skills.

My experience on the T/E Board as Committee Chairs and past Board president, coupled with my professional experience as a small business owner, demonstrate that I have the proven skills to help guide the District through the next few years of difficult budgets.

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Craig Lewis
Democratic Candidate for School Director, Easttown Township

TE’s biggest issue is irresponsible budgeting.

My opponent, republican Dr. Motel, has mandated 5 study halls per week in Conestoga High (12% instruction reduction) AND a 20% increase in students per teacher.  TE was the 4th best high school in Pennsylvania.  Losing this rank will result in a 10% home price decline, reduced college acceptance, scholarships and earning potential.

  • My opponent diverted education money to purchase, tear-down and build non-educational facilities wasting millions of dollars.

TE’s projection shows out-of-control budget shortfalls.  Starting with the current year they are:

-$777,000
-$3,909,000
-$7,925,241
-$11,862,000
-$15,450,000

My fiscally conservative priorities to prevent this catastrophe are:
Stop wasteful spending

  • Halt all construction and real-estate acquisitions.
  • The teacher pay was cut and workload increased 20%.  Aggressive cost reduction has to look at all other areas.
  • Halt no-bid contracting

Preserve our premier school ranking

  • Repeal the 5 study-hall mandate.
  • Respect our staff; balance their workloads.
  • Initiate summer enrichment programs for profit.

Retirees deserve school tax relief – My opponent never did this, I will.

I have twenty years of experience in setting goals, developing strategies, creating and managing budgets, both departmental and enterprise wide.  This required creative approaches, engaging individuals from different departments to drive successful outcomes.

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Is EIT the answer for T/E School District — Tax Study Group Presents their Pros & Cons

Election Day is Tuesday and based on campaign mailers, signs and general rhetoric that we were voting on the Earned Income Tax.  The EIT is not an issue for us on Election Day, at least not this election.

Much of this campaign discussion on the EIT stems from T/E School Board decision to form a Tax Study Group as part of their budget development process.  The goal of the committee of eight volunteers, including Michael Abele, Michael Benning, Rita Borzillo, Marie Falcone, William Mullin, Terri Smith, Andrew Snyder and Edward Stevens, was to study the effect that an EIT would have on the residents and the school district and provide the pros and cons.

The Tax Study Group held 5 public workshop meetings and presented their findings yesterday at two public meetings.  Based on the Tax Study Group’s findings, the school board will make a decision whether to include the EIT question on the April 2012 ballot. If the EIT question is placed on the primary election ballot in April, community members will hopefully be able to make an informed decision.

Although I was not able to attend the EIT meeting due to a prior commitment, it is my understanding that both were well attended.  I am on record as saying that I believe the process for a fair and open discussion of the Earned Income Tax has been tainted by the last few weeks of campaign politics from school board candidates.  Serious economic issues are going to continue to affect our school district and cause many challenges to the school board facing the 2012-13 budget and teacher negotiations.

If you were unable to attend either of yesterday’s public meetings by the Tax Study Group, the EIT presentation will be aired on TETV, Comcast Channel 14 and Verizon Channel 20 at 9 PM daily from November 4 through November 14.

Ray Clarke attended yesterday’s Tax Study Group and offers his candid remarks from the presentation:

The Tax Study Group matinee played to a packed house – probably a hundred or more residents in attendance. I whole-heartedly encourage anyone interested in the fiscal and educational future of T/E to attend the evening performance. Of the 30 slides, two thirds are devoted to background – really important to place the discussion in its proper context. The pros and cons of the EIT were fairly presented, although not weighted nor compared directly to alternatives (it was not the TSG mandate to do that). The audience seemed engaged throughout, and the questions at the end added much to the discussion.

The elephant in the room: what will be the attitude of the Townships? Will they take 50% of any money the voters may want to apply to their children’s education? Easttown and Tredyffrin may be very different, and I think we all need to have a very long memory about campaign promises made by Tredyffrin Supervisors. (The $30 million TESD fund balance did not go unremarked as a short-term support).

A lot of hard work and thought went into the research and analysis, and in developing a communication that is accessible to everyone. Shows how important the process was and what a travesty it is to try to short-change it. Hopefully many voters will be able to see the evening performance or the video and draw their own conclusions.

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Community Matters Clarification on BOS and School Board Candidate Responses

It has come to be attention that some readers may be confused about the last couple of Community Matters posts and are questioning why Tredyffrin Republican supervisor and school board candidates did not respond to my questions and that the Democratic candidates did. Hope this post will offer clarification.

