Lower Merion School District

Will Lower Merion School District’s handling of teacher’s contract play out similarly in TE School District — Some school board candidates weigh in

Last week a tentative agreement was reached between Lower Merion School District and their teachers. The deal between LM and the union was made in secret, with a process devoid of transparency.  The proposed teacher’s contract and its terms were not published for public review.

There are rumors that the TE School District is currently in ‘Early Bird’ contract negotiations with the teacher’s union. Because of the existing situation in Lower Merion, rumors of early bird talks and five seats on the TE School Board up for grabs on Election Day, there was discussion as to where our candidates stand on this issue.  The following email was sent to the ten Tredyffrin and Easttown school board candidates on Saturday.

To All TE School Board Candidates:

I know that you are all very busy campaigning in advance of Election Day. Tredyffrin resident Ray Clarke added a comment on Community Matters regarding the teacher contract, negotiations and keeping the public informed. He has spoken with several of you regarding his concerns, particularly given what is currently going on in Lower Merion School District.  As a result, I am asking you to read the following and provide a very  brief (100 words or less) response to me by 9 PM, Sunday, Nov. 1. The question and all candidate responses received will appear on Community Matters on Monday, Nov. 2.

Negotiating union contracts (teachers and support staff) will be important tasks for the new Board.  In Lower Merion School District, a secret deal is playing out between their school board and the teachers union.  Much to the chagrin of Lower Merion taxpayers, the union members get to review the contract before signing but the public is left in the dark and provided no information.

During the last teachers’ contract negotiations, the TE School Board moved in the correct direction with periodic updates to the public. Assuming that there are no secret “Early Bird” deals already in discussion  between the current Board and the union, [if elected] where do you stand on publishing any proposed contracts to the public at the same time as the unions send it to their members? In addition to publishing the terms of the contract to the public before signing, to also include the full annual cost of the contract for each year (including PSERS, salaries, benefits, etc.) with an explanation of how the Board will pay the costs. 

Again, I understand that you are pressed for time and I thank you in advance. Your responses may help get additional voters to the polls on Tuesday.

Pattye Benson

Because I know how busy the candidates are in the last days leading up to the election, their responses were to be brief – 100 words or less. One hundred words is very short; the second paragraph in the statement above (from “During … costs.”) is 109 words.

During this campaign season, most every school board candidate has used themes of transparency, public engagement and responsiveness to citizens in their campaigning literature, meet and greets with voters and during the Chester County League of Women Voters candidate forum. It is for that reason, that a brief response would allow each candidate the opportunity to restate and to reconfirm their transparency commitment to the voters before Election Day tomorrow (November 3).

Of the ten school board candidates, responses to the question were received by Kate Murphy (R) and Fran Reardon (D), Easttown, Region 3 candidates; Neill Kling (R) and Neal Colligan (R) Tredyffrin East, Region 1 candidates and Ed Sweeney (R) Tredyffrin West, Region 2.  The responses from these five candidates appear below.

The four Democratic school board candidates from Tredyffrin (Alan Yockey, Michele Burger, Roberta Hotinski and Todd Kantorczyk) each sent similar emails; all declining to respond, citing time constraints due to the campaign and/or previous personal commitments.  There was no response from Kris Graham.  If, as rumored (and I do say if) there are early bird negotiations already underway between the TE School District and TEEA, the District teacher’s union, it would not be possible for Ms. Graham to respond.

The TE School Board candidate responses are as follows:

Neill Kling, Tredyffrin East, Region 1 candidate:

A cloak and dagger approach serves neither party.  The union must understand throughout that what their members receive can be no more than what our tax base will reasonably be able to bear.  The current PESERS situation resulted from disregard of that sound principle.  Thus, I believe that the taxpayers should view the contracts when they are sent to the teachers for approval.  I am also in favor of providing a public estimate of how we propose to meet the contractual obligations.  The District must conduct negotiations with this estimate uppermost in mind.  Publishing it when they are completed is responsible stewardship.

Neal Colligan, Tredyffrin East, Region 1 candidate:

Of course, the public should be informed as negotiations move forward….this is by far the largest municipal contract in our community.  Start now by presenting the existing economics…total salary, benefits, pension contribution…show the history of these costs.  This information, reviewed at an entity level, will not disclose any employees’ personal compensation package and will not violate the rules of new contract discussions.  As the process advances, let the community know of the issues…I doubt the Union side would object.  People here are pretty fair and can draw their own conclusions on what is just as negotiations move towards a new contract.

