Ray Clarke

Global Warming: Important Meeting on Tuesday, April 19, 7:30 PM

Global warming graphic

You are Invited to Attend:

Open Land Conservancy of Chester Counthy Annual Meeting
Guest Speaker: Climate Change Expert Richard Whiteford
Tuesday, April 19, 7:30 PM
Great Valley Presbyterian Church, 2026 Swedesford Road, Malvern

The Open Land Conservancy has scheduled ‘Global Warming’’ as the important topic for its Annual Meeting on Tuesday, April 19, 7:30 PM at Great Valley Presbyterian Church, 2025 Swedesford Road, Malvern, PA.  Light refreshments will be served.

Following a brief business meeting, internationally acclaimed climate expert Richard Whiteford will present the keynote presentation on global warming and lead the discussion. This meeting is an opportunity for the public to learn more about global warming and what it means to us here in Southeastern Pennsylvania and you are encouraged to attend.

How will global warning impact our streams, trees and pasture?  How will global warming affect our way of life, our health systems, and our grandchildren? Should I be worried about climate change, will it affect me personally?

Have these and other questions answered by an expert. Richard Whiteford has experience and a broad background in the field of environmental climate change.  Advocating for stronger environmental protection, Whiteford is involved at the local, state and federal levels. He has worked for the Sierra Club, Highlands Coalition, Wilderness Society, National Wildlife Federation and Defenders of Wildlife. Serving as a environmental; consultant to universities, high school and environmental education centers, he has also appeared on BBC and Korean television, NPR, AccuWeather, and Northern Deutsch Radio. Whiteford wrote a three-year series about endangered special for the Philadelphia Inquirer and in 2006 wrote the book “Wild Pennsylvania”.  In addition, Whiteford has served as an advisor on the White House Interagency Climate Adaption Task Force and was a founding board member of the PA Biodiversity and a consultant to PA 21st Century Environmental Commission.

We are grateful to Open Land Conservancy of Chester County (OLC) for inviting the public to attend this meaningful presentation on global warming. For those that may not know, OLC is the oldest Land Trust in the US. Established in 1939, OLC now protects 493 acres of open space, most of which is located in Tredyffrin Township – 375 owned acres in 8 nature preserves that are open to the public and 118 acres of private property under conservation easements.  OLC is the largest non-government landowner in the township.

Completed volunteer supported and managed* , OLC is a registered 501c3 nonprofit organization. The Conservancy has acquired its properties through gifts and through state and country grants.  Volunteers provide the ongoing maintenance with some contracted services.   OLC is leading the effort to preserve the local community’s remaining open space, by caring for hundreds of acres of protected land.

To find out more about the OLC, becoming a member and volunteer needs, visit their website:  http://www.openlandconservancy.org/

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

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

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

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

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

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

Budget Workshop Notes from Ray Clarke:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

————————————————————————————————–

Budget Workshop Notes from Neal Colligan:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easttown Republican school board members leading the TE School District

We learned last week at the TE School Board meeting that Easttown resident Doug Carlson (R) was elected board president and Tredyffrin resident Scott Dorsey (D) the vice president.  On Tuesday, the newly seated school board held their first Finance Committee meeting – Virginia Lastner (R) will continue her role as chair.  Although I was unable to attend the Finance Committee meeting, Ray Clarke attended and kindly provides his notes/comments to Community Matters (see below).

Late today, the District posted the committee assignments on their website.  After serving as Facilities Chair for many years, it was interesting who would fill the vacated seat of Pete Motel. In addition to chairing the Finance Committee, we learned that Virginia Lastner will chair Facilities in addition to Finance. The two most important school board committee meetings (at least when it comes to tax dollars) is Finance and Facilities committees … and both will be chaired by Easttown resident Virginia Lastner.

With Carlson as Board president and Lastner in charge of the District’s Finance and Facilities committees, it looks like the Easttown Republicans are taking charge of the TE School District!  How’s this possible … for the first time in the District’s history, five of the nine school board members are Tredyffrin Democrats!

