Debbie Bookstaber

No EIT for Tredyffrin Easttown School District in 2012!

Based on Ray Clarke’s notes below from the Finance Committee and the School Board meeting on the Earned Income Tax, sounds like it was quite a night!  First off, the big news to report — there will be no EIT voter referendum question on the April primary election ballot.  The same two people, Kevin Mahoney and Anne Crowley, favored taking the EIT to the voters as they voted similarly in October 2010.  Please read Ray’s comments and I would like to hear from others who attended the meeting last night.

A couple of fascinating school district meetings last night. Bottom Line: a motion to advise the townships of a possible intent to put an EIT on next year’s ballot was defeated 7:2 (Mahoney, Crowley).

My own take, but watch the action for yourselves….

The usual arguments were rehearsed by both Board members and audience, but the ones that I felt carried the day were that “now is not the time” and “we’re going to try really really hard to get Harrisburg to find another of your pockets to take the employee pensions from”. Dr Brake had a well-reasoned position that also made the point that the current political climate would not allow a thoughtful debate and the Board could avoid “roiling the community” further by not putting it to referendum now.

But that was not what kept this audience member awake. Just about every board member (campaigning or not) berated the political machine for the campaign tactics.

Dr Brake contrasted legitimate “contrast pieces” with “offensive” “making stuff up”. Then Republican operative Tom Colman launched a defense of the election tactics, and acknowledged that he had orchestrated a personal campaign against the Act 1 tax in 2007. That brought up Jenny Wessels to state that she had been miss-represented in the campaign and to commend the Board for their non-partisan approach. Then followed Debbie Bookstaber, in a long soliloquy berating her colleagues for their political statements.  Must see TV!

A few interesting audience comments:

Ed Sweeney: strongly against an EIT and wants the tax policy to attract the “right people” (high income earners?)

Melody Price: a thoughtful appeal for a balanced approach that considers all potential solutions.

Unknown audience member: “three words – Taxed Enough Already” (that was helpful!)

Barbara Morosse: There is more expense for the district to cut, including through teacher salary structure changes.

Notable board member comments:

Rich Brake: wants to completely recalibrate the teachers’ contract, do away with the matrix.

Kevin Mahoney: a) lest anyone thinks that companies are not interested in property taxes, consider the multi-million dollar GSK assessment appeals, b) maybe school districts should be freed up from rules that limit investment options to be able to earn returns like UPenn endowment’s 15%

Betsy Fadem: Don’t think we can use the Fund Balance to balance the budget because the School Board has committed it….

Which brings me to the evening’s opening act, the Finance Committee. Four things to remark:

[1] The minutes that Pattye had puzzled over were corrected: the administration proposals for the $1.3 million funding restoration were not authorized by the last Finance Committee but referred back to the Education Committee.

[2] A discussion of the Fund Balance commitments, which include $7.6 million of “vested employee services”, along of course with $15.4 million of “future retirement plan stabilization”. The accounting is much different to the GAAP I’m used to, but here’s my takeaway:

  • These amounts are based on arbitrary board policies
  • The PSERS commitment is based on the next five years, the employee services on almost but not quite the full lifetime liability
  • They are only commitments to the extent that it takes a Board vote to change them
  • Few if any other school districts have a commitment for vested employee services, and pay as they go.

So, “vested employee services” appears to be another way to sit on taxpayer money without fully revealing what the actual liability is, what the additions and payouts are from year-to-year, and where the funding for the liability comes from. And, in general, the PSERS liability is going straight up for the next 5 years, holds flat for the next 10, and then starts to decline. So would the policy mean that the district sequesters say $25 million of taxpayer money until that decline starts in 2025 or so?

I think that Mahoney committed the next Finance Committee to review the policy. At the very least it would be good to know exactly how all this works, and why it is that TE policies need to be different from other school districts.

[3] Groundwork laid for the ongoing property tax-to-the-max strategy: next year’s Act 1 Index estimated at 1.7%, Exceptions for PSERS and special education 1.7%, total property tax increase 3.4%, $2.9 million.

[4] The fourth thing was …… err ……. ooops …… oh yes:

The Finance Committee approved a contract with a marketing agency for selling promotional space on district property. The net annual revenue to the district is projected to be $160,000. The agency was the only one that responded to the district RFP. The contract states that the District has to approve all content, sponsors, advertisements; in the meeting it was stated that the Board approval is required.

If I think of any else, I’ll add it as a comment.

