Pete Motel

Fencing at Valley Forge Middle School is on the move: Plan now includes a “Zig Zag Fence to No Where”.

Chain_Link_FenceThe TESD Facilities Committee meeting was held on Friday, April 10 at 2 PM.  Although the agenda was available on the TESD website for a week, there was no mention of the Valley Forge Middle School fencing project. With the ongoing fencing discussions with the District, township and residents, it was odd that there was to be no discussion of the matter.  When we showed up for the meeting, we were surprised to learn that the VFMS fencing project was added to the agenda. No one was notified of the last minute addition – not even the adjacent Green Hills property owners most affected, the “abutters”.

When I asked about the last minute change in the agenda and lack of notification, Facilities Chair Pete Motel referred my question to Art McDonnell for the “policy” answer.  According to McDonnell, the Board can change the agenda has much as they want and anytime they want – that’s the policy. McDonnell added that the District was not sure if they would have a statement on the fencing (and apparently only decided minutes before the start of the meeting!).

Interesting that with 7 of the 9 school board members and Supt. Dan Waters all in attendance at the Facilities Meeting that it is the Business Manager who describes the District’s policy. Why do we need to pay for a Superintendent (and we currently have two – Drs. Waters and Gusick) or elect a School Board, when we have a Business Manager making so many of the District’s decisions?

Pete Stanton, Green Hills resident and abutter to VFMS property, was in attendance at the meeting and provided the following comments. (Pete, is the one who suggested the ‘green line’ location for the fencing at VFMS – click here to see the map of the project with the green line indicated.)

The Facilities Committee met on Friday April 10 and offered a counter proposal for the VFMS fencing project. As an affected homeowner, I was pleased to see at least some concessions made, but, in reality, I think there is much left to be desired in the new proposal.

Here is the quick version of the new proposal:

-no fencing in front of abutting homes; Instead, 6 foot chain link following green line plan on upper fields.

  • 4 foot fencing all along VF Rd. by track up to Walker (fence on school side of current sidewalk)
  • 4 foot fencing running down VF Rd extending to northern border woods.
  • 4 foot fencing extending into woods at northern border, zig zagging through trees, ending at a residents outer property line, well within view of their home.
  • “enhanced signage” at locations TBD on or near the school borders. Facilities Committee will meet with Abutting households at date TBD to get input on these signs.

More importantly perhaps, there was much that wasn’t addressed by the new proposal. For example:

-nothing in writing or indication that the 2002 agreement between CCA and TESD would be amended to reflect the new TESD proposal.

-A connector path is not being planned on the upper field after the rest room kiosk that allows easy pedestrian access to the sidewalk along VF Rd. The Facilities Committee chairman has repeatedly said that they “reserve the right” to lock the gates at some point in the future during school hours. I think this locking will be done sooner than later without a new accommodation, which is what the new connector path (approx. 80 yards long by 4 foot wide) will provide.

-under the revised plan, the woods will definitely not be “Undisturbed” as expressly promised in the 2002 agreement … so this would be a violation of the agreement, unless an addendum to the Special Exception is agreed upon.

In my opinion, Tredyffrin Township needs to realize that what is being proposed is far from a satisfactory outcome for the residents of Green Hills and Chesterbrook. The Township needs to actively intervene and disallow any potential violation of the 2002 Special Exception.

It’s imperative that as many residents as possible go to the Tredyffrin Townships Supervisors meeting on April 20th to express the position to them that the School District has to honor the 2002 agreement. Again, this requires the School District to get in in front of the Zoning Hearing Board to get an amendment to the 2002 Special Exception agreement that my homeowners associations can agree to. Until such agreement is reached, this is still an active issue. Please encourage anyone else in Chesterbrook that you know to attend as well … it isn’t just a Green Hills issue; it’s an issue for all the residents.

Did the School Board actually think that the concession stated to a handful of people at a Facilities Committee meeting to move the fence was somehow going to end the debate?

The Facilities Chair Pete Motel continues to state and re-state that the District does not have to go before the township’s Zoning Hearing Board – that VFMS is District property and that they can do what they want with it.

Unlike the fencing at the other District schools, the fencing at VFMS is unique – the property consists of two parcels with different zoning and a legal agreement with the adjacent community.  The 2002 Special Exception by the Zoning Hearing Board set the parameters for TESD with Chesterbrook Civic Association and Green Hills Association – it would seem that any changes to that agreement would require review and updating.

This ‘new’ plan from the District does have the fencing out of the backyards of the abutters and moves the 6-foot fencing to behind the fields. (This will be the first 6-foot fencing at any of the eight schools.) However, the fencing will run the length of Valley Forge Road in front of the VFMS and into the woods that is shared with Green Hills.  Rather than ending the fencing at the woods, the fencing goes through the woods and will turn into the Chesterbrook community.  I asked if the District intended to take trees down in the woods – the response was no, that the fence would zig zag around the trees!  To be clear, the zig-zagging of the fencing will abruptly stop at the end of the woods at an abutter’s property line.  The fence will not connect to another section of fencing … the “fence to nowhere”.

