Dan Waters

175 Aides and Paraeducators are on the verge of outsourcing in T/E School District — Help save their jobs!

It is almost impossible to believe that we live in a wealthy Philadelphia suburb with award winning, nationally ranked schools and our School Board is voting whether to outsource 175 aides, paraeducators and substitute teachers at Monday’s School Board meeting.

Since attending the Finance Committee meeting and writing about it this week, I have heard from parents, residents, aides, TENIG members and teachers.  Not a single person contacted me to say that they support outsourcing, touted as a cost-savings measure by the District.  I understand that there is pressure to cut costs in the District budget but cutting costs should not be at the expense of our most vulnerable students.

Although the District business manager Art McDonnell presented a couple of slides at the Finance Committee meeting about outsourcing, many in the audience left short on answers and confused.  Here’s a review of what I think we know at this point about the outsourcing.  According to McDonnell, the staff researched outsourcing opportunities and met with five different vendors. We were not given the names of the other vendors, only the recommended vendor – Substitute Teachers Service, Inc. (STS). During the evening, it was repeatedly stated that STS is one of the nation’s largest outsourcing vendors and has been in the business for 25 years.

The “Analysis of Outsourcing of Aides and Paraeducators” slide indicated that the 2013-14 anticipated wage and benefits costs for aides and paraeducators is $3,359,784. The cost to the District to outsource with STS is 22.5% of actual wages paid to the aides and paraeducators.  STS will pay all benefits form the 22.5%.  It was unclear what those ‘benefits’ were beyond the required Social Security, etc.  The agreement with STS will be for 3 years.  The increased costs to the District for outsourcing in Year One is $126,307 and Year Two is $59,678.  In Year Three, the District will see a projected savings of $529,544. How does the District go from losing money ($190K) the first two years to saving $500K?  I have no idea.

The anticipated wages and benefit costs for substitutes for 2013-14 is $842,250.  Like the aides and paraeducators, if outsourced to STS, the cost to the District is 22.5% of actual wages and vendor pays all ‘benefits’ out of the 22.5% and is a three-year agreement.  The increased cost to the District is Year One of $76,500, Year Two of $60,112 and Year Three of $44,275.  It is my understanding that the District will not see a savings until Year Six if the substitute teachers are outsourced!  By outsourcing, the District loses money for 5 years before recognizing savings … and this is viewed as a solution?

To be very clear, should outsourcing occur, there is no guarantee that the aides and paraeducators will still have jobs in our school district.  How do I know this absolutely … I asked that specific question at the Finance Meeting and was told by Sue Tiede that the District would ‘encourage’ STS to keep our employees.  I asked if the District’s agreement with STS could mandate that the outsourcing company hire our employees and the answer was NO.  I don’t view encouraging a vendor to hire our employees as any guarantee to the 175 aides, paraeducators and substitute teachers.

When I asked the Board if STS would compensate the TE employees at their current pay level, the answer from Art McDonnell was no, he indicated that their pay would be lower if outsourcing occurs. However, by the end of the outsourcing discussion, that response shifted with Dan Waters stating that the outsourced employees would actually be paid more if they were outsourced.  The rationale behind this claim – when outsourced, the paraprofessionals will not be making the 7.5% PSERS contribution so therefore the employee makes more money. What? This is not more money as the contribution was the employee’s money in the first place.

I’m asking the question again, ‘Where’s the fairness”? Three months ago, the School Board approved raises for the highest paid employees — the administrators.  Now the Board is contemplating outsourcing the employees with the least amount of power, making the least amount of money.  If you recall, the administrator raises were buried in a consent agenda; and we came very close to see a repeat performance with the outsourcing.  The game plan at the Finance Committee meeting was to add outsourcing on the School Board meeting consent agenda. However, thanks to Board member Anne Crowley speaking out, outsourcing will be a priority discussion, which allows for public comment prior to the Board vote. How does the District balance raises to administrators against the outsourcing of aides … interesting interpretation of ‘shared sacrifice.’

In closing, I am including excerpts from some of the emails in the last few days in regards to the District’s proposed outsourcing:

From a District aide …

“These individuals have direct contact with our children on a daily basis. They are our greeters in the lobby, the aides who work one on one with special kids in the classrooms, they monitor lunch periods and recess, they work in the library and in the office , they assist teachers in the classroom, accompany our children on field trips and the do so much more. Many live in our community, have children in the school system. They are our neighbors and friends. 

Personally, I worry that non-local strangers will be brought into our schools and not give the same quality of care and attention to our kids that my colleagues or I would. Our current aides have a college degrees and many master’s, they go through rigorous security screening by the district and by the school staff. Many have been working here for several years. “

From a resident …

 “I challenge the School Board to spend some time really thinking about the outsourcing decision before you vote. Spend some time; really know what these people do, because those paraprofessionals have among the hardest jobs in the building. I’ve done that job; I respect the heck out of those people.”

From a TE teacher …

“This outsourcing will affect all students in various ways none of which are good.  Paraprofessionals are partners to the teachers in the education process.  They pick up where the teachers leave off.  They are there to lend a hand when one or a few students need it, so teachers can continue teaching the other students in the classroom.  I think the important message here is the fact that the role of paraprofessional in TESD is a very important one and I urge the Board to weigh the financial savings against the impact on our students.  I’d like the Board to think about the students first.  I think we’ve lost our way a little bit with regards to our students.”

