Liz Mercogliano

Primary Election Day Tuesday, May 16: Your Vote Matters!

Tuesday, May 16 is Primary Election Day in Pennsylvania. In the words of Napoléon Bonaparte, “Ten people who speak make more noise than ten thousand who are silent.”

You have to be a registered Democrat or a registered Republican to vote in the Primary Election tomorrow, May 16. Sadly, Pennsylvania is one of a handful of states that does not permit Independent candidates, like myself, to participate in the Primary Election. Independent voter registrations continue to rise and it is quite possible that these voters may be the deciding factor for local elections in November.

For the D’s and R’s — the message is to get out and vote tomorrow!  In the words of Napoléon Bonaparte, “Ten people who speak make more noise than ten thousand who are silent.”

Below is a list of supervisor, school board and magisterial judge candidates. Some of the candidates have personal campaign website and Facebook pages. Take the time to know your candidates before you vote!
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Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors

There are three Tredyffrin Township supervisor positions available – two at-large and one in the middle district.  Currently serving at-large supervisor Mark Freed (D) and middle district supervisor Evelyn Richter (R) have chosen not to seek reelection.  At-large supervisor Murph Wysocki (D) is seeking a second term. Terms are four years.

Three attorneys, a physician, corporate CEO and real estate agent will vie for Tredyffrin Township’s three available supervisor seats.

For Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, the Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee has endorsed the following candidates:

  • Supervisor at Large: Raffi Terzian, MD
  • Supervisor at Large: Robin Bond, Attorney
  • District 2 (Middle): Beth Coppola, Real Estate Agent

For Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, the Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee has endorsed the following candidates:

  • Supervisor at Large: Matthew Holt, Attorney
  • Supervisor at Large: Murph Wysocki, Attorney *
  • District 2 (Middle): Kevin O’Nell, CEO, Peoplelinx

* Incumbent
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TE School District School Board

For the 2017 election, there is a change to the election districts in the TE School District. The regional election districts in the TE School District were approved for realignment last year to address changes in population that had resulted in disparity among the voting regions. The new regional election districts take effect with the 2017 voting cycle. Terms on the school board are four years.

Voting Precincts: (Representatives will serve through December 31, 2017.)

Region 1- Tredyffrin E-1, E-2, E-3, E-4, E-5, M-1, M-5, M-6
Region 2- Tredyffrin  M-2, M-3, M-4, M-7, W-1, W-2, W-3, W-4, W-5
Region 3- Easttown 1-7

Voting Precincts Beginning with the 2017 Election: 

Region 1- Tredyffrin E-2, E-3, E-4, E-5, M-1, M-2, M-5, M-6, W-3, W-4,
Region 2- Tredyffrin M-3, M-4, M-7, W-1, W-2, W-5
Region 3- Tredyffrin E-1, Easttown 1-7

The Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee has endorsed the following candidate for the office of Tredyffrin-Easttown School Director:

  • Region 2: Doug Anestad, Senior Technology Consultant

The Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee has edorsed the following candidates for the office of Tredyffrin-Easttown School Director: 

  • Region 1: Scott Dorsey, Pastor, Director of Children’s Services *
  • Region 2: Kyle Boyer, Educator

* Incumbent
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Incumbent school board directors Doug Carlson (R) and Virginia Lastner (R) are seeking reelection for a second term in Region 3.  Carlson currently serves as the President of the TE School Board. Candidates Tina Whitlow (D) and Heather Ward (D) are opposing Carlson and Lastner for the TE School Board in Region 3.
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Magisterial District Judge, District 15-4-01
Incumbent Analisa Sondergaard (D), an attorney is seeking her second 6-year term for Magisterial District Judge, District 15-4-01.  Opposing Sondergaard is Liz Mercogliano(R), attorney, realtor and RN.

Election 2017: Candidates for Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, TESD School Board & Magisterial District Judge, District 15-4-01

The 2017 Election campaign season is officially underway for Tredyffrin Township supervisor, TE School District directors and Magisterial District Judge candidates.

All candidates who wished to appear on the Democratic or Republican ballot in the Primary Election needed to have filed their “nomination petitions” along with a “statement of financial interests” with Chester County Voter Services. The nomination petition documents required the signature of registered voters, who are enrolled in the party of which the candidate sought nomination and reside in the electoral district of the office sought. The statement of financial interests requires the candidate to provide information regarding the filer’s source of income.

Below is the list of our local candidates for supervisor, school board and magisterial district judge – best of luck to all those taking the journey!  Regardless of party affiliation and stance on specific issues, we thank you for your time, effort and willingness to serve!

The last day for withdrawal by candidates who filed nomination petitions is March 22.  The Primary Election date is May 16.

Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors

There are three Tredyffrin Township supervisor positions available – two at-large and one in the middle district.  Currently serving at-large supervisor Mark Freed (D) and middle district supervisor Evelyn Richter (R) have chosen not to seek reelection.  At-large supervisor Murph Wysocki (D) is seeking a second term. Terms are four years.

Three attorneys, a physician, corporate CEO and real estate agent will vie for Tredyffrin Township’s three available supervisor seats.

For Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, the Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee has endorsed the following candidates:

  • Supervisor at Large: Raffi Terzian, MD
  • Supervisor at Large: Robin Bond, Attorney
  • District 2 (Middle): Beth Coppola, Real Estate Agent

For Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, the Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee has announced the following candidates: (official endorsement meeting not yet held)

  • Supervisor at Large: Matthew Holt, Attorney
  • Supervisor at Large: Murph Wysocki, Attorney *
  • District 2 (Middle): Kevin O’Nell, CEO, Peoplelinx

* Incumbent

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TE School District School Board

For the 2017 election, there is a change to the election districts in the TE School District. The regional election districts in the TE School District were approved for realignment last year to address changes in population that had resulted in disparity among the voting regions. The new regional election districts take effect with the 2017 voting cycle. Terms on the school board are four years.

Voting Precincts: (Representatives will serve through December 31, 2017.)

Region 1- Tredyffrin E-1, E-2, E-3, E-4, E-5, M-1, M-5, M-6
Region 2- Tredyffrin  M-2, M-3, M-4, M-7, W-1, W-2, W-3, W-4, W-5
Region 3- Easttown 1-7

Voting Precincts Beginning with the 2017 Election: 

Region 1- Tredyffrin E-2, E-3, E-4, E-5, M-1, M-2, M-5, M-6, W-3, W-4,
Region 2- Tredyffrin M-3, M-4, M-7, W-1, W-2, W-5
Region 3- Tredyffrin E-1, Easttown 1-7

The Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee has endorsed the following candidate for the office of Tredyffrin-Easttown School Director:

  • Region 2: Doug Anestad, Senior Technology Consultant

The Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee has announced the following candidates for the office of Tredyffrin-Easttown School Director: (official endorsement meeting not yet held)

  • Region 1: Scott Dorsey, Pastor, Director of Children’s Services *
  • Region 2: Kyle Boyer, Educator

* Incumbent

Incumbent school board director Scott Dorsey (D) is seeking a second term on the TE School Board. The Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee has chosen not to oppose Rev. Dorsey in the Region 1 school board race.

Incumbent school board directors Doug Carlson (R) and Virginia Lastner (R) are seeking reelection for a second term in Region 3.  Carlson currently serves as the President of the TE School Board.

UPDATE: Candidates Tina Whitlow (D) and Heather Ward (D) have filed to run for TE School Board for Region 3.

The Region 2 school board race will be interesting.  Republican Doug Anestad, a computer consultant, attends many of the school district meetings and is an active resident participant – most notably outspoken in his opposition of the VF Middle School fencing project (which the current school board elected to install).  Anestad’s opponent in the school board race is candidate Kyle Boyer (D) who is a currently a TESD social studies teacher at VF Middle School.  I do not recall when we have had a candidate for the TE School Board, who was a current TE School District teacher.  This could prove to be a delicate balance for candidate Boyer – employed as a teacher in the school district where he seeks to serve on its school board.

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Magisterial District Judge, District 15-4-01

Incumbent Analisa Sondergaard (D), an attorney is seeking her second 6-year term for Magisterial District Judge, District 15-4-01.  Opposing Sondergaard is Liz Mercogliano(R), attorney, realtor and RN.

Unlike the school board and supervisor candidates, where only 10 signatures are required on the nomination petitions, the magisterial district judge candidates are required to have 100 signatures. As is the case with school board candidates, those seeking district judge position, can cross-file and appear on both Republican and Democratic ballots.  To appear on both Republican and Democratic ballots, a school board candidate would need to have a minimum of 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats signatures and a magisterial district judge candidate would need a minimum of 100 signatures from each political party.

Tredyffrin Township Police Department update on local substance issues, including the use of NARCAN

NARCANEarlier this week, I wrote the post, “Depression, alcoholism and drug addiction…Saving lives is the Answer”.  Completely by coincidence, on Wednesday, July 21, we learned that the Tredyffrin Township police had arrested Lynne Twaddle, age 61 of Pugh Road on suspicion of dealing heroin from her Wayne home.

Twaddle was charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, criminal conspiracy, possession of drug paraphernalia and criminal use of a communication facility (phone).  Beyond scary is the fact that Twaddle’s house is located 150 ft. from the entrance drive to New Eagle Elementary School.

At the time of the Twaddle’s arrest, Tredyffrin Township Detective Sgt. Todd Bereda commented, “It’s just now with the change in society, we’re seeing a burgeoning amount of oxycodone and opiate use, it starts with pills and ends up with heroin.”