If the handful of audience members who attended the Facilities Committee meeting are to believe what was stated – no further discussion is required with the township on the VFMS fencing, no approvals are required, no amendment to the 2002 Special Exception is needed. When asked if this decision to change the plans required a full TE School Board approval, the answer again was no.  In other words, the District can do whatever it wants at VFMS because the agreement was meaningless and implies that there are no deed-restrictions on the property.

———————————————————————————

Tonight the District has a Finance Meeting (6:30 PM) and a Budget Workshop (7:30 PM) at Conestoga High School.  Click here for the agenda. Although the outsourcing vendors for the District’s aides and paras was on the last Finance Meeting a and the last School Board Meeting agendas, it does not appear on tonight’s agenda.

How are the 73 full-time aides and paras supposed to make a decision by May 1 on whether to go part-time (to remain a District employee) or go with an outsourcing company when they don’t know who the outsourcing company is or the benefits … ? 

Valley Forge Middle School … Do Fences Make Good Neighbors?

The struggle between the Green Hills residents in Chesterbrook and the TE School District regarding the proposed chain link fencing project continues. As the last Community Matters post and many of the associated comments would suggest, residents are asking for an open, respectful dialogue and are not confident that the school board is listening.

Some people have asked about the agreement between Chesterbrook Civic Association and TESD. Click Here to read a portion of the 2002 Agreement TESD-CCA as presented in September 2002 by Stephen Aichele (with Saul Ewing and legal counsel to TESD at that time). This agreement from 13 years ago precludes the fence construction and provides for landscaping buffer. Also included in the agreement is the community use of the fields and nature trails – the fencing will cut off accessibility.

There appears to be some confusion regarding the ‘fence permit’ between the District and Tredyffrin Township. It was announced at last week’s Facility Committee by its chair Pete Motel, that the District had received the fence permit. However, when residents have inquired at the township, they were told that the township has not issued a permit and stranger yet, the residents were told that no permit application from TESD has been received. As an aside, there appears to be some question whether the District even needs a permit for the proposed fencing. Which is it? Does the District need a permit or can they just put the fencing up?

There is some encouraging news – at the school board meeting it was stated that only the 5 ‘abutter’ homeowners were permitted to attend the upcoming March 25 meeting with the District but now an additional three Green Hills homeowners have received invitations.

I continue to receive emails and phone calls from Green Hills residents, including Joel Greenberg. Dr. Greenberg attended the Facility Committee meeting and wanted the following included on Community Matters:

I live on Brandywine Lane in Chesterbrook, and although my property does not directly abut the school property, I do see that their plans will be detrimental to the community of Green Hills. And, as outlined, will NOT provide additional safety for the school children. Yesterday I posted on the Nextdoor site a few of my observations from attending several recent meetings: School Board, TESD Facilities Committee meetings, TESD Budget meeting, Supervisors meeting, and Township meeting.

It appears that the Township feels that the problem is not theirs and that we should voice our objections with the TESD. The TESD appears to just want to erect the fence as they have already planned. Get it up quickly, realizing that once it is up, it will very, very difficult to get it moved (which would involve significant sums of money). Following is the text that I submitted to the Nextdoor site:

I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments expressed by Peter Stanton and others on the Nextdoor site. The facilities committee of the School Board of TE has shown absolutely no interest in listening to the opinions of the concerned residents.

They autocratically have made decisions to serve their own interests and specifically are trying to enact a plan for fencing the Valley Forge Middle School that is ill conceived with regard to safety, and is in violation of an agreement that they made in 2002 with regard to the land behind the Valley Forge Middle School that borders Green Hills.

The school board has obtained a permit and has a signed contract to erect a chain-link fence within several feet of houses bordering the school property. This was all done without consulting the affected neighbors. They consented to a meeting with ‘some’ of the neighbors of Chesterbrook only after many vocal complaints. Additionally, they unilaterally picked a date and time without consulting any of the neighbors and specifically said that only a few select neighbors could attend this meeting – those whose homes bordered the school property.

When asked if invited participants could send a representative if they were out of town and could not attend, the chairman of the Facilities Committee stated that he would absolutely not allow this because one of the representatives might be an attorney and he didn’t want any attorneys present. Considering that many people appoint a representative to attend closing on a house if they are unable to be present, it seems entirely out of place for this to be disallowed for a meeting with members of the School Board on issues that affect the tax-paying residents.

Joel Greenberg

One of the abutter homeowners, Pete Stanton took the following photos from his Green Hills neighborhood and overlaid the approximate proposed fencing onto the photos.  Looking at the photos certainly gives you a sense of the invasive fencing into the Green Hills community.

Chesterbrook fence 1 Miller-Stanton fence

The left side of the photo is Green Hills abutter properties and the right side is the school district’s property at Valley Forge Middle School. The proposed fencing is indicated on the photo.

View of proposed fencing from entrance to Green Hills train at Salomon.  Valley Forge Middle School is so far from this proposed fencing, it is not visible.

