Community Matters

Brightview Senior Living approved without township notification to Homestead Road neighbors of the project!

Just as land development projects are not created equal, neither are neighbors oppositions to these projects.

You may recall the abandoned Duffy property on Lancaster Avenue in Berwyn and the subsequent construction of Daylesford Crossing, an assisted living facility on the site.  Daylesford Crossing was a long, drawn out redevelopment process that required approving a text amendment to permit senior living facilities as a by-right use in C-1 (commercial)  zoning.   Some argued at the time that the zoning change to permit senior living in C-1 was ‘spot-zoning’ to accommodate this specific project and others questioned what this would mean for future C-1 development in Tredyffrin Township.

Although there was major push-back from the Daylesford neighbors to the assisted living facility, the project was completed in 2015 and with the developer providing concessions to the immediate residents in the way of lighting, traffic flow, landscape buffering,  etc.  Daylesford Crossing was a turbulent situation with residual effects that some claim cost Michelle Kichline her reelection bid to the Board of Supervisors in 2014.

Now fast forward to Brightview Senior Living, a recently approved senior living land development project on E. Conestoga Rd. in Strafford.  The project is located behind Devon Whole Foods, across from Nudy’s and next to the one-way underpass. (This is a very congested area, especially at lunchtime on that small section of E. Conestoga Road off of Lancaster Avenue).

Brightview Senior Living first surfaced of the Tredyffrin Township’s Planning Commission in April 2015. There was a preliminary discussion and sketch plan of an assisted living facility on properties located at 293, 301, 309 and 319 E. Conestoga Road – all in in the C-1 (Commercial) district.  The facility was described as having a range of care and services, and “would consist of approximately 143 apartments (including independent/assisted living and dementia care).” There was no mention of length, width or height of building in the meeting minutes.

We next see Brightview Senior Living on the Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) agenda in August 2015. The developer sought a variance to decrease required parking spots and increase the building height (from 4 floors to 5 floors). When asked if Homestead Road neighbors had been notified of the proposed project, David Holland (VP of Development for Brightview) responded that yes, neighbors received letter of introduction but that he had not heard back from anyone.  In a recent email exchange between myself and Mr. Holland, he provided a copy of the draft introduction letter and a list of 8 Homestead homeowners that he said received the letter in April 2015.

Brightview 1

A review of the notification list sent to residents from the township regarding the Zoning Hearing Board meetings indicates no Homestead Road names/addresses.

The Brightview Senior Living land development application was presented to the Planning Commission on January 21, 2016.  At that meeting, we learned that the building would be 5-story and 196 beds. (The sketch plan discussion of April 2015 mentioned 143 apartments). As was the case for the ZHB meeting, the township’s list for notification for the Planning Commission meeting on the Brightview Senior Living project did not include names/addresses of Homestead Road residents.

The size and scope of this senior living facility is massive – In Tredyffrin, C-1 commercial zoning limits the building length to 160 ft. The Brightview building is 450+ ft., approximately three times the legal limit of C-1 buildings permitted in Tredyffrin.  Tory Snyder, the Planning Commission chair raised concern over the overall length of the building. Other concerns included safety, parking, etc.  With all the questions/concerns from the Planning Commissioners, you could assume a long process for the developer with input from the community and ultimately a scaled down final version.


On April 21, the Brightview Senior Living project was back in front of the Planning Commission seeking preliminary and final land development approval.  The applicant presented a laundry list of waivers, all of which were unanimously approved with the exception of the length of the building. Again Ms. Snyder commented on the size of the building (450+ft. versus the 160 ft. legally permitted in C-1) but she represented the sole dissenting vote and that waiver too was passed.

In the end, the Planning Commission voted unanimously (6-0) to grant both Preliminary and Final land development approval for the gigantic 450+ft, five-story, 55-ft high building totally 181,000 sq. ft. on E. Conestoga. (As a reference point, Daylesford Crossing on Lancaster Ave. is approx. 80,000 sq. ft.)  And again, the residents living on Homestead Road were not on the township’s notification list for the Planning Commission meeting.

The final approval information of the senior living project has recently made its way to neighboring Homestead Road residents, leaving them shaking their heads and wondering how this happened without any notification from the township during the process. When Matt Bauman, Director of Zoning for the township was asked by a Homestead resident, why they were not notified of the project, his response was to provide them with the following:

Per the requirements of Section 208-147 Notice of Public Hearing, E    When the Zoning Hearing Board shall so order, by mailing notice thereof to the owner if his residence is known or to the occupier of every lot on the same street within 500 feet of the lot or building in question and of every lot not on the same street within 150 feet of said lot or building. Failure to give the notice required by this subsection shall not invalidate any action taken by the Board.

The Township met the obligation of this section of the Code.  Additionally, while there are no requirements for neighbor notification for Planning Commission applications but as a courtesy the Township followed the same requirement for the ZHB notices and sent notifications.

So … what does all this mean?  It basically means that although the township could/should notify property owners on Homestead Road that live 150 ft. from the proposed development, they don’t have to legally!   Using Chester County mapping tools available on website, Ray Clarke measured that several neighboring Homestead Road properties are in the 150 ft. range from the Brightview property.  Interestingly, these same Homestead Road residents have told me that they are routinely notified by the township of projects at the Devon Whole Foods shopping center and on Lancaster Ave —   which are located much further away than Homestead Road properties than the Brightview project.

There’s no way for us to know whether the lack of township notification to Homestead Road residents was an oversight or deliberate. Or is it possible that some in the township didn’t want to see a repeat performance of neighborhood input on this project as was seen on the Daylesford Crossing project? In the end the result is the same – the Homestead Road neighbors were not given a voice in the process.

Brightview Senior Living is nearly 2-1/2 times the square footage size of Daylesford Crossing with twice the number of beds. The building will be located in a very congested commercial area on E. Conestoga Road, directly next to a one-way underpass and the Homestead Road neighbors were not part of the discussion! Amazing!

For the supervisors and township staff, I suggest an internal review of property owner notifications procedures on land development projects so that something similar doesn’t happen again. There needs to be strictly enforced guidelines for property owner notifications by the township, not randomly choosing when to notify.