From a parent of a special needs child … 

“I completely support the paras of TE.  They do this job because they love it and they love being with the children.  The paras make very little money and many have teaching degrees.  To me, as a parent, it makes me feel very comfortable sending my child who has special needs to school each day.  I know what it would do to my child having a different face in class each day who doesn’t know what to do or how to help.  Cutting costs should not come at the expense of our students. Both special needs and typically developing children benefit from having para professionals in our schools that are there every day.”

If you care about the future of 175 aides, paraeducators and substitute teachers  in the Tredyffrin Easttown School District plan on attending the upcoming School Board Meeting.  Whether you are a parent, a teacher, a paraprofessional, a TENIG member or a resident and oppose outsourcing, join me on  Monday, May 13 at  7:30 PM at the T/E School District Administration Offices (TEAO), West Valley Business Center, 940 West Valley Road, Suite 1700, Wayne.

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Outsourcing ‘Chopping Block’: A real possibility for custodians, secretaries, maintenance workers, kitchen staff, security personnel, aids and paraeducators in T/E

In my last blog post, I indicated there would be a follow-up post on TENIG and discussion of outsourcing.  TENIG President Dave Fillippo delivered an emotional statement at Monday night’s TESD Budget Workshop on the eve of his TESD retirement this Friday.  His statement, in its entirety, follows this post.

Much troubles me about the idea of outsourcing of the non-instructional employees of the District, especially at this time.  Excluding the District’s administrators and teachers,  TENIG members are the secretaries, custodians, maintenance workers, kitchen staff and security personnel.  Although aides and paraeducators are not members of TENIG, their jobs are also on the outsourcing ‘chopping block’ as budget impact items under consideration.

The Budget Workshop presentation only included two budget impact items for the Board to consider – (1) the outsourcing of TENIG staff and (2) the outsourcing of aides and paraeducators.  The Board has given the required 120-day written notice of their intention to issue an RFP to seek outsourcing bids for TENIG and the aides and paraeducators.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, we know that the Board has increased the District budget for safety.  They approved $250K for ‘district security enhancements’ and hired former Tredyffrin Township police chief Andy Chambers as a security expert, in an effort to make the school buildings more secure and to protect the students and staff.  From a security standpoint, how then can it possibly make sense to dismiss long-serving members of the T/E school district community in lieu of strangers that do not know our schools or our children?

Those employees whose jobs are under consideration for outsourcing,  are highly trained, dedicated and caring professionals with roots in our community; the majority  live in the T/E School District.  These are the people who the community knows and trusts.  How could it make sense to replace them with high turnover, sub-standard inexperienced workers?  There is no doubt in my mind that the quality of workers (and probably the productivity) will diminish with the largest percentage of new workers coming from outside the District.   Should outsourcing occur, the District will not only lose local, dedicated employees, but we also lose the community pride and spirit that comes with people working in the schools that ‘they’ attended, and that their children attended.

In these tight budget times, the custodians, secretaries, maintenance workers, kitchen staff and aides all become a target for outsourcing.  By privatizing the jobs, the District hands over important public service jobs to huge, private corporations who pay their employees lower wages. When private companies take over, they do away with as many full-time positions as they can and hire part-time workers at the lowest wages possible, so that do not have to offer basic health care benefits.

Outsourcing is not non-profit.  Outsourcing companies only exist for one reason – to make money.  The profit margin is key to the success of outsourcing companies and they will always act in their own self-interest.  As a result, our students, their parents and our community will come ‘second’ to the financial driver of outsourcing companies … profit.  Saving the District money may be the endgame of outsourcing, but with that decision should be the acceptance that our children are nothing more than a “commodity for profit” to an outsourcing company.

The budget of Tredyffrin Easttown School District should not be balanced on the backs of the lowest paid public service employees.  It is remarkable to me that the Board could bury administrator raises in a consent agenda and then just a few weeks later notify TENIG members of the impending outsourcing RFP.  As I said in an earlier post, “Where’s the fairness?”

Beyond this discussion of outsourcing, something else occurred on Monday night that troubled me.  At the end of the meeting, there was opportunity for resident comment.  It was at this point that Dave Fillippo delivered his emotional statement (see below).  As President of TENIG, Dave was speaking out on behalf of the union against outsourcing of the members’ jobs.  However, his statement was also his “swansong’, his good-bye to the Board and to the staff.    Having served the District for 32 years, Dave retires this Friday – as a result, his words delivered with emotion and pride for a community and a career that he loves.  Upon finishing his statement, I found it incredulous that Board President Kevin Buraks offered no words of appreciation or thank you for a “job well done’ to Mr. Fillippo.  Sure, for those 32 years, Dave was ‘doing his job’ for the District, but does that make him any less deserving of gratitude for doing it.  Acknowledging years of service is important, not only to the one retiring but also to show that the Board and administration cares about its staff.

I know I am on my soapbox on this one, but saying thank you to people and letting them know that they are appreciated is important.  If we do not acknowledge our thanks, I think we lose a human moment, a human connection. So, in what I hope was an oversight on Mr. Buraks and the School Board’s part, I want to wish Dave Fillippo all the best as he begins a new chapter in his life.  And to thank Dave for his 32 years of dedicated service to the Tredyffrin Easttown School District and for the contributions he made to the community.  Thank You!

Dave Fillippo’s statement read at the TESD Budget Workshop, March 4, 2013

Community and friends, Dr. Waters, Sue Tiede, members of the Board, principals, teachers and colleagues that have made my career here at TE so special.  My association with this school district started at kindergarten at Paoli Elementary School through graduation at Conestoga, and eventually employment in the maintenance department in 1980.  I have never lived a day of my 60-plus years outside of residence in Tredyffrin Township.  TE is my home and always will be.