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What’s the Price of a Hamburger in T/E? Property Taxes to Increase by 3.77%

In case you have not heard, the T/E School Board voted to approve the final 2011-12 budget last night . . . and yes folks; the residents of TESD will receive a 3.77% property tax increase. The vote count on the budget was 7-2; Debbie Bookstaber and Rich Brake were the dissenting votes.  I guess I should have expected this outcome, but was surprised nonetheless. I left the school board meeting feeling that the decision was preordained and that no amount of discussion was going to change anything.

At the June 1 school board meeting, the school board voted to accept the TENIG (Tredyffrin Easttown non-instructional group) union’s agreement amendment for no salary increase for 2011-12.  The school board decided not to out-source the custodial service; thus saving $300K in salaries and additionally $150K in overtime costs, for a total of approximately $450K savings to TESD.  Many of the custodial staff are T/E residents, so the board decision saved some local jobs.  

It was my understanding that at last night’s board meeting, the public would have the details about the custodian outsourcing RFP bidding process – how many custodian companies bid the job, what was the range of their bids, etc.  I was disappointed that custodian outsourcing was not on the agenda, nor was there any discussion on the topic.  If I want further information, I guess it would require filing a right-to-know request. I am not suggesting that the school board’s choice was incorrect; I just think that the public has a right to know the details pertaining to their decision.

Ray Clarke also attended the meeting last night and I am pleased to offer his notes from the meeting below.  You will note that Ray mentions school board member Kevin Buraks comparison of school district property taxes to the cost of ‘hamburgers’.  Out of context, his comparison is difficult to understand; so I have included the video clip prepared by Bob Byrne, editor of TE Patch.  To understand Buraks comparison of school district property taxes to hamburgers, you will need to click here for the video.

Ray Clark’s T/E School Board Meeting, 6/13/11 Notes 

The School Board approved by a 7-2 vote a 2011/12 budget that differed only marginally from the preliminary one, a result of removing the $150,000 contribution from the food service fund, thus increasing the draw from the general fund.

Only Debbie Bookstaber and Rich Brake were consistent in standing up for taxpayers. (On the other side, though, only Kevin Mahoney, Anne Crowley and Kevin Buraks spoke up for the budget – at their peril, though, see below. And, does Jim Bruce ever contribute anything to important issues?).

 The increase results in a millage rate calculated to six significant figures (18.6474), in order (as was stated) to capture every last cent of permissible blood from the taxpayer stone. This despite the points below made by most of the board that spoke – regardless of which way they voted!

1. The amount of year’s tax increase does not change the structural budget problem in subsequent years.

2. There is a $29 million general fund balance, earning next-to-no interest, and which will be depleted by less than 7% under the proposed budget (with another 7% contingency for everything including the kitchen sink).

3. Since the preliminary budget, the district has received $1.2 million of union sacrifices. The taxpayer sees no benefit of those.

4. Since the preliminary budget, the state house and senate are working on bills that will likely restore the >$1 million capricious social security reimbursement cut in Corbett’s budget.

5. The district has consistently over the years held the line at the Act 1 Index increase, up until now.

6. The aggregate metropolitan area is is managing with less than two thirds of T/E’s increase.

Crowley sees the maximum increase for 2011/12 as key to maintaining the education program long term, while Buraks likened the TE educational product to hamburger, priced (tax rate? tax amount? spending per student?) just less than Great Valley’s and more substantially below Lower Merion’s. Since the product is arguably at least as good, we should be just fine with increasing the price. The very same argument that the union have used for years to ratchet up compensation and get us into today’s mess!

Let’s just continue this analogy: People chose to live here because they appreciate hamburgers, and they like the value of T/E’s. Increases beyond the competition’s remove that value. They also like that the other customers share their values and that eating with them at the stand enhances the value of the meal, and indeed they volunteer at the hamburger stand to make the product even better. Nothing whatsoever to do with the amount spent for the burgers themselves. Also remember that T/E’s product is inherently better value because it has made lower cost restaurant location choices than, say, LM, and has better scale in its operations than, say, Radnor, and has more non-consuming commercial interests that contribute to its cost.

Another disappointing item on the “Consent Agenda”: the approval of pricing for contracted services for 2011/12. The Board voted to approve 10 pages of supplier prices for mostly special education services but also many facilities contractors, “orthopedic specialist”, lawyers, “schooldude.com”, etc. etc. This information was in the online agenda, but not in the meeting hand out. Why?

