We know that local elections are important and that the choices that you make on Election Day, Tuesday, November 8 will help determine the future of our community. As a way to better understand the school board candidates and what they value as the most important issues facing the district, I sent a three-part question to all Tredyffrin-Easttown School Board candidates. Previously, I had received and posted the responses from Easttown school board candidates – Republican Pete Motel and Democrat Craig Lewis.
Following the League of Women Voters debate on October 25, I received responses to the question from Tredyffrin Democratic school board candidates. However, the Tredyffrin Republican school board candidates declined to participate.
Below is the question and the responses from Tredyffrin’s Democratic school board candidates Karen Cruickshank, Jerry Henige, Scott Dorsey and Jenny Wessels. Following their responses, I have reposted the responses from Easttown’s school board candidates Pete Motel (R) and Craig Lewis (D)
It’s a shame that the Republican school board candidates in Tredyffrin Twp declined to respond. One of two reasons — either the Republican school board candidates in Tredyffrin didn’t see any value in my question (and their answers) or they didn’t see value in Community Matters. But then two of the Republican school board candidates (Tara LaFiura, Region 1 and Liz Mercogliano, Region 2) decided against participating in the League of Women Voters debate so perhaps I should not take their decision as personal.
Dear School Board Candidates:
Local elections are important. In an attempt to inform voters for Election Day, as a candidate for the TE School Board, I hope you will participate in the following Q&A on Community Matters.
In 200 words or less, please respond to the following question. Incorporate all three parts of the question into your response and please be specific. School board candidate responses will list on Community Matters in the order that they are received.
(1) In your opinion, what is the single most important issue facing the Tredyffrin Easttown School District?
(2) If you were elected, what would you do to help solve or improve this issue?
(3) The Tredyffrin Easttown School District needs problem-solvers; what in your background or job experience qualifies you to help solve this important issue?
Democratic Candidate for School Director, Region 1
The most important issue facing the T/E School District is our fiscal outlook.
The School District faces a 5.5 million dollar budget gap for 2012 and increases to 17 million in 2015.
State controlled pension obligations will increase from 4.7 million in 2011 to 13.3 million in 2015. In 2001 state legislators gave themselves, state employees, and public school employees a big increase in pension pay outs. These increases were never OKd by local school districts or the public.
The second budget factor is a loss of 6.5 million in revenues since 2006 from commercial and residential real estate reassessments.
In response to fiscal issues the School District has cut 10 million dollars out of its budget. Our teacher’s union gave up half of their raises for this year and our non-teaching union gave up all of their raises.
If re-elected I will work with legislators, unions, administrators, and citizens to find solutions to fiscal issues. I will look for ways the District can become more efficient without hurting the quality of our schools.
A trained higher education professional, I understand the issues facing education. I am trained in conflict negotiation and am a proven consensus builder.
Democratic Candidate for School Director, Tredyffrin Region 1
We have great schools that contribute to the wonderful quality of our neighborhoods. However, our great schools are facing serious financial challenges. For example, we are losing almost $3M a year due to property reassessments and this amount will continue to grow. And, based on bad decisions in Harrisburg, the amount the school district is being asked to pay into the pension funds will grow from $3M last year to $13.4M over the next 4 years.
At the same time Kevin Mahoney, the financial expert on the school board, is retiring leaving a critical skills gap. The financial challenges are too great to leave this gap unfilled. I believe that with my 30+ years of management and financial experience, I am the candidate that is best suited to fill this gap.
We need a school board that can work as a team to focus on potential solutions. We need to partner with parents and taxpayers, teachers and other school districts, our townships and employers to put pressure on Harrisburg to address the pension problem.
We need a school board that is prepared to work diligently to find common ground with all these constituencies. We need to be willing to try alternative approaches to education that may be more effective than what we are doing today. And we need to consider the plight of the retiree on fixed income, the family with a member who has lost a job.
I believe that I have the financial skills, temperament and energy to manage the serious financial challenges facing the school board.
Democratic Candidate for School Director, Tredyffrin Region 2
Today our district is facing a financial storm that threatens the excellence that we have come to expect from our schools. $6.5 million in lost property tax revenues because of reassessments, and other revenue shortfalls will devastate programs that are vital to many average students. Co-curricular and extra-curricular programs are also in danger. I have proven track record as a non- profit Administrator who is fiscally responsible, and I am personally opposed to the Earned Income Tax.
