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The saga continues in TE School District — Court rules against TE School District regarding residency of alleged hazing victim

court decisionThe saga continues … Sexting offenses, alleged hazing and residency dispute all involving one TE School District family. Chester County court rules against the TE School District in a stunning decision by Court of Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Sommer regarding residency.

(The complete article from today’s Main Line Media News follows my comments).

After reading the article, the first word that comes to mind is “accountability”.  Under whose authority did this situation happen — the hiring of the private investigator (from Cloud Feehery & Richter) at tax payer expense ($12K +) over a specific residency issue?  Does the District pay the private investigator over each claim of non-residency or was it just trying to get this specific student out of the District after sexting offenses? Who made this decision? Was it at the direction of the TE School Board and/or Superintendent? Is the hiring of investigators in residency situations routine in the District?  Does the School Board approve the residency investigations or is decision up to the school administration?

In rendering his decision in this residency case, Judge Sommer stated, “We find that the hearing officer willfully and deliberately disregarded competent portions of (the father’s) testimony and relevant evidence which one of ordinary intelligence could not possibly have avoided in reaching a result, thus making his credibility determination arbitrary and capricious,”  The judge also determined that the alleged victim and his father were denied their right to counsel.

The ruling of Judge Sommer certainly points to incompetence of the private investigator and the TE School District. The judge calls the District’s investigator incompetent and the taxpayers are stuck with the bill.  School Board, where are you?  Were you aware of this specific investigation regarding the residency of the alleged hazing victim and the apparent mishandling of the process? Was this a way to get the student out of the District?  And how does the District Solicitor Ken Roos factor into the residency investigation — was the decision to engage a private investigator in this specific case at his recommendation/advisement?

Who is in charge, where’s the oversight and accountability? I note that the District declined to comment for the article, what about the School Board? Will we receive an explanation?

Court rules in favor of the alleged hazing victim; judge rules student was legal resident of T/E SD

by Adam Farence

Court of Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey R. Sommer ruled in favor of the alleged hazing victim with regard to his residency issue with the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District, reversing the school board’s original decision to stop funding the alleged victim’s education at Buxmont Academy. Sommer also ruled the victim does not owe over $13,000 to the school district.

According to court documents, Sommer drew his conclusion from two issues. First, he determined the hearing officer from an earlier meeting incorrectly concluded the alleged hazing victim did not meet the federal definition of homeless.

The victim was reportedly kicked out of his previous Devon residence by his great-grandmother after his arrest for sexting-related offenses in October 2015. After he was kicked out, the alleged victim’s father drove him back and forth between his Devon bus stop and his mother’s residence in Chester, Delaware County.

It was during this time period that T/E officials hired a private investigator from Cloud Feehery & Richter to determine if the alleged victim did actually live within the school district boundaries. After several months of surveillance, the private investigator determined the victim did not live there.

The school district spent $12,281.92 on services rendered by Cloud, Feehery & Richter, according to a Right-to-Know request filed by the Daily Local News.

The alleged victim could not claim the Chester residence as his, according to court documents, essentially depriving him the chance to pursue a free education in Delaware County, and Sommer determined the alleged victim met the federal definition of homeless. He also criticized the hearing officer’s original finding.

“We find that the hearing officer willfully and deliberately disregarded competent portions of (the father’s) testimony and relevant evidence which one of ordinary intelligence could not possibly have avoided in reaching a result, thus making his credibility determination arbitrary and capricious,” Sommer wrote.

Sommer also pointed out the hearing officer was employed by the school district. “It takes no great leap of faith to recognize that the hearing officer is being paid by TESD, their ‘adversary,”” he wrote.

Second, Sommer determined the alleged victim and his father were denied their right to counsel.

According to court documents, the victim’s father was notified of the Jan. 20 non-residency hearing with the hearing officer only a few days prior. Sommer also wrote that the school district did not notify the father’s attorney even though they had been told in writing to do so.

Originally, the family was represented by William McLaughlin Jr., before he passed away in late March. For the remainder of the case, the family was represented by a new lawyer, Robert DiOrio. “…TESD not only did not notify Attorney McLaughlin of this hearing but made the pre-hearing notice period so short as to effectively cut Attorney McLaughlin out of the process,” court records state.

At the Jan. 20 non-residency hearing, the victim’s father did say he chose to come without counsel and knew he had the right to proceed with counsel if he wanted, but according to court documents, the circumstances surrounding the hearing undermined due process.

“We are very pleased with Judge Sommer’s well-reasoned decision,” wrote DiOrio.

School district officials declined to comment.

“We do not discuss individual student matters and therefore do not intend to comment on this specific case,” wrote district Solicitor Ken Roos. “However, the district remains committed to enforcing its policy of only permitting district residents, including anyone properly qualifying as homeless, to attend district schools.”

The alleged hazing victim’s father received a bill late January for over $13,000, after the school district originally determined he and his son reportedly lived outside the district’s boundaries. The father reported the alleged sodomy to school district officials about a week later in early February, and Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan announced assault related charges against three Conestoga High School football players on March 4. Over the course of a few days, news of the charges and the alleged sodomy spread across the nation.

The Fate of Tredyffrin Township’s Covered Wagon Inn spurs discussion by Radnor Commissioners


If nothing else, the possible demolition of the Covered Wagon Inn is furthering discussion about local historic preservation and municipal protection (or lack thereof) of historic buildings.

The ‘Save the Covered Wagon Inn’ historic preservation issue has not aired publicly in Tredyffrin Township. However, it was good to see that Radnor Township Board of Commissioners used the precarious future of the old inn in Tredyffrin, as an impetus to discuss ways to strengthen their own protection of historic buildings at their meeting this week.

As reported by Linda Stein in Main Line Suburban Life, Radnor Board of Commissioners President Jim Higgins asked local historian Greg Prichard to update the community on the protection of historic buildings in Radnor. One of Prichard’s recommendations for the township was to update the inventory of historic properties — Radnor’s current survey list is over 25 years old.

