Easttown Township

TE School District proposes 3.68 percent tax increase in 2015-16 budget

For taxpayers living in Tredyffrin and Easttown Townships, they saw no municipal real estate tax increase in 2014 or 2015. In the Tredyffrin Township 2015 budget presentation, it was announced that real estate tax assessments continue to grow and that the township saw “increased construction of both residential and commercial properties which are a major cause for the increased assessment.” No real estate tax increase in Tredyffrin for 2015 follows a no real estate tax increase in 2014. Similarly, Easttown Township taxpayers received no real estate tax increase for the period.

In neighboring Radnor School District, taxpayers did not receive a real estate tax increase for 2014-15 whereas the taxpayers of TE School District saw their real estate tax bill increase 3.2 percent during the same period. Looking ahead to the 2015-16 budget for the two school districts, Radnor School Board announced this week that they will not seek exceptions and the proposed tax increase will not be greater than the 1.9 percent permitted by Act 1. TE School Board has voted to seek exceptions and the preliminary budget currently in discussion for 2015-16 includes a 3.68 percent tax increase.

During the last four years, TE School District has shown a budget surplus of over $12 million (2013-14: $2.2M, 2012-13: $5M, 2011-12: $3.9M and 2010-11: $1.3M). Although the District benefited from the budget surplus, you would have to go back a decade to 2004-05 to find the last time that there was no real estate tax increase. A review of the District yearly tax increase since the last no-tax year is as follows:

• 2015-16: 3.68% *
• 2014-15: 3.4%
• 2013-14: 1.7%
• 2012-13: 3.3%
• 2011-12: 3.77%
• 2010-11: 2.9%
• 2009-10: 2.95%
• 2008-09: 4.37%
• 2007-08: 3.37%
• 2006-07: 3.90%
• 2005-06: 1.40%
• 2004-05: Zero Tax Increase
* Proposed Increase

Budget and Affordable Care Act on TE Special Meeting agenda tonight … Is this the precursor to outsourcing?

There is a special TE School Board meeting scheduled for tonight for 7 PM at Conestoga HS. The two items for priority discussion on the agenda are (1) The Board will consider options to close the projected budget imbalance of approximately $3.1 M for the 2014/15 school year and (2) Presentation of the impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on the School District.  Unfortunately, this important special school board meeting conflicts with both the Tredyffrin and Easttown Board of Supervisors organizational and regular meetings, which includes the swearing in of newly elected officials, previously scheduled for tonight.

In the District’s draft budget (included in the agenda), the base model for the 2014/15 school year indicates a $3.1M budget deficit – this model assumes no tax increase from the Act 1 Index or  referendum exception (PSERS, Special Ed).  In the projection model that includes the Act 1 index (2.1% tax increase) the District’s budget deficit is reduced to $1.2M.  A third project model shows the budget deficit reduced to $141K if the District takes the referendum exception (1.1% tax increase) and the Act 1 index (2.1%).  The $141K deficit project model would still requires the District to find other cost savings in addition to the 3.2% tax increase to the residents.

If the District imposes the 3.2% tax increase for 2014/15 school year, I think that would make the third year in a row they have imposed the maximum tax increase allowed by state law without a voter referendum.  But here’s the disconnect for me – on one hand, the Board has voted to take the maximum tax increase but … for the last several years, the District has come up with multi-million dollar budget surpluses.  As examples, the 2011/12 year saw the District in a surplus position of $3.9M and for the 2012/13 year, the surplus was nearly $5M.  The budget surplus is not reflected in the District’s draft budget nor indicated in the next year’s budget.  The multi-million budget surplus is added to the District’s fund balance and the taxes continue to rise.

Since the multi-million dollar budget surplus is taxpayer dollars, wouldn’t it be great if the taxpayers had a say regarding the surplus?  Here’s an idea — Rather than adding additional millions of taxpayer dollars to the fund balance, what about using some of the budget surplus dollars for health insurance benefits to that all TESD employees as covered as required by the Affordable Care Act.  Afterall, the District lists ACA and the TEEA teacher contract as the two items to impact the 2014/15 budget.