In the case of the Brightview project, lack of notification to Homestead Road residents and therefore, lack of input int the process, has many in the neighborhood worried about their future property values. The Homestead Road residents were entitled to have a voice in this process. And there should be concern that the approval of the over sized building now will set precedent for future C-1 projects in the township.

What can be done at this point?  As I see it, the outcome in this land development project is not the fault of the developer. The Brightview Senior Living developer reached for the moon and the stars and received it from Tredyffrin Township! However, In my communication with David Holland of Brightview, I found him to be straightforward and sincere, so I am hopeful that an appeal to him by the Homestead Road neighbors may bring some concessions for them in the way of landscape buffering, exterior lighting, etc. I have seen photos of Homestead Road backyards and during the fall/winter months – this new 5-story building will forever change their backyard viewscapes.

I suggest a meeting of Homestead neighbors with representatives from Brightview Senior Living, township staff and a couple of interested supervisors – although the project has received final approval from the township’s Planning Commission, maybe there is still some goodwill concessions that can be given to the neighbors.

TE School District reorganization meeting: Election of Board president and vice president; plus update on Facilities Meeting

The five newly elected TESD school board members (Michelle Burger, Ed Sweeney, Roberta  Hotinski, Todd Kantorczyk and Kate Murphy) take office on Monday, December 10, at 7:30 PM.  The District’s reorganization meeting includes the nomination and election of school board president and vice president.

Some have suggested that former school president Kris Graham’s re-election defeat last month was a message for change from the community – a call for transparency and improved public engagement. Will that message influence the reorganization results?

School board vice president under Kris Graham was Easttown resident Doug Carlson and he looks to want to step up to the board president position.  Also seeking the president role on the board is Tredyffrin resident Scott Dorsey.

For the first time in TE School District history, the school board of nine members now has a Democratic majority (5 D’s, 4 R’s). Presumably this should give Dorsey (D) an edge over Carlson (R) but … it is unlikely that all D’s will support Dorsey. However, Dorsey does have the public endorsement of newly elected school board member, Republican Ed Sweeney.

Committed to honoring his campaign promise of improving public information and citizen involvement, Sweeney posted the following on his Facebook page today, “I endorse Scott Dorsey for TE School Board President. My district elected me to fulfill their expectations. Mr. Dorsey is very concerned about the issues that I think Tredyffrin and my district care most about and is well qualified to be President. I was impressed with his ability to outreach in his campaign for Board President. Mr. Dorsey will partner with fellow members, residents, and stakeholders to bring a new spirit of cooperative government to our area.”   Here’s hoping that all newly elected school board members will likewise honor their campaign commitments!

For those in the community that are paying attention, the first meeting of the new school board and the nomination/election process for board president should be interesting.

On another note, the final meeting of the ‘old’ school board was held on Friday, December 7.  Ray Clarke attended the Facilities Meeting and provided the following update for Community Matters:

The last Facilities Committee meeting of 2015 and of Dr Motel’s 16 year tenure was held on Friday.  The meeting was generally routine:  discussion of minor change orders, an update on the ongoing New Eagle and Maintenance Building projects with helpful status photos, and an outline of the timetable for bidding next year’s projects.  A few items caught my attention:

– Dr. Motel stated that the original rationale for the fences was for “the specific purpose of making sure students do not leave”, “nothing to do with active shooters” and “you can put that on the blog”.  So here it is.  Others may have different recollections.

– Resident Cindy Marturano tried to engage the Committee in a discussion of protocols for communication to all residents of facilities projects that impact the community, linked with the possibility of extending West Walker Road to Chesterbrook Boulevard to ease the traffic congestion at VFMS.  The response to both points came down to: “if it’s a road matter talk to the Township”.  However, Tredyffrin Township records show that West Walker Road is “Private”, and the Chester County GIS has the property line between the school and church running right down the middle of the road.  On the other hand, the Township included West Walker Road on its list of roads to pave in 2015.  Are the maps incorrect?  Is Tredyffrin subsidizing the School District?  Or is there more opportunity here for the School District to improve the daily nightmare than the District knows about or would like to accept?

– The outgoing Committee spent some time discussing the goals for the 2016 Committee.  Since that Committee will have a different composition with likely some newly elected Directors, this seemed rather presumptuous, but the Committee did not take kindly to the idea of including even a “Recommended” modifier, noting that the new Committee can always repeat the same exercise.

– This last point may be related to a gift to the Committee from Daley and Jalboot of a life size “Flat Pete”, with the request that it be used as a reminder of Dr. Motel for future Committees.

Dr. Motel noted that when his parents came to Easttown in the last century it was because TE was a highly rated school district.  I think that the Board and staff are fortunate to serve a community that continues to be driven by this value.

Ray proFlat Petevided the following photo of the cardboard cutout of Flat Pete, as presented by the District’s architects, Daley & Jalboot. When asked about the bulls-eye on Dr. Motel’s chest, Ray explained that the necklace had a gold star one side and a bulls-eye on the other, presumably to represent Motel as a target.

I wasn’t at the meeting, but I found this gift rather bizarre. It was unclear if the Flat Pete cutout went home with Dr. Motel after the meeting or if it will continue to haunt the Facilities meetings going forward.

2015 Pennsylvania School District Rankings based on PSSAs: Unionville Chadds Ford retains top spot, Radnor in 2nd and TE School District drops to 7th! Anti-Standardized testing movement gaining traction locally!

There is an opt-out movement against standardized testing in public schools playing out across the country. Opponents of the exams argue that too much time in public education is spent teaching to the test, stressing out students and teachers and detracting from real learning time. Locally, the anti-standardized testing is gaining traction among parents in Lower Merion, Radnor and Tredyffrin Easttown School Districts – just as the Pennsylvania school district PSSA standings for 2015 are released.

The Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) formula ranks the school districts based on three years of state standardized test scores, giving the most weight to the current year. The PSSA is a standards-based assessment of what a student should know and be able to do at varying levels in reading, writing, science and math.  Reading and math is assessed in grades 3 through 8 and grade 11; writing is assessed in grades 5, 8 and 11 and science assessed in grades 4, 8 and 11. The rankings do not denote the overall quality and performance of the school district, only the PSSA scores.

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.   Proponents of standardized testing view PSSA scores as a reliable predictor of future success.  As a tool for student assessment, the PSSA exam helps measure and provides useful information of what students are learning. The PSSAs measure the performance of the entire class and provide of measurement of how an overall class is performing. But some parents have chosen not to have their kids participate, claiming the tests cause undue stress for kids, and have no direct benefit.

The Pennsylvania school district’s PSSA rankings for 2015 are now available and reported in Pittsburgh Business Times. This is the fifth consecutive year that I have tracked the top 15 school districts in Pennsylvania as ranked by the PSSA results. Results reveal that Unionville Chadds Ford School  District (UCFSD) in Chester County is holding on to top placement.  The yellow highlighted line in the chart below indicates that T/E School District has fallen in PSSA rankings each year during the last five years.  The District was second in 2011, third in 2012, fourth in 2013, fifth place in 2014 and for 2015 dropped to seventh place in the PSSA rankings.

2015  2014   2013   2012   2011           School District (County)
8 4 1 1 1 Upper St. Clair (Allegheny)
5 2 2 5 6 Mt. Lebanon (Allegheny)
1 1 3 2 3 Unionville-Chadds Ford (Chester)
7 5 4 3 2 Tredyffrin-Easttown(Chester)
10 8 5 6 5 North Allegheny (Allegheny)
2 3 6 4 4 Radnor (Delaware)
4 6 7 7 9 Hampton Township (Allegheny)
3 7 8 10 12 South Fayette Township(Allegheny)
6 9 9 8 7 Lower Merion (Montgomery)
12 12 10 9 8 Central Bucks (Bucks)
9 10 11 13 15 Wallingford-Swarthmore (Delaware)
13 13 12 12 11 Fox Chapel Area  (Allegheny)
16 11 13 14 13 Great Valley (Chester)
15 15 14 11 11 Peters Township  (Washington)
11 14 15 19 19 Rose Tree Media (Delaware)

After UCFSD (Chester County) in the PSSA rankings, Radnor (Delaware County) moved up to second place, followed by South Fayette (Alleghany County) in third, Hampton Township (Alleghany County) in fourth, Mt. Lebanon (Alleghany County) in fifth and Lower Merion (Montgomery County) moved up from ninth to sixth.

Interesting to note that Radnor and Lower Merion School Districts advanced on the state-wide PSSA rankings; both districts ahead of TE, which dropped to seventh. The TE School District has continued a steady downward movement in the PSSA rankings during the same period that Radnor and Lower Merion school district improved their scores. The question is why are the PSSA rankings going down in TE rather than up. The only other local Chester County school district represented at the top of the PSSA rankings chart is the Great Valley School District, which dropped from eleventh to sixteenth in the 2015 list.

We know that Pennsylvania parents that oppose standardized testing is advancing. In 2012, only 260 Pennsylvania students opted out of the math and reading PSSAs.  In 2014, more than 1,000 of the 800,000+ eligible students opted not to take the tests according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education. It will be interesting to see if the PSSA rankings change substantially as the students opting out of the standardized testing increases.

Parents in TE School District have arranged for the screening of the documentary, “Standardized Lies, Money & Civil Rights: How Testing is Ruining Public Education” created by a Berks County teacher is scheduled for the Saturday Club in Wayne on April 27 at 7 PM.  According to the film’s website, its purpose is to “shed light on the invalid nature of these tests, the terrible consequences of high-stakes testing, and the big money that’s involved.”

TE School District Avoids ACA Compliance Issue – Reduces Hours and Outsources Aides and Paras

We learned at last night’s school board meeting, that the TE School Board’s way around the Affordable Care Act compliance issue is to reduce employee hours. The ACA does not require the District to provide health insurance to those employees working less than 30 hours a week – so the District’s answer to the Federal law is simple … cut hours of the lowest paid employees.

The District’s quick and dirty solution to avoid ACA compliance issues for 73 full-time District aides and paraeducators is to give them two options – either the full-time employee agrees to work part-time (27 ½ hrs. or less) or they will see their District job outsourced, effective July 1.

Under the leadership of School Board President Kris Graham, the School Board approved the following resolution:

Aides and paras resolution

The Board vote to approve the resolution was 7 – 1.  Republicans Kris Graham, Jim Bruce, Virginia Lastner, Doug Carlson, Peter Motel and Democrats Karen Cruickshank and Kevin Buraks voted in favor of the resolution. Democrat Scott Dorsey opposed the resolution and Republican Liz Mercogliano was recused from voting because her daughter is a part-time aide in the District.  In addition to not voting, Mercogliano was not permitted to comment or ask any questions regarding the Affordable Care Act. Voting is one thing but it is unclear why District solicitor Ken Roos would not permit Mercogliano to ask questions regarding the Affordable Care Act.

The full-time District aides and paras did not receive notice that last night’s school board meeting would include a decision regarding their employment future. Nor was there any attempt to seek public comment or discussion on the ACA compliance issue.  Buried on page 4 of the meeting agenda was the seemingly innocuous ‘ACA Update’.  Other than school board directors and some administrators who would know that ‘ACA Update’ was actually code for outsource the District’s aides and paraeducators.  To be clear, the resolution did not appear in the online agenda materials or on the District website (it was only available to those attending the meeting).

The 73 full-time District aides and paraeducators learned their fate following the Board meeting, through a 10:30 PM email from Personnel Director Jeanne Pocalyko. The aides and the paras must make a decision by May 1 – they can opt to stay a District employee as a part-timer (with reduced hours) or their job is outsourced to an unnamed vendor.  No details about the selection process of a vendor – will the District solicit vendors through an RFP or has the unnamed vendor actually already been decided?