But that’s not the point. From the information presented there was no way to tell how prices compared with this year’s or where the spend is likely to be concentrated. We do know that the architect hourly fees are down and the solicitor costs are flat, but what about the rest? There’s a budget strategy to get supplier costs down – how much did this list contribute to that strategy? There is no indication that the Board received any information on which to base their approval of the pricing. Even though there is no commitment to purchase, this just is not acceptable governance practice.

Also: a) A lot going on in Harrisburg; unpredictable, but tending to shift the balance of power towards districts/taxpayers and away from unions, and b) Facilities wants to move forward with a trial rental of Teamer Field on week-ends, and battle lines seem to be forming.

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Looking to T/E Teachers for ‘Shared Sacrifice’ – Pay Increase Waiver not Salary Freeze

School districts across the state are scrambling to plug projected budget gaps stemming from deep cuts in state funding and TESD is no different. The use of “shared sacrifice” has become a common and oft-repeated phrase in today’s political discourse. As school district budget deadlines loom, we are see that teachers (fairly or unfairly) are finding themselves of in the limelight on this topic.  In my view, we do need to boldly address our deficit crisis, but we need to do it in a way that is fair.

Last night’s TESD Finance Committee meeting had a very different tone than the last school board meeting. As the school board and administration discussed the few remaining available budget strategies, I had a sense that the school board was digging in its heels, expecting a ‘pay increase waiver’ versus a ‘salary freeze’, which the teachers union previously offered.  Although the T/E teachers union (TEEA) states the value of their salary freeze offer is $2.5 million, the school board counters that the freeze does nothing more than extend the teacher contract by a year and ultimately costs the district more money.  Encouraging the teachers union in the path of shared sacrifice, the school board prefers the teachers consider a pay increase waiver which, if I understand correctly, requires opening their current contract.

Credit needs to be extended to TEEA for their offer of a salary freeze to the school district. For some teachers, they believe that by offering a salary freeze, they are sharing the sacrifice. Let’s remember that Gov. Corbett suggested that teacher unions offer a salary freeze to their school districts to help with budget deficits. (I don’t recall his using the words, ‘pay increase waiver’.)  Yes, there is a budget crisis in school districts across the state; but I admit that I have difficulty with the breaking of a contract, which was negotiated in good faith by the teachers.  If contracts mean nothing then should we all go home and break our car purchase contract, our mortgage contract, and every other contract we signed in good faith where we expect both parties to be honorable.   What about ‘negotiating’ after the contract is fulfilled . . . ?

Looking at discussion from the other side, the school board is struggling with the remaining budget shortfall.  So . . . what do they do?  In their minds, they believe that the teachers should help with a ‘pay increase waiver’ (shared sacrifice) which according to their calculations could net $3 million.  At the meeting I had a sense that the school board is listening to the public and are interested in keeping the process transparent.  They offered that they have heard from TENIG, the non-instructional union, and are reviewing the offer.  Keeping the community ‘in the loop’ will prove a win-win for the school board, the teachers, and ultimately the taxpayers.

Setting aside the timeline debate of the April 14th TEEA teacher union offer letter of a salary freeze, and the rejection of the offer by the school board, last night the Finance Committee presented their side of the argument in favor of a pay increase waiver.  According to their analysis, the school district budget projection for 2011-12 is as follows:

  • Budget Projection as of May 2, 2011:      $3,170,509
  • Budget Projection (TEEA and TENIG Pay Increase Waiver:   $170,510
  • Budget Projection (TEEA Proposal Letter):         $946,122
  • Budget Projection (Custodial Outsourcing):        $2,370,438

Following the Finance Meeting, I asked Pete DePiano, president of the teachers union for his thoughts.  Here is his response,

“The 450+ members of the Tredyffrin/Easttown Education Association will stay true to their integrity in attempting to come up with a final cost savings offer for the district’s consideration.” 
 
Pete DePiano
President, TEEA

DePiano’s response tells us that the teachers are continuing to work on possible solutions to help with the budget crisis. Open and honest communication between the teachers union and the school board will aid greatly in the ongoing budget discussions. I want to believe that both sides can work together for the sake of the kids and the community.