View of proposed fencing from entrance to Green Hills path at Salomon. Valley Forge Middle School is so far from this proposed fencing, it is not visible.

This is a photo of an abutter's home on Hancock in Green Hills indicating how close the proposed fencing is to the house!

This is a photo of an abutter’s home on Hancock in Green Hills indicating how close the proposed fencing is to the house!

Affordable Care Act discussion at TE Special Board Meeting — More questions than answers!

Last night’s special school board meeting included discussion of the Affordable Care Act and how the federal mandate would affect the District and its employees. The District’s ACA experts were Rhonda Grubbs, Wisler Pearlstine attorney (who works in the office of Ken Roos, school district solicitor) and Art McDonnell, business manager for the District.

Several aspects of the ACA presentation and discussion troubled me.  Although the agenda stated that Grubbs would make the presentation, it appeared that McDonnell was in charge of the discussion and for the most part, served as respondent to Board and resident questions with Grubbs there as back up.  McDonnell went through his prepared slides on the ACA, which included the various options available to the District.  One slide, labeled ‘Health Benefits’ provided the cost of offering health care to all employees working 30 hr./wk. or 130 hr./month not already covered. According to this slide, the cost to provide benefits would be $881K for single employees and $2.2M for family coverage.  However, there is no indication as to how ‘many’ employees this dollar amount references.  Many of us in the audience were wondering where McDonnell got these dollar amounts from – what is the exact number of additional employees the District is required to cover under the ACA.  Why weren’t the number of employees indicated on the slide?  Pete Motel asked McDonnell that specific question – with a bit of hesitation, McDonnell responds that the number of additional full-time employees that the District needs to cover is 106.

It then becomes clear why the number of employees does not appear on McDonnell’s slide — because the next question is what happened to the jobs of the rest of the full-time employees.  If you recall last spring, I think there were about 178 District aides, paras and substitute teachers that were not covered by District health benefits.  We know that about 40% of the aides and paras did not return for the 2013/14 school year but it is unclear how those positions were filled.  It is believed that many of these positions were outsourced but there has never been any public statement to that affect.

The next logical question to McDonnell came from Scott Dorsey – and that question was what happened to the rest of these jobs.  Dorsey wanted to know many aides and para positions are currently outsourced in the District.  McDonnell states that he does not know and asks Sue Tiede, the District’s personal director to answer Dorsey’s question. Tiede says that she doesn’t know the answer either. How is it possible that two of the highest paid administrators in the TE School District are unable to answer this simple question?

 Subsequently and to their credit, both Pete Motel and Doug Carlson tried to achieve an answer to the outsourcing question. Again stonewalling by McDonnell and Tiede – claiming they do not know how many positions have been outsourced.  With combined salaries of nearly $350K/yr, it is impossible to believe that neither McDonnell or Tiede know how many jobs are outsourced in the TE School District. McDonnell manages the check register for the District – he knows how much money is paid to Delta T and Quest.  Tiede manages the District’s personnel –  she knows who is hired and/or outsourced.

This is clearly not a case of McDonnell and Tiede  ‘not knowing’ the answer to the outsourcing question but instead their choosing not to answer the direct question of school board members.  According to Buraks, the ACA will next be discussed at the Finance Committee meeting on Monday, January 13.  The question for Art McDonnell and Sue Tiede is how many District jobs are outsourced to Delta T and how many District jobs are outsourced to Crest.

Following the ACA presentation and Board member questions to McDonnell and Grubbs, there was an opportunity for the residents to offer their comments and/or questions as stated in the agenda.  However, what the agenda did not say, was that residents were not allowed to ask their questions directly to the ACA presenters.  All residents questions must be directed to the school board president who ‘interprets’ the resident’s question and then re-asks it to Ms. Grubb.  But wait, it gets worse as one District resident, Joanne Sonn, discovered.

Sonn has done her homework on the Affordable Care Act, understands it better than most of us and previously offered her findings to the Board last year.  She has spoken to expert ACA consultants and they agree, (with the information currently available) that the District can be in ACA compliance by offering a ‘skinny plan’ to the aides and paras.  At last night’s meeting, some of the information provided in the presentation did not agree with Sonn’s interpretation of the Affordable Care Act so during the resident comment/question period she questioned McDonnell and asked for legal clarification from Grubbs.  In the midst of her questions, the District solicitor Ken Roos rudely interrupted Sonn and told her that residents are not allowed to ask Grubbs questions!

Sonn was asking the Affordable Care Act ‘expert’ for legal clarification.  She was then required to re-state her questions directly to Buraks.  But rather than asking Grubbs to respond to Sonn’s ACA questions, Buraks says that all residents must ask their questions before any will be answered!  To be clear, it doesn’t matter if there are three people or 10 people in line at the microphone – residents at school board meetings must ask all their questions before anyone can receive an answer.  I guess this delay gives the Board president time to decide which questions will be answered. This policy makes no sense and is extremely unsatisfactory.  At Board of Supervisors meetings, when a resident asks a question, they receive an answer immediately – why don’t the school board meetings operate the same way.

