Daily Local

With Major Headlines Across the Country — Should the TE School District Have Called the Police on a Special Needs Kindergartner?

The headlines about the kindergartner with Down Syndrome who was reported to the police for pointing a finger gun continue to roll in with no end in sight. There are countless articles in major newspapers, on network TV stations, Facebook groups, website and blogs on the issue all touting shock and disbelief that this has happened.

From the New York Daily News, Washington Post, Education Week, The Daily Mail (UK), ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, CNN and on and on, including the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer today, the story of the 6-year-old Valley Forge Elementary School student has garnered much attention.

I have remained troubled since attending the school district policy meeting on February 4 and listened to Maggie and Mark Gaines, the parents of the special needs kindergartner caught in the middle of the debate, and to others referencing behavior problems that went unreported to the police. From school district parents, it is unclear which student behaviors constitute a requirement to “consult” with  police – the inconsistencies were glaring.

I simply do not understand how a middle school child can suffer a concussion at the hands of another student and there is no investigation from the school district yet on the opposite end of the spectrum, there is a special needs kindergartner who is reported to the police for pointing her finger like a gun.  If perceived “threats” require police involvement, then my question is what does it take to get attention for serious physical assaults in the District?

Was contacting the police the appropriate handling of a special needs child with specific behavioral issues? Late this afternoon, an editorial written by Dr. Kim Doan, a professor in the Special Education Department at West Chester University appeared in the Daily Local and helps answer that question.

A special education educator for 23+ years and a parent, Dr. Doan attended the TESD policy meeting and suggests that the District’s student behavior policy is in violation of Federal legislation,

The Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA) requires schools to individualize the education of children with special needs and that includes in discipline. A district policy cannot supersede federal legislation. Applying a policy in a “one size fits all” manner is tantamount to the violation of IDEA.

In assessing the student behavior policy of TESD, Dr. Doan states the following:

A policy, legislation, or assessment tool can be well written and thoughtfully designed but if the adults involved are not trained or consistent, then error is inevitable. Common sense should take precedence over all written policy. Let’s not criminalize our kindergartners before they’ve even learned their ABCs and 123s. The next time a similar event arises, consider the child for who he/she is as a whole person and think about why this little one made the statement to the teacher. We must remember that behavior is communication.

But rather than updating the student behavior policy to address special needs children as suggested by Dr. Doan, the school board is digging in its heels. At the policy meeting, all but two school board directors  (Scott Dorsey and Todd Kantorczyk) in attendance support the current policy, which includes reporting a six-year-old with Down Syndrome to the police.

Calling the police for a little kindergartner with Down Syndrome has become a public relations nightmare for the school district —  adverse media attention is problematic.  And touting the high performance test scores of our school district is not going to work this time; the problem is not going away. As the entire country (and beyond!) looks at the situation in disbelief, the District doubles down on the policy.

To be clear, the Valley Forge Elementary School teacher and the principal were doing their jobs when they called the police. The Tredyffrin Police in turn were doing their job. The problem is the District policy – we all want our children to be safe at school but the current policy goes too far.

Where does the school district go from here … ?

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

Tax-increase 2016

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

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

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

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

  • 2015-16: 3.81%
  • 2014-15: 3.4%
  • 2013-14: 1.7%
  • 2012-13: 3.3%
  • 2011-12: 3.77%
  • 2010-11: 2.9%
  • 2009-10: 2.95%
  • 2008-09: 4.37%
  • 2007-08: 3.37%
  • 2006-07: 3.90%
  • 2005-06: 1.40%
  • 2004-05: Zero Tax Increase

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tax Increase vs Act 1 Index Chart

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

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

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

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The Sam (Severino) Caneda family owned the Covered Wagon Inn (1950’s) and share their personal memories

The passage of time … The following is a press release from the Sam (Severino) Caneda family, owners of the Covered Wagon Inn in the 1950’s, regarding the proposed land development plan which includes the demolition of the building.
Covered Wagon Inn early photo

Folks driving through Strafford have probably passed the Old Covered Wagon Inn building – as we know it – and wondered what it was. We pass it and see it as home and as a living manifestation of the American Dream.