Beyond the ongoing construction of the District’s maintenance building, looms the final report from the safety consultant on the Valley Forge Middle School fencing project which is due by the end in the next few weeks. Looking at the makeup of the Facilities Committee, it’s unclear if consensus will be reached easily– newly elected school board members Michele Burger (D) and Ed Sweeney (R) publicly campaigned against the VFMS fencing project.  Will their opposition to the proposed fencing be sufficient to sway the other two members of Facilities, Lastner and Todd Kantorczyk (D)? The Valley Forge Middle School fencing project will likely be back on the Facilities agenda in early 2016.

It was good to see that the Public Information Committee is listed albeit as ‘Ad Hoc’; meetings held “when needed”.  In my opinion, there is always a need for public information.  Glad to see that Scott Dorsey is the committee’s chair – hopefully with Rev. Dorsey at the helm, we can look forward to increased transparency and public engagement from the Board.

With all the madness going on in the world, it was disturbing to see there the Diversity Committee was not listed.  Former school board member Liz Mercogliano previously chaired the Diversity Committee and would update the public at Board meetings on their important ongoing discussions.  Now, more than ever, we all must work together to ensure that we appropriately value the diversity within and among our schools. Promoting and encouraging respect for ethnic and cultural diversity within the school population, staff and community deserves to continue. Suggest that Diversity find a place on the calendar with the other committee assignments.

Here’s the complete list of school board committee assignments:

Facilities Committee

  • Virginia Lastner, Chair
  • Michele Burger
  • Todd Kantorczyk
  • Ed Sweeney

Education Committee

  • Scott Dorsey, Chair
  • Kevin Buraks
  • Roberta Hotinski
  • Kate Murphy

Finance Committee

  • Virginia Lastner, Chair
  • Kevin Buraks
  • Roberta Hotinski
  • Todd Kantorczyk

Legislative Committee

  • Doug Carlson, Chair
  • Michele Burger
  • Kate Murphy
  • Ed Sweeney

Policy Committee

  • Kevin Buraks, chair
  • Todd Kantorczyk
  • Kate Murphy
  • Ed Sweeney

Public Information – Ad Hoc

  • Scott Dorsey, Chair
  • Michele Burger
  • Roberta Hotinski
  • Kate Murphy

I appreciate the following comments/notes from the Finance Committee meeting as provided by Ray Clarke. Ray’s budget point #3 caught my attention – “assumptions about employee out-sourcing”. What?

In a follow-up call, Ray confirmed that there was no details or explanation offered by the Finance chair or the administration regarding this out-sourcing comment.  So, the public is left wondering which employees are they talking about — is it the few remaining aides and paras who remain as District employees? Or is the Finance committee and administration thinking ahead to other potential outsourcing opportunities  – TENIG’s contract is up in 18 months, so could it be that the District’s kitchen staff, secretaries and custodians will once again find their jobs in jeopardy?

Last night was the first meeting of the new Finance Committee (although the full Board was in attendance).  The group seems short on financial management experience, so there will need to be a steep learning curve. Exemplified by the fact that the Committee recommended that the Board vote in January to apply for all eligible Exceptions, totaling a 4.3% tax increase.  This is based on just eight numbers from the Administration, two of which are given from the mandated PSERS rate.  Two more are the same as the current year (State and Federal subsidies).  The bottom line is a scare-inducing $4.65 million deficit.

The four remaining budget lines:

  1.  Local Revenues:  Is the Board OK with projected revenues just $800,000 more than this year’s budget when this year’s real estate taxes, transfer taxes and interim taxes are already running $1,000,000 better to budget than last year’s rate?
  2.  Salaries:  Do they understand why salaries are flat despite a contracted TEEA step increase worth maybe 2%, a 5.7 FTE teacher increase, 1.7% salary increases for Admin, etc.?   We discovered last night that has something to do with assumptions about employee out-sourcing, but no detail was provided.  Nor of course, any detail about the expected staffing increase.
  3.  Benefits:  Apparently the consultant advised the District to project a 5% healthcare premium cost increase, and the total budgeted benefits increase vs 2015/16 is 5.1%.  But the TEEA, for example, is contracted to pay an extra percentage of the premium and there will be fewer employees apparently.  How does the math work?
  4.  “Other”: This is up nearly $3 million over the current year projection.  Presumably the out-sourcing projections have something to do with this, but no explanation was provided.

