Arthur McDonnell

Downingtown Area School District Approves Zero Tax Increase for 4th Year in a Row – TE School District Set to Approve 3.6% Increase (12th consecutive year of tax increase)

Tax-increase 2016

At tonight’s TE School District meeting (7:30 PM, Conestoga High School), the school board will vote on the 2016-17 final budget and property tax rate.

In January, the board had adopted the preliminary budget which contained a 4.3% tax increase – they approved the budget with the Act 1 Index of 2.4% and allowable Act 1 Exceptions of 1.9%.  At the April 25, 2016 regular school board meeting, the proposed final budget reduced the property tax rate from January, from 4.3% down to 3.875%.

According to the meeting agenda and budget materials (click here) the board will vote on the District’s 2016-17 final budget with an Act 1 Index of 2.4% and Referendum Exceptions of 1.2% for a 3.6% tax increase to the taxpayers.

The following chart shows TESD tax increases over the last twelve years.   2004-05 was the last zero tax increase year.

  • 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

The TE School District residents can take solace that they are not alone in their tax increase. According to Adam Farence’s Daily Local article, 11 out of the 12 school districts in Chester County contain 2016-17 budgets with tax increases.

The only Chester County school district without a 2016-17 tax increase is Downingtown Area School District.  DASD recently approved their 2016-17 budget with no tax increase but what is more fascinating is that this is the fourth year in a row without a tax increase!

Looking at TESD tax increase chart above for the last four years, you have to wonder how it is that DASD delivered zero tax increases to its residents during the same time period. According to the Daily Local article, the DASD chief financial officer Rich Fazio “attributes the four-year streak of not raising taxes to the foresight of prior school boards.”  Fazio states that, “We were fortunate to prudently allocate funds and accumulate savings. Because of that we have not had a tax increase for four years.” He further indicated that DASD “will strive to duplicate a zero increase in taxes for as long as possible.”  

The total operating budget for Downingtown Areas School District is $210 million versus TE School District operating budget of approximately $129 million. DASD has a fund balance of approx. $24.5 million versus approx.  $32 million in TESD indicating that both districts understand the importance of saving for the future.

Someone is going to have to help me understand how these two Chester County school districts can operate so differently financially – and yes, I understand that TESD is ranked academically higher than DASD.

TE School District has always been an academic powerhouse, so other than 20 miles of separation between the two Chester County school districts, how is it possible that DASD repeatedly holds the zero tax increase to its residents and TESD has had 12 consecutive years of tax increases? Perhaps TESD business manager Art McDonnell could have coffee with DASD chief finaicial officer Rich Fazio to compare notes and discuss financial strategies!

DASD proudly displays the following 2015-16 tax increase chart on their website:

Tax Increase vs Act 1 Index Chart

According to the agenda budget materials for tonight’s TE School Board meeting, there were spending cuts before, during and after budget approval to reduce expenditures in the 2016-17 budget.  An explanation of those specific reductions would be helpful to taxpayers.

Back in January, school board members Ed Sweeney and Scott Dorsey spoke out against the preliminary tax increase of 4.3% as unacceptable … will they now be OK with 3.6% tax increase?  Instead of a typical roll call vote on the TESD 2016-17 final budget, I encourage board members to be accountable and offer the public an explanation of their vote.

Many of the newly school board members used fiscal responsibility and accountability as a campaign platform – now is the time to deliver on those promises.

School fencing is important school safety issue to TE School Board — Why not same level of safety concern for 5th grader?

stopped school bus

 During one of the two comment periods of the TE School Board meeting on September 21, District residents Mr. and Mrs. John Alexander asked the school board directors for assistance with a busing situation pertaining to their son Jackson. The Alexander’s, who live on Valley Forge Mountain, had previously attempted resolution through email and phone calls to the District but were unsuccessful. After their passionate appeal at the school board meeting, the District’s business manager Art McDonnell intervened to say that this was a bus schedule matter and any school bus policy changes need to go to the Policy Committee the following month. The Board concurred with no further discussion.