As a follow-up to the post on Community Matters, I received an email from Tredyffrin Township Police Superintendent Anthony Giaimo and was given permission to share it.  Valuable information, the public needs to know that the Tredyffrin Police are actively involved and continuously seeking ways to combat the growing local drug abuse problems.

Greetings Pattye –

Thank you for your recent post regarding substance issues within our community (and beyond). We need to spread the word!

We have seen drug related tragedies among our young residents year after year.

We have taken a number of progressive steps, which have gained the attention of Commonwealth officials.

We were the first in the Commonwealth of PA (with ARCH) to acquire and maintain a drug “turn in” box. Additionally we have hosted town hall meetings (Kacie’s Cause) and are continuous attendees and participants at ARCH meetings.

We are presently formulating new educational programs through our Community Policing Unit.

One resource that has received excellent feedback is our new Crime Watch program. On this site, I posted a Parent’s Tool kit, suicide prevention and drug / substance abuse resources as well as other resources posted by our Community Policing Director Rhonda Carroll. Our site can be found through the township website or at www.tredyffrinpd.org (There is also a mobile app).

T/E School Board Director Liz Mercogliano mentioned the possible use of NARCAN, heroin antidote naloxone, in treating drug overdoses in a comment on Community Matters.  The public should know that the Tredyffrin police are trained in the use of NARCAN. I received a follow-email from Supt. Giaimo clarifying the department’s usage of the heroin antidote:

A number of people have asked if the police department uses NARCAN, an opiate antagonist, to combat the potential loss of life from a heroin over dose. I can say that we not only have this drug in all of the police cars but were on the leading edge of this program. To date we already saved a life with the use of NARCAN.

Rest assured we (I) will keep up the pace to keep our community safe from this deadly drug influence.

As we learned from Supt. Giaimo, the Tredyffrin police have already saved one life with the use of NARCAN.

If residents have concerns and/or questions regarding substance abuse, you are asked to contact Tredyffrin Township Police Officer Rhonda Carroll, Director of Community Policing, Tel. 610.644.3221.

Following the arrest of suspected heroin dealer Lynne Twaddle, the T/E School District posted the following message on their website, www.tesd.org

As you may have read in the news, on July 21 the Tredyffrin Township Police arrested a District resident for alleged sale of heroin. We congratulate the police on their continued efforts to combat the distribution of illegal drugs, and we cooperate as needed. The alleged perpetrator lives in close proximity to New Eagle Elementary School, but I have been assured by Superintendent of Police Anthony Giaimo that although the investigation is ongoing, there is no connection between this arrest and any T/E students at this time.

The District will continue to implement and extend safety measures to promote greater security in our schools. Such measures include but are not limited to buzz-in systems at school entrances with video capabilities, external fencing, improved locks on classroom doors, external window signage, and updated emergency preparedness procedures. Additionally, we continue to provide age-appropriate educational opportunities and support programs across the curriculum for students to learn about the negative consequences associated with illegal and prescription drug use and abuse. I thank the community for its continued support of these District efforts.

Best wishes,
Richard Gusick
Superintendent of Schools

Depression, alcoholism and drug addiction … “Saving lives is the Answer”

IDrug addictionn June, I learned that a local 20-something year old CHS graduate had committed suicide. Although I did not know the young man personally, I was told that he suffered from depression, drug addiction and was on probation through the courts.  Having attended the funeral of his friend, another young man, himself a Conestoga graduate, sent me an email.

Overcome with grief over losing his close friend from high school, and looking for answers, his email read in part,

I’ve been struggling with addiction for 5 years now. I know that people need to get it on their own, but I mean trying to educate them before this happens.  If I saw a fellow peer talk about how he/she just started out experimenting with drugs and eventually led to what it led to for me who knows what I would have done differently.

The problem is hard drugs have been normalized in the high school and almost glorified because they don’t see what happens when they are a little older and all of their friends are dying.

We have 15-year-old girls in Conestoga that are shooting heroin! It’s absolute insanity. Something needs to be done; we just lost ANOTHER graduate, one of my best friends, 3 days ago to this stuff.

The young man who sent me this email told me that had sent an email to the T/E School Board asking for their help with the drug problem in the schools.

Last year, Chester County officials released the statistics report on fatal heroin overdoses in the county.  Since 1999, the overdose death rate in Chester County has doubled with 24 overdose deaths in 2013, with victims ranging from 21 to 79 years old.  Fourteen were men and 10 were women. The report indicated that 18 of the fatal overdoses or approximately seventy-five percent, both heroin and prescription drugs were involved.

When the statistics were released, Chester County DA Tom Hogan stated, “One clear trend from these statistics is that prescription drug abuse is a gateway to a heroin overdose. Heroin does not discriminate.  It is a deadly drug that is abused by young and old, poor and rich, white and black.  Nobody is safe. There are students in every high school in Chester County who are using heroin, from Conestoga to Coatesville, from Unionville to Oxford.”

