TE School District: Budget and Elementary School Enrollment Discussions

It is noted that the T/E School Board recently established an “Ad Hoc Committee for Elementary Enrollment” for the purpose of analyzing enrollment and facilities information and making a recommendation to ensure building capacity and educational programming needs in the District’s elementary schools.

Serving on the committee are school board members Virginia Lastner, Roberta Hotinski, Todd Kantorczyk and Kate Murphy.

The first meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee is tonight, March 22 at 6:300 PM at the TE Administration offices, 940 West Valley Road.  According to the agenda notice, the Committee “will review the elementary school enrollment history, past decisions and the impact that rising student enrollment is having on the delivery of the District’s elementary school program.”

The creation of this Ad Hoc Committee has me wondering if this the first step in what has long been rumored … an announcement that the school district is building a new elementary school? And with the building of the facilities building with a price tag of $4 million, one can only wonder the cost of a new elementary school. For the sake of the District’s taxpayers, I hope that responsible due diligence is performed in advance of any construction decision. I hope we can expect a long-range demographic analysis and student enrollment projection to justify any proposed capital projects.

A reminder of the TE School District tax increases.

  • 2016-17: 3.6%
  • 2015-16: 3.81%
  • 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

Fiscal responsibility and accountability are often used as campaign platforms, particularly by those seeking to serve on the school board. It is important that they deliver on those promises.

Last week, the TE School Board held a 2017/18 budget workshop.  Although I was not at the meeting, Ray Clarke attended and provides his notes below.

The 2017/18 Budget Workshop focused on the revenue and staffing side, which was as humdrum as usual. Just a couple of interesting items:

– Current real estate revenue projected to be up 5.8% vs this year’s Budget and Projection, although the max rate increase is 3.4%. The difference ascribed to an increase in the assessed base, which at 2.4% which seems to be really high notwithstanding the current development boom. Maybe this year’s projection is low??? Not the first time.

– Talking of low ball budgeting: the administration acknowledged that the budgeted 0.05% rate of return on the taxpayer millions that the school district is sitting on is “conservative”. Yes indeed, when the Fed Funds rate is going up 0.25% every few months. (I can’t make the math work with the 0.05% assumption, though).

– Enrollment spiked by a surprising 178 (2.7%) in the current year and more growth is projected next year, which will require more teachers even though some grades are decreasing. Important to note here, that development can go some way to paying for increased students through the increased tax base – the key being the balance of commercial/senior living/apartment to residential family. Of course, property turnover favoring families is another driver of enrollment.

– And one factor influencing that turnover is the tax rate and the news on that front raises an alarm: somehow the early predictions for the Act 1 index are 3.0% next year and 3.3% for the three years thereafter. That’s 50% over the current inflation rate and consequent cost of living increases. The Board has to stay vigilant against a default assumption that perpetual routine tax increases of “Index plus Exceptions” is acceptable.

(And a minor irritation: that $4 million maintenance and storage building generated the need for an additional Supervisor to manage supplies. You’d have thought – and we were told, I think, that centralized storage would be more efficient, not less….,)

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First there was “Right on Red” and now there’s “Ride on Red”

 

Did you know that drivers are now allowed to run some red lights in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania Act 101 legislation allows drivers to go through red lights as long as no one is coming the other way, and they use caution and common sense.

Am I the only person that had not heard about the new traffic law, “Ride on Red”?

The bill was passed by the Pennsylvania House in October 2016 and went into effect last month, February 2017 – its aim to update a previous law. This legislation was originally designed for motorcycles or a horse and buggy but has been expanded to include all vehicles.

The old law was designed specifically for malfunctioning lights – for when the sensors may not be working correctly. Now, traffic lights don’t actually have to be malfunctioning in order for a driver to go through an intersection, even if the driver is facing a red light. If a driver has been waiting two or so minutes and the light has yet to change, then you’re able to treat as a stop sign and go on through.

As I understand it the law came into effect due primarily to Amish horse and buggies and other small vehicles (like motorcycles) that do not trip the magnetic sensors that tell the light to turn green.  The idea is that if you are sitting at a light for 2-3 minutes and it simply refuses to turn green, then you can go through; using the appropriate caution.

I see the merits of this law in rural, less populated areas of Pennsylvania — but I’m not sure that this is necessarily a good idea in the more populated/highly trafficked areas of the state.  However, it’s good to know about the new law and to be aware.