From Ed Sweeney, Tredyffrin West, Region 2 candidate:

I would strongly agree to the first proposal if it was consistent with current agreement between the School District and the Union and with the provisions of relevant labor law.  As far as his other proposals, I need more information but I am a proponent of maximum disclosure at the appropriate time.

I agree with the principle of “MORE” . . . more transparency, more public disclosure, more committee meetings convenient to working parents, and more involvement of residents and stakeholders at an early stage of committee consideration of issues.  In my view, more = better.  More increases public confidence and protects the taxpayer.

From Kate Murphy, Easttown, Region 3 candidate:

In Pennsylvania, salaries and benefits make up the lion’s share of any school district’s budget, generally between 70% and 80%.  Pension benefits (PSERS) are set legislatively by the General Assembly and the Governor, and are not negotiated by local school boards.  All collective bargaining agreements must be available to the public for review and comment well in advance of the public vote to approve such agreements.  Periodic updates during the negotiations can be a helpful tool to inform the public.  District estimates of the full annual cost of the contract for each year should be available for timely public examination.

From Fran Reardon, Easttown, Region 3 candidate:

In negotiating contracts within the School District, we should maintain a high level of transparency for all parties involved.  Periodic updates should be available to the taxpaying public and all other stakeholders.  Current annual cost of contracts should clearly be given with the long term effects of PSERS obligations also laid out and presented to the TE community in a timely fashion before any vote by the school board.

As a member of the TE School Board, I will work with the full board to give the taxpayers value for their dollar and also maintain the excellence of our schools.

2015 Pennsylvania School District Rankings based on PSSAs: Unionville Chadds Ford retains top spot, Radnor in 2nd and TE School District drops to 7th! Anti-Standardized testing movement gaining traction locally!

There is an opt-out movement against standardized testing in public schools playing out across the country. Opponents of the exams argue that too much time in public education is spent teaching to the test, stressing out students and teachers and detracting from real learning time. Locally, the anti-standardized testing is gaining traction among parents in Lower Merion, Radnor and Tredyffrin Easttown School Districts – just as the Pennsylvania school district PSSA standings for 2015 are released.

The Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) formula ranks the school districts based on three years of state standardized test scores, giving the most weight to the current year. The PSSA is a standards-based assessment of what a student should know and be able to do at varying levels in reading, writing, science and math.  Reading and math is assessed in grades 3 through 8 and grade 11; writing is assessed in grades 5, 8 and 11 and science assessed in grades 4, 8 and 11. The rankings do not denote the overall quality and performance of the school district, only the PSSA scores.

A Pennsylvania school district that places in the top 15 or 20 out of 500 districts statewide based on the PSSA exams is an achievement for which  students, parents, teachers and administrators can all be proud.   Proponents of standardized testing view PSSA scores as a reliable predictor of future success.  As a tool for student assessment, the PSSA exam helps measure and provides useful information of what students are learning. The PSSAs measure the performance of the entire class and provide of measurement of how an overall class is performing. But some parents have chosen not to have their kids participate, claiming the tests cause undue stress for kids, and have no direct benefit.

The Pennsylvania school district’s PSSA rankings for 2015 are now available and reported in Pittsburgh Business Times. This is the fifth consecutive year that I have tracked the top 15 school districts in Pennsylvania as ranked by the PSSA results. Results reveal that Unionville Chadds Ford School  District (UCFSD) in Chester County is holding on to top placement.  The yellow highlighted line in the chart below indicates that T/E School District has fallen in PSSA rankings each year during the last five years.  The District was second in 2011, third in 2012, fourth in 2013, fifth place in 2014 and for 2015 dropped to seventh place in the PSSA rankings.

2015  2014   2013   2012   2011           School District (County)
8 4 1 1 1 Upper St. Clair (Allegheny)
5 2 2 5 6 Mt. Lebanon (Allegheny)
1 1 3 2 3 Unionville-Chadds Ford (Chester)
7 5 4 3 2 Tredyffrin-Easttown(Chester)
10 8 5 6 5 North Allegheny (Allegheny)
2 3 6 4 4 Radnor (Delaware)
4 6 7 7 9 Hampton Township (Allegheny)
3 7 8 10 12 South Fayette Township(Allegheny)
6 9 9 8 7 Lower Merion (Montgomery)
12 12 10 9 8 Central Bucks (Bucks)
9 10 11 13 15 Wallingford-Swarthmore (Delaware)
13 13 12 12 11 Fox Chapel Area  (Allegheny)
16 11 13 14 13 Great Valley (Chester)
15 15 14 11 11 Peters Township  (Washington)
11 14 15 19 19 Rose Tree Media (Delaware)

After UCFSD (Chester County) in the PSSA rankings, Radnor (Delaware County) moved up to second place, followed by South Fayette (Alleghany County) in third, Hampton Township (Alleghany County) in fourth, Mt. Lebanon (Alleghany County) in fifth and Lower Merion (Montgomery County) moved up from ninth to sixth.

