Multi-million T/E budget surplus (again) – $12.4 million surplus in 4 years! Property tax increases for 10 years in a row and still no health insurance for aides/paras!

budget surplusIn spite of $12.4 million in budget surplus the last four years, TESD residents have seen yearly tax increase and yet sadly, the District still does not provide health insurance coverage to their aides and paras.

I have regularly attended school board meetings and associated finance meetings the last 4 years and I have been amazed at the yearly District budget surplus. This week at the Finance Committee meeting, we learned that once again, the District has a multi-million budget surplus – yes, a review of the 2013-14 budget indicates a surplus of $2.2 million.

Thought it would be interesting to review the District’s budget surplus for the last four years. The surplus schedule is as follows:

2013-14: $2.2 million
2012-13: $5.0 million
2011-12: $3.9 million
2010-11: $1.3 million
Total: $12.4 million

Where exactly does the budget surplus go each year? We know that it does not go the cost to providing healthcare to all District employees. The aides and paras remain without health insurance, the residents continue to receive yearly tax increases and the surplus feeds the ever-increasing District’s fund balance. According to the District, as of July 1, the fund balance has grown to $32 million! Remember, the fund balance growth represents surplus from the District’s yearly budget. It would be surprising if this isn’t the largest fund balance of any school district in the state.

I truly struggle to understand how the District manages to add multi-million dollar budget surplus to the fund balance over the years but the residents continue to feel the sting of an annual tax increase. I recall the District’s business manager Art McDonnell’s explanation of the whopping $5 million surplus last year – primarily due to reduced health insurance premium costs for employees. Clearly, last year was not a fluke when you review the mega-millions in budget surplus over the years.

It would be easier to accept the yearly budget surplus if we did not also have a tax increase each year. In fact, you would have to go back a decade to 2004-05 to find the last time that there was no increase. A review of the District yearly tax increase since the last no-tax year is as follows:

• 2014-15: 3.4%
• 2013-14: 1.7%
• 2012-13: 3.3%
• 2011-12: 3.77%
• 2010-11: 2.9%
• 2009-10: 2.95%
• 2008-09: 4.37%
• 2007-08: 3.37%
• 2006-07: 3.90%
• 2005-06: 1.40%
• 2004-05: Zero Tax Increase

Where exactly does the budget surplus go each year? (We know that it does not go the cost to providing affordable healthcare to all District employees.) The aides and paras remain without health insurance, the residents continue to receive yearly tax increases and the surplus feeds the District’s ever-increasing fund balance. According to the District, as of July 1, the fund balance has grown to $32+ million! Remember, the fund balance growth represents surplus from the District’s yearly budget. TESD’s fund balance could well represent the largest in the state.

I fully understand the impact of the pension crisis and that unless there is reform; all Pennsylvania school districts are going to fall over the cliff in the near future due to the ballooning costs. I do understand that the District must protect resources for the pension crisis but at what cost to the residents?

Other items of interest from the Finance Committee meeting included responses to Ray Clarke’s questions. By now, most of you have probably heard about the 24 Dell computers fraudulently purchased by someone using the District’s Dell account. This matter is an ongoing police investigation. Ray asked about the District’s ‘purchase process’ and Dr. Waters confirmed that it was actually the internal District controls that uncovered the purchase and there was no financial loss as a result.

Ray referenced Unionville Chadds Ford School District’s receipt of $582K in state grants for construction costs and asked if similar funding was possible for the District’s classroom expansions. Ray’s suggestion sadly was dismissed as requiring too much work for the benefit.

Ray’s comment to me regarding the 2013-14 audit is as follows:

The audited financials showed revenue of $112.9 million, expenses of $110.75 million, for a surplus of $2.15 million, compared to the budgeted deficit (before contingencies) of $1.7 million. Fully one third of the favorable variance to budget ($1.325 million of the $3.9 million) came from “breakage” – the replacement of retiring staff and approved leaves with lower cost staff. This is entirely predictable and we’ve asked for it to be included at budget time for the past several years, but every year the request is ignored and the property tax increase is 30% more than it need be, all other things being equal. There is now $31.7 million of taxpayer money squirreled away in the General Fund Balance and that’s after a $10 million transfer to the Capital Fund a couple of years ago. Perhaps since next year is an election year the Board might turn up their hearing aids.

It continues to be a struggle for residents to receive clear explanations. Materials provided often only offer partial information with many of the suggestions/questions of residents at the Finance Committee meeting dismissed or deferred. No argument that T/E School District is a great school district as all the school rankings indicate —  but is the price for the District’s success no public input allowed?

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I attended Tredyffrin Township’s Board of Supervisors meeting in the last week, and the preliminary 2015 township budget was reviewed and discussed. In addition, the supervisors held a Budget Workshop this week.  The differences between school district and the administration and the supervisors, township manager and  staff are striking.  The next Community Matters post will provide an update.