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Election 2017: Candidates for Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, TESD School Board & Magisterial District Judge, District 15-4-01

The 2017 Election campaign season is officially underway for Tredyffrin Township supervisor, TE School District directors and Magisterial District Judge candidates.

All candidates who wished to appear on the Democratic or Republican ballot in the Primary Election needed to have filed their “nomination petitions” along with a “statement of financial interests” with Chester County Voter Services. The nomination petition documents required the signature of registered voters, who are enrolled in the party of which the candidate sought nomination and reside in the electoral district of the office sought. The statement of financial interests requires the candidate to provide information regarding the filer’s source of income.

Below is the list of our local candidates for supervisor, school board and magisterial district judge – best of luck to all those taking the journey!  Regardless of party affiliation and stance on specific issues, we thank you for your time, effort and willingness to serve!

The last day for withdrawal by candidates who filed nomination petitions is March 22.  The Primary Election date is May 16.

Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors

There are three Tredyffrin Township supervisor positions available – two at-large and one in the middle district.  Currently serving at-large supervisor Mark Freed (D) and middle district supervisor Evelyn Richter (R) have chosen not to seek reelection.  At-large supervisor Murph Wysocki (D) is seeking a second term. Terms are four years.

Three attorneys, a physician, corporate CEO and real estate agent will vie for Tredyffrin Township’s three available supervisor seats.

For Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, the Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee has endorsed the following candidates:

  • Supervisor at Large: Raffi Terzian, MD
  • Supervisor at Large: Robin Bond, Attorney
  • District 2 (Middle): Beth Coppola, Real Estate Agent

For Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, the Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee has announced the following candidates: (official endorsement meeting not yet held)

  • Supervisor at Large: Matthew Holt, Attorney
  • Supervisor at Large: Murph Wysocki, Attorney *
  • District 2 (Middle): Kevin O’Nell, CEO, Peoplelinx

* Incumbent

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TE School District School Board

For the 2017 election, there is a change to the election districts in the TE School District. The regional election districts in the TE School District were approved for realignment last year to address changes in population that had resulted in disparity among the voting regions. The new regional election districts take effect with the 2017 voting cycle. Terms on the school board are four years.

Voting Precincts: (Representatives will serve through December 31, 2017.)

Region 1- Tredyffrin E-1, E-2, E-3, E-4, E-5, M-1, M-5, M-6
Region 2- Tredyffrin  M-2, M-3, M-4, M-7, W-1, W-2, W-3, W-4, W-5
Region 3- Easttown 1-7

Voting Precincts Beginning with the 2017 Election: 

Region 1- Tredyffrin E-2, E-3, E-4, E-5, M-1, M-2, M-5, M-6, W-3, W-4,
Region 2- Tredyffrin M-3, M-4, M-7, W-1, W-2, W-5
Region 3- Tredyffrin E-1, Easttown 1-7

The Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee has endorsed the following candidate for the office of Tredyffrin-Easttown School Director:

  • Region 2: Doug Anestad, Senior Technology Consultant

The Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee has announced the following candidates for the office of Tredyffrin-Easttown School Director: (official endorsement meeting not yet held)

  • Region 1: Scott Dorsey, Pastor, Director of Children’s Services *
  • Region 2: Kyle Boyer, Educator

* Incumbent

Incumbent school board director Scott Dorsey (D) is seeking a second term on the TE School Board. The Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee has chosen not to oppose Rev. Dorsey in the Region 1 school board race.

Incumbent school board directors Doug Carlson (R) and Virginia Lastner (R) are seeking reelection for a second term in Region 3.  Carlson currently serves as the President of the TE School Board.

UPDATE: Candidates Tina Whitlow (D) and Heather Ward (D) have filed to run for TE School Board for Region 3.

The Region 2 school board race will be interesting.  Republican Doug Anestad, a computer consultant, attends many of the school district meetings and is an active resident participant – most notably outspoken in his opposition of the VF Middle School fencing project (which the current school board elected to install).  Anestad’s opponent in the school board race is candidate Kyle Boyer (D) who is a currently a TESD social studies teacher at VF Middle School.  I do not recall when we have had a candidate for the TE School Board, who was a current TE School District teacher.  This could prove to be a delicate balance for candidate Boyer – employed as a teacher in the school district where he seeks to serve on its school board.