Interesting to note that Radnor and Lower Merion School Districts advanced on the state-wide PSSA rankings; both districts ahead of TE, which dropped to seventh. The TE School District has continued a steady downward movement in the PSSA rankings during the same period that Radnor and Lower Merion school district improved their scores. The question is why are the PSSA rankings going down in TE rather than up. The only other local Chester County school district represented at the top of the PSSA rankings chart is the Great Valley School District, which dropped from eleventh to sixteenth in the 2015 list.

We know that Pennsylvania parents that oppose standardized testing is advancing. In 2012, only 260 Pennsylvania students opted out of the math and reading PSSAs.  In 2014, more than 1,000 of the 800,000+ eligible students opted not to take the tests according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education. It will be interesting to see if the PSSA rankings change substantially as the students opting out of the standardized testing increases.

Parents in TE School District have arranged for the screening of the documentary, “Standardized Lies, Money & Civil Rights: How Testing is Ruining Public Education” created by a Berks County teacher is scheduled for the Saturday Club in Wayne on April 27 at 7 PM.  According to the film’s website, its purpose is to “shed light on the invalid nature of these tests, the terrible consequences of high-stakes testing, and the big money that’s involved.”

Congratulations TE School District — Ranked 3rd in the Country!

Congratulations TE School District!  ‘Niche’ which measures neighborhoods and cities for livability, compares k-12 schools and reviews over 8,000 colleges and universities has released their 2015 national school district rankings..  The Niche K-12″ report, which compares 120,000 k-12 schools has been released. For those interested in rankings, Tredyffrin-Easttown School District was listed as third in the country and first in the state.

Here’s Niche’s ranking of the ‘Top 10’ school districts in the country:

  • Edgemont School District — Edgemont, New York
  • Jericho Union Free School District — Jericho, New York
  • Tredyffrin/Easttown School District — Tredyffrin Township, Pennsylvania
  • Lower Merion School District — Montgomery County, Pennsylvania
  • Scarsdale Union Free School District — Scarsdale, New York
  • Great Neck School District — Great Neck, New York
  • Pittsford Central School District — Pittsford Town, NY
  • Rye City School District — Rye, New York
  • North Allegheny School District — Wexford, Pennsylvania
  • Chappaqua Central School District — Chappaqua, New York

In addition to TESD (3rd) and Lower Merion School District (4th) Unionville Chaddsford School District and Radnor Township School District also made Niche’s national ranking of school districts, coming in at 15th and 52nd places, respectfully. In addition to the school districts, Niche ranked the 14,000+ public high schools.  On the national ranking of individual high schools, Conestoga HS was listed as 26th in the country and first in the state.

Further information about Niche and their rankings, can be found on their website, www.niche.com

Will T/E School District Open Without New Teachers Contract

Now that the 2nd vote on the Fact Finder report is behind us, it is my understanding that the school board and the teachers return to traditional method of negotiations.  As the clock ticks down the remaining days of summer vacation, can we assume that schools in T/E will open on schedule.  It is my understanding that until there is a new contract; the teachers will continue to work to the terms of their expired contract.

But how long can the T/E school district budget afford for the teachers to work to the old contract?   

The Neshaminy teachers and the school district have been locked in a vicious contract debate for 4+ years with neither side willing to budge – sticking points in the bitter contract dispute is healthcare and salary.  It is my understanding that the teachers want a 5% salary increase retroactively for the last 4 years.

As I wrote in January of this year, the teachers in the Neshaminy School District are the highest paid in the state but if we look at PSSA results, the Neshaminy School District doesn’t even make the top 50 in the state, coming in at number 245 among Pennsylvania’s 500 districts.  Over half of the Commonwealth’s school districts have outperformed Neshaminy on PSSA tests for the last 10 years.  Compare that to Tredyffrin Easttown School District and the ranking of third in the state.  If the highest paid teachers, working in a school district that underperforms 50% of all other school districts in the state, are willing to strike twice in 6 months … what does that mean for other districts with teacher contracts pending?