Ray Clarke kindly offers his comments on the Finance Committee meeting below:

  • The TEEA proposal is judged to be worse on a 5-year time horizon than the status quo, because the projected $2.05 million of savings in 2011/12 is offset by salaries in the following years that are $0.5 million higher than they would otherwise be, due to two years of step movement rather than one. The higher salaries also trigger proportionate benefit cost increases, but there appear to be no fundamental differences between benefit programs, premium contributions, etc. in either scenario.
  • The salary “waiver” has the greatest impact on the district because the saving occurs every year. Although the model was presented without tax increases, it looks to me that, under this scenario, very modest increases in taxes (property or EIT) and gradual use of the “PSERS stabilization” fund balance could allow the district to fund the retirement fund beyond the five-year time horizon.
  • The Board did appeal again to the community to make their voice heard with legislators regarding the PSERS problem, and our frequent academic economist commenter also reminded us once again of the fundamentally bankrupt public pension plans. A couple of data points: the recent “fix” assumes an 8% investment return, and provides retiring career teachers with my estimate of an equivalent $1.25 million annuity. Just to keep this simple, here are the options:

 1. Reduce the liability by undoing the multiplier increase for all, not just new hires (the decrease needs a change in the state constitution, unlike the increase…)

2. Increase taxes:
a) statewide  (Marcellus gas, personal income, corporate income, etc.), or
b) locally (property, income)

3. Redirect spending from somewhere else. Like where? Pick your poison! What would Dinniman and Kampf propose?

  • There was a very unsatisfying discussion of a possible Activity Fee, punting it along to next week’s board meeting. Needless complications about different bases for charging. The bottom line: salaries and transportation for (non-mandated) extra-curricular activities cost the district $1.14 million a year. 80-85% of students participate in at least one. Nobody is making any argument that these activities are not totally worthwhile. A universal charge could be simply administered. So the issue is straightforward: do these continue to be funded by all taxpayers, or do families with high school and maybe middle school students bear a little more of the cost? Hopefully the full Board can have a discussion along these lines next week.
  • The timeline for an EIT study seems very compressed. The Board is considering appointing a study group; they need to get on that right away. If an EIT makes enough sense to put to a referendum, there’s a November 16th deadline for notifying the townships of that intent.
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Countdown to Primary Election May 17 – T/E School Board Candidates Resumes

The Pennsylvania Primary Election is 3 weeks from tomorrow — Tuesday, May 17, 2011. As I previously announced on April 11, I will provide all the candidates resumes on Community Matters. I hope that by providing in-depth information on local candidates will encourage increased voter turnout for the Pennsylvania Primary Election. Historically, voter turnout in Tredyffrin Township has been low for the Primary Election, (particularly in a non-presidential year) — here’s hoping that trend will change on May 17. 

Currently serving School Board members Karen Cruickshank, Jim Bruce and Pete Motel are seeking re-election. Two of the current school board members, Debbie Bookstaber and Kevin Mahoney have decided not to see re-election.

The School Board candidates for the Primary Election are listed below.  (Click on candidates names to read their resumes). It is my understanding that all school board candidates have cross-filed as both Republican and Democratic candidates. Easttown candidate Craig Lewis was contacted and invited to supply his resume but he failed to respond. If Mr. Lewis would like to have his resume included with the other candidate resumes, I would be happy to add it.

Tredyffrin-Easttown School Board Candidates:

  • Easttown, Region 3: Peter Motel (R) **
  • Easttown, Region 3: Craig Lewis (D) No Response from Candidate

**  Incumbent

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What do Sidewalks, McKenzie’s Brew House and St. Davids Golf Club have in common? Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors Meeting

Today’s post includes a roundup on a variety of topics. 

Due to President’s Day, Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors meeting will be Monday, February 28.  Based on the length of the agenda, we could be in for a long evening!  Here are some of the scheduled highlights: 

Sidewalk Subcommittee Presentation – This is the third attempt at this presentation; the first date cancelled because Bob Lamina was out-of-town and the second date was rescheduled because presenter and subcommittee chair Tory Snyder. 

A bit of Sidewalk Subcommittee history . . . Do you remember Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors meeting back on February 22, 2010? If you recall, there was much debate about the St. Davids Golf Club sidewalk requirement in their land development plan.  First, the supervisors voted to return the $25K sidewalk escrow to St. Davids and then, based on public opinion, opted to reverse the decision in February 2010.  

Because of the St. Davids escrow debate, a Sidewalks Subcommittee was formed to review (with public input) the future construction of sidewalks and bike lanes in the township. The township continues to hold St. Davids sidewalk escrow pending the outcome of the Sidewalk Subcommittee’s recommendation and then ultimate vote of the Board of Supervisors relative to sidewalk requirements in the township.  Understanding the open liability issues on land development projects, the sidewalk subcommittee was presented with an end-of-the-year timeline to present the supervisors with their recommendations. Public hearings and a public survey were included in the sidewalk subcommittee analysis.  It is my understanding from attending their meetings that St. Davids sidewalk is included in the sidewalk presentation.