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Magisterial District Judge, District 15-4-01

Incumbent Analisa Sondergaard (D), an attorney is seeking her second 6-year term for Magisterial District Judge, District 15-4-01.  Opposing Sondergaard is Liz Mercogliano(R), attorney, realtor and RN.

Unlike the school board and supervisor candidates, where only 10 signatures are required on the nomination petitions, the magisterial district judge candidates are required to have 100 signatures. As is the case with school board candidates, those seeking district judge position, can cross-file and appear on both Republican and Democratic ballots.  To appear on both Republican and Democratic ballots, a school board candidate would need to have a minimum of 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats signatures and a magisterial district judge candidate would need a minimum of 100 signatures from each political party.

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Trading in four 19th century houses in Paoli for a new multi-story apartment building … is this progress?

If a developer in Tredyffrin has his way, we are going to lose four historic houses in Paoli to make way for a multi-story apartment building!

Developer Lancaster Chestnut LLP presented a preliminary land development plan LD-03-2016 “Chestnut Road Apartments” at the Planning Commission.  The application seeks to consolidate four parcels into one parcel for the development of a multi-story, 17 unit apartment building with 1 and 2-bedroom units.

The site for the proposed apartment building is Chestnut Road, south of Lancaster Avenue and is located within Paoli’s TCD (Town Center) district.  Demolishing four 19th century homes to ‘make way’ for a new apartment building was not volunteered by the developer – but rather as response to a Planning Commissioner question regarding the age of the buildings.

I visited Chestnut Road to see where see the location of this proposed apartment building.  Assuming the land development plan moves forward, the four historic houses slated for demolition are 35, 37, 39 and 43 Chestnut Road.  Driving past these four houses on Chestnut Road, there are three additional houses which are restored and occupied.

Sadly, these are the four “Seven Sisters” houses on Chestnut Road slated for demolition to make way for a multi-story apartment building.

Dating to 1895, these three “sisters” houses are restored and occupied. With the Chestnut Road Apartment plan, these 19th century buildings will lose their four “sisters” and live in the shadows of a 21st century multi-story apartment building.

Close-up of Colonial Revival cottage, c.1895 house on Chestnut Road that will come down for the proposed new apartment building.

The four houses to be demolished are individually included in the 2003 Tredyffrin Township Historic Resource Survey book.  For the township’s survey, the houses were surveyed and photographed. The historic consultant described their architectural style as “gable-end Colonial Revival cottage” and dated the properties to 1895.

Through local history, the neighborhood of the seven 19th century homes on the east side of Chestnut Road was known as Paoli’s “Seven Sisters”.  Now one hundred and twenty-two years later and four of the ‘sisters’ are on the brink of demolition. Single family homes of the 19th century to be replaced by 21st century multi-family apartment building. Destruction of local history in the name of progress …?

Although the four 19th century homes are included in the township’s historic resource book, the identification is meaningless as Tredyffrin remains a municipality without a historic preservation ordinance of protection.  Without historic protection and the property’s inclusion in the Town Center zoning district, the proposed apartments are a permitted use. Chestnut Road Apartments will join the other new apartment plan in Paoli – Station Square on the corner of N. Valley and West Central.

The proposed Howellville Road townhouse plan returned to the Planning Commission. No Tredyffrin resident spoke in favor of the project and several in the audience voiced opposition. TE School District board member Michele Burger raised concern about the multiple new townhouse projects in Tredyffrin and Easttown and the resulting increase in student enrollment. Neighbors spoke about the existing traffic issues on Howellville Road and the negative impact of this proposed townhouse on the community. Others, including myself, spoke of the historic significance of the village (and the old winding country road) and the changes the project will mean to the character of the area.

The developer John Benson of Benson Company presented new plans that reduced the number of townhomes from 20 to 18 with a one-way horseshoe entrance and exit in addition to an interior alley. Township engineer Steve Burgo voiced storm water concerns (Crabby Creek runs through the property). These proposed townhouses should not be marketed as a downsizing option – we were told each unit is 3,000 sq. ft.!

Visibly annoyed by the many questions and comments, the developer did not feel he had adequate direction on his proposed plan.  If I had my way, the project would just disappear but that is unlikely as Mr. Benson made certain that we all know that his townhouse plan is a ‘by right’ use that he intends to pursue. However, there are required changes to his plan if it is to move forward.  He certainly left the meeting with a lot to think about update if his plan was to move to the next step.

