Art McDonnell

The School District spins the roulette wheel on outsourcing vendors – What’s going on in TE?

The saga of outsourcing continues in Tredyffrin Easttown School District … Last week at the infamous TE School Board meeting, we listened as the Administration and School Board members presented the case for outsourcing of aides, paraeducators and substitute teacher positions.  The business manager Art McDonnell, personnel director Sue Tiede and superintendent Dan Waters provided the background and the reasons for choosing Substitute Teacher Services (STS) as their preferred outsourcing vendor.

At the meeting, I asked McDonnell for the names of the other four outsourcing vendors and he was unable to remember the complete list. I do recall Kelly Services was one option however; the services and fees of the other vendors were not presented to the public.  I asked McDonnell if we could assume that STS was the low bidder at a rate of 22.5%.  Although McDonnell responded that the District was not required to accept the low bidder because no RFP (Request for Proposal) was required, he did offer that STS was indeed the lowest bidder. McDonnell further stated that the 22.5% was a negotiated rate, down from 34%.

Tiede, McDonnell and Waters repeatedly told audience members that STS would provide a great opportunity for our employees, that they would make more money with the outsourcing company, have the ability to contribute to a 401K, keep their same jobs and on and on.  We heard that even though STS was the largest employer of its type in the country, that the District would retain complete control over who worked in our schools and that interviews would be conducted on site, etc.   Waters volunteered that an administrative employee of STS would actually have an office in the administration building! In other words, the public sales pitch of STS knew no bounds.

During the District in-service training for aides and paras today, Waters announced that STS is no longer involved in the proposed outsourcing, stating that the company had pulled their proposal.  Eight days since the School Board meeting and the preferred outsourcing vendor is no longer a consideration and that replacing STS is CCRES (Chester County Regional Education Services).  Why the change … this made no sense to me.  Little over a week ago, the Administration led the community to believe that STS was the best fit for the employees and that the company offered the most experience and maximum cost-savings to the District.

Absent any details from the School Board or the District to explain this outsourcing vendor change, I contacted STS and spoke for 45 min. to Jay Godwin, the president of STS.  Although Godwin would have liked to work with the TE School District, his decision to remove his outsourcing proposal was two-fold.

The first reason that Godwin offered for withdrawing his proposal was the School Board’s decision to delay the vote on the outsourcing plan until June 17.  Godwin did not believe that there is adequate time between June 17, the earliest date that the Board could approve the outsourcing agreement and July 1, the start date of the agreement to meet all the necessary State documentation requirements.

According to Godwin, Pennsylvania state law requires school district employees provide certain documentation, including Act 34 (Pennsylvania State Police Criminal Background Checks), Act 114 (PA Department of Welfare Child Abuse History Clearance) and Act 151 (Child Abuse History Clearance). Unless TESD employees had this required background checks within the last year, all necessary background checks, etc. are required.

When asked, what he thought the adequate time frame to accomplish the necessary ‘paperwork’ to move 175+ employees to an outsourcing plan, his response was 3 months. Had the School Board approved the outsourcing plan at the May 13 meeting, although less than his preferred 3 months time frame, Godwin felt he could accomplish the task.  However Godwin was of the opinion that a 2-week turnaround timeline was not possible for his company,  STS. He was unwilling to say whether another outsourcing vendor could meet that 2-week requirement.

The second reason for withdrawing the STS outsourcing proposal was based on TE School District  resident and employee sentiment.  Godwin was overwhelmed by the anti-outsourcing feelings of the public and the employees.  Typically, when a school district is considering outsourcing, there is a longer timeline for public discussion. The District plan to outsource the aides and paras took the residents, parents and employees off guard; and was met with swift and immediate opposition. If you couple the short timeline with misinformation and inaccurate budgetary numbers from the District, the reaction should have come as no surprise to the School Board and Administration.

As much as Godwin wanted to be a part of the TE School District, he said that he knew there would be unhappy employees and an unhappy community, and that was something that he did not want for his company.  Based on the sentiment of the residents (and employees, many of which are also residents) Godwin is of the opinion that this “is not the time for outsourcing in TE”.    Godwin has worked with many school districts and the  community’s anti-outsourcing response is the loudest and most significant he has seen in his career.

We discussed the uniqueness of TE School District and the education and background qualifications of our current aides and paraeducators.  Godwin acknowledged that the high level of education and commitment of these employees was not typical and would probably not be achievable by an outsourcing company.  I do believe that Godwin intended to hire all our current TE School District employees – I think that he truly understood their value and credentials.  Personally, I think Godwin feared that he would lose many of our current TE employees if the District outsourced and, may have been concerned whether he could replace them with the same high standard.

Godwin and I discussed how helpful it would have been for the outsourcing company (in this case STS) to meet with the aides and paras before the School Board meeting.  Such a meeting would have given the employees an opportunity to ask questions, voice concerns, understand the benefits, healthcare, etc. etc.   School Board and Administration transparency was discussed, with Godwin agreeing that an issue as important as outsourcing needs all options thoroughly vetted, and discussed in public, as part of the decision-making process.  Godwin was forthcoming and extremely willing to answer all my questions — his candor much appreciated.