In 2014, we learned of the arrest of 11 people involved in the ‘Main Line Take Over Project’, a drug trafficking ring.  Two Haverford School graduates were the drug operation kingpins and hired students at main line high schools, including Conestoga, Radnor and Lower Merion as their drug peddlers. Every child is at risk.  According to experts, those with risk factors, such as a family history of mental illness or addiction, have a greater chance of becoming addicted.

Alcoholism and drug addiction is a disease. People are suffering from this disease and dying from this disease every day. We really can’t do anything as a society to help those people until we start talking about it.

I received the following statement from T/E School Board Director Liz Mercogliano with a request to add it to Community Matters:

Rescue for Overdose

My name is Liz Mercogliano. I serve as a current T/E school board director. I also have practiced psychiatric nursing since 1984.  I am a practicing Realtor and lawyer.

I wanted to share the facts on overdose and/or harm to self or suicide. At T/E, I support giving our students mental and emotional support. Every year we lose a child to suicide or overdose. Overdose can happen in a second with prescription, legal and illegal drugs.

Many students and families are not familiar with the signs and symptoms of psychiatric disease or the fact that everyone has different levels of depressions throughout their lives. As a result, there are accidental overdoses as well as serious unidentified clinical depressions that may lead to suicide.

Please realize depression is treatable and many overdose accidents result in life changing events for the individual. The right thing to do is to help those who need our help. This help includes identifying persons at risk and offering professional help. This is not a small matter in our community. When it happens to you or a loved one, find help.  In my mind, EMTs and the ability to reverse the overdose will make our community a better place.

Saving lives is the answer. Provide mental and emotional support all the sick whether it is a traditional medical disease or drug or alcohol disease.

Sincerely,

Liz Mercogliano, RN, Esquire
T/E School Board Director

T/E Taxpayers Draw Short Straw: School Board Approves $4.5 million maintenance building & 3.81% tax increase

Last night’s TE School Board meeting did not mark a good night for the District’s taxpayers!  Many of us left the meeting disheartened and feeling like the warm summer evening would have been better spent with a glass of Chardonnay.  Here are the highlights, or rather low-lights of the meeting.

New Maintenance & Storage Building:   $4.5 million, approved 8-1 (Liz Mercogliano dissenting vote)

The District’s Business Manager Art McDonnell and the architect Tom Daley from Daley & Jalboot presented a lengthy presentation on the proposed $4.5 million maintenance & storage building. Helping to convince that the project was necessary, photos of current overcrowded storage facilities, closets, etc. accompanied the presentation.  Taxpayers did not question that something needed to be done to improve the situation but did question the project’s escalating costs, the Old Lancaster Road location and the treatment of the neighbors. The fantasy architectural drawings indicate a tree-lined boulevard, not the realty of Old Lancaster Road … a narrow residential street of small homes sitting below grade to this new, large maintenance building.

2015-16 Budget: Approved deficit budget with a 3.81% tax increase, 8-1 (Liz Mercogliano dissenting vote).

The 3.81% tax increase marks the eleventh straight year that the TE School Board has raised taxes. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer from Sunday, June 14, the 3.81% tax increase for 2015-16 marks the largest tax increase in Chester County.

The last year the TESD saw no tax increase was 2004-05 as seen below:

• 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

Discretionary compensation increases above the 1.7% contract for Supervisors and Administrators:  Approved 7-2 (Liz Mercogliano and Scott Dorsey dissenting votes)

Valley Forge Middle School Fencing:  Board agreed to further discussion of hiring of a fencing safety consultant at the next Facilities Committee meeting.  An RFP for safety expert to be sent in the Fall.

TE School District Redistricting:  Based on the distribution of voters in the school district, there is under representation of elected officials in Tredyffrin, District 2.  It was suggested that the Board’s Legislative Committee would review the redistricting issue at their next meeting, in September. Disenfranchised voters are discussing a grassroots effort of their own re redistricting.

Reflecting on last night’s school board meeting, had me wondering why should I or other citizens bother to show up?  As some have often stated on Community Matters, the Board seemingly makes its decisions in advance and then delivers those decisions as a united front. Questions from the public are only marginally answered, if at all.  The Board views comments from residents as criticism and/or annoyances.

Election Day is November 3, 2015.  Five seats on the TE School Board are on the November ballot – Vote for Change!