Congratulations TE School District — Ranked 3rd in the Country!

Congratulations TE School District!  ‘Niche’ which measures neighborhoods and cities for livability, compares k-12 schools and reviews over 8,000 colleges and universities has released their 2015 national school district rankings..  The Niche K-12″ report, which compares 120,000 k-12 schools has been released. For those interested in rankings, Tredyffrin-Easttown School District was listed as third in the country and first in the state.

Here’s Niche’s ranking of the ‘Top 10′ school districts in the country:

  • Edgemont School District — Edgemont, New York
  • Jericho Union Free School District — Jericho, New York
  • Tredyffrin/Easttown School District — Tredyffrin Township, Pennsylvania
  • Lower Merion School District — Montgomery County, Pennsylvania
  • Scarsdale Union Free School District — Scarsdale, New York
  • Great Neck School District — Great Neck, New York
  • Pittsford Central School District — Pittsford Town, NY
  • Rye City School District — Rye, New York
  • North Allegheny School District — Wexford, Pennsylvania
  • Chappaqua Central School District — Chappaqua, New York

In addition to TESD (3rd) and Lower Merion School District (4th) Unionville Chaddsford School District and Radnor Township School District also made Niche’s national ranking of school districts, coming in at 15th and 52nd places, respectfully. In addition to the school districts, Niche ranked the 14,000+ public high schools.  On the national ranking of individual high schools, Conestoga HS was listed as 26th in the country and first in the state.

Further information about Niche and their rankings, can be found on their website, www.niche.com

Votes counted and Tom Wolf (D), Ryan Costello (R) & Warren Kampf (R) win

Don’t know if it was efforts of the political parties and their volunteers, the candidates themselves, the issues or the perfect voting weather of 70-plus degrees but it appeared there was record attendance at many of the polls.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many voters come out in a non-presidential election!

Looks like the dust has begun to settle from Election Day 2014.  After one term in office, Republican Governor Tom Corbett will be replaced by challenger Democrat Tom Wolf.  The debate boiled down to what many believe was massive cuts to education by Corbett versus the speculation of increased taxes to the middle class by Wolf. In the end, preservation of Pennsylvania’s education system outweighed the fear some have of a higher tax bill.

Locally, the battle for the PA State House 157 seat between incumbent Warren Kampf (R) and his Democratic opponent Marian Moskowitz  raged right up until the polls closed at 8 PM. In the end, Kampf prevailed and will serve a third third in Harrisburg. Kampf received 11,689 votes (55.09 percent) with Moskowitz receiving 9,530 votes or 44.91 percent of the votes.

Chester County Commissioner Ryan Costello (R) won the 6th Congressional District seat vacated by retiring Jim Gerlach (R-PA), beating challenger Manan Trivedi (R).  Costello received 118.450 votes which represented 56.23 percent to Trivedi’s 92,193 votes which represented 43.77 percent of the votes.

Look past the negative campaigning and vote tomorrow!

Republicans-vs-DemocratsElection Day 2014 is tomorrow and it cannot come soon enough.  The barrage of negative campaign ads and political mailers has come at a furious pace this year.

The constant drumbeat of blame-game messages has reached an overwhelming proportion with last-minute attempts to scare and/or persuade voters.  Instances of negative campaigning among candidates are so widespread that to single out any in particular would serve no useful purpose. This general attack-style politics has infected our local campaigns.

Rather than articulating positive platforms, too many of the campaign messages are instead warnings about the evils of the opposition. We’ve all seen the campaign lawn signs and received the daily doses of campaign mailers and phone calls, many containing aggressive, offensive messages against their opponent.  The negative campaigning polarizes people around their reaction to the negativity rather than around the important issues.  I know that we should not expect a campaign season of only polite, hands-off discourse from candidates seeking to send each other to defeat.  However, knocking the opposition, though, has become the easy, fast-lane method of campaigning – a thinly veiled scare tactic to earn credit by discrediting the other side.

Opposition research is a natural part of any political campaign, which is only compounded by people constantly giving us the “inside scoop” on an opponent. There is pressure on all sides to let voters know “the truth” about their opponent, especially if that person has already gone negative in the campaign. Call me naïve and foolish, but for every minute a candidate spends attacking his/her opponent, that’s one less minute that can be spent talking about legitimate differences on policy issues that actually affect us, the voters.

After enduring a heavy season of negative campaign advertising, the need for us to participate in Election Day has never been greater.  The politicians have not been very good at policing themselves, so it’s up to us, the voters, to do it for them.  Your vote does matter; but only if you use it.  I’d encourage everyone to do their own homework about the candidates and the issues.  Look past the negative campaigning and the party politics – make an informed decision when you vote tomorrow.

Personally, I’m looking forward to post-Election Day  … no more campaign mailers or invasive robo calls at dinner time and the removal of yard signs littering the local landscape (at least for the remainder of 2014!)