Following the District’s 2014/15 budget discussion tonight, is an ACA overview by attorney Rhonda Grubbs.  Her presentation will discuss how the federal law will affect TESD and its employees. Grubbs is an associate at Wisler Pearlstine, the law firm of Ken Roos, the District’s solicitor.  You may recall that Grubbs offered her legal opinion on the ACA at a TE school board meeting last spring in response to the District’s aide, para and substitute teacher outsourcing debate.  Don’t get me wrong; I think a legal presentation on the ACA and how it will affect the District and its employees is important.  However, in my opinion, residents and employees would have been better served by a third-party legal expert versus a representative from the District’s contracted law firm.  And what about an insurance expert – I’m certain that there is any number of local insurance consultants/experts who would make a presentation to the District (and I’m guessing would do so, free of charge).

Under the ACA, employers will be required to provide employees who work more than 30 hours per week with health care benefits.  The federal mandate will go into effect for school districts in the 2014/15 school year.  Currently T/E aides, paras and substitute teachers do not receive health coverage.  For the record, T/E is the only school district in the area that does not provide health insurance for their employees – Great Valley, Radnor and Lower Merion school districts all offer healthcare coverage to all their employees.

The District lists the following ACA compliance options:

1.  Health Benefits:

  • Provide health coverage for employees working 30 hours/week or 130 hours/month

2.  Contracted Services:

  • Outsource the jobs of aides, paras and substitute teachers

3.  Reduce Hours:

  • Reduce hours of aides/paras to 27.5 hours/week and hire additional aides/paras to cover the reduced hours
  • Limit substitute teachers to 3.5 days/week
  • Reduce hours of aides/paras to 27.5 hours/week while increasing the hourly rate to make the reduction in hours neutral to the employee income
  • Reduce hours of aides/paras to 27.5 hours/week while increasing the hourly rate to all aides/paras

4.  Incur IRS Penalty

After much debate, the Board decided not to outsource the aides, paras and substitute teachers for the 2013/14 school year.  It is my understanding that 40% of the District’s aides/paras did not return for the current school year.  Although neither the school board nor the administration has confirmed it – I was told that the positions of non-returning aides/paras who worked 30 hours or more were outsourced.  If this is true, than the number of District employees that need to be covered by the ACA has dropped since this issue was debated last year.

As follow-up, how has the outsourcing of the aides/paras worked out for the District?  For the record, several parents, aides and paras have told me that the result has been less than satisfactory — it would be interesting to know if the administration and Board are pleased with the job performance of these contracted employees.

I cannot help but think that the administration and the school board may have already made up their minds about the ACA situation.  Were it not for the pushback they received last year, I believe that the administration would have already outsourced the jobs of aides, paras and substitute teachers working 30 or more hours per week.  Clearly, the handwriting was on the wall in 2013 for the District’s aides, paras and substitute teachers and the 2013/14 school year may prove to be only a one-year reprieve for these employees.

Some have described tonight’s planned Affordable Care Act presentation by the District’s law firm representative as nothing more than a PR move but …  I remain hopeful that some of our school board members will show their support of the District’s aides, paras and substitute teachers and fight for them to keep their jobs (and their hours).

Easttown Township Annual Easter Egg Hunt, Saturday, March 16 — Free!

Free Community Easter Egg Hunt — Children (all ages) Invited to Attend

  • When: Saturday, March 16
  • Time:  12 Noon
  • Where: Frank Johnson Park,    122 Bridge Ave, Berwyn
  • Sponsored by: Easttown Twp Parks & Recreation Board
  • Questions: Contact Mary Shultz at mzshultz@comcast.net

Bring your baskets and your cameras for the annual Easter Egg Hunt.  Egg Hunt, Games, Prizes and the Easter Bunny will arrive on a Berwyn Fire Company Fire Truck.
Children of all ages are invited to attend.