Although I may not have fully known the specifics of the situation, it was obvious that McDonnell understood the Alexander’s request.  A couple of days after the school board meeting, John Alexander called me.  After speaking with him, I asked that he provide me with a summary of the situation for Community Matters —

Our son, Jackson, is taking a school district shuttle bus from VFMS to VFES to ride the elementary school bus home two days a week, so that he can participate in 5th grade band and chorus as after school extracurricular activities since both my wife and I work outside of the home. The problem is that even though the elementary school bus passes right by our house twice on its route, the school district’s procedure is to only stop at the closest current elementary school stops. This means that Jackson has to get off almost a half a mile away at the nearest established elementary school stop and walk back to our house which unnecessarily increases his risk of being hurt or otherwise harmed, especially since there are no sidewalks on Valley Forge Mountain.

We had hoped that a simple phone call and/or e-mail requesting the bus to let him off at his old elementary school bus stop from last year would settle the issue and be a Win-Win situation since there would be less risk of danger to our son and the School District wins because there is less risk of an incident for which they would be liable while not impacting other students & families in any material way.

Our bottom line – It seems like the school district is more concerned with minimizing disruptions in their bureaucratic process & procedures rather than taking simple & reasonable steps to increase the safety of a child in returning to their home from school. Shouldn’t student safety be paramount and outweigh bureaucratic processes when reasonable alternatives exist? Now, we are faced with waiting for the Policy Committee to review this in the middle of next month with no guarantee of a favorable decision/ruling.

John Alexander

Over the last couple of years, the school board has focused much attention on school safety, including trying to convince residents that ‘fencing schools’ is the answer to keeping our children safe.  Yet, here we have a 10 year old boy walking ½ mile from the school bus on Valley Forge Mountain to his home, after the bus passes his house twice on the route.

The District is endangering a child and risking liability to allow this child to walk this distance and on roads without sidewalks! This makes no ‘safety sense’ whatsoever! The Alexander’s have been told that to change the bus route for them could mean that other families may want similar changes. However, when Alexander pressed McDonnell on how many ‘other’ families have ever had a bus schedule situation which required a change, he was given no response. The bus route included a stop at the Alexander’s house for the 2014-15 school year. As Alexander states, “Shouldn’t student safety be paramount and outweigh bureaucratic processes when reasonable alternatives exist?”

Beyond the obvious safety aspects of this situation, where is the open communication between the Board and this TE School District family.  Jackson is the youngest of the Alexander’s four children, so the parents fully understand how the school district works and are not seeking preferential treatment.  According to John Alexander, he had previously inquired about the existing “bus policy” cited by Art McDonnell; however, it was not provided. Rather than showing leadership and finding a reasonable solution, the school board accepted the business manager’s approach to “kick the can” to the Policy Committee meeting next month.

The Alexander’s have to wait a month to take their reasonable request (and simple solution) to the Policy Committee. To be clear, the Policy Committee can only hear the policy request and make recommendations. At best, the Alexander’s will have to wait until the next school board meeting for full board discussion. However, most policy changes, take more than one Policy Committee for recommendations so who knows how long this “simple family request” will take for resolution?

I do not understand “why” all school district roads seem to lead to Art McDonnell, the business manager. Beyond the expected business/financial related aspects of his job description, McDonnell is the keeper of the gate for the District’s communications and the Board’s emails from residents, the Public Information officer and the Right-to-Know request recipient. We learned at the last school board meeting that McDonnell ‘hand-picked’ the school safety consultant (without issuing an RFP) and now we find that apparently he is in charge of the District’s bus schedule!

I have sat through many regular and committee meetings of the District and have witnessed an alarming trend…many of the Board’s discussions/decisions seem to defer to Art McDonnell!  In my opinion, the decision making powers of Art McDonnell seems to extend well beyond the normal and expected business manager boundaries.  As of July 1, the District hired a new Superintendent; so where’s Dr. Gusick’s voice on these issues?

As residents, we didn’t elect Art McDonnell to govern the District – we elected the School Board. Plan to support those school board candidates in the upcoming election on November 3rd who will do their homework and govern with independent thought! We need effective leadership!

Next round on Valley Forge Middle School fencing project: TE School Board hires safety consultant

Fencing April 2015

What’s that proverb about a “bad penny always coming back”?  After last week’s TE School Board meeting, that could be a fair description of the Valley Forge Middle School fencing project.

Residents who attended the District’s June 12th Facilities Meeting expected the fencing discussion at Valley Forge Middle School to finally end.  But instead, the public learned that after many, many meetings and months of legal bills for the District (i.e. taxpayers), the Chesterbrook Civic Association and Green Hills homeowners, Board President Kris Graham’s proposed hiring a safety consultant for the Valley Forge Middle School.

