Neal Colligan

Judge Tells Lower Merion School District to Revoke Tax Hike — Could the same thing happen in T/E School District?

A significant decision in the Arthur Wolk vs Lower Merion School District (click on bolded link to read 17 pg. decision) case  was rendered by Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Joseph Smyth this week.  Judge Smyth ordered Lower Merion School District to revoke its tax hike, claiming that the school district could not increase taxes for 2016-17 by more than 2.4 percent. If a Lower Merion resident could take on his school district for over-taxing (and win), this decision has far-reaching ramifications for other school districts, including T/E School District. Not only front page news locally in the Philadelphia Inquirer but the Associated Press has picked up the story with articles appearing in the Washington Post, Boston Globe and beyond.

In his decision, Judge Smyth ruled that Lower Merion School District had consistently understated revenues and overstated expenses so it could falsely raise taxes when in fact it had huge surpluses. TE School District residents are you listening?  Our school district has raised taxes for the last 12 years (see chart below) and continues to build its fund balance. The TE School District fund balance as of June 2016 school board meeting is $32,381,047. Just like Lower Merion School District, our school district continues to raise taxes and increase the fund balance. Folks, that is $32+ millions of taxpayer dollars!

Taxpayers in TE School District have seen their taxes increased for the last twelve years as follows:

  • 2016-17: 3.6%
  • 2015-16: 3.81%
  • 2014-15: 3.4%
  • 2013-14: 1.7%
  • 2012-13: 3.3%
  • 2011-12: 3.77%
  • 2010-11: 2.9%
  • 2009-10: 2.95%
  • 2008-09: 4.37%
  • 2007-08: 3.37%
  • 2006-07: 3.90%
  • 2005-06: 1.40%
  • 2004-05: Zero Tax Increase

Will the Court’s decision to revoke Lower Merion School District tax challenge the TE School Board to reconsider their budgeting approach?

Attending TESD Finance and School Board meetings over the years, we have witnessed knowledgeable, educated residents appeal to the District on this subject – Ray Clarke, Neal Colligan, Doug Anestad, etc. have repeatedly weighed in on financial issues with their comments and suggestions. The discussion of the TESD 2016-17 budget even had former Tredyffrin Township Supervisor Mike Heaberg  attempting to reason with the school board.  Sadly, the school board does not listen – but continues to increase our taxes, build its mountain of “fund balance” dollars and, for the most part, does so with a unanimous 9-0 vote.  Where does it end?

Having read the decision in the Lower Merion School District case, Neal Colligan (with input from Ray Clarke) provides the following economic analysis between LM and TE school districts.  Thank you both – and here’s hoping that the TE School Board reads it!

I know we’ve all been reading with great interest the results of the Lower Merion tax case which made its way to page 1 of the Inquirer today.  This is frighteningly similar to the operations of our School District and I thought it might be interesting to do some comparisons.

The resident case against the LMSD basically argued that they had District had entered into a pattern of projecting annual operating deficits during their budget (and tax rate increase) process and ended each year with large surpluses.  The lower Court judge agreed and ordered LMSD to rescind some of their current tax increase.  As you know; we’ve experienced the exact same pattern in T/E.  For each of the last 5 years; the District has projected a deficit in its budget deliberations; set an aggressive tax (sometimes the Max allowed in the Commonwealth) increase to “close the gap” ; and each year ended in a Surplus position.  It might be fun to dig deeper.

LM’s current budget allocates approximately $259 MM to District spending; T/E’s current budget is about $131 MM…just about half the size.  According to the press releases; LM accumulated $40 MM in Fund Balance over the last 6 years (16% of current budget); T/E has accumulated about $13 MM (10% of current budget).  In the prior six years LM taxes increases have been 21.01%; in T/E we’ve had 18.68%. (The Judge’s order states that since 2006 LMSD has increased its taxes by 53%; the increase in T/E has been 38%.  I used the more narrow, recent figure as LM’s increases were skewed in the early years).   LM’s accumulated Fund Balance is reported at over $57 MM (all Fund/Capital accounts included); T/E’s is about $42 MM (this includes Fund Balance and Capital Fund which was funded by Fund Balance transfer)…about 74% of LM.  Let’s go deeper: The Court commented in the LM suit that the District’s average overestimation of expenses was 5.5% and the average underestimation of revenues was 1.1%.  T/E has a similar history (I say it differently); in the last 10 years, our District has spent about 96% of its budgeted expenses (this budget drives the tax increase obviously) and collects about 101% of its budgeted revenue.  Does it all seem similar?