How were the residents to know that they are not permitted to ask questions of the person making the public presentation – there was no indication in the agenda nor direction from the school board.  I found Ken Roos outburst to a resident unnecessary and disrespectful. There’s much talk about civility at these meetings; shouldn’t that civility policy extend to the District solicitor. Although it is understood that Ken Roos does not work for the residents, our taxpayer dollars pay his legal fees.

The special meeting to discuss the Affordable Care Act was eye opening, to say the least. It wasn’t so much what Rhonda Grubbs and Art McDonnell said — it was more what they didn’t say (or chose not to say).  It was obvious that Grubbs and McDonnell are working together with a shared goal.  And unless the Board and the community offers push-back, I think the endgame is to see how many reasons they can come up with not to offer insurance to the District’s aides, paras and substitute teachers. Grubbs herself volunteered that she and McDonnell would be working together on the ACA issue.  So much for unbiased third-party input and since when did the District’s business manager become an expert on the Affordable Care Act?  Again, I ask – why doesn’t the District bring in insurance consultants/experts from the outside?

A special thanks to school board members Pete Motel, Doug Carlson and Scott Dorsey – they were asking the questions that the public wanted answered.

TE School Board and VFES Neighbors … A shared vision regarding tennis courts!

Tonight’s Facilities Committee meeting, and the discussion on the Valley Forge Elementary School tennis courts, could best be described as a ‘shared vision’.  That is, a shared vision between the VFES neighbors and the TE School Board.

The primary focus of the meeting was the VFES tennis courts – their usage and maintenance.  Since the last Facilities Committee meeting in June, VFES neighbor Michele Berger had spoken with a number of neighbors, tennis pros, and court maintenance companies and offered her findings to the audience, Facilities Committee and school administration. If you recall, the Facilities Committee decided at their last meeting in June to continue the Tredyffrin Township user fee rate of $30/hr. for one court and $60/hr. for two courts for private lessons and tennis camps.

Although residents enjoyed the use of the VFES tennis courts free of charge this summer, usage fees were expected to begin in September with the start of school.  Tonight the Facilities Committee chair Pete Motel offered a brief history on the tennis courts and then listened to community member’s questions and concerns, offering clarity where appropriate.  VFES neighbor Don Detweiler has maintained the VFES tennis courts for years and offered the opinion that the courts surface and nets have at least 5 more years of use before costly repairs are required.

Board members and community members listened to different viewpoints and discussed potential solutions to long-term maintenance issues … a two-way dialogue with a shared direction.

A satisfying and amiable solution to the tennis court usage was reached; I can report that there will be no charge for residents to use the VFES tennis courts.  The School District will collect user fees from those individuals using the courts ‘for profit’ — such as tennis lessons or tennis camp at a rate of $30/hr per court.  With the start of school, the tennis courts will be locked during the school day.  The tennis courts will be available for resident’s use after school, weekends and on non-school days.  However, it was agreed that the school district’s Safety Committee will review this policy to possibly permit court usage during the school day.

The Facilities Committee meeting represented community conversation and a shared vision.  Pete Motel involved the people in the decisions that affected them – the VFES neighbors. Michele Berger agreed to serve as the liaison between the Facilities Committee and the VFES neighbors. Common ground was found and it was a pleasure to witness; thanks to all involved!

 ==================================================================================

On a personal note, for those wondering about me and the status of Community Matters, I am OK and so is CM.  I have struggled with some health and personal issues during the last couple of months but I think that the fog has finally begun to lift.  I appreciate your emails and your concern – Wasn’t it Emerson that said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”  

TE Facilities meeting to discuss user fees for VFES tennis courts changed to August 22

According to the TE School District website, the Facilities Comittee meeting has been rescheduled.  Typically, the meeting is held the second Friday of the month at 2 PM, which would have been August 9.  However, the meeting has been rescheduled for Thursday, August 22 at 7 PM.  The agenda for the meeting is the Valley Forge Elementary School tennis courts.

Although residents have enjoyed the use of the VFES tennis courts for free of charge this summer, usage fees are expected to begin in September with the start of school.  At the last Facilities Committee meeting on June 14, the discussion of usage fees ranged from hourly fees of $15/hr weekdays – $25/hr weekends to an annual association charge of $28K.    The usage fees for private lessons and tennis camps was established at the June Facilities Commitee meeting and signage on the courts reflects those fees — $30/hr for one court and $60/hr for two courts.  It was my understanding that the private lesson/tennis camp user fees were to start immediately.

These are some of my questions that I would like answered on August 22:

  1. What is the cost basis for the District fee schedule for the tennis courts?
  2. What is the process for collecction of the user fees?
  3. What is the cost of the District’s collection process?
  4. What is the process for reserving the tennis courts?
  5. How will the tennis court usage be policed?
  6. What is the estimated cost to police the the courts?
  7. What is the annual maintenance cost of the courts?
  8. What is the anticipated District revenue from the user fees?
  9. Is use of the tennis courts prioritized, i.e. are residents given priority use over tennis pros using the courts for lessons?
  10. If so, how is the prioritze determined?
  11. As a result of user fees for the tennis courts, does the District plan to charge for the use of CHS track, school playgrounds, outdoor basketball courts, etc.?