In early October, I sent an email to all the Tredyffrin Republican and Democratic supervisor and school board candidates.  In addition, I sent the Republican and Democrat school board candidates in Easttown the same email.  The email asked the candidates to (1) idenify what they thought was the most important issue facing either the school district or the township, (2) the candidate was asked what they would do to help or solve the issue if elected and (3) what in their background or experience qualifies you to help solve the issue.  I was specific and asked that the 3-part question be 200 words or less and gave them a deadline that was prior to the League of Women Voters debates.

The Easttown school board candidates Pete Motel (R) and Craig Lewis (D) responded with their answers prior to the deadline and those responses were posted on Community Matters on October 19.   In that October 19 post, I also explained that the Tredyffrin Republican and Democratic supervisor and school board candidates had declined to participate.  Here is an excerpt from that post:

. . . Believing that it is important for voters to make an informed decision on which candidate they elect to serve us, I saw no downside to the candidates participation in May nor did I at this time.

Much to my surprise, the individual Tredyffrin Republican supervisor and school board candidates declined my offer, suggesting that voters could visit their websites for information and that, “We are more than happy to answer questions from individual voters across Tredyffrin – and are doing so while going door-to-door, attending community events, and more.”

The chair of the Tredyffrin Democratic Party Dariel Jamieson responded on behalf of the Democratic supervisor and school board candidates, declining to participate until after the League of Women Voters debates.  Here is an excerpt from that email:

“Our BOS and School Board candidates prefer not to submit answers to the questions you posed to them until after the LWV [League of Women Voter] debates. The questions were all ones that were asked in the debates two years ago – as they should have been, they are key questions – but to have our answers published first is not fair to the LWV and makes the job of our candidates harder to distinguish themselves in the debates.

Following the League of Women Voters debates, I received responses to my questions from the Democratic supervisor and school board candidates.  Although the responses were past my original deadline, I thought there was value for the voters in posting them.  But so everyone knows, I actually sent a courtesy email to the Republican candidates last week to explain that the I had received the Democratic responses and offered the Republican candidates a second opportunity to answer the questions. My email to the Republican candidates stated that that no response was required if they were not going to participate; and for the record, there was no response to my email.

So there is absolutely no question in anyone’s mind — if the Republican supervisor and school board candidates would like to answer the 3-part question — I am now making a third offer to them.  Candidates — answer the 3-part questions in 200 words or less and email them to me at: tredyffrincommunitymatters@gmail.com  I will be happy to post your responses!  I hope this clarifies the timeline and that I gave all candidates exactly the same opportunity.  I am sorry if there was any confusion!

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State Returns $1.3 Million to TESD — Restore Educational Program Cuts or Add to Fund Balance?

In reviewing the summaries of the T/E school board committees, I was interested to learn from the Finance Committee report (below) that almost $1 million is coming back to the fund balance due to lower than expected medical claims.  That’s good news!

Also it was confirmed at the Finance Committee meeting, that the state would be returning $1.3 million in funding back to the school district.  Now there’s a question for school board candidates — what would you do with the $1.3 million?  Would you restore some of the educational programming cuts in the district?  If so, which ones?  Foreign language in the elementary schools?  Maybe Latin in the middle school?  Or, would you suggest that the $1.3 million go into the fund balance?

Finance Committee, Chair: Kevin Mahoney
Prepared by: Administrative Liaison

The Finance Committee met on October 17, 2011. The Committee reviewed a draft copy of the District’s 2010-2011 ending fund balances provided by the local auditors. The administration explained how the fund balances are required to be shown as committed, assigned or unassigned on the audited financial statements according to new GASB regulations. The Committee reviewed the fund balance commitments and agreed with the amount shown in the medical stabilization commitment and the fund balance from the athletic fund should be committed. The administration explained that due to lower than expected medical claims spending from the self funded health benefits plan, expenditures would be about $947,000 less than projected resulting in an addition to fund balance.

Next the administration presented the results of the September Treasurer’s report. According to the report the District will be receiving $1.3 million more in State Revenue during the 2011-2012 fiscal year than was originally anticipated and budgeted. All other revenues and expenditures are within the budget amounts. The Committee discussed how the additional State revenue would be used which included possibly reinstating cuts made to the educational program to balance the 2011-2012 budget or using less budgeted fund balance to balance the fiscal year. The administration presented the proposed reinstated budget cuts that they were approved by the Education Committee. The Finance Committee asked that the proposal to reinstate these budget cuts be presented at a future Board meeting.

The Committee also reviewed the budget calendar, paying special attention to the due dates that relate to the Earned Income Tax (EIT) Study Group and discussed how EIT revenue sharing with the Township would work. Finally the Committee reviewed the budget projection model and asked the administration to make a few changes to the assumptions for future review of the model.

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