I have loved working here in the community, no regrets, even though I was mocked at times, by friends and contractors who made millions while I, in comparison worked for a meager hourly wage. Today, I have a deep concern that in the future, others like myself, that are gifted with a servants heart will not be able to earn a sustainable wage here, in our community.

For the last two years, I have listened to the “Success and Sustainability” speeches here from the Board.  A campaign destined in part on devaluing the employees of TENIG.  Knowing that indeed the members of TENIG in fact are much of the reason for this District’s success and sustainability.

TENIG harbors a wonderful culture that provides security and safety to our children, maintenance of our schools and communities infrastructure, far beyond that of any contract service.  TENIG offers the District workers who are members of the community, who have a stake in the community.  ‘True Community’ one may say.

My vision of TENIG is one of servant leadership, employees who have a stake in the growth of our community, who are approachable, willing to make sacrifices as we have done, time and time again.  Question is why then would you [the Board] want to turn the services overs to profiteers?  Knowing that TENIG has always been responsible and yielding to the financial circumstances of the times.  Are we to be the scapegoats to remedy the mistakes of previous Board decisions?  TENIG is not at fault here.  We have been here doing our job and wish to continue to do so.

Our custodians have conceded more than anyone, with the wavering of wage increases for 2 years, and taking a 10 percent wage cut. Secretaries work an unpaid lunch while sitting at their desks, often coming in early, clocking in at their scheduled tie, clocking out at quitting time, only to return back to work to finish their day; unpaid for the extra hours.  Yielding to the workload that has evolved with the condensing of assigned duties.  Yet, I seldom hear them complain, they are here for the kids, our teachers and community.

Our food service cooks, preparers, servers and cashiers provide quality lunches to our students and staff at affordable prices and in fact pay for their own operation and show a profit.  Maintenance has answered every emergency in a timely fashion, once again to provide safety to our students and residents, even with the disruption of moving from our original facility, then to ESC, to scattered closets and storage spaces, and now to the old transportation garage.  We did not allow the constant changes to break our commitment and spirit of service.

TENIG is here to serve its community; we offer outstanding in-house service, with responsibility to the children, parents, and taxpayers of Tredyffrin and Easttown Townships.  You will not find this dedication in a for-profit contract service.

In retirement, as of this coming Friday, I will not be going anywhere.  I intend to be a vital part of the negotiations with the Board and community along with new TENIG President Mary Minicozzi, Vice President John Brooks, Treasurer Gwen Durante and Secretary Jen Doyle.  TENIG has an excellent leadership staff here that is sensitive to the needs and concerns of our District and is eager to share our ideas with those members of the School Board assigned to the negotiations.

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School Safety … An ongoing priority for Tredyffrin Twp Police Superintendent Anthony Giaimo

Tredyffrin Police Superintendent Anthony Giaimo did not need the Sandy Hook shootings to prioritize school safety.

However, if you attended, or watched the TESD special safety meeting, or the District’s Finance or regular school board meetings, you may have come away with the mistaken impression that the Tredyffrin Police Department is only peripherally involved in the school safety process.  Sure, T/E Superintendent Waters and Kevin Buraks, president of the school board spoke of the good working relationship with the police departments (Tredyffrin and Easttown).  Waters and Buraks rationalized the hiring of Andy Chambers as District’s safety consultant because (1) need to act quickly following Sandy Hook; (2) Chambers knew the District buildings and (3) he was a lot cheaper ($125/hr.) than previous safety consultants. At the last school board meeting, someone mentioned the District had previously spent $100K for a safety consultant post-Columbine.

Beyond the obvious transparent issues that accompanied the hiring of Chambers, I could not help but wonder how this safety consultant was going to work with current police staff, given the reasons behind his departure from Tredyffrin.  I also could not understand what Chambers was going ‘to do’ for the District that experienced Tredyffrin Police Supt. Anthony Giaimo and Easttown Police Chief David Obzud, and their respective departments. were not already doing.

For those like me, that may have been confused about ‘who knew what and when’ in regards to the school safety situation and Chambers hiring by the District, I clarified some of these points with Giaimo today.

Fact: Giaimo has 23+ years of experience with the Tredyffrin Township Police Department.

Fact:  Neither Dr. Waters nor the school board consulted Giaimo before hiring Chambers.  Giaimo was told a couple of hours before the announcement at the District safety meeting.

Fact: The school ‘hardening’ suggestions that the District is implementing were the personal recommendations of Giaimo, including the notification panic buttons, buzzer system and the ballistic film on windows and doors.

Fact: Giaimo has been actively involved in developing a crisis plan with administrators of each school and doing building safety assessment on District schools (as well as private and nursery schools).  According to Giaimo, school safety has been an ongoing priority of his, not just post-Sandy Hook.

Fact: Waters and the District were fully aware of Giaimo’s school safety and crisis plan – prior to the hiring of Chambers.

Fact: There has not been a District school safety meeting between Giaimo and Chambers.

Fact: It is unclear how Chambers efforts as the District’s safety consultant will differ from efforts currently performed by Easttown and Tredyffrin Township Police Departments.

Fact: Representatives from the Police Department are on the District safety committee.

Fact: The Board of Supervisors has not authorized hiring of 2 additional police officers as recommended by ICMO consultants and approved in the 2013 township budget

School safety has been an ongoing priority for Giaimo and he has been very proactive in his approach since becoming Superintendent.  He has a good working relationship with Easttown Police Chief Ozbud and the two are committed to coordinating school safety response, regardless of which township the school is located.