Based on my conversation with Godwin, I am left with many questions including:

  1.  If the School Board approves the outsourcing plan on June 17, how is it possible for any outsourcing company to meet the deadline of July 1?
  2. If STS was the preferred vendor offering the best cost-savings to the District, where was CCRES on the ranking?
  3. How does CCRES propose to complete the necessary background checks, etc. within 2 weeks, should they receive the contract?
  4. The Administration is not meeting with CCRES until tomorrow, when will the aides, paras, substitute teachers be given the proposed plan?
  5. When does the School Board intend to explain that STS, the preferred outsourcing vendor has withdrawn their proposal?
  6. Presumably the fee schedule, cost-savings, benefits change with a new vendor, when is the public given this information?

The taxpayers deserve to know what is going on in this District. Where is the leadership of the School District?

Following the last School Board meeting, I sent two emails to School Board president Kevin Buraks. The emails voiced concern on two topics – my opposition to outsourcing of aides, paras and substitute teachers and the issue of intimidation by the Administration towards the employees of this District. My first email ended with the following, “You must lead … the employees of the District deserve your support, they need your help.  It is no longer acceptable for District employees to live in fear of their jobs.”

I closed my second email to our School Board president with, “We need governance, we need leadership.   To say nothing and to do nothing is not an acceptable solution.”

For the record, there has been no response from Mr. Buraks.  Today is Primary Election Day and Kevin Buraks is on the ballot seeking re-election.

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TE School District … Intimidation to silence

I am not writing today based on an isolated email from a disgruntled school district employee.  I wish that were the case.  Phone calls, text messages and emails have come to me from teachers, paraeducators, custodians, kitchen workers, support staff and aides all painting an eerily similar picture of the work environment inside our award-winning TE schools.

If you want to control someone, all you have to do is make him or her feel afraid.  It appears that the TE School District is now an environment of intimidation with administrators calling for loyalty, demanding public silence and leaving employees fearing for their jobs.

From the outside, the school district appears the image of excellence by any standard – impressive test scores,  high achieving students in all areas – academics, athletics and the arts, supportive parents and caring teachers and staff that believe in putting education and students first.

However, those working inside our schools describe an atmosphere far differently … a place of fear and intimidation … a place where our District employees, fearing retribution, do not feel like they have a voice.   One poignant email read in part, “We have signs all over about anti-bullying, yet the staff gets bullied.”  Another email contained these words, “If you speak out and they (administration) don’t like what you’re saying, and you’re not a ‘yes person,’ then you will literally … you could lose your place there. You could lose your job.”  I just read a comment posted on Community Matters that says TENIG employees were rebuked by the Administration for attending Monday’s School Board meeting.  If true, this level of harassment must stop.  School Board meetings are public meetings and all employees are welcome to attend.  There is a policy that only TESD residents may speak at Board meetings with the exception of TENIG and TEEA union presidents.

The TE School District is committed to a safe and civil education environment for all its students that is free from harassment, intimidation or bullying and the same right is extended to all District employees. TESD Policy, Regulation 4330  “Unlawful harassment by and of TESD employees” provides the procedure for an employee to report unlawful harassment to their immediate supervisor, or to the Superintendent of Schools, if the complaint involves that supervisor.  But herein lies the problem – if the District employees are scared of the Administration, and fear retaliation and possible loss of their job, how are they supposed to speak out? And where do they take their message?

This discontent between administrators and staff that has led to low morale in the schools did not just begin this week.  Although certainly exacerbated by the proposed outsourcing of aides, paraeducators and substitute teachers, there is an unsettling picture that is beginning to surface; a workplace shrouded by fear and intimidation.

The School Board Directors of Tredyffrin Easttown School District need to lead.  The taxpayers of this community pay the administrator salaries of the School District and we elected you as the overseers.  Now the community is  respectfully asking you stop deferring all your decisions to the Administration, and to  simply … govern.

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Outsourcing analysis by TE School District does not stand up to public scrutiny – decision ‘on hold’

Taxpayers, teachers, PTO presidents, paraprofessionals, parents, substitute teachers, TENIG members and students brought their collective voices to the School Board meeting last night, and were heard, at least temporarily.

Standing three people deep and overflowing into the lobby, all attended the meeting for the singular purpose to oppose outsourcing of paraprofessionals in the TE School District.  For over three hours, one voice after another was echoing the same message to the School Board, “don’t outsource.”  For the record, not one person spoke in favor of the District’s proposed outsourcing plan.

With Fox News and ABC Action News filming most of the proceedings,Board members, District business manager Art McDonnell, personnel manager Sue Tiede and Superintendent Dan Waters repeatedly claimed that many of us had misunderstood and that the third-party outsourcing to STS would actually help ‘save’ the jobs of District aides and paras.  They wanted us to believe that STS would hire all the displaced TE employees and that our employees would be making more money working for STS.