Some other interesting notes.  LM Enrollment growth in the last 4 years-9.03%; T/E Enrollment growth 1.46% (this statistic was used in the LM budget presentation to justify the tax increase).  Students (approximate): LM-8,200; T/E; 6,400.  Years in the last 6 that tax increase was in excess of Act 1: LM-6; T/E-5.  EIT in community: LM-No; T/E-No.  Special Education budget: LM-$46 MM; T/E-$20 MM.  Salaries: LM-$123 MM; T/E-$57 MM.

In many ways, we compare favorably to LM.  Remember that LM spends the highest amount on a per-student basis in the State.  Without getting too far into the weeds; the fact remains that we, like our neighbors in LM, have been given deficit budgets in each of the last 5 years followed by “necessary” aggressive tax increases.  Our results have been a production of SURPLUS in each of those years; just like LM.  That’s the fact pattern that this suit took to question.  The same fact pattern exists here…almost precisely.  It’s nothing new; we’ve talked about in the T/E Finance Committee meeting for years BUT now there’s a new finding from the Courts.

Come to your own conclusions…the facts are pretty easy to find.

TESD: Proposed Tax Increase of 4.3% Drops to $3.875% — School Board to leave $20 in taxpayer pockets

Tax-increaseFor the 13th year in a row, it looks like the TE School Board will vote to increase taxes to its residents.

At the District’s budget workshop last night, the public learned that the proposed 2016/17 tax increase has decreased – the tax increase has reduced from the 4.3% contained in the preliminary budget approved in January.  The proposed tax increase is now 3.875%.  This ‘decrease in the increase’ means homeowners will keep roughly $20 of the proposed tax increase in their pockets.

T/E School District has one of the largest fund balances in the state – in 1996/97, the District had a fund balance of $4,333,661 and in the last decade we saw the fund balance increase to more than $28 million.  The total fund balance as of June 2015 was $32,381,047 – that’s $32.4 million in taxpayer dollars. Continuing to grow the fund balance, the District shows a budget surplus for the fifth year in a row yet residents continue to feel the sting of an annual tax increase.

Ray Clarke and Neal Colligan were in attendance at the budget workshop and their comments from the meeting are appreciated.  Thank you both.

If residents care about the proposed ‘thirteen years in a row’ tax increase, they should plan to attend the TE School Board meeting of April 25 and voice their opinion.

Budget Workshop Notes from Ray Clarke:

Three hours of discussion at last night’s TESD Budget Workshop culminated in some good news for taxpayers – although you’d need a microscope to see it.  The Board will vote at its April 25th meeting for a “Preliminary Final Budget” that includes a tax increase of 3.875% – down from the maximum allowable by a token 0.4% (worth about $20 for the average taxpayer, who is still faced with an increase of more than $200).

Notwithstanding well-articulated positions from members Dorsey, Sweeney, Burger and Hotinski (and from the audience) for a lower rate, more considerate of the increased fees to families and the fixed, inflation-linked incomes of retirees, the outcome seemed pre-ordained, driven by the same majority that voted for the senseless VFMS fences.  That majority seems pre-occupied by risk and unable to appreciate that every number they are given by the Administration is conservative.  For example:

–  Half of the adjustments to the Preliminary Budget could arguably be higher – most notable being the use of approved rather realistic estimates to budget the impact of staff retirements.

–  There was much lamentation of the possible impact of the next union contracts (due in 2017/18), without recognition that the projections already include 7-10% increases in the benefits costs (worth 1-2% in total compensation).

–  Revenue projections are especially murky.  This year’s transfer tax is already $1 million over Budget, as are even base real estate revenues – the most predictable of all line items!  It’s not at all clear if next year’s Budget, developed months ago, considers these developments.

Years of operating outcomes favorable to Budget show that the Administration is skilled at managing its resources.  Superintendent Gusick read a scripted plea for the Board to set the District’s tax parameters and pledged to implement a process next Fall to conduct the oft-advertised “deep dive” into expense strategies that would address any apparent operating deficit that resulted.