The Board has repeatedly cited the 2013 safety report by Andy Chambers (the former Tredyffrin Township Police Chief) as the rationale for building fences around the District’s eight schools. However the public was not provided input for the safety study and the Board, citing safety reasons, never permitted the public to see the report.

Although District residents have not read the Chambers’ safety report, the Board claimed that its safety suggestions included fencing all schools. Taxpayers paid (“not to exceed $11,500”) for the safety report two years ago, so did the Board decide to spend more money on another study (to focus specifically on VFMS).  During the Facilities Committee meeting the Board was quick to point out that the District would send out a RFP for the VFMS safety consultant, which they admit was not done before they hired Chambers in 2013.

During the committee reports at the June 15 regular school board meeting, Dr. Motel (chair of the Facilities Committee) presented the following update,

The Facilities Committee met Friday, June 12 at the district offices on West Valley Road and the meeting was open to the public.

We discussed again the possible installation of additional fencing at Valley Forge Middle School. The committee has decided after many meetings of which this issue was discussed to obtain a second opinion from an additional safety consultant who will review the Valley Forge Middle School site specifically and make recommendations as to whether or not additional fencing at the site is advisable and if so what it should look like and where it should be placed.

The process will be an RFP will go out this summer for a school safety consultant. The selection of the safety consultant will begin at the next committee meeting in public with public input. I want to clarify that this means no new fencing will be installed at Valley Forge Middle School this summer.

Fast forward three months to last week’s school board meeting and the safety consultant discussion – a discussion which was troubling on many levels:

  1. Initially the hiring of the safety consultant appeared as part of the school board’s consent agenda but was later removed to allow for discussion.
  2. Contrary to what the Board previously stated on at the Facilities Committee meeting on June 12 and at the June 15 School Board meeting, no RFP was released.
  3. The Business manager Art McDonnell contacted three safety security companies and asked them for a proposal.
  4. McDonnell ‘picked’ the company, National School Safety & Security Service at a cost of $15,500.
  5. No District signed contract for National School Safety’s services. Responding to Board and resident questions, McDonnell suggested that a contract was not necessary and pointed to the company’s proposal on the TESD website. (The proposal is found on pg. 177 of the Sept. 21 school board agenda}.
  6. Residents asked the cost of the other 2 safety security companies. McDonnell did not have the exact figures but thought one was around $4,000 and the other $20K.
  7. National School Safety’s proposal contains no dates for the deliverables. Their consulting fee of $15,500 is for pre-visit phone calls and review of existing documents, 3 day visit which includes 1-1/2 days of interviews and site visits, 1/2 day of debriefing and presentation to committee and written report of recommendations.
  8. No public meeting on this topic is included in the company’s proposal.
  9. McDonnell stated that earlier fencing correspondence, emails, etc. would be given to the consultant. However, when further questioned on this topic, McDonnell acknowledged he was not sure how long the District kept emails!  (What is the policy on email retention?)
  10. When pressed on the need for the safety consultant to receive public input on fencing, etc., McDonnell referenced a proposed public meeting for Thursday, Nov. 19 with a preliminary safety report from the consultant to be given on Friday, Nov. 20 at the 2 PM Facilities Committee meeting.
  11. What is the value of resident input if the public meeting is held less than 24 hrs. before National School Safety delivers their preliminary report at the Facilities Committee meeting.
  12. Several residents and Board members questioned McDonnell regarding the ‘scope’ of the consultant’s work without the benefit of an RFP. How would the company know the District’s expectations?
  13. In the end, the Board offered that residents could send emails about the fencing project to schoolboard@tesd.net and they would forward to the safety consultant. For the record, Art McDonnell is the public information person and all emails to the school board must go through him first.

I have attended many school board and committee meetings but the discussion to hire a safety consultant for Valley Forge Middle School had to be one of the most troubling I have ever witnessed.  The decision to hire the safety consultant lacked process …there was no RFP outlining the District’s expectations as the Board previously stated  – no dates for deliverables – no contract – no resident input provision, etc.  Even with all the questions and uncertainty the Valley Forge Middle School security consultant, the Board voted 9-0 to hire National School Safety & Security Services at a cost of $15,500.

Where’s the P.R.O.C.E.S.S.?  The public is repeatedly told that the ‘real work’ goes on at committee meetings. Really?