According to McDonnell, the need for outsourcing is based on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the cost to provide healthcare for the aides, paraeducators and substitute teachers working 30 hours or more per week in TESD. These employees have never received healthcare coverage through the District.  McDonnell claimed the annual cost to provide healthcare coverage to these currently uninsured District employees would be in excess of $2.3M and further citing a potential fine of $1.2M annually for noncompliance.

By the time the last person had spoken out about outsourcing, it was abundantly clear that the District and the School Board had many more questions than answers.  McDonnell had predicated his evaluation of the healthcare coverage costs to the District on all 175 employees needing insurance.  As was repeatedly pointed out, most of these employees have insurance through their spouses and do not need the coverage.  The District’s cost to insure was based on all 175 employees working 30+ hours per week which had many in the audience asking why not reduce their hours (so the District would not be affected by the requirements of ACA).

Several residents spoke of personal experience with the Affordable Care Act and its requirements.  One in particular, a CFO for a local corporation, offered that the District’s analysis was incomplete and inaccurate, and suggested the Board seek healthcare benefit expertise so as to make an informed decision. Example of inadequate District analysis — The Affordable Care Act does not stipulate that the healthcare coverage must be the same as offered to the teachers and administrators.  Rather than plugging in the cost for a ‘basic’ healthcare coverage in their outsourcing analysis, the McDonnell used the cost of the Cadillac-type of healthcare coverage of the administrators.

The most striking comments of the evening were from those who had called the proposed outsourcing company, STS to learn about the company and their employment requirements.  They were told that STS employees only need graduate from high school, or a GED will suffice. (Remember all the aides, paras and substitute teachers working in TE have 4-year degrees and many have Master degrees). When asked if any additional training was needed to serve as a school district paraprofessional, the response from the company HR — was one evening of their STS Academy training (!).  One young woman in the audience spoke last night who works for TESD but is also a STS employee.  She explained STS hiring procedure and the shocking revelation that STS hired her with no interview required.

Personnel director Sue Tiede repeatedly countered the low employment standard of STS that should District use this company, they would be required to meet the TESD requirements.  We also learned that STS has no experience with this type of job outsourcing.  Although McDonnell and Tiede offered that a couple of Lancaster County school districts employ STS, we learned quickly from audience members that these contracts were only recently signed … therefore leading to the speculation that our award-winning school district would serve as the company’s outsourcing guinea pig.

Facing many unanswered questions from audience members and an outsourcing analysis that did not stand up to public scrutiny, at 11:20 PM, the School Board voted unanimously to table the discussion of outsourcing for the night.  By the Finance Committee meeting on June 10, the administration and the Board will seek a better understanding of the Affordable Care Act (and its requirements) plus work to answer the many questions and possible solutions offered by the public last night.

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Are Dan Waters and the TE School Board planning to outsource without public discussion?

In advance of tonight’s School Board meeting, all  aides, paraeducators and paraprofessionals working in the TE School District received the following Q&A Fact Sheet this afternoon from Dan Waters.

Is the message to the District employees and the taxpayers supposed to be — don’t bother to show up tonight with your questions because the District and the School Board has already made up its mind on outsourcing?  Where’s the public discussion?  Don’t the opinions of the residents in this District count for anything?  We elected these nine School Board members to represent ‘US’ — where’s our representation!  

According to the email from Waters,  the Board has received 31 emails from people that misunderstand the outsourcing plan.  Why do you suppose that people misunderstood?  The only time I know that the outsourcing  ‘plan’ was ever discussed was at the Finance Committee meeting and I can tell you that the School Board did NOT know all the answers.  We were told that outsourcing did not have to do with the Affordable Care Act, yet in this Q&A, it states that as a reason.  It was clear at the Finance Committee meeting that the District CANNOT and WILL NOT mandate that STS hire the TE paraprofessionals.  It was specifically stated that all the District could do was ENCOURAGE the hiring of the the TE employees.   Read the PR statement from the District and they would have us believe that it’s an absolute that the employees keep their jobs.

Is the intention of this email from Dan Waters to intimidate aides and paraprofessionals from speaking out tonight?  

Is the intention of the email to silence TENIG members because they are next up for outsourcing?

Is the public supposed to be intimidated by Dan Waters, Art McDonnell and the 9 School Board members?  Are we not entitled to ask questions and receive answers?  

Any misunderstanding of the outsourcing plan is completely ‘by design’ by the District … keep us in the dark, with limited information.  Give us ‘fuzzy math’ and tell us that the District is saving money.  Promise aides their jobs when they get outsourced but privately know there’s no guarantee.  Tell the paraprofessionals that they will make more money because they get to keep their 7.5% pension contribution.  If people in this community want a ‘voice’, they are going to have to show up tonight and claim it!

This draft Question and Answer Fact Sheet was prepared to be sent to affected employees if the outsourcing of the work of aides, para-educators and paraprofessionals was approved at this evening’s School Board meeting. As of this time, the Board has received 31 emails with a common misunderstanding of the plan. The following Fact Sheet regarding the transition to STS as the employer describes the District’s plan for outsourcing this work while accomplishing the Board’s goal to maintain our current aides, para-educators and paraprofessionals in their current positions.