I don’t want to ‘beat a dead horse’ over the hiring of Andy Chambers; I accept the Board approved his hiring. However, it remains unclear to me what additional safety information the District will receive as a result of Chambers’ hiring.  Without a ‘scope of work’, it just appears that Chambers could be performing a duplication of effort at the expense of the taxpayers. It is my understanding that the school district will include Giaimo and Ozbud in any school safety decisions based on Chambers’ recommendations.

Our police superintendent has the safety of our children as a continuing priority, not just because of Sandy Hook.  Regardless of the number of Tredyffrin Police Department officers, Giaimo remains committed to school district safety.  However, more important than ever, providing safety requires adequate police department staffing.  If you agree, I strongly suggest attending Mondays Board of Supervisors meeting. (Click here for agenda).  The Board of Supervisors has not authorized the two additional police officers recommended by the police department consultants, ICMA and approved in the 2013 township budget.

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Andy Chambers Hired, Superintendent Waters to Retire and TESD Tax Increase not to Exceed 1.7%

Highlights of 1/28/13 TESD Meeting —

Adoption of the 2013-14 TESD preliminary budget:  By a unanimous vote the Board approved a resolution not to raise taxes above the Act 1 Index level of 1.7%.

Reconsideration of District Safety Consultant, Andy Chambers:  Former police chief Andy Chambers attended the TESD meeting last night.  Chambers offered no comment; however Superintendent Waters defended his choice in Chambers, offering a list of his qualifications, and firmly stating that the hiring was not cronyism as some in the public had suggested. TESD solicitor Ken Roos stated that he was of the opinion that the Board had not violated the Sunshine Act with the consent agenda approval of January 7 to hire Chambers.  However, Roos recommended the ‘reconsideration’ of Chambers so as to avoid possible legal costs to the District, if the Board’s January 7 action was legally pursued.

There was no mention from Waters, Roos or the Board members with regards to  the issues surrounding Chambers departure from the Tredyffrin Twp Police Department.  A few residents spoke in favor of hiring Chambers with only one resident asking about the “two sides of the story”, referring to the Finance Committee meeting and the dialogue between myself and Chambers and Kevin Buraks.

Although all members of the Board supported Chambers as qualified to serve as District Safety Consultant, two Directors voted against his hiring.  Using the lack of transparency in the process as reason, Anne Crowley and Rich Brake did not vote with their fellow board members to hire Chambers.  Crowley read a prepared statement, saying that although Chambers’ was qualified; she spoke of the need for transparency and that other candidates (besides Chambers) should have been reviewed in the process. Chambers was approved as District Safety Consultant 7-2.

Consent agreement and the inclusion of the Supervisory, Confidential and Administrator Compensation Plan, Compensation Adjustments for 2013-14 and One-Time Bonus:  Ray Clarke asked if these items could be separated from the consent agenda for Board and public discussion.  Board President Kevin Buraks response to Ray was that the discussion of these items could occur after the consent agenda approval.

Buraks took the vote to approve the consent agenda without discussion.  The Board voted to approve the consent agenda with the exception of two members.  Although voting with their Board members on the rest of the consent agenda, Crowley and Brake excluded their approval of the compensation plan , adjustment and bonus (#C2 and #C3), again using transparency in the process as the reason.

Following the consent agenda approval, Waters explained the compensation plan and budget impact.  Unfortunately, at this point it was 11 PM, and I did not understand his explanation of the specifics of the costs.  (If anyone has the details, please offer them as a comment.) Again on the defensive, Water defended the compensation plan, etc. listed as a consent agenda item – stating that this is the way it has been done for 10 years.  My response is – does that therefore make it right?  I have previously stated that the purpose of the consent agenda is for routine items (such as meeting minutes or financial reports) and I do not view a multi-year compensation plan and bonus as routine.

The other noteworthy item of the evening, occurred during Waters’ explanation of the compensation plan and budget impact — Waters announced his retirement at the end of the 2014/15 school year, explaining that he wanted to have the compensation plan in place for his successor.

For the record, between Waters and Roos talking about ‘blogs’ and ‘blog comments’ and the presence of Andy Chambers at the meeting, I found the meeting more than a little intimidating. Although Community Matters was never mentioned ‘by name’, the continual reference to the blogosphere was not lost on me.

It’s important that the public‘s business be done in public, so that we can be fully informed.  When the right to public discussion is removed, it becomes our responsibility to speak out … our ‘collective voices’ are important. An easy cure for lack of transparency is full visibility.

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1/28/13 TESD Consent Agenda Item — Approval for Administrator Bonuses & Compensation Plan

Included for priority discussion at Monday’s TESD meeting is the reconsideration of a District Safety Consultant and the hiring of Andy Chambers for the position.  The hiring of Chambers was previously included in the January 7 TESD meeting on the consent agenda but was not originally listed on the meeting agenda. Without proper notice on an agenda, the public is deprived of its right to be present and to know when decisions affecting the public are being made.

Yesterday, I received an anonymous email suggesting that I review the consent agenda for the January 28 meeting, specifically section C – Personnel. Admittedly, when I reviewed the agenda for the upcoming TESD meeting, my attention was to the safety consultant matter, overlooking this significant item.  Included on tomorrow’s consent agenda is the following:

C.  Personnel
1.  Routine Personnel Actions
The Board will take action on routine resignations, releases, retirements, leaves, and
appointments. The Board will also take action to record the names of volunteers who
have served in the schools in recent weeks.
2.  Supervisory and Confidential Employee Compensation Plan, Compensation
Adjustments for 2013 – 2014 and January 2013 One Time Bonuses
3.  Administrator Compensation Plan, Compensation Adjustments and January 2013 One
Time Bonuses
4.  Contracted Services

The description of ‘consent agenda’ on the January 28 TESD School Board agenda states, “Although Board action is required, it is generally unnecessary to hold discussion on these items. With the consent of all members, they are therefore grouped and approval is given in one motion.”

