Ed Sweeney

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

Tax-increase 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tax Increase vs Act 1 Index Chart

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

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

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

TESD: Meetings tonight to discuss football team hazing, VF Middle School fencing, student computers and reapportionment

TE School District administrators and school board members are responding to the community on range of important topics tonight.

At 6 PM in the Conestoga High School auditorium, the District residents have an opportunity to comment on the recent events involving the football team.  My guess is that the administration will have little to say regarding the criminal charges filed against three senior players for their alleged assault of a freshman 14-yr. old student. Now a legal matter, the issue is in the hands of district attorney Tom Hogan and the courts. However, I would expect comment from the administration and school board regarding “No Gay Thursday”, the weekly hazing tradition in the locker room. The letter of March 17 from the District indicated hazing occurred. The implementation of a zero-tolerance hazing policy going forward is needed.

The administration has conducted its own internal investigation and the community should expect an update on their findings.  We know that Conestoga’s head football coach John Vogan resigned from his position and the other varsity and junior varsity football staff – five people – have been relieved of their coaching jobs in all sports through the fall season.

The regular meeting of the school board follows the public meeting regarding the football team – 7:30 PM in Conestoga High School cafeteria. Priority discussion topics on the agenda include the Valley Forge Middle School fencing project, one:one computing initiative, and reapportionment plan.

According to the agenda, the Valley Forge Middle School construction documents include options for 4 feet, 5 feet and 6 feet chain link fencing and 4 feet, 5 feet and 6 feet black estate fencing.  According to the agenda, “The base bid will be per the recommendation of the safety and security consultant of a 6 foot chain link fence with the other options being bid as alternatives”.  The $15,500 consultant’s report recommended a minimum of 5 feet fencing (and 6 feet fencing preferred), so why is 4 feet a consideration? I thought the public was told that 4 feet fencing does not meet school security standards. But more importantly, … where’s the ‘no fencing’ option?

“To fence or not to fence” was at Valley Forge Middle School was a  major campaign issue in the November TE School Board elections. Several candidates, now school board directors, used ‘no fencing’ as part of their campaign platform. In District 2, school board directors Michelle Burger and Ed Sweeney, were both extremely vocal in their fencing opposition; promising voters they would not support additional fencing at VFMS.  By some accounts, former school board president Kris Graham lost her bid for re-election over the VFMS issue and her support for the fencing. Tonight it looks like the fencing project may finally be coming to a head and it will be interesting to see how each school board member votes.  A vote for no fencing remains an option.

On the plan to outfit students with District computers, not everyone in the community shares the administrations’ interest in the student computer initiative — for a variety of reasons, product choice, leasing vs purchase, privacy issues, costs, etc.  Has the proposed one:one computing initiative been thoroughly vetted? The taxpayers are facing a significant tax increase for 2016-17, is the school board satisfied that they should move forward to implement this computer plan?

A reminder that in January, the school board unanimously adopted the 2016-17 preliminary budget, which contains a 4.3% tax increase.  At that time,  the Board decided to “keep their options open” by approving a preliminary budget with the Act 1 index of 2.4% and allowable exceptions to Act 1 of 1.9% to close the project budget deficit of $4.75 million.  If the 2016-17 budget passes with a tax increase, it will mark the 12th straight year of a tax increase. Some of the school board members publicly voiced concern over the proposed tax increase, vowing to work to lower the increase in the final budget.

2016 brings new leadership to Tredyffrin Twp, 4.3% tax increase in preliminary TESD budget and a Chester County Substitute Teacher Job Fair

Belated Happy New Year!  Waking up to 23 degree temperatures today reminds us that we are not going to escape the winter after all. Having recently returned from holidays spent in South Carolina with balmy, sunny 83 temperatures makes the arctic cold even harder to take!

Since the start of the New Year, here are a couple of noteworthy items.  The 2016 reorganization of Tredyffrin Township’s Board of Supervisors came with two surprises – recently elected at-large supervisors Trip Lukens and  Sean Moir were elected chair and vice chair, respectively of the board.  Except for, also recently elected, supervisor Heather Greenberg, all other currently serving supervisors had served on the BOS longer than these two newly elected supervisors. But Lukens isn’t new to leadership roles in the township, having served previously as a member and chair of Tredyffrin’s Planning Commission. Congratulations to Lukens and Moir on the vote of confidence from their fellow supervisors and best wishes in their new positions!