Interesting agenda item:  Schedule a public hearing on March 7, 2011 to consider a liquor license transfer in the Township – I was curious about this agenda item and contacted Mimi Gleason and discovered some potentially good news for the township.  McKenzie’s Brew House is expanding and is interested in a location in Tredyffrin – the old Charlie Brown Restaurant location in the Valley Fair Shopping Center.  This will be a multi-municipality liquor license transfer, as they will be moving the license from the old Basil’s in Willistown Twp to the Charlie Brown location.  According to Mimi, this transfer does not require any sign-off from Willistown, just needs our supervisors support and approval.  Moving to the same shopping center (in the Bargain Bookstore – Tuesday Morning location) is Meeley’s Furniture Store, taking both floors. Filling empty retail and restaurant locations is good news for the local economy!

Planning Commission Annual Report – listed as an agenda item, I admit I do not recall the Planning Commission making a public presentation of the annual reports in the past. Wonder if there is any relationship between the timing of this annual report and the upcoming Public Hearing on March 21 to discuss an amendment to the Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance giving the Board of Supervisors the authority for approval or denial of a land development plan. (Currently this authority is with the Planning Commission). 

Newly appointed supervisor Mike Heaberg will be taking his place for the first time at Monday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.  I wish Mike well and know that his financial expertise and independent views will prove an asset to the community.  Speaking of supervisors, the candidate petition signing is underway for the school board and the board of supervisors.  On the school board side, I cannot offer much public information, except that five of the nine school board seats available.  Three of the five current school board members will seek re-election (Karen Cruickshank, Jim Bruce, and Pete Motel) and two board members will not (Kevin Mahoney, Debbie Bookstaber). I do not believe the slate of school board candidates is finalized – I think the deadline is March 8 for petition signatures. 

Tredyffrin’s GOP held their endorsement meeting this week and endorsed Mike Heaberg and Kristen Mayock as Republican at-large supervisor candidates.  Heaberg was also endorsed to run in the special supervisor election.  Paul Olson and John DiBuonaventuro were endorsed as eastern and western district Republican supervisor candidates.  On the Democratic side, opposing Heaberg and Mayock, as at-large candidates are Molly Duffy and Ernie Falcone.  It is my understanding there will not be a Democratic candidate for the western district slot.  I am unsure if either Duffy or Falcone will oppose Heaberg in the special election. 

Here’s an interesting and creative way to increase revenue for the school district.  There is a proposal in Radnor School District for ‘naming’ opportunities.  The current policy on the ‘naming’ of school facilities is restricted to honoring community members for their contribution to the community or school district.  By relaxing the naming requirements may offer some financial benefits to the school district.  This idea has some potential . . . a science lab, a hallway; the auditorium . . . all could have naming opportunities.  Maybe the school district permits the naming on a yearly basis and the naming opportunity goes to the highest bidder.  Just a thought . . . TESD, any interest?

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How Will T/E School District Close the $5.3 Million 2011-12 Budget Gap?

The Finance Committee meeting is Monday, February 14, 7:30 PM at the T/E Administration Office, West Valley Business Center, 940 West Valley Road, Suite 1700, Wayne.  Click here for the meeting agenda and 2011-12 Budget Development Plan.  

At the onset of this 2011-12 budget discussion, I want to give tremendous credit to the school board members who serve on the Finance Committee – Chair Kevin Mahoney, Debbie Bookstaber, Jim Bruce and Kevin Buraks.  Their task is overwhelming and the 148-page 2011-12 budget document attests to their hard work, especially given the challenging economic situation of school districts.  As a taxpayer, I am grateful and thank them for their diligence on our behalf.

Increased pension costs are the biggest hurdle in the coming years to school districts across the state. The challenge is how to balance the defined benefit plan of the teachers with the rising costs to maintain.  How will school districts fund the pension plans, provide the same quality of education and not place the burden on the taxpayer . . . ?

Although I took time to review the budget documents provided for Monday’s meeting, I admit that my eyes glazed over on some of the details.  If any of my assumptions are incorrect or if I have misinterpreted the information, here is hoping that someone will provide clarification.