Interestingly, Tredyffrin Township already accomplished Prichard’s recommended task with their own 2003 Historic Resource Survey, which researched and photographed over 400 historic properties in the township, including the Covered Wagon Inn.

I was on the Tredyffrin Township’s HARB at that time (Tredyffrin no longer has a Historical Architectural Review Board) and it was our intent, at that time, that the 2003 survey would become the basis for a historic preservation ordinance to protect the community’s historic properties. But sadly, without municipal and/or elected official’s support, the historic preservation protection initiative never moved forward in Tredyffrin.

Fast forward to 2016, and local residents who care about protecting the Covered Wagon Inn, find themselves at the mercy of the CVS/Summit developers.The good news is that the developer has shown a spirit of cooperation and a willingness to help save the Covered Wagon Inn.

In discussing the plight of the Covered Wagon Inn, Prichard told the Radnor Commissioners, “The next time an important place is threatened in Radnor, I feel we shouldn’t have to organize big protests and publicity campaigns, when in most other places as special as ours, it’s a matter of policy.”  Following-up on Prichard’s remarks, Solicitor John Rice offered that Radnor could update its zoning ordinance to offer more protection of its historic properties.

Thank you Radnor Board of Commissioners for caring about historic preservation and thank you for having an open dialogue of ways to increase ;protection of historic buildings. We know that all developers will not be as willing as Summit Realty to help save a historic building, especially if there is nothing to prevent their demolition.

Preservationist and retired architect Edward Davis Lewis of Gladwyne penned the following op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer this week … at a minimum, the fate of the Covered Wagon Inn has people talking.


Save the Old Covered Wagon Inn

Bravo for running “Preservationists try to save landmark inn” as a front-page story (Feb. 16). In a toxic, throwaway society, voices of conservation should rightly be front page.

Like so many old taverns, the Old Covered Wagon Inn in Strafford, Chester County, is a landmark, a milestone, a stopping place on the turnpike of our shared history. Inns served as meeting places for traders and travelers, post offices, polling places, and employment centers for immigrants. In the age before radio, TV, and the Internet, locals gathered in them to hear news and discuss the issues of the day. They are our national heritage.

If the developers, Summit Realty Advisors, would build next to, instead of in place of, this old inn, they would gain value and give identity to a CVS pharmacy, unlike those in so many anonymous crossroad malls. The tear-down, throwaway mindset needs to be replaced by recycle, reuse, and renew with creative planning.

|Edward Davis Lewis, retired architect and preservationist, Gladwyne

People continue to sign the online petition, ‘Save the Covered Wagon Inn’ — to date, over 4,100 have shown their support. Click here if you would like to add your name.

Support continues to grow on the ‘Save the Covered Wagon Inn’ Facebook page – click here to visit the FB page.

The Sam (Severino) Caneda family owned the Covered Wagon Inn (1950’s) and share their personal memories

The passage of time … The following is a press release from the Sam (Severino) Caneda family, owners of the Covered Wagon Inn in the 1950’s, regarding the proposed land development plan which includes the demolition of the building.
Covered Wagon Inn early photo

Folks driving through Strafford have probably passed the Old Covered Wagon Inn building – as we know it – and wondered what it was. We pass it and see it as home and as a living manifestation of the American Dream.

When our parents opened the Covered Wagon in the 1950’s they had nothing but determination and a belief that their hard work would be rewarded. Their commitment to living their dream paid off. For decades the Old Covered Wagon Inn was the center of civic and social life in Wayne. The hottest big bands of the day, stars like Duke Ellington and Count Basie, stopped by to play there. Saturday days were for wedding receptions, nights were for dancing to Orr Marino and the Mainliners; weeknights were for Rotary & Lions Club meetings, Ward Marston on the piano, flambéed entrees & Caesar salad prepared table side in the colonial rooms. The Junior League held their Tinsel Ball there every year, St Raphaela Retreat house held an annual first flower of spring luncheon fashion show in the terrace, Villanova’s Blue Key society held fund raisers and Villanova boosters launched their campaign to reinstate football (they won!) at “the Wagon.” On any given day, at lunch or dinner, you would see the who’s who of Strafford, Wayne and Devon. Small business owners, whether it was Rod & Charlie Park from the hardware store, Bill Braxton, Joe Flagler (Flagler’s Citgo), Mr.& Mrs. Pugh, Mr. & Mrs. Rossi (Anro, Inc.), Russ Morgan (Main Line Printing), Mr. Eadah (Eadah’s Rugs & Ernest’s dad), The Taylors from Taylor Gifts, Sam Katz (Wayne Jewelers), Mr. Cappelli the Tailor, Mr. Fox & Mr. Roach BEFORE they became Fox & Roach, “the regulars,” all part of the history of that wonderful building.

The days when such community institutions existed may have passed, but the value of a building that reminds us of what it means to be a community has certainly not. And you can see that meaning in the memories and stories people posted online in response to the news that a developer is looking to tear the building down.

What’s more, there is real economic value in a building with the architectural surprises of the Old Covered Wagon Inn. Many of those treasures have been covered up over the years but all it takes is one visionary entrepreneur to figure out how to embrace the uniqueness of the building and its meaning as a community institution while giving it a 21st century twist.

A CVS can be built – or rebuilt – anywhere. A drive thru may be convenient but it certainly does not make our community special.

Once you tear down a historic building that meant so much to so many for so long, you do lose a piece of what makes a community special. We lose a piece of what makes Strafford, Strafford. And then what’s to distinguish us from every other town in Pennsylvania, or the United States, for that matter?

What’s in a Name … Miles Tavern, Black Bear Inn, Irish Tavern, Commodore Decatur, Conestoga Waggon Tavern, etc. The Covered Wagon Inn from the 1700’s: Update Part II


In describing the importance of the Covered Wagon Inn, Laura Hutton comments on the Save the Covered Wagon Inn Facebook page, “… This historic building adds to the character of this township, it demonstrates a continuity to our past and pride that our past is also part of our future.” Laura, your words could not be truer and only amplified by the historical findings of historian and author Margaret DePiano of Devon.

