ERB Testing

TE School District Eliminates ERB Testing as a Budget Strategy for 2020-21 but BUILD T/E Offers ERB Assessment Opportunity to All T/E Families

Because of Covid-19, we can probably all agree that distance learning proved challenging for school districts, parents and students across the country and that TE School District is no exception. This for some TESD parents makes the long-valued ERB assessment more important as a means to gauge their child’s learning during the past year.

Many in the community remain troubled by the recent disregard of public comments by the school board at the June 8 meeting regarding the elimination of ERB testing in the 2020-21 as a budget strategy (as well as salary increases and the 2.6% tax increase). There is the suggestion that the elimination of the ERB testing was purposeful in order to hide how the District performed and its students progressed.

For those who support ERB testing as a form of student assessment, and are disappointed by its elimination for 2020-21, BUILD T/E secured an option for parents to understand their child’s learning progress this past year. Although greatly disappointed by the school board’s vote to eliminate ERB assessments, BUILD moved quickly to secure a summer 2020 virtual option through Homeschool Testing Services. That saying “Don’t let grass grow under your feet” certainly applies to this dedicated group!

There are limited spaces available for this assessment – see the flyer below.  If interested contact BUILD T/E by clicking this link.

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For those interested, the June 8 TESD School Board meeting is now available for viewing – click here for the link. It took the District solicitor nearly 1-1/2 hours to read the sixty public comments and remarkable how little our voices matter.

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The Clock is Ticking Down to TESD Budget Vote, Monday, June 8:  Includes 2.6% Property Tax increase, Administration Salary Increases (Business Manager +3.1%) and Elimination of ERB Testing

T/E School Board votes on the 2020-21 final budget on Monday, June 8, 7:30 PM.  Due to Covid-19, the meeting is held virtually — to access the meeting visit the T/E School District website, www.tesd.net.

Last chance to have your voice heard as the clock ticks down – Send your public comment to the school board at virtualboardcomment@tesd.net If you sent a comment prior to the June 1 Finance Committee, I suggest that you send another comment! Comments must reference Priority Discussion topic Final Adoption of the 2020-21 Budget and must be received before 6 PM on Monday, June 8. Make sure you include your name and township of residence (Tredyffrin or Easttown).

As it now stands, the District budget includes a 2.6% tax increase – the largest increase permitted by Act 1 guideline. Should the School Board approve the 2020-21 budget with a tax increase, it will mark sixteen straight years of a tax increase to the District’s residents.  How does the School Board respond to raising property taxes to people who are losing their incomes?

At a time when residents have lost their jobs, and every segment of our economy, including our local small businesses, are feeling the effects of the pandemic, could the School Board at the very least ensure no increase in property taxes.  Most all of us are finding ourselves in worse financial shape — freezing property taxes for District residents should be more than a nice thought!

At the Finance Meeting on June 1 (click here for video), it was obvious that I was not alone in my concern about the proposed tax increase.  At the end of the meeting [and only stopping because of video time constraints] at least twenty-five resident comments were read — and all but a couple asked for no tax increase and/or no to the elimination of ERB testing.

To his credit, Scott Dorsey has remained a constant, the only school board director who echoed the words of residents and asked for a zero tax increase in the 2020-21 budget!  Thank you Rev. Dorsey for understanding that we are all suffering because of the Covid-19 crisis and that now is not the right time to raise our property taxes.   Two other board members, Michele Burger and Mary Garrett Itin, asked for a 2% tax increase with the remaining six members apparently in favor of a 2.6% tax increase.

As noted in the 2020-21 budget agenda materials (see pgs. 311- 314), the School Board will vote on salary increases and bonuses for the District’s administration, supervisory and confidential employees.  Thank you to resident Ray Clarke for providing commentary on the proposed employee increases:

Once again, the final fiscal year Board materials contain proposed salary increases and bonuses for Administration, Supervisory and Confidential employees.

And, as usual, there is no information provided to allow the Board to assess the appropriateness of the increases, and perhaps we now see the reason why.

Increases have moderated this year, but the increases for employees in all these categories still add $141,987 to the annual budget, moderated a little by the replacement of some Supervisory/Confidential personnel by lower paid employees.  The straight average of increases for personnel in place both last year and this is 2.25%.  Increases are mostly in the 2% to 2.5% range, with the maximum of the Act 1 Index 2.6% being received by a few.

Note that the total of Administration increases still exceeds the 1.7% stipulated in the Act 93 contract.  At a time when other school districts are freezing salaries, it seems unlikely that this exceptional increase is required by “the competitive job market”.

However, there is one exception to the Index limit, and that is listed only in the Employment Agreement section of the TESD website.  No increase comes close to Business Manager Art McDonnell’s 3.1% annual increase to $216,427/year, stipulated by contract, regardless of the Act 1 Index, inflation, or taxpayers’ ability to pay. This increase is worth $6,507, and amounts to 4.6% of all the salary increases.

These increases average at about $2,000 a year for Supervisory/confidential personnel and $3,500 for Administration.  I hope that the Board considers the appropriateness of these substantial additional payments at a time of such economic uncertainty.