TESD Facility Meeting to discuss school fencing project and mega-million dollar maintenance building

The proposed middle school and high school fencing project and the mega-million dollar Maintenance Building are two of the agenda items for the District’s Facilities Meeting tomorrow, Friday, June 12 at 12 Noon.

The school fencing project, specifically at Valley Forge Middle School, has seen a lot of attention in recent months. The school property abuts the property of some of the Green Hills properties in Chesterbrook. and initially the plan had the fencing going directly behind the Green Hills homes. It now appears that the District has agreed to move the proposed fencing away from the homeowner’s back doors but unanswered questions remain.

Discussion (debate?) continues on the placement of the interior fencing, the height of the fence (4 ft, 5 ft. or 6 ft.), the type of fencing material, signage, etc. The five District elementary schools received chain link fencing but the Chesterbrook residents are asking for a material upgrade to white vinyl fencing to match existing fencing in the planned community.  There appears to be an agreement that any upgrade materials fee from chain link to white vinyl will be split between Chesterbrook residents and the District’s taxpayers.  The white vinyl fencing is to run along the side of VFMS property on Valley Forge Road (Rt. 252).  This upgrade fencing option would only ‘mark’ the District’s property and cannot be viewed as a safety feature.

The construction start date for school fencing at Valley Forge Middle, TE Middle and Conestoga is June 24 with a scheduled completion date of August 14.  Since there is a change order for the originally approved fencing at VFMS, the Facilities Committee will need to decide the next step – will it need to go back to the full Board on Monday, June 15?

Although the District has been unwilling to publically state how many residents have contacted the Board regarding the proposed fencing – I know that the number continues to rise.  Many residents have copied me on their correspondence with the District and then complained when they have received no response. To be clear, there may be residents who support the fencing project, but I have personally not received copies of any such correspondence.

Below is a copy of a recent email to the school board from Mr. Gary Wolf, a Chesterbrook resident.  This email is included below with his approval.

Dear School Board,

Our tax dollars are irresponsibly and continually misused by the T/E School Board.  One of my choices to address this concern, besides moving out of our Tredyffrin home that my wife and I have lived in for 27 years, was to exercise my right to vote … which I did.  I chose not to vote for Kris Graham on May 19th.  While my vote is only one in many, I’m fed up with our taxes being increased and our school board acting as though this district is a “money pit.”  Specifically, we don’t need fences at our schools to the tune of almost a quarter million dollars.

My wife worked at VFES for 19 years, and saw the waste and misdirected funding of the T/E administration.  For example, the kids had a paltry allocation of $1.00/year/student for their first aid care while the principal bought new office furniture essentially every year, applying the “use or lose his budget” mentality.  If I managed my department for my employer in that manner, I’d be out of work.  And … we continue to pay for Dan Waters’ amenities and life style that even us reasonably blessed professionals will never realize.   Spend it on the kids!!  Enough is enough!

Gary C. Wolf

Another of the major discussion items on the agenda is agenda items is the new Maintenance & Storage Building.  As we learned at Monday’s Finance Committee meeting, the bids for this project were due in this week on June 9.  The project bid will not include any of the costs leading up to this point – the legal and architectural fees, traffic studies, township permits, eco soil testing, etc.

When the Business Manager was asked about a total of those pre-construction costs, Art McDonnell stated that he would provide a total of those costs as well as the construction bid costs at the Facilities Meeting. At this point, the District has already invested a lot of money on the maintenance building project. Because this project has greatly exceeded initial estimates, it would be fiscally responsible for the Board to thoroughly analyze the costs, and review all available options, before granting final approval. According to the District, the construction start date for the maintenance building is August 17, 2015 with a scheduled completion date of June 29, 2016.

Regarding this week’s Finance Meeting, the proposed tax increase has now edged up to 3.81% for the 2015-16 school year. Should this tax increase be approved, it will mark the eleventh year in a row that residents have seen their taxes go up — you would have to go back a decade to 2004-05 to find the last time that there was no real estate tax increase. Is this really the best time to spend $4-5 million for a maintenance & storage building?

There were a number of school board candidates at the Finance Meeting, it would be interesting to know their thoughts about the proposed budget. There was a brief mention about the District’s food service budget and something about a $400K loss but … that the department really didn’t have a loss but actually had a profit! I have no idea what this is about — is the District practicing a form of ‘new math’?  Perhaps my friend Ray Clarke can enlighten us!

