BUILD T/E

Unionville-Chadds Ford School District Continues to Top Pennsylvania’s Rankings for PSSA Standardized Test Rankings  Whereas TE School District Drops to No. 7 on the List

At the TESD meeting on June 8, the public learned that in addition to a 2.6% tax increase and administration salary increases, the school board’s approval of the budget included the suspension of ERB testing for the 2020-21 school year.

Although the elimination of the ERB testing was cited as a budget strategy, its associated $85,000 price tag did little to move the budget dial. In addition, some school board members argued that the removal of the long-valued ERB testing was not a budget strategy but rather something that was previously discussed.

Arguments on both sides regarding standardized assessment testing (like ERBs) existed long before coronavirus, school closings and distance learning was part of the discussion. Proponents say that standardized testing is a fair and objective measure of student achievement – that the testing ensures that teachers and schools are accountable to taxpayers, and that the most relevant constituents – the parents, actually approve of testing. Opponents say that the tests are neither fair nor objective, stresses out the students and detracts from real learning time.

Faced with the uncertainty of school reopening during the continuing coronavirus crisis, it would seem that assessment testing would be essential in providing an objective view of student performance. The test results provide parents, school board and administrators insight into individual, grade-level, school and district student performance – a thermometer to check the effectiveness of curriculum and gather information on any learning gaps.

Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) is the annual standards-based assessment of what a student should know and be able to do at varying levels in reading, writing, science and math and identifies strengths and weakness of student achievement.  In the spring, PA Department of Education cancelled PSSA testing for the 2019-20 school year because of COVID-19.

For the last sixteen years, the Pittsburgh Business Times has analyzed the PSSA test data given to third through eighth graders and the Keystone exams to measure high school proficiency. The Business Times looks at performance on three years of state standardized tests taken by students and compiles its annual school rankings, which were released last week.

Between 2011 and 2014, I tracked the top 15 school districts in Pennsylvania as ranked by PSSA results. As indicated in the chart below, TESD dropped in the PSSA rankings each year during those four years. The District was second in 2011, third in 2012, fourth in 2013, fifth in 2014 and in seventh for 2015. Unionville Chadds Ford topped the list in 2014.

Although the data is missing for 2015-2017, I can now add the 2018, 2019 and 2020 standardized test ranking results (shown below) from Pittsburgh Business Times.

In comparing the two charts, it is remarkable to see that Unionville-Chadds Ford School District consistently remains at the top of the rankings. It makes you wonder what UCFSD is doing so differently than TESD?

The standing of TESD was seventh in 2014 (again unclear about 2015-2017), moved up to fourth in 2018 and 2019 but has slipped back to seventh in the latest results. The 2020 results show that Radnor School District slipped from second to third, Great Valley School District moved up to eleventh and Lower Merion School District remained the same at tenth.

To be clear, a Pennsylvania school district that places in the top 15 or 20 out of 500 districts statewide based on the PSSA exams is an achievement for which  students, parents, teachers and administrators can all be proud. However, the downward drop in TESD rankings on PSSA testing does makes you question if the ranking trend had anything to do with the District’s decision to eliminate ERB testing for 2020-21 school year. What’s that saying about “timing is everything”?

Could it be that the District knows more about the standardized testing report card than they are letting the parents and taxpayers know? Rather than viewing standardized testing as a helpful assessment tool and indicator of “need to improve” areas, perhaps the District would prefer to avoid the accountability that accompanies those test results.

It is apparent that many TESD parents differ with the District on assessment testing as a way to evaluate the teaching effectiveness and understand any learning gaps of their children, especially during COVID-19 and distance learning.  BUILD T/E has stepped forward, is offering an ERB testing option, and provides the following update:

Since the TESD school board voted to eliminate ERB-CTP testing for the 2020-21 school year, BUILD has had over 50 families with more than 70 children register to receive the registration information the BUILD’s ERB-CTP test. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive about this opportunity to ensure student learning is on track during this uncertain time. July testing dates will be released soon. If you are interested in signing up for testing or have more questions about ERB’s in TESD visit www.bit.ly/erbtesd

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TE School District Eliminates ERB Testing as a Budget Strategy for 2020-21 but BUILD T/E Offers ERB Assessment Opportunity to All T/E Families

Because of Covid-19, we can probably all agree that distance learning proved challenging for school districts, parents and students across the country and that TE School District is no exception. This for some TESD parents makes the long-valued ERB assessment more important as a means to gauge their child’s learning during the past year.

Many in the community remain troubled by the recent disregard of public comments by the school board at the June 8 meeting regarding the elimination of ERB testing in the 2020-21 as a budget strategy (as well as salary increases and the 2.6% tax increase). There is the suggestion that the elimination of the ERB testing was purposeful in order to hide how the District performed and its students progressed.