Because our township zoning allows by-right density housing in many areas of the township, the developers will continue to bring their plans.  C-1 (commercial) zoning now includes a townhouses as a by-right use, so what is to keep developers from demolishing office buildings and building more townhouses? Townhouses could be an economic boom for developers to redevelop vacant and/or aging office buildings.

Beyond the destruction of local history in the name of progress, there are other concerns about multi-family development projects – rising student population in local schools, additional strain on our fire, EMS and police departments, increased traffic, etc.

Please do not misunderstand; I support economic redevelopment if thoughtful and well-planned.

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How many townhouses and assisted living communities does Tredyffrin Township need (or want)? Can the T/E School District accommodate the increase in student population?

You may recall the abandoned Jimmy Duffy property on Lancaster Avenue in Berwyn and the subsequent construction of Daylesford Crossing, an assisted living facility on the site.  The approval for Daylesford Crossing was a long, drawn out redevelopment process in 2012 that required a text amendment to permit senior living facilities as a by-right use in C-1 (commercial) zoning.

Some argued at the time that the zoning change to permit senior living in C-1 was ‘spot-zoning’ to accommodate this specific project and others questioned what this would mean for future C-1 development in Tredyffrin Township. In 2015, the township expanded the C-1 District zoning to also include townhouses as a by-right use.

During the last few years, developers have flocked to the township with their assisted living and townhouse, apartment and condominium plans. Assisted living projects currently under construction or in the review process include Erickson Living at Atwater Crossing in Malvern (250 beds) and Brightview Senior Living on E. Conestoga in Devon (196 beds).

On the townhouse-apartment side in the township, there are many projects in the planning stages or under construction including:

  • “Parkview”, new townhouses in Chesterbrook
  • “Peyton’s Crossing” townhouses, Berkeley Road, Devon
  • “Village Square” townhouses, S. Valley Road, Paoli
  • “Grey’s Lane” townhouses, Lancaster Avenue, Berwyn
  • Station Square Redevelopment, 3 multi-story apartment buildings, Paoli
  • Chestnut Road Apartments, multi-family apartment building, Paoli
  • 644-704 Lancaster Avenue: redevelopment of Devon Shopping Center to include reconfiguration of retail with addition of apartments above.

Areas that were once farmland continue to be developed.  Top ranking school district, T/E brings an influx of people to the area which means an influx of students, and the growing problem of finding a place to put them.  With an award-winning school district and a premium placed on land, developers know that their profit margins are greater with the multi-family development projects.  But what is the price tag to the community and its residents for this economic development?

In addition to the housing projects above, there’s a new proposed land development plan in the works that is extremely troubling – townhouses on Howellville Road. The proposal is to wedge a cluster of 20 townhouses, in four buildings, between the village of Howellville and the shadow of the Refuge Pentecostal Church.

The village of Howellville in Tredyffrin is an historic township village, dating to the early 1700s. A pleasant symmetry and cottage appearance, five mid-eighteenth century buildings remain in the village and are located very close to Howellville Road, which was common at that time. Howellville Road contributes to the rural character of the community and any new development should be of such character and location as to complement the existing built environment.

The proposed land development plan on Howellville Road is not compatible with the character and appearance of the area.  Beyond the impact of traffic on Howellville Road, the proposed development plan creates serious safety concerns.  The steep narrow winding nature of Howellville Road makes entry and exit from the proposed dense townhouse project a dangerous situation.

Benson Company’s proposed townhouse project on Howellville Road will change the look and character of this community as well as place a greater burden on the narrow, winding road – and again more students for the school district!

John Benson of Benson Company has enthusiastically offered that his proposed Howellville Road townhouses will look like his Grey’s Lane townhouses on Lancaster Ave.  A couple of things – (1) Grey’s Lane is on Rt. 30, a commercial 4-lane road vs. Howellville Road, a rural country road and (2) he squeezed 12 townhouses in at Grey’s Lane in 3 buildings where as this proposal is for 4 buildings with 20 townhouses.

Each time one of these townhouse developers comes to the township for approval, we are told that there will be little impact on the traffic because the target audience is retirees. The developers design master bedrooms on the ground floor of the town home plans; claiming that buyers are “empty-nesters” and not families with children. Based on traffic in the area and the increasing student enrollment, I question that argument.