Previously, someone comment on Community Matters that Teamer Field had generated $400 in user fees as of March 2013 — it looks like the District is anticipating greater revenue from the tennis courts.  We should expect that the District will present the cost analysis to maintain the tennis courts  and the associated costs to collect the fees and police the courts.  It will be interesting to see how the District arrives at the annual maintenance costs for the tennis courts, given that VFES neighbor Don Detwiler has done that job free-of-charge for years.

Parking lot underway at Valley Forge Elementary School and so are tennis court usage fees!

VFES Parking lot

I was surprised how many heavy equipment vehicles are required to add a few parking spaces at Valley Forge Elementary School.  Passing by the school on Walker Road, you couldn’t miss the mountain of dirt, storm water drainage system and assortment of backhoes and bulldozers.  Increasing the size of the VFES parking lot is one of the school district’s summer facilities projects.

While I stopped to take a photo of the parking lot construction, I walked over to the infamous tennis courts.  It was nice to see the tennis court door unlocked and available to use.  It’s been years since I played tennis, but I couldn’t help but notice how pristine the courts looked – the playing surface well maintained, the lines recently painted and the net in great shape.  VFES neighbor Don Detwiler has maintained the tennis courts for years – free of charge.

Tennis courts signageThe VFES tennis courts are available through the summer for residents to use free of charge but the start of school in six weeks will also mark the start of user fees for local tennis players.  At the District’s June 14 facilities meeting, discussion of usage fees ranged from a suggested $28K annual association charge to hourly fees of $15/hr. weekdays to $25/hr. weekends.

The rental of the courts for private lessons and tennis camps was established at the June facilities meeting at rate of $30/hr. for one court and $60/hr. for two courts with fees  to start immediately.  Signage is now on the tennis court fences reflecting those fees. To schedule the use of the courts for lesson or camp, there is a notice to call the District’s business office 8 AM – 4 PM, Monday – Friday.  It is completely unclear to me how the District ‘polices’ the use of the courts by instructors — there’s no lock box and the door was ajar.  Shouldn’t the details of how the process works be known to the public?

The usage fee for individuals to use the tennis courts will be determined at the August facilities comittee meeting and those fees will presumably begin with the start of school year in September.  If the fee schedule for the use of the tennis courts for instruction is determined in the facilities committee meeting, I guess the facilities committee will also determine the usage fee for residents.  It’s impossible for many people to go to the monthly facilities meetings as they are held on Friday at 2 PM.  I would have expected the usage fees to be discussed at a regular school board meeting.  In fact, because the usage fee was not previously discussed at the monthly school board meeting, I thought there was still an option not to charge residents a fee.  But based on the signage on the fence, there’s no question that there will be a fee — only question remains as to how much it will cost the residents. Doesn’t it seem odd to anyone else that policy is determined in a committee meeting and then is sanctioned though the use of signage.  Shouldn’t the tennis court usage and the fee schedule be available for public disucussion at a regular school board meeting?

VFES Tennis Courts

I have several questions in regards to the VFES tennis courts   — (1) what is the cost basis for determining the District fee schedule (remember, Mr. Detwiler has maintained the courts for free, for years); (2) what is the District’s process for collecting the user fees; (3) how much will the District’s collection process cost; (4) how will the tennis courts be policed; and (5) what is the estimated cost to police the courts.

If the TE School District is going to charge residents for the use of the tennis courts, why not charge them for the use of the school playground equipment on the weekends or for the use of the high school track?  

Your Voices Matter … They Saved the Tennis Courts!

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

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

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

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

The fate of Valley Forge Elementary School Tennis Courts remains an open issue

Tuesday night members of the TE School Board and TESD staff, Tredyffrin Township supervisors and staff met with residents to discuss the fate of the two tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School.

The courts are on District property and by a 1974 agreement were built and maintained by Tredyffrin Township and Parks and Recreation Board (click here for agreement).  The agreement allowed for termination, “if at any time the school district determines that the grounds selected for the construction and maintenance of the tennis courts are required for school building purposes.” By a letter dated May 31, 2012 from TESD business manager Art McDonnell to the township, the agreement was terminated because the “District has now determined that the grounds are required for school building purposes.  Specifically, the grounds will be used to add a parking area to the Valley Forge Elementary School.” (click here for McDonnell letter).

This is confusing because the tennis courts are behind the school and the parking area and the construction of the additional 24 parking spaces is in the front of the building.  Leading up to Tuesday’s meeting, there has been much debate centering around whether the removal of the tennis courts would alleviate stormwater and impervious surface requirements of the parking lot expansion.

Although the current township manager Bill Martin and township engineer Steve Burgo state that there was no ‘deal’ that the school district could trade stormwater requirements for the parking lot by removal of the tennis courts, the District has a different viewpoint. According to their presentation at the meeting, former township manager Mimi Gleason met with Tom Daley, the District architect and Art McDonnell, on May 3, 2012 to review the concept of trading the paving in parking lot for the tennis courts and that the concept was approved. McDonnell presents the meeting information and verbal approval from Gleason to the District Facilities Committee on May 11.  At that meeting Daley presented layout options and the preliminary budget was set at $230K.  It was at this point that McDonnell sent the letter to the township on May 31 (referenced above).

