Diversity

Easttown Republican school board members leading the TE School District

We learned last week at the TE School Board meeting that Easttown resident Doug Carlson (R) was elected board president and Tredyffrin resident Scott Dorsey (D) the vice president.  On Tuesday, the newly seated school board held their first Finance Committee meeting – Virginia Lastner (R) will continue her role as chair.  Although I was unable to attend the Finance Committee meeting, Ray Clarke attended and kindly provides his notes/comments to Community Matters (see below).

Late today, the District posted the committee assignments on their website.  After serving as Facilities Chair for many years, it was interesting who would fill the vacated seat of Pete Motel. In addition to chairing the Finance Committee, we learned that Virginia Lastner will chair Facilities in addition to Finance. The two most important school board committee meetings (at least when it comes to tax dollars) is Finance and Facilities committees … and both will be chaired by Easttown resident Virginia Lastner.

With Carlson as Board president and Lastner in charge of the District’s Finance and Facilities committees, it looks like the Easttown Republicans are taking charge of the TE School District!  How’s this possible … for the first time in the District’s history, five of the nine school board members are Tredyffrin Democrats!

Beyond the ongoing construction of the District’s maintenance building, looms the final report from the safety consultant on the Valley Forge Middle School fencing project which is due by the end in the next few weeks. Looking at the makeup of the Facilities Committee, it’s unclear if consensus will be reached easily– newly elected school board members Michele Burger (D) and Ed Sweeney (R) publicly campaigned against the VFMS fencing project.  Will their opposition to the proposed fencing be sufficient to sway the other two members of Facilities, Lastner and Todd Kantorczyk (D)? The Valley Forge Middle School fencing project will likely be back on the Facilities agenda in early 2016.

It was good to see that the Public Information Committee is listed albeit as ‘Ad Hoc’; meetings held “when needed”.  In my opinion, there is always a need for public information.  Glad to see that Scott Dorsey is the committee’s chair – hopefully with Rev. Dorsey at the helm, we can look forward to increased transparency and public engagement from the Board.

With all the madness going on in the world, it was disturbing to see there the Diversity Committee was not listed.  Former school board member Liz Mercogliano previously chaired the Diversity Committee and would update the public at Board meetings on their important ongoing discussions.  Now, more than ever, we all must work together to ensure that we appropriately value the diversity within and among our schools. Promoting and encouraging respect for ethnic and cultural diversity within the school population, staff and community deserves to continue. Suggest that Diversity find a place on the calendar with the other committee assignments.

Here’s the complete list of school board committee assignments:

Facilities Committee

  • Virginia Lastner, Chair
  • Michele Burger
  • Todd Kantorczyk
  • Ed Sweeney

Education Committee

  • Scott Dorsey, Chair
  • Kevin Buraks
  • Roberta Hotinski
  • Kate Murphy

Finance Committee

  • Virginia Lastner, Chair
  • Kevin Buraks
  • Roberta Hotinski
  • Todd Kantorczyk

Legislative Committee

  • Doug Carlson, Chair
  • Michele Burger
  • Kate Murphy
  • Ed Sweeney

Policy Committee

  • Kevin Buraks, chair
  • Todd Kantorczyk
  • Kate Murphy
  • Ed Sweeney

Public Information – Ad Hoc

  • Scott Dorsey, Chair
  • Michele Burger
  • Roberta Hotinski
  • Kate Murphy

I appreciate the following comments/notes from the Finance Committee meeting as provided by Ray Clarke. Ray’s budget point #3 caught my attention – “assumptions about employee out-sourcing”. What?

In a follow-up call, Ray confirmed that there was no details or explanation offered by the Finance chair or the administration regarding this out-sourcing comment.  So, the public is left wondering which employees are they talking about — is it the few remaining aides and paras who remain as District employees? Or is the Finance committee and administration thinking ahead to other potential outsourcing opportunities  – TENIG’s contract is up in 18 months, so could it be that the District’s kitchen staff, secretaries and custodians will once again find their jobs in jeopardy?

Last night was the first meeting of the new Finance Committee (although the full Board was in attendance).  The group seems short on financial management experience, so there will need to be a steep learning curve. Exemplified by the fact that the Committee recommended that the Board vote in January to apply for all eligible Exceptions, totaling a 4.3% tax increase.  This is based on just eight numbers from the Administration, two of which are given from the mandated PSERS rate.  Two more are the same as the current year (State and Federal subsidies).  The bottom line is a scare-inducing $4.65 million deficit.