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Update: Neal Colligan sent the following email to the T/E School Board Thursday evening regarding the District’s proposed Maintenance & Storage Building and provided a copy for posting on Community Matters.

Dear School Board,

Apologizes for not being able to join you at the Facilities Meeting tomorrow. I did want to take this opportunity to give you some thoughts on your maintenance building that you will be discussing tomorrow.

Much has been said on that project and I see know need to go into its history… You’ll already have reviews all that.  The choice you may make tomorrow is to recommend a contract for the construction of this 14,000 SF facility that has been in the planning stage for so long. At the last Facilities meeting, the revised estimate for the construction of the building is almost $4 MM. After you add the cost of land acquisition, planning and architects, legal, and other sunk costs… This facility could well coat almost $5 MM. On a price per square foot basis, this gets pretty close to $300/SF.

I work financing commercial real estate and I’d like to share some insights.  In a commercial loan scenario, a lender would give you only a portion of the value of a piece of real estate (typically 65-75%). This discipline is adhered to for obvious reasons..,. The lender would like to get paid back.  If they don’t get paid back frontmen owner, they’d like to see their way to get their money back through taking the real estate back and selling it. Why is the germane?  You’re a not for profit building for your own needs. Here’s why the above is important:  you are borrower inc the money. Further you’re borrowing it on the back of the taxpayers. You just completed a large bond offering.  You have a AAA rating based primarily on the ability of the citizens of our community to pay taxes. Indeed, WE; the taxpayer, are the security for this loan.

As THE security for your bond issue, I would appreciate it if you would apply the same discipline that you would see from a normal commercial real estate deal. If you had that building appraised… You would find out it’s worth about $1 MM. Don’t believe that?  Find out…have it appraised OR ask Tripp Lukens on the Planning Board…. He’s a commercial appraiser and would be happy to speak on value, likely for no charge. At least investigate it…please don’t pay 4x value for a non-strategic asset (one where no learning takes place).

I know you’ve spent considerable time on THIS plan but now it’s costs have far out-stripped it’s utility/value….my opinion. And my opinion should matter; I guaranteed the bond issue by being a citizen of this community. You should not pay anywhere near the amounts recently released by Facility for this asset. There ARE other alternatives….lease/buy an older building/etc. At $4-$5 MM of money borrowed on the credit of this community; you must go look at new alternatives.

Thank you-and I apologize for any miss-spellings; writing on my handheld without glasses.

Neal Colligan

New Twist in TESD Aides & Paraeducators Outsourcing — Neal Colligan v. Tredyffrin Easttown School District in PA Open Records Case

During the last two years, the aides and paraeducators working in the Tredyffrin Easttown School District have lived with the threat of outsourcing. Given that we live in a wealthy Philadelphia suburb with an award right_to_know_squarewinning, nationally ranked school district, it is difficult to understand how the TESD leaders would seek to outsource valuable employee jobs rather than offer health care benefits as required by the Affordable Care Act. Due to the delay of ACA compliance enforcement, the aides and paras were able to continue their employment through the 2014/15 school year.

With the outsourcing threat present since 2013, residents continued to support the aides and paras, the only group of District employees not covered by health insurance (and the only group of employees without collective bargaining status).  Many in the community questioned the Board’s decision to outsource to avoid the cost of complying with ACA and … if this was the right alternative for the TE School District.

The journey of the District aides and paras moved forward during the 2014/15 school year, knowing that the Board continued to discuss their outsourcing future as a budget strategy. In a surprise move, the School Board approved a resolution to change the employment status of the 73 full-time aides and paras at the February 3, 2015 TESD meeting. The action was taken without notice, other than listing ‘Affordable Care Act Update’ on the meeting agenda, and after five secret executive session discussions held on November 5, 2014, December 16, 2014, January 12, 2015,  January 20, 2015 and February 3, 2015.

The Board’s February 3, 2015 action to outsource disrespected our expectation of good government.  Some residents believed that a PA Sunshine Act violation had occurred by the Board’s action, whether by misinterpretation or misapplication of the language of the Act, or … by intention.  Adding insult to injury, the affected group of aides and paras, learned of the Board’s decision via email at 10:30 PM following the February 3 Board meeting.