Election Day is November 4 – Who will be the next Pennsylvania Governor, 6th District Congressman and State House 157 Representative?

The countdown is on.  Like everyone else in this country, the residents of Tredyffrin are looking for solutions. In three short weeks, on Tuesday, November 4, is midterm Election Day.

There are obvious signs throughout the township that its campaign season … political lawn signs seemingly reproduce nightly, candidate mailers arrive daily at our doors and in our mailboxes, along with invitations to political fundraisers.  For those of us in the ‘Independent’ registration category, our mailbox runneth over, as does the land of campaign ‘robocalls’.  The Republican and Democratic candidates both lay claim to the independents; with each side believing that their views on issues more representative of these voters.

On the Governor’s race, most polls have Democratic challenger Tom Wolf poised to unseat Republican incumbent Tom Corbett.  A virtual unknown at the beginning of the year, businessman Tom Wolf early on used a boy next-door charm in his commercials while underwriting most of his political campaign with his own personal wealth.  Some of Wolf’s gaining in the polls may be explained by voters’ dissatisfaction with Governor Corbett.  Wolf campaign ads state that Corbett cut state education funding by $1 billion whereas Corbett counters the argument stating he has increased funding for our public schools by $1 billion since taking office. Although Corbett and his supporters argue that he has restored school funding lost to the end of the federal stimulus money, widespread public perception is that he has cut educational spending. Corbett’s opposition to a severance tax on shale gas drillers has also hampered his reelection bid.

From a local election standpoint, I am of the opinion that the November 4 election is going to see people splitting votes at the polls.  Sure, there will always be the straight party voters, whether it is the Republicans or the Democrats.  However, for those voters that go the polls, educated on the issues and the candidates, this election may see a greater number crossing party lines to vote for the candidate that best represent their own personal views.

For Tredyffrin residents, in addition to choosing a governor, Election Day 2014 also offers us the opportunity to select a new Congressional 6th District member.  The unexpected retirement of Rep. Jim Gerlach (R) after 12 years has given way to a battleground between Democratic House candidate Manan Trivedi and Republican Ryan Costello for the 6th Congressional District seat.  An Iraq War veteran and Berks County physician, the upcoming election marks Trivedi’s third Congressional attempt. Attorney and chair of the Chester County Board of Commissioners, Costello at age 37, would be the youngest member of Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation should he win.

Will Corbett’s gubernatorial race be problematic for Costello, as Wolf gains in the polls? As a County Commissioner, Costello has built his own fan base – will those loyal supporters be enough to counter any anti-Corbett voting or conversely, will the get-out-to-vote efforts of Wolf’s campaign help Trivedi pull off a win? The 6th District covers a large part of Chester County, and portions of Berks, Montgomery and Lebanon counties.

The other election that local voters will decide on November 4 is the PA State House 157 race. Newcomer to the political campaign world,  first time political candidate, Great Valley resident and businesswoman, Democrat Marian Moskowitz is challenging incumbent Warren Kampf (R) in his re-election bid for a third term in Harrisburg. With the exception of Paul Drucker (D) who served as 157th State House District Representative in 2009 and 2010, a Republican has held the seat for forty some years. As the war of words wages daily in campaign literature and press releases between the Moskowitz and Kampf camps, an unfortunate and recently discovered issue has complicated the race for these two candidates.

The 157th District includes all of Tredyffrin Township, all of Schuylkill Township, part of Upper Providence and most of Phoenixville. As part of last year’s statewide redistricting, a section of the 157th District, West 1, in the Phoenixville Borough was moved to the 155th District.  However, using an old map, Chester County Voter Services incorrectly left this section in the 157th District for the May primary.  People in this section of Phoenixville Borough cast votes for Kampf and Moskowitz in the primary election when they should have been voting for candidates in the 155th District. Troubling that the West 1 mapping error was only discovered last week and the candidates then notified. Obviously, this last minute correction on the election ballot is causing voter confusion – a group of people who voted for Kampf and Moskowitz as their State Representative in the 157th District in the primary election will not have that same option on November 4.

Warren Kampf has focused much of his first two terms on public pension reform.  Kampf believes that the current state pension system is not sustainable, and that escalating pension obligations will mean rising taxes or significant cuts to service. Other initiatives he supports include privatization of the state liquor store system and property tax relief, specifically switching property tax system to a gross receipts tax.

The Democratic challenger for District 157, Marian Moskowitz has made her business background a hallmark of her campaign, pointing to Franklin Commons, a successful redevelopment project with her husband in Phoenixville, as an example.  An advocate for women and small businesses, Moskowitz is interested in using her entrepreneurial and business background in Harrisburg. Moskowitz supports transportation and infrastructure improvements – according to her campaign website, one of her “primary reasons for running was her opponent’s no vote on Act 89, which brings funding to our aging infrastructure.” Kampf received his share of criticism for his vote not to support the state’s transportation bill.  However, he maintains his support for infrastructure improvements, including the Paoli Transportation Center, and that his vote was against the high impact of the gas tax increase included in the transportation bill.