The four remaining budget lines:

  1.  Local Revenues:  Is the Board OK with projected revenues just $800,000 more than this year’s budget when this year’s real estate taxes, transfer taxes and interim taxes are already running $1,000,000 better to budget than last year’s rate?
  2.  Salaries:  Do they understand why salaries are flat despite a contracted TEEA step increase worth maybe 2%, a 5.7 FTE teacher increase, 1.7% salary increases for Admin, etc.?   We discovered last night that has something to do with assumptions about employee out-sourcing, but no detail was provided.  Nor of course, any detail about the expected staffing increase.
  3.  Benefits:  Apparently the consultant advised the District to project a 5% healthcare premium cost increase, and the total budgeted benefits increase vs 2015/16 is 5.1%.  But the TEEA, for example, is contracted to pay an extra percentage of the premium and there will be fewer employees apparently.  How does the math work?
  4.  “Other”: This is up nearly $3 million over the current year projection.  Presumably the out-sourcing projections have something to do with this, but no explanation was provided.

A couple of other noteworthy points:

– The arithmetic for the Special Ed calculation leads to a $900,000 tax increase, yet this year’s expense increase is less than $400,000 and there was no data on the slides supporting an expense projection for 2016/17.

– The projection for this year is that expenses will be $1.3 million less than Budget.

The response to this will say a lot about our new Board.  We were told over and over last night that the tax increase recommendation was just to “preserve our flexibility”, but we know too well how markers like that tend to get cemented in.  Are they prepared to lay down that marker with such minimal information provided by the Administration?

Is Decision of Middle School Principals on Posting Diversity Signs Regressive?

Award-winning Conestoga High School’s newspaper ‘The Spoke’ recently ran an anonymous op-ed Letter to the Editor, titled ‘A Sign of Intolerance’.  An interesting editorial, the writer discussed the recent decision by TESD middle school principals not to post the sign,“This classroom [or office] is a safe learning environment for all students regardless of ability, gender, ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation.” 

This diversity sign is found in all of the high school classrooms and offices but the two middle school principals (T/E and Valley Forge)  decided against posting the sign in their school classrooms.  I’m not quite sure why?   Manuevering through the early teen years can be difficult for many children, and for their parents.  Peer pressure of the middle school years can be overwhelming; our children are acutely aware of what their friends think, and that can affect their self-perception and values.  Not that I think a posted sign in middle school classrooms would automatically change attitudes and create acceptance, but what is wrong with reinforcement that school is a safe enviroment regardless of your differences? 

 The School Board has a Diversity Committee so I wonder why this decision to ‘not post’ the signage was left to the middle school principals; and further why did the middle schoold educators made this choice?  Or, does the school board not make this type of district policy decision?  For those that may better understand the rationale for this decision, I’d appreciate your comments. Below is the editorial that appears in the recent edition of  The Spoke.

A Sign of Intolerance
Anonymous Letter to the Editor
The Spoke, Conestoga High School

As they walk through the halls of Conestoga, students of different ethnicities, sexual orientations, religions and races can feel like they have the chance to be accepted. They know that once they enter any classroom, their teacher will offer them a safe environment in which they can grow and develop.

This automatic sense of security is provided in each high school classroom by a sign bearing the words, “This classroom [or office] is a safe learning environment for all students regardless of ability, gender, ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation.” 

On Dec. 9, the school board’s diversity committee recommended that these signs be included in both T/E and Valley Forge Middle Schools, where they would have provided assurance to those in fifth through eighth grades. When the decision was brought to the education committee, however, the middle school principals were given the final say as to whether or not to include the signs in the schools. Here, they ultimately decided to reverse this forward-thinking protocol. 

This decision directly followed a diversity committee meeting where parents and students in attendance spoke out in favor of the sign. Regardless of a Conestoga student’s first-hand testimony about her harsh middle school career as an openly-bisexual student, the middle school principals decided to ban the signs, thereby restricting openness among their students.

Despite any reasoning that these administrators might offer, we on The Spoke’s editorial board believe that the middle school principals’ actions only serve to limit progress in the areas of tolerance and acceptance for students.

Let us be clear that we make no presumptions that such a sign can prevent the formation of personal prejudices that many students already hold. We recognize the need for further initiatives to help instill this greater sense of acceptance yet, as a starting point, the sign is a step in the right direction. It is one of the simplest ways for students to gain a better understanding of the diversity that exists in our society.

The educators that made this decision must realize that the sign, though it may simply be a piece of paper bearing inspirational words, is also a symbol of the tolerance that students of all ages deserve. By removing this emblem, the district shows a decided lack of interest in the development of diversity and acceptance of various groups of individuals. 

In light of recent budget cuts, T/E has been forced to make tough decisions for the future. Throughout this process, the district’s rationale has been linked to a desire to “develop students who will be prepared to excel in the 21st century.” However, there is little chance of this happening if administrators continue to implement such regressive policies. 

The school district leaves us with no other option but this: we, as students, have to do what those signs will not. We have to make sure that our fellow students feel safe and accepted when they walk into a classroom. We have to reject the indifference of our higher ups and counter it with acceptance, tolerance and belief. Belief that we can be the change that they refuse to give us.

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