The TE School District held their first school board meeting of 2016 last week.The Board unanimously adopted the 2016-17 preliminary budget which contains a 4.3% tax increase. The Board decided to “keep their options open” by approving a preliminary budget with the Act 1 index of 2.4% and allowable exceptions to Act 1 of 1.9% to close the project budget deficit of $4.75 million. It should be noted that Tredyffrin Township recently passed their 2016 budget with a zero percent tax increase.

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

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

Although the adoption of the 2016-17 preliminary budget does not commit the Board to a tax increase, I cannot remember the last time the Board passed a preliminary budget with a tax increase and then decreased the tax increase in the final approved budget. Because the District does not allow the archive of meeting minutes on the website beyond the current year, there is no way to access this type of information, short of a ‘right-to-know’ request.  (Here’s a suggestion/request for the Public Information committee – please keep the minutes for all school board meetings on the District website; a RTK should not be a requirement to access public information.)

I want to note that although the Board voted 9-0 to accept the preliminary budget, both Scott Dorsey (D) and Ed Sweeney (R) voiced their objection to the tax increase and do not want to see a 4.3% tax increase in the final budget.  It was refreshing that newly elected Board member Robert Hotinski (D) spoke up about the way the budget information is presented — asking for more details on the line items from the District’s business manager Art McDonnell. Finance and Facilities Chair Virginia Lastner (R) encouraged the public to attend upcoming finance meetings and budget workshops and to look for solutions together with the District. 2016 is a new year and maybe the tides are turning …

I received a request from the staff of the Chester County Intermediate Unit to advertise the Chester County Substitute Teacher Job Fair, Thursday, January 14, 4-7 PM.  The Job Fair will be held at the CCIU office, 455 Boot Road, Downingtown, PA.  Representatives for all the public school districts in Chester County will be on hand to discuss current substitute teacher job openings and to accept applications and resumes. The CCIU press release states, “… According to the PA Department of Education, the current supply of available teachers, including substitutes, is not keeping up with the growing demand.” 

Walk-ins are welcome at the job fair, but interested individuals are invited to preregister for the event online:   help.thesubservice.com/chester

Although the Chester County Substitute Teacher Job Fair is for candidates seeking positions in all the Chester County public school districts, I post this notice in hopes of helping some of the experienced and educated aides and paraeducators whose jobs were outsourced by Tredyffrin Easttown School District.

Chester County Substitute Teacher Job Fair flyer

Tredyffrin, Region 2 Candidates for TE School Board respond

TE School Board Candidates for Tredyffrin, Region 2
Michele Burger
Kris Graham
Ed Sweeney
Alan Yockey

The TE School Board candidates were asked to answer the following question in 500 words or less.

Although there are many important issues facing the TE School District, what one issue will you focus on should you be elected?  As a school board director, what in your background, experience or education prepares you to help with this specific issue.

The four candidate responses follow below in alphabetical order according to last name.  If your question and/or comment is for a specific candidate, please refer to that individual by name so as not to confuse. Voters will select two of these candidates in November for the school board.

TE School Board Candidate Michele Burger
Tredyffrin, East – Region 2

Thank you for the opportunity to introduce myself. I’m Michele Burger, School Board candidate for Region 2. My family and I moved to the Glenhardie neighborhood in Wayne 17 years ago. As parents of three young children, we considered a number of communities but chose Tredyffrin because of its nationally ranked schools. We are very pleased that we did. All of our children have received excellent preparation for college and beyond.

Over the past 15 years, I have volunteered Mat every level of my children’s schooling including serving as PTO president at Valley Forge elementary. I have actively participated in monthly School Board meetings as well as finance and facilities subcommittee meetings. I have been a community activist and liaison regarding School Board decisions that impact residents of Region 2.

These experiences have afforded me the opportunity to work with many different committees, levels of school district personnel, township personnel, and community members. In every instance, I strove to maintain open communication, to look for creative solutions when needed, and to consider our tax burden and District spending priorities. With my degree in Business and my professional career as a manager of a large sales force, I have experience with negotiating employment contracts, setting measurable goals, and managing budget expenditures.