Will there be a trickle-down effect from the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race on the PA State District 157 race?  Unlike the open seat in the 6th Congressional District, the State House 157 race has Democratic challenger Marian Moskowitz up against two-term State Representative Warren Kampf (R).

As the political campaigns of Wolf vs Corbett, Costello vs Trivedi and Moskowitz vs Kampf wind down over the next three weeks, take the time to understand the important issues and know the candidates. On November 4th, your vote will matter – make it count.

Community Matters Getting Off the Backburner

10th Annual Historic House Tour - Poster.pdf_page_1I have had a number of emails, phone calls and conversations with people – all asking me about Community Matters and expressing concerning that something may be wrong since there have been no recent blog posts.  I appreciate the concern but I am OK, it’s just been a very busy couple of months — the House Tour Preview Party on Sunday, September 21 at Duportail House, the 10th Annual Historic House Tour on Saturday, September 27 and then the sixth annual Paoli Blues Fest last weekend.   With all of the meetings and planning required for these community events, I had to relegate Community Matters to the backburner.

The 2014 House Tour was a wonderful success and broke last year’s attendance record with over 500 tickets sold. The tour featured five historic estate homes in Easttown and Tredyffrin Townships, the Great Valley Mill and St. Peter’s Church in the Great Valley. The tour celebrated the work of renowned Chester County architect Brognard Okie.  For the tenth straight year, Mother Nature cooperated and provided a perfect, sunny 80 degree day, make the house tour even more special!

Since the first Trust house tour a decade ago, the tour has featured three centuries of structures, including 64 historic private homes of which seven served as Revolutionary War headquarters; eight barns, four churches, three schools, including two ‘one-room’ schoolhouses; a springhouse, a museum, a mill and a special historic playhouse.

Between ticket purchases and tour sponsorships, the house tour raised $30,000 for the Jones Log Barn rebuilding project.  When the final phase of the project is completed, the barn will join two National Historic Register properties – Duportail House and the Federa2014 posterl Barn – and serve as the ‘Living History Center at Duportail’ in Chesterbrook.

There are many people to thank for this annual historic house tour, including the wonderful homeowners who opened  their homes, the enthusiastic volunteers, the individual and corporate sponsors, the local police departments, other nonprofits groups (Chester County Open Land Conservancy and Duportail House) and most of all, we thank the many residents who supported the tour. (For a full list of sponsors, click here).

The Paoli Blues Fest celebrated its sixth annual music festival and street fair last Saturday, October 4.  The day started out overcast with an occasional spritz of rain but as if on cue at noon, as the musicians warmed up, the clouds parted, the sun began to shine, the temperature soared and memories were created. Touted as the largest annual blues festival in the tri-state region, the party in Paoli didn’t disappoint.  From the brass sounds of Big Bang Theory to Blue Jay Slim & the Tone Blasters, Russ Lambert, Blues Bizness, Deb Callahan and then the finale band, Blue Plate Special, it was a day of great music, food, drink and a lot of fun.   A real community event, thanks goes to the musicians, vendors, sponsors, volunteers and all the hundreds of people who attended!

With the Annual House Tour and the Paoli Blues Fest completed, I look forward to getting Community Matters off the backburner.

PA State Rep Warren Kampf’s Town Hall Meeting — Budget, Pension and Property Tax Reform, Liquor Privatization & the Legalizing of Marijuana

I attended State Rep Warren Kampf’s Town Hall meeting last night in Phoenixville.  Kampf opened the meeting with a 15-20 min. update on the budget, pension reform and status of legislation, liquor privatization, and property tax reform.  Following his presentation, the evening continued with Q & A from the audience members, with about 30 questions on a variety of topics.

In his discussion of the recently passed 2014-15 PA Budget, Kampf offered the following highlights:

  • The budget passed on time for the fourth straight year, with no tax increases to the residents.
  • Although there was a modest increase in the 2014-15 budget from the previous year, the budget increase remains well below the rate of inflation.
  • Pennsylvania received a $340 million cut in Medicaid Funds from the Federal government.
  • The budget includes an additional $250 Million to implement Affordable Care Act provisions;
  • The budget includes an additional $600 Million in increase in pension costs
  • The budget includes an additional $600 Million for Medicaid increase

There has been much discussion about Corbett cutting education spending but according to Kampf, the 2014-15 budget has education spending at an all-time high, and that the recently passed budget includes an additional $520 Million in educational spending.  This topic was one of much interest from the audience members.  We have all seen the campaign rhetoric with one side claiming cuts to education and the other side saying it is untrue

Kampf further clarified that Corbett’s budget includes $10.5 Billion on Pre K – 12 line items, stating it is the most ever committed.  The budget includes an additional $20 Million for Special Education.  The Pre-K Counts Program, which increases access to quality pre-kindergarten to PA children and their families with a priority in at-risk communities, received a $10 Million increase in the budget.

