May Garrett Itin

T/E School Board Candidates Question #1: Public Accountability

Here is the full list of candidates running for T/E School Board – See Question #1 and the candidate responses below (in alphabetical order by last name).

T/E School Board Region 1 Candidates
Roberta Hotinski (D) Incumbent, unopposed
Todd Kantorczyk (D) Incumbent, unopposed

T/E School Board Region 2 Candidates (2 seats available)
Doug Anestad (I)
Michele Burger (D) Incumbent
Stacy Stone (D)
Ed Sweeney (R) Incumbent

T/E School Board Region 3 Candidates
Mary Garrett Itin (D)* opposed by Nicholas Lee (R)
Incumbent Kate Murphy (R) opposed by Sue Tiede (D)

*Mary Garrett Itin was appointed to the T/E School Board in July 2019 (to fill the seat vacated by Heather Ward) to serve through the December 2, 2019 School Board Reorganization Meeting.

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QUESTION #1: Public accountability requires that our school board provide oversight of the school district. Do you see room for improvement in this area and if so, what would you change. Please be specific.

Doug Anestad Response:

I do not believe that the school board has been providing the necessary oversight of the school district. Over and over again, the administration has either not given the school board information in a timely manner or has outright deceived the school board into believing things that were not true.

The response from the school board has been to give the superintendent a satisfactory rating and give the business manager a pay raise and bonus. It is unacceptable for the administration to deceive and lie to the school board.

As a school board member, I would not sit silently by as district administrators keep important information from the board or deceive the board through lies, half-truths, misdirections, and straw man arguments. Anyone who has been watching the school board meetings already knows that I will speak up to tell the truth when the administration is not doing so.

Michele Burger Response:

Serving on the Board of a top ranked district might lead one to believe that the need for oversight is minimal. Not true. I will advocate for improvements specifically in the areas of financial planning and the budgeting process as a whole, user-friendly documents and communication regarding the district’s infrastructure and capital improvement schedule, effective communication to all stakeholders regarding the financial challenges of increasing enrollment and unfunded state mandates, and the need for providing data to teachers and parents when evaluating the effectiveness of the instruction that students are receiving. I have publicly advocated the hiring of an independent financial advisor in order to develop a long range plan for future financing of capital projects. I requested a monthly report of special education expenses which the administration implemented this year. I amended this year’s district goals to include that the Superintendent provide the Board with a new goals and objectives format that will be measurable.

Roberta Hotinski Response:

There is always room for improvement. One area I believe we need to work on is a data-driven approach to district management in all areas, but particularly to ensure that our educational program is working well for all students.  The new student data system will help us on that front by allowing us to easily view district-wide performance data, and I look forward to applying that information to understand and address literacy and equity issues.

I have also supported improving our annual goal-setting process by including measurable goals and metrics for success, and I have proposed that our committees take a more active role in developing district goals.

Finally, I advocated to expand the district’s strategic plan to address not just the educational program, but also operations and sustainability, to ensure that the board is taking a long-term view of those issues.

Mary Garrett Itin Response:

Good governance and well-run organizations require that we are all accountable.  Strengthening accountability has been a focus of my work since joining the School Board.  I request detailed information to make decisions.  Additionally, we need improved transparency and communication for the community to understand and have input.  When I make a proposal, I work to be as specific as possible for real discussion and defined next steps.  I see room for improvement in the following areas: 1. Ending each meeting with the review of the agreed upon action items with due dates and reviewing progress on action items at the beginning of each School Board meeting. 2. For our District Level Goals and any applicable changes, we need to define outcomes and utilize data and assessments to evaluate and refine goals as needed. 3. Inclusion of letters received by the Board in the agenda.

Todd Kantorczyk Response:

School Board oversight is comprised of two major components: providing direction to the District consistent with the District’s mission statement and what the Board feels is in the best interest of the community; and obtaining information the Board feels is necessary to provide this direction.  The first point depends on the views of each individual member.  For the second point, during my four years on the board, I feel that lines of communication between the Administration and the Board have been very good, and I have been provided with information I felt was necessary to provide informed direction.  But there are always opportunities for improvement, and during my tenure we have implemented new practices to enhance information communication, including regular administration reports on special education spend, a new policy concerning unpaid invoices, and supplemental administration reports on significant initiatives including elementary redistricting, delayed start times and reading instruction.

Nicholas Lee Response:

I would demand that our T/E school administration provide a clear and transparent budget each and every year. The recent $5.5 million budget discrepancy and the accounting error that cost our district $1.2 million are glaring examples of disorder in our financial household. Community Matters has done a great job documenting both of these cases (as well as the recent tax increases) on this website and I believe the T/E taxpayers and parents are frustrated and angered with the status quo. Governmental agencies should not fear financial transparency nor should a school district avoid providing a balanced budget for its taxpayers.

Kate Murphy Response:

Unfortunately, recent events have made it clear that we do need to improve our oversight.  I’ve made several efforts through my position as chair of the Policy Committee to do this, including changes to our superintendent’s responsibilities with regard to payment of invoices and more public engagement though a proposed Literacy Committee.  But your question is a difficult one because each board member represents only one of nine votes.  And frankly, the style and quality of oversight depends on how the members of the board go about doing their jobs.  In this regard, my strength is the time and energy I put into working with other board members to exchange our thoughts and build coalitions within the board.  I do not think a dissociated and dissonant board is effective—we need to work together, and I intend to continue taking every opportunity to do that.

Stacy Stone Response:

T/E consistently ranks among top districts in the Commonwealth and nation; however, there is always room for improvement.  The duty of the administration and school board is to adhere to sound fiscal practices while ensuring that our students get the best possible education. One area needing improvement is district goal setting, both process and product. The board recently requested inclusion of “success indicators” for each goal, but the administration’s first attempt resulted in the insertion of rather vague statements. Additionally, the process to date has been to delete the previous year’s district goals from the website prior to the first board meeting of the new school year without any public review. We need specific, measurable goals and objectives as well as a public process—beginning in the spring rather than the fall—that reviews the District Goal Completion Report to inform development of appropriate goals for the next school year.

Ed Sweeney Response:

Absolutely yes!

First, revamp the budget process.  I have submitted a comprehensive Financial Reform Program developed by knowledgeable citizen volunteers to the Board for consideration.  Key points:

  • The Superintendent is accountable to give the Board the most accurate financial picture possible
  • The administration must submit a balanced budget without use of fund balance
  • TESD is challenged to win the award for budget transparency in Pennsylvania
  • The appointment of a committee with 6-12 volunteers of exceptional financial backgrounds to give the Board advice.

Our goal: “real time” knowledge of the financial status of the district to make decisions. Second, all options must be on the table to obtain the goal, including personnel change. Third, we need to partner more with parents and knowledgeable citizens to get diverse viewpoints.  Common sense ideas like a Literacy Committee need to be implemented. Fourth, the ongoing Strategic Plan Process is an excellent opportunity to effectuate change.

Sue Tiede Response:

As a member of the T/E School Board, I would work with the other members of the Board to provide effective oversight of the district by adhering to the principles of the non-profit Pennsylvania School Boards Association. The PSBA describes the role of the Board of School Directors in the following way: “School boards are most effective when they concentrate their time and energy on using the authority delegated to them to govern at the strategic level, determining what it is the community’s schools should accomplish, enacting policies that implement those goals, hiring professional staff to accomplish them and allocating the resources necessary to make all of that happen.”

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