The purpose of a consent agenda is to group routine, noncontroversial items together to be voted on under one motion.  Items on the consent agenda should be routine items that board members don’t need any further information on prior to voting. The purpose of a consent agenda should not be used to hide important issues or stifle discussion.

Who is reviewing the TESD meeting agendas? For the January 7 TESD meeting, there was no mention made of anything related to ‘safety’ listed on the agenda, yet the hiring of Andy Chambers as the District Safety Consultant is added last-minute to the consent agenda.  Now a couple of weeks later at the next Board meeting, we have administrator compensation and bonuses listed as routine consent agenda items.  Again, … who is reviewing these meeting agendas?

Of the 141-page agenda, 40 pages are devoted to the compensation plan for supervisory and confidential employees and administrators and their one-time January 2013 bonuses.  To include the approval of non-bargaining administrator salaries, benefits and their bonuses in a consent agenda can hardly be considered ‘routine’!

The Sunshine Act, no more than the discussion to outsource the custodians or aides as a cost-savings budget strategy, does not protect the discussion of administrator compensation and bonuses. The School Board and Finance Committee meetings have repeatedly discussed various budget strategies including increasing class size, student activities fees, possible further cuts to educational programming and recently the decision to review non-profits’ use of real property for qualified tax exempt status.

To my knowledge (someone please correct me if I’m wrong), there has never been any public discussion of a (1) supervisory and confidential employee compensation plan, (2) compensation adjustment for 2013-14 or (3) one-time January 2013 bonuses.  So now, the matter just appears on the consent agenda for approval.  How is this possible?

In a review of ‘Compensation Plan for Supervisory and Confidential Employees” (pgs. 61-77), I read the following:

January 2013 – July 1, 2013 a one-time bonus will be awarded to each employee based upon the Superintendent’s recommendation. On July 1, 2013 adjustment to base for selected employees shall be recommended by the Superintendent.

July 1, 2014 – July 1, 2016:
For each of the academic years beginning July 1, 2014 and through to June 30, 2016, 1.7% of the total salaries of this group, from the prior year, will be available in a pool for the Superintendent to distribute, at his discretion and with Board approval, as base salary increases. Specific percentage increases will vary among members of the group. In June of each year, beginning in June 2014, a 1% one-time bonus will be awarded each individual for the previous year’s service.

Individual Salary/Compensation Changes:
1. Individual may receive an increase to his/her base salary
2. Individual may receive bonus (merit) adjustment which is not added to base salary, but paid throughout the current school year or paid in the form of a lump sum
3. Combination of the above

The Act 93 Agreement, the ‘Administrator Compensation Plan’, January 29, 2013 through June 30, 2017 (pgs. 78-101) contains the following:

January 2013-June 2017
In January 2013, each administrator shall receive a one time bonus for service in the previous two and half years as approved by the Board at its January 28, 2013 regular meeting. In addition, adjustments to base salary for the previous two and a half years will be approved by the Board at its January 28, 2013 regular meeting.

For each of the academic years beginning July 1, 2013 and through to June 30, 2017, 1.7% of the total salaries of this group, from the prior year, will be available in a pool for the Superintendent to distribute, at his discretion and with Board approval, as base salary increases; specific percentage increase will vary for any one individual.

Beginning in June 2014, and continuing annually in June of each year, a one time bonus of 1% of the individual’s salary will be awarded to each administrator for service in the previous year.

The Board may not have had any questions about the compensation plan and the bonuses, but I do —

  1. When did the School Board discuss the compensation plan and bonuses, or are they seeing this for the first time as a consent agenda item?
  2. Where was the public discussion about the administrator compensation plan?
  3. Where was the public discussion about supervisory and confidential employees receiving a one-time bonus? And it’s to be paid this month!
  4. What is the value of the one-time bonus? A percentage of salary or a set dollar amount (similar to the teachers $2500 bonus)
  5. How is the bonus calculated?
  6. What is the budget impact of the increased compensation?
  7. What is the value of the one-time bonus?
  8. Where is the money for the increased compensation and bonuses coming from?  (Is this how the District is using the $3.9 million surplus from 2011/12 that was announced in November 2012)
  9. What does the ‘adjustments to the base salary for the last 2-1/2 years’ mean?  Is the salary increase to the administrators retroactive?
  10. The financial distribution to administrators is at the discretion of Dan Waters?

How is it that something so important as this compensation and bonus plan can just get thrown in on a consent agenda without discussion? Bottom line …   where is the fiscal responsibility, accountability and transparency to the public?

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TE School Board Changes Direction — Is Andy Chambers ‘In or Out’ as District Safety Consultant?

T/E School District has released their agenda for Monday, January 28. Based on the agenda, it appears there has been a direction change on the hiring of former Police Chief Andy Chambers as the security consultant for the District. The following is from Monday’s School Board agenda:

B. Reconsideration of District Safety Consultant
The Board will consider a contract with Andy Chambers as District Safety Consultant.
1. Questions from the Board
2. Comments and/or Questions from Community Members
3. Board Discussion /Deliberation/Action

If you recall, the Board added Andy Chambers as District Safety Consultant to the consent agenda at the January 7 School Board Meeting.  Neither Chambers nor any mention of District safety enhancements appeared on the January 7 agenda.  The agenda did not notify the public that the School Board would discuss anything safety-related at the January 7 meeting, let alone the hiring of a ‘security consultant’.  For most of us, we learned that the District had hired Chambers as District Safety Consultant at the January 9 public safety meeting.  The announcement of Chambers hiring also appeared in the District’s ‘Action Line’ newsletter, summarizing the safety meeting.