Since reading about the proposed CVS land development project which includes the demolition of the Covered Wagon Inn, Margaret DePiano has been pouring over the early history of the building. She has identified early owners, their relationships with historic events and compared multiple sources for documentation. Her research about the historic building (Covered Wagon Inn), its 18th century owners and the ties to the Revolutionary War era are fascinating.

Margaret is continuing her research on the early days of the Covered Wagon Inn but I wanted to share some of her findings on Community Matters.  Thank you Margaret; your research underscores and adds to the importance of saving this building.

For those who would like to add their signature to the growing list of names on the Save the Covered Wagon Inn petition, please click here and you be taken to it directly.

The Miles Tavern   circa 1747 – 1784   (Covered Wagon Inn)

Around 1720, when the Old Eagle School Road was carved out to intersect Lancaster Avenue (then Conestoga Road) the new road meandered through fields and pastures of our early farms. Those farms had many out buildings and one out building in particular is a part of the Old Covered Wagon Inn. The out building referenced here is situated within the middle part of today’s structure showing the outside chimney facing Lancaster Avenue. This out building existed on a farm that most likely dates back before 1700.

Many land records, tavern licenses, etc. before 1800 may not exist or incredibly hard to locate. According to an old circa 1776 map the particular location of this out building identified as the Miles Tavern was actually very close to the Chester and Philadelphia County border.  Delaware County was not founded until 1789 and it was years later before its border could be identified on area maps. Many tavern proprietors or landowners close to this Philadelphia County border identified Philadelphia as a source of origin for their establishments. These early taverns often served as posts for military recruiting as well as for military signaling.  The proprietors and their families of the many taverns along the old Conestoga Road were prominent individuals.

The Miles Tavern (The Old Covered Wagon Inn) was established around 1747 according to historical writings found within our local historical societies’ records. This tavern’s proprietor James Miles married Hannah Pugh and was a very active participant in the founding of The Baptist Church in the Great Valley. The Miles Tavern was ideally situated as a military post in the early days. It was located on the Conestoga wagon route with a direct access to Philadelphia as well as with Old Eagle School Road, which provided a short traveling distance to Valley Forge. Many unnamed Patriots are buried at the Old Eagle School Cemetery.

A possible historical association to the old Miles Tavern, which was located adjacent to or within the Philadelphia County borders that may be most impressive, was the then-Captain Samuel Nicholas who was the first commissioned officer by the Second Continental Congress on November 28, 1775 to lead a battalion of Continental Marines. Surmised by historian Edwin Simmons, Nicholas used the “Conestoga Waggon” tavern as a recruiting post however; the standing legend in the United States Marine Corps places its first recruiting post at the Tun Tavern in Philadelphia. This historical reference to an old “Conestoga Waggon” recruiting post at, near or within the Philadelphia borders may place the Covered Wagon in a position that quite possibly played a role in forming the Continental Navy in 1775. Today’s Old Covered Wagon Inn with a different spelling of “Wagon” may have taken its name from the early “Conestoga Waggon” tavern.

To add to the historical intrigue of the old Miles Tavern, Samuel Miles, son of James and Hannah, enjoyed a very prominent career in the military as well as in other careers that followed—A few historical snippets include: enlisted in Isaac Wayne’s Company, a part of Pennsylvania’s militia during the French and Indian War; organized a militia company of his own early in the American Revolution; entered politics and was elected to the House of Assembly in 1772 and was an advocate for American independence early on; George Washington’s dependence on Miles to secure boat transport for Washington’s army as it made it’s way south from New York to Yorktown in 1781; continued his role in history as a businessman when in 1783 he negotiated with financier Robert Morris to help underwrite the voyage of The Empress of China, the first American vessel to visit China’s mainland; cofounder of Centre Furness in State College with John Patton in 1791; was made Judge of the Appeals Court and served as an alderman and mayor of Philadelphia from 1790-1791—and there’s so much more!

Many taverns along the old Conestoga Road changed names frequently and at times, some taverns were acknowledged as having a shortened version of a name, given a nickname or no official name at all. Historical writings indicate that from 1747-1832 the Miles Tavern changed it name many times such as: John Miles Tavern; The Black Bear Inn; The Irish Tavern; The Unicorn (different location as the later Unicorn Tavern at Conestoga and Lancaster); The Commodore Decatur—named after Stephan Decatur Sr. and Jr. (Navy); and at times, no name.

Writings indicate that Jonathan Pugh with his son Captain Samuel Pugh were proprietors of the “older” portion of the tavern with James Miles’ son Richard owning the “newer” part until 1784. Around that time, the tavern was renamed The Unicorn. This reference about an “old” and “new” lends one to believe that the tavern had been enlarged before 1784. There was also an indication that from 1778-1784 Robert Kennedy rented The Unicorn—which was formerly named the Miles Tavern.  Records indicate that Robert Kennedy purchased the establishment in 1784. There’s so much more “early” history associated with The Old Covered Wagon Inn that we as a community cannot let this awesome piece of history slip away.

                      By Margaret DePiano, author of the DEVON book


References: The Continental Era in History of the United States Marine Corps on Wikipedia; Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society Quarterly, The Village of Spread Eagle by Herb Fry, The Old Lancaster or Conestoga Road by Boyle Irwin and Howard S. Okie; The Radnor Historical Society Bulletin Vol. III Fall, 1977 #7; Samuel Miles, Stephen Decatur Sr. & Jr. on Wikipedia;  Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike Road; Circa 1776-1777 Map –; Haverford Township Historical Society, The Lancaster Road and Turnpike

Seeking Support for Transportation Funding Bill from PA State Rep. Warren Kampf (R-157)

The infrastructure in Pennsylvania is in trouble and our roads, bridges, tunnels and transit systems are not going to fix themselves – they need funding.