The Howellville Road townhouse plan is on the Planning Commission agenda for Thursday, February 16, 7 PM at the township building as is the Chestnut Road multi-family apartment building in Paoli.

Areas that were once farmland continue to be developed. Between the assisted living communities and the townhouses and apartments, should the objective in Tredyffrin Township be to approve any and all land development projects regardless of the impact?

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Intimidation and Bullying Claims by Conestoga High School teacher – Official Complaint Filed with US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

This week in the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District, school board director Michael Rock resigned abruptly, citing bullying and intimidation in the school district.  According to an article in the Daily Local, Rock claims that the UCFSD “board is doing little to encourage diversity, and to discourage bullying and intimidation.”  He stated, “I cannot and will not serve on a board that does not have the common decency to comfort our minority parents in these trying times, especially since it is so easy and simple to do … There are times when it is important to stand up to racism and bigotry, even the quiet and unspoken kind that we are experiencing here, and say no.”

During the recent Conestoga football hazing scandal, some of us in the public learned for the first time about ‘No Gay Thursday’.  Although it does not appear that ‘No Gay Thursday’ actually targeted gays in the athletic department, it certainly would not make you feel welcomed or accepted if you were a member of the school district’s gay community.

The struggles of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) not only affects students in our schools but that teachers can also find themselves bullied and intimidated. Some teachers fear their sexual orientation could color how staff and administration view their performance, skew their evaluations, or otherwise influence whether you stay hired or not.

I was contacted by the family of a Conestoga High School teacher wh, sadly reports their son has endured harassment and intimidation by District administrators.

According to the parent, certain administrators have singled out the teacher (who is not tenured) for extensive classroom observations.  I was told that teachers procedurally receive 4 classroom observations per school year but that their son has received 5-7 classroom visits per semester by various administrators.  The District’s mid-year review of this teacher in January 2016 indicated a ‘need for improvement’ rating but the final year-end report five months later, in June 2016, provided a ‘proficient’ rating for the teacher.

The intense classroom observations of this teacher continued during the fall of 2016 and shortly before winter break, the teacher was verbally told (by a District administrator) that he was in risk of receiving another ‘need for improvement’ rating in the mid-year evaluation to be held in January 2017. The administrator strongly suggested that the teacher resign in advance of the January review. This is a critical point – I was told by the parent of the teacher, that if a TESD teacher receives 2 ‘need for improvement’ performance reviews during their employment in the District, it is grounds for dismissal. The teacher was given 48 hours to respond to the District’s verbal offer to resign.  The offer to resign was later declined on advice from the teachers union.

Why were certain administrators using intimidation and bullying tactics to force this teacher out of the District? What was the provocation for the intensive classroom observations? Were there complaints from students, parents and/or other faculty members regarding this teacher and/or his performance?  Had students in this teacher’s class received low test scores?  This didn’t make sense to me.

We all know that there are at least two sides to every story and admittedly, in this case I only have the family’s side.  When I questioned the parent, I was told that there were no complaints from students or parents and that that the teacher was well-liked and respected by his peers at the high school. The teacher had provided additional student tutoring and in fact, had many grateful parents (and students) as a result of his efforts.   And further, the end-of-the-year 2016 test scores were high for the students of this teacher, one of the indicators of a successful teaching experience.  So what was motivating certain individuals to have this teacher removed from the District?

The teacher – himself a Conestoga High School graduate – happens to be gay.  His parents believe that certain administrators are targeting their son because of his sexual orientation. The teachers union, Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) and the union representatives within the District are fully supporting the teacher (as are other teachers and staff).  According to the family, if the District terminates the teacher, PSEA is prepared to take the case to arbitration.

The teacher filed an official complaint this week with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for harassment and intimidation whereby they are trying to force him to resign or fire him for incompetence.  The EEOC thinks anti-gay discrimination in the workplace is sex discrimination.  In 2015, the EEOC concluded that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act forbids sexual orientation discrimination on the job because it’s a form “sex” discrimination, which is explicitly forbidden.

I want to believe that in 2017, that the TE School District would not discriminate against a teacher because of his or her’s sexual orientation.  Falling on the heels of the football hazing scandal and the criminal investigation, the District really does not need the negative publicity that will come with an EEOC anti-gay discrimination case of a TESD teacher.