My background as an educator and community leader has inspired my passion for investing in children’s success. In response to TESD’s budget challenges, I propose to:
- Collaborate with the public and private sector for solutions that combine best educational and business practices that will benefit every child
- Fight to hold the line in the upcoming teachers’ contract
- Find creative solutions to keep sports and other after-school activities from being cut
- Work with the Unions to lobby the state legislature to fix the pension system
- Work with the Township to build grant-funded sidewalks that could reduce transportation costs
I have deep experience as an administrator who has helped lead multi-million dollar non- profit organizations from the red to sound fiscal footing. I am a skilled consensus builder. I am the only school board candidate who has not sought union endorsement because I believe full transparency is required in the upcoming contract negotiations. I will lead with integrity, fiscal responsibility, and a dedication to investing in our children’s success.
Jennifer Lightman Wessels
Democratic Candidate for School Director, Tredyffrin Region 2
The most important issue facing our school board is managing our limited financial resources while minimizing the impact on our educational program. I will be a voice on the board committed to protecting our outstanding educational program.
To lessen the financial strain on our district, I will lobby Harrisburg for legislative reform. I will use my training as a labor attorney to achieve a successful result during contract negotiations with the teachers’ union in 2012. I will be open to innovative ideas, such as pursuing new income streams from advertising and private funding. I will not, however, support the implementation of new taxes such as the Earned Income Tax (EIT) and I would oppose any move to enact an EIT in Tredyffrin Township.
As a parent of two young children in our school district and having served as the President of the PTO at New Eagle Elementary School for two years, I understand and care deeply about the issues facing our school district. As a taxpayer, I understand the importance of balancing these concerns with fiscal restraint and responsibility.
Among all the school board candidates, I am unique in that I will bring both a parent’s perspective and a lawyer’s skill to this job. I look forward to the opportunity to serve.
Republican Candidate for School Board Director, Easttown Township
The biggest challenge facing the T/E School District is maintaining the quality of education it delivers during the current economic downturn.
District revenue is down by millions of dollars primarily due to two reasons:
- Property tax assessment appeals resulting in decreased real estate tax collection;
- Decreased home sales resulting in decreased real estate transfer tax. This is coupled with steep increases in the state required contribution to the state pension system – now millions above the contribution required last year.
Great efforts have been made by the Board to balance the District’s budgets without significantly effecting educational opportunities. The Board has implemented cost containment through administrative salary freezes, implementation of self-insured health insurance and more efficient scheduling of staff time.
With the economic recovery projected to take another several years, T/E Boards need to continue to cut expenses without reducing core educational programs. Success will require detailed knowledge of District operations and proven leadership skills.
My experience on the T/E Board as Committee Chairs and past Board president, coupled with my professional experience as a small business owner, demonstrate that I have the proven skills to help guide the District through the next few years of difficult budgets.
Democratic Candidate for School Director, Easttown Township
TE’s biggest issue is irresponsible budgeting.
My opponent, republican Dr. Motel, has mandated 5 study halls per week in Conestoga High (12% instruction reduction) AND a 20% increase in students per teacher. TE was the 4th best high school in Pennsylvania. Losing this rank will result in a 10% home price decline, reduced college acceptance, scholarships and earning potential.
- My opponent diverted education money to purchase, tear-down and build non-educational facilities wasting millions of dollars.
TE’s projection shows out-of-control budget shortfalls. Starting with the current year they are:
My fiscally conservative priorities to prevent this catastrophe are:
Stop wasteful spending
- Halt all construction and real-estate acquisitions.
- The teacher pay was cut and workload increased 20%. Aggressive cost reduction has to look at all other areas.
- Halt no-bid contracting
Preserve our premier school ranking
- Repeal the 5 study-hall mandate.
- Respect our staff; balance their workloads.
- Initiate summer enrichment programs for profit.
Retirees deserve school tax relief – My opponent never did this, I will.
I have twenty years of experience in setting goals, developing strategies, creating and managing budgets, both departmental and enterprise wide. This required creative approaches, engaging individuals from different departments to drive successful outcomes.