Lower Merion School District is in a similar situation to TESD.  Lower Merion’s teacher contract expired the end of June and the 1,300 union members are working ‘for now’ under the provisions of the old one.  With school scheduled to open on Tuesday in Lower Merion, the School District officials and the union are set to negotiate tonight to see if they can settle.

Most people who I have spoken with do not believe that our teachers will strike in TESD.   I am not sure what is to be gained by a teacher strike, aside from many aggravated parents.  Or is it possible that teachers can be pushed to a point where they feel this is their only option?

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!

Tax Study Group to Present EIT Findings . . . Will Yellow Signs by Republican Candidates Influence Residents?

As part of the budget process for the T/E School District, a Tax Study Group composed of community volunteers was formed to determine the impact of an earned income tax (EIT) on residents and the school district.  The goal of the group was to identify the pros and cons of an EIT for residents and then present their findings in a public presentation to the community.  The Tax Study Group will offer its findings on Thursday, November 3 at 1 PM at the T/E Administration office, 940 W. Valley Rd, Suite 1700, Wayne and again at 7 PM at the Valley Forge Middle School, 105 W. Walker Road, Wayne.  Please plan to attend so that you can make an informed decision on EIT (in the event it is on the Primary Election ballot in April 2012.

I have expressed my disappointment that the Republican candidates (school board and supervisor) took an advance stand against an earned income tax prior to the presentation of the Tax Study Group.  In fairness to the process, and to the volunteer’s time of those serving on the study group, why not wait until after the presentation of the EIT before publicly declaring that you are against it.  The severity of our school district’s economic situation requires that all options be explored – the presentation by the Tax Study Group on the earned income tax is one of those options.

An ‘As I See It’ article written by John Petersen, resident of Paoli appeared in the Main Line Suburban newspaper a couple of weeks ago.  The article was written shortly after the first bright yellow, ‘no EIT’ signs began appearing in the township. Because the article was not included on Main Line Media’s online site, I could not provide a link on Community Matters.

It is with permission from the author, that I include the article below:

As I See It: Those little yellow GOP signs: proof the GOP does not respect you

If you have been driving around Tredyffrin (since this is not a walking township), you may have noticed a new type of yellow growth sprouting up all over the place. Naturalists have classified it as Fungi Reipublicae. In fact, these yellow growths are actually a new version of the yellow GOP signs that we saw in 2007. These signs come in two flavors: “No Earned Income Tax” and “Top Ranked Schools.” Both cite that you should “Vote Republican”. Let’s break down the claims.

No Earned Income Tax

This sign would have you think that there is an active question in front of the voters and that if you vote Republican, you will be saved from the evils of an Earned Income Tax. Let’s set aside the fact that many already pay an EIT for a moment and instead, concentrate on the straw man argument that Tredyffrin GOP is perpetuating. In fact, there is an earned income tax study committee that has been commissioned by the school board. That committee was first suggested by Republican school board member Kevin Mahoney. To review, there is no active tax question in front of the voters and the only group that is studying the feasibility of an EIT in Tredyffrin was suggested by a Republican.

Top Ranked Schools

It’s true, T/E Schools are quite good. The Tredyffrin Republican Committee would have you believe that Republicans, and Republicans alone are responsible for our “top ranked schools.” In fact, there are a number of Democrats on the school board. I guess they have nothing to do with the successes. Fine, let’s give all the credit to the Republicans. But if we do that, let’s examine the whole cloth. Of Lower Merion, Radnor and T/E, is T/E the best? In terms of facilities, absolutely not. While T/E has retrofitted old buildings, both Lower Merion and Radnor have made a commitment to invest in infrastructure, the type that is required for children to get a top-notch public education in the 21st century. As for test scores, college acceptance, etc – Lower Merion and Radnor are at least as good as T/E.

How about labor relations? T/E is definitely not at the top of the class there? How about fiscal responsibility? T/E is about 9 Million in the hole. You know all of the sweetheart deals for teachers the Republicans are complaining about? Guess what, it’s the Republican led school board that has consistently given the unions what they wanted. At the same time, they are not keen on paying for it. Those same Republicans have consistently raised our property taxes year after year. And yet they are the same people who claim to be protecting us from the evils of an earned income tax.

