Radnor School District

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes from TESD Finance Committee Meeting – Do we borrow $18 million or $24 million to pay for District capital projects?

I attended the first 2015 meeting of the TE School District’s Finance Committee this week that focused primarily on the preliminary 2015-16 budget.  According to the District’s capital sources and uses report, there is a projected capital need of $24 million over the next five years.  The Finance Committee discussed options to fund these planned facilities projects … either to borrow $18 million or $24 million. Citing the District’s stellar credit rating and the historically low-interest rates, the committee members supported this borrowing approach to help pay for the new construction and needed renovations to existing buildings. However, because TESD currently has a $32 million fund balance, some in attendance at the meeting questioned adding debt in this way.

Another topic that received some discussion from audience members was Dr. Gusick’s proposal to add a couple of new director positions in the District. Gusick explained that Robin McDonnell, Director of Assessment and Instructional Technology for the District, will be retiring in June and thinks that the job requirements are such that they now require two people, a Director of Technology and a Director of Assessment. I don’t know that anyone would question Gusick about the need for the positions, but may question the suggested salaries — $160k/yr. for each position.

Ray Clarke also attended the Finance Committee meeting. Following the meeting, he emailed comments to the school board and sent me a copy for Community Matters.  Below is an excerpt from those remarks:

First, I would like to thank you for the presentations at last night’s Finance Committee meeting proposing to restructure the Administration team and to make a $18 to $24 million bond issue.  We are at the stage in the budget process where many worthy proposals are on the table.  Dr Gusick’s idea for qualified Directors of Technology and of Assessment is one of them, but the compensation gives pause: salaries of $160,000, plus 30% PSERS, plus $20,000 healthcare, plus ……?  Unfortunately, accepting all of them – even with the maximum 3.7% tax increase – leaves the District with an unsustainable deficit approaching $2 million.

This makes it all the more important for you to critically examine the one discretionary spending item that defies understanding – raising $18 million that the District does not need, and will cost taxpayers over $28 million to repay.  Further, you propose to eliminate the annual $300,000 savings from last Fall’s bond re-financing rather than giving taxpayers some offset to the otherwise continual expense increases.

The proposed financing is driven by a capital plan for the four years from 2015/16 to 2018/19 that calls for spending $30.7 million, while only $6.9 million will remain in the Capital Project Fund at the beginning of the year.  The assumption is that the $24 million gap has to be filled by 75% bond funding because “that’s the way we have always done it”.  However, we have not always had a General Fund Balance of $32 million earning negligible interest.

Instead of contriving financial schemes to defer interest on the new borrowing beyond the $300,000 of lost savings (and increase total borrowing costs), I believe that it is your fiduciary duty to present and analyze other options that show some fiscal restraint.

For example, a transfer of $16 million from the General Fund to the Capital Fund would take the District through 2017/18 and even through 2018/19 – if just $2 million of capital spending was deferred.  At that point the 2014 bonds are repaid and there is leeway for bond financing without a premium for a convoluted structure that defers interest and principal repayments.  You avoid the three quarter of a million dollar annual expense (loaded on future generations) for the unneeded 4% bond money sitting under the District mattress.  And there is still $16 million in the General Fund for contingencies that you can not tax for (contrary to the $10 million “committed” to PSERS, which you can and do raise taxes for).  There is already over $5 million “committed” to Capital Projects.

In the last five years, TESD taxes have risen at twice the rate of inflation and this is forecast to continue in the preliminary Budget.  Radnor is finding a way to limit next year’s tax increase to the State Index 1.9%.  There is great risk to the value proposition that brought many of us to Tredyffrin.  As taxes rise relative to our neighbors, the more likely that existing communities and new ones like Wayne Glen will be unaffordable to those without families, the more children will enter the school system and the worse your problem will get.

TE School District proposes 3.68 percent tax increase in 2015-16 budget

For taxpayers living in Tredyffrin and Easttown Townships, they saw no municipal real estate tax increase in 2014 or 2015. In the Tredyffrin Township 2015 budget presentation, it was announced that real estate tax assessments continue to grow and that the township saw “increased construction of both residential and commercial properties which are a major cause for the increased assessment.” No real estate tax increase in Tredyffrin for 2015 follows a no real estate tax increase in 2014. Similarly, Easttown Township taxpayers received no real estate tax increase for the period.