The Sunshine Act defines when government bodies must conduct official business in public and private, when they should allow public comment, and how and when to advertise meetings. The Act is a mechanism to increase public participation in the democratic process by minimizing secrecy in public affairs.  The School Board has had a longstanding practice of meeting in executive session before its regular meetings. In the case of the February 3 policy decision regarding the Affordable Care Act, the discussions were held in private during 5 Executive Sessions, out of the light of the public eye and without benefit of public deliberation.

Believing that the Board’s actions of February 3 regarding the aides and paras violated the spirit and letter of the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, a small group of concerned citizens (Neal Colligan, Ray Clarke, Barbara Jackson, Peggy Layden, Jerry Henige and I) sent a February 13, 2015 letter to the Board.  The request was simple … they asked the School Board to re-open the outsourcing discussion at the School Board meeting on February 23, to provide a thorough financial analysis of the ACA options and strategies, an explanation of suggested policy changes, and to allow for adequate resident commentary. As residents, these residents believed that with quick action at the February 23 meeting, the Board could remedy the process and maintain the trust of the community in the integrity of the District’s governance. The resident’s suggestion to re-open the outsourcing discussion was disregarded.

In an email dated February 20, the District’s solicitor Ken Roos responded (on behalf of the Board) to the residents’ letter of February 13, stating in part, “… At no time was the Sunshine Act violated. Moreover, the February 3, 2015 Board vote on this fully disclosed agenda item occurred after a lengthy public presentation, public Board discussion and public comment in full compliance with the Sunshine Act…”

Troubled by the dismissive and trivializing response, it remained clear that the District had not provided adequate notice to the public regarding the proposed policy changes nor specific reasons for each of the five Executive Session discussions of the Affordable Care Act; further adding to the Sunshine Act violation case. Residents and signers of the February 13 letter appealed to the Board to step from behind the words of the solicitor, to take the situation seriously and to think independently.  Again, there was no response from the Board in this regard.

Lacking an adequate response from TESD and the School Board to the February 13 letter, Neal Colligan filed a Right-to-Know Request with the District, on February 18 with the following request:

“All records relating to the implementation and execution of the TESD Resolution of February 3, 2015 regarding the Affordable Care Act updates since November 1, 2014, including all documents used to formulate, communicate, explain or justify the ACA Resolution not disseminated in public meetings.

Of particular interest are the 5 closed (Executive Session) meetings referenced by the Board President on 2/3/15, and all written communications and meeting notices and records thereof related to the discussion on this topic.”

On March 27, Colligan received a response to his RTK request from the District’s Open Records Officer Art McDonnell with two attachments – the public power point presentation of the Affordable Care Act presented at the February 3 Board Meeting and an email exchange between School Board member Virginia Lastner and a resident. Neither of these items related to the Executive Session ‘behind closed door’ ACA discussions and the outsourcing of the District’s aides and paras.  McDonnell’s response to Colligan’s RTK request:

Art McDonnell response

Colligan resplied to McDonnell and the School Board via email on March 27, 2015, noting that that both his first and last name were spelled incorrectly in the response and added that,  although his RTK request was made using his personal e-mail address, McDonnell’s response was sent to Colligan’s business email. The remainder of Colligan’s email reads as follows:

Your response and timing of response in this matter is very disappointing to me.  I’ve made a number of Open Records requests over the years and this is the second one DENIED.  Interestingly, those are the only two responses that took the maximum 30 days to receive.  While you are certainly within the boundaries of the law on these responses, I would think a Denial could be formulated much sooner in the process.  Water under the bridge….

My request was plainly written and, I assumed, easy to understand.

I was asking for the documents related to the closed Executive Sessions that occurred before the presentation on February 3, 2015 on this year; to the extent they were available and public.  What I received (attached) was the Power Point presentation from the 2/3/15 meeting and several e-mail chains between citizens and Mrs. Lastner dated after this critical meeting date.  Added to this was your denial that includes three different legal reasons for the denial of the request.  Wholly unsatisfying to this member of the community who was as puzzled as the rest of us regarding how a sensitive issue like this could have been made in a series of closed-door Executive Sessions.  I was hopeful that some light could be shed on your deliberations and decision-making thought matrix but that is not going to be the case.