To help offset the cost of postsecondary education, the budget includes a new $5 Million ‘Ready to Succeed Scholarship’ that provides up to $2,000 to eligible students whose families earn up to $110K.

Pension costs and the need for reform continued to be a significant discussion point.  Kampf offered the example that the PSERS line item on the 2014-15 PA Budget increased from $375 million to $1.4 Billion this year!  As taxpayers, we know firsthand the effect that the skyrocketing pension costs have had on our own tax bill.  The pension costs have impacted the school districts statewide, forcing school boards to make difficult decisions and painful cuts.

Clearly, pension reform is needed sooner rather than later.  Kampf’s hybrid pension reform bill, HB 1353, which includes a traditional 401k type plan, was presented as a possible solution.  It was interesting to note that there continues to be confusion among some of the residents – the suggested pension reform bill, HB 1353 is for new hires; not those workers currently in the system.  Kampf believes that his plan would create $11 – $20 Billion in savings.

I was glad for a discussion on liquor privatization but it does not look like House Bill 790 is going anywhere anytime soon.  The House approved the bill 105-90 in March 2013 but according to Kampf, the Senate has not agreed to move the bill forward.   We hear the argument that the 600 states stores generate money and therefore the government should keep things status quo.  Pennsylvania loses millions annual to neighboring states because of the inconvenience of buying at states stores. What is it going to take to bring Pennsylvania into the 21st century – 48 other states enjoy convenience and choice, why can’t we?  Other than Utah and Pennsylvania, states don’t want to be in the business of selling alcohol.

On property tax reform, there were updates but little ‘new’ news. PA House Bill 76, the ‘Property Tax Independence Act’, remains in the House Finance Committee and has not moved forward for a vote. This legislation would eliminate school property taxes across the Commonwealth and replace those taxes with funding from a single state source.

Kampf voted yes on House Bill 1189, which would amend the Local Tax Enabling Act to provide school districts with the option to eliminate property taxes.  Although Kampf supports HB 1189, he added that the Senate has not taken action on this legislation.

Because the Town Hall meeting was held in Phoenixville, several audience questions were local to that area.  One question related to Phoenixville Area School District’s decision to acquire the Meadowbrook Golf Club via eminent domain and where did Kampf stand on the topic.  Kampf supported the legal right of the school district to take the property [using eminent domain] but suggested it should only be used when all other alternatives were exhausted.

On allowing illegal immigrant children in the US, Kampf deferred to the Federal government, stating that as a State Representative he was not in a position to cast a vote.

A couple of people asked Kampf for his personal opinion on legalizing marijuana in Pennsylvania.  Although he was not aware of any currently proposed legislation in the House on the subject, he said he could support the legalizing of medical marijuana. He was not going to commit himself beyond the use of marijuana for medical usage, preferring to take one step at a time.

On June 27, the Senate Law and Justice Committee unanimously voted in support of the bipartisan Senate Bill 1182, known as the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act, to ease the suffering of people with epilepsy or other ailments. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have approved medical cannabis programs, could Pennsylvania be next?

I give credit to any elected official who holds a Town Hall Meeting with no pre-screening of questions.  Last night numbers were distributed and the questions asked in numerical order; everyone with a question was given an opportunity to ask it. Nothing was off limits – only requesting that questions be asked by residents of Kampf’s legislative district.  As a registered Independent,  I am pleased to report that the evening contained no political party bashing by audience members or by Kampf.  Would love to see a similar forum in Tredyffrin Township.  Or how about a PA-157 State Representative debate between incumbent Warren Kampf and his challenger Marian Moskowitz?

Education Degree no longer a requirement for PA School District Superintendents. With a graduate degree in management, business, finance or law, you could be a Superintendent

We all remember Chester Upland School District’s well-publicized financial struggle to keep their electricity on, the doors open and their teachers paid a couple of years ago.  Chester Upland and other PA school districts in similar severe financial distress were aided by the passage of Act 141 of 2012 (House Bill 1307).  The recovery plan legislation allowed the PA Department of Education the ability to declare school districts in severe financial distress and to appoint a CRO (Chief Recovery Officer) to improve academic performance and bring financial stability to these districts.