Any organization that would try and sell the political rhetoric that we see in these yellow signs clearly does not respect their customer. The Republicans believe that we are all too stupid and too quick to fall into the fear trap. The Republicans are banking on the fact that we will believe the scare tactics that the other side is just out to tax and spend our money. Seems to me, the Tredyffrin Republicans have done a good job of that on their own already. They don’t need help from anybody! And never forget, the Tredyffrin Republicans is the party of Bob Lamina, and Paul Olson. If that is not enough reason to give the Tredyffrin Republicans a vote of no confidence, I don’t know what is.

John Petersen
Paoli, PA


America’s Best High Schools But Where is Conestoga High School?

Newsweek has released a list of the top 500 public high schools in America.  Here are high schools in our local area that made the list and their ranking:

  • Harriton High School:  #123
  • Radnor High School: #146
  • Lower Merion High School:  #224
  • Downingtown East High School; #279
  • Downingtown West High School: #339
  • Great Valley High School:  #346
  • Haverford High School: #466

But where is Conestoga High School . . . ?

To create the list of the top 500 public high schools in America, Newsweek used the criteria below, with its corresponding percentage of calculated weight:

  • Four-year, on-time graduation rate (25%)
  • Percent of 2010 graduates who enrolled immediately in college (25%)
  • AP tests per graduate (25%)
  • Average SAT score (10%)
  • Average AP test score (10%)
  • Number of AP courses offered per graduate (5%)

With all the discussion about the quality of TESD schools, does it not strike some of you odd that Conestoga High School is not on the list?  I have to believe that Conestoga High School would not fall short in any of the categories as based on Newsweek’s criteria (above).

There has been much discussion, including on Community Matters, in regards to the quality of our T/E school district.  Repeatedly, people have affirmed that the quality of our school district is helping to sustain our property values.  If that is correct, shouldn’t TESD taxpayers expect the same ‘bragging rights’ as the other school districts?

Unable to explain ‘why’ Conestoga High School is not on the list, I researched further.  Under Newsweek’s category, “Methodology: How we compiled the list” and I may have discovered the answer.  From the Newsweek website, I found the following:

To compile the 2011 list of the top high schools in America, NEWSWEEK reached out to administrators, principals, guidance counselors, and Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate coordinators at more than 10,000 public high schools across the country. In order to be considered for our list, each school had to complete a survey requesting specific data from the 2009-2010 academic year.

Based on Newsweek’s methodology, is the explanation to Conestoga’s MIA status on the list as simple as the administration dropped the ball and did not complete the survey?

Regardless of whether you give credence to school rankings, what does it say that every other public high school in the area is on the list except for Conestoga High School?

If you were moving into the Philadelphia suburbs and had high school age children, would it make a difference to you?  If all was equal, do you think that a family with high school age children would opt for one of our neighboring school districts because they were ranked by Newsweek and TESD was not?

Bottom line, as our property taxes continue to increase, I am guessing that most taxpayers in T/E would like to see their high school on the list.  If nothing more, it helps take some of the sting out of the tax bill.

I would be curious what explanation our school board members would have to say on the ranking and Conestoga’s MIA status on the list.


As a follow-up note, I have emailed school board president Karen Cruickshank and cc the T/E school board.  If I receive a response, I will be glad to post it.

The Clock is Ticking Down for T/E School Budget . . . Will Property Tax Increase be the Highest of our Neighbors

The clock is ticking down . . . the T/E School Board votes on the final budget for 2011-12 on Monday, June 13, 7:30 PM at Conestoga High School.  The preliminary school budget contained a property tax increase of 3.8%.  Will that tax increase remain in the final budget or is possible that the school board members may consider a lower increase?

The school board and the administration have battled their way through the 2011-12 budget since last fall, with regular school board meetings as well as finance and special budget meetings.  The board and administration thoroughly reviewed many budget strategies and made difficult educational and programming decisions. The school district reached agreements for the 2011-12 school year with the teachers union (TEEA) and with the non-instructional union (TENIG).  In the spirit of shared sacrifice, union members from TEEA and TENIG showed their support for the school district and agreed to a variation of a salary freeze to help the bottom line of the District’s 2011-12 budget.