When our parents opened the Covered Wagon in the 1950’s they had nothing but determination and a belief that their hard work would be rewarded. Their commitment to living their dream paid off. For decades the Old Covered Wagon Inn was the center of civic and social life in Wayne. The hottest big bands of the day, stars like Duke Ellington and Count Basie, stopped by to play there. Saturday days were for wedding receptions, nights were for dancing to Orr Marino and the Mainliners; weeknights were for Rotary & Lions Club meetings, Ward Marston on the piano, flambéed entrees & Caesar salad prepared table side in the colonial rooms. The Junior League held their Tinsel Ball there every year, St Raphaela Retreat house held an annual first flower of spring luncheon fashion show in the terrace, Villanova’s Blue Key society held fund raisers and Villanova boosters launched their campaign to reinstate football (they won!) at “the Wagon.” On any given day, at lunch or dinner, you would see the who’s who of Strafford, Wayne and Devon. Small business owners, whether it was Rod & Charlie Park from the hardware store, Bill Braxton, Joe Flagler (Flagler’s Citgo), Mr.& Mrs. Pugh, Mr. & Mrs. Rossi (Anro, Inc.), Russ Morgan (Main Line Printing), Mr. Eadah (Eadah’s Rugs & Ernest’s dad), The Taylors from Taylor Gifts, Sam Katz (Wayne Jewelers), Mr. Cappelli the Tailor, Mr. Fox & Mr. Roach BEFORE they became Fox & Roach, “the regulars,” all part of the history of that wonderful building.

The days when such community institutions existed may have passed, but the value of a building that reminds us of what it means to be a community has certainly not. And you can see that meaning in the memories and stories people posted online in response to the news that a developer is looking to tear the building down.

What’s more, there is real economic value in a building with the architectural surprises of the Old Covered Wagon Inn. Many of those treasures have been covered up over the years but all it takes is one visionary entrepreneur to figure out how to embrace the uniqueness of the building and its meaning as a community institution while giving it a 21st century twist.

A CVS can be built – or rebuilt – anywhere. A drive thru may be convenient but it certainly does not make our community special.

Once you tear down a historic building that meant so much to so many for so long, you do lose a piece of what makes a community special. We lose a piece of what makes Strafford, Strafford. And then what’s to distinguish us from every other town in Pennsylvania, or the United States, for that matter?

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What’s in a Name … Miles Tavern, Black Bear Inn, Irish Tavern, Commodore Decatur, Conestoga Waggon Tavern, etc. The Covered Wagon Inn from the 1700’s: Update Part II

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In describing the importance of the Covered Wagon Inn, Laura Hutton comments on the Save the Covered Wagon Inn Facebook page, “… This historic building adds to the character of this township, it demonstrates a continuity to our past and pride that our past is also part of our future.” Laura, your words could not be truer and only amplified by the historical findings of historian and author Margaret DePiano of Devon.

Since reading about the proposed CVS land development project which includes the demolition of the Covered Wagon Inn, Margaret DePiano has been pouring over the early history of the building. She has identified early owners, their relationships with historic events and compared multiple sources for documentation. Her research about the historic building (Covered Wagon Inn), its 18th century owners and the ties to the Revolutionary War era are fascinating.

Margaret is continuing her research on the early days of the Covered Wagon Inn but I wanted to share some of her findings on Community Matters.  Thank you Margaret; your research underscores and adds to the importance of saving this building.

For those who would like to add their signature to the growing list of names on the Save the Covered Wagon Inn petition, please click here and you be taken to it directly.

The Miles Tavern   circa 1747 – 1784   (Covered Wagon Inn)

Around 1720, when the Old Eagle School Road was carved out to intersect Lancaster Avenue (then Conestoga Road) the new road meandered through fields and pastures of our early farms. Those farms had many out buildings and one out building in particular is a part of the Old Covered Wagon Inn. The out building referenced here is situated within the middle part of today’s structure showing the outside chimney facing Lancaster Avenue. This out building existed on a farm that most likely dates back before 1700.

Many land records, tavern licenses, etc. before 1800 may not exist or incredibly hard to locate. According to an old circa 1776 map the particular location of this out building identified as the Miles Tavern was actually very close to the Chester and Philadelphia County border.  Delaware County was not founded until 1789 and it was years later before its border could be identified on area maps. Many tavern proprietors or landowners close to this Philadelphia County border identified Philadelphia as a source of origin for their establishments. These early taverns often served as posts for military recruiting as well as for military signaling.  The proprietors and their families of the many taverns along the old Conestoga Road were prominent individuals.