A couple of other noteworthy points:

– The arithmetic for the Special Ed calculation leads to a $900,000 tax increase, yet this year’s expense increase is less than $400,000 and there was no data on the slides supporting an expense projection for 2016/17.

– The projection for this year is that expenses will be $1.3 million less than Budget.

The response to this will say a lot about our new Board.  We were told over and over last night that the tax increase recommendation was just to “preserve our flexibility”, but we know too well how markers like that tend to get cemented in.  Are they prepared to lay down that marker with such minimal information provided by the Administration?

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

 

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

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

Budget Process

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

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

Current Financials

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

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

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

Department of Unintended Consequences

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

Other

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

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

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

TESD Facility Meeting to discuss school fencing project and mega-million dollar maintenance building

The proposed middle school and high school fencing project and the mega-million dollar Maintenance Building are two of the agenda items for the District’s Facilities Meeting tomorrow, Friday, June 12 at 12 Noon.

The school fencing project, specifically at Valley Forge Middle School, has seen a lot of attention in recent months. The school property abuts the property of some of the Green Hills properties in Chesterbrook. and initially the plan had the fencing going directly behind the Green Hills homes. It now appears that the District has agreed to move the proposed fencing away from the homeowner’s back doors but unanswered questions remain.

Discussion (debate?) continues on the placement of the interior fencing, the height of the fence (4 ft, 5 ft. or 6 ft.), the type of fencing material, signage, etc. The five District elementary schools received chain link fencing but the Chesterbrook residents are asking for a material upgrade to white vinyl fencing to match existing fencing in the planned community.  There appears to be an agreement that any upgrade materials fee from chain link to white vinyl will be split between Chesterbrook residents and the District’s taxpayers.  The white vinyl fencing is to run along the side of VFMS property on Valley Forge Road (Rt. 252).  This upgrade fencing option would only ‘mark’ the District’s property and cannot be viewed as a safety feature.

The construction start date for school fencing at Valley Forge Middle, TE Middle and Conestoga is June 24 with a scheduled completion date of August 14.  Since there is a change order for the originally approved fencing at VFMS, the Facilities Committee will need to decide the next step – will it need to go back to the full Board on Monday, June 15?

Although the District has been unwilling to publically state how many residents have contacted the Board regarding the proposed fencing – I know that the number continues to rise.  Many residents have copied me on their correspondence with the District and then complained when they have received no response. To be clear, there may be residents who support the fencing project, but I have personally not received copies of any such correspondence.

Below is a copy of a recent email to the school board from Mr. Gary Wolf, a Chesterbrook resident.  This email is included below with his approval.

Dear School Board,

Our tax dollars are irresponsibly and continually misused by the T/E School Board.  One of my choices to address this concern, besides moving out of our Tredyffrin home that my wife and I have lived in for 27 years, was to exercise my right to vote … which I did.  I chose not to vote for Kris Graham on May 19th.  While my vote is only one in many, I’m fed up with our taxes being increased and our school board acting as though this district is a “money pit.”  Specifically, we don’t need fences at our schools to the tune of almost a quarter million dollars.

My wife worked at VFES for 19 years, and saw the waste and misdirected funding of the T/E administration.  For example, the kids had a paltry allocation of $1.00/year/student for their first aid care while the principal bought new office furniture essentially every year, applying the “use or lose his budget” mentality.  If I managed my department for my employer in that manner, I’d be out of work.  And … we continue to pay for Dan Waters’ amenities and life style that even us reasonably blessed professionals will never realize.   Spend it on the kids!!  Enough is enough!

Gary C. Wolf

Another of the major discussion items on the agenda is agenda items is the new Maintenance & Storage Building.  As we learned at Monday’s Finance Committee meeting, the bids for this project were due in this week on June 9.  The project bid will not include any of the costs leading up to this point – the legal and architectural fees, traffic studies, township permits, eco soil testing, etc.