In neighboring Radnor School District, taxpayers did not receive a real estate tax increase for 2014-15 whereas the taxpayers of TE School District saw their real estate tax bill increase 3.2 percent during the same period. Looking ahead to the 2015-16 budget for the two school districts, Radnor School Board announced this week that they will not seek exceptions and the proposed tax increase will not be greater than the 1.9 percent permitted by Act 1. TE School Board has voted to seek exceptions and the preliminary budget currently in discussion for 2015-16 includes a 3.68 percent tax increase.

During the last four years, TE School District has shown a budget surplus of over $12 million (2013-14: $2.2M, 2012-13: $5M, 2011-12: $3.9M and 2010-11: $1.3M). Although the District benefited from the budget surplus, you would have to go back a decade to 2004-05 to find the last time that there was no real estate tax increase. A review of the District yearly tax increase since the last no-tax year is as follows:

• 2015-16: 3.68% *
• 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
* Proposed Increase

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

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

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

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

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

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

T/E School Board Passes 3.3% Tax Increase; Highest Percent Increase in the Area

The T/E School Board meeting on Thursday night was rather anticlimactic.  Most of us who have been following the budget process were not surprised by the 3.3% tax increase (1.7% Act 1 Index, 1.6% referendum exceptions) for the 2012-13 school year.  Based on the District’s average residential assessment of $252,601, this translates to an average increase of $155 per homeowner in their tax bill.

The Act 1 Index increase will produce projected revenue of $1.5 million and the exceptions increase projected revenue of $1,498,916. The total revenue produced by the 3.3% tax increase is $2,998,916.  The 2012-13 tax will be levied at the rate of 19.2628 mills, on the assessed valuation at a rate of $19.2628 per $1,000 assessment; an increase of .6154 mills from the 2011-12 tax rate.

How does TESD tax increase of 3.3% increase for 2012-13 school year stack up against neighboring school districts?  The following local school districts have approved their budgets for 2012-13 and  needed to include the following tax increases:

  • Radnor School District: 3.21% tax increase
  • Great Valley School District: 3% tax increase
  • Haverford School District: 2.73% tax increase
  • Lower Merion School District: 1.99% tax increase
  • West Chester School District: 1.7% tax increase
  • Downingtown Area School District: 1.7% tax increase
  • Phoenixville School District: 1.66% tax increase
  • Unionville-Chadds Ford School District: proposed 2.65% tax increase in Chester County and a 1.74% decrease in Delaware County (the difference comes changes in the gross property valuation of the two counties) to be approved at UCFSD meeting on Monday, June 18.

Following the final budget summary, discussion and resident commentary, the school board members were presented the opportunity to weigh-in on why they were voted for or against the 2012-13 budget.  The 2012-13 budget passed 7-2 with school board members Liz Mercogliano and Rich Brake providing the dissenting votes.  Brake provided a lengthy 30-minute oration, which offered historical details of what brings the District to this point and his reasoning for voting against the 2012-13 budget.

Ray Clarke also attended the school board meeting and offers his thoughts on last night’s School Board meeting. Thanks Ray!

Comments from Ray Clarke … 

1.  Karen Cruickshank reported that the tone in the TEEA negotiations is “increasingly positive”.  One small signal of this is the memorandum of understanding that removes the requirement for the district to pay for “advanced studies assistance”, in return for dropping the demotion idea for 2012/13.  Amazingly, this saves $360,000 – and it’s not even all the tuition that is paid!  (Payments are continuing for those on the lowest Bachelors steps).

 2.  The General Fund Balance debacle continues.  At its root is the fact that the Board treats this as a completely discretionary slush fund, with absolutely no rules about how it is to be used.  I believe that it is completely unacceptable for $30 million of taxpayer money be be treated so cavalierly.  Just one example: last year the “commitment” for PSERS “stabilization” was $15.4 million, this year it’s $3.6 million.  It’s not that the difference has been used to stabilize PSERS, it’s just that the number is a plug for when other things have been accounted for.  Ridiculous.  Why even have that item in the first place – we plan to raise taxes for it anyway.

Having said that, the changes in this year’s commitments do move us in the right direction.  $10.4 million will be moved into the Capital Fund, where it will be used for the one time expenses that we’ve discussed here are the appropriate uses for the Fund Balance.

Also worthy of mention is the commitment for the liability for vested employee services.  This went up by $0.8 million.  The actual payment was $0.3 million;  It’s interesting that the actual employment expense was therefore $0.5 million higher than was recognized in the operating statement, another problem deferred for future taxpayers.