Dan Waters
Superintendent of Schools
Tredyffrin/Easttown School District

Questions and Answers regarding Transition to  Substitute Teacher Service, Inc.

The District appreciates the work of the support service personnel in assisting our children to succeed. This shift to Substitute Teachers Service, Inc. (STS) does not diminish your contribution to the students which is appreciated by all. The budget strategy was delayed for the past three years, but the state-required increase in the District’s contribution to the PSERs fund and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act require this shift of the work to an outsourcing management company. We encourage you to attend the STS transition meeting to begin the process of employment with STS at TESD.

1.  What was the District’s motivation in making this change?

The District’s motivation is to retain current employees in the same building with the same hours while increasing the typical aide, para-educator or paraprofessional’s total compensation.

2.  Why is the District doing this now?

The Affordable Care Act is now law. The aides, para-educators and paraprofessionals were not eligible for healthcare benefits in the past. With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act the District would have to reduce aide, para-educator and paraprofessional hours below the 30 hour threshold which requires that healthcare benefits be provide to employees who work for school districts.

3.  What is the District’s goal for outsourcing the work of the aides, para-educators and paraprofessionals?

Outsourcing the work of aides, para-educators and paraprofessionals has been considered as a budget strategy for the past three budget years by the Board.  The goal of the strategy is to maintain the current personnel with comparable hours within a long-term financially sustainable budget. The mandatory PSERS increase as a percent of  salaries for individuals employed by the District, along with the implications of the Affordable Care Act, coupled with declining revenues made it necessary at this time to implement outsourcing the work of the aides, para-educators and paraprofessionals.

4. Will the current employees in these roles be offered the opportunity to keep their current positions next year while working for STS?

Yes. The goal of the strategy remains that current employees whose performance is deemed satisfactory will be encouraged to accept the opportunity to be hired by STS.

5.  When will STS become my employer?

The contract with STS begins on July 1, 2013. Your work year would follow the typical schedule and would begin with the start of school in the fall of 2013.

6.  The Board approved contract with STS begins July 1, 2013. Will I be separated from employment by the District before being hired by STS? 

Yes. In June, all aides, para-educators and paraprofessionals will have their employment with the District ended. The separation will appear for Board action in the June 17th Board agenda. The employee will be given the opportunity within the next few weeks to meet with STS and begin the STS employment process. Again, the goal of the District strategy is to transfer the management responsibility to STS, while maintaining employees in their current roles at TESD.

7.  When would I begin working as an employee of STS? 

It is the District’s desire that our current support staff members will return to their assignments in the District in the fall as employees of STS.

8.  What do I need to do to be hired by STS? 

You will be invited to attend a transition meeting with the District and STS.  This meeting will be held at a District school to be announced.  At this meeting, you will be able to begin paperwork to become an STS employee at TESD in the fall of 2013.

9.  Will I need to provide new clearances and a TB test to be considered for employment by STS?

Yes.  These are state mandated forms and the STS employee is responsible for the cost.

10.  Since I will be separated from the District and will not receive a reasonable assurance letter to return to work in the fall of 2013 as a District employee, am I eligible to apply for unemployment compensation during the days I am not employed in the summer? 

Possibly yes. Depending upon the extent and nature of any work you perform over the summer, you may be able to choose to apply for unemployment compensation for the days you are not employed by the District in the summer.  If you are uncertain about your unemployment compensation entitlement, you may file for unemployment benefits with the Unemployment Compensation Bureau. The District will not file for these benefits on your behalf.

11.  Will my current paid holidays be changed in the first year when I am employed by STS? 

You will continue to have 10 paid holidays per year and 2 paid floating holidays in the 2013-2014 school year when you are assigned to the T/E School District as an employee of STS. The floating holidays earned during 2012-2013 but not used will be paid out in June 2013 as is our practice.

12.  What will my paid sick time allotment be in the first year when I am employed by STS? 

STS will provide you with 10 paid sick days during the 2013-2014 school year.

13.  Would my assignment next year be at the same school with the same total hours per week if I am employed by STS?

Generally speaking, yes.  Typically, we have some employees who work in new locations each year; however, most support personnel return to the same building for the same total hours as they worked in the previous year.

14.  What will my total compensation be as an employee of STS? 

The total compensation as an STS employee includes a reduced hourly rate of approximately 12%; this new rate will not require a 7.5% employee contribution to PSERS; the employee will have the ability to choose to file for unemployment compensation benefits.  This new annual total compensation may be the same or greater than it had been as a TESD employee, because the PSERS contribution is not required and you may choose to file for unemployment compensation.

15.  What about the PSERs retirement funds that I have accrued? 

The District will arrange to have a representative from PSERs present a seminar on this topic to separated employees.  This PSERs seminar will be held in the District, as soon as possible.  The goal of this PSERs seminar is to provide employees with information which will assist them in making an informed decision about their PSERs account once they are no longer employed by the District.