After testimony from many neighbors in support of the tennis courts, where does the project stand?  According to the District, JMC Contractors was awarded the contract for the project – their bid $224,743.  The cost to remove the tennis courts is $24K.

According to the District architect, Tom Daley, the costs for additional stormwater mitigation could be $1 Million without a variance if the tennis courts remain.  I have a hard time believing that the cost could be so high.

It was suggested that if the District could go to the Zoning Hearing Board and seek a variance, but it is unclear to me on what grounds the approval could be granted.  For Zoning Hearing Board, it is my understanding that the District could bring the current drawings/plans without needing the expense of legal or architectural representation at the meeting – a savings of $10-12K.  It is also suggested that application fee of $2K could be waived by the Board of Supervisors. If the District wants to seek a variance, they will need to notify the township by Monday.  (There’s a legal requirement to notify publicly advertise two weeks in advance of ZHB meeting) Board member and District Facilities Committee member Betsy Fadem has stated that she wants this matter resolved by May 1.  The next Facilities Committee meeting is April 12 at 2 PM where the tennis court discussion will continue.

I’m not sure what is magical about May 1, except that the District has a time schedule for getting the parking lot construction done during the summer months when school is closed.

The District has a signed agreement with a contractor, so I am not sure how this is going to play out.  Will public pressure cause the District to backtrack and reverse course and save the tennis courts?  What are the implications if the District seeks a variance from the Zoning Hearing Board?  Although the suggestion is that getting a variance would not be challenging to the District, I was under the impression that there are specific guidelines under which variances are granted, such as economic hardship.

Decision Time – Will T/E School Board Directors Vote in Favor of an EIT Voter Referendum Question?

Monday night is a case where I would like to be in two places at once . . .

Tredyffrin’s township finances and the proposed 2012 budget is on the Board of Supervisors agenda at 7:30 PM while the T/E school directors will hold a Finance Committee meeting at 6:30 PM followed by a special school board meeting at 7:30 PM to discuss the EIT. (Both school district meetings will be held in Conestoga HS cafeteria). I will attend the Board of Supervisors meeting and I am counting on my friend Ray Clarke to attend the school district meetings.

In reviewing the agenda for the T/E Finance Committee meeting and the draft minutes from their October 17 meeting, I read the following:

Education Committee Recommendation:

At the prior Finance Committee meeting the Committee was informed that the State reinstated $1.3 million in funding that was not included in the District’s 2011-12 budget. In light of this information, the Committee authorized the Superintendent to restore education program cuts made in the 2011-12 budget. Dr. Richard Gusick presented the proposed reinstatements of budget cuts to the education program and explained that they were already reviewed by the Education The Finance Committee asked that the proposal to reinstate these budget cuts be presented at a future Board meeting.

I am confused. Although I was aware that the State had reinstated $1.3 million in funding to the T/E school district, I was not aware there was a decision as to whether (1) restore the district’s education programming cuts or (2) add the money to the fund balance.

According to these minutes, the Finance Committee (or Education Committee?) authorized the money go to restoring education program cuts. Restoring which programming cuts? Latin in the Middle School? Foreign language in the elementary school? Technology purchases? Specifically, which education program cuts did the committee authorize restored? In addition, are we to assume that the option of adding the $1.3 million to the district’s fund balance is off the table for consideration? These are questions for the school board directors at Monday’s meeting.

I also noted that the Finance Committee meeting minutes indicate that the school district will wait until 2012 to release a RFP for the outsourcing (if needed) of custodial services. It is not clear at this point if custodial outsourcing will be on the budget reduction strategy list.

Immediately following the Finance Committee meeting tomorrow night, the school board will hold a special meeting at 7:30 PM to consider notification to Tredyffrin and Easttown townships of the intent to levy an EIT. November 16 is the deadline for the School Board to provide the townships with notification so the board will be taking a vote at this special meeting. The school board will vote on whether to include EIT as a voter referendum question on the primary election ballot on April 24, 2012. For school districts to levy an EIT requires voter approval. The maximum that TESD could levy is 1%. If approved by voters, all residents, including renters, in Tredyffrin and Easttown Townships would be taxed at 1% on earned income. If an EIT were to be approved, the townships have the legal option to request one-half of the 1% collected by the school district.

Leading up to Election Day, we watched as EIT become the ‘buzz’ word of the local campaign season. Early on, the local Republican Party took a stand against an earned income tax and furthered the issue by labeling the Democrat candidates as EIT supporters. Feeling the pressure, all the Democratic school board candidates responded that ‘they’ were personally opposed to an earned income tax.