3.  Which gets me to Dr Brake.  He treated us to a half hour analysis of the school district’s finances and the changes over the last decade or so, with desktop slides.  I encourage all to look for the video.  He voted against the tax increase, and argued for “an entirely new status quo” for the school employees.  Here are some notes I took with my commentary:

– The drop in revenues from assessment appeals offsets the increase from increasing the tax rate for the exceptions.  He used this to suggest we have reached taxing capacity.

– Special education is a “ticking time bomb” and the increased costs of autism “threaten public education”.  Relatedly, we heard in the Policy Committee how parents of non-residents, shopping for schools, want the right to come into classrooms to observe TE”s special education programs.

– All entities (governments/households, US/Europe, etc) have a “pathological addiction to spending beyond our means”.  [An OT comment: In a long run he’s right that this is unsustainable, but in the short run, national governments able to determine monetary policy can have a stabilizing role when consumers all of a sudden come to that unsustainable realization.  The problem in the US is that the political actors cannot agree on the long run plan to get the house in order, and in Europe, they have a completely crazy monetary union without a fiscal union].

– For TE routinely taxing to the max is unsustainable and not the solution.  I note that the agreed 3.3% tax increase this year, and the subsequent annual 3% increases in the 4 year projection model accumulate to an increased tax bill of $600 per year for the average residential assessment.  And there’s still a $4 million deficit in 2016/16.

– He is now going to pay more attention to the Fund Balance.  Good!

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

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

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

But where is Conestoga High School . . . ?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—————————————————————-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking at Local School Districts, Does the Buck Stop with Taxpayers?

As Tredyffrin-Easttown School District works through the 2011-12 budget, it is interesting to watch how other school districts are handling their budget shortfalls, particularly in light of the public education cuts in Gov. Corbett’s proposed budget.

This week the Radnor School District and the Radnor Township Education Association reached a tentative agreement for a new teacher contract. The collective bargaining negotiations between the school district and the teacher union have been going on for over a year. Details of the contract will not be released until after the teachers union presents the contract to its members for ratification early next week.  As our school district neighbor, I wonder if their contract will have any influence on TESD teacher contract discussions.

Another neighbor to TESD, the Phoenixville Area School District (PASD) has major budget issues. As the dust settles from the cuts contained in Gov. Corbett’s proposed budget, a tax hike of 8.75% is needed to close the gap – twice as much as the district had anticipated.  Previously, the school district budget included a 4.43% tax increase but with the loss of state funding, they will require an additional 4.32% . . . a tax hike of 8.75%!

At the Pottstown School District meeting this week, their school board took a stand with three interesting votes:

  1. The school board rejected the idea of “forward borrowing” of $23 million without voter approval.  (The district has authorization for $28 million for work on the district’s elementary schools and the vote would have increased that borrowing amount by $23 million).
  2. The school board approved the extension of a contract for mid-level administrators and principals that freeze their salary for one-year. (Cost savings: $30K)
  3. The school board accepted an offer by the district’s three top administrators to freeze their salaries for one-year.  (Cost savings: $15K)

Prior to the vote, the school district was considering a 4-year contract for administrators and principals to include a minimum 1.5% salary increase plus potential merit pay increases. According to the district superintendent, following the announced funding loss from the state was announced, these employees volunteered to take pay freezes for one-year. Gov. Corbett’s proposed budget will provide $3.1 million less state funding to the Pottstown School District.

For comparison sake, I checked on the salaries of administrators in the Pottstown School District.  The top 10 highest paid administrators in the Pottstown School District earn in the range of $102K – $119K per year; their superintendent has a base salary of $152K.

The Pottstown school board hopes that the administration’s one-year pay freeze sends a message to the teacher union, Pottstown Federation of Teachers.  According to Pottstown Mercury, www.pottstownmercury.com , Pottstown School District president thanked the administrators for the one-year salary freeze,  “I want to thank you for pulling your belts a little tighter for us, I hope some of the other school districts around here see what you’re doing for us, how you lead by example.” There is an unresolved contract between the district and the teachers union. The teachers are currently without contract and last month rejected the independent fact-finders report that the school board accepted unanimously.  Sound familiar . . . Unionville-Chadds Ford School District currently have a similar situation with their teachers union.

I guess TESD can take solace in knowing that we are not alone.  With school districts facing looming deficits in their budgets and increasing expenses, Corbett’s proposed budget does not offer much hope for help from the state. 

Corbett’s campaign promises included no tax increase but it seems to me that he has just pushed that job down to the local school districts.  School districts are expected to balance their school budgets, but how? Not much in the way of choices . . .  school boards are forced to make education cuts or they raise taxes. Does no responsibility lie in the shoulders of our elected officials in Harrisburg? How can they expect citizens to pay more in property taxes than they can afford? 