Questions about Easttown Township Manager’s Sudden Departure – Gene Williams Called out of Retirement

After serving Easttown Township for 40 years, it was hard for many to believe that township manager Gene Williams was retiring.  But retire he did. At the end of 2011, Williams retired and was succeeded by the township’s assistant manager Mike Brown.  Brown was on the job for about 18 months as the assistant manager, brought on to take over once Williams retired.  Williams retired and Brown took over in January 2012.  Barely a year later, we now learn that Brown was escorted from the township building last week and Williams is brought out of retirement to fill in temporarily until a new township manager can be hired.  Why? Clearly, there is something behind Brown’s sudden departure.

Looking for answers, I contacted Jim Oram, the chair of Easttown Township Board of Supervisors last week.  Oram explained that a press release would be coming out today, which he kindly sent to me.  Unfortunately, the press release offers no further information as to why Brown is suddenly without a job and that the township is once again looking for a township manager.  There is a Board of Supervisors meeting tomorrow night so perhaps there will be further details at that time.  For now, here’s the official press release  and we are left to wonder what happened.

“Easttown Township is pleased to announce that Gene Williams will be serving the township as temporary interim manager, under and subject to consideration and action by the Easttown Board of Supervisors at its meeting on Tuesday, February 19th.  Mr. Williams previously headed the Easttown staff for more than 30 years.  Gene will assist during the transition period following the departure of Mike Brown to pursue other opportunities.  Easttown Township also announces the commencement of a search for candidates to more permanently fill the manager position.”

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.

A Review of Radnor Twp School District’s Teachers Contract … Will the Results Help T/E Teachers?

The following Community Matters post, “Signed, Sealed and Delivered … Radnor Twp School District & Teachers Union Ink 3-year Contract with Salary Increase … Is there handwriting on the wall for T/E Teachers?”  is from March 23, 2011.

A year ago, the Radnor Township School District signed a 3-year contract with their teachers union( RTEA) that was surprising, given the economic situation of the times.  Fast forward to 2012, and T/E is in the midst of their own contract negotiations.  This post and the attached comments from a year ago, make for an interesting commentary to compare and contrast where we are in our own teacher negotiation process.  Can we learn anything from the decisions of our neighboring school district?

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“Signed, Sealed and Delivered … Radnor Twp School District & Teachers Union Ink 3-year Contract with Salary Increase … Is there handwriting on the wall for T/E Teachers?”
~ Community Matters, March 23, 2011

It is now official, Radnor Township School District and the teachers union, Radnor Township Education Association (RTEA) have voted to approve three-year contract, September 1, 2010 – August 31, 2013. Below are some of the highlights of the contract.

Salary Highlights:
Salary freeze September 1, 2010 – March 3, 2011 (6 months)

Year One Salary:

  • No step movement
  • Average pay increase after freeze: 1.57%
  • Top salary step remains at current level
  • Average lump-sum payment for top salary step: $749

Year Two Salary:

  • RTEA members move to next step
  • Average pay increase: 3.26%
  • Top salary step remains at current level
  • Average lump-sum payment for top salary step: $1,206

Year Three Salary:

  • RTEA members move to next step
  • Modest increase to top salary step
  • Average pay increase: 2.66%

Health Benefits Highlights:

  • RTEA members agreed to significant increase in the cost of health insurance
  • Stating March 4, 2011, teachers move from fixed contribution to a percentage-based contribution
  • Year One – salary contribution 0.75% – 1.5%
  • Year Two – health care plan changes from Blue Cross to lesser premium-cost plan, with increase co-pays doctor and hospital visits (salary contribution 0.85% – 1.5%)
  • Year Three – salary contribution 0.95% – 1.65%

Retirement Option:

  • Eligible teachers will receive a one-time retirement payment from $25K – $50K (depending on number of retirees). The retirement option is in effect for limited time to allow district to reduce payroll.