Earlier this year the PA Senate passed a $2.5 billion transportation funding proposal but the House has yet to vote on the measure … but time is running short for the state lawmakers to make a decision about the transportation funding bill. When elected officials return to Harrisburg on Tuesday, November 12, following their election recess, they only have about 10 session days to get the bill to Gov. Corbett for his signature before the end of the year.

Most of the money (approximately $1.9 billion) in the transportation bill would go for road, bridge and tunnel improvements with an additional $500 million earmarked for mass transit projects. In April 2011, I cited a newly released Transportation of America study that named Pennsylvania as first in the nation for having the “largest percentage of structurally deficient bridges”. Without additional funding, the structurally deficient bridges are likely to be weight-restricted, and in some cases, closed.  Beyond the obvious travel difficulties (and potential safety risks) for motorists, the deteriorating infrastructure is no boon to the state’s economic situation.

Of particular interest in the transportation funding bill is the $500 million component marked for mass transit   – one would think that the Paoli Transit Center project would be a candidate. The long and winding road for the Paoli Transit Center looks to now hinge on receiving funding from the proposed transportation bill.   According to Tredyffrin Township Manager Bill Martin, in a MLMN article last month, “If the state can’t meet its current infrastructure needs, all new transportation projects – including Paoli’s – will be held up. Funding brings in more funding. Without state dollars for the project, we can’t get federal dollars and we won’t be able to make deals with private developers.” 

Beyond the Paoli redevelopment project, the Tredyffrin residents whose properties are close to the PA Turnpike, specifically in the Great Valley, Chesterbrook and Glenhardie areas, are seeing the turnpike widening and sound wall plan  ‘on hold’ pending the passage of the transportation funding bill.   The PA Turnpike Commissioners have not approved their fiscal year 2014 Capital Plan that contains the turnpike widening and associated sound walls in Tredyffrin Township. According to a recent email that I received as a member of the PA Turnpike Design Roundtable, “The delay in the [Capital Plan] approval is linked to the ongoing negotiations for statewide transportation funding.  … Hopefully, transportation funding will be address in the near future, and a fiscal year 2014 Capital Plan will be approved.”

The proposed transportation bill that is waiting for approval from State lawmakers significantly impacts two major Tredyffrin Township projects – the Paoli Transit Center and the PA Turnpike (in addition to the improvement of state roads and bridges in the township).  The bill overwhelmingly cleared the Senate in June, what is it going to take for the lawmakers in the House to approve it and send it on to Gov. Corbett for his signature?

Low approval ratings and a challenging reelection battle looming, has Corbett stumping for the passage of the transportation bill.  According to the latest Franklin & Marshall College poll (October 2013), only one in five registered voters (20%) in Pennsylvania approve of the job that Corbett is doing and 61 percent believe that the state is “off on the wrong track”.   You have to think that the passage of a $2.5 billion transportation bill that would improve roads, bridges and transit systems could help boost the Governor’s sagging approval ratings.

State representatives Warren Kampf (R-157) and Duane Milne (R-167) each have a section of the PA Turnpike in their Districts and likewise their Districts overlap in the Paoli redevelopment project.  And like Governor Corbett, Republicans Kampf and Milne are both up for reelection in 2014. Milne is on record as supporting the transportation bill, stating in Main Line Suburban, “Without a substantial transportation bill, there is close to zero chance that the Paoli project gets funded in anywhere close to the foreseeable future. Our state is near the bottom in terms of its roads and transportation system. There is no revenue stream that will let us do first-class upgrades to our roads and infrastructure. If there’s no bill, it’s going to hurt our ability to do new projects like Paoli. We’ll be looking at the status quo or at a declining status quo.”

On the other hand, Kampf has been vocal in his opposition of the proposed transportation bill, at least in its present form.  Although Kampf in not questioning the need for infrastructure improvements, he objects to lifting the tax ceiling on gas wholesalers that would then be passed onto consumers as a means of paying for transportation improvements.  According to his Op-Ed article on TE Patch,  Kampf states that the, “passage of this legislation as it is today offers no guarantees for the future of that, or any other, local project.”   We know that there is no guarantee on project allocation in the funding bill but there is a flipside to this argument — What happens to the Paoli Transit Center project if the currently proposed transportation bill passes the House without Kampf’s signature?

With neighboring District state representatives at odds over the transportation bill, this could be the death knell for our local train station redevelopment project.  If the bill passes without Kampf’s support it seems probable that the funding for the Paoli Transit Center is likely to be used elsewhere

 I understand that Rep. Kampf does not want to increase taxes and is particularly concerned about what the increase in gas tax could mean to seniors, families, and small businesses that are already struggling. Kampf claims that the majority of the constituents who have contacted him do not support an increase in gas taxes to fund road, bridges and transit system improvements.  As one of his constituents, I disagree.  If he spoke to the 4,000 residents in the Great Valley, Chesterbrook and Glenhardie areas impacted by the PA Turnpike widening and sound wall project, I’m guessing that they too would encourage his support of the transportation funding bill.

With a reelection campaign ahead in 2014, is Kampf’s political calculus that the voters will punish him for supporting the transportation bill if it means raising the cost of gas.  In my opinion, it is more likely that the voters will punish him if he doesn’t support the bill, especially if it means the loss of the Paoli Transit Center and the PA Turnpike projects for Tredyffrin.

It’s difficult for elected officials to support a tax increase when they are not running for office – but when its election year, the task is all but impossible.  If Corbett does not have the proposed transportation funding bill on his desk in 2013, it seems unlikely that it will resurface in 2014 (election year).

The infrastructure in Pennsylvania is in trouble and our roads, bridges, tunnels and transit systems are not going to fix themselves – they need funding and the money has to come from somewhere.  The clock is running down for State lawmakers to maake a decision on transportation funding.

Unclear what answers TE School Board needs regarding Affordable Care Act implemenation that they do not already have

When I added yesterday’s post on Community Matters, the TE School District had not yet posted their update from Monday’s Special School Board meeting.  Because of all the back and forth between the Board and the District solicitor, it was unclear as to  what Affordable Care Act answers were needed by the August 1 deadline that would allow the restoration of hours to  the aides, paraeducators and paraprofessionals.  The following explanation of that motion is now on the TESD website but it remains confusing as to what further information the solicitor needs regarding ACA before August 1, that the Treasury Department press release from last week did not include.