TESD: Here Comes the Sunshine Act and It’s Alright

After researching the issue and speaking with experts, a nonpartisan group of six residents (Ray Clarke, Neal Colligan, Jerry Henige, Barb Jackson, Peggy Layden and myself) believed the School Board deliberations at the TESD February 3, 2015 board meeting violated the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act. On February 13, 2105 via Certified Mail, a thoughtfully written letter was sent to the School Board members (President Kris Graham, VP Doug Carlson, Virginia Lastner, Scott Dorsey, Karen Cruickshank, Kevin Buraks, Liz Mercogliano, Jim Bruce and Pete Motel) stating our specific concerns regarding their process. (Click here to read February 13 letter to School Board).

As residents, we believed that with quick action at the next TE School Board meeting on February 23, the Board could remedy the process and maintain the trust of the community in the integrity of the District’s governance.

I received the following response from the School Board (via the District Solicitor Ken Roos), in an email Friday afternoon:

Dear Ms. Benson,

As District Solicitor, I respond on behalf of the School Board to the allegations of non-compliance with the Sunshine Act by the School Board contained in the letter you forwarded below. Please forward this response to the other signers of the letter.

At all times, the Board carefully considered its obligations under the Sunshine Act prior to each executive session and Board information meeting conducted with respect to the issue of benefits for District employees in light of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). At no time was the Sunshine Act violated. Moreover, the February 3, 2015 Board vote on this fully disclosed agenda item occurred after a lengthy public presentation, public Board discussion and public comment in full compliance with the Sunshine Act.

Kenneth A. Roos
Solicitor, Tredyffrin/Easttown School District

Although the reply is not surprising, I disagree and find it inadequate and dismissive as a response to the well-researched points that were raised in our letter of February 13 to members of the TE School Board.

My observations —

  • It’s unfortunate that these five separate Affordable Care Act discussions were held in private, out of the light of the public eye and the benefit of public deliberation.
  • It’s unfortunate that deliberation regarding an employment policy change for 73 full-time District employees occurred in private and that a resolution simply appeared at the end of the meeting with no advertisement or notification.
  • It’s unfortunate that the misleading ‘ACA Update’ listing on the meeting agenda is referenced [in the above response] as a “fully disclosed agenda item”.
  • It’s unfortunate that 73 dedicated full-time District employees are notified of the School Board’s policy change and outsource decision via a 10:30 PM email following the meeting.
  • It’s unfortunate that the public’s participation is not valued in important policy decisions.

There is no doubt that members of the school board have received many emails and phone calls from residents since the February 3 School Board meeting and my guess is that virtually none of these contacts was in support of their actions.

I cannot imagine that the actions of the TE School Board were not a violation of the Sunshine Law, but I can guarantee that it is a violation of the public trust.

After forwarding the solicitor’s email to the other letter signers, they were asked if they wanted to include their reactions to the District’s response in this post. Here are those responses:

From Ray Clarke:
I am disappointed to receive this denial of a crystal-clear case of a Sunshine Law violation by the individuals on the School Board. However, I suppose it would be a rare lawyer that would advise acknowledging guilt before the proceedings have begun. I am more disappointed that there is no sign that the Board plans to do the right thing and address the community’s widespread concern, in Monday’s meeting or at any other time. Residents have been deliberately shut out of a matter of widespread concern and need to make their feelings clear to the Board.

From Barb Jackson:
Ken Roos is the solicitor in the Lower Merion School District as well as the TE School District. I understand that the Radnor School District has recently hired him. It is well documented that Lower Merion residents are frustrated and angry about transparency issues in their district. I am disappointed that when confronted with legitimate questions about transparency and open communication from community members, the board turns to the solicitor Ken Roos to write this letter, instead of making every attempt possible to be open and transparent and invite community participation and input.

From Neal Colligan:
Really surprised they sent such a short and dismissing response. Our challenge to the Sunshine Act centers on the 5 Exec Meetings concerning this topic…not covered by the list of items allowed in Exec Session. This response does not defend the reason for these meetings only that “the Board considered … at no time did they violate…”. Our challenge to the process in deciding this issue was well thought-out, supported by experts we consulted and well written. The response was a simple quickly written e-mail. The two communications say volumes in their structure.

This is a legal response saying the Board met the minimum technical standards of the Act. Until proven otherwise, it’s a plausible defense. That said, it’s hard for me to think that all members of this elected body agree with the handling of this issue. I’m hopeful at least one member objects to the process in light of the public challenge … whether it can be proved right or wrong. I’m surprised but not shocked … possibly someone elected to represent the community will address the process employed here by stepping out from behind the Solicitor. We’ll see.

I’ve made an Open Records Request asking for the details of these Exec. Sessions not previously disclosed in public communications. We’ll see what that brings. Maybe the process was a full vetting of all alternatives in a thoughtful and complete presentation over several meetings … maybe not. Maybe the decision had been made a long time ago regarding these employees and the ACA and the Exec. Sessions were based on creating a tightly scripted response and explanation to be given at the end of a long public meeting with questionable (although technically compliant) notice to the community. Likely, we may never know … I’ll share what I receive when/if I get a response to my request.