Adding insult to the residents, who are struggling in the midst of an uncertain future and a proposed 2.6% tax increase, is that the School Board would consider salary increases that exceed the Act 93 contract for administration, supervisory and confidential employees.  And further, that TESD Business Manager Art McDonnell will receive the highest salary increase, +3.1%!

There are school districts in Pennsylvania that are freezing employee salaries as a cost-savings measure for 2020-21. Not only is TESD not freezing the salaries, the Board’s vote to approve will increase salaries above the contractual agreement. School Board, how is this possibly fair to the taxpayers?

The administration, supervisor and confidential employee increases will add $142K to the District 2020-21 budget with no discussion to freeze the salaries for one year. Yet on the other hand, the proposed budget includes the elimination of ERB testing to save $85K as a cost-savings measure. Budget savings should not come at a cost to our students!

A form of assessment to guide instruction and reading, ERB testing has been used in TESD for many years to measure students’ progress and to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the District’s curriculum. TESD has no other tests that give grade level snapshots of students’ performance in reading and math – it is the only test of its kind!

ERBs are particularly important given the distance learning challenges faced by District families because of Covid-19. Parents need to know that their children are on track academically and many support the continuation of ERB testing as evidenced by the number of comments previously received by the District.

BUILD T/E, an advocacy organization in TESD for parents of children with learning differences, fully supports ERB testing in the District and opposes its elimination in the 2020-21 budget. Click here for BUILD’s latest blog post concerning the proposed elimination of ERBs in budget.

Do you have a comment for the School Board regarding the 2020-21 budget? Do you OPPOSE a 2.6% tax increase? Do you OPPOSE the elimination of ERB testing? Have a comment about employee salary increases in the proposed budget?

Send your comments to the School Board NOW — email the comments to Virtualboardcomment@tesd.net.  If you sent a comment prior to the June 1 Finance Committee meeting, I suggest that you send another comment!

Comments must reference Priority Discussion topic Final Adoption of the 2020-21 Budget and must be received before 6 PM on Monday, June 8. Make sure you include your name and township of residence (Tredyffrin or Easttown).

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In TESD, Say NO to 2.6% Tax Increase & Say NO To Eliminating ERB Testing in the 2020-21 Budget

There is a virtual TESD finance committee meeting tonight at 7 PM (click here for agenda).

Across the state, school districts are approving 2020-21 budgets with zero tax increase, why not TESD.  As it now stands, the District budget includes a 2.6% tax increase; the largest permitted by the Act 1 guideline. Should the school board move forward with this tax increase, it will mark the 16th straight year of a tax increase to the District’s residents!

School board, how can you raise property taxes to people who are losing their incomes?

The entire world has been turned upside down. Because of the Covid-19 crisis, we are all suffering; residents have lost their jobs, local businesses are “hanging on by their fingernails” and almost all of us are in worse financial shape. Now is not the right time to raise property taxes.

We understand that freezing property taxes at their current rate is challenging but now is not the time for a tax increase as our residents struggle in the midst of an uncertain future.  To avoid a tax increase in 2020-21 budgets, other PA school districts are utilizing a variety of savings solutions such as freezing wages for its employees for one year, scaling back or putting projects on hold or increasing its fund balance transfer amount.  What is TESD current fund balance … 40 million?

One of the cost savings contained in the proposed 2020-21 budget which I DO NOT support is to eliminate ERB CPT testing for a one year savings of $85,000.  A form of assessment to guide instruction and reading, ERB testing has been used in the District for many years to measure students’ progress.

With Covid-19 requiring the closure of schools and the launching of distance learning, ERB testing becomes MORE important as a consistent tool for families to review the progress of their children.  There has been much discussed about the District’s distance learning program during these last few months with the consensus not entirely positive, particularly in the lower grades.  Although it remains unclear what the TE schools will look like in September; there is a real possibility that some form of distance learning will need to continue.

Having the ability to measure the impact of Covid-19 on the District’s students is serious; making the ability to review and analyze the ERB testing data critical. With the continuance of distance learning a real possibility and to better prepare its students, now is not the time to eliminate ERB testing.  Budget savings should not come at a cost to our students.

In you OPPOSE a 2.6% tax increase and/or if you OPPOSE the elimination of ERB testing in the TESD 2020-21 budget, you need to act now. Please send your comments with your name and town to Virtualfinancecomment@tesd.net by 6 PM tonight.

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T/E School District Board Meeting Update: 2.6% Property Tax Increase, Proposed Suspension of ERB Testing, Unpaid $36K Vendor Payment (the Saga Continues)

Watching the virtual school board meeting for nearly three hours last night was not for the faint of heart.  A few of my takeaways —

With the sole exception of school board director Scott Dorsey’s vocal opposition, it appears that the TESD 2020-21 budget is on target to include a 2.6% tax increase, the highest permitted within PA Act I Index guidelines. (The TESD school board votes on the 2020-21 budget on June 8).