A key component in the computation of PSERS (retirement benefits) is the final average salary of the employee, which is calculated based on an average of earnings during their last three years of employment.  So … say one of these full-time District aides was 57 yrs. old and had planned to retire at age 60. Under the conditions of continued District employment, he or she has a substantial reduction in salary from full-time to part-time status. Because the PSERS calculation of retirement benefits is based on these final three years of employment – with earnings reduced by the District, the employee will see their retirement benefits reduced at time of retirement as a result.

Are there legalities with this resolution – the Board’s decision will affect the future retirement benefits of 73 District employees. Many of the District aides and paras have served the District’s children and their families for years; is this the way the Board rewards their loyalty?

Let’s review – the District can afford administrator bonuses, raises and a Cadillac health plan to the highest paid District employees but rather than provide insurance to the lowest paid employees, the School Board elects to cut the hours of 73 aides and paras, thus reducing their future retirement benefits.**

Ms. Graham’s term on the school board ends in 2015 but she plans to seek reelection.  Will her leadership in the outsourcing of aides and paras influence her endorsement by the Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee?  More importantly, will Graham’s decision to outsource influence voters in November.  The terms of Jim Bruce, Liz Mercogliano and Pete Motel also end in 2015. I know that Bruce will not seek re-election but not certain of the plans of Motel and Mercogliano.


** According to the PA state retirement system website, the formula for establishing retirement benefits states, “Your final average salary is the highest amount you earned during any “three non-overlapping periods of four consecutive calendar quarters. For most employees, it is the average of your last three years’ salary.”  

The key is that typically the highest paid three years would occur at the end of one’s career.  In the case of the TESD aides and the paraeducators who will go from full-time to part-time hours should they choose to stay employed in the District, their pension will be based on a prior 3-year period.

For further information regarding Pennsylvania state pension, visit the website:

TE School Board Approves Administrator Bonuses, $22K/yr Salary Increase to Business Manager & 3.2% Tax Increase to Homeowners

Four important votes took place at last night’s TE School Board meeting and unfortunately there was little surprise in the results.

  • Approval of bonuses to TESD administrators – check
  • Approval of bonuses to TESD supervisors – check
  • Approval of $22K/yr. salary increase & 5-year contract to TESD Business Manager – check
  • Approval of 3.2 percent tax increase to TESD homeowners – check

It was encouraging to see some new faces in the audience and one resident, Tracy Gould of Wayne, came prepared with handwritten signs (see below) announcing her displeasure. Gould explained that she is a parent of three children and like many families, struggles during these economic times.  She appealed to the Board to consider the residents and not approve the salary increases and tax increase.

School Board meeting

You know how sometimes you can just forecast what the result is going to be before a vote is actually taken – well, that is exactly how last night’s school board meeting went.

To their credit, Board members Liz Mercogliano and Scott Dorsey were the lone dissenting votes on the employee bonuses, salary increase to Art McDonnell and tax increase to the homeowners. Both explained that they could not support giving bonuses and salary increases when the District does not provide basic healthcare benefits for the aides and paraeducators. Although Mercogliano and Dorsey are outnumbered 7-2 by the other Board members in their votes, I appreciate that they are concerned about the effect on residents of another year of tax increases.  Providing affordable health care to all District employees is important; I personally thank Liz and Scott for taking a stand on this issue and supporting the aides and paras.

School Board Vice President Kris Graham is chairing the superintendent search committee which also includes Board members Jim Bruce, Karen Cruickshank and Doug Carlson.  In her update, Graham reported that over 1,000 T/E residents responded to the Stakeholder Survey and the results are available on the District’s website,

According to the survey results, the top 5 traits chosen as the most important in a new superintendent are:

  • Honest (54%)
  • Student Centered (52%)
  • Creative Problem Solver (49%)
  • Approachable (37%)
  • Collaborative (37%)

The survey results indicted the top 5 strengths that the new superintendent should be expected to maintain or enhance:

  • Highly qualified staff (54%)
  • High expectations for students (39%)
  • Strong fiscal management (38%)
  • Safe school environment (38%)
  • Culture of continuous improvement (36%)

The top 5 most important qualifications of a new superintendent as selected by respondents:

  • Leadership (74%)
  • Budget & financial expertise (58%)
  • Administrative/education leadership experience (49%)
  • Educational experience (47%)
  • Strategic planning expertise (36%) tie
  • Significant classroom teaching experience (36%) tie

The final survey question, asked respondents to name the top 3 challenges facing the new superintendent:

  • Budget/finance (83%)
  • Government mandates (44%)
  • District labor relations (36%)

My takeaway from the Stakeholder Survey is that the vast majority of respondents believe that finances is the most important issue and that it is important to have someone with leadership qualities and a business/financial background as the District’s next superintendent.

The School Board hired a consultant to help with the superintendent search and Graham explained last night that the she has conducted a couple of workshops with school board members in this regard.  According to Graham, there are currently five District employees with the educational qualifications for the position and they have received an application from one person.  The in-house superintendent candidate was unnamed by Graham but she did say that the Board would be conducting an interview in the next couple of days.

In the District’s online update of last night’s meeting the following information was provided on the superintendent search:

President Kevin Buraks and Vice President Kris Graham updated the public on the work of the Superintendent Appointment Committee and results from the Stakeholder Survey. The survey results are available on the District web site. The Board will continue to keep the public informed on the search process.

Although the message here is that the Board will “continue to keep the public informed on the search process”, there appeared to be something missing from this online information and from the Buraks and Graham update last night. There was no mention about where the District has posted the job for the superintendent position. I would be interested in know which educational resources the consultant suggested to the Board and where the job is posted.  Also, what is the timeline for the District to receive applications?

The Superintendent position is the most important job in the Tredyffrin Easttown School District and I know that the Board, parents, residents, employees and students want to make certain that the information is available to all possible candidates.

Although some in the administration disagree that a morale issue exists, too many District employees would suggest otherwise.  I will continue to maintain that the only way to fully correct the morale issues in the District is to hire someone from the outside – an individual with strong financial/budgetary experience (business experience and background) coupled with the educational component and someone that does not have an existing history with current employees is what is sorely needed.  The new Superintendent should fully understand the District’s financial needs and not simply rely on the Business Manager for answers.