Three attorneys – Ed Sweeney, Kevin Buraks and Todd Kantorczyk – are current members of the TE School Board.  Although a personnel matter and therefore confidential, I would hope that they (and other members of the school board) take the time to fully investigate and make certain that all District policies and procedures were correctly followed in this matter. No employee of our school district should ever feel intimidation and bullying to such a level as to require intervention from the EEOC.

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Note:  I questioned why the parent contacted instead of the teacher himself.  I was told that although the teacher was aware that his parent had contacted me, that contractually he could not.  By request, the names of the teacher, administrators and PSEA representatives in the District are not included.

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Closing the chapter on the alleged football hazing incident at Conestoga High School — Is it finally over?

 

Conestoga High SchoolThe following statement was released this morning from the Chester County District Attorney’s office regarding the Conestoga High School football hazing incident.  As I read the statement, it appears that the three juveniles have received an offense of harassment. According to the statement, the broomstick did not penetrate the victim but rather it was used to poke him in the leg — painting a much different picture.

Coaches lost their jobs and had their reputations tarnished over the alleged football hazing incident. The statement says that the victim and charged juveniles and their families would like to move on their with lives and will be making no further statements but where does this leave the former football coaches, Conestoga football players (and their families) and the students and staff?

Hazing and bullying has no place in our high school but moving on may not be that easy.

CHS hazing

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House Tour, Hurricane Matthew, Fritz Lumber & T/E School District Finances!

Community Matters readers — I haven’t disappeared; it’s been a busy last month.  First there was the Trust’s 12th Annual Historic House Tour on Sept. 24 which I am delighted to report as extremely successful.  To the house tour guests and to the sponsors who support historic preservation and make the annual tour possible, we say thank you.  And a special thank you to the historic homeowners for opening their homes to the public – the historic homes really are the stars on house tour day!

Following the house tour, my husband and I went to our 100-yr. old house on Port Royal Island, SC for a few days.  On the intercostal waterways, the Sea Islands are located between Charlestown, SC and Savannah, GA, close to Beaufort, SC and Hilton Head.  We stayed on the island until Hurricane Matthew forced our evacuation and then spent the next 4 days wondering if our house survived. Although the area endured major destruction and many folks suffered great loss, I am happy to report that our house remained standing.  We did suffer some roof damage and are now maneuvering through the insurance process.

After returning from SC, my focus shifted to ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz … A Party in the Yard’ – a celebration of the Fritz family and the 153 years of the William H. Fritz Lumber Company in Berwyn on Saturday, Oct. 22, 7-11 PM. The property’s new owner Eadeh Enterprises is the presenting sponsor for the event — Company president Stacey Ballard has enthusiastically supported the event and the celebration of the Fritz family. On behalf of the Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust, we are excited to honor the contributions of the Fritz family to the community.  Guests will enjoy great food, live music and live & silent auctions plus the opportunity to walk the property for one last time. It really will be an evening to remember, tickets are available at www.tredyffrinhistory.org .

Here’s another historic preservation update — John Zaharchuk, owner of Summit Realty Advisors invited me to a meeting a few weeks ago with himself and Heckendorn Shiles Architects.  Summit Realty is the developer for the CVS project at the Covered Wagon Inn site in Strafford. With restoration plans and drawings now in place, it was a privilege to see the PowerPoint presentation for the Covered Wagon Inn along with samples of proposed materials.  In a word – WOW.  I was truly impressed at their enthusiasm and with the level of preservation detail planned for the 18th century inn.  Yes, we will have a CVS pharmacy on the property but the Main Line landmark is saved (and restored!) in the process!  Thank you John Zaharchuk and Heckendorn Shiles!

Supervisor and school district meetings continue and I appreciate the diligence of  my friend Ray Clarke to attend, especially given my absence of late.