As presented, the 2011-12 budget has projected revenue of $107M, which includes $1.2M revenue from Act 1 tax increase (1.4%) and $2.4M revenue from Act 1 exceptions (2.8%).  Projected expenses are $112M, which leaves an imbalance of (-$5.3M). Without the $1.2M revenue from Act 1 tax increase and the $2.4M in revenue from Act 1 exceptions, the imbalance would be (-$8.9M) versus the (-$5.3M).

Although the 2011-12 budget gap is narrowed with the Act 1 tax increase and the Act 1 exception; there remains a deficit in the 2011-12 budget of (-$5.3M).  If all strategies of Level 1 are instituted (as outlined on pg. 107 of the budget development plan), the deficit is reduced by $1M and the imbalance drops to (-$4.3).  Under this plan, the remaining $4.3M of the budget deficit is to come from the district’s fund balance.  The school district has a Moody’s AAA bond rating . . . is that rating jeopardized by using $4.3M in fund balance dollars for the 2011-12 budget? Understanding that the fund balance is taxpayers money; how much reserve is required to maintain the district’s bond rating? 

All Level 1 strategies suggested under this budget development plan appear straightforward and practical ways to cut expenses.  I did note two secretarial positions to be eliminated at a combined cost savings of $135K are included on the Level 1 list. 

The more interesting and/or surprising strategy suggestions are included in Level 2 and Level 3.  Level 3 requires attrition for implementation.  It is interesting to note that the Level 2 strategies, should they all be implemented, would provide a cost savings to the district of $6.7M +.  I would expect the dollar amount savings from Level 2 strategies would be substantially greater than $6.7M, probably closer to $10M, maybe more.  Why?  Because Level 2 includes the selling of TESD property including (1) the 16 acres on Jefferson Lane in Chesterbrook (earlier discussion on Community Matters questioned the feasibility of selling that property);  (2) 738 First Ave, Berwyn; this is a 10 acre parcel where the ECS building sits. (As an aside, it was my understanding that the ESC building was contracted for demolition but it is still standing) and (3) 945 Conestoga Road, 0.33 acre of residential property next to Teamer Field. 

In further review of Level 2 strategies, a few suggestions caught my attention; such as outsourcing of custodial services . . . could result in a savings of $950K.   I believe that the custodians (along with the bus drivers, lunchroom staff and possibly some secretarial employees) are unionized which could make the change to outsourcing more difficult.  However, with nearly a million dollar savings involved in custodial outsourcing, it could be worth further exploration.

On the Level 2 list, is a suggested $2M savings to the school district with the elimination of all non-mandated student transportation.  The remaining transportation would be what is required by the state. Combining the outsourcing of custodial services and the elimination of the non-mandated bus transport, would provide almost $3M in savings. 

Another Level 2 strategy that has an associated savings tag of $1.5M, (but a suggestion that probably is not practical and should be removed from consideration) is to require athletic and extra-curricular activities to become completely self-supporting.  Families would be required to underwrite the cost of student participation or if unable financially, seek help from FLITE. 

Contained in the Level 3 list are several staff reductions, many of which would affect the elementary grades.  Here are those specific strategies and associated savings:

  • Eliminate Literacy Intervention Program $111,000
  • Eliminate Elementary Math Support Positions $350,000
  • Eliminate Four Elementary Reading Specialist Positions $300,000
  • Eliminate Elementary Strings Specialist Position $75,000
  • Eliminate Middle School Reading Specialists $300,000
  • Eliminate Middle School Math Support Positions $125,000
  • Reduce each High School Department by One Teacher $375,000
  • Eliminate Elementary Applied Tech Program $300,000 

 If my math is correct, the above listed eight cost-savings equate to approximately $2M. However, I have to believe that some of these staff reductions could directly influence the quality of TESD education.  Remember, these are Level 3 strategies not Level 1.  However, just the fact that they appear on any list, makes them a possibility. 

The last Level 3 strategy listed is interesting and apparently was discussed at Friday’s Facilities Committee meeting – the redistricting of the elementary schools.  According to district enrollment patterns predicted for the next 5 years, there is a need to consider redistricting.  Devon Elementary is at 100% capacity and has become the largest elementary school.  The savings is ‘to be determined’ because it is possible that redistricting could keep eliminate the need for additional space at Devon Elementary.   However, this would impact those families living on the redistricted streets. 

Ray Clarke attended the Facilities Committee meeting on Friday and offered the following notes from the meeting.  It would seem that storage and maintenance facilities continues to be discussed but with no clear solution.  I know that the ECS building was slated for demolition but would it be possible (at a far lesser cost) that the ECS building could be retrofitted as a storage facility – not for use by staff or students which could be affected by the building’s environmental issues – but for use as storage.  It is obviously too simplistic a solution so there must be a reason that it is not possible.  