If I were to only focus on one issue that is important to me, it would not be a true picture of how I would approach my responsibilities on the School Board. There are a number of key standards that I will uphold, if elected.

1) I will work to maintain the highest quality education for all students at an affordable price to taxpayers.

2) I will establish better avenues for open communication and transparency. This would include but is not limited to posting community questions and school board responses online.

3) I will gather community, student, teacher, and administrators’ input as well as the views of fellow school board members prior to making fiscal and educational decisions.

4) I will fight to eliminate Keystone exams as a graduation requirement.

With these standards in mind, the one “issue” that I will give extra focus to is the District’s spending priorities. Over the past several years, I have a track record of questioning the District’s spending – especially the $4 million maintenance building that was recently approved.  I have questioned the need for security fencing that provides no real security and has an impact on homeowners whose properties are adjacent to our schools. With the help of others, I was able to stop the destruction of the VFE tennis courts, a valuable community resource, which in fact saved money and allows the PTO and School District to generate revenue through usage fees to outside organizations.

If elected, I will utilize my business background, my track record of questioning the District’s spending priorities, and my key standards as guiding principles to serve students, employees, and taxpayers of the Tredyffrin-Easttown School district.

For additional questions, please contact me at burger4sb@gmail.com or 484-254-6515.

TE School Board Candidate Kris Graham
Tredyffrin, East – Region 2

I, Kris Graham, have the privilege to currently serve as president of the Tredyffrin Easttown School District. I spent forty years as a classroom teacher. I am a wife and a mother of two adult sons – both Conestoga graduates. I treasure two grandchildren and my husband and I nurtured eleven foster children over a dozen years. They too benefitted from the TE schools.  I have served for three and a half years on the T/E School Board chairing the Legislative and Education Committees, two years as vice-president, and led the Negotiation Team and the Superintendent Search Committee. My advanced degrees in education and teaching certificates in multiple areas enables me to work three mornings a week at a local school that serves at risk adolescents and maintain a private tutorial practice.

Ms. Benson invited me to submit an essay on one topic that I will concentrate on as an incumbent school board candidate. My campaign pledge comes directly from the TE School District mission statement crafted by TE stakeholders:

“To inspire a passion for learning, personal integrity, the pursuit of excellence and social responsibility in each student.”

I also commit to maintaining Conestoga among the elite high schools in the United States as recently recognized by BestColleges.com.

“Conestoga ranked number two overall (nationally) — trailing only Horace Greeley of Chappaqua, NY — (number one in Pennsylvania), 59th best in facilities (11th in the state), 19th in teaching faculty (third in the state) and the 54th safest high school in America (fourth safest in Pennsylvania).”

The survey compared 21,000 schools in the United States. I invite you to read the entire article, as well as all of the other achievements of our students and faculty, on Tredyffrin Easttown School District’s acclaimed website: www.TESD.org

I enjoy meeting you as I knock on doors, attend school functions and civic engagements. I look forward to working with this supportive community, sharing our TE pride, and continuing the TE legacy of academic excellence!

You can contact me via –  krismgraham6@icloud.com

Thank you!

Kris Graham

TE School Board Candidate Ed Sweeney
Tredyffrin, East – Region 2

Dear Neighbor:

Pattye Benson has laid down a real challenge: state what is the one most pressing issue facing the school board and what are my qualifications to address it.  Check out my Facebook EdSweeney4TE to review specific reform issues I am proposing in various areas, such as restoring applied technology and languages in elementary school, combating drug use, and using a more “user friendly” model for public comment.

Let me introduce myself.  My name is Ed Sweeney and I am a local attorney who fights on the side of people like yourself.  I will fight, effectively, for Tredyffrin’s interests and Region 2’s interests. My wife, Franny, and I have an 8 year old at VFES, Katie, and Franny volunteers regularly as a “library mom” and records the children singing.  For 20 years, I have tried to develop my volunteer leadership skill sets to effectively and efficiently obtain results in areas including government, church (Saint Isaac’s), charitable, and political venues.  This includes 15 years on volunteer Boards in Tredyffrin’s government, including Planning Commission and Zoning Hearing Board.  I have fought vigorously as a political leader to keep Tredyffrin affordable and competitive, and against budget busting school taxes and the PIT and EIT.