The April 25th Board vote is not final, but is nevertheless significant.  Anyone that believes that our School District should be managed more like the County Intermediate Unit, which also last night presented its Budget and a commitment to live within the Act 1 2.4% Inflation Index, should come out in support of our Board members who are trying to hold the line here in TE

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Budget Workshop Notes from Neal Colligan:

-Current Year operating projections now show an estimated $984,000 Surplus for the District for the 2015-16 fiscal year (this year).  Current year’s budget was passed with an anticipated deficit of $1.654 MM.  It’s a miracle…a $2.5 MM swing!

-This “miracle” of Deficit Budget morphing into an Actual Surplus has now happened in EACH of the last five years.

-As a result of these Surpluses; the District has added almost $12 MM to its Fund Balance over the last 5 years…that’s a pretty profitable operation!!!

-With over $32 MM in Fund Balance (about to be over $33 MM with this year’s Surplus); at what point is that adequate?

-The growth of the Surplus is remarkable as we always seem to be “up against the wall” when it comes time to set a new tax rate.  Possibly this pattern is a result of the budget forecasting methods employed when looking at the next year’s budget.  On average (10 years); the District collects a bit over 100% of budgeted revenue and spends about 95.5% of budgeted expenses.  Perhaps this speaks more to the budget estimates used at tax setting time than actual operational changes employed during a given fiscal year.

-At 3.875%; the tax increase this year will be higher than the 3.84% increase imposed on the community for this year.  Not sure the new Board Members ran to increase taxes.

-Perhaps it is time to look at using a small amount of our Surplus (88% funded by local sources) to dampen current tax increases?  One could certainly argue that the Fund Balance is now super-adequate and it is taxpayer money that they were told would go to education….!!!???

Republicans win all 4 seats on Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors and Democratic candidates win 3 of the 5 seats on TE School Board

The results are in for Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors and the TE School Board. Four supervisor seats and five school board seats were up for grabs with only one incumbent supervisor candidate, Paul Olson (R) and one incumbent school board candidate Kris Graham (R) seeking reelection. The four open seats on Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors went to the Republicans and three of the five seats on the TE School Board were won by Democratic candidates.

For the two at-large supervisor seats, Republicans Sean Moir and Trip Lukens will replace Michael Heaberg (R) and Kristen Mayock (R) who did not seek reelection as at-large supervisors in Tredyffrin. The results are as follows:

TOWNSHIP SUPERVISOR AT-LARGE TREDYFFRIN TOWNSHIP
ELVA BANKINS (DEM) . . . 3,326
LOUIS HORVATH (DEM) . .3,320
SEAN MOIR (REP) . . . . . .  3,786
TRIP LUKENS (REP). . . . . .3,700

In the Tredyffrin West 3rd District supervisor race, Heather Greenberg (R) beat Yolanda Van de Krol (D) by 27 votes and will take the vacated seat of John Buenaventura (R) who did not seek reelection. The results are as follows:

DISTRICT SUPERVISOR 3RD DISTRICT TREDYFFRIN 3RD DISTRICT
YOLANDA VAN DE KROL (DEM) . . . . .  1,186
HEATHER BOYD GREENBERG (REP) . 1,213

Paul Olson (R) retains his seat as Tredyffrin East 1st District supervisor against challenger Tory Snyder (D). This was the second match-up for these two candidates. Four years ago in a close race, Snyder lost by 13 votes to Olson. In the 2015 race, 20 votes separated the two candidates. Olson is the longest serving supervisor in Tredyffrin Township history with more than thirty years of service. The results are as follows:

DISTRICT SUPERVISOR 1ST DISTRICT TREDYFFRIN 1ST DISTRICT
TORY SNYDER (DEM). . . . . . . . 1,233
PAUL W OLSON (REP) . . . . . . . 1,253

On the TE School Board, there were five school board seats available, four from Tredyffrin and one from Easttown.. In the Easttown Region III race, Kate Murphy (R) will fill the seat of Peter Motel (R) who did not seek reelection. The results are as follows:

SCHOOL DIRECTOR TREDYFFRIN EASTTOWN REGION III
FRANCIS M REARDON (DEM). .  829
KATE MURPHY (REP). . . . . . . . 1,420

Democratic candidates Roberta Hotinski and Todd Kantorczyk won the two seats in the Tredyffrin Region 1 race. The results are as follows:

SCHOOL DIRECTOR TREDYFFRIN EASTTOWN REGION I
ROBERTA M HOTINSKI (DEM) . 1,394
TODD KANTORCZYK (DEM) . . . 1,378
NEAL COLLIGAN (REP) . . . . . . . 1,287
NEILL C KLING (REP) . . . . . . .    1,269