Recently at a May 19 press conference Governor Wolf was asked the question, “”Do you believe school districts should be raising taxes during the pandemic?” Wolf’s response, “We’re in a pandemic and this is not a time to burden any Pennsylvanian with additional responsibility or tax…we should be looking for ways to lighten the load; not the reverse.”  This response does not support the District’s proposed 2.6% tax increase!

Some PA school districts, including Unionville Chadds Ford are approving 2020-21 budgets with zero tax increases. Supt. Brian Polito of the Erie School District is appealing to its school board for zero tax increase. Polito understands that his district is facing challenges but “now is not the time” for tax increases as residents struggle.  Southern York County School District approved a budget cutting savings by freezing wages for its employees for one year to avoid a tax increase in its 2020-21 budget.

One of TESD budget strategies contained in the proposed 2020-21 budget is to suspend ERB testing for one year for a savings of $85,000.  A form of assessment to guide instruction in math and reading, ERB testing has been used in the District for many years to measure students’ progress.  Many pro-ERB test support letters from parents were read at the end of the board meeting. **

Several times during the meeting last night, the school board suggested that residents contact the District with comments regarding the budget, proposed budget cuts (including ERBs), distance learning, etc.  There is a Finance Committee meeting on Monday, June 1 — in advance, I suggest that you send your comments to schoolboard@tesd.net.

No update on the District’s unpaid balance of $36K to GEM Mechanical Services was included in the meeting agenda but surprisingly at 10:20 PM, Colm Kelly (head of TESD facilities) offered prepared remarks regarding GEM and asbestos in school buildings.

Kelly’s comment on asbestos at Beaufort Elementary School was circular and difficult to follow – my takeaway was that asbestos mediation was done in the building. TESD is required to keep copies of asbestos abatement reports up-to-date and on file in sll of its buildings.  Although I am not sure where the reports are located in the buildings – I suggest concerned parents contact the school district directly for a copy of the report for their child’s school.

Kelly’s response to the 2019 boiler project at Beaumont Elementary and Devon Elementary schools skipped right over many facts and left the biggest question about the District’s outstanding payment to GEM Mechanical Services unanswered.

Earlier in the day (a few hours prior to the school board meeting and Kelly’s remarks) there was communication between Sean Gaffney, of GEM Mechanical Services and Colm Kelly, both on the phone and through emails.  Many people were copied on the following email between the two, including the District’s business manager Art McDonnell, its architects at Heckendorn Shiles (HSA), TESD School Board and myself. Here is a copy of that follow-up email from Sean Gaffney to Colm Kelly which was sent a few hours prior to the school board meeting:

As per our phone conversation this afternoon, TESD will be cutting a partial payment check in the amount of $24,895.00 that will be available from the TE business office this upcoming Friday 5/29/20.

GEM Mechanical will be on site that same day (5/29/20) to complete our FINAL punch list items at which time we will request the remaining $11,850.00 that is being withheld by TESD and a check will be released no later than the following Friday 6/5/20.

I look forward to TESD and HSA’s cooperation in closing out this project.

It was fascinating that Kelly offered none of this information in his remarks. He no mention made of the outstanding $36K balance which TESD owes GEM Mechanical Services; or that the final punch list items would be completed on Friday. Furthermore, there were NO questions from the school board to Kelly or to the business manager about the money owed GEM or when it would be paid.  This is wrong on a lot of levels.

A review of the Facility Committee agenda materials from May 14, 2020 lists three vendors with outstanding final balances from the 2019 school boiler project: (1) $36,295 to GEM Mechanical Services for mechanical services, (2) $16,460 to Five Star, Inc. for plumbing services and (3) $20,075 to AJM Electric for electrical services. Based on the experience of GEM Mechanical Services, it makes me wonder if Five Star and AJM Electric are faced with similar issues.

An interesting Community Matters comment received on this topic —

… As for the districts “reputation” when it comes to paying, GEM is not the first to have payments withheld and they definitely won’t be the last. I am 100 percent sure that there is a job from 2018 that still has an outstanding balance against the district who has slipped thru the cracks by changing the punch list every time payment is questioned.

What exactly is going on with facilities in the school district regarding vendor payments.  If a vendor asks the District about their final payment,  are they faced with an ever-changing punch list until they finally just walk away.  If this tactic is used by the District, it certainly explains the decreasing list of vendors willing to work in TE School District.  Sean Gaffney has stated that GEM Mechanical Services will never work in TESD again – I wonder how many other vendors feel similarly.

Why isn’t the school board concerned? Where is the leadership for accountability and oversight of the facilities department? The school board had an opportunity to ask Colm Kelly questions about outstanding vendor balances last night but remained silent. The school board had an opportunity to ask Art McDonnell when GEM Mechanical Services would receive its long-overdue payment but again … they said nothing.

The school board is elected to be the community’s watchdog, ensuring that taxpayers get the most for their tax dollars. Where is the school board’s accountability to us?

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** I have received many emails and calls from parents regarding the District’s distance learning as required by COVID-19.  The next blog post will look at distance learning and the District’s proposal to suspend ERB testing for one year as cost-savings in the 2020-21 budget.

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