According to the TEEA agreement with the T/E school district, the teachers will have their salaries frozen for the first 6 months of the 2011-12 school year based on their final paycheck of the 2010-11 school year.  As part of the agreement, TESD agreed there would be no involuntary furloughing or involuntary demotion of teachers for 2011-12.  The cost savings for the TEEA agreement is approximately $1 Million to the school district.

The agreement reached between TENIG and TESD is a zero percent wage increase for the 2011-12 school year.  The savings to the school district with TENIG’s salary freeze is $300K.  Adding the additional reduced overtime wages and the total TENIG savings to the District is approximately $450K.

The school board members applauded the efforts of TEEA and TENIG . . . the combined total help from the two unions represents nearly $1.5 million in savings to the school district. 

Here’s my question . . . given the substantial level of savings, due to TEEA and TENIG’s spirit of shared sacrifice, will the school board also recognize the ongoing sacrifices of the taxpayers in this school district?  Will the school board consider a reduction in the proposed 3.8% property tax increase?  The preliminary 2011-12 budget could not predict the $1.5 million savings from the unions, so should the taxpayers expect the final budget to reflect those savings?  I believe that the 3.8% includes taking the full Act 1 exemptions but maybe in light of the union savings, the percentage increase could be reduced.

In anticipation of TESD’s final budget vote on Monday, I thought it would be interesting to see where the currently projected 3.8% property tax increase measures up against other local school districts. I think that it is fair to use Radnor, Lower Merion and Great Valley school districts for comparison.  Generally speaking, these school districts are comparable in level of education quality and I would think that the economic climate of the taxpayers is similar.  Each of these school districts has approved their final budgets —

  • Radnor Township School District1.4% tax increase Lowest RDSD tax increase in years. RTSD credited the Radnor teachers’ sacrifice in reaching a contract agreement for the low tax increase.
  • Great Valley School District 2.9% tax increase  GVSD Superintendent Alan Lonoconus, said of the tax increase, “We tried very hard this year to make sure the impact to programs was as gentle as possible. But we also kept in mind the economic conditions not only of our district, but of the nation.”
  • Lower Merion School District3.3% tax increase  Lowest tax increase since 1984-84 fiscal year

Although not an adjacent school district and perhaps not as highly ranked academically as Radnor, Great Valley, Lower Merion and T/E school districts, I was fascinated by West Chester School District’s final budget decision —

  • West Chester School DistrictNO tax increase.  The 0 percent tax increase balanced WCSD budget by taking $3 million from their fund balance.

It is not surprising that the taxpayers of WCSD overwhelming supported the decision of their school board leaders not to increase taxes.  In reviewing the demands of their school budget over the last months, there was much discussion between school board members and residents in regard to the severe economic conditions facing the residents, rising gas prices, high unemployment, etc. Many taxpayers in the WCSD complained that they are already financially pushed to the limit — the 0 percent tax increase decision came as welcomed news.

As it now stands, unless the T/E school board members reconsider, a property tax increase of 3.8% is on the table for a vote at Monday night’s school board meeting; this increase will represent the highest increase among our neighbors. TESD is a great school district, and one for which we all can be proud, but likewise could be said for Lower Merion, Great Valley and Radnor school districts.  My guess is that the argument that some will make is that TESD currently has a lower tax rate than these other mentioned school districts and therefore taxpayers are in a better position to afford the tax increase.  Correct? 

I have not done a research analysis but I believe that TESD may have the highest fund balance of any of these neighboring school districts. (In fact, I think I read somewhere that TESD fund balance is one of the highest in the state).  Some could argue that the fund balance represents over-taxing of residents in prior years, so . . . now that the taxpayers of this community need financial relief can we ask that the TESD use more of the reserve and lessen our property tax increase?

To help the community, the teachers, secretaries, custodians, cooks and maintenance personnel in this school district have shown us the meaning of shared sacrifice.  Is it possible that TESD will acknowledge the sacrifices of the District taxpayers, and lower the expected property tax increase?  Or, is this just wishful thinking on my part . . . ?

Statewide Rankings of PSSA Test Performance Shows Tredyffrin-Easttown, Radnor & Lower Merion School Districts in the Top 10 in the State!

Pittsburgh Business Times has compiled the statewide rankings of PSSA (Pennsylvania System of School Assessment Exams) test performance for the last six years. The PSSA results come from the Pennsylvania Department of Education website.  Raw results can be found at www.pde.state.pa.us — click on ‘Data and Statistics, then ‘PSSA’.  The survey ranks the 500 school districts in the state based on the PSSA performance. The rankings do not denote the overall quality and performance of the school district, only the PSSA scores.