Other changes to the Public School Code of 1949 by the PA Legislature at the close of the 2011-12 included an overhaul of Section 1073, which governs the selection of school district superintendents and assistant superintendents through amendments made by Act 82 of 2012 and Act 141 of 2012.  Section 1073.1 provides ‘Performance Review’ requirements for superintendent/assistant superintendent employment contracts including the following points:

  • The employment contract for a superintendent/assistant superintendent shall include objective performance standards and assessment tools mutually agreed to in writing by the school board and the superintendent/assistant superintendent. The legislation treats superintendents/assistant superintendents in the same fashion as teachers and principals. Objective performance standards may be achievement on PSSA tests, achievement on Keystone Exams, attrition rates, graduation rates, financial management standards, etc.
  • The district’s board shall post the mutually agreed to objective performance standards contained in the superintendent/assistant superintendent contract on the school district’s publicly accessible Internet website.
  • The school board shall conduct a formal written performance assessment of the district superintendent/assistant superintendent annually.
  • The district’s board shall post on the publicly accessible Internet website the date of the superintendent/assistant superintendent evaluation and whether each of the performance standards contained in the agreement were met.

It does not appear that the new requirements affected the existing contracts of district superintendents/assistant superintendents. There was no expectation that existing contracts were to be opened and the new requirements added.  However, going forward all new superintendent/assistant superintendent contracts would need to adhere.

By now, most parents and residents know that TE School District Superintendent Dan Waters is retiring at the end of his contract on June 30, 2015 and that the school board has launched a superintendent search for his replacement.  The District’s contract with whomever replaces Waters will need to adhere to new provisions of the Public School Code.

The PA Legislature updated another section of the Public School Code –  Article X, Section 1003 Eligibility in 2012. Given the current superintendent search in T/E, I found the new provision added of particular interest. Did you know that the requirement that prospective superintendents and assistant superintendents have experience in a classroom was dropped when the Public School Code was updated in 2012?

That’s right — Section 1003 (b.1) was added to the PA Public School Code which states that if you have a graduate degree in business, finance, management or law you can be a school district superintendent in Pennsylvania.  According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the highest-level manager of school districts no longer needs to be a teacher or principal or have an education-related degree.

To be a school district chief, the law previously required a person to have a letter of eligibility, issued by the state Department of Education. To receive that letter, the person had to complete a graduate-level program of educational administrative study, which consisted of two full academic years. The candidate also needed to have at least six years of experience in education, including at least three of those years in a supervisory capacity.

The ‘eligibility’ section of the Public School Code, states that someone with a graduate degree in business, finance, management or law, along with four years of relevant experience in business, finance, management or law, can also be a superintendent. From what I understand, the change in the law occurred for several reasons.

By expanding the allowable requirements for superintendents, it gives area school districts a much larger pool of applicants for the top jobs. However, more importantly, individuals with business and finance experience are what a school district superintendent needs in the time of unprecedented budget cuts in public education.  Although sec. 1003 (b.1) of the Public School Code is set to expire in 2015 – it states, “A person who is issued a commission by the department based on satisfaction of the requirements of this subsection may retain his commission after the expiration of this subsection.”

TE School Board Vice President Kris Graham serves as chair of the District’s superintendent search committee.  A review of the job posting on the TESD website, indicates that the board is seeking applicants with school superintendent experience, a PhD in education and requires PA letter of eligibility.  As of June 2012, the Public School Code does not require a superintendent to have educational experience, a doctorate in education or a PA letter of eligibility. The public was told by Graham that there were only five qualified candidates inside the District and only one who had applied (Dr. Richard Gusick).

Graham served as chair of the District’s Legislative Committee and Gusick served as the administrative liaison and I do not recall Act 82 or Act 141 of 2012 changes to the Public School Code (particularly those related to performance assessment in superintendent contracts or the change in state requirements for superintendents) discussed in any of the Legislative Committee updates presented at school board meetings.

Pennsylvania legislators serving on the Education Committee fought hard for these 2012 changes to the Public School Code. I understand that our T/E school board directors can write the superintendent job description and applicant requirements, anyway that they wish.  My question is why would they want to limit themselves to a superintendent applicant pool that is based on specific requirements that the PA Department of Education does not currently require? Wouldn’t they want to make certain that they had the best candidate for the job?

It is interesting to note that 1,000+ stakeholders in the TE School District returned the recent superintendent survey and that 74% of the respondents listed ‘leadership’ as the most important qualification needed by the new superintendent. The second most important qualification, cited by 58% of the respondents, was ‘budget & financial expertise’. Only 36% of the respondents believed that ‘teaching experience’ should be a requirement for the position.

The superintendent of a school district is the chief executive officer.  The superintendent is the manager and he or she manages the fiscal and financial affairs, buildings and grounds, personnel, equipment, etc.  A nontraditional candidate can offer a real benefit to a school district, including leadership, finance skills and knowledge about business or law. 

As we learned from the survey results, T/E School District stakeholders placed leadership and expertise in budget and finances as the highest priorities needed in the next superintendent. The position could appeal to a number of people like a retired CEO seeking a new challenge. Or maybe there is a prospective candidate with management expertise and a law degree.  An individual with strong financial and business management background could also be a good fit for the job.