When the Business Manager was asked about a total of those pre-construction costs, Art McDonnell stated that he would provide a total of those costs as well as the construction bid costs at the Facilities Meeting. At this point, the District has already invested a lot of money on the maintenance building project. Because this project has greatly exceeded initial estimates, it would be fiscally responsible for the Board to thoroughly analyze the costs, and review all available options, before granting final approval. According to the District, the construction start date for the maintenance building is August 17, 2015 with a scheduled completion date of June 29, 2016.

Regarding this week’s Finance Meeting, the proposed tax increase has now edged up to 3.81% for the 2015-16 school year. Should this tax increase be approved, it will mark the eleventh year in a row that residents have seen their taxes go up — you would have to go back a decade to 2004-05 to find the last time that there was no real estate tax increase. Is this really the best time to spend $4-5 million for a maintenance & storage building?

There were a number of school board candidates at the Finance Meeting, it would be interesting to know their thoughts about the proposed budget. There was a brief mention about the District’s food service budget and something about a $400K loss but … that the department really didn’t have a loss but actually had a profit! I have no idea what this is about — is the District practicing a form of ‘new math’?  Perhaps my friend Ray Clarke can enlighten us!

———————————————————————————————

Update: Neal Colligan sent the following email to the T/E School Board Thursday evening regarding the District’s proposed Maintenance & Storage Building and provided a copy for posting on Community Matters.

Dear School Board,

Apologizes for not being able to join you at the Facilities Meeting tomorrow. I did want to take this opportunity to give you some thoughts on your maintenance building that you will be discussing tomorrow.

Much has been said on that project and I see know need to go into its history… You’ll already have reviews all that.  The choice you may make tomorrow is to recommend a contract for the construction of this 14,000 SF facility that has been in the planning stage for so long. At the last Facilities meeting, the revised estimate for the construction of the building is almost $4 MM. After you add the cost of land acquisition, planning and architects, legal, and other sunk costs… This facility could well coat almost $5 MM. On a price per square foot basis, this gets pretty close to $300/SF.

I work financing commercial real estate and I’d like to share some insights.  In a commercial loan scenario, a lender would give you only a portion of the value of a piece of real estate (typically 65-75%). This discipline is adhered to for obvious reasons..,. The lender would like to get paid back.  If they don’t get paid back frontmen owner, they’d like to see their way to get their money back through taking the real estate back and selling it. Why is the germane?  You’re a not for profit building for your own needs. Here’s why the above is important:  you are borrower inc the money. Further you’re borrowing it on the back of the taxpayers. You just completed a large bond offering.  You have a AAA rating based primarily on the ability of the citizens of our community to pay taxes. Indeed, WE; the taxpayer, are the security for this loan.

As THE security for your bond issue, I would appreciate it if you would apply the same discipline that you would see from a normal commercial real estate deal. If you had that building appraised… You would find out it’s worth about $1 MM. Don’t believe that?  Find out…have it appraised OR ask Tripp Lukens on the Planning Board…. He’s a commercial appraiser and would be happy to speak on value, likely for no charge. At least investigate it…please don’t pay 4x value for a non-strategic asset (one where no learning takes place).

I know you’ve spent considerable time on THIS plan but now it’s costs have far out-stripped it’s utility/value….my opinion. And my opinion should matter; I guaranteed the bond issue by being a citizen of this community. You should not pay anywhere near the amounts recently released by Facility for this asset. There ARE other alternatives….lease/buy an older building/etc. At $4-$5 MM of money borrowed on the credit of this community; you must go look at new alternatives.

Thank you-and I apologize for any miss-spellings; writing on my handheld without glasses.

Neal Colligan

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.

Cut a Vine, Save a Tree! Open Land Conservancy Needs Your Help on Saturday

pruning sheers

VOLUNTEERS NEEDED FOR VINE DAY

CUT A VINE — SAVE A TREE!