16.  As an STS employee will I be required to use KRONOS? 

Yes.

17.  Will my hours be reduced as an STS employee? 

Generally speaking, no.  Most STS employees will work the same total hours as in the previous year. A few STS employees may see adjustments in their hours due to needs at the various buildings.  These personnel hour adjustments happen annually for certain employees.

18.  Does STS provide access to employees for a self-funded retirement savings fund? 

Yes, STS will provide the employee with access to a 401(k) type of retirement savings program. This 401 (k) type retirement savings program is funded by the employee, not by STS.

19.  Will STS provide any medical benefits to the employees?

No. The current TESD aide, para-educator and paraprofessional are not eligible for health care coverage. The same will apply to STS employees.

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175 Aides and Paraeducators are on the verge of outsourcing in T/E School District — Help save their jobs!

It is almost impossible to believe that we live in a wealthy Philadelphia suburb with award winning, nationally ranked schools and our School Board is voting whether to outsource 175 aides, paraeducators and substitute teachers at Monday’s School Board meeting.

Since attending the Finance Committee meeting and writing about it this week, I have heard from parents, residents, aides, TENIG members and teachers.  Not a single person contacted me to say that they support outsourcing, touted as a cost-savings measure by the District.  I understand that there is pressure to cut costs in the District budget but cutting costs should not be at the expense of our most vulnerable students.

Although the District business manager Art McDonnell presented a couple of slides at the Finance Committee meeting about outsourcing, many in the audience left short on answers and confused.  Here’s a review of what I think we know at this point about the outsourcing.  According to McDonnell, the staff researched outsourcing opportunities and met with five different vendors. We were not given the names of the other vendors, only the recommended vendor – Substitute Teachers Service, Inc. (STS). During the evening, it was repeatedly stated that STS is one of the nation’s largest outsourcing vendors and has been in the business for 25 years.

The “Analysis of Outsourcing of Aides and Paraeducators” slide indicated that the 2013-14 anticipated wage and benefits costs for aides and paraeducators is $3,359,784. The cost to the District to outsource with STS is 22.5% of actual wages paid to the aides and paraeducators.  STS will pay all benefits form the 22.5%.  It was unclear what those ‘benefits’ were beyond the required Social Security, etc.  The agreement with STS will be for 3 years.  The increased costs to the District for outsourcing in Year One is $126,307 and Year Two is $59,678.  In Year Three, the District will see a projected savings of $529,544. How does the District go from losing money ($190K) the first two years to saving $500K?  I have no idea.

The anticipated wages and benefit costs for substitutes for 2013-14 is $842,250.  Like the aides and paraeducators, if outsourced to STS, the cost to the District is 22.5% of actual wages and vendor pays all ‘benefits’ out of the 22.5% and is a three-year agreement.  The increased cost to the District is Year One of $76,500, Year Two of $60,112 and Year Three of $44,275.  It is my understanding that the District will not see a savings until Year Six if the substitute teachers are outsourced!  By outsourcing, the District loses money for 5 years before recognizing savings … and this is viewed as a solution?

To be very clear, should outsourcing occur, there is no guarantee that the aides and paraeducators will still have jobs in our school district.  How do I know this absolutely … I asked that specific question at the Finance Meeting and was told by Sue Tiede that the District would ‘encourage’ STS to keep our employees.  I asked if the District’s agreement with STS could mandate that the outsourcing company hire our employees and the answer was NO.  I don’t view encouraging a vendor to hire our employees as any guarantee to the 175 aides, paraeducators and substitute teachers.

When I asked the Board if STS would compensate the TE employees at their current pay level, the answer from Art McDonnell was no, he indicated that their pay would be lower if outsourcing occurs. However, by the end of the outsourcing discussion, that response shifted with Dan Waters stating that the outsourced employees would actually be paid more if they were outsourced.  The rationale behind this claim – when outsourced, the paraprofessionals will not be making the 7.5% PSERS contribution so therefore the employee makes more money. What? This is not more money as the contribution was the employee’s money in the first place.

I’m asking the question again, ‘Where’s the fairness”? Three months ago, the School Board approved raises for the highest paid employees — the administrators.  Now the Board is contemplating outsourcing the employees with the least amount of power, making the least amount of money.  If you recall, the administrator raises were buried in a consent agenda; and we came very close to see a repeat performance with the outsourcing.  The game plan at the Finance Committee meeting was to add outsourcing on the School Board meeting consent agenda. However, thanks to Board member Anne Crowley speaking out, outsourcing will be a priority discussion, which allows for public comment prior to the Board vote. How does the District balance raises to administrators against the outsourcing of aides … interesting interpretation of ‘shared sacrifice.’

In closing, I am including excerpts from some of the emails in the last few days in regards to the District’s proposed outsourcing:

From a District aide …

“These individuals have direct contact with our children on a daily basis. They are our greeters in the lobby, the aides who work one on one with special kids in the classrooms, they monitor lunch periods and recess, they work in the library and in the office , they assist teachers in the classroom, accompany our children on field trips and the do so much more. Many live in our community, have children in the school system. They are our neighbors and friends. 