Because the current Superintendent is not retiring for 12 months (June 30, 2015), the Board has the luxury to conduct a thorough superintendent search and fully vet all candidates for the job.  Once the job applications are received from outside the District, the Superintendent Search committee will be able to short list the candidates and then include the residents in their analysis prior to the final selection.

As discussed at last night’s meeting, informing the public of the Superintendent search process is important.  I look forward to the Board’s continued updates on the application process and search to find a new TE School District Superintendent.

TESD Agenda includes bonuses for administrators & 5-year contract for Business Manager; Tredyffrin Township Agenda includes new Finance Director and Police Department news

On Monday, there is a TE School Board meeting at 7:30 PM, Conestoga High School. Rather than hitting the print button, I suggest that you read the agenda and accompanying materials online because it contains 450 pages.

On the fourth page of the agenda, under Section VII Other Recommended Action, these three items grabbed my attention.

A. 2014-2015 Supervisory and Confidential Employee Compensation Plan, Compensation Adjustments for 2-14-15 and June 2015 One Time Payment

B. 2014-2015 Administrator Compensation Plan, Compensation Adjustments and June 2015 One Time Payment

C. Business Manager Employee Agreement

In April, the School Board adopted a $120 million proposed final budget for the 2014-15 school year that includes a 3.2 percent tax increase. How is it that the District can increase our homeowner taxes for another year, but still manage to find available dollars for administrator and supervisor bonuses? Where is the fiscal watchdog looking out for the residents? (To find the current salaries and proposed bonuses on (A) and (B) in Section VII, you need to go to pgs. 435 and 436 of the agenda.)

Item (C) under Section VII, ‘Business Manager Employee Agreement’ refers to the proposed contract for Art McDonnell, the District’s current business manager. McDonnell’s salary for 2014-15 year is $163,220 although he is due to receive a one-time bonus of $1,632 as mentioned above.  Under his proposed employee agreement (see pgs. 438-441), McDonnell will enjoy a significant salary increase of $22,000/yr. or approximately an 14% yearly salary increase – if approved his salary becomes $185K/yr. rising to $186,632 with the addition of his bonus.

Under the position responsibilities in the proposed employee agreement, the terms state that McDonnell is “responsible for responding to all questions relating to the District business, financial and operation matters” and that he “will interpret the financial concerns of the District to the community”. Further responsibilities refer to an ‘Appendix A’, which is not included with the agenda – the business manager duties are vague and the job description without detail.

Setting aside the salary, the pending employee agreement for Art McDonnell includes very surprising job security, especially given current economic times – a whopping 5-year contract with automatic renewals for additional five-year terms. How does someone get this kind of deal these days?

The length of the District superintendent’s contract is 3-years so why should the business manager receive a five-year contract. Who negotiated this contract with McDonnell?  With the retirement of Dan Waters in June 2015, the replacement will inherit the business manager for the entire length of his or her superintendent contract.  Having just launched the search for a new Superintendent, why would the school board agree to a five-year contract for McDonnell?  Why would the Board want to force prospective superintendent candidates into this type of situation?

According to the proposed employee agreement, the District is required to give McDonnell 6 months’ notice if they want to terminate his contract; otherwise, his five-year contract rolls over with automatic five-year renewals.  (With an unsatisfactory evaluation, termination notice is reduced to 60 days). Gratefully, McDonnell’s contract was not included in the consent agenda.  Does this mean that the residents expect a Board discussion and explanation (rationale) for the terms of the proposed contract? Again, I ask who on the school board ‘negotiated’ this contract?  It looks to me like Art McDonnell asked for “the moon, the stars and the sun” in this contract and he’s likely to get it – where’s the fiscal responsibility?

Also on Monday night is the Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors meeting, 7:30 PM at Township Building.  I found a couple of items interesting on the agenda

(1)  The appointment of Finance Director

(2) Approval of a Memorandum of Understanding (2015-2018) with the Tredyffrin Township Police Association (TTPA)

If you recall, within a two-week period between February 10 and 25 of this year, the Tredyffrin Township’s Board of Supervisors terminated Public Works Director Scott Cannon without public discussion or comment and agreed to accept the resignation of Finance Director Tim Klarich, also without explanation. Klarich was Tredyffrin Township Finance Director for nearly 4 years. I always found his analysis and preparation of the yearly township budget detailed and complete and his monthly financial updates to the board unfailingly thorough.  There was uneasiness with the departure of these two department heads four months ago and Klarich departure was particularly unsettling. I look forward to the announcement of the appointment of the township’s new Finance Director.

As for the other agenda item of interest — the residents are aware that the Tredyffrin Township Police Department has been working with an officer deficit during the last several years. If you recall, the supervisors approved the spending of $49K for a Police Department study that concluded hiring of additional police officers was needed.  I am interested to see if the needs of the police department will be addressed in the Memorandum of Understanding.

Will chain link fencing around the elementary schools make them safer?

fencing 2Like every other school district in America, the TE School District began talking about school security after the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy where a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children.  If you recall, the School Board hired former Tredyffrin Township Police Chief Andy Chambers as the District’s safety consultant. The School Board announced the formation of a District Safety Committee; members to include Chambers, District staff and residents. The District Safety Coordinator is Conestoga High School Assistant Principal Andy Phillips. Other than Chambers and Phillips, I am not certain who else is on the District Safety Committee and I could not find the information on the school district website.

Sandy Hook and other shootings have pushed the issue of school security into the limelight … we all want our kids to be safe. One of the security upgrades recommended by the Safety Committee to the Facilities Committee is the construction of 5-foot high chain link fencing around each of the District’s five elementary schools – Beaumont, New Eagle, Valley Forge, Hillside and Devon.  The Facilities Committee acted on the Safety Committee’s recommendation sending out request for proposals for the fence construction. The capital project contract for site fencing at the elementary schools was approved by the school board on February 24, 2014 and the contract was awarded to the low bidder New Holland Chain Link, LLC for $220K.