OK, so looking at the contract inked between the Radnor Township School District and RTEA, is the handwriting on the wall for T/E School District?  So much for Gov. Corbett’s recommendation for a one-year freeze . . .  Radnor’s teacher union only agreed to a 6-month freeze.  However, after the 6-month salary freeze, the teacher union pulled off 7.5% salary increase for the following 2 ½ years of the contract.

Remember, if a teacher qualifies for a step increase, his or her salary increase would actually be higher than the average yearly salary increase. Radnor’s teachers contract is remarkable given today’s economy and budget shortfalls!

Easter Egg Hunt in Berwyn . . . Free Community Event for Children of All Ages!

Free Community Easter Egg Hunt — Children (all ages) Invited to Attend

When: Saturday, March 24

Time:  12 Noon

Where: Frank Johnson Park, 122 Bridge Avenue, Berwyn

Sponsored by: Easttown Township Parks & Recreation Board

Questions: Contact Mary Schultz at mzshultz@comcast.net

Bring your baskets and your cameras for the annual Easter Egg Hunt. Thousands of eggs and each filled with a surprise!  Children (all ages) are welcome and gift bags for all participants.

Rain Date: Sunday, March 25, 12 Noon

Rain date information available at: www.berwynmontessori.com

Decision Time – Will T/E School Board Directors Vote in Favor of an EIT Voter Referendum Question?

Monday night is a case where I would like to be in two places at once . . .

Tredyffrin’s township finances and the proposed 2012 budget is on the Board of Supervisors agenda at 7:30 PM while the T/E school directors will hold a Finance Committee meeting at 6:30 PM followed by a special school board meeting at 7:30 PM to discuss the EIT. (Both school district meetings will be held in Conestoga HS cafeteria). I will attend the Board of Supervisors meeting and I am counting on my friend Ray Clarke to attend the school district meetings.

In reviewing the agenda for the T/E Finance Committee meeting and the draft minutes from their October 17 meeting, I read the following:

Education Committee Recommendation:

At the prior Finance Committee meeting the Committee was informed that the State reinstated $1.3 million in funding that was not included in the District’s 2011-12 budget. In light of this information, the Committee authorized the Superintendent to restore education program cuts made in the 2011-12 budget. Dr. Richard Gusick presented the proposed reinstatements of budget cuts to the education program and explained that they were already reviewed by the Education The Finance Committee asked that the proposal to reinstate these budget cuts be presented at a future Board meeting.

I am confused. Although I was aware that the State had reinstated $1.3 million in funding to the T/E school district, I was not aware there was a decision as to whether (1) restore the district’s education programming cuts or (2) add the money to the fund balance.

According to these minutes, the Finance Committee (or Education Committee?) authorized the money go to restoring education program cuts. Restoring which programming cuts? Latin in the Middle School? Foreign language in the elementary school? Technology purchases? Specifically, which education program cuts did the committee authorize restored? In addition, are we to assume that the option of adding the $1.3 million to the district’s fund balance is off the table for consideration? These are questions for the school board directors at Monday’s meeting.

I also noted that the Finance Committee meeting minutes indicate that the school district will wait until 2012 to release a RFP for the outsourcing (if needed) of custodial services. It is not clear at this point if custodial outsourcing will be on the budget reduction strategy list.

Immediately following the Finance Committee meeting tomorrow night, the school board will hold a special meeting at 7:30 PM to consider notification to Tredyffrin and Easttown townships of the intent to levy an EIT. November 16 is the deadline for the School Board to provide the townships with notification so the board will be taking a vote at this special meeting. The school board will vote on whether to include EIT as a voter referendum question on the primary election ballot on April 24, 2012. For school districts to levy an EIT requires voter approval. The maximum that TESD could levy is 1%. If approved by voters, all residents, including renters, in Tredyffrin and Easttown Townships would be taxed at 1% on earned income. If an EIT were to be approved, the townships have the legal option to request one-half of the 1% collected by the school district.

