Betsy Fadem

TE School Board & TENIG reach new 3-year contract deal — No outsourcing!

What a difference a week makes!  At last Monday’s September 23rd T/E School Board meeting, several TESD residents including Peggy Layden, Neal Colligan and Scott Dorsey questioned the Board about the status of the TENIG negotiations. The public was told by Board President Kevin Buraks that contract discussions were moving along and that the Board would report on the process when there was information to report.  And Betsy Fadem volunteered that once the responses from the TENIG RFP were received (and reviewed) there would be public discussion in January.  The current TENIG contract as well as the TEEA (teacher) contract run through June 30, 2014.   When questioned on public communication and transparency issues, Buraks was very specific that the public would be informed of the process although it was not clear how much notice there would be for public review of any proposed contracts.

Buraks (and Fadem) responses to residents was counter to the rumblings that some of us had heard regarding the ‘early bird’ contract discussions.  Nonetheless, because there was an overt attempt by several Board members to suppress any resident complaints on lack of transparency or public discussion, it was my expectation that the Board leadership would make certain that the public was kept informed.

This evening I had a phone call from Mary Minicozzi, the TENIG president. (She agreed that her name could be used and that the information was public).  Mary wanted me to hear the TENIG contract details directly from her so that the facts would be correct.  According to Mary, TENIG presented a contract proposal to the school board 2 weeks ago and that sometime since that point (she was not certain of the exact date), the Board ‘voted’ to accept the proposal.  At today’s TENIG meeting, members voted to ratify with 83 members accepting the contract and 5 members rejecting the contract.

This news surprised the heck out of me because at last week’s TESD meeting, President Buraks and Betsy Fadem were talking about keeping the public informed on the progress of negotiations – had they already accepted the TENIG contract offer?

The vendor bids were not due back to the District until October 11 so how could the Board know what the expected savings to the District would be.  How would TENIG know how much they needed to ‘give back’?  Was this not the point of sending the RFPs out to the vendors?  In addition, this reasoning lined up with Betsy Fadem’s remark that the discussion would take place in January 2014 (allowing for adequate review of the vendor bids and public input).  According to Mary, there were a number of vendors lined up to provide bids to the District – 13 vendors for janitorial, 3 vendors for security, 8 vendors for maintenance, 3 vendors for secretarial and 5 vendors for the cafeteria. Presumably, now the vendors will be immediately notified that the District has cancelled the RFP and has settled the contract.

The good news is that the 3-year TENIG contract, July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2017, has no outsourcing of TENIG employees and no discussion of outsourcing to occur during the length of the contract.  Any new employees hired will be part of the District (and TENIG) – those positions will not be outsourced.  However, there will be wage restructuring for all new TENIG hires, equating to an average of $3/hr. less than current employees in that position.

All TENIG employees received a 4-1/2% raise for the final year of their current contract (which is July 1, 2013 – June 30, 2014).  In the new 3-year contract, the custodians will receive a 2% salary reduction and additionally will give back 1 week of their vacation.  (The rationale is that the District has to hire subs when the custodians are on vacation).  The other members of TENIG (security, kitchen, maintenance, and cafeteria) will receive a 4% salary reduction in the new contract but their vacation benefit remains intact.

On the benefit side, Mary explained that TENIG currently receives the best healthcare benefits of all District employees – paying an average of $300/yr. for a family health insurance plan.  Under the new contract, TENIG member’s health insurance will be on par with TEEA (teachers) members.  In the new contract, the TENIG employees will contribute approximately 6% for their health care benefits.  For year 2 and 3 of the 3-year contract, TENIG employees receive a freeze on their salary.

As an incentive for current employees to leave the District, there is an interesting caveat in the new contract.  If any TENIG employee with 15 or more years of District service, voluntarily resigns prior to end of the first year of the contract (by June 30, 2015), they will receive a buyout bonus of 15% of their salary, up to $7K.  The idea is to replace some of the higher-paid District employees with new lesser-paid employees, thus decreasing overhead budget costs.