The Miles Tavern (The Old Covered Wagon Inn) was established around 1747 according to historical writings found within our local historical societies’ records. This tavern’s proprietor James Miles married Hannah Pugh and was a very active participant in the founding of The Baptist Church in the Great Valley. The Miles Tavern was ideally situated as a military post in the early days. It was located on the Conestoga wagon route with a direct access to Philadelphia as well as with Old Eagle School Road, which provided a short traveling distance to Valley Forge. Many unnamed Patriots are buried at the Old Eagle School Cemetery.

A possible historical association to the old Miles Tavern, which was located adjacent to or within the Philadelphia County borders that may be most impressive, was the then-Captain Samuel Nicholas who was the first commissioned officer by the Second Continental Congress on November 28, 1775 to lead a battalion of Continental Marines. Surmised by historian Edwin Simmons, Nicholas used the “Conestoga Waggon” tavern as a recruiting post however; the standing legend in the United States Marine Corps places its first recruiting post at the Tun Tavern in Philadelphia. This historical reference to an old “Conestoga Waggon” recruiting post at, near or within the Philadelphia borders may place the Covered Wagon in a position that quite possibly played a role in forming the Continental Navy in 1775. Today’s Old Covered Wagon Inn with a different spelling of “Wagon” may have taken its name from the early “Conestoga Waggon” tavern.

To add to the historical intrigue of the old Miles Tavern, Samuel Miles, son of James and Hannah, enjoyed a very prominent career in the military as well as in other careers that followed—A few historical snippets include: enlisted in Isaac Wayne’s Company, a part of Pennsylvania’s militia during the French and Indian War; organized a militia company of his own early in the American Revolution; entered politics and was elected to the House of Assembly in 1772 and was an advocate for American independence early on; George Washington’s dependence on Miles to secure boat transport for Washington’s army as it made it’s way south from New York to Yorktown in 1781; continued his role in history as a businessman when in 1783 he negotiated with financier Robert Morris to help underwrite the voyage of The Empress of China, the first American vessel to visit China’s mainland; cofounder of Centre Furness in State College with John Patton in 1791; was made Judge of the Appeals Court and served as an alderman and mayor of Philadelphia from 1790-1791—and there’s so much more!

Many taverns along the old Conestoga Road changed names frequently and at times, some taverns were acknowledged as having a shortened version of a name, given a nickname or no official name at all. Historical writings indicate that from 1747-1832 the Miles Tavern changed it name many times such as: John Miles Tavern; The Black Bear Inn; The Irish Tavern; The Unicorn (different location as the later Unicorn Tavern at Conestoga and Lancaster); The Commodore Decatur—named after Stephan Decatur Sr. and Jr. (Navy); and at times, no name.

Writings indicate that Jonathan Pugh with his son Captain Samuel Pugh were proprietors of the “older” portion of the tavern with James Miles’ son Richard owning the “newer” part until 1784. Around that time, the tavern was renamed The Unicorn. This reference about an “old” and “new” lends one to believe that the tavern had been enlarged before 1784. There was also an indication that from 1778-1784 Robert Kennedy rented The Unicorn—which was formerly named the Miles Tavern.  Records indicate that Robert Kennedy purchased the establishment in 1784. There’s so much more “early” history associated with The Old Covered Wagon Inn that we as a community cannot let this awesome piece of history slip away.

                      By Margaret DePiano, author of the DEVON book

 

References: The Continental Era in History of the United States Marine Corps on Wikipedia; Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society Quarterly, The Village of Spread Eagle by Herb Fry, The Old Lancaster or Conestoga Road by Boyle Irwin and Howard S. Okie; The Radnor Historical Society Bulletin Vol. III Fall, 1977 #7; Samuel Miles, Stephen Decatur Sr. & Jr. on Wikipedia; ExplorePAhistory.com  Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike Road; Circa 1776-1777 Map – http://www.mapofus.org/_maps/atlas/1776-PA.html; Haverford Township Historical Society, The Lancaster Road and Turnpike

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Covered Wagon Inn, 250 years of Philadelphia’s Main Line History Could Be Demolished: Update Part I

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Less than three weeks ago at the January 21, 2016 meeting of the Tredyffrin Township Planning Commission, Summit Realty Advisors (on behalf of their client CVS Pharmacy), proposed a land development plan for the corner of Old Eagle School Rd.and Lancaster Ave, in Strafford, Tredyffrin Township, Chester County. The redevelopment project includes a drug store with drive-thru which is apparently the ‘new and improved model’ for all CVS construction projects. In the plans currently proposed, it is that drive-thru appendage that requires the demolition of the old Covered Wagon Inn.