Our focus needs to be keeping Tredyffrin affordable for middle class families while improving the already fine academic quality in the School District.  We are not high priced Radnor.  The mistake Radnor and other school districts have made is placing scarce resources in building schools or on administrative costs.  We are drifting down a risky path of borrowing $24 million of capital without specific publicly articulated goals, installing expensive fences that bring little safety value, and a $4.8 million maintenance facility that is twice its forecast costs.  I agree with the comment: “no one likes to see money spent on facilities and not the students.”  The ability to make our total local tax obligations affordable makes Tredyffrin attractive to businesses which pay crucially important transfer taxes.  Affordability also is a magnet for families that chose to settle here based on value.

Our philosophy should focus expenditures on students and teachers.  We should treat our employees fairly.  Transparency and effective public contribution help keep our system working well and is an important check on government.

Tredyffrin residents should also speak with one bipartisan voice on Pension Reform for new employees.  The Pennsylvania School Board Association (PSBA’s) has urgently declared that “the system is unsustainable and must be fixed now.”  I am in favor of a mixed system compromise as recently proposed.

Given the current dynamics of the Board, we need Directors who fight skillfully for Tredyffrin’s priorities both in public and “behind the scenes.”  As a PC member, I opposed with success proposals harmful to homeowners such as trying to make residents put in sidewalks and expanding the definition of “historic building” to apply to even post war homes.  Experience matters in a Board setting.  I am dedicated to earning your support.  Learn more about me on Facebook: EdSweeney4TE.

TE School Board Candidate Alan Yockey
Tredyffrin, East – Region 2

Hello. My name is Alan Yockey and I am a candidate for TESD School Board Director. I have spent 40 years in Information Technology as a programmer/analyst, business consultant, and IT Director. Before that I was a mathematics teacher. I know firsthand the rewards and frustrations of education. Now I am retired and have the time and experience to use serving our community on the school board. We moved to Tredyffrin in 1994 when our son was starting kindergarten at Hillside. He graduated from Conestoga in 2007.  I know the schools are excellent, and I would like to serve our community to maintain that excellent quality.

The first priority of any school board director should be to maintain the high level of excellence in our district. I will approach this on several fronts.

  1. Insure our teachers get the training and support to make them excellent in the classroom. Monitor class size. Reduce constraints imposed on teachers from standardized testing. The number one objective for teachers should be opening minds and developing critical thinking. Not having high scores on multiple choice tests.
  2. Involvement of the Community-Whether in academics, finances, art and cultural, or sports the school board needs to lead the way in providing opportunities for parents and community members to be involved. Put more material on the web. Require committees to schedule meetings both during the day and in the evening. Have more workshops like the budget workshops which both provide information and allow for citizen input. Put questions, responses and supporting material for citizen questions on the web. Agendas items should be sufficiently clear so that interested parties can be easily identified.
  3. Students-Prepare students to be well rounded adults. Make sure all students are exposed to academics, music, art, manual skills, etc. The goal is to allow every student to find their area of interest and excellence. We cannot measure the success of the schools by counting the number of students who are National Merit Scholars.
  4. Finances-Work with the administration to balance our resources among the complex mandates and demands levied on the schools by government, by the community, by the students, and by the teachers. Use my 40 years of analytical experience to evaluate needs and costs. Think long term. Do not make decisions today which will hurt the quality of our schools in the future.

Producing “Well rounded adults or citizens” is a goal for our education system and for parents and for the community. For our education system to succeed at this goal we need school board members who take a holistic approach to the school system. As an IT Director I balanced end user demands, budget, IT and end user resources, training requirements, government regulations, safety concerns, and corporate goals to achieve an optimum solution. I will do the same on the school board.

Voters to select 5 T/E School Board Directors in November – All 10 Candidates provide responses

Your vote mattersIn November, voters in the TE School District will go to the polls to select five school board directors. People bring different backgrounds and qualifications to the job of school board director and as voters; we need to make the right choices on Election Day.