I have received emails and phone calls from parents and neighbors associated with New Eagle, Valley Forge and Hillside schools, all opposing the school board’s decision to construct the chain link fencing. And the TE School District planned fencing project was on the local ABC Philadelphia news last week with residents explaining their opposition.  I have to say that other than the school board, I have not heard anyone speak in favor of the 5-foot chain link fencing.  

Residents oppose the chain link fences for a variety of reasons. Some of the arguments opposing the fencing include:

  1. The planned fencing will make it more difficult for children to evacuate in emergencies. Concern that children could be trapped inside the school property because of the fencing and that the fencing could hamper emergency aid from entering the school property.
  2. A limited number of gates in the fencing are planned making it difficult for children, teachers and staff to exit during emergencies.  Gates are to be placed in the fencing only where walks now exist.
  3. The fencing is on three sides of the property but full access on the front.
  4. Residents are required to obtain a building permit for fences in Tredyffrin Township, did the District file the necessary forms?
  5. Five foot high fencing is not a deterrent, especially given it is only on three sides.
  6. Monetary cost to the taxpayers – $220K
  7. The fencing gives an institutional appears to the schools.
  8. Inconvenience, children who have safely walked to school will now (in some cases) be forced to take the bus because of the fencing.
  9. Complaints about the aesthetics, especially given that the elementary schools are located in residential areas; citing other school districts that have used wrought iron fencing (rather than chain link) so that it blends with the neighborhood.

Aside from aesthetics and inconvenience that the fencing may cause to residents, the real question that we need to have answered is, “Will the chain link fencing make the schools safer?”   Rather than simply stating that the Safety Committee recommends the 5-foot high chain link fencing, did the school board receive background and research to support the committee’s position?

An update on the elementary school fencing project will be provided at on Friday, June 13, 2 PM, TE Administration Building at the Facilities Committee meeting.  According to the agenda online, the District’s architect Tom Daley of Daley & Jalboot will present the update on the fencing project.

The school board approved the fencing the five elementary schools and signed a  $220K contract for this capital project.  Now the question is, will the residents have a voice in this decision or will the Board stand behind their decision?

Call for Internal Investigation: Interference in Collective Bargaining Process of T/E Aides and Paraeducators … Was a Crime Committed?

Not all is equal.  In the T/E School District, some workers enjoy equitable treatment and benefits while others do not.  This is the story about the aides and paraeducators, the District’s lowest paid employees, their collective bargaining efforts and the questionable behavior of those trying to derail the process.

Most of you reading this post will have no idea what I am talking about or what has been going on with the District’s aides and paras since January of this year.  My association with the aides and paras began last year with the District’s outsourcing threat over the Affordable Care Act and has continued during the collective bargaining process of the last five months.

At the request of Ruthann Waldie, UniServe representative for PSEA (Pennsylvania State Educational Association), I have not written about this matter until today.  Early on, Ruthann told me that the collective bargaining process for the TE aides and paras was ‘fragile’ and if the effort were to succeed she suggested that I not write about it on Community Matters.  I trusted her experienced wisdom and complied. However, during the last 72 hours, circumstances have dramatically changed that make it no longer possible to remain silent.

Before explaining the recent actions in the collective bargaining process, it is important to understand the timeline and review the details.

In 2013, after a very loud public outcry, the jobs of the District aides and paraeducators were saved from outsourcing – however, for only one year, the 2013-14 school year.  At that time, there was talk among some of the aides and paras about forming a collective bargaining unit but once the school board agreed not to outsource (and to keep their hours intact), the discussion on the subject lessened.  However, things heated up again when these employees received a threatening, demeaning memo from Sue Tiede, (the former TESD Personnel Director), in January of this year. Her communication established the 7-minute check-in and check-out policy for the aides and paras, and detailed the progressive discipline measures for violation, including suspension.

Tiede’s message represented a continuing trend of disrespect and intimidation directed at the aides and paras.  Growing concern returned about possible outsourcing and … with that concern, a sense of urgency among the aides and paras developed. Unfortunately, many of the aides and paras continue to feel undervalued and unappreciated by the administration and references such as ‘disposable’ by at least one school board member have done little to improve their morale.

Without representation by a collective bargaining group, the District’s aides and paras are powerless; their continued employment is solely at the mercy of the T/E School District’s Superintendent and School Board.  As a result, a small group of determined, dedicated aides and paras came together in early February to discuss options and plot a course of action to improve their working conditions.

According to Ruthann Waldie, PSEA representative, the aides and paras could not join the District’s teachers union because they were not considered ‘instructional’ employees. Furthermore, Ruthann explained that due to a law change five years ago, the aides and paras were prohibited from forming their own ‘new’ union when a qualifying union already existed. As explained, TENIG (Tredyffrin Easttown Non-Instructional Group) the District’s qualifying union with non-instructional employees and therefore, the aides and paras would become part of that group.

Before the collective bargaining campaign was officially underway, I spoke with TENIG president, Mary Minicozzi to ask her opinion about adding the 176 District aides and paras to their union.  Her reaction was overwhelmingly supportive, stating that she was 110% in favor.  I invited her to attend the upcoming organizational meeting with all the District aides and paras and PSEA representatives. Mary confirmed that she would attend the meeting and that she would ask fellow TENIG members to also attend. However, something happened between that phone conversation and the organizational meeting a few days later. Mary did not attend the meeting nor did anyone else from TENIG attend. To my knowledge, she has had no further contact with any of the aides and paras since that point.

Over the course of the following four months, we learned through PSEA representatives, that Mary was no longer supporting the idea of the aides and paras joining TENIG, although it remained unclear as to why. However, the PSEA representatives continued to tell the aides and paras that it did not matter because the law required them to join TENIG.

The organizing campaign for the aides and paras continued to move forward. On February 21, the T/E School District and the School Board received official notification regarding the aides and paras interest in collective bargaining. Once notified of the organizing campaign, the PA Public Employee Relations Act 195 protected the aides and paras from any interference, threats, harassment, reprisals, etc. from the District during the process. (Or so we thought).