Following the news of Chambers hiring, there was much public discussion, including on Community Matters.  I questioned Superintendent Dan Waters and TESD President Kevin Buraks at the subsequent Finance Committee meeting and reported their responses on Community Matters.

Undoubtedly, the Board heard from many community members,including John Petersen in regards to this situation.  I was cc’d on a number of emails between Petersen and the School Board, Superintendent Waters and TESD solicitor Ken Roos. Petersen’s comments were strong and direct — claiming that the Board’s use of the consent agenda at the January 7  meeting, for the hiring of Andy Chambers, was in violation of the PA Sunshine Act.  The tagline for Community Matters states, “Your Voice Matters … Join the Conversation” and clearly in this case, voices do matter and the Board listened.

Receiving the notification that the hiring of a District Security Consultant is now on Monday’s agenda for ‘reconsideration’, Petersen offered the following comment,

I was 100% convinced that the actions taken by Superintendent Dan Waters and the T/E School Board were not proper under the Sunshine Act. The District’s decision to now consider the matter in an open meeting is absolute proof that my assertions were correct and valid in spite of the solicitor’s comments to the contrary.

Whether or not at the 1/28 meeting former TTPD Superintendent Andy Chambers’ appointment as District Safety Consultant is ratified, the public will have a fair and appropriate opportunity to be heard. The goal of my efforts was to serve that end and only that end. Superintendent Dan Waters and the T/E Board disenfranchised the very public they are supposed to serve. Further, they exercised poor judgment. Regardless of what happens on 1/28, it is my opinion that the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District would fare better under new leadership.

The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act defines when government bodies must conduct official business in public and private, when they should allow public comment, and how and when to advertise meetings.  We know now that the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has ruled that the “personnel exception” of the Sunshine Act does not apply when a government body meets to discuss an independent contractor or consultant.

In researching the PA Sunshine Act and how various school boards have handled possible violations, I came across an article in the Town & Country newspaper from September 2011,  that is both interesting and apropos to the discussion.

The article referenced the hiring of a $15K consultant in Upper Perkiomen School District to help in their superintendent search.  There was concern among several school board members, in addition to some members of the public, that the consultant hiring discussion had occurred during the school board’s executive session and not in front of the public – with the suggestion that this action violated the PA Sunshine Act.   According to the article, the school board was “specifically instructed by their solicitor, Ken Roos of Wiseler Pearlstine, not to hold the talks in private.”  The article further states, “According to state law, and Pennsylvania Newspaper Association general counsel Teri L. Henning, public officials are not permitted to discuss hiring independent contractors or consultants in executive session.” 

Not understanding why there should be a difference between the process to hire a consultant the Upper Perkiomen School District and TESD, I sent an email with the Upper Perkiomen School District article to Roos, who coincidentally is also solicitor to both school districts, asking for clarification.  Although Roos did not respond to my inquiry, I would suggest that based on the Upper Perkiomen School District article, it appears that  Roos would agree that consultant ‘talks’ should not occur in private.

As John Petersen suggested in his comment, regardless of the Board’s ultimate decision on whether to hire Andy Chambers as the District Safety Consultant, “ … the public will have a fair and appropriate opportunity to be heard”.  I could not agree more; although given the background of Chambers’ departure from Tredyffrin Township Police Department; I am not sure why the Board would want to invite the controversy that comes with his hiring as the District Safety Consultant.

 The TESD School Board meeting is Monday, January 28 is at 7:30 PM at 940 West Valley, Suite 1700, Wayne 19087.  I encourage all interested citizens to attend and offer your opinion.

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What do the sidewalks at St. Davids and Former Police Chief Andy Chambers have in common?

What do the St. Davids sidewalks and former Police Chief Andy Chambers have in common? There is an eerie similarity between a vote of the Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors on January 25, 2010 and a recent T/E School Board vote of January 7.

January 25, 2010 BOS Meeting:  Even though there was a signed land development agreement between Tredyffrin Township and St. Davids Golf Club requiring sidewalks, the Tredyffrin’s supervisors approved the return of $25K escrow money to the country club; removing the sidewalk agreement. Besides suggested Home Rule Charter violations surrounding the return of the escrow money, there was the procedural problem that the proposal had not appeared on the BOS meeting’agenda.  Against the objections of many residents and some of the supervisors, the motion carried 4-3.  For the record, Bob Lamina, Paul Olson, Warren Kampf and EJ Richter voted in favor of the motion and Michelle Kichline, Phil Donohue and John DiBuonaventuro voted against the motion.

After much media publicity, many letters to the editor, accusations of Home Rule Charter and Sunshine Act violations, claims of deal-making and general resident outrage, the supervisors reversed and rescinded their decision at the following Board of Supervisors meeting in March 2010.  Public comment is guaranteed by the Sunshine Act and the public’s rights were violated by the St. Davids sidewalk vote of January 25, 2010.

Fast forward to January 7, 2013:  Instead of the township failing to notify the public of an intended motion on its meeting agenda, it was the T/E School Board who failed to notify the public.  On January 7, the Board held a special meeting for the primary purpose to consider the 2013-14 preliminary budget proposal.  At the meeting, the School Board voted to apply for Act 1 exceptions beyond the 1.7% allowable tax cap.