The one incumbent TE School Board director Kris Graham (R) finished in last place in the Tredyffrin Region II race. Turnout was high in the precincts close to Valley Forge Middle School so it appears that fencing was an important issue to voters. Stressing transparency and public engagement during the campaign, Michele Burger (D) and Ed Sweeney (R) were the top vote recipients. The race results were as follows:

SCHOOL DIRECTOR TREDYFFRIN EASTTOWN REGION II
MICHELE BURGER (DEM). . . .  2,527
ALAN YOCKEY (DEM). . . . . . . . 2,189
EDWARD C SWEENEY (REP) . 2,310
KRIS GRAHAM (REP). . . . . . . .  2,055

Thank you to all candidates for your time, energy and willingness to serve as township supervisors and school district directors. Congratulations to those candidates who won and we look forward to your service to the community.

All results are from the Chester County Voter Services website.

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.

Still undecided on TE School Board & Tredyffrin Twp candidates? ‘Meet & Greet’ at St. Davids Golf Club on Wednesday, Oct. 28

meet-the-candidates

Still undecided?  Here’s another opportunity to meet the Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisor and TE School Board candidates before Election Day on Tuesday, November 3.  The Panhandle Civic Association is sponsoring a “meet & greet” on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 7-8:30 PM.  See information below:

CANDIDATES MEET AND GREET

OCTOBER 28, 2015

The Panhandle Civic Association is sponsoring a Candidates Meet and Greet on Wednesday, October 28, 2015.  The gathering will be held at the St. Davids Golf Club, 845 Radnor Street Road, Radnor, from 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM.  This will be an informal affair providing you the opportunity to speak one on one with the candidates of both parties, to ask questions and to share thoughts and concerns.  Please come prepared to ask our candidates where they stand on issues that matter to you.

Candidates for Region 1 School Board and attending the Meet and Greet:

Neal Colligan (R)

Roberta Hotinski (D)

Todd Kantorczyk (D)

Neill Kling (R)

Candidates for District 1 Board of Supervisors and attending the Meet and Greet:

Paul Olson (R)

Tory Snyder (D)

Candidates for At Large Board of Supervisors and attending the Meet and Greet:

Elva Bankins (D)

Lou Horvath (D)

Trip Lukens (R)

Sean Moir (R)

Although not required for attendance, we would like to have reasonable sense of how many people will be coming to this meeting.  Please let your Block Captain know if you plan to be at the event, or send an email to: j.k.lindberg@att.net.  Please indicate if you are a resident of the Panhandle.

There is no charge for anyone to attend this gathering.  Light appetizers and non-alcoholic beverages will be available from the Club.  If non-Panhandle residents want to take advantage of this service, they will be charged $10.00.

For questions about this event, please email Christine Wright at wright502@verizon.net.

Improving Public Communication and Transparency, School Fencing, Real Estate Development, Tax Increases — All Important Issues to Tredyffrin Voters

Candidates for the TE School Board and the Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors participated in a ‘Meet the Candidate’ forum sponsored by Chester County League of Women Voters on Saturday.  As an audience member, it was clear that as voters we are lucky as most of the candidates had done their homework. The candidates were prepared, understood the important issues and were able to present their views effectively. The township and the school district are fortunate to have qualified community members willing to take on the challenges of elected office.

Improving public communication and transparency, fencing at Valley Forge Middle School, yearly tax increase, real estate development and pension reform remain important issues with residents. The candidates addressed resident questions regarding these issues and others on Saturday.

If you were unable to attend the candidate forum, you can find a rebroadcast on the township website as follows.

Click here to view the Chester County League of Women Voters ‘Meet the TE School Board Candidates.

Click here to view the Chester County League of Women Voters ‘Meet the Tredyffrin Township Candidates’

Election Day is a week from tomorrow, Tuesday, November 3.  Before casting your vote, know the candidates!

On Thursday, October 29 at the Tredyffrin Township building, the Chesterbrook Civic Association is sponsoring a ‘Meet the Candidates’ event.  Open to the public, this will be a good opportunity to ask specific questions of the supervisor and school board candidates.  Please plan to attend.