IMPORTANT: The next School Board Meeting is this Monday, February 23 at 7:30 PM, Conestoga High Schools. This is an important issue — please plan to attend the meeting and have your voice heard.

You can email your concerns/questions regarding this issue directly to the TE School Board at schoolboard@tesd.net

TE School Board Approves Administrator Bonuses, $22K/yr Salary Increase to Business Manager & 3.2% Tax Increase to Homeowners

Four important votes took place at last night’s TE School Board meeting and unfortunately there was little surprise in the results.

  • Approval of bonuses to TESD administrators – check
  • Approval of bonuses to TESD supervisors – check
  • Approval of $22K/yr. salary increase & 5-year contract to TESD Business Manager – check
  • Approval of 3.2 percent tax increase to TESD homeowners – check

It was encouraging to see some new faces in the audience and one resident, Tracy Gould of Wayne, came prepared with handwritten signs (see below) announcing her displeasure. Gould explained that she is a parent of three children and like many families, struggles during these economic times.  She appealed to the Board to consider the residents and not approve the salary increases and tax increase.

School Board meeting

You know how sometimes you can just forecast what the result is going to be before a vote is actually taken – well, that is exactly how last night’s school board meeting went.

To their credit, Board members Liz Mercogliano and Scott Dorsey were the lone dissenting votes on the employee bonuses, salary increase to Art McDonnell and tax increase to the homeowners. Both explained that they could not support giving bonuses and salary increases when the District does not provide basic healthcare benefits for the aides and paraeducators. Although Mercogliano and Dorsey are outnumbered 7-2 by the other Board members in their votes, I appreciate that they are concerned about the effect on residents of another year of tax increases.  Providing affordable health care to all District employees is important; I personally thank Liz and Scott for taking a stand on this issue and supporting the aides and paras.

School Board Vice President Kris Graham is chairing the superintendent search committee which also includes Board members Jim Bruce, Karen Cruickshank and Doug Carlson.  In her update, Graham reported that over 1,000 T/E residents responded to the Stakeholder Survey and the results are available on the District’s website, www.tesd.org

According to the survey results, the top 5 traits chosen as the most important in a new superintendent are:

  • Honest (54%)
  • Student Centered (52%)
  • Creative Problem Solver (49%)
  • Approachable (37%)
  • Collaborative (37%)

The survey results indicted the top 5 strengths that the new superintendent should be expected to maintain or enhance:

  • Highly qualified staff (54%)
  • High expectations for students (39%)
  • Strong fiscal management (38%)
  • Safe school environment (38%)
  • Culture of continuous improvement (36%)

The top 5 most important qualifications of a new superintendent as selected by respondents:

  • Leadership (74%)
  • Budget & financial expertise (58%)
  • Administrative/education leadership experience (49%)
  • Educational experience (47%)
  • Strategic planning expertise (36%) tie
  • Significant classroom teaching experience (36%) tie

The final survey question, asked respondents to name the top 3 challenges facing the new superintendent:

  • Budget/finance (83%)
  • Government mandates (44%)
  • District labor relations (36%)

My takeaway from the Stakeholder Survey is that the vast majority of respondents believe that finances is the most important issue and that it is important to have someone with leadership qualities and a business/financial background as the District’s next superintendent.

The School Board hired a consultant to help with the superintendent search and Graham explained last night that the she has conducted a couple of workshops with school board members in this regard.  According to Graham, there are currently five District employees with the educational qualifications for the position and they have received an application from one person.  The in-house superintendent candidate was unnamed by Graham but she did say that the Board would be conducting an interview in the next couple of days.

In the District’s online update of last night’s meeting the following information was provided on the superintendent search:

President Kevin Buraks and Vice President Kris Graham updated the public on the work of the Superintendent Appointment Committee and results from the Stakeholder Survey. The survey results are available on the District web site. The Board will continue to keep the public informed on the search process.

Although the message here is that the Board will “continue to keep the public informed on the search process”, there appeared to be something missing from this online information and from the Buraks and Graham update last night. There was no mention about where the District has posted the job for the superintendent position. I would be interested in know which educational resources the consultant suggested to the Board and where the job is posted.  Also, what is the timeline for the District to receive applications?

The Superintendent position is the most important job in the Tredyffrin Easttown School District and I know that the Board, parents, residents, employees and students want to make certain that the information is available to all possible candidates.

Although some in the administration disagree that a morale issue exists, too many District employees would suggest otherwise.  I will continue to maintain that the only way to fully correct the morale issues in the District is to hire someone from the outside – an individual with strong financial/budgetary experience (business experience and background) coupled with the educational component and someone that does not have an existing history with current employees is what is sorely needed.  The new Superintendent should fully understand the District’s financial needs and not simply rely on the Business Manager for answers.