Personally, I worry that non-local strangers will be brought into our schools and not give the same quality of care and attention to our kids that my colleagues or I would. Our current aides have a college degrees and many master’s, they go through rigorous security screening by the district and by the school staff. Many have been working here for several years. “

From a resident …

 “I challenge the School Board to spend some time really thinking about the outsourcing decision before you vote. Spend some time; really know what these people do, because those paraprofessionals have among the hardest jobs in the building. I’ve done that job; I respect the heck out of those people.”

From a TE teacher …

“This outsourcing will affect all students in various ways none of which are good.  Paraprofessionals are partners to the teachers in the education process.  They pick up where the teachers leave off.  They are there to lend a hand when one or a few students need it, so teachers can continue teaching the other students in the classroom.  I think the important message here is the fact that the role of paraprofessional in TESD is a very important one and I urge the Board to weigh the financial savings against the impact on our students.  I’d like the Board to think about the students first.  I think we’ve lost our way a little bit with regards to our students.”

From a parent of a special needs child … 

“I completely support the paras of TE.  They do this job because they love it and they love being with the children.  The paras make very little money and many have teaching degrees.  To me, as a parent, it makes me feel very comfortable sending my child who has special needs to school each day.  I know what it would do to my child having a different face in class each day who doesn’t know what to do or how to help.  Cutting costs should not come at the expense of our students. Both special needs and typically developing children benefit from having para professionals in our schools that are there every day.”

If you care about the future of 175 aides, paraeducators and substitute teachers  in the Tredyffrin Easttown School District plan on attending the upcoming School Board Meeting.  Whether you are a parent, a teacher, a paraprofessional, a TENIG member or a resident and oppose outsourcing, join me on  Monday, May 13 at  7:30 PM at the T/E School District Administration Offices (TEAO), West Valley Business Center, 940 West Valley Road, Suite 1700, Wayne.

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The Saga of the Tennis Courts Continues …

The saga of the tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School continues.  On April 2, representatives from the School Board, Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, staff and the District’s architect held a public meeting to discuss the fate of the two tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School.

Although there was support to save the tennis courts from those residents in attendance, no decision was made at the meeting. The tennis courts are on the Facilities Committee agenda for tomorrow (Friday), 2 PM at the TESD Administration Building.  Also included in the agenda packet  is the site map for the parking lot expansion and aerial view of the courts.

I remain confused as to why the District wants to demolish the tennis courts.  From a logical standpoint, some of the arguments simply do not make sense to me.

  •  The tennis courts are not located adjacent to the parking lot and their location does not affect the parking lot expansion plans.  To add the 24 parking spaces does not require the demolition of the 2 tennis courts.
  • There has been much back and forth between the School District business manager Art McDonnell and the Township Manager Bill Martin and Township Engineer Steve Burgo in regards to “trading” impervious surface requirement of the parking lot expansion by demolishing the courts.  McDonnell claims that there was a prior agreement with former Township Manager Mimi Gleason in regards to this arrangement;  Martin and Burgo claim otherwise. 
  • In an email to Bill Martin and Art McDonnell (cc Phil Donohue) dated March 20, Burgo states the following: 

Township staff including the previous Manager (Ms. Gleason), Engineer (Mr. Burgo), and (Mrs. McPherson), attended meetings with Art McDonnell and TESD consultant staff on these Tennis Courts more than a year ago.  In those meetings, the TESD discussed their plans to add a new parking lot at the VFES in the future. I want to be clear that the TESD and their consultants originally asked if they could swap the impervious, but were told by the Township that they couldn’t.  Stormwater Management controls are required by the Township Stormwater Ordinance, for all new impervious being constructed onsite. There is no credit or swap if the courts are removed from a stormwater management standpoint, only from a zoning standpoint.

  • On behalf of the District, Art McDonnell has publicly maintained that there was a ‘deal’ in regards to the impervious surface requirement. Yet as evidenced by Burgo’s email, the township has denied any such deal existed.  Further, to the point, such a deal would be illegal as the stormwater ordinance makes no provision for such a credit.  Therefore, we can only conclude that the School District represented by the business manager Art McDonnell has been less than truthful as to their rationale for demolishing the tennis courts.
  • The construction of the additional parking spaces will require a zoning variance. According to VFES neighbor Matt Morgan, township officials indicated at the April 2 Facilities Committee meeting that they would expedite the process and probably waive the associated fees (if asked).

Besides the impervious surface debate, another rationale for the removal of the tennis courts from the District was their cost to maintain.  I have had a number of residents tell me that courts are in excellent condition – although I don’t claim any expertise on tennis courts, the 2 courts at VFES looked in good shape to me.

Another neighbor to the tennis courts, Don Detweiler, has been providing routine maintenance for a number of years.  Neither the School District nor the township has expended any dollars on the courts.  In an April 1 TE Patch article , local resident Jeff Sacks, a tennis coach, is quoted as offering to pay the maintenance cost.  According to Matt Morgan, a local Davis Cup tennis player who lives in the neighborhood and uses the courts, has offered to hold tennis clinics for children and donate the proceeds to maintain the courts.