So, how much is the new 3-year TENIG contract saving the District?  The contract savings includes $400K from the healthcare benefit component, $207K with the employee salary reduction and $207K from the custodian 1-week vacation giveback for a grand total savings of $719K to the District.

Although Mary stated that the Board had voted to accept the TENIG proposed 3-year contract and that the TENIG membership ratified the contract, I believe that the contract still has to be officially ‘voted on’ in public, doesn’t it?  According to Mary, the Board will sign the contract at a special Board meeting that will be held in conjunction with the Finance Committee meeting.  Looking at the upcoming District meetings, the Finance Committee is scheduled for Monday, October 14 – which interestingly is Columbus Day.  (The offices in Tredyffrin Twp are closed on Columbus Day, but I guess not for TESD).

I want to be clear about something – I am pleased for the TENIG employees; glad they will not be outsourced and that they will not have to worry about outsourcing for the duration of their 3-year contract.  However, last week’s School Board meeting has me troubled. After several residents asked for greater public input and communication, the public was assured that the Board was transparent, and that contract updates would be provided, and that simultaneously to early bird negotiations with TENIG that the Board would also review the results from the RFP.  With agreement from the Board and TENIG on the new contract, there will be no vendor bids.

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Your Voices Matter … They Saved the Tennis Courts!

At today’s Facilities Committee meeting, chair Pete Motel and the other 3 School Board committee members, Jim Bruce, Betsy Fadem and Liz Mercogliano made a 180 degree turn from their former position of demolishing the tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School.  With a unanimous vote from the Facilities Committee, they will send their recommendation to preserve to the tennis courts to the School Board.  Motel explained that their recommendation will include the caveat of a new signed agreement between the District and Tredyffrin Township.  The new agreement will be an update to the original 1974 agreement.

Attending the Facilities Committee meeting, Tredyffrin Township supervisor Phil Donahue spoke of support for the District’s decision to save the tennis courts.  He suggested a willingness on the part of the township, to work together with the District for a new agreement and that if it was ready by Monday, it would be presented at the Board of Supervisors meeting.

Although Motel mentioned there were “sticky wickets” yet to be worked out re an agreement, I think most of us in the audience were satisfied that the tennis courts will be preserved.  The padlocks have been removed and the tennis courts are again available for use. The parking lot expansion plan to add 24 parking spaces will continue this summer (without the demolition of the tennis courts).

Saving the tennis courts from demolition just goes to show what can happen when a few determined people come together for a common cause.  Voices do matter … and in this case, it saved the tennis courts.

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Easttown Region III School Board Members Betsy Fadem and Anne Crowley decide not to seek re-election to TESD

As a follow-up to my last post on Tredyffrin Township supervisor candidates and TESD School Board candidates, I have updated information on the two Easttown, Region III positions on the T/E School Board.  The two current Region III Board members Betsy Fadem (R) and Anne Crowley (D) are not seeking re-election.

Exceeded in longevity only by Pete Motel, who is in his fourth term on the School Board, Ms. Fadem has decided that three terms on the Board is her limit.  Ms. Fadem was elected to the Board in 2001 and 2013 marks her twelfth year in office — she will finish her third term this December.  Currently Ms. Fadem chairs the Finance Committee and serves on the Facilities and Policy Committees.

When I asked Ms. Fadem if there was a reason behind her decision not to seek re-election, she responded with the following:

I have decided not to seek re-election for a fourth term as a T/E School Director and will complete twelve years on the Board in December 2013. I believe it is time for a new generation of members to serve.

I am proud of the work and accomplishments of the Board and the District during my tenure and I look forward to other opportunities to serve the community.

The other currently serving Easttown, Region III Board member, Anne Crowley, has also decided not to seek re-election.  Ms. Crowley was elected to the Board in 2009 and currently serves on the Policy and Legislative Committees.  Behind Ms. Crowley’s decision not to seek a second term on the Board, is the idea of giving others in the community an opportunity to serve.