After the Planning Commission meeting and my first Community Matters post on the proposed land development plan that would demolish the Covered Wagon Inn, no one could have been more surprised than me with the outpouring of support. A ‘Save the Covered Wagon Inn’ Facebook page now has over 1,500 ‘likes’, a Change.org petition opposing the demolition with 3,700+ signatures and comments, articles by reporter Adam Farence in the Daily Local and Main Line Suburban newspapers, support from Carla Zambelli on Chester County Ramblings, Caroline O’Halloran’s Savvy Mainline, bestselling historical novelists Loretta Chase & Isabella Bradford on their website, Two Nerdy History Girls, tweets on Twitter and Instagram, phone calls and emails from elected officials, historical societies, township and county staff, real estate developers and interested people from all over the country all wanting to share their personal memories of the Covered Wagon Inn and asking how they can help save it. Thank you all.

Tredyffrin Township does not have a historic preservation ordinance preventing the demolition of the Covered Wagon Inn; making every historic property in the township currently ‘at-risk’! A legal fund, as some have suggested fighting the demolition of the Covered Wagon Inn, would serve no purpose. The real estate developer has a legal right to build the CVS Pharmacy with drive-thru at the Strafford location and unfortunately, also has a legal right to demolish the Covered Wagon Inn in the process.

As someone who cares about this community, its history and the historic buildings that make it special, it has been rewarding to find so many people really do care about saving the Covered Wagon Inn.

I remain hopeful that if ‘ there’s a will, there’s a way’ and that the plans for the new CVS in Strafford can be reconfigured so as to successfully coexist with the historic building. I am not opposing the redevelopment of this site, I am opposing the demolition of the Covered Wagon Inn. Sometimes doing the right thing is a challenge but I am confident that John Zaharchuk, owner of Summit Realty Advisors, is the person that can make it happen!

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Look for the next post (Update 2) which includes research on the early years of the Covered Wagon Inn by local historian and author, Margaret DePiano of Devon. Margaret has uncovered some new information about the  Inn and the special 18th century owners linked to its past.

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Tredyffrin’s Solicitor Vince Donohue claims that government does not seek to suppress public comment … Really?

The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act requires all public agencies to take all official actions and conduct all deliberations leading up to official actions at public meetings.  According to 65 Pa.C.S.A. § 708(a); Sunshine Act, Section 8(a), there are certain discussions that can take place in an executive session where the public is excluded. At the onset of every Board of Supervisors meeting, Michelle Kichline, in her capacity as chair, makes a statement that the Board met prior to the meeting in executive session to discuss legal and personnel matters.  Under the provisions of the PA Sunshine Act, those township matters pertaining to personnel or legal matters are not discussed publicly   In fact, if during the ‘New Matters – Citizens’  section of the Board of Supervisors meeting, a resident asks a question that falls into the legal or personnel category, either a Board member of the township solicitor quickly points out that they cannot respond to the question.  Over years of attending supervisors meeting, I can attest that the solicitor does not permit the supervisors to respond to citizen questions that fall into personnel or legal areas.

Understanding the provisions of the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, it was surprising to read that Tredyffrin Township’s solicitor Vince Donohue had a public response on a legal matter in Main Line Media News article, ”Community Matters blogger Pattye Benson calls for Tredyffrin Township to adopt policy regarding the use of its website” written by Richard Llgenfritz.

If you recall Llgenfritz wrote the story, “Tredyffrin zoning hearing board member not guilty after police are a no-show at her trial in late August.  His article, in addition to TE Patch, Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily Local articles, blog posts on Chester County Ramblings and telephone and email inquiries from residents, were the reasons that I conducted my mini-research investigation.