Because the current Superintendent is not retiring for 12 months (June 30, 2015), the Board has the luxury to conduct a thorough superintendent search and fully vet all candidates for the job.  Once the job applications are received from outside the District, the Superintendent Search committee will be able to short list the candidates and then include the residents in their analysis prior to the final selection.

As discussed at last night’s meeting, informing the public of the Superintendent search process is important.  I look forward to the Board’s continued updates on the application process and search to find a new TE School District Superintendent.

Your Voices Matter … They Saved the Tennis Courts!

At today’s Facilities Committee meeting, chair Pete Motel and the other 3 School Board committee members, Jim Bruce, Betsy Fadem and Liz Mercogliano made a 180 degree turn from their former position of demolishing the tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School.  With a unanimous vote from the Facilities Committee, they will send their recommendation to preserve to the tennis courts to the School Board.  Motel explained that their recommendation will include the caveat of a new signed agreement between the District and Tredyffrin Township.  The new agreement will be an update to the original 1974 agreement.

Attending the Facilities Committee meeting, Tredyffrin Township supervisor Phil Donahue spoke of support for the District’s decision to save the tennis courts.  He suggested a willingness on the part of the township, to work together with the District for a new agreement and that if it was ready by Monday, it would be presented at the Board of Supervisors meeting.

Although Motel mentioned there were “sticky wickets” yet to be worked out re an agreement, I think most of us in the audience were satisfied that the tennis courts will be preserved.  The padlocks have been removed and the tennis courts are again available for use. The parking lot expansion plan to add 24 parking spaces will continue this summer (without the demolition of the tennis courts).

Saving the tennis courts from demolition just goes to show what can happen when a few determined people come together for a common cause.  Voices do matter … and in this case, it saved the tennis courts.

T/E School Board Passes 3.3% Tax Increase; Highest Percent Increase in the Area

The T/E School Board meeting on Thursday night was rather anticlimactic.  Most of us who have been following the budget process were not surprised by the 3.3% tax increase (1.7% Act 1 Index, 1.6% referendum exceptions) for the 2012-13 school year.  Based on the District’s average residential assessment of $252,601, this translates to an average increase of $155 per homeowner in their tax bill.

The Act 1 Index increase will produce projected revenue of $1.5 million and the exceptions increase projected revenue of $1,498,916. The total revenue produced by the 3.3% tax increase is $2,998,916.  The 2012-13 tax will be levied at the rate of 19.2628 mills, on the assessed valuation at a rate of $19.2628 per $1,000 assessment; an increase of .6154 mills from the 2011-12 tax rate.

How does TESD tax increase of 3.3% increase for 2012-13 school year stack up against neighboring school districts?  The following local school districts have approved their budgets for 2012-13 and  needed to include the following tax increases:

  • Radnor School District: 3.21% tax increase
  • Great Valley School District: 3% tax increase
  • Haverford School District: 2.73% tax increase
  • Lower Merion School District: 1.99% tax increase
  • West Chester School District: 1.7% tax increase
  • Downingtown Area School District: 1.7% tax increase
  • Phoenixville School District: 1.66% tax increase
  • Unionville-Chadds Ford School District: proposed 2.65% tax increase in Chester County and a 1.74% decrease in Delaware County (the difference comes changes in the gross property valuation of the two counties) to be approved at UCFSD meeting on Monday, June 18.

Following the final budget summary, discussion and resident commentary, the school board members were presented the opportunity to weigh-in on why they were voted for or against the 2012-13 budget.  The 2012-13 budget passed 7-2 with school board members Liz Mercogliano and Rich Brake providing the dissenting votes.  Brake provided a lengthy 30-minute oration, which offered historical details of what brings the District to this point and his reasoning for voting against the 2012-13 budget.

Ray Clarke also attended the school board meeting and offers his thoughts on last night’s School Board meeting. Thanks Ray!

Comments from Ray Clarke … 

1.  Karen Cruickshank reported that the tone in the TEEA negotiations is “increasingly positive”.  One small signal of this is the memorandum of understanding that removes the requirement for the district to pay for “advanced studies assistance”, in return for dropping the demotion idea for 2012/13.  Amazingly, this saves $360,000 – and it’s not even all the tuition that is paid!  (Payments are continuing for those on the lowest Bachelors steps).

 2.  The General Fund Balance debacle continues.  At its root is the fact that the Board treats this as a completely discretionary slush fund, with absolutely no rules about how it is to be used.  I believe that it is completely unacceptable for $30 million of taxpayer money be be treated so cavalierly.  Just one example: last year the “commitment” for PSERS “stabilization” was $15.4 million, this year it’s $3.6 million.  It’s not that the difference has been used to stabilize PSERS, it’s just that the number is a plug for when other things have been accounted for.  Ridiculous.  Why even have that item in the first place – we plan to raise taxes for it anyway.