Since the first of the year, there have been two particularly important votes taken by the Board – the vote to hire former police chief Andy Chambers as the District security expert and the vote to approve a consent agenda that included administrator raises (therefore not allowing for public discussion).  In both of these important votes, Ms. Crowley cast a dissenting vote. Lack of Board transparency was her stated reason in both of these votes.  Transparency in our government’s actions is very important; thank you Anne for also making it a priority.  I would be remiss if I did not also say that Rich Brake, like Ms. Crowley, cast dissenting votes on these two issues, stating lack of transparency as his reason.

There are four Easttown, Region III candidates for the School Board.  Doug Carlson, Virginia Lastner and Maryann Piccioni are cross filed, Republican and Democrat and Jean Kim has filed as a Democrat only.  The Tredyffrin, Region I candidates for the School Board, incumbent Kevin Buraks (D) and Peter Connors (R) are cross-filed, Republican and Democrat and Tredyffrin, Region II candidates for the Board, incumbent Rich Brake (R) and Scott Dorsey (D) are also cross-filed Republican and Democrat.

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There’s Money in Naming Rights for School District Athletic Fields, Concession Stands, Auditoriums, etc. – T/E Explores the Possibilities

I attended last night’s School Board meeting, primarily for the presentation from Market Street Sports Group, a marketing advertising company from Lancaster County specializing in event sponsorships and ‘naming rights’ opportunities.  Two Market Street representatives, Frank Hoke and Tracey Brubaker, explained that they have worked with various school districts using Hempfield School District in Lancaster County as an example and one of their clients. Through corporate sponsorships and naming rights on fields, concession stands, etc. the company raises additional funds for their clients.

The Market Street presentation answered some of the advertising and marketing questions.  The school board would retain final approval on all corporate partners, proposals and contracts.  Certain types of advertising is prohibited including advertising of lotteries, promotion of the sale or use of alcohol or tobacco products plus any service, product or point of view that is not acceptable to the school board. The Market Street Sports Group process includes creating an inventory of available resources for naming rights. Signage strategically placed in certain approved areas of schools, athletic fields, gyms, concession stands, auditoriums, or cafeterias are some possible naming locations.

Naming rights and signage can be lucrative to school districts – representatives cited that Hempfield School District earns $100-130K per year with various naming opportunities. A specific example was a banner over the concession stand on one of the school fields earns $30K for a 3-year contract, $10K per year.  The cost of doing business with Market Street Sports Group does come with a price – a commission rate of 30%.  As explained, the first 10% goes to the sales rep at Market Street (for selling the sponsorships), the next 10% to the local TESD representative and the final 10% to overhead costs (billing sponsors on monthly basis, credit card fees, etc.) The process involves more than just hanging a banner on a field – the sponsors require value for their marketing dollars as well as the school districts gaining additional funding.  Through ‘active engagement’, the sponsors reach customers in a specific demographic area through public address announcements, website advertising, promotions and giveaways at sporting events, etc.

Hoke, who serves as chief financial officer of Market Street, was asked if the 30% commission rate was negotiable and his response was vague and not positive.  An audience member who quickly Googled the Hempfield School District (which was used as an example by Market Street) suggested that the average income level in Hempfield was probably half of the average income level in T/E.  She suggested that the T/E community had the capacity for making more money for Market Street (with no greater effort) so perhaps that should be considered when looking at the commission rate.  Although the representatives were polite, I am not certain that the 30% would be negotiable.

School directors questioned how Market Street would find (and hire) a local representative in the TESD.  Working with the school district and administration, the company would look for a community person interested in part-time work and extra money – possibly a TESD teacher.  It was important the person be a local hire, someone who understood the area as Market Street Sports Group is from Lancaster County.

School board member Anne Crowley questioned the company representatives on how they handle competing local companies that might want to participate in naming opportunities, such as three dry cleaners.  Market Street sales rep Tracey Brubaker offered that this competing situation had never occurred and if it did would be solved ‘creatively’.  Brubaker’s response was not satisfactory; her suggestion that this situation had never occurred seemed unlikely.  Well, I think I understand why – after a bit of research, I determined that Brubaker only joined Market Street Sports Group last month.  In her 5 weeks with the company, my guess is that the situation of competing advertisers has not occurred but I believe does require further consideration.