The politicizing of the EIT prior to the public presentation of TESD’s tax study group troubled me. The EIT became a political football between the local political parties and in my opinion, damaged the community’s ability to completely understand the EIT as presented by the tax study group. Not to mention the confusion that occurred at the polls on Election Day! Three different precinct judge of elections have reported to me that there were some confused voters — asking where the EIT question was on the ballot. Based on the campaign mailers and political signs, many in the community came to the polls on Election Day expecting to vote on the EIT issue.

Now that we are on the other side of the election, how can newly re-elected school board members Karen Cruikshank (D) and Jim Bruce (R) now vote in favor of taking the EIT issue to the voters. I do not know whether re-elected Easttown school board member Pete Motel (R) made a public statement one way or the other re the EIT. Based on the pre-election political hype of the EIT, the vote count of the school board members will be interesting. Will we see the school board members following the lead of their political parties?

If the school board members vote in favor of an EIT voter referendum question on the April primary ballot, do many of us really think that the residents would vote in favor of this new tax. During the school board budget cut strategy meetings, there were residents asking for tax increases vs. further educational programming cuts.

Faced with the possibility of further programming cuts in the next school district budget, would there be sufficient support from voters for an EIT?

T/E School Board Candidates Asked What’s Most Important Issue – Responses from Tredyffrin Democratic candidates & Easttown candidates, no Tredyffrin Republican candidate responses

We know that local elections are important and that the choices that you make on Election Day, Tuesday, November 8 will help determine the future of our community.  As a way to better understand the school board candidates and what they value as the most important issues facing the district, I sent a three-part question to all Tredyffrin-Easttown School Board candidates. Previously, I had received and posted the responses from Easttown school board candidates – Republican Pete Motel and Democrat Craig Lewis.

Following the League of Women Voters debate on October 25, I received responses to the question from Tredyffrin Democratic school board candidates.  However, the Tredyffrin Republican school board candidates declined to participate.

Below is the question and the responses from Tredyffrin’s Democratic school board candidates Karen Cruickshank, Jerry Henige, Scott Dorsey and Jenny Wessels.   Following their responses, I have reposted the responses from Easttown’s school board candidates Pete Motel (R) and Craig Lewis (D)

It’s a shame that the Republican school board candidates in Tredyffrin Twp declined to respond. One of two reasons — either the Republican school board candidates in Tredyffrin didn’t see any value in my question (and their answers) or they didn’t see value in Community Matters.  But then two of the Republican school board candidates (Tara LaFiura, Region 1 and Liz Mercogliano, Region 2) decided against participating in the League of Women Voters debate so perhaps I should not take their decision as personal.

Dear School Board Candidates:

Local elections are important.  In an attempt to inform voters for Election Day, as a candidate for the TE School Board, I hope you will participate in the following Q&A on Community Matters.

In 200 words or less, please respond to the following question. Incorporate all three parts of the question into your response and please be specific.  School board candidate responses will list on Community Matters in the order that they are received.

(1) In your opinion, what is the single most important issue facing the Tredyffrin Easttown School District?
(2) If you were elected, what would you do to help solve or improve this issue?
(3) The Tredyffrin Easttown School District needs problem-solvers; what in your background or job experience qualifies you to help solve this important issue?

————————————————————————————

Karen Cruickshank
Democratic Candidate for School Director, Region 1

The most important issue facing the T/E School District is our fiscal outlook.

The School District faces a 5.5 million dollar budget gap for 2012 and increases to 17 million in 2015.

State controlled pension obligations will increase from 4.7 million in 2011 to 13.3 million in 2015. In 2001 state legislators gave themselves, state employees, and public school employees a big increase in pension pay outs. These increases were never OKd by local school districts or the public.

The second budget factor is a loss of 6.5 million in revenues since 2006 from commercial and residential real estate reassessments.

In response to fiscal issues the School District has cut 10 million dollars out of its budget. Our teacher’s union gave up half of their raises for this year and our non-teaching union gave up all of their raises.

If re-elected I will work with legislators, unions, administrators, and citizens to find solutions to fiscal issues. I will look for ways the District can become more efficient without hurting the quality of our schools.

A trained higher education professional, I understand the issues facing education. I am trained in conflict negotiation and am a proven consensus builder.

——————————————————————————–

Jerry Henige
Democratic Candidate for School Director, Tredyffrin Region 1

We have great schools that contribute to the wonderful quality of our neighborhoods. However, our great schools are facing serious financial challenges. For example, we are losing almost $3M a year due to property reassessments and this amount will continue to grow. And, based on bad decisions in Harrisburg, the amount the school district is being asked to pay into the pension funds will grow from $3M last year to $13.4M over the next 4 years.

At the same time Kevin Mahoney, the financial expert on the school board, is retiring leaving a critical skills gap. The financial challenges are too great to leave this gap unfilled. I believe that with my 30+ years of management and financial experience, I am the candidate that is best suited to fill this gap.

We need a school board that can work as a team to focus on potential solutions. We need to partner with parents and taxpayers, teachers and other school districts, our townships and employers to put pressure on Harrisburg to address the pension problem.

We need a school board that is prepared to work diligently to find common ground with all these constituencies. We need to be willing to try alternative approaches to education that may be more effective than what we are doing today. And we need to consider the plight of the retiree on fixed income, the family with a member who has lost a job.