Having said that, the changes in this year’s commitments do move us in the right direction.  $10.4 million will be moved into the Capital Fund, where it will be used for the one time expenses that we’ve discussed here are the appropriate uses for the Fund Balance.

Also worthy of mention is the commitment for the liability for vested employee services.  This went up by $0.8 million.  The actual payment was $0.3 million;  It’s interesting that the actual employment expense was therefore $0.5 million higher than was recognized in the operating statement, another problem deferred for future taxpayers.

3.  Which gets me to Dr Brake.  He treated us to a half hour analysis of the school district’s finances and the changes over the last decade or so, with desktop slides.  I encourage all to look for the video.  He voted against the tax increase, and argued for “an entirely new status quo” for the school employees.  Here are some notes I took with my commentary:

– The drop in revenues from assessment appeals offsets the increase from increasing the tax rate for the exceptions.  He used this to suggest we have reached taxing capacity.

– Special education is a “ticking time bomb” and the increased costs of autism “threaten public education”.  Relatedly, we heard in the Policy Committee how parents of non-residents, shopping for schools, want the right to come into classrooms to observe TE”s special education programs.

– All entities (governments/households, US/Europe, etc) have a “pathological addiction to spending beyond our means”.  [An OT comment: In a long run he’s right that this is unsustainable, but in the short run, national governments able to determine monetary policy can have a stabilizing role when consumers all of a sudden come to that unsustainable realization.  The problem in the US is that the political actors cannot agree on the long run plan to get the house in order, and in Europe, they have a completely crazy monetary union without a fiscal union].

– For TE routinely taxing to the max is unsustainable and not the solution.  I note that the agreed 3.3% tax increase this year, and the subsequent annual 3% increases in the 4 year projection model accumulate to an increased tax bill of $600 per year for the average residential assessment.  And there’s still a $4 million deficit in 2016/16.

– He is now going to pay more attention to the Fund Balance.  Good!

TESD Preliminary Budget Approved With $2.5 Million Budget Deficit

I attended the Board of Supervisors meeting last night; Ray Clarke attended the school district meeting and has graciously provided his notes for use on Community Matters.  The preliminary 2012-13 school district budget was approved with a $2.5 million budget gap — continuing to cut expenses or dipping into the fund balance?  I know from attending the last Finance Committee meeting that the outsourcing of the custodial workers remains on the list as possible budget strategies.

In reading his notes, a couple of observations about the Facilities Committee are noteworthy.  The District’s maintenance departments needs for storage facilities has been discussed for a number of years.  There are preliminary plans for construction of a maintenance building on District-owned property on Old Lancaster Rd., down from the T/E Middle School.  But according to Ray’s notes, it would seem that the Facilities Committee is now looking at other options, including non-District owned property.  Maybe that option is for leasing facilities space rather than new construction – I hope the option is not suggesting that the District purchase additional property.

It is interesting to note that the Facilities Committee will revisit the IT plan at their next meeting – further discussion wireless in the school district.  Maybe I am remembering incorrectly, but I thought at one point there was discussion of hiring an IT consultant to review the District’s current situation and to offer recommendations.  I thought the consultant fee was in last year’s budget . . . perhaps I am not recalling this correctly.

Here are Ray’s notes  – as always, I thank him for taking the time to send his commentary.

  • The preliminary budget was approved 8 -1. Liz Mercogliano changed her position with no explanation. As approved, there is a $2.5 million deficit that the Board has to close either through expense cuts or fund balance usage. Also, as approved, there is no increase in teacher salaries (but the same benefits plan and that 47% increase in the pension contribution). When asked if changes to the benefit plan are on the table, the comment from Dr Brake was that they “could be”. Of course they are! Why not say so?
  • Class room capacity was discussed in the committee reports. Computer labs are being repurposed at TEMS and Devon Elementary, but at the latter it seems that this will only buy one classroom and one year. There will be 7 or 8 sections of first graders there next year. The administration has been charged to study options for 2013/14; these could include re-districting. Devon has 550 students, Beaumont has 450. It wasn’t completely clear, but I thought I heard that the enrollment trends will require another 3.6 FTEs beyond the 444.4 budgeted for 2012/13.
  • Important topics for the next Facilities Committee on Feb 17th at 2pm. First, the never-ending discussion of facilities for the maintenance department will continue, with a presentation of non-district owned options. Second, the IT strategy discussion has been resurrected, and we’ll hear a plan to make the schools wireless. Let’s hope for something that clearly promises improvement in educational quality and reductions in cost to justify investment of – dare I say it – some of that fat Fund Balance.
  • President Karen Cruickshank thanked Mrs. Graham for a “wonderfully thorough” legislative report, which was mostly a lengthy advocacy for the community to lobby the state for increased funding in advance of the Corbett budget announcement on Feb 7th.
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