As part of my research on the police matter, I spoke with Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors chair Michelle Kichline, Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan, Tredyffrin Police Superintendent Tony Giaimo and District Judge Tom Tartaglio.  For the results of my research and corresponding comments in post, “Community Matters closes the chapter on police investigation but Tredyffrin supervisor opens a new one”, click here.

Because of the newspaper articles, blog posts and related public comments on the police situation, Tredyffrin Township supervisor John DiBuonaventuro decided to write and post a personal letter dated September 5, 2012 on the township website, using township resources and township letterhead.  Although the use of government resources by an elected official is surprising, it was the fact that the other six supervisors, the township manager and the township solicitor sanctioned the behavior of DiBuonaventuro that underscored the importance for a township website policy.

This past Friday, I posted the letter from my attorney Samuel Stretton on Community Matters. Stretton’s letter was sent to the seven members of Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors.  I learned in Llgenfritz MLMN article, that Stretton’s letter was forwarded to the township solicitor Vince Donohue.  No surprise as this was a legal matter and as the township solicitor, he clearly needed to be involved.  However, because this is a ‘legal matter’ (remember the PA Sunshine Act and that legal and personnel matters in the township are not publicly discussed but held for executive session discussion), I was amazed that Donohue discusses Stretton’s letter with Llgenfritz.  Gosh, I would think that Donohue should not be talking about sending a response to Stretton – isn’t this a legal matter?  And then to further throw out there that it would be up to me whether I make the letter public or not?  To my knowledge, Stretton has not received a letter and I certainly have not seen any letter from Donohue. (I will assume that Donohue’s response is ‘in the mail’).  So, I  am struggling to understand this – the supervisors are not permitted to discuss legal matters in public but it is OK for the township solicitor to discuss legal matters?  Shouldn’t the more appropriate response from Donohue to Llgenfritz have been, “… this is a legal matter, and I am not at liberty to discuss”.

However, Donohue does not stop there in his comments to the newspaper, he goes on to address some of the issues that others and I have raised – i.e. First Amendment rights.  According to Donohue,

“This township has no interest what so ever in suppressing anybody’s first amendment rights and in fact does not. All you need to do is take a look at our five six-hour public meetings that we’ve had in the last few years. All you need to do is look at the Trout Creek overlay ordinance process where we involved no fewer than 30 members of the public on working groups and commissions held six or seven public hearings even for those members of the community that didn’t like the outcome I think it’s hard to argue with the openness and the fact that the township encourages and invites public input. I think this township’s actions belie any claim that it seeks to suppress public comment positive or otherwise about township matters.”

All I can say is, wow.  Donohue approved DiBuonaventuro’s letter going on the township letterhead on the township website.  I suggest that he needs to go back and read it and then come up with a more convincing argument as to how his letter is not an attempt to silence those who dare to disagree.  DiBuonaventuro writes in his September 5 letter, “What is more important for community to realize from this example is the disturbing trend that has developed with most of the internet elements of legitimate newspapers and the tabloid formatted blogs like “Community Matters”.  Public discussion of important community matters is a ‘disturbing trend’ — whether public discussion is over the backyard fence, in the aisle of the Paoli Acme or on the Internet, it is our First Amendment right; open debate and commentary exists under the US Constitution.

In fact, before I contacted Sam Stretton, I sent DiBuonaventuro’s letter to several attorneys and journalists; individuals who do not live in the area and would not know any of the people involved.  Not one person responded that they thought the actions of our government in regards to DiBuonaventuro’s letter were OK.  In addition, I should add that many people used adjectives like ‘chilling’ in describing DiBuonaventuro’s attempt to suppress public discussion.

It is interesting that Donohue would point to the many meetings held over the Trout Creek ordinance (for the record, there were 7 public hearings), as somehow public comment at supervisors meetings was the same thing as DiBuonaventuro’s use of public resources, public letterhead and public website.  Certainly, there were many meetings over Trout Creek, but I wonder how many of the Glenhardie residents feel that their voices were actually heard during the process?  Donohue makes no mention of Trisha Larkin and her neighbors in the Daylesford neighborhood.  Like the Glenhardie residents, how many of the Daylesford folks think that their voices made a difference to the outcome.  The Daylesford neighbors, in addition to many residents throughout the township, were overwhelmingly opposed to the C-1 zoning change.  However, as we all saw, their voices did not matter.  Yet Donohue claims that the township “encourages and invites public input” … maybe that’s true if you happen to be developer Ed Morris or his attorney Denise Yarnoff, who now have the green light to build an assisted living facility on 1 acre on Lancaster Ave.