Meet the Candidates 2015
Township Building, 7:00 – 8:30pm
Thursday Oct. 29

Board of Supervisor candidates in attendance:
Democrats
Elva Bankins, Lou Horvath, and Yolanda VanderKrol
Republicans
Trip Lukens and Heather Greenberg

School Board candidates in attendance:
Republicans
Ed Sweeney and Kris Graham
Democrats
Michele Burger and Alan Yockey

Come and ask the tough questions about tax increases, development, student safety, fencing at VFMS, and funding for the fire and ambulance company. Be an informed voter: this election matters.

                   Sponsored by the Chesterbrook Civic Association

Like many community residents, Chesterbrook resident Doug Anestad has voiced concerns related to the fencing plans at Valley Forge Middle School. Doug sent the following email on October 10 to each TE School Board candidate. He received responses from all school board candidates except for two — Doug did not have a valid email address for Fran Reardon (D) and incumbent Kris Graham (R) elected not to respond.

Dear T/E School Board Candidate,

I would like to get your official position regarding some questions concerning the Valley Forge Middle School proposed fences. Your reply by end of the day Saturday, October 17 would be most appreciated.  1) Where do you stand on the Valley Forge Middle School fence issue?

2) Do you think it is a good use of taxpayer money to spend $15,500 to hire a safety consultant to review the VFMS site?

3) Would you support installing additional fencing at VFMS if the safety consultant recommends it? If you would support additional fencing, how would you reconcile this with the public’s right to use the walkways?

Thank you for your time in addressing these questions.

Regards,

Doug Anestad

If you want to know where the school board candidates stand on the fencing issue you can read their full responses to Doug’s questions —  click here.

Update on TE School District Finances and Tredyffrin Township declares State of Emergency for Pope’s visit

 

Tuesday night marked TE School District’s first Finance Committee meeting of the new school year.  Although I was unable to attend the meeting, my friend Ray Clarke did attend the meeting and shared the following notes from the meeting.  Thanks Ray!

The TESD Finance Committee opened the 2015/16 season with a relaxed session on Tuesday night.  The meeting was attended by candidates Berger, Colligan, Kling, Hotinski and Kantorczyk.  A few highlights from my perspective:

Budget Process

– Finance committee approval of the Preliminary Budget is due in just three months.  After some discussion about teeing up review of opportunities in the district’s self insurance of its health plan and potentially of some special education risks, Doug Carlson requested that the Administration present the Committee with full district budget scenarios that start with expenses managed to revenues with no tax increase.  Hopefully we’ll get more than the standard operating procedure showing a $6 million deficit.

– By the way, somehow in an environment of last 12 months US inflation of 0.2%, the Act 1 index is 2.4%.  Half of the index is the increase in the Federal school employment cost index, showing how contract awards get baked into future taxes.

Current Financials

– August YTD expenses/encumbrances are up across the board, total up 12% versus last year, driven by special ed instruction up 32% (over $3 million) YTD.  I don’t recall the explanation for this but I didn’t hear any immediate concern that the overall 5% budgeted expense increase would be exceeded.  One number that does stand out for the full year budget is the $770,799 (11%) increase in the Administration budget.

– For those of use that liked to do a quick scan of the month’s check register from high to low, the task has been made harder by a switch to reporting the check register by pay period in alphabetical order.  This seems arbitrary; when asked why, no reason was provided.

– The actual results for last year are still months away, awaiting the external audit.  The Business Office is working through the encumbrances and deciding what should be released; an interesting exercise, no doubt.

Department of Unintended Consequences

– Restricting part-time employees to 27.5 hours has caused a significant shortfall in the number of teachers/aides available to support the after-school homework clubs, and this is becoming a real problem with the clubs usually starting up in October.  Part of the program is funded by FLITE, which is not able to contract with employees of our out-sourcing company, CCRES.  The District is looking to advertise specifically to hire homework club leader and assistant positions at $28 and $17/hour, which FLITE would apparently be able to continue to fund.

Other

– Kris Graham brought up the need to fully air condition all of the elementary and middle school buildings in the light of the current heat wave.  She did not offer a cost estimate for this.

Residents also learned on Tuesday that the Tredyffrin  supervisors voted to declare the township a state of emergency for the upcoming Pope’s visit, citing expected traffic and congestion. According to Police Supt. Giamio, there will be over 16,000 train riders during the pope’s visit and that the highest number are expected to use the Paoli station!  Yikes!  As an aside, I am glad about my decision to move the annual historic house tour up a week to Saturday, Sept. 19 (www.tredyffrinhistory.org) to accommodate the Pope’s visit.