Leading up to Election Day, we watched as EIT become the ‘buzz’ word of the local campaign season. Early on, the local Republican Party took a stand against an earned income tax and furthered the issue by labeling the Democrat candidates as EIT supporters. Feeling the pressure, all the Democratic school board candidates responded that ‘they’ were personally opposed to an earned income tax.

The politicizing of the EIT prior to the public presentation of TESD’s tax study group troubled me. The EIT became a political football between the local political parties and in my opinion, damaged the community’s ability to completely understand the EIT as presented by the tax study group. Not to mention the confusion that occurred at the polls on Election Day! Three different precinct judge of elections have reported to me that there were some confused voters — asking where the EIT question was on the ballot. Based on the campaign mailers and political signs, many in the community came to the polls on Election Day expecting to vote on the EIT issue.

Now that we are on the other side of the election, how can newly re-elected school board members Karen Cruikshank (D) and Jim Bruce (R) now vote in favor of taking the EIT issue to the voters. I do not know whether re-elected Easttown school board member Pete Motel (R) made a public statement one way or the other re the EIT. Based on the pre-election political hype of the EIT, the vote count of the school board members will be interesting. Will we see the school board members following the lead of their political parties?

If the school board members vote in favor of an EIT voter referendum question on the April primary ballot, do many of us really think that the residents would vote in favor of this new tax. During the school board budget cut strategy meetings, there were residents asking for tax increases vs. further educational programming cuts.

Faced with the possibility of further programming cuts in the next school district budget, would there be sufficient support from voters for an EIT?

Reminder — Annual Open House & Fire Prevention Day at Berwyn Fire Company – Today, 4-7PM


Berwyn Fire Company Annual Open  House & Fire Prevention Day

Saturday, October 22, 2011

4 PM – 7 PM

Berwyn Fire Company, 23 Bridge Ave,  Berwyn, PA 19312

 

The Berwyn Fire Company members encourage the public to attend and bring the family.  Fire and rescue demonstrations will be conducted and the fire trucks will be on display.

As a reminder: Bridge Avenue will be shut down between Lancaster Ave and Berwyn Ave beginning at 3:15 PM.  Parking will be available on the Westside of the old Eckerd drug store property directly across the street from the fire station.

Today’s Open House at Berwyn Fire Company signals the end of National Fire Protection Week.  There is a lot of important information contained on the fire company’s website, www.berwynfireco.org including the following tips for protecting your home and family from fire:

  • Stay in the kitchen while you are frying, grilling, or broiling food. If you leave the kitchen for even a short period of time, turn off the stove.
  • Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from heating equipment, like the furnace, fireplace, wood stove, or portable space heater.
  • Have a three-foot “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters.
  • Replace or repair damaged or loose electrical cords.
  • If you smoke, smoke outside.
  • Use deep, wide ashtrays on a sturdy table.
  • Blow out all candles when you leave the room or go to bed. Avoid the use of candles in the bedroom and other areas where people may fall asleep.

The following tips will help keep your family safe if there is a fire in your home:

  • Install smoke alarms inside each bedroom, outside each sleeping area, and on every level of the home (including the basement).
  • Interconnect all smoke alarms in the home so when one sounds, they all sound.
  • Test smoke alarms at least monthly and replace all smoke alarms when they are 10 years old or sooner if they do not respond when tested.
  • Make sure everyone in your home knows how to respond if the smoke alarm sounds.
  • Pull together everyone in your household and make a plan. Walk through your home and inspect all possible ways out. Households with children should consider drawing a floor plan of your home, marking two ways out of each room, including windows and doors.
  • If you are building or remodeling your home, consider installing home fire sprinklers.
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