A consent agenda listed on the January 7 meeting agenda included the approval of December 3 meeting minutes, monthly financial reports, routine personnel actions, etc. but made no mention of anything safety-related such as enhancements or the hiring of a District safety consultant. However, as we later learned, the hiring of former police chief Andy Chambers as the District Security Consultant (hourly rate – $125) was approved …  as it was ‘last-minute’ included along with the other items in the consent agenda. The agenda did not notify the public that the School Board would discuss anything safety-related at the special meeting, let alone the hiring of a ‘security consultant’.

Someone needs to explain to me how the actions of the School Board on January 7 are any different from the actions of the Board of Supervisors of January 25, 2010.  Both of these examples speak to the process of our government. The fact is that the Board of Supervisors vote of two years ago was not about sidewalks in the same way that the School Board’s vote of January 7 is not about the hiring of Andy Chambers as the District’s security consultant.  Rather, it is about transparency and open meetings; the basis for positive discussions between citizens and their elected officials.  Government decisions should not be made in secret.

The Sunshine Act defines when government bodies must conduct official business in public and private, when they should allow public comment, and how and when to advertise meetings. Executive closed meetings can only be called for the following six reasons:

  • Discussions of matters involving employment or performance of officers or employees of the agency, provided that any affected individual is given the opportunity to request, in writing, that the meeting be held in public.
  • Meetings involving collective bargaining, labor relations, and arbitration.
  • To consider the purchase or lease of real property.
  • matters falling under the attorney-client privilege regarding litigation or issues where an identifiable complaint is expected to be filed.
  • To discuss agency business which, if discussed in public, would lead to the disclosure of information protected by law, including ongoing investigations and information exempt under Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know
  • To discuss matters of academic standing or admission at state schools

Responding to follow-up comments on the topic of the Sunshine Act, Keith Knauss, school board member of the Unionville Chadds Ford School District (UCF) offered this comment on Community Matters —

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. If the board met in executive session and deliberated on hiring Mr. Chambers, then they probably violated the Sunshine Act even though the official vote was taken in open session. It doesn’t matter if it is a contract or not. We’re conjecturing that the board deliberated (illegally) in executive session and based on that deliberation, took an official action to disburse funds to Mr. Chambers. We, of course, can only conjecture since the meeting was closed to the public.
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The current Sunshine Act took effect on January 3, 1987. This law replaces the old Open Meetings Laws of 1957 and 1974, Under the old law, public agencies were required to hold open meetings only if votes were taken or official policy adopted. This led to the frequent abuse of discussing and deciding issues in so-called “workshop” sessions, with the official public meetings being relegated to conducting formal votes on issues already decided in advance. The current Act requires that any deliberations leading up to official actions also take place at public meetings. Municipal governing bodies have no authority, either under the municipal codes or the Sunshine Act, to conduct “workshop” sessions.’

Question … At the upcoming January 28 School Board meeting, will the Board take responsibility for their January 7 action and reverse their decision to hire Andy Chambers as the District Security Consultant?

If the Board understands the Sunshine Act, and supports the importance of open meetings, the choice they make on January 28 will be simple.  The Board accepts responsibility for the situation and takes the necessary steps to correct the situation; reversing the decision and then appropriately advertising the matter for public discussion.

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Demotion & Class Size Remain as T/E Budget Strategies … Teacher Union Weighs In

Opening a door that most school districts would prefer to keep closed.

Teacher contract negotiations have traditionally been cloaked in secrecy. In my perfect world of transparency, school districts would open the teacher contract talks to the public. Letting the sunlight shine on the negotiations, parents, taxpayers and employees would benefit by seeing the open dialogue around our district’s priorities. Open negotiations would hold the District and TEEA (Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association) accountable for how they are dealing with the contract negotiations. I know, I know, not possible . . . it will never happen.

Those involved in teacher contract negotiations would probably claim that critical issues such as teacher pay, benefits, and overall responsibilities should fall within the client-lawyer privilege of privacy. I am sure that those at the ‘negotiating table’ would say that the talks should be private in order to foster a more open and frank discussion among the participants. In the case of TESD, this seems twisted logic at best. Why do I say this? Reason … There is no representation by the T/E school board at the negotiation table. As a result, it is a bit like ‘whisper down the lane’.

The information and updates that the school board receives are not through first hand attendance at the meetings, but rather from the four members of the negotiating team. Three members of the team are employees of the District (Superintendent Dan Waters, Director of Personnel Sue Tiede and Business Manager Art McDonnell) and the fourth member of the team is professional negotiator, attorney Jeffrey Sultanik.

I don’t know how the rest of the taxpayers feel about the ‘no seat at the table’ by an elected school board member issue, but I stand by my original view. The school directors were elected by, and are responsible to, the people of the Tredyffrin Easttown School District. I do not think it is fair to the taxpayers and the teacher contract process that there is not at least one school board member participating directly on the negotiation team.

Based on the many comments received in regards to the teacher contract negotiations and budget strategies, I reached out to TEEA president Laura Whittaker. Stating in my email to Ms. Whittaker, that ‘my intention was not to in any way jeopardize or breach the teacher/school district negotiating process’, I asked her several questions. Does TEEA believe that any of the District’s budget strategies currently being discussed (class size, demotion of professional staff, $50 activities fee, etc.) could have a potential negative effect on the quality of the District’s educational program. I also asked if members of TEEA were the decision makers in regards to the TESD 2012-13 budget, what solutions would the teachers offer that could bridge the current financial crisis in the District.