Ray reports that the TE School District finance meeting this week was particularly lively and offered the following three topics of note for me to share.  I hope that you will take the time to review Ray’s remarks and offer your own comments.  As always, thank you Ray —-

  1. Substitute teacher daily rates. TE is at the low end of the rates paid by our regional peers, and the fill rates for vacancies are down in the 80% decile from last year’s 90%.  This is a nationwide issue and reflective of lower teacher graduation numbers.  The Committee agreed to the Administration request to match the rate paid by Lower Merion (not the best comparison?), which would make our starting rate of $115/day higher than 10 of the 13 peers benchmarked.
  2. Bond advance refunding. Lots of technical issues here, but a notable bottom line: the Committee is recommending that the Board approve next Monday the parameters of a bond issuance, even though our long-time bond counsel, Saul Ewing, disagrees with the investment banker (not the district’s Fiduciary) about the IRS rules, the structuring of the issue and, as a consequence, the savings.   Between now and Monday the District is going to shop for a counsel to give a more favorable opinion to approve 10 year debt service savings of at least $500,000 and hopefully over $1 million.
  3. Budgeting. There was initial discussion of a proposal to replace the (now accepted, I guess) surplus budgeting of prior years with a specific “above-the-line” (ie: in the tax base) appropriation for capital expenditure.  At current capital spending levels of $6-7 million a year and 75% funding by borrowing this would phase in an expense item of over $1.5 million a year.  A number of assumptions in this:

a) that budgeting will henceforth be accurate

b) that current taxpayers should pay an assigned percentage (of whatever size) of capital expenditures benefiting future students

c) that current residents should pay anything while the General Fund Balance contains $32 million of current taxpayer money, including $5 million already committed for capital projects and over $9 million for PSERS (for which the district can and does tax every year).

There are really important issues in all of this, and I hope that residents can find some time assess the pros and cons and let the Board know their opinion.

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Should the recent court ruling ordering Lower Merion School District to rollback tax increase make a difference in the way TESD School Board manages taxpayer money?

Tonight, Tuesday, September 20th is the TESD Finance Committee meeting, 7 PM at the TE Administration Offices, 940 W Valley Rd # 1700, Wayne, PA .  Residents encouraged to attend — your voices do matter!

With an agenda of 110 pages, the community is fortunate to have residents willing to review the information in advance of meetings.  Ray Clarke provides the following commentary regarding the agenda (click here for agenda).

There are a couple of items that the community might want to pay particular attention to in the light of the recent injunction ordering Lower Merion School District to roll back this year’s tax increase.

To recap, the Montgomery County judge found that LMSD (quoting from the injunction) deliberately over-estimated deficits, failed to predict surpluses, represented to PDE that costs for Special Education and retirement could not be covered without a tax increase, and transferred Fund Balance to assigned accounts to avoid the statutory cap of 8% of the annual budget while still raising taxes.  The judge found that LMSD’s Fund Balance commitments were funded out of the budget each and every year.

These findings will seem very familiar to those following the affairs of TESD.  Moving to the agenda:

Item 6, Bond Discussion: TESD is considering repayment of $18 million of higher interest bonds – arguably a sensible move – but by issuing yet more bonds at mostly 4%, when there is $32 million of taxpayer money sitting in the General Fund, supposedly “committed”, earning about 0.75%.

Item 7, Capital Funding/Fund Balance:  Seemingly to support this plan (only one option is presented), the district is re-publishing its Fund Balance Policy and Regulation (not always consistent with each other), along with the commitments from 2015/16, presumably to establish commitments for 2016/17.  There is no analysis of the capital spending plan.

A couple of questions:

–  Does TESD plan to continue the Fund Balance fiction that brought judicial sanction on LMSD?

–  Are we going to borrow another $18 million we don’t need at the second “generationally low rates” in two years?  (About a percentage point lower than those last generationally low rates).  And pay underwriters and lawyers $150,000?

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Judge Tells Lower Merion School District to Revoke Tax Hike — Could the same thing happen in T/E School District?

A significant decision in the Arthur Wolk vs Lower Merion School District (click on bolded link to read 17 pg. decision) case  was rendered by Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Joseph Smyth this week.  Judge Smyth ordered Lower Merion School District to revoke its tax hike, claiming that the school district could not increase taxes for 2016-17 by more than 2.4 percent. If a Lower Merion resident could take on his school district for over-taxing (and win), this decision has far-reaching ramifications for other school districts, including T/E School District. Not only front page news locally in the Philadelphia Inquirer but the Associated Press has picked up the story with articles appearing in the Washington Post, Boston Globe and beyond.