I believe that I have the financial skills, temperament and energy to manage the serious financial challenges facing the school board.

——————————————————————————

Scott Dorsey
Democratic Candidate for School Director, Tredyffrin Region 2

Today our district is facing a financial storm that threatens the excellence that we have come to expect from our schools.   $6.5 million in lost property tax revenues because of reassessments, and other revenue shortfalls will devastate programs that are vital to many average students.  Co-curricular and extra-curricular programs are also in danger. I have proven track record as a non- profit Administrator who is fiscally responsible, and I am personally opposed to the Earned Income Tax.

My background as an educator and community leader has inspired my passion for investing in children’s success. In response to TESD’s budget challenges, I propose to:

  • Collaborate with the public and private sector for solutions that combine best educational and business practices that will benefit every child
  • Fight to hold the line in the upcoming teachers’ contract
  • Find creative solutions to keep sports and other after-school activities from being cut
  • Work with the Unions to lobby the state legislature to fix the pension system
  • Work with the Township to build grant-funded sidewalks that could reduce transportation costs

I have deep experience as an administrator who has helped lead multi-million dollar non- profit organizations from the red to sound fiscal footing.   I am a skilled consensus builder.  I am the only school board candidate who has not sought union endorsement because I believe full transparency is required in the upcoming contract negotiations. I will lead with integrity, fiscal responsibility, and a dedication to investing in our children’s success.

—————————————————————————–

Jennifer Lightman Wessels
Democratic Candidate for School Director, Tredyffrin Region 2

The most important issue facing our school board is managing our limited financial resources while minimizing the impact on our educational program.  I will be a voice on the board committed to protecting our outstanding educational program.

To lessen the financial strain on our district, I will lobby Harrisburg for legislative reform.  I will use my training as a labor attorney to achieve a successful result during contract negotiations with the teachers’ union in 2012.  I will be open to innovative ideas, such as pursuing new income streams from advertising and private funding.  I will not, however, support the implementation of new taxes such as the Earned Income Tax (EIT) and I would oppose any move to enact an EIT in Tredyffrin Township.

As a parent of two young children in our school district and having served as the President of the PTO at New Eagle Elementary School for two years, I understand and care deeply about the issues facing our school district.  As a taxpayer, I understand the importance of balancing these concerns with fiscal restraint and responsibility.

Among all the school board candidates, I am unique in that I will bring both a parent’s perspective and a lawyer’s skill to this job.  I look forward to the opportunity to serve.

——————————————————————————

Pete Motel
Republican Candidate for School Board Director, Easttown Township

The biggest challenge facing the T/E School District is maintaining the quality of education it delivers during the current economic downturn.

District revenue is down by millions of dollars primarily due to two reasons:

  1. Property tax assessment appeals resulting in decreased real estate tax collection;
  2. Decreased home sales resulting in decreased real estate transfer tax.  This is coupled with steep increases in the state required contribution to the state pension system – now millions above the contribution required last year.

Great efforts have been made by the Board to balance the District’s budgets without significantly effecting educational opportunities. The Board has implemented cost containment through administrative salary freezes, implementation of self-insured health insurance and more efficient scheduling of staff time.

With the economic recovery projected to take another several years, T/E Boards need to continue to cut expenses without reducing core educational programs.  Success will require detailed knowledge of District operations and proven leadership skills.

My experience on the T/E Board as Committee Chairs and past Board president, coupled with my professional experience as a small business owner, demonstrate that I have the proven skills to help guide the District through the next few years of difficult budgets.

——————————————————————————

Craig Lewis
Democratic Candidate for School Director, Easttown Township

TE’s biggest issue is irresponsible budgeting.

My opponent, republican Dr. Motel, has mandated 5 study halls per week in Conestoga High (12% instruction reduction) AND a 20% increase in students per teacher.  TE was the 4th best high school in Pennsylvania.  Losing this rank will result in a 10% home price decline, reduced college acceptance, scholarships and earning potential.

  • My opponent diverted education money to purchase, tear-down and build non-educational facilities wasting millions of dollars.

TE’s projection shows out-of-control budget shortfalls.  Starting with the current year they are:

-$777,000
-$3,909,000
-$7,925,241
-$11,862,000
-$15,450,000

My fiscally conservative priorities to prevent this catastrophe are:
Stop wasteful spending

  • Halt all construction and real-estate acquisitions.
  • The teacher pay was cut and workload increased 20%.  Aggressive cost reduction has to look at all other areas.
  • Halt no-bid contracting

Preserve our premier school ranking

  • Repeal the 5 study-hall mandate.
  • Respect our staff; balance their workloads.
  • Initiate summer enrichment programs for profit.

Retirees deserve school tax relief – My opponent never did this, I will.

I have twenty years of experience in setting goals, developing strategies, creating and managing budgets, both departmental and enterprise wide.  This required creative approaches, engaging individuals from different departments to drive successful outcomes.

Community Matters © 2015 Frontier Theme