We should plan around the Pope’s visit as if the weather people were predicting a blizzard — get to the grocery store and don’t forget your medication before the storm hits (or rather, the Pope lands).

TE School Board Candidates for Tredyffrin, Region 1 respond

TE School Board Candidates for Tredyffrin, Region 1:
Neal Colligan
Roberta Hotinski
Todd Kantorczyk
Neill Kling

The TE School Board candidates were asked to answer the following question in 500 words or less.

Although there are many important issues facing the TE School District, what one issue will you focus on should you be elected?  As a school board director, what in your background, experience or education prepares you to help with this specific issue.

The four candidate responses follow below in alphabetical order according to last name.  If your question and/or comment is for a specific candidate, please refer to that individual by name so as not to confuse. Voters will select two of these candidates in November for the school board.

TE School Board Candidate Neal Colligan
Tredyffrin, East – Region 1

In Pennsylvania, the State is mandated to provide education to our children.  Local municipalities are permitted some autonomy in operating educational franchises.  This autonomy is centered on fiscal management and meeting established minimum standards…districts that fail come under State control.  We achieve educational excellence in T/E for reasons schools succeed anywhere…engaged parents who value education, experienced professionals in the education function and a socio-economic demographic that promotes physical and mental health.  T/E will continue to excel educationally because you (and I) will accept nothing less.

In selecting SB members, we should understand the power we give them. The Position we’re discussing regards the management of the local educational operation; largely relegated to business/organizational decisions and setting a local tax rate.  Educational excellence is the over-riding mission but THIS JOB is very specific.  The inalienable right of the SB Member is to levy taxes…that affects every household and business in our community…THIS JOB is to assure the money is spent wisely.   To “keep our schools great” or “make education better”, one should seek a position in the Education Department…curriculum is State mandated.  To change the State’s funding of PSERs, the election venue would be State Representative.  No person in this race is running for teacher, coach, administrator or good parent…those jobs feature direct contact with students.

I’ve been a Tredyffrin citizen for 20 years, attending School Board meetings for 5 years.  From the “EIT Study” until today, I continue to educate myself on the operation of our District. I became an activist, speaking out was necessary.  I’ve written in The Suburban many times regarding T/ESD finances, worked with a group of para’s/aides (at their request) to prevent their outsourcing, compelled the Board to release documents in the PA Open Records Office case Colligan vs T/E School District and continue to speak out on District issues that impact the community.  I’ve worked with some great people…R’s and D’s and I’s.  You can read about the positions I’ve advocated by searching this site.  I am who I am and will continue to be…that’s my BIG promise.

The job is straight-forward. Deliver excellent education while operating efficiently….that’s what you deserve.  Basics:  be honest with the community in financial matters, welcome community input, adhere to established rules regarding transparency, focus on long-term viability of the system and be a good community citizen.  Follow that path and the T/ESB won’t be constantly locking-horns with the public….TEMS fence…$5 MM garage…deficit budget/maximum tax increase/annual surplus cycle…outsourcing paras/aides…secret meetings that s/b public…shouting down community members…ALL can be in the past.

The attitude of “we know better”…”the community doesn’t need to know”…”they’re OUR schools” needs to change…THAT’s the #1 issue.  I’m (uniquely???) qualified for THIS position…my accounting degree and MBA provide the education necessary for the task, years of educating myself prepare me for the position and I’m not too full-of-myself. My record is easy to access…watch the last/any video of a SB meeting, search here if inclined.  Know the candidates: prepared?…share your values?…have leadership qualities?  Change is coming…  Thanks for listening.

TE School Board Candidate Roberta Hotinski
Tredyffrin, East – Region 1

As a geoscientist with a Ph.D. from Penn State who has spent the last 12 years working at Princeton University, I have spent most of my career in environments of educational excellence.    After working in research, I moved into science management and communication, gaining extensive experience in project coordination and outreach to the public, including teacher professional development.   I am currently the project manager for a $3.5 million/year ocean research initiative at Princeton (http://soccom.princeton.edu), which has given me additional experience in budgeting and consensus building among stakeholders.