The T/E School Board hired solicitor Jeffrey Sultanik of Fox Rothschild, LLP to represent the District in the aides/paras collective bargaining process.  As an experienced labor relations attorney and school district contract negotiator, it is clear that Sultanik counseled school board members against interfering in any way with the aides and paras in the unionizing process. As their legal counsel, Sultanik would have explained the liability issues to the District if tampering occurred in the collective bargaining process.  Likewise, that same warning would have applied to all District administrators, including the superintendent.

Before the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB) in Harrisburg will schedule an election, there must be a suitable showing of interest by the employees in forming a union. PLRB requires a minimum of 30% of the effected bargaining unit employees to show interest by the signing of a ‘union assignment card’. The card does not indicate whether you would vote for or against a union – the signature simply signifies that you are in interested in moving the process forward and that you desire the appropriate local union (in this case the PSEA) to represent you for the purpose of collective bargaining. However, we learned that PSEA’s policy was to have at least 60% of the eligible employees sign the cards as an indicator of their commitment to the bargaining process.

As the campaign progressed, aides and paras from the eight District schools showed support for the collective bargaining process by signing the cards. (Due to years of intimidation and low morale issues in the District, the process however, was very slow.) In early May, after receiving 94 signed commitment cards, the PSEA representatives filed with the PA Labor Relations Board for an election for the aides and paras to join TENIG.

Upon approving the collective bargaining application, the PLRB was to set up a conference call between (1) the PSEA representatives, (2) the School District representatives and (3) the PA Labor Relations Board.  The purpose of the conference call determines all the rules and details around the election and sets the date for the actual election.

The aide and paras hoped that if the conference call occurred by early June, PLRB would schedule the election for before June 20, the last day of the 2013-14 school year. To vote in the election, you must be an eligible employee.  All 176 aides and paras are eligible to vote (whether they signed the commitment card or not). TENIG members are not eligible to vote. The PLRB requires that the union receive 50% + 1 votes of all employees who cast ballots. (Example: if only 10 eligible employees showed up to vote, the count needs to be six voting yes).

Unfortunately, the scheduled conference call between the Labor Relations Board, PSEA and the School District was delayed until June 18, which in turn pushed the election to September, after school starts. Although the aides and paras were disappointed to learn of the election delay, they had fought an uphill battle to come this far and remained committed to staying the course.

Then the unthinkable occurred this past Thursday, June 5 … the reason for this post.  A pre-selected group of 6-8 aides and paras received word in a PSEA conference call that their collective bargaining application would be withdrawn from the PA Labor Relations Board.  Why? Because Mary Minicozzi, president of TENIG, did not want the 176 aides and paras in her union. During the call, the PSEA representative further stated that the aides and paras would now need to start the campaign process all over again to form their ‘own’ union in the District.

By early Friday morning, as aides and paras learned the news, accusations of impropriety, collusion and tampering in the collective bargaining process began to surface. Interestingly, members of TENIG were also seeking answers.  Evidentially there was no official discussion with the TENIG members about the aides and the paras joining their union nor was a vote taken by the TENIG members. It would appear that the president of TENIG, Mary Minicozzi made this unilateral decision on her own to exclude the aides and paras from joining TENIG.  (Remember, this same individual personally told me four months before that she “110 percent supported” their inclusion!)

Many TENIG members have worked together with the aides and paras in the T/E School District for years.  The aides and the paras are their fellow District employees and TENIG workers know all too well, what it is like to be the target of the school districts’ outsourcing ax.  It seems highly unlikely that if the issue had come to a vote, that the TENIG members would have voted against including the aides and paras.  Why would they? Adding 176 more employees to TENIG would increase their collective bargaining group to over 300 members.

And let’s not forget that PSEA’s Ruthann Waldie told the aides and paras from the start that ‘legally’ they had to be in TENIG – as she explained, it was their only option.  She had further indicated that because it was the law, it did not matter whether TENIG wanted them or not.

The PA Labor Relations Board has already fielded calls from the District aides, paras and even TENIG members demanding answers – and some have already reached out to attorneys.

How is it possible that the TENIG president can control the future of 176 aides and paras in the T/E School District?   If Mary didn’t involve her fellow TENIG members in the decision-making process, exactly who was involved. I find it impossible to believe that she acted completely on her own.  It makes no sense — Why would you not include 176 additional workers in a union; adding the aides and paras would increase TENIG’s collective bargaining group to over 300 members strong!

We know that Mary’s decision was not based on an impending TENIG contract. If you recall, Mary signed a new TENIG contract in September 2013, 9 months before the existing contract was set to expire. The new 3-year TENIG contract begins July 1, 2014 and goes to June 30, 2017. I will not believe that Mary Minicozzi made this decision on her own – what did she have to gain? Was there a promise of something in exchange?

Why did Ruthann Waldie repeatedly tell the aides and paras that the law required them to join TENIG when this week the story changes and now are told they must form their own union? Things just don’t add up.  It reminds me of the line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “Somethings rotten in Denmark”.

Section 1201, Article XII, Unfair Practices of the Public Employee Relations Act states that public employers, their agents or representatives are prohibited from engaging in ‘unfair labor practices’. As defined by Public Employee Relations Act, unfair labor practices include a couple of relevant sections: (1) Interfering, restraining or coercing employees in the exercise of the rights under Act 195 and (2) Dominating or interfering with the formation, existence or administration of an employee organization.

We know that interference has occurred in the collective bargaining process of the aides and paraeducators of the TE School District. At the ninth hour, the collective bargaining process was derailed. Why would anyone risk the legal ramifications of tampering with the process?  Who is involved and why?  Did the president of TENIG act alone or was she coerced? Did the Superintendent, the School Board or the District Solicitor know what was going on?

For the record, as of Friday, June 6, an attorney at the PA Labor Relations Board reported that the aides and paras collective bargaining file remains open and their application active.  By exposing the interference in the collective bargaining process, maybe there is a chance that this situation can ‘right itself’ and continue to move forward with the June 18 conference call and a September election to join TENIG. The District aides and paras have earned this right.