Beyond the ‘he said, she said’ aspects of this story, that has me shaking my head is the notion that the tennis courts are going to cost money unless they are demolished.  According to the District, the cost to seek a variance from the township’s Zoning Hearing Board will be $12K – $14K; $2K in fees and the remainder in architectural fees.  However, the supervisors stated at the April 2 public meeting that they would probably waive the fees if asked.  And there would not be need for additional architectural services or drawings — the District could apply for a variance based on the current drawings.

Why is there such a rush to take down the tennis courts?  Why is the building of the 24 parking spaces contingent on the removal of the courts?  It has been verified that there was no such ‘deal’ exists to swap the tennis courts for impervious coverage requirement.  There should be a better reason to remove the tennis courts other than the courts are on District property and they School Board has the right to do what they want.  It’s true the courts are on District property but the District property is owned by the residents.

Tomorrow is the Facilities Committee meeting.  Representing the School Board on Facilities is Pete Motel, Jim Bruce and Liz Mercogliano.  According to a April 2 article in the  Main Line Media News, Mercogliano is siding with the residents and supports keeping the tennis courts.  From the article —

“There is no legitimate reason based on impervious surface, stormwater management, safety (or) sink holes to remove the court,” Mercogliano said in an e-mail. “The parking can be built in same area with no issue as there is more land space.

“The community deserves their right to be heard and look into other means of raising funds for maintenance and possible takeover of the court through the Parks and Recreation board or a similar foundation to raise funds. I am supporting a delay to allow the opportunity for the taxpayer to seek an alternative method to save the courts for the kids.

There will be a recommendation from the Facilities Committee tomorrow. If you are unable to attend the 2 PM meeting, you could send an email to the Board at:  schoolboard@tesd.net or to individual Board members. However, I emailed the School Board president Kevin Buraks 8 days ago (in regards to the tennis courts) and to date, have received no response or acknowledgement to my inquiry.

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A look at Enrollment, Projected Staffing, Real Estate Assessment Appeals and Economic Impact in T/E School District for 2013-14 Budget

I attended last night’s TESD Budget Workshop for the development of 2013-14 budget. Sue Tiede, Director of Personnel presented enrollment history and trends, projected staffing needs and changes for the District.

In the review of staffing changes from 2008 to 2013, it was interesting to note that full-time teachers during this period has decreased by 48 teachers, compared to an enrollment increase of 355 students during the same period.  The total enrollment in 2008-09 was 6,132 increasing to 6,487 in 2012-13, which indicates a 5.8% increase or 355 students.

An enrollment history chart dating from 1975 to 2012, indicated that in 1975 the District enrollment at 6,497 students.  From that point, 37 years ago, the District’s enrollment steadily decreased for 15 years to its lowest point in 1989 of 3,990 students.  Starting in 1990, the District’s enrollment began to increase yearly to 6,487 students in 2012, which marked the highest enrollment since 1975, when there were 6,497 students.  We know that there are currently 48 teachers fewer than in 2008, but the chart did not indicate what the staffing was in 1975, when the enrollment was within 10 students of where it is today.

The projected requirement for 2013-14 indicates additional staffing needs of 7.6 educators. Included in the 7.6 staffing number is the addition of one special education, one technology and three mental health specialists.  The special education professional is for autistic support.

The District’s Business Manager Art McDonnell presented updates on property tax revenue lost from reassessments and economic impact on other local revenues (interest income, transfer tax, delinquent tax, and interim tax) and provided a revenue variance analysis and 2013-14 budget summary. In 2006-07, the annual property tax revenue lost to the District in reassessments was $256,561.

As presented by McDonnell, annually since 2006-07, residents and commercial property owners have continued to appeal their property taxes. The annual loss to the District in property tax revenue due to reassessments is as follows: 2006-07: $256,561; 2007-08: $244,236; 2008-09: $417,041; 2009-10: $975,994; 2010-11: $826,923; 2011-12: $595,072; and 2012-13: $411,051.  However, these numbers do not paint the total picture.  There is a cumulative loss as the new reassessment revenue loss is compounded each year.  The accurate property tax revenue lost to the District from assessment appeals based on the cumulative effect is as follows: 2006-07: $256,561; 2007-08: $512,000; 2008-09: $44,126; 2009-10: $1,947,142; 2010-11: $2,847,464; 2011-12: $3,536,508; and 2012-13: $3,946,559.  The District’s budget for 2012-13 is nearly $4 Million less due to property tax revenue lost from assessment appeals. And by the way, the $4 Million may go up as Vanguard’s assessment appeal remains an open issue; scheduled court date is April.