From reading the 100-word second sentence in the update below, exactly what further information does the Board want provided from Washington?  In an email to Caroline O’Halloran, which appears in today’s MLMN Suburban, school board President Kevin Buraks, stated “It is my hope that the Treasury Department will promptly provide the needed guidance so that we can restore our current aides and paraprofessionals to their full hours next school year.”  I guess it doesn’t matter that I’m not clear what that ‘needed guidance’ is, as long as Buraks and the other school board members, the administration and the solicitor know what further information they need.  Here’s hoping whatever Affordable Care Act guidance the Board seeks, arrives by the August 1 deadline!

School Board Reacts to Delay in Affordable Care Act Implementation

At a Special Meeting on July 8, 2013 to specifically address the Vanguard assessment appeal, the T/E School Board took action following the announcement of the delay of the Affordable Care Act as communicated by the Treasury Department last week. The Board action states that, upon confirmation from the District Solicitor that the Treasury Department has delayed the implementation of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act relevant to the Board’s June 17 resolution, the Board voted 8-1 to authorize the administration to suspend implementation of the Board’s June 17 resolution directing the administration to schedule all District part-time employees, such as aides and para-educators, for no more than 27.5 hours per week for the 2013-2014 school year to ensure that they meet the definition of part-time employees pursuant to the Affordable Care Act for the 2014-2015 school year.  If no such confirmation is made by the District Solicitor by August 1, 2013, the administration will not suspend the implementation of the Board’s June 17 resolution.  Whether or not implementation of the Board’s June 17 resolution is suspended, all new part-time hires, as defined under the Affordable Care Act, will be scheduled to work no greater than 27.5 hours per week.

Post-TE School Board Meeting: Saying No to “Sockpuppeteering’

The dust has begun to settle following the emotionally charged June meeting of the TE School District, a little over a week ago.  I wasn’t sure how (or if) I was going to write another post about that evening, but yesterday on my way to Valley Forge Park I passed a white ribbon tied to a Chesterbrook street sign and took it as a ‘sign’.

The reality of the June 17th meeting, and the unanimous vote by the Board to decrease the weekly hours of District aides and paraeducators, has me wondering how the energy expended by so many, had so little influence in the outcome.  At every District meeting, we hear the Board president encourage residents to attend meetings, and to participate in the decision-making process, but based on last week’s Board meeting, you really need to stop and ask yourself, why bother?  The three hours of citizen commentary was reduced to a short paragraph in the District’s update of the meeting, stating that that all aides, paraeducators and paraprofessionals would be reduced to part-time, and that their work week would not exceed 27.5 hours.

Before an audience of residents and District employees, our elected leaders were unmoved by the comments and suggestions from the public. Passionate parents spoke of the relationships their children shared with aides and emotional statements from affected employees (many of them TESD residents) explained what the reduction in hours would mean to them personnally.  Community members who had sought answers from healthcare experts, and thoughtfully offered their findings to the Board, were also unable to change minds. The outcome of the vote predetermined and the decision of the Board final, we are left puzzling why there’s such a disconnect between the public and our elected officials. The most troubling aspect was the Board’s total disregard for the residents and their opinions.

In the days since the Board meeting, some have suggested that the District aides and paras would have been better off had they been outsourced.  Although criticized that I did the affected employees no favors with my ‘no to outsourcing’ stance, I maintain there was ‘middle ground’ between outsourcing District jobs and cutting employee hours  … a dicussion the administration and school board was unwilling to have. One individual suggested that because our daughter did not attend TE schools that I have no business weighing in on school issues — implying that only those residents with children in the District are qualified to discuss. I disagree.  To the 80% of the residents, who are not parents of children in the TE School District, decisions made by the school board do affect you, and your opinion does matter!

I have received criticism for allowing anonymous comments on Community Matters.  Although I would prefer that people own their words under their own name, I understand that people may have personal reasons for remaining anonymous – including the fear of negative reprisal. As a result, I respect the preference of some genuine commenters to remain anonymous.  However, during the 4 years of Community Matters, I have discovered a negative subset of some anonymous commenters – ‘sockpuppeteering’.  This is a technique where an individual attempts to fool readers into believing that their comments originate by more than one person, while commenting with more than one screen name.

The New York Times explains the childish behavior of sockpuppeteering as, “the act of creating a fake online identity to praise, defend or create the illusion of support for one’s self, allies, or company.”  Recent comments on a Main Line Media News article had an individual masquerading as several different commenters, criticizing Community Matters and me. I cannot control the comment posting process of other sites, but going forward on Community Matters, please understand that if you attempt to post with more than one screen name, I will not post your comment. Just as I respect the need for anonymity, I ask that you respect and abide by this rule.

We understand that being an elected official is not an easy thing to do.   I believe that most people, regardless of party affiliation, run for office usually for the right reasons.  I think that most of them want to make a difference, most want to do the right thing and most of them want to help the people they represent.  I’m not sure why the train sometimes goes off the track.  Perhaps in the past, we have failed to hold our public officials accountable and as a result, they take on an attitude of indifference when we finally come to our senses and react to their actions.  As a result, they proceed on doing as they please instead as some of us wish.

So, where do we go from here?  For those that became engaged in the process during the outsourcing issue, now is not the time to give up and walk away.  The continued success of the TE School District is too important and requires our attention.  It takes a village to raise a child and … it takes the great teachers, aides, paras and support staff of the TE School District (plus supportive parents)  to educate the child!

Capital Health ‘flips’ Jimmy Duffy’s property — Sage Senior Living Development is ‘new owner’

This is provided as a follow-up to last night’s presentation at the Planning Commission meeting  on the planned assisted living project at the Jimmy Duffy’s site.