Ray Clarke’s Notes from Facilities Committee meeting, 2/11/11

Some interesting and worthwhile discussions at the TESD Facilities Committee meeting on Friday, with many financial implications that are likely to be further explored on Monday’s Finance Committee.  It’s good to report that the tone is very cost conscious – almost as if all the money that the Committee is spending is its own!

The first hour or more was consumed with a couple of items relating to use of the district sports facilities.  (Perhaps these could/should have actually been on the published Agenda?).  An adult soccer league would like to use Teamer Field; that would require a change in district policy and reversal of an understanding given to neighbors when the field was built.  The revenue being discussed is material, and I believe that this warrants thorough consideration on Monday in the context of revenue strategies.  A travel softball team has offered to redo the barely used and poor condition baseball field at the ESC site (one of four fields there) at their own expense.  They have already done this for a field at Devon Elementary, and there seems to be no downside.  The Committee was just about able to make a decision on this one! (Subject to a final check with the school athletics people).  Larger issues that arose: a) the amounts the district charges seem to be low (another revenue strategy) and b) maybe as use gets more widespread the district will need to improve the scheduling system to ensure fairness and utilization.

The Committee revisited the issue of facilities for storage and maintenance, starting with the question: what do we actually need?  The discussion was a little disjointed and difficult to follow, but it seems to boil down to: we need warm storage for snow clearing equipment (so it works on cold mornings!) that doesn’t involve sharing space with the carpentry shop, plus we need at the least to fix maintenance issues with the current building.  The architect had come back with new plans for spending $2 million, taking about $0.75 million out of the first draft from a month ago.  However, Dr Motel did not let the Committee even get to those plans.  The majority of the Committee seems very conscious of the need to rigorously question all spending, although Betsy Fadem spoke for this project being part of the original plan for the non-educational facilities (but not the budget??).  There is a good opportunity here to consider the full cost of in-house functions: for example, loading the carpentry shop with an incremental facilities cost changes the out-sourcing equation considerably.  The administration is to come back at the next meeting with a full costing out of the options, from Do Nothing (but essential maintenance), through Add Temporary Space, Build New Facilities, to Restructure (some?) Operations.  (It would be great if at least one of the Committee could have an on site review of the facilities and issues).  Another topic relating to budget strategies at the Finance Committee.

Perhaps a good time to make the point that Bond Money is still Taxpayer Money. Bondholders are just not giving their money to the district because they like to see us have nice facilities!  Although there may be no short run impact on the millage rate or the operating budget, and we can perhaps keep on borrowing, that money has to be repaid in the long run.  The latest bond has to be spent on capital within a certain period, but there seems to be no problem with that!  Again, relevant to Monday’s discussion.

Finally, interesting early data from just one week of kindergarten registration.  Four of the five elementary schools are at an average of 75% of projected kindergarten enrollment, but Devon is already at 100% of the projection – and already enrolls over 100 students more than the average of the others (522 vs 420).  The district as a whole has plenty of elementary capacity, but Devon is an exception.  There is a facilities plan if an extra class is needed there next year, but the longer term may require other solutions.

Despite the Agenda, no discussion of the IT plan – the consultant had a sudden conflict.

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TESD Looming Deficit Continues to Rule Decisions . . . Property Taxes to Increase + Middle School Latin & German to Disappear

Last night was T/E School Board’s monthly meeting.  I attended the Board of Supervisors Meeting but I am pleased to provide Ray Clarke’s notes.  In reading Ray’s notes, I understand that the school district has to make difficult decisions but it is disheartening to see that the district made the decision to phase out Latin in the middle school (as well as German).

 I have mentioned it before but will repeat, our daughter had 12 years of Latin before going to college and then to medical school.  Latin proved to be a significant help to Lyndsey with other languages, science courses undergraduate and later in medical school,  In medical school, her background in Latin provided a ‘bonus’ in the way of help; a foundation that some of her fellow students lacked.  As a first year resident, her background in Latin continues to assist her daily.  Beyond a medical career, there is much to be gained in life lessons through the study of Latin.  My fear is that if the school district phases Latin from Middle School, the interest and enrollment will continue to go down for Latin in the high school.  This is unfortunate news.

An interesting aside, I received an email from someone outside of the school district who is thinking about relocating to our area.  In researching the school district, he had found Community Matters and had several questions, including whether we had an Earned Income Tax and rate of property taxes.  He also wanted to know the timeline for teacher contract negotiations . . . interesting.