For those who support ERB testing as a form of student assessment, and are disappointed by its elimination for 2020-21, BUILD T/E secured an option for parents to understand their child’s learning progress this past year. Although greatly disappointed by the school board’s vote to eliminate ERB assessments, BUILD moved quickly to secure a summer 2020 virtual option through Homeschool Testing Services. That saying “Don’t let grass grow under your feet” certainly applies to this dedicated group!

There are limited spaces available for this assessment – see the flyer below.  If interested contact BUILD T/E by clicking this link.

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For those interested, the June 8 TESD School Board meeting is now available for viewing – click here for the link. It took the District solicitor nearly 1-1/2 hours to read the sixty public comments and remarkable how little our voices matter.

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Ignoring Community Outcry, TE School Board Approves 2.6% Tax Increase, the Elimination of ERB Testing & Salary Increases to Administrators

The voices of Tredyffrin Easttown School District residents were unified in their message to the school board.  It took the District solicitor 1-1/2 hours to read into public record over sixty well-written, meaningful comments from residents and far less time for the School Board to ignore!

Resident comments focused on the District’s proposed 2020-21 budget, the proposed 2.6% tax increase, the elimination of the ERB testing as a cost-savings measure and the administrator raises. One lone resident supported the proposed budget; the remainder of the comments loudly and eloquently opposed.

To the many residents who spoke out during the 2020-21 budget process, thank you.  Your collective voices do matter but, sadly, not to the TE School Board.  Although technically the budget vote occurred during the meeting, it could have easily occurred before the meeting even started! Elected to serve the residents of the Tredyffrin Easttown School District, the Board remained unmoved by the outcry from the community.

At midnight, the School Board approved the 2020-21 budget (7-2) with a 2.6% tax increase – the largest increase permitted this year, marking the 16th straight year of tax increases to T/E residents.  The Business Manager and some on the Board actually had the audacity to mention that it was the lowest tax increase in years – the truth is that 2.6% is the maximum tax increase permitted by Act 1, making those remarks ridiculous!

I would be remiss if I did not salute TE School Board director Scott Dorsey, the only real voice for the community. From the start of the budget discussion in January, Rev. Dorsey declared his opposition to any tax increase. Again, last night he highlighted the additional suffering in the community due to the pandemic – the increased unemployment, the struggling small businesses, etc. but gained no support for a zero tax increase. We heard you Rev. Dorsey and your words mattered to this community.

Although the proposed budget materials clearly listed that ERB testing (and associated $85K cost) as a cost-savings strategy, several Board members argued that the elimination was not a strategy to save money. To the viewing public, the remarks were ridiculous (and untrue). Nonetheless, with the approval of the budget, the District eliminated ERBs for the 2020-21 year.

In part, my comment to the School Board read, “Eliminating ERB testing is eliminating accountability…”  It was no surprise to hear that TEEA (the District’s teacher union) supported the removal of ERB testing. There was much talk that that the elimination of the ERBs was for the 2020-21 school year only, leaving open the possibility of the testing to return the following year. If anyone believes that there is a remote chance that ERBs will reappear in future budgets, I think there’s a Brooklyn Bridge for sale.

Another consistent remark from residents was opposition to administration salary increases and bonuses for 2020-21, asking for fairness and shared sacrifice n the budget.  A number of residents cited the past failings of the Business Manager and called for his removal.  Not surprising there was no response from the School Board and Art McDonnell continues as the District’s Business Manager with a raise and bonus. All Administration, Supervisory and Confidential employees will receive salary increases for 2020-21.

Because of the Covid-19 crisis, we are all suffering.  Residents have lost their jobs, and every segment of our economy, including our local small businesses, are feeling the effects of the pandemic. Almost all of us are in worse financial shape and a tax increase under these conditions was wrong.

Our voices should have mattered — Shame on the TE School Board for ignoring the residents and shame on the School Board for approving the maximum tax increase of 2.6% and eliminating the ERBs.

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The Clock is Ticking Down to TESD Budget Vote, Monday, June 8:  Includes 2.6% Property Tax increase, Administration Salary Increases (Business Manager +3.1%) and Elimination of ERB Testing

T/E School Board votes on the 2020-21 final budget on Monday, June 8, 7:30 PM.  Due to Covid-19, the meeting is held virtually — to access the meeting visit the T/E School District website, www.tesd.net.

Last chance to have your voice heard as the clock ticks down – Send your public comment to the school board at virtualboardcomment@tesd.net If you sent a comment prior to the June 1 Finance Committee, I suggest that you send another comment! Comments must reference Priority Discussion topic Final Adoption of the 2020-21 Budget and must be received before 6 PM on Monday, June 8. Make sure you include your name and township of residence (Tredyffrin or Easttown).