The sketch plan for the new assisted living facility presented by Kelly Cook Andress, President of Sage Senior Living Development, had some notable changes from the original Capital Health plan of 2012.  Gerald Farrell of Capital Health, developer Ed Morris and their attorney Denise Yarnoff attended numerous Planning Commission meetings and community meetings with neighbors and concerned citizens during 2012.  These meetings were the precursor to the township changing CI zoning to permit assisted living as a usage.

Up until the agenda for the Planning Commission meeting was released, we assumed that Capital Health was the owner.  There was no reference last night as to when Sage Senior Living came into the picture or why Capital Health was no longer involved.  However, Denise Yarnoff and Ed Morris do remain as the attorney and developer, respectfully, working now with Andress on the Sage project.

Although the information was not provided at the meeting, according to Caroline O’Halloran’s  Main Line Media News article, Eagle National Bank sold the property to Capital Health on March 29, 2013 for $2.25 million and then immediately ‘flipped’  the property to Sage Senior Living sometime in the last 3 weeks.

When originally presented to residents by Ed Morris in early 2011, the proposed project was described as a ‘retirement’ facility for seniors … a place for local residents to downsize from their large homes but remain in Tredyffrin Township.  I recall Morris initially suggested that many of the residents would have their own cars and be driving in the community.  As the project moved forward, Morris backed off the idea that most of the residents at the facility would be driving — he probably realized that by promoting that residents would be driving also meant they would have cars; and cars would mean greater parking requirements on the site.

Last night, Andress painted a very different picture of the project, stating that the average age of people moving in to the proposed assisted living facility would be 86 years, not the ‘empty nesters’ of the earlier plan.  She spoke of her Towson, MD facility, similar in size to the 78-80 units planned for the Duffy site.  At her Towson facility, only 2 of the residents still have drivers licenses and only one of them has a car.  Andress used the rationale of so few drivers as the reason that Sage Senior Living would not need the required parking.  She spoke of the stricter

How many parking spaces does Andress need for her Sage Senior Living project?  Here’s the applicable township zoning regulation:

§208-103 Off-Street Parking

(23) Residential care facilities for older persons and skilled nursing facilities: one parking space per two permanent beds approved unless otherwise a greater number is determined by the Zoning Officer after taking into consideration the number of units, occupancy per unit and number of employees.

Looking at Andress’ plan for 78-80 units (and assuming only one bed per unit) at a minimum, this assisted living facility requires 39-40 parking spaces.  The C1 zoning for assisted living permits a facility to have 100 beds, which would require a minimum of 50 parking spaces.  Although the adjacent VetCare has parking, those parking spaces cannot be included in the development project. The sketch plan indicated 37 parking spaces, which falls short of the township required parking.

The earlier assisted living facility plan required the use of the R1 zoning parcel to meet the parking requirement.  Andress’ plan show

Several times during the Sage Senior Living presentation, Andress referred to sub-committee meetings with Planning Commissioners.  It was unclear from the meeting which commissioners were part of this sub-committee although Commissioner Tory Snyder referenced these prior discussions in her comments to the applicant. As an audience member,  it was very confusing to follow the references to these non-public meetings.

Due to weather, Daylesford Neighborhood Association President Trisha Larkin was delayed in Chicago and unable to attend the Planning Commission meeting.  Trish provided the following statement to Community Matters:

Unfortunately my flight was delayed yesterday and I couldn’t attend the meeting.  However, I was briefed by several residents and here are our top concerns:

1. When C-1 zoning was changed last Fall to include ALF use, it was all predicated on the OLD owner’s vision and site plan.  Last night, the new owner (Sage) proposed a much different vision and perhaps a more “institutional” use than what was approved for Capital Health by the BoS.  The “lock-down/underground” dementia/Alzheimer’s Unit that Sage has in mind leaves us questioning if the PA Code allows for such use in C-1?  It seems that more discovery should take place to determine if such use is permitted in C-1.

2. § 208-103 Off-Street Parking Facilities.  Perhaps Sage is under the impression that supplying enough parking in the C-1 space is optional vs. mandatory.  Tredyffrin Township Zoning Code 208-103 states they must provide 1 parking space per 2 permanent beds.   This has been the DNA’s point for over a year – the Duffy space is entirely too small for this project.

If Sage chooses to put that many beds (78 – 100) on 1 acre, then they MUST provide a minimum of 39 parking spaces.  It’s irrelevant if the average resident is 86 and doesn’t drive.  Zoning laws are zoning laws! Tredyffrin already did Ed Morris a solid and changed C-1 zoning for this project.  Now what?  The PC, BoS and Zoning Health Board should just whimsically reduce the # of parking spaces required too?   Seriously?  You can’t have it both ways!  39 spaces are needed to safely accommodate employees, visitors, residents, deliveries, physicians stopping in to provide care, rehab nurses, etc.

It’s my understanding that Dr. Rowan of Paoli Vet Care was adamant at the PC meeting that he doesn’t intend to “share” his allotted 15 spaces with Sage.  Therefore, Sage should not include those spots in their June site plan.

So, the DNA asks (again) – HOW can Sage build the facility, the parking, picnic areas, etc. all on ONE acre of C-1 space?

Easy – they’ll ask the PC and BoS to “borrow” from the one acre of R-1!  Although the current sketch plan showed the R-1 parcel as “green” space, the DNA is very concerned Sage intends to use the R-1 space as “overflow parking” down the line.  The PC, BoS and ZHB cannot allow any more concessions for this project!  R-1 is a precious commodity and it needs to be protected!  The DNA must be assured that the green space (R-1) must never be used for anything other than green space!

Perhaps THIS is why ALF’s should have a have a 3 – 5 acre minimum requirement??  Try as you may…you JUST can’t stuff a Size 10 foot into a Size 5 shoe!!

3.  “Secret” Meetings:  It’s very concerning that a few PC members admitted that discussions took place at Sub-Committee meetings.  News to the DNA!  We’ve never been invited to any such meetings, nor did we know any such meetings occurred.  Since we are the folks that are most directly impacted by this project – (yet again) WHY are we not included in the process?  Frankly, it’s insulting.  It seems that the builder, the ALF owner, and a few township officials are involved in Sub-Committee (secret) meetings, but the residents are left out time and again.  Very sad.