Understanding the limitations posed by the teacher contract negotiations, Ms. Whittaker proved the following statement for Community Matters and I thank her. Reading Ms. Whittaker’s statement, I was reminded again that if the contract talks were held in public, the taxpayers would know what the the teachers are offering; including changes to their health care plan that would save the District money.

“Because of the ground rules established in the negotiations process, I am limited in my ability to share specific aspects of our proposal and negotiations with you.

You have asked what solutions we offer. We are willing to discuss alternative approaches to health care coverage and funding as a means for the District to save money. Additionally, although we are not able to release the details of our salary proposal, we are confident in stating that our salary requests are modest and reasonable.

We have many concerns about the District’s proposal to demote our most experienced, educated teachers. Of course, we are fundamentally concerned about the negative impact that it will have on the educational program and the well-being of our membership. However, if the School Board chooses to implement demotions and the hiring of part time staff becomes the norm, they must realize that T/E will become an undesirable place for the most qualified educators to pursue a career. Simply stated, T/E has been able to attract the best and the brightest to teach its children. How will the District be able to continue to attract the best and the brightest if we are currently choosing to replace our own best and most educated teachers with part-time employees?

With regard to class size, studies have concluded that increased class sizes have a negative impact on student performance. Individual support and attention will most certainly suffer if class sizes are larger. Regarding the proposed $50 participation fee, we have no official position. As far as other budget strategies are concerned, demotions and increases in class size, are (to our knowledge) the only two major strategies being considered by the Board.

The members of TEEA remain committed to achieving a mutually beneficial settlement with the District.”

Thank you for providing this opportunity.

Sincerely,
Laura Whittaker
President, TEEA

If you are reading today’s post on Community Matters and have an interest in our school district, I hope that you will plan to attend the school board meeting tonight at 7:30 PM.

On the subject of demotion, other area school districts are keeping a close eye on TESD. The teachers union in Radnor School District has notified their members of tonight’s TESD meeting and suggested their members attend.  At Conestoga HS, the demotion issue has caused concern among students and they are organizing support for their teachers.

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T/E School District and Teacher Union Contract Negotiation Honeymoon Period Over

The contract negotiations between the T/E School District and the T/E Teachers Union (TEEA) started in early January.  What is the saying about the ‘calm before the storm’ – I had been thinking that the teacher contract negotiations must have been going well as everything was quiet.

In a Community Matters post, Expert Negotiators Named as TESD Teacher Contracts Talks Begin, dated January 28, 2012, I wrote the following:

“ … With a cooperative tone, both sides have issued their preliminary statements – the school board recognizing the quality and standard of the District’s teachers but reinforcing the severity of our economic times.  And the teachers union proudly applauding the school district as one of the best in the state and stating their desire to work together through the contract negotiations…”

This week in the Tredyffrin-Easttown School District would suggest that I might have spoken too quickly.  First, the T/E School Board publicly stated in a contract negotiation update on the school district’s website that ‘TEEA Negotiator Refuses to Discuss Healthcare Options”.  The school district’s negotiator, Jeffrey Sultanik claims that TEEA “does not want any changes to the existing plan or premium share increases for the employee”.  Sultanik suggests that the negotiator for the teachers union, Ruthann Waldie, refuses to budge on the healthcare issue.  The school board has made it clear from the start that the teacher contract needs to focus on reducing healthcare costs.  Having attended a number of finance committee meetings of the school district, the teacher’s benefits are routinely discussed, especially healthcare.

When the school districts’ negotiating team was named (Dan Waters, Sue Tiede and Art McDonnell in addition to Jeffrey Sultanik), I shared TEEA’s concern that there was no school board director serving on the negotiating team.  The residents of TESD elected the school board members to serve them and at least one of them should be ‘at the negotiating table’.  One of the school board directors, Kevin Buraks, is an attorney who specializes in the collection of unpaid real estate taxes in municipalities and school districts in Pennsylvania.  Certainly, given his background, Buraks would have been qualified at the very least to participate as a contract negotiation ‘observer’.  As far as I know (please correct me if I’m wrong) no prior contract negotiations in T/E school district ever occurred absent school board directors.

Soon after the school district posted the contract negotiations update on their website, TEEA fired back with a response that suggested the school district’s update is “a collection of factual inaccuracies, misinformation, mischaracterizations and personal attacks”.  The response from the teacher’s union suggests a willingness and desire to negotiate issues … but at the bargaining table, not through press releases and websites, as the path that TEEA believes the school district has chosen.

Because there is no representation by the school board at the negotiation table, it is a bit like ‘whisper down the lane’.  The information and updates that the school board receives are not through first hand attendance at the meetings, it is from one of the four members of the negotiating team.  That’s not to suggest that the school district is intentionally misleading the public through its updates, but I would suggest that some of the nuances that occur in a meeting can be missed in the translation.

According to TEEA, the teachers union has presented a comprehensive set of proposals to the school district and are willing to discuss “the district’s finances, staffing levels, school calendar, health insurance, wages and all other important issues …”

As a taxpayer in this school district, I want to know that the contract negotiation updates are completely accurate … can the school board members provide that reassurance to the public.  On the other hand, having attended a number of school district finance committee meetings, I also know that the current teacher healthcare benefits exceed much of what most of the residents of this school district receive themselves.

We are fortunate to live in one of the best school districts in the state and preserving that school system should be a priority to the residents, school district and the teachers.  The new teacher’s contract needs to be line with our current economic reality. However, the negotiation process should be accomplished with a spirit of collaboration.

According to TEEA and the school district, there is no next negotiation session scheduled.  I make a motion to move the contract negotiation process forward; do I hear a second?

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