As a scientist and parent with children in T/E, the single most important issue for me is preserving the quality of education that has made our district and our community so successful.   If elected, I will work to guarantee that:

1. Spending is focused on students.
Recently the Board has committed to significant expenditures for capital projects that were not adequately justified to the community, including issuing $24 million in bonds for future projects and approving a $4.5 million facilities building. Funding decent and safe school buildings is important to the education program, but I would push to provide details on design and costs long before the meeting where a final vote is held.  In addition, with over $30 million in our reserve fund I believe the Board should set a formal target for an adequate fund balance and develop strategies to limit the fund’s growth, such as committing surpluses to the following year’s operating expenses or increasing contributions to capital projects.

2. Our district is providing a competitive 21st century education.
I am concerned about the impacts of high stakes testing and would propose an internal review of how much time (and thus money) is being devoted to preparing for PSSA’s and Keystone Exams, plus the costs of remediation.   I would also propose actively soliciting input from parents, teachers, and administrators on how current curricula and services are working for our students.  As a particular area of interest, I would advocate strengthening partnerships with local universities and businesses to enhance STEM initiatives, including internships and after-school or summer programs.

3) Community members are active partners in improving our district.
I am committed to transparency and accountability, improved communication with the public, and mining community talent to help improve our schools.  Specifically, I advocate
–  Increasing two-way interaction at Board meetings, providing a mechanism for the public to ask questions between meetings, and publishing answers to public questions online
–  Utilizing the expertise of our community members by creating citizen task forces or committees on complex issues

Residents of T/E deserve to feel confident that their tax dollars are being used wisely to provide a first-class education for every child in T/E.  I believe my background and professional experience have prepared me well to safeguard the interests of both students and taxpayers, and I hope voters will agree.   I am happy to answer questions and can be reached at hotinski@hotmail.com or (484) 320-7470.

TE School Board Candidate Todd Kantorczyk
Tredyffrin, East – Region 1

My name is Todd Kantorczyk, and I’m a candidate for Region 1 T/E School Board Director.  Serving on the board of a successful public school district like T/E requires directors to devote attention to a wide array of issues, many of which arise or shift significantly over the course of a school year.  Accordingly, choosing a single issue above all others would not be an accurate reflection of how I intend to approach my responsibilities as a school board director if elected.  With that said, I do believe a critical issue that will require much of my focus is ensuring that our district continues to provide a high quality education in an environment that demands consistent and transparent application of sound fiscal principles.

By all objective measures, we have excellent public schools.  Our schools provide a wide array of benefits, all of which maintain our home values and help define us as an outstanding community where people want to move and live.

But it will be a challenge to maintain this excellence looking at the financial pressures facing the district.  For example, the district will face almost $44 million in pension obligations over the next five years plus increases in unfunded mandates such as high stakes testing.  At the same time, the primary sources of revenue for the district are taxes from residents and businesses, and recently the current board has asked the community to shoulder additional tax burdens.  Accordingly, it is critical to ensure that: (1) funds are being managed in a fiscally responsible manner that adequately supports our excellent educational programs; and (2) requests for additional tax revenues are scrutinized and minimized.

My background and experience demonstrate that I am up for this task.  For example:

  • As the father of three current students in our district, I have a good sense of the issues schools face “on the ground” and the resources necessary for the district to deliver a high quality education;
  • As an environmental attorney, I find innovative solutions to complex issues, including land use and development matters, through input and buy-in from wide groups of stakeholders;
  • As a partner at a law firm, I understand the financial principles employed by Fortune 100 companies and small businesses; and
  • As the child of a former school board president, I appreciate the important role that committed local leaders can play in making sure that public schools deliver for our children and the entire community.

Finally, I feel strongly that our neighbors can provide valuable input on this and many other issues.  To that end, I would like to explore ways to increase public engagement and board transparency, including revising the procedure for interaction at monthly board and committee meetings.  Moreover, I hope to advocate for more local control of our schools so that our community, rather than Harrisburg or Washington, can decide how to focus our educational resources.

For additional questions, please contact me at toddfortesd@gmail.com or 484.832.8888.  Thank you.

TE School Board Candidate Neill Kling
Tredyffrin, East – Region 1

I welcome the opportunity to speak to what I believe is the most pressing issue facing the T/E School Board:  how to transition from the strong leadership of Dr. Waters and work with incoming Superintendent Gusick to keep our school district the best that it can be without overspending taxpayer money.  This will require cooperation and foresight, and it should be undertaken by those with the humility to listen, the energy to think about where the district needs to be several years from now, and the courage to take steps now to make that possible future a reality.