As a resident of Tredyffrin Township, this is all so very disheartening, including Donohue’s response to Main Line Media News.  I am amazed that it is OK for the township solicitor to discuss a legal matter of a private citizen with the newspaper — to talk about a township response that he has sent to my attorney, Sam Stretton, that I have not even seen.  Wow.

It’s like some of the rules in Tredyffrin Township only exist when they benefit our elected officials, not the citizens.

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Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board Approves Teacher Demotions, What does this mean for T/E teachers?

Sixteen months ago, I wrote an article titled, “Looking at Unionville-Chadds Ford School District – Is the ‘Handwriting on the Wall’ for TE?”  The Unionville-Chadds Ford School District (U-CF) is similar to the T/E school district and the districts are often compared.  Students from both school districts enjoy similar academic performance; both top performing school districts.  On the SAT and PSSA, the performance of the districts places each in the top 1% statewide.  We often seen the districts listed together for the similar quality of their education.

You may recall, the U-CF teacher contract expired June 30, 2010 without the signing of a new contract. The talks between the school board and teachers union continued but after six months, the PA Labor Relations Board assigned an arbitrator to resolve the bargaining impasse through a fact-finding report. The school board voted to accept the findings of the report whereas the teachers union rejected the report.

Two major suggestions contained in the report – (1) a provision for each union member to receive a one-time, nonrecurring paying in lieu of a raise in year one and an increase in the final two years of the contract and (2) that union members move to a new, cost-saving healthcare plan, Keystone Direct, in the second year of the contract.  The U-CF school board sought to maintain quality care at a reduced rate and they suggested, “that the economic times are hard and that the teacher union has benefited greatly when times were good but they must now share in the sacrifice as the others.”  The teacher union rejected the independent report and recommendations.

The U-CF school board and teachers union finally reached an agreement in September 2011, sixteen months after the expiration of their contract.  I wrote of the agreement on September 13, 2011, and asked the question if there were any lessons for T/E as a result.  What did the U-CF school board and teachers union finally agree to – Terms included:

  • Year 1 (2010-11) no pay increase for 2010-11
  • Year 2 (2011-12) 1% increase on the pay schedule, step movement, prep level movement
  • Year 3 (2012-13) $300 in each cell on the matrix, $700 one-time bonus, step movement, prep level movement

One of the sticking points in the U-CF school board – teacher contract negotiations had been over healthcare benefits (sound familiar).  In the final U-CF agreement, the teachers contributed 7.5% in 2011-12 and 10% toward their healthcare costs.

Although the U-CF school district contract does not expire until June 2013, according to the Daily Local, their school board and teachers union members have been quietly meeting unofficially since January of this year, for preliminary contract talks without the expense of outside legal counsel.  According to U-CF school board member, Jeff Leister, the early talks were “an attempt to find common ground, achieve greater certainty about the future and to avoid a lengthy process later in the year.”  However, what’s the saying about the “best laid plans of mice and men” ?  Unfortunately, the school board and teachers union are too far apart at this point, and both sides decided to end the preliminary contract discussions.

Leiser did comment that going forward the school board would adhere to a three-tier approach –

  1. What is in the best interest of the students and the quality of education
  2. Is the agreement sustainable under Act 1
  3. Is the agreement consistent with current economic conditions, and what I fair to ask of residents financially.

In reviewing the U-CF school board agenda of May 21, I did note something of interest:

Demotion Resolutions (2)
1. Approve the Demotion Resolution for Employee No. 2797, as attached
2. Approve the Demotion Resolution for Employee No. 866, as attached

The discussion and approval of demotion resolutions may explain why the preliminary contract talks have ceased between the U-CF school board and teachers union.  Curious as to the contents of the demotion resolutions, I filed a right-to-know request with their open records officer.  (If I receive a response, I will certainly post it).