The presentation from Market Street Sports Group was interesting.  However, I think it was obvious to the school board and members of the audience that this topic will require further study and discussion.

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School Board Votes Against Continuing EIT Discussion at this Time

The vote last night by the T/E School Board stunned me – they voted 7-2 against sending a notification letter to the Tredyffrin and Easttown Townships that the school district would consider a voter referendum on the EIT on the May ballot.  Their vote last night was only to continue the process of discovery – there was no downside to the notification to the townships.  The School Board would still have until the March 18, 2011 deadline to decide whether to take it to voter referendum in May.  Kevin Mahoney and Anne Crowley believed that it was important to continue the public discussion and voted in favor of sending the notification to the townships; the other 7 members of the school board voted against.

I do not understand this school board decision.  Faced with a $7 million deficit that needs to be funded, why would these seven board members take an option off the table prematurely?  The school board may not have enough details now to make a decision about the voter referendum but the beauty of the vote last night was that they did not need to make a decision now – just buy themselves some more time by notifying the townships and continuing to work towards a March decision. After continuing to research their options, if the March 18, 2011 deadline came and the School Board was not comfortable with a voter referendum on the issue, they could decide then not to take if any further.  However, by taking it ‘off the table’ last night, seven members of the School Board took away that option.  

Why did the School Board go to the trouble of having a public meeting on EIT if this was going to be the outcome?  Why not handle the decision democratically and let the public weigh in?  Whether it is an increase in property taxes, imposing an EIT, cutting programs and/or staff . . . something is going to have to change and there will be a cost to the taxpayers and/or to the school district programming. Again, why remove one of the options unnecessarily without full discussion? 

A reason to vote against continuing the process by some of the School Board members could be the thought that the EIT referendum would fail out the polls in May . . . but without a crystal ball, how could they know?

In my opinion, with the school district facing a $7 million deficit, keeping all options on the table as long as possible should be the goal of the school board, rather than second-guessing the future.  Perhaps the 7 members of the School Board have some kind of funding solution in mind for the future . . . taking on the teacher union at the next contract negotations? 

Ray Clark attended last night’s School Board meeting and provided the following notes:

At its meeting on Monday, the School Board voted 7-2 against sending to the Townships a letter of intent regarding the implementation of an EIT in 2011/12 and for setting up a Commission to study the issue between May and September 2011.  Kevin Mahoney was in favor of sending the letter to allow continued discussion this year, while Anne Crowley wanted further information for another Board meeting before the November deadline for the letter.

The most common reasons advanced in favor of the delay were:
  –  An EIT could maybe be a good idea, but in the opinion of the Board, the voters would vote it down if presented with options and asked next year.
  –  There is not enough time (5 months (October 26 2010 to March 18 2011) to resolve the many unknowns (versus May to September 2011?).
  –  Because T/E will have to solve the $8 million gap problem by cutting education programs, drawing down the fund balance and/or going to a property tax referendum, there will be pressure on the unions to accept compensation reductions in the contract beginning 2012/13 and 2013/14.
 –  Harrisburg will eventually fund PSERS at no incremental cost to T/E.
 –  That an EIT will harm property values more than a property tax increase.

Betsy Fadem introduced a nice piece of analysis by calculating the percentage of residents (seniors, income earners, children, maybe pets [just kidding!]) who are currently paying an EIT, and implying that all the remaining residents would have to pay an EIT if it were introduced by T/E.  Thankfully Kevin Mahoney was able to point out that there are five residents in his household, but only one is, and would be, paying an EIT!

Separately, but relatedly, Karen Cruickshank noted that the Education Committee had voted in favor of increasing teacher workload at CHS and of an effective reduction in CHS periods (combined expense-saving potential, assuming workforce reduction through attrition, approx $1.5 million per year).

I would definitely encourage residents to watch the replay of the meeting to assess their representatives’ perspectives.

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