The question is, will the Board sit back and let administrators decide most everything, merely providing a rubber stamp for their plans on the theory that educators know best what they need?  Or will the board members be proactive, strategic and constructively critical partners, offering their own unique insights and always listening keenly to the parents and the taxpayers with the understanding that we all have to live with the consequences whether we use the schools or not?  To my mind, the answer must be “no” to the former and “yes” to the latter.  There are a great many things that educators are uniquely equipped to handle – e.g. the curriculum and the quality of the hired teachers – but there are many other areas in which the citizens and their representatives must have significant input – e.g. salaries and benefits, administrator to teacher ratio, how much we should provide for facilities and safety, and how all of that that impacts the taxpayers and the quality of life in the surrounding community.  It appears that the District has managed the education side quite well, but there is always room for improvement on the other issues, along with earning the confidence of the citizens that their voices are being heard throughout.

What qualifies me to join the team of school directors in what promises to be a new era is the insight that comes from working cooperatively to manage a business enterprise.  I am a graduate of Lafayette College and the Law School of the University of Pennsylvania.  My day job is as a commercial litigator in Philadelphia with the law firm Harkins Cunningham LLP where I have spent 23 years representing companies large and small in lawsuits involving state and federal law.  But I don’t just practice law, I also help manage my firm.  I know what it means to meet a payroll, to lease real estate, to manage mostly wonderful and occasionally not-so-wonderful employees, and to do so in an environment that requires the consensus of a small group of very dedicated, intelligent people who are not afraid to speak their minds.  I also understand neighborhood concerns about the aesthetic health of our community, having served on the Tredyffrin Zoning Hearing Board since 2007.  I hope to continue my service by helping to set the future course for a school district that I have called home for over twenty years and to which I have and will entrust the secondary education of two of my children.  I will be honored to have your vote to enable me to do so.

Head of Tredyffrin Republicans is now in the T/E School Board race!

The twist and turns of local politics … Replacing Dr. George Anderson (who withdrew from the TE School Board race last week) is the current Chair of the Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee, Neill Kling.  Neill sent the following note this morning regarding his candidacy for the TE School Board:

Pattye:
Just a quick note to inform your readers that I have been chosen by our Committeepeople in Region 1 to replace George Anderson as one of the Republican School Board candidates from that region.   The decision to run is my own; I have been thinking about doing this for some time now.  I run because I believe that I (along with my now running mates Neal Colligan and Ed Sweeney), will complement the excellent stewardship of sitting Board President Kris Graham, while at the same time offering a fresh perspective on the educational and fiscal choices that are vital to keeping the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District both outstanding and affordable.  Two of my children are graduates of private high schools, and two are and will be attending Conestoga High School, so I have experience as a parent with public and private education.  We should be proud that, at least in our district, public education keeps pace with the many first-class private schools at a fraction of the cost, and that is a testament not only to our wonderful public educators but also to the great parents of our school community.  Nevertheless, in the public sphere, we must be mindful that our operating expenses come from all of our taxpayers, whether they use the schools or not, and that our schools are an integral part of our neighborhoods and must be responsive to their needs as well.  


Commitment to the best education possible combined with a concern for our taxpayers has been the hallmark of the T/E School District for many years.  It is why so many of us have chosen to live and raise our families here.  If elected, I will be honored to help continue and, where necessary, improve upon that wonderful legacy.  


Best,

Neill Kling  

Republican T/E School Board candidate George Anderson has withdrawn from the race

Republican school board candidate Dr. George Anderson has withdrawn from the T/E School Board race, providing the following statement:

Dear Pattye,

I have just been informed of a travel schedule which will not allow me to campaign for much of the election season, therefore it is with regret I must announce my withdrawal from the TE School Board race. TE deserves a school board which operates for the citizens in an open and transparent manner. I am hopeful that goal can be achieved.

Sincerely;

George E. Anderson III, PhD

Neill Kling, Chair of the Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee, stated in an email that the “TTRC does expect to replace George on the ballot for Region 1 and we are working through that process.”

There are two seats available for the T/E School Board, Tredyffrin-Region 1 in the upcoming election.  With the withdrawal of George Anderson, currently three candidates remain on the ballot – Roberta Hotinski (D), Todd Kantorczyk (D) and Neal Colligan (R).  According to Chester County Voter Services, August 10 is the last day for candidates to withdraw from the election. August 20 is the last date to file substituted nomination certificates to fill vacancies caused by the withdrawal of candidates nominated at the primary election or by nomination papers.

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