McDonnell presented the economic impact on other local revenues (interest income, transfer tax, delinquent tax and interim tax).  Although we all know that the interest income rates at the banks is nearly nonexistent these days, it is certainly evident when reviewing the District’s financials.  In 2006-07, the District earned about $3 Million in interest income versus $109K in 2011-12.  However, there was some encouraging news – the District’s interest income for 2012-13 is projected to nearly double from last year, $200K.  The transfer tax revenue is also indicating projected growth, from approx. $1.7 Million last year to projected $1.8 Million for 2012-13.  Looking at the total revenues from interest income, transfer tax, delinquent tax and interim tax, the District is projecting $3,227,647 for 2012-13, down from last year’s $3,981,314 – indicating an approx. $750K loss in revenue.  However, when you look at interest income, transfer tax, delinquent tax and interim tax in 2006-07, the total revenues to the District was $7,542,466 – approximately $4.3 million more dollars than projected for 2012.13.

McDonnell was able to provide some possible good news.  Under Governor Corbett’s 2013-14 proposed budget, the state subsidy revenue for TESD is basic education funding increase of $92,016 and special education funding decrease of $11,024 – providing a net increase of $80,992 in state subsidy revenue.  This is cautionary news as Corbett’s budget is the preliminary stage.

The impact items included in the District’s 2013-14 budget: $200K for administrator salary increases, $250K for District safety enhancements and $125K for support staff for network upgrade.  Open budget impact items under consideration including the outsourcing of TENIG staff and outsourcing of aides and paraeducators.  The President of TENIG, Dave Fillippo, read a statement in regards to outsourcing, which will be presented in a separate post.

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T/E School District and Teacher Union Contract Negotiation Honeymoon Period Over

The contract negotiations between the T/E School District and the T/E Teachers Union (TEEA) started in early January.  What is the saying about the ‘calm before the storm’ – I had been thinking that the teacher contract negotiations must have been going well as everything was quiet.

In a Community Matters post, Expert Negotiators Named as TESD Teacher Contracts Talks Begin, dated January 28, 2012, I wrote the following:

“ … With a cooperative tone, both sides have issued their preliminary statements – the school board recognizing the quality and standard of the District’s teachers but reinforcing the severity of our economic times.  And the teachers union proudly applauding the school district as one of the best in the state and stating their desire to work together through the contract negotiations…”

This week in the Tredyffrin-Easttown School District would suggest that I might have spoken too quickly.  First, the T/E School Board publicly stated in a contract negotiation update on the school district’s website that ‘TEEA Negotiator Refuses to Discuss Healthcare Options”.  The school district’s negotiator, Jeffrey Sultanik claims that TEEA “does not want any changes to the existing plan or premium share increases for the employee”.  Sultanik suggests that the negotiator for the teachers union, Ruthann Waldie, refuses to budge on the healthcare issue.  The school board has made it clear from the start that the teacher contract needs to focus on reducing healthcare costs.  Having attended a number of finance committee meetings of the school district, the teacher’s benefits are routinely discussed, especially healthcare.

When the school districts’ negotiating team was named (Dan Waters, Sue Tiede and Art McDonnell in addition to Jeffrey Sultanik), I shared TEEA’s concern that there was no school board director serving on the negotiating team.  The residents of TESD elected the school board members to serve them and at least one of them should be ‘at the negotiating table’.  One of the school board directors, Kevin Buraks, is an attorney who specializes in the collection of unpaid real estate taxes in municipalities and school districts in Pennsylvania.  Certainly, given his background, Buraks would have been qualified at the very least to participate as a contract negotiation ‘observer’.  As far as I know (please correct me if I’m wrong) no prior contract negotiations in T/E school district ever occurred absent school board directors.

Soon after the school district posted the contract negotiations update on their website, TEEA fired back with a response that suggested the school district’s update is “a collection of factual inaccuracies, misinformation, mischaracterizations and personal attacks”.  The response from the teacher’s union suggests a willingness and desire to negotiate issues … but at the bargaining table, not through press releases and websites, as the path that TEEA believes the school district has chosen.

Because there is no representation by the school board at the negotiation table, it is a bit like ‘whisper down the lane’.  The information and updates that the school board receives are not through first hand attendance at the meetings, it is from one of the four members of the negotiating team.  That’s not to suggest that the school district is intentionally misleading the public through its updates, but I would suggest that some of the nuances that occur in a meeting can be missed in the translation.

According to TEEA, the teachers union has presented a comprehensive set of proposals to the school district and are willing to discuss “the district’s finances, staffing levels, school calendar, health insurance, wages and all other important issues …”

As a taxpayer in this school district, I want to know that the contract negotiation updates are completely accurate … can the school board members provide that reassurance to the public.  On the other hand, having attended a number of school district finance committee meetings, I also know that the current teacher healthcare benefits exceed much of what most of the residents of this school district receive themselves.

We are fortunate to live in one of the best school districts in the state and preserving that school system should be a priority to the residents, school district and the teachers.  The new teacher’s contract needs to be line with our current economic reality. However, the negotiation process should be accomplished with a spirit of collaboration.

According to TEEA and the school district, there is no next negotiation session scheduled.  I make a motion to move the contract negotiation process forward; do I hear a second?

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