The T/E School Board has a fiduciary responsibility to those who have elected them to serve as advocates and stewards of our school district. I do not want to believe that any member of the School Board was involved nor had any knowledge of the derailment of the collective bargaining process of the aides and paras.  With accusations of interference, tampering, collusion, misconduct, etc. swirling, the Board needs to act quickly.  I suggest an internal examination to figure out ‘who’ knew ‘what’ and ‘when’. The PA Labor Relations Board may deem there is sufficient evidence to conduct their own investigation and if I were T/E School Board directors, I would want to be out in front of such an investigation not behind it.

Superintendent Search underway in T/E School District – Residents invited to assist in finding replacement

Next SuperThe T/E school board has launched a search for a new superintendent and is seeking input from the public through an anonymous survey, “Stakeholder Survey – Superintendent Succession Planning”, available online through noon on Tuesday, June 10.  Participants can weigh in on the qualifications and experiences that they think are most important in a superintendent as well as the strengths and needs in the district.

Public input is important throughout the superintendent process and this online survey allows stakeholders (District residents, parents, students and employees) to provide comments that are a valuable part of the search for the next superintendent. The answers should help guide the school board in the superintendent search to replace current TESD Superintendent Dr. Dan Waters, who will retire from the school district on June 30, 2015.

The following seven questions are on the survey, each with a pick list of responses.

  1. Please select the stakeholder group(s) that best describes you.
  2. Gender
  3. Age Group
  4. Please select the top 5 traits you believe are most important for Tredyffrin/Easttown School District’s new Superintendent.
  5. Please select the top 5 strengths of the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District that the new Superintendent should be expected to maintain or enhance.
  6. Please select the top 5 qualifications which you believe are most important for Tredyffrin/Easttown School District’s new Superintendent.
  7. Please select the top 3 opportunities and challenges you believe our new Superintendent will face. Select at least 3 and no more than 3.

According to the District’s website, the survey results are to be made public.  However, beyond making the survey public, will the results of the survey affect the Board’s selection process?  The feedback reflects the unique needs of the community … how will the results be used by the Board.

Having the community, parents, school district employees and students involved in the superintendent search process provides support for the school board and will lead to a more favorable public perception and build trust.  Sharing the survey results and the search progress in an open, transparent atmosphere makes us, the stakeholders, feel appreciated that we were consulted in the selection process and therefore, more inclined to getting the new superintendent off to a successful start. If the superintendent search is conducted behind closed doors, the new superintendent becomes promoted as the Board’s superintendent, not the community’s superintendent.

Some school board members believe that owing to their election by the community, that they have the right to make all decisions, start to finish, which effectively leaves the residents in the dark about the affairs of the school district.  Taking that stance puts the District in a “no need to know” mode – which may lead the Board to conduct the superintendent search in secret or mostly behind closed doors.  I have attended many school district committee and board meetings and often a prevailing attitude of “we know best” by some Board members and administrators exists.

Frequently attendance at T/E school district meetings is low unless there is an issue of personal concern to residents.  Unfortunately, some Board members (certainly not all) equate minimal citizen participation at meetings as a stamp of approval for their governance; believing that the small group that regularly attends meetings (and is vocal) is not representative of the community.  Regardless if five or five hundred people attend meetings, this community owns the schools and should be involved and kept fully informed regarding its investment.

Don’t get me wrong, I support the survey (and the inclusion of all stakeholders views in the process) but the survey results need to actually ‘count’ and not serve merely as window-dressing for the Board in the selection of the next superintendent.  Most of the questions on the list are standard and the pick-list of responses to be expected.  Some of the questions asked of survey participants appear to be designed to generate an intended result whereas one question ignores important issues facing the District.  As an example, the #7 question completely overlooks significant concerns in the District, such as school safety concerns, drug and alcohol usage by students and low morale of employees —  just some examples of important challenges facing the future superintendent.

Please take the time to fill out the District survey on the superintendent search. The final decision on the superintendent choice is ultimately up to the school board but the community’s involvement in the process is critical.

Standing on the sidelines changes nothing — TE School District aides and paras taking steps to unionize

collective bargainIt’s official, the aides and paraeducators of TE School District are taking the necessary steps to unionize. As announced by Supt. Dan Waters at last night’s Finance meeting, this group of employees is currently engaged in the process to join the collective bargaining unit TENIG (Tredyffrin Easttown Non-Instructional Group).

If you recall last spring, the District’s aides and paras came very close to having their jobs outsourced over the Federal government’s Affordable Care Act.  Because of ACA compliance issues, it appeared that the District would be forced to either offer insurance or outsource the jobs of the aides and paras. At that time, the Board claimed that the District could not afford healthcare for these employees and could not risk the possible financial risks for ACA noncompliance.  As a point of record, the TE School District is the only school district in the area that does not offer healthcare coverage for this group of employees.

Unfortunately, without the benefit of a collective bargaining organization there was little that the aides and paras could do to fight back against the proposed outsourcing of their jobs. In the end, the Federal government pushed off the required ACA compliance for another year.  As a result, the School Board granted the District aides and paras a reprieve for the 2013/14 school year; their jobs and hours remaining intact for one more year.

As the current school year ends, what has changed for the District aides and paras during the last twelve months – are they any better off than they were a year ago? Based on their moving forward with plans to collective bargain, my guess is the answer to that question is ‘no’ – nothing has changed.

Without job security and healthcare benefits, the aides and paras are now seeking protection of their jobs and collective bargaining representation for their own jobs and for the jobs of those that will come after them. They seek fairness and consistency in employment policies and personnel decision,  job security and protection of employee rights.

The community respects the passion and commitment of the aides and paraeducators to the parents and children of this District and values their contributions. It saddens me that this group of vulnerable, dedicated employees remains the school district pawns, at the mercy of the Board and the administration.

Supporting the need for an organized voice, the District aides and paras believe that all employees deserve fair and equal treatment. Standing on the sidelines changes nothing — I applaud the collective bargaining efforts of the aides and paras.; they deserve to be treated as full players not as an afterthought.

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