Once again, for the sixth straight year, the Upper St. Clair School District in Allegany County (Pittsburgh suburbs) held on to its top spot as highest-scoring school district in Pennsylvania on state standardized tests.

There is good news for T/E School District – for the second year in a row, TESD landed No. 2 on the list of highest-scoring PSSA school districts.  In the Philadelphia regions, in addition to TESD, four other school districts are in the top 10 in terms of performance. Here are those results:

  • Tredyffrin-Easttown School District in Chester County (No. 2)
  • Unionville-Chadds Ford School District in Chester County (No. 3)
  • Radnor Township School District in Delaware County (No. 4)
  • Lower Merion School District in Montgomery County (No 7)
  • Central Bucks School District in Bucks County (No. 8)

Neighboring Great Valley School District in Chester County was listed as No. 13 on the list.  Downingtown School District’s PSSA performance is No. 28. Upper Merion School District in Montgomery County is No. 68. Phoenixville School District in Chester County was listed as No. 68 in 2010 and dropped to No. 85 on the PSSA performance list. 

Looking at the bottom of the performance list, I was curious to see if any Philadelphia region school districts were on the list.  Interesting to note the following:

  • Pottstown School District in Montgomery County (No. 461)
  • Norristown School District in Montgomery County (No. 475)
  • Philadelphia School District in Philadelphia County (No. 484)
  • William Penn School District in Delaware County (No. 488)
  • Chester-Upland School District in Delaware County (No. 496)

Will T/E School Board Include an Activity Fee in the 2011-12 Budget?

On the eve of the Special T/E School Board meeting, there is much discussion on the $8.8 million deficit for the district’s 2011-12 school year and its challenge.  Over the last couple of weeks, I do not recall much discussion about the possibility of adding an activities fee to the 2011-12 budget. If you recall, the T/E School Board passed the 2010-11 school year budget without the inclusion of an activity fee.  The estimated $80K in activity fee revenue was removed before the passage of the final budget. The consensus at the time was there was not enough time to look at the details required for such an assessment.  However, it was thought that some form of an activity fee should be discussed for inclusion in the 2011-12 budget.

Every year, students of all ages opt for extra-curricular activities.  The activity may not be high-profile football or some other “major” high school sports.  The involvement may be in the performing arts or any variety of positive clubs or organizations that contribute to making school kids better citizens.  Depending on the activity, the kids and their parents may spend a lot of personal money on extra-curricular expenses (sports workout clothing, voice or instrumental music lessons, club-related materials, etc.). In addition, along with time spent on their studies, these students spend inordinate amounts of time practicing to become better performers or working for the good of the club. It’s also not uncommon for them to devote many hours of added time with fund-raisers to defray organizational expenses.  Parents are not to be spared, either. Any parent of an “involved kid” at school will tell you about driving kids to and from practice, helping with fundraisers, etc.  So how do we feel about imposing an activity fee on the T/E students and their families?  Do you think that an activity fee will impact participation?

Checking other school districts, Lower Merion, Coatesville, Phoenixville, Owen J. Roberts and Kennett school districts currently have no additional activity fees. (I was not able to verify that Radnor School District imposes an activity fee – maybe a reader knows the answer.)  Great Valley and West Chester school districts do not currently have an activity fee but are considering such a fee for the 2011-12 school year. The Downingtown school district charges their activity fee at a flat rate of $25 per sport. 

Unionville-Chadds Ford School District currently has an activity fee but is considering an increase for next year’s budget. Their suggested approach is a creative four level-tiered schedule – $10, $25, $50 and $75 depending on the type of sports and student activity.  The fees will cover many kinds of activities from math and academic clubs to participation on sports teams, like football and basketball.  With the increase, the activity fees will generate an annual income of $133.00.  The calculation of fees was based on total cost of the activity, an amount not to exceed 20% of the total cost.  Using football fees as an example, the proposed increase is 200%, from a current $25 fee to $75; the increase would still be under the 20% of total cost.

If T/E adds an activities fee to the 2011-12 budget, how would the assessment be applied . . .  per activity, per sports involvement?  Would the charge be an annual assessment per student or per family?  Will the assessment be a flat rate or a creative multi-tiered approach?  Where does the T/E school board stand on the activity fee subject?  I will be curious to see if the activity fee subject is discussed at tomorrow night’s special School Board meeting.

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