Here’s my suggestion – I think my friend Neal Colligan should apply. An involved T/E School District resident, he has strong business/management background and finance expertise – BS in Accounting, MBA from Villanova U and has worked as a CPA.  And he understands the District’s budgetary requirements and management climate. If you recall in 2013, Neal developed a plan that would provide health care benefits to the District’s aides and paras and help save their jobs from outsourcing.

Speaking of applying for the superintendent position, there is a short window of opportunity.  The job posting for superintendent went up on the District website on July 1 and applications for the position will close on August 8, 2014.  Why the rush? The start date for the job is not until July 1, 2015; I do not understand why the school board is closing the applications after barely a month.

To the TESD Superintendent Search Committee – please do not discount candidates because they do not have a doctorate in education or a superintendent letter of eligibility.  For Neal and other qualified superintendent candidates, click here to apply.

PA Pension Crisis: A Vote to Change the Pension Laws is a Vote to Protect the Taxpayers

Unfunded pension liabilities are the dark cloud hanging over the state budget. Years of underfunded retirement promises to public employees has plunged the state into a financial black hole that is approaching $50 billion. The cost of doing nothing increases on a daily basis, and translates into higher property taxes, an inability to fund public education in the manner in which it deserves and painful cuts to critical government programs. The time is now for meaningful pension reform.

Facing huge shortfalls in the two public pension systems in Pennsylvania – PSERS (Public School Employees’ Retirement Systems) and SERS (State Employee Retirement System), State Rep. Warren Kampf (R-157) turned to a strategy that a lot of private companies adopted years ago – moving workers away from the guaranteed pension plans and toward 401(k)-type retirement savings plans.  In 2013, he introduced two pension reform bills to move the public pension systems toward a defined benefit plan with defined contribution systems for all new hires while protecting the benefits of employees currently in the system.

Working with Mike Tobash (R-125) from Berks County, Kampf’s House Bill 1353 was amended to a hybrid pension reform plan that would not change benefits for current employees but would place new employees in a “stacked” pension system, including both a defined benefit and a defined contribution component. An overview of the proposed hybrid plan, including details on the defined benefit and defined contribution aspects, from Tobash website indicates:

  • Benefits of current employees would not change
  • All new state and public school employees would be subject to the same plan
  • The plan is a combined traditional, defined benefit plan and 401-K-type defined contribution investment plan
  • Bill would include provisions to allow absences for leaves of absence, furloughs, military service, disability, maternity leave, Family Medical Leave Act while remaining in the system
  • Employee contribution would be 6 percent
  • Defined benefit for first $50,000 of salary, indexed 1 percent annually
  • Defined benefit is fully earned after 25 years of service
  • Participants are vested after 10 years
  • Defined benefit cannot be collected prior to age 65 without penalty
  • No different classes of service
  • Employee contribution of 1 percent and employer contribution of .05 percent on all compensation up to $50,000
  •  Employee contribution of 7 percent and employer contribution of 4 percent on all compensation more than $50,000
  • Employee contributions vest immediately and three-year vesting of employer contributions

Private employers decided years ago to terminate traditional pension plans in lieu of 401(k) plans and likewise, it is time for government to shift the pension plan’s risk to the worker.  Some employees prefer the 401(K)-type retirement system because it gives more control over the retirement assets, including the ability to take the money with them when they change jobs.

Pennsylvania’s pension reform bill was on a roller coaster ride this last week.  Gov. Corbett has been urging the legislature to pass pension reform, indicating that he would not pass the 2014-15 budget without its inclusion.  But rather than approving HB 1353, the General Assembly voted 107-96 to send it to the House Human Services Committee.  Sending it back ‘to committee’ could have meant the death knell for the bill.  Fortunately, that was not the case and the House Human Service Committee voted to send HB 1353 to the full House for final consideration when the legislators reconvene in the fall after summer recess.

According to Tobash website, the plan is “estimated to save between $11 billion and $15 billion over a 30-year project period” but it is not without its naysayers.  Some who oppose the proposed pension reform plan suggest that it will not solve the current underfunding problem and that it will reduce pension benefits of new employees. Although it is correct that under this plan, new employees will not have the same retirement benefits as those currently in the system, I would ask what is the alternative … do nothing and continue to feed the ballooning unfunded retirement black hole?

Doing nothing to affect the pension obligations is not acceptable, because it only allows a very bad situation to deteriorate even further.  Taxpayers in Pennsylvania are on the hook for almost $50 billion in unfunded pension liability.  The staggering pension debt should concern all of us — it threatens our state’s economy, our citizens and future generations.  Now is the time for meaningful pension reform and lawmakers need to take action.  A vote to change the pension laws is a vote to protect taxpayers – support House Bill 1353.