The DNA plans to stay actively involved in the Site Plan process.  We respectfully request that the Township make no further concessions for this project.  If Sage is compelled to build such a massive project, perhaps they can look to larger parcels that would more appropriately accommodate such an ambitious project.

Thank you,
Trisha Larkin
DNA President


Addendum to this article:
As part of her presentation to the Planning Commission, Sage Senior Living Development President Andress described her other two assisted living facilities, one in Towson, MD and the other in Wallingford, PA – Plush Mills.  Because Plush Mills is close, I was interested to learn more about that facility and its management.  Plush Mills is a 7-story high-rise building in Delaware County and would have the same oversight by PA Department of Public Welfare as the proposed Paoli facility.

Researching Plush Mills online, I found violation reports from PA Department of Public Welfare stemming from annual state inspections.  Annual inspections are required for assisted living facilities in Pennsylvania.  All violations specified on the violation report must be corrected by a specified date and continued compliance must be maintained.

Some of the Plush Mills violations are as mundane as missing trash can lids to more serious issues including employees not receiving required Federal criminal background checks within required 80 days of hiring and discontinued patient medicine not properly destroyed.

Below are the links to complete PA Department of Public Welfare violation reports for Plush Mills:

The Saga of the Tennis Courts Continues …

The saga of the tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School continues.  On April 2, representatives from the School Board, Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, staff and the District’s architect held a public meeting to discuss the fate of the two tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School.

Although there was support to save the tennis courts from those residents in attendance, no decision was made at the meeting. The tennis courts are on the Facilities Committee agenda for tomorrow (Friday), 2 PM at the TESD Administration Building.  Also included in the agenda packet  is the site map for the parking lot expansion and aerial view of the courts.

I remain confused as to why the District wants to demolish the tennis courts.  From a logical standpoint, some of the arguments simply do not make sense to me.

  •  The tennis courts are not located adjacent to the parking lot and their location does not affect the parking lot expansion plans.  To add the 24 parking spaces does not require the demolition of the 2 tennis courts.
  • There has been much back and forth between the School District business manager Art McDonnell and the Township Manager Bill Martin and Township Engineer Steve Burgo in regards to “trading” impervious surface requirement of the parking lot expansion by demolishing the courts.  McDonnell claims that there was a prior agreement with former Township Manager Mimi Gleason in regards to this arrangement;  Martin and Burgo claim otherwise. 
  • In an email to Bill Martin and Art McDonnell (cc Phil Donohue) dated March 20, Burgo states the following: 

Township staff including the previous Manager (Ms. Gleason), Engineer (Mr. Burgo), and (Mrs. McPherson), attended meetings with Art McDonnell and TESD consultant staff on these Tennis Courts more than a year ago.  In those meetings, the TESD discussed their plans to add a new parking lot at the VFES in the future. I want to be clear that the TESD and their consultants originally asked if they could swap the impervious, but were told by the Township that they couldn’t.  Stormwater Management controls are required by the Township Stormwater Ordinance, for all new impervious being constructed onsite. There is no credit or swap if the courts are removed from a stormwater management standpoint, only from a zoning standpoint.

  • On behalf of the District, Art McDonnell has publicly maintained that there was a ‘deal’ in regards to the impervious surface requirement. Yet as evidenced by Burgo’s email, the township has denied any such deal existed.  Further, to the point, such a deal would be illegal as the stormwater ordinance makes no provision for such a credit.  Therefore, we can only conclude that the School District represented by the business manager Art McDonnell has been less than truthful as to their rationale for demolishing the tennis courts.
  • The construction of the additional parking spaces will require a zoning variance. According to VFES neighbor Matt Morgan, township officials indicated at the April 2 Facilities Committee meeting that they would expedite the process and probably waive the associated fees (if asked).

Besides the impervious surface debate, another rationale for the removal of the tennis courts from the District was their cost to maintain.  I have had a number of residents tell me that courts are in excellent condition – although I don’t claim any expertise on tennis courts, the 2 courts at VFES looked in good shape to me.

Another neighbor to the tennis courts, Don Detweiler, has been providing routine maintenance for a number of years.  Neither the School District nor the township has expended any dollars on the courts.  In an April 1 TE Patch article , local resident Jeff Sacks, a tennis coach, is quoted as offering to pay the maintenance cost.  According to Matt Morgan, a local Davis Cup tennis player who lives in the neighborhood and uses the courts, has offered to hold tennis clinics for children and donate the proceeds to maintain the courts.

Beyond the ‘he said, she said’ aspects of this story, that has me shaking my head is the notion that the tennis courts are going to cost money unless they are demolished.  According to the District, the cost to seek a variance from the township’s Zoning Hearing Board will be $12K – $14K; $2K in fees and the remainder in architectural fees.  However, the supervisors stated at the April 2 public meeting that they would probably waive the fees if asked.  And there would not be need for additional architectural services or drawings — the District could apply for a variance based on the current drawings.

Why is there such a rush to take down the tennis courts?  Why is the building of the 24 parking spaces contingent on the removal of the courts?  It has been verified that there was no such ‘deal’ exists to swap the tennis courts for impervious coverage requirement.  There should be a better reason to remove the tennis courts other than the courts are on District property and they School Board has the right to do what they want.  It’s true the courts are on District property but the District property is owned by the residents.

Tomorrow is the Facilities Committee meeting.  Representing the School Board on Facilities is Pete Motel, Jim Bruce and Liz Mercogliano.  According to a April 2 article in the  Main Line Media News, Mercogliano is siding with the residents and supports keeping the tennis courts.  From the article —

“There is no legitimate reason based on impervious surface, stormwater management, safety (or) sink holes to remove the court,” Mercogliano said in an e-mail. “The parking can be built in same area with no issue as there is more land space.