Notes from Ray Clarke from the T/E School Board Meeting:

Two important votes at a very well-attended School Board meeting on Monday night.  (Good result from all the district Communication activities).  Again, 5 to 4 to pursue the request for Exceptions to enable a 4.2% property tax increase.  Also, 7 to 2 (Bookstaber, Buraks) to phase out middle school Latin and German.

Public comment on the Exceptions broke down into the usual extremes.  I was taken by a small business owner who brought the perspective of the commercial properties that pay 20% of the education bill in T/E.  When a small business revenue is down, these inexorable tax increases have a very real impact on the bottom line.  On the other side, a parent commented on the choices that everyone makes on whether to live in T/E, implying that those who don’t like the property taxes should move.  If we think the district has a crisis now, what would be the state if all the seniors are forced out and replaced by school-aged families?

Generally all members of the School Board that did speak (all except Bruce, Motel) were against tax increases; the majority favored keeping options open while more data is gathered.  This position will of course be untenable when we get to the final vote (Proposed Final: May 9th, then Final: June 13th).  One data point I’m interested in: the February 14th banker report to the Finance Committee on the Fund Balance, borrowing rates and debt capacity – hope springs eternal!  Kevin Mahoney made very thoughtful comments (well, I agree with them, anyway) that everyone would do well to watch on the replay.

Much positioning re the next TEEA contract; it will be interesting to see how the talk (eg: fix the contract, abolish the matrix) translates into action.  Also notable in this regard: President Cruickshank implied that the pension increases are “going to Harrisburg” – well not really, they are part of the compensation of teachers here in T/Ewhich we need to take into account when negotiating the other parts.

It was helpful to have the discussion about the Latin and German programs.  Students and parents had actually been voting with their course selections: enrollment has been on a downtrend to small levels.  Rich Brake encouraged the administration to take all possible steps to encourage selection of these languages in the High School, as many do for Italian and Chinese now.  I do like the idea that the current focus is to really push for fluency.

The Board went to great lengths to emphasize that it values all community comments, so let’s make sure that all perspectives are heard, and that those perspectives are based on actual data, not emotion!

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Tis the Season to Buy Local . . . Neighborhood Toy Store Day, Saturday, November 13

Tis the Season to Buy Local

With the holidays quickly approaching, we know that shopping is around the corner.  More important than ever, this holiday season it really does matter where you shop; especially to struggling small business communities across the country.  As a small business owner myself, I strongly support those independents or family-owned business which are struggling to keep their doors open under less than ideal economic times. 

When you shop local, you invest in your community, in your neighbors, and in yourselves. Whether it is the local hardware, independent book store, family-owned restaurant, neighborhood barber shop . . .  in this economic climate, the best return on investment is in local business.  It is estimated that for every dollar you spend, twice as much will be reinvested in the community by a local store than a national store.

Working with independent toy stores across the country is my friend, Debbie Bookstaber.  Through Debbie, I found out about Neighborhood Toy Store Day (website:  www.neighborhoodtoystoreday.com or Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/astratoy ) on Saturday, November 13, which will highlight the importance of independent toy stores not only to children and their families – but to their local areas as well.  Independent toy stores are important to their local communities and provide a resource for families.  In Philadelphia, there is a large celebration planned on Saturday at the Please Touch Museum in honor of Neighborhood Toy Store Day.

Did you know that Tredyffrin has an independent toy store – yes, Lucky Duck Toys is our own neighborhood toy store.  Lucky Duck Toys advertises that their “. . .  goal is to provide toys that will challenge the minds of children, stimulate their imaginations and encourage them to be creative. We are always on the lookout for new and exciting products, and do our best to offer a wide range of interesting and awe-inspiring items.”

There are two Lucky Duck Toy stores, one in Wayne and the Tredyffrin store in Berwyn is located at 428 Swedesford Road near the PathMark grocery store.  To celebrate Neighborhood Toy Store Day on Saturday, special activities are planned at the independent toy stores.  If you are looking for a birthday or holiday gift for that special little person in your life . . . shop local and visit Lucky Duck Toys in Berwyn – they have 10,000 toys in stock!

Lucky Duck Toys:  http://www.luckyducktoys.com/ 

Hours: Monday-Friday 10am-6pm. Saturday 9:30am-5:30pm, Sundays 12-4pm,

Location: 428 W. Swedesford Rd, Berwyn, PA

Tel: 610-695-6300

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