In his decision, Judge Smyth ruled that Lower Merion School District had consistently understated revenues and overstated expenses so it could falsely raise taxes when in fact it had huge surpluses. TE School District residents are you listening?  Our school district has raised taxes for the last 12 years (see chart below) and continues to build its fund balance. The TE School District fund balance as of June 2016 school board meeting is $32,381,047. Just like Lower Merion School District, our school district continues to raise taxes and increase the fund balance. Folks, that is $32+ millions of taxpayer dollars!

Taxpayers in TE School District have seen their taxes increased for the last twelve years as follows:

  • 2016-17: 3.6%
  • 2015-16: 3.81%
  • 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

Will the Court’s decision to revoke Lower Merion School District tax challenge the TE School Board to reconsider their budgeting approach?

Attending TESD Finance and School Board meetings over the years, we have witnessed knowledgeable, educated residents appeal to the District on this subject – Ray Clarke, Neal Colligan, Doug Anestad, etc. have repeatedly weighed in on financial issues with their comments and suggestions. The discussion of the TESD 2016-17 budget even had former Tredyffrin Township Supervisor Mike Heaberg  attempting to reason with the school board.  Sadly, the school board does not listen – but continues to increase our taxes, build its mountain of “fund balance” dollars and, for the most part, does so with a unanimous 9-0 vote.  Where does it end?

Having read the decision in the Lower Merion School District case, Neal Colligan (with input from Ray Clarke) provides the following economic analysis between LM and TE school districts.  Thank you both – and here’s hoping that the TE School Board reads it!

I know we’ve all been reading with great interest the results of the Lower Merion tax case which made its way to page 1 of the Inquirer today.  This is frighteningly similar to the operations of our School District and I thought it might be interesting to do some comparisons.

The resident case against the LMSD basically argued that they had District had entered into a pattern of projecting annual operating deficits during their budget (and tax rate increase) process and ended each year with large surpluses.  The lower Court judge agreed and ordered LMSD to rescind some of their current tax increase.  As you know; we’ve experienced the exact same pattern in T/E.  For each of the last 5 years; the District has projected a deficit in its budget deliberations; set an aggressive tax (sometimes the Max allowed in the Commonwealth) increase to “close the gap” ; and each year ended in a Surplus position.  It might be fun to dig deeper.

LM’s current budget allocates approximately $259 MM to District spending; T/E’s current budget is about $131 MM…just about half the size.  According to the press releases; LM accumulated $40 MM in Fund Balance over the last 6 years (16% of current budget); T/E has accumulated about $13 MM (10% of current budget).  In the prior six years LM taxes increases have been 21.01%; in T/E we’ve had 18.68%. (The Judge’s order states that since 2006 LMSD has increased its taxes by 53%; the increase in T/E has been 38%.  I used the more narrow, recent figure as LM’s increases were skewed in the early years).   LM’s accumulated Fund Balance is reported at over $57 MM (all Fund/Capital accounts included); T/E’s is about $42 MM (this includes Fund Balance and Capital Fund which was funded by Fund Balance transfer)…about 74% of LM.  Let’s go deeper: The Court commented in the LM suit that the District’s average overestimation of expenses was 5.5% and the average underestimation of revenues was 1.1%.  T/E has a similar history (I say it differently); in the last 10 years, our District has spent about 96% of its budgeted expenses (this budget drives the tax increase obviously) and collects about 101% of its budgeted revenue.  Does it all seem similar?

Some other interesting notes.  LM Enrollment growth in the last 4 years-9.03%; T/E Enrollment growth 1.46% (this statistic was used in the LM budget presentation to justify the tax increase).  Students (approximate): LM-8,200; T/E; 6,400.  Years in the last 6 that tax increase was in excess of Act 1: LM-6; T/E-5.  EIT in community: LM-No; T/E-No.  Special Education budget: LM-$46 MM; T/E-$20 MM.  Salaries: LM-$123 MM; T/E-$57 MM.

In many ways, we compare favorably to LM.  Remember that LM spends the highest amount on a per-student basis in the State.  Without getting too far into the weeds; the fact remains that we, like our neighbors in LM, have been given deficit budgets in each of the last 5 years followed by “necessary” aggressive tax increases.  Our results have been a production of SURPLUS in each of those years; just like LM.  That’s the fact pattern that this suit took to question.  The same fact pattern exists here…almost precisely.  It’s nothing new; we’ve talked about in the T/E Finance Committee meeting for years BUT now there’s a new finding from the Courts.

Come to your own conclusions…the facts are pretty easy to find.

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