It seems you have done a great deal of legal work here although the legal opinion and defenses articulated in your reply likely did not take outside research.  I’m sorry if you choose to spend valuable legal dollars just to deny this request.  If that was the intent, the response could have been forwarded last month when I made the request for Open Records.  The inclusion of post 2/3/15 items was outside of the scope of my request and it is my firm hope that you did not pay for legal review of these (and other post meeting communications) for redaction/exclusion for this Open Records response.

I’m not a lawyer and will not argue your various legal reasons for denying the request.  I know plenty of smart lawyers would tell me the counter to each of these defenses but I’m not looking to play that game.  I do know that there are many groups/organizations/people/firms dedicated to good and open government in the Commonwealth.  I’m also aware that the process for appeal of Open Records denials is a fairly simple and user friendly process…this is to insure that average citizens can shed light on the deliberations of government bodies in PA.  I’m very likely to take those steps and seek that help.  First I will confer with the other members of our community who supported me in this endeavor.  But I ask each of you: Is this the level of openness and transparency that you think appropriate for this issue?  Really, when you stood for election to your seat; is this the relationship with the community you wanted?  This is not the first time that transparency has become as issue; isn’t there one/some of you who would like to see this relationship change; the School Board become more open in process?  I know the answer is YES but we need someone brave enough to voice the opinion and insist on transparent government and it can’t come from the public.

Colligan shared the District’s response to the RTK request and his reply to Art McDonnell (above) with the other signers of the February 13 letter.  The District’s response did not support the claim for exemption from public access and those claims are not applicable in this specific case.  Although McDonnell states that the RTK was granted ‘in part’ —  neither of the two records provided are germane to the request. The District’s RTK denial request contained provisions for an appeal to Pennsylvania Office of Open Records, part of PA Department of Community and Economic Development, within fifteen business days.

On March 28, 2015, Colligan took the next step in the process and filed an appeal with the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records office. He provided requested background documentation, including copies of the original RTK request, response and records from the District. The case, Colligan v. Tredyffrin-Easttown School District, Docket No. 2015-0442 is assigned to Appeals Officer Jill Wolfe, Esq. in Harrisburg.  Colligan is required to provide all supporting information and a legal argument by Wednesday, April 8 to the Open Records Office.  A final ruling on the appeal will be made within 30 days.

Transparency in government is not a new issue. John Adams, 2nd president of the United States, wrote, “Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right and a desire to know.”  Through his Right-to-Know request and his open records appeal, Neal Colligan is asking for transparency and easily accessible information which should be public information.  He is not looking to unearth government secrets … simply asking for public information.

TE School District Business Manager Pleads Guilty to DUI, Sentencing Set for January

The Tredyffrin Easttown School District business manager has pled guilty to driving under the influence.

Chester County court documents say 51-year-old Arthur McDonnell of Chester Springs was charged with a DUI and other traffic violations, including careless driving, failure to notify police of accident, injury or death, failure to notify police of accident or damage to vehicle and high alcohol level stemming from an incident on July 13, 2014 in West Vincent Township, Chester County.

Arthur McDonnell is the current business manager for Tredyffrin Easttown School District.

On September 25, two of the charges against McDonnell – failure to notify police of accident, injury or death and failure to notify police of accident or damage to vehicle were withdrawn; the case was waived for Lower Court and moved to Chester County Court of Common Pleas. According to court documents, Chester County Deputy District Attorney Carlos Alberto Barraza and Assistant District Attorney Andrew Davis are representing the Commonwealth in the case.

McDonnell was formally arraigned on October 16 before Chester County Court of Pleas Judge Jacqueline Cody.  He was scheduled to appear in Court of Common Pleas in West Chester at 9:30 AM on December 15.

On December 15, with Judge Cody presiding, McDonnell entered a guilty plea to the most serious charge, PA statute 75§ 3802 (b) DUI High Rate Alcohol (BAC .10 to .16) and the careless driving charge was withdrawn.

Sentencing (IPP consideration*) in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v Arthur McDonnell is scheduled for January 22, 2015, 1:30 PM at the Chester County Court of Common Pleas, Courtroom 7, with Judge Jacqueline Cody presiding.

As a concerned taxpayer, I have followed McDonnell’s case for five months, since his arrest in July. Because of McDonnell’s important financial position with the TE School District, I sent an email to each of the TE School Board directors on December 1 to voice my concerns. To date, there has been no response to my email or public statement from the School Board regarding McDonnell’s arrest, subsequent guilty plea or upcoming sentencing.

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*IPP Intermediate Punishment Program

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