As it now stands, the District budget includes a 2.6% tax increase – the largest increase permitted by Act 1 guideline. Should the School Board approve the 2020-21 budget with a tax increase, it will mark sixteen straight years of a tax increase to the District’s residents.  How does the School Board respond to raising property taxes to people who are losing their incomes?

At a time when residents have lost their jobs, and every segment of our economy, including our local small businesses, are feeling the effects of the pandemic, could the School Board at the very least ensure no increase in property taxes.  Most all of us are finding ourselves in worse financial shape — freezing property taxes for District residents should be more than a nice thought!

At the Finance Meeting on June 1 (click here for video), it was obvious that I was not alone in my concern about the proposed tax increase.  At the end of the meeting [and only stopping because of video time constraints] at least twenty-five resident comments were read — and all but a couple asked for no tax increase and/or no to the elimination of ERB testing.

To his credit, Scott Dorsey has remained a constant, the only school board director who echoed the words of residents and asked for a zero tax increase in the 2020-21 budget!  Thank you Rev. Dorsey for understanding that we are all suffering because of the Covid-19 crisis and that now is not the right time to raise our property taxes.   Two other board members, Michele Burger and Mary Garrett Itin, asked for a 2% tax increase with the remaining six members apparently in favor of a 2.6% tax increase.

As noted in the 2020-21 budget agenda materials (see pgs. 311- 314), the School Board will vote on salary increases and bonuses for the District’s administration, supervisory and confidential employees.  Thank you to resident Ray Clarke for providing commentary on the proposed employee increases:

Once again, the final fiscal year Board materials contain proposed salary increases and bonuses for Administration, Supervisory and Confidential employees.

And, as usual, there is no information provided to allow the Board to assess the appropriateness of the increases, and perhaps we now see the reason why.

Increases have moderated this year, but the increases for employees in all these categories still add $141,987 to the annual budget, moderated a little by the replacement of some Supervisory/Confidential personnel by lower paid employees.  The straight average of increases for personnel in place both last year and this is 2.25%.  Increases are mostly in the 2% to 2.5% range, with the maximum of the Act 1 Index 2.6% being received by a few.

Note that the total of Administration increases still exceeds the 1.7% stipulated in the Act 93 contract.  At a time when other school districts are freezing salaries, it seems unlikely that this exceptional increase is required by “the competitive job market”.

However, there is one exception to the Index limit, and that is listed only in the Employment Agreement section of the TESD website.  No increase comes close to Business Manager Art McDonnell’s 3.1% annual increase to $216,427/year, stipulated by contract, regardless of the Act 1 Index, inflation, or taxpayers’ ability to pay. This increase is worth $6,507, and amounts to 4.6% of all the salary increases.

These increases average at about $2,000 a year for Supervisory/confidential personnel and $3,500 for Administration.  I hope that the Board considers the appropriateness of these substantial additional payments at a time of such economic uncertainty.

Adding insult to the residents, who are struggling in the midst of an uncertain future and a proposed 2.6% tax increase, is that the School Board would consider salary increases that exceed the Act 93 contract for administration, supervisory and confidential employees.  And further, that TESD Business Manager Art McDonnell will receive the highest salary increase, +3.1%!

There are school districts in Pennsylvania that are freezing employee salaries as a cost-savings measure for 2020-21. Not only is TESD not freezing the salaries, the Board’s vote to approve will increase salaries above the contractual agreement. School Board, how is this possibly fair to the taxpayers?

The administration, supervisor and confidential employee increases will add $142K to the District 2020-21 budget with no discussion to freeze the salaries for one year. Yet on the other hand, the proposed budget includes the elimination of ERB testing to save $85K as a cost-savings measure. Budget savings should not come at a cost to our students!

A form of assessment to guide instruction and reading, ERB testing has been used in TESD for many years to measure students’ progress and to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the District’s curriculum. TESD has no other tests that give grade level snapshots of students’ performance in reading and math – it is the only test of its kind!

ERBs are particularly important given the distance learning challenges faced by District families because of Covid-19. Parents need to know that their children are on track academically and many support the continuation of ERB testing as evidenced by the number of comments previously received by the District.

BUILD T/E, an advocacy organization in TESD for parents of children with learning differences, fully supports ERB testing in the District and opposes its elimination in the 2020-21 budget. Click here for BUILD’s latest blog post concerning the proposed elimination of ERBs in budget.

Do you have a comment for the School Board regarding the 2020-21 budget? Do you OPPOSE a 2.6% tax increase? Do you OPPOSE the elimination of ERB testing? Have a comment about employee salary increases in the proposed budget?

Send your comments to the School Board NOW — email the comments to Virtualboardcomment@tesd.net.  If you sent a comment prior to the June 1 Finance Committee meeting, I suggest that you send another comment!

Comments must reference Priority Discussion topic Final Adoption of the 2020-21 Budget and must be received before 6 PM on Monday, June 8. Make sure you include your name and township of residence (Tredyffrin or Easttown).

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