In the Souderton School District, their school board and teachers union were unable to resolve contract negotiations and were aided by a state mediator.  The mediator’s proposed bargaining agreement between the Souderton school board and teachers union was released – to read the overview, click here.  The school board and the teachers union accepted the recommendations of the state mediator and signed a 5-year contract.  The contact contains a salary freeze in the first 2 years; elimination of 2 “masters-plus” salary schedules; increased health care premium share; and reduced tuition reimbursement.  There is a 1.6% reduction in the teacher salary schedule in the first year; no “step and column” movement for the first two years; then a 1 percent salary schedule increase in the last year and a return to “step and column” starting in the third year.  It appears that significant concessions were required on behalf of the Souderton teachers union.

The Souderton school district budget of $107 million for 2012-13 includes a 3 percent real estate tax increase. The harsh reality of Souderton’s budget deficit required school board members to make some tough decisions to balance their budget, including eliminating middle school teaching positions, demotion of a language teacher, reducing the budgets of technology, facilities and supplies, increasing student parking and activity fees, etc.

Whether it is Souderton, Unionville-Chadds Ford or T/E, the reality of the economic crisis in Pennsylvania’s public school, is forcing school boards to make some very difficult budget decisions.  A state assigned mediator was required in the contract negotiations of Souderton and U-CF to push their contract impasse, I wonder if the same will happen in T/E?  Maybe having a hired professional negotiator will make the difference for TESD — I’m not sure if Souderton and U-CF took this approach.  It would hard for the taxpayers to pay Jeffrey Sultanik’s legal bill if in the end, the negotiations still require an independent arbitrator.

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“Train Station Project Advancing Quickly” — and NO, it’s not Paoli!

I saw this headline in Sunday’s edition of the Daily Local “Train station project advancing quickly”. No, the author was not referring to the Paoli Transportation Center or the Ardmore Transit projects.  Was it the Downingtown or Parkesburg train station projects that was advancing?

No,  . . . the “advancing” train project was the Coatesville Train Station!  According to PennDOT rep Bob Garrett, the train station at Coatesville is officially “ahead of projects in Parkesburg and Downingtown after a few months of hard work”. (No mention made of Paoli Transportation project . . . does PennDOT even know it exists!)

Interesting to note that the Coatesville train station has $16 million in secured funding from state and federal sources for a new train station, pedestrian cross-over and street-scaping.  Plus an additional $1.3 million in federal funds to rehab the old station even though there’s no firm use for it.

Remember how excited some of us in the community got about the $1 million funding to the Paoli Transportation Center project, and that was 1-1/2 years ago.  I am mystified as to how these other train projects move along through the system and our train project just seems to be quick mired for years and years.  When I read that Coatesville gets state and federal funding after a “few months of hard work” . . . you just have to shake your head and wonder don’t you?  Doesn’t anyone care about the Paoli transportation project? We know that there is a finite amount of state dollars (and federal dollars) for transportation projects and obviously, no credence is given to ‘time already spent on the list’.

Apparently, the Coatesville train station is not very busy – only 8 trains per day stop at this station!  The current Coatesville train station suffers from low ridership and doesn’t have any Amtrak amenities or a place to buy tickets. The idea is that by revitalizing Coatesville and the train station area and adding more stops commuter traffic will increase on the rails.

So again I ask, what about Paoli train station — where are its advocates?  There are elected officials pushing Coatesville and Downingtown train station projects; who is really behind Paoli?

 

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Should selling of liquor in Pennsylvania continue as a state-controlled monopoly or should prohibition end?

Should the Pennsylvania State Liquor Board be abolished?

Did you know that aside from Utah, Pennsylvania is the only other state with complete government control of wine and liquor?

Things are once again heating up to privatize the state-owned liquor stores. One of Gov. Corbett’s campaign talking points was the privatization of the state store system and it continues to move in that direction.

On one side we have many state government jobs at risk with the abolishment of the Pennsylvania State Liquor Board and the selling off of the 620 liquor stores. United Food and Commercial Workers union represents the 3,500 state liquor store employees whose jobs are in jeopardy if the state privatizes the wine and liquor stores.  But couldn’t one argue that the state employees might well stay employed with the privatization . . . privately owned liquor stores still require employees and ex-state liquor store employees would be a match.  

On the other side, there are those in favor of privatizing wine and liquor stores who suggest that the competition will lower prices and increase selection for the consumer. And why wouldn’t that be good for Pennsylvanians? How many of us currently drive to Delaware when we need cases of wine . . . ?