To assist voters in the decision-making process, it is important for the public to know the candidates. In early July, the following question was emailed to the ten T/E School Board candidates:

Although there are many important issues facing the TE School District, what one issue will you focus on should you be elected?  As a school board director, what in your background, experience or education prepares you to help with this specific issue.

I asked that the candidate’s response “not to be a political campaign plug or a laundry list of school district issues”. Their personal response was to “(1) focus on ‘one’ issue that is important to you and (2) to explain how your background/experience qualifies you to tackle this issue. All TE School Board candidates were invited to send a response not to exceed 500 words by August 1.

After reading the responses from the candidates, you be the judge whether or not the candidates successfully answered the question. Since many of the candidates spoke of transparency and communication with the public, it will be interesting to see if they respond to questions or comments.  I would ask you to remember, that these candidates are our neighbors — they are one of us – and I ask that all comments/questions be respectful and not personal attacks.

In the Tredyffrin, District 1 school board race, Dr. George Anderson withdrew from the race; therefore, his statement will not be included. On July 30, Neill Kling announced his candidacy to replace Anderson in a Tredyffrin, Region 1 candidate. With the receipt of Kling’s response today, I can now say that all ten candidates have provided a response for Community Matters.

The school board candidate responses will appear on Community Matters in alphabetical order (by last name) according to the region race. The schedule is as follows:  Tredyffrin, Region 1 on Wednesday, August 5, Tredyffrin, Region 2 on Friday, August 7 and Easttown, Region 3 on Monday, August 10.  Below is the list of candidates by region:

Candidates for Tredyffrin, Region 1:
Neal Colligan
Roberta Hotinski
Todd Kantorczyk
Neill Kling

Note: There are 2 seats available in Tredyffrin, Region 1. The two candidates receiving the highest number of votes in November win. Colligan and Kling endorsed by Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee; Hotinski and Kantorczyk endorsed by Tredyffrin Township Democrats.

Candidates for Tredyffrin, Region 2:
Michele Burger
Kris Graham*
Ed Sweeney
Alan Yockey
  *Incumbent

Note: There are 2 seats available in Tredyffrin, Region 2. The two candidates receiving the highest number of votes in November win. Burger and Yockey endorsed by Tredyffrin Township Democrats; Graham and Sweeney endorsed by Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee.

Easttown, Region 3:
Kate Murphy
Francis Reardon

Note: There is 1 seat available in Easttown, Region 1.  The candidate receiving the highest number of votes in November wins. Murphy endorsed by Easttown Township Republican Committee and Reardon endorsed by Easttown Township Democrats.

Head of Tredyffrin Republicans is now in the T/E School Board race!

The twist and turns of local politics … Replacing Dr. George Anderson (who withdrew from the TE School Board race last week) is the current Chair of the Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee, Neill Kling.  Neill sent the following note this morning regarding his candidacy for the TE School Board:

Pattye:
Just a quick note to inform your readers that I have been chosen by our Committeepeople in Region 1 to replace George Anderson as one of the Republican School Board candidates from that region.   The decision to run is my own; I have been thinking about doing this for some time now.  I run because I believe that I (along with my now running mates Neal Colligan and Ed Sweeney), will complement the excellent stewardship of sitting Board President Kris Graham, while at the same time offering a fresh perspective on the educational and fiscal choices that are vital to keeping the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District both outstanding and affordable.  Two of my children are graduates of private high schools, and two are and will be attending Conestoga High School, so I have experience as a parent with public and private education.  We should be proud that, at least in our district, public education keeps pace with the many first-class private schools at a fraction of the cost, and that is a testament not only to our wonderful public educators but also to the great parents of our school community.  Nevertheless, in the public sphere, we must be mindful that our operating expenses come from all of our taxpayers, whether they use the schools or not, and that our schools are an integral part of our neighborhoods and must be responsive to their needs as well.  


Commitment to the best education possible combined with a concern for our taxpayers has been the hallmark of the T/E School District for many years.  It is why so many of us have chosen to live and raise our families here.  If elected, I will be honored to help continue and, where necessary, improve upon that wonderful legacy.  


Best,

Neill Kling  

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