TE School Board Approves Administrator Bonuses, $22K/yr Salary Increase to Business Manager & 3.2% Tax Increase to Homeowners

Four important votes took place at last night’s TE School Board meeting and unfortunately there was little surprise in the results.

  • Approval of bonuses to TESD administrators – check
  • Approval of bonuses to TESD supervisors – check
  • Approval of $22K/yr. salary increase & 5-year contract to TESD Business Manager – check
  • Approval of 3.2 percent tax increase to TESD homeowners – check

It was encouraging to see some new faces in the audience and one resident, Tracy Gould of Wayne, came prepared with handwritten signs (see below) announcing her displeasure. Gould explained that she is a parent of three children and like many families, struggles during these economic times.  She appealed to the Board to consider the residents and not approve the salary increases and tax increase.

School Board meeting

You know how sometimes you can just forecast what the result is going to be before a vote is actually taken – well, that is exactly how last night’s school board meeting went.

To their credit, Board members Liz Mercogliano and Scott Dorsey were the lone dissenting votes on the employee bonuses, salary increase to Art McDonnell and tax increase to the homeowners. Both explained that they could not support giving bonuses and salary increases when the District does not provide basic healthcare benefits for the aides and paraeducators. Although Mercogliano and Dorsey are outnumbered 7-2 by the other Board members in their votes, I appreciate that they are concerned about the effect on residents of another year of tax increases.  Providing affordable health care to all District employees is important; I personally thank Liz and Scott for taking a stand on this issue and supporting the aides and paras.

School Board Vice President Kris Graham is chairing the superintendent search committee which also includes Board members Jim Bruce, Karen Cruickshank and Doug Carlson.  In her update, Graham reported that over 1,000 T/E residents responded to the Stakeholder Survey and the results are available on the District’s website, www.tesd.org

According to the survey results, the top 5 traits chosen as the most important in a new superintendent are:

  • Honest (54%)
  • Student Centered (52%)
  • Creative Problem Solver (49%)
  • Approachable (37%)
  • Collaborative (37%)

The survey results indicted the top 5 strengths that the new superintendent should be expected to maintain or enhance:

  • Highly qualified staff (54%)
  • High expectations for students (39%)
  • Strong fiscal management (38%)
  • Safe school environment (38%)
  • Culture of continuous improvement (36%)

The top 5 most important qualifications of a new superintendent as selected by respondents:

  • Leadership (74%)
  • Budget & financial expertise (58%)
  • Administrative/education leadership experience (49%)
  • Educational experience (47%)
  • Strategic planning expertise (36%) tie
  • Significant classroom teaching experience (36%) tie

The final survey question, asked respondents to name the top 3 challenges facing the new superintendent:

  • Budget/finance (83%)
  • Government mandates (44%)
  • District labor relations (36%)

My takeaway from the Stakeholder Survey is that the vast majority of respondents believe that finances is the most important issue and that it is important to have someone with leadership qualities and a business/financial background as the District’s next superintendent.

The School Board hired a consultant to help with the superintendent search and Graham explained last night that the she has conducted a couple of workshops with school board members in this regard.  According to Graham, there are currently five District employees with the educational qualifications for the position and they have received an application from one person.  The in-house superintendent candidate was unnamed by Graham but she did say that the Board would be conducting an interview in the next couple of days.

In the District’s online update of last night’s meeting the following information was provided on the superintendent search:

President Kevin Buraks and Vice President Kris Graham updated the public on the work of the Superintendent Appointment Committee and results from the Stakeholder Survey. The survey results are available on the District web site. The Board will continue to keep the public informed on the search process.

Although the message here is that the Board will “continue to keep the public informed on the search process”, there appeared to be something missing from this online information and from the Buraks and Graham update last night. There was no mention about where the District has posted the job for the superintendent position. I would be interested in know which educational resources the consultant suggested to the Board and where the job is posted.  Also, what is the timeline for the District to receive applications?

The Superintendent position is the most important job in the Tredyffrin Easttown School District and I know that the Board, parents, residents, employees and students want to make certain that the information is available to all possible candidates.

Although some in the administration disagree that a morale issue exists, too many District employees would suggest otherwise.  I will continue to maintain that the only way to fully correct the morale issues in the District is to hire someone from the outside – an individual with strong financial/budgetary experience (business experience and background) coupled with the educational component and someone that does not have an existing history with current employees is what is sorely needed.  The new Superintendent should fully understand the District’s financial needs and not simply rely on the Business Manager for answers.

Because the current Superintendent is not retiring for 12 months (June 30, 2015), the Board has the luxury to conduct a thorough superintendent search and fully vet all candidates for the job.  Once the job applications are received from outside the District, the Superintendent Search committee will be able to short list the candidates and then include the residents in their analysis prior to the final selection.

As discussed at last night’s meeting, informing the public of the Superintendent search process is important.  I look forward to the Board’s continued updates on the application process and search to find a new TE School District Superintendent.

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