“The community deserves their right to be heard and look into other means of raising funds for maintenance and possible takeover of the court through the Parks and Recreation board or a similar foundation to raise funds. I am supporting a delay to allow the opportunity for the taxpayer to seek an alternative method to save the courts for the kids.

There will be a recommendation from the Facilities Committee tomorrow. If you are unable to attend the 2 PM meeting, you could send an email to the Board at: or to individual Board members. However, I emailed the School Board president Kevin Buraks 8 days ago (in regards to the tennis courts) and to date, have received no response or acknowledgement to my inquiry.

This Issue is not only Tennis Courts … It’s accountability from elected officials

It is likely that many in our community were not aware of last week’s drama over the planned demolition of the two tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School this past Saturday. Through the efforts of many neighborhood members, the courts received a temporary “stay of execution” to allow for further discussion.  However, getting the School Board Directors to call off the bulldozers at the ninth hour did not come easily or without a political tug-of-war between the School District and Tredyffrin Township.  In the end, the issue wasn’t about a few neighbors crying foul over the proposed demise of their local tennis courts. From my vantage point, this problem has more to do when elected officials and administrators choose to ignore the voices of the community until the situation borders on explosive.

For those that are unaware of what I’m talking about, here’s the brief overview.  Tredyffrin Township, on Tredyffrin Easttown School District property, constructed the tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School and until 2009, maintained the two courts.  In 2009, the Township decided they no longer wanted to maintain the courts and requested that the School District take over maintenance.  However, according to TESD business manager, Art McDonnell, the District has never maintained the tennis courts.

The District’s 2008 parking study concluded the need for additional parking spaces at Valley Forge Elementary School — requiring the expansion of the existing lot.  I need to point out that the parking lot and its planned expansion is located in the front of the elementary school whereas the tennis courts are in the back of the property.  The expansion of the VFES parking would not include the property where the tennis courts are located.

The obvious question to ask … why demolish the tennis courts if the parking lot expansion is not close to the courts. It was the view of the School Board that they could trade the increased impervious coverage and storm water requirements of the new parking area with the removal of the tennis courts.  The Board believed that this approach would reduce the parking lot project costs and save taxpayer money.  McDonnell claimed that there was an agreement between the District and the Township in this regard.

Shortly before last week’s School Board meeting, Glenhardie neighbors to Valley Forge Elementary School were notified of Saturday’s planned demolition of the tennis courts.  Representing her neighbors, township resident Rosemary Kait appealed to the School Board Directors to delay the demolition pending further discussion. Based on the discussion, it appeared that the demolition was required by the township to meet storm water requirement for the parking lot expansion project.  Kait left the School Board meeting and went  to the Board of Supervisors meeting, seeking  resolution.

As the clock ticked down to Saturday’s ‘Demolition Day’, there was a flurry of activity with phone calls and emails from the residents to the School Board and administration as well as the township manager and Board of Supervisors. What quickly developed was a ‘Tale of Two Cities’ – with Art McDonnell claiming that the Township required the demolition of the tennis courts to meet storm water requirements for the expanded parking lot.  Township Manager Bill Martin and Township Engineer Steve Burgo countered McDonnell’s claims, stating that the removal of the tennis courts would not reduce the storm water requirements of the additional parking spaces.

In a press release from the Township, Martin takes issue with the way the District is presenting the situation to the public, and states that the District’s “… statement implies the Township requirements ‘force’ you to remove the courts”.  Martin suggests, “The District could have easily gone to the ZHB (Zoning Hearing Board) for zoning relief to impervious coverage limit.”

As McDonnell and Martin issued their statements on behalf of the District and Township respectfully, the residents worked behind the scenes – appealing directly to members of the School Board and the Board of Supervisors.  Copied on many of the email exchanges, I learned that these tennis courts are regularly used, not just by neighbors but by children in PTO sponsored after-school tennis programs.  I also learned that the tennis courts are currently in very good condition; but not because the courts are maintained by either the District or the Township.  For several years, at no cost to the Township or District the neighbors have actually maintained the tennis courts.

Believing that there had to be a better solution than demolition, (like a ZHB variance), all the residents were simply asking for delay for further discussion.  Although some have suggested that the proposed demolition of the tennis courts is not political, you cannot escape the fact that the president of the School Board Kevin Buraks (D) and chair of the Board of Supervisors Michelle Kichline (R) are completing their first terms and now seek re-election to the School Board and BOS, respectfully.  Clearly caught in the midst of this tug-of-war and finger-pointing, the residents planned a 7 AM ‘Save our Tennis Courts” rally.

Supportive of the residents, I planned to attend their early morning rally.  Acutely aware that the School District owns the property and therefore has the right to demolish the tennis courts, I believed that further discussion could produce an acceptable alternative to bulldozing. Very late on Friday night, School Board president Kevin Buraks notified the neighbors of the Board’s decision to delay the demolition, pending further discussion.  The next monthly TESD meeting is Monday, April 22.

Bottom line … in my opinion, much of the drama over the demolition of the tennis courts and the ninth hour decision to delay could have been avoided.  How?  Residents deserve better communication and accountability from elected officials.  I am troubled by (1) the lack of adequate notification of the District to VFES neighbors of the demolition; (2) misrepresentation or confusion of the related facts (I suggest that you read the conflicting  Township press release and the School District’s response) and (3) the overall feeling from residents of unresponsiveness from the School Board and administration.

Normally, I do not comment on Ray Hoffman’s column in Main Line Media News, but I take issue with his characterization of the threatened tennis court demolition.  In this week’s column, Hoffman says, “… the recent flak from neighbors over the scheduled demolition of the two tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School is Shakespearean at its best, “much ado about nothing,” or an inventive modification of the NIMBY “law” at its worst.”

Mr. Hoffman, I could not disagree more … the proposed tennis court demolition is about much more than about ‘nothing’.  It is about accountability and transparency from our elected officials.  It is about the public’s trust for fairness from our government.  It is about those elected to serve listening to our concerns and working with us for acceptable solutions.  Poor accountability erodes our trust.

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