 Or . . .  does the buck just stop with the taxpayers?

What do Sidewalks, McKenzie’s Brew House and St. Davids Golf Club have in common? Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors Meeting

Today’s post includes a roundup on a variety of topics. 

Due to President’s Day, Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors meeting will be Monday, February 28.  Based on the length of the agenda, we could be in for a long evening!  Here are some of the scheduled highlights: 

Sidewalk Subcommittee Presentation – This is the third attempt at this presentation; the first date cancelled because Bob Lamina was out-of-town and the second date was rescheduled because presenter and subcommittee chair Tory Snyder. 

A bit of Sidewalk Subcommittee history . . . Do you remember Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors meeting back on February 22, 2010? If you recall, there was much debate about the St. Davids Golf Club sidewalk requirement in their land development plan.  First, the supervisors voted to return the $25K sidewalk escrow to St. Davids and then, based on public opinion, opted to reverse the decision in February 2010.  

Because of the St. Davids escrow debate, a Sidewalks Subcommittee was formed to review (with public input) the future construction of sidewalks and bike lanes in the township. The township continues to hold St. Davids sidewalk escrow pending the outcome of the Sidewalk Subcommittee’s recommendation and then ultimate vote of the Board of Supervisors relative to sidewalk requirements in the township.  Understanding the open liability issues on land development projects, the sidewalk subcommittee was presented with an end-of-the-year timeline to present the supervisors with their recommendations. Public hearings and a public survey were included in the sidewalk subcommittee analysis.  It is my understanding from attending their meetings that St. Davids sidewalk is included in the sidewalk presentation.

Interesting agenda item:  Schedule a public hearing on March 7, 2011 to consider a liquor license transfer in the Township – I was curious about this agenda item and contacted Mimi Gleason and discovered some potentially good news for the township.  McKenzie’s Brew House is expanding and is interested in a location in Tredyffrin – the old Charlie Brown Restaurant location in the Valley Fair Shopping Center.  This will be a multi-municipality liquor license transfer, as they will be moving the license from the old Basil’s in Willistown Twp to the Charlie Brown location.  According to Mimi, this transfer does not require any sign-off from Willistown, just needs our supervisors support and approval.  Moving to the same shopping center (in the Bargain Bookstore – Tuesday Morning location) is Meeley’s Furniture Store, taking both floors. Filling empty retail and restaurant locations is good news for the local economy!

Planning Commission Annual Report – listed as an agenda item, I admit I do not recall the Planning Commission making a public presentation of the annual reports in the past. Wonder if there is any relationship between the timing of this annual report and the upcoming Public Hearing on March 21 to discuss an amendment to the Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance giving the Board of Supervisors the authority for approval or denial of a land development plan. (Currently this authority is with the Planning Commission). 

Newly appointed supervisor Mike Heaberg will be taking his place for the first time at Monday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.  I wish Mike well and know that his financial expertise and independent views will prove an asset to the community.  Speaking of supervisors, the candidate petition signing is underway for the school board and the board of supervisors.  On the school board side, I cannot offer much public information, except that five of the nine school board seats available.  Three of the five current school board members will seek re-election (Karen Cruickshank, Jim Bruce, and Pete Motel) and two board members will not (Kevin Mahoney, Debbie Bookstaber). I do not believe the slate of school board candidates is finalized – I think the deadline is March 8 for petition signatures. 

Tredyffrin’s GOP held their endorsement meeting this week and endorsed Mike Heaberg and Kristen Mayock as Republican at-large supervisor candidates.  Heaberg was also endorsed to run in the special supervisor election.  Paul Olson and John DiBuonaventuro were endorsed as eastern and western district Republican supervisor candidates.  On the Democratic side, opposing Heaberg and Mayock, as at-large candidates are Molly Duffy and Ernie Falcone.  It is my understanding there will not be a Democratic candidate for the western district slot.  I am unsure if either Duffy or Falcone will oppose Heaberg in the special election. 

Here’s an interesting and creative way to increase revenue for the school district.  There is a proposal in Radnor School District for ‘naming’ opportunities.  The current policy on the ‘naming’ of school facilities is restricted to honoring community members for their contribution to the community or school district.  By relaxing the naming requirements may offer some financial benefits to the school district.  This idea has some potential . . . a science lab, a hallway; the auditorium . . . all could have naming opportunities.  Maybe the school district permits the naming on a yearly basis and the naming opportunity goes to the highest bidder.  Just a thought . . . TESD, any interest?

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