House Majority leader Mike Turzai R-Alleghany is driving the privatization and has a proposal scheduled for the end of the month to sell the liquor stores.  There are approximately 1,200 liquor licenses in Pennsylvania – how much revenue would selling the licenses produceIt is estimated that the revenue could be as high as $2 billion.  Just this week, I read that the Pennsylvania State Liquor Board reported for 2010, a 4% increase in sales to $1.96 billion!

As an aside, I noted a proposed local connection to the liquor control board.  According to a Daily Local article, Gov. Corbett has nominated Skip Brion, chair of the Chester County Republican Committee to the state liquor board.  At this point, it is unclear whether Brion will resign from his political leadership role in the county.

What do you think?  Should selling of liquor in Pennsylvania continue to operate as a state-controlled monopoly or after 75 years, should prohibition end?

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Tredyffrin Officials Inconsistent in Ethics Decisions . . . Today’s Op-Ed in the Daily Local!

 Tredyffrin officials inconsistent in ethics decisions . . . yes, doesn’t that newspaper headline say it all?  The editorial appearing in today’s Daily Local newspaper offers its reader their ‘take’ on Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors meeting.  For the newspaper to have reviewed the Pitcairn vs supervisors solicitation situation, and then to state, ” . . . after a review of both situations, we think she’s [Benson] right. . . ”  — was just the vindication I need!  Thank you Daily Local for this editorial and for really getting ‘it’!   Below is the complete editorial:

Daily Local Opinion

Tredyffrin officials inconsistent in ethics decisions

Published: Monday, April 26, 2010

Do township supervisors’ fundraising efforts in Tredyffrin constitute an unethical conflict of interest for the township — and more to the point, do they do so in the same way that those supervisors decided, some time ago, an “in-kind” gift worth $50,000 would have for the Historic Preservation Trust?

Pattye Benson, the president of the trust, thinks that if the donation offered to her nonprofit organization was unethical, donations for firefighters — especially from companies and individuals that do business with the township — were too.

And after a review of both situations, we think she’s right. If it would indeed have been unethical for the trust to accept the gift, it was unethical for the supervisors to solicit donations — at the very least, donations from businesses, which they did.

Situation 1: In 2008, Pitcairn, a company in a final review of negotiations with the township for a land-development deal, offered the trust an in-kind gift (that is, a donation of goods or services rather than cash).

Benson didn’t know a thing about the deal. But Judy DiFilippo, a board member on the trust, did: she was also a township supervisor. The township, concerned that it would look like Pitcairn was getting the development deal in return for the gift, told Benson she had to turn it down, which she did.

Situation 2: The supervisors were not able to find the funds to budget the normal contribution to the fire companies that serve the township. To attempt to cover the costs, Supervisors Bob Lamina, Warren Kampf and Paul Olson personally solicited cash donations — including from Comcast, which is currently negotiating a contract with the township. They collected $23,200 total.

These are the facts available, and the situations are parallel. Were the donations themselves, both offered and collected, in fact unethical, creating a pay-to-play situation? We’re not sure. Any gift could create that appearance; should, then, businesses never donate to locally beneficial causes?

This seems absurd, suggesting that the potential conflicts of interest should be transparently discussed, but not that they should be universally turned down. And in fact, in this instance, the active solicitation by the supervisors creates much more of a “pay-to-play” aura than the offer which originated with Pitcairn.

The supervisors have claimed that they were acting as private citizens. But in that guise, why didn’t DiFilippo count as a private citizen when Pitcairn offered its donation? And more to the point, are the supervisors seriously suggesting that the companies that do business with the township somehow, on some level, forgot who the supervisors were — something they’re at great pains to establish firmly during elections?

We’re not suggesting it’s bad to collect money for fire companies. We think the donations in question might not be unethical, in both cases. We are pointing out that it is, in fact, inconsistent for the township supervisors to act out of concern for appearances in one instance, while actively creating that appearance in another. The large size of the gift offered by Pitcairn and the fact that fire companies are, for most people, more emotionally charged organizations than historic trusts do not make the situations different at base.

We also think it added insult to injury when Chairman Bob Lamina told Benson, “I’m disappointed in you, Pattye. This was a win-win for the fire companies that one individual here today tried to diminish,” and questioned her motives for challenging the fundraiser. Yes, she might very well be personally miffed. But that doesn’t make her wrong — and in that situation, we might be miffed too.

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