Saturday March 8, 2014
9 AM to 12 noon
GEORGE LORIMER PRESERVE

Special Meeting Location at
1812 Hawkweed Way in Summerhill

Has this winter left you suffering from cabin fever and a need to get outside for some fresh air?  There’s a perfect opportunity this Saturday, March 8 to help the community and celebrate what we all hope is the end of winter!

The Open Land Conservancy of Chester County will be holding its Vine Day of the season on Saturday at George Lorimer Preserve, 9 AM – 12 Noon.  Lorimer Preserve is 88 acres of meadows, woods, ponds, stream, and extensive trail system are managed to provide a variety of habitats for wildlife in a beautiful rural setting. Vines will be cut back so you will need to wear appropriate gloves and protective (and warm) clothing.  Volunteers are asked to bring tools if you have those— pruners, saws, clippers.  But not to worry, the volunteers from Open Land Conservancy will have extra tools.  Open Land Conservancy invites you to give back to your community by helping with spring property maintenance.

For the second year, Trish and Stuart Gutsche are graciously hosting the Vine Day at the driveway on 1812 Hawkweed Way in the Summerhill Development.  Volunteers may park on Hawkweed and volunteers will use the Summerhill entrance to the Lorimer Preserve behind the Gutsche residence. The Open Land Conservancy appreciates the hospitality of the Gutsche family! The Gutsche’s outstanding refreshments made last year’s Lorimer Vine Day the most popular Vine Day of the season!

Directions:  Take Swedesford Road, turn onto Le Boutillier Road to Mill Road. Make a left on Mill and then a left on Summerhill Drive, and a right on Hawkweed Way to the end.

Volunteering for the Open Land Conservancy is a great way to make a difference for the lands and communities of this region while having fun and meeting new people! Visit Open Land Conservancy website for further details.

Any questions, contact Ray Clarke at 610-578-0358

TESD Calendar update — Students will have 179 school days & other updates

An article written by Yuge Xiao & Lavi Ben-Dorin in StogaNews online this morning, reports on the school board meeting and the updated school calendar, stating that“…  students now have 179 school days. Staff will still have 191 days, with the last being on June 30.  Originally, the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District (TESD) had scheduled 182 instructional days (the state requirement is 180). However, the district has chosen to not reschedule the two additional days.”

Thanks to Ray Clarke for attending TESD the meeting last night — Finance and Special School Board meeting — his notes are offered below:

Ray Clarke – Notes from February 10 Finance & Special School Board Meeting

1.  Off-off-the-presses Affordable Care Act changes.  The Board committed that the district will analyze the impact and report the results at the February 24th Board meeting.  This is a hard commitment.

ACA Change: Companies with 100 workers or more are getting a different kind of one-year grace period. Instead of being required in 2015 to offer coverage to 95 percent of full-time workers, these bigger employers can avoid a fine by offering insurance to 70 percent of them next year

2.  As suggested by some CM commenters, there are ways to save Spring Break and have the last day no later than June 20th: reducing instructional days from 182 to the state minimum of 180 and also counting three non-instructional days towards the 180.  At the moment (before the the next storm on Thursday!) there are two days that remain to be used in this way and thus preserve Spring Break. The explanation wasn’t the clearest and I didn’t have a good angle on the screen, so the public should check the TESD web site for the approved calendar.  Interesting here that the recently hired cafeteria manager was credited with bringing these ideas to the District from his previous public accounting (I think) experience.

3.  The preliminary Budget was approved, with the authorization to file for Exceptions, which – if approved by the State – the Board has the discretion to use to whatever extent they deem necessary for the final Budget, which has to be passed by June 30th.  Governor Corbett’s PA budget proposes reducing the increase in PSERS, which Art McDonnell stated would have the effect of reducing expenses by $600,000, if enacted exactly as-is.  (I think that benefit is net of the state’s contribution, and presumably therefore the allowed exception would also be reduced by this amount – giving an allowed exception tax increase of ~0.6% rather than the current 1.1%).  Many moving pieces here, and obviously important to make sure that the latest and best information is brought to bear on the final decision.  Much reference to the March and April budget workshops, which hopefully can include fine-tuning across the board, incorporating things like salary “breakage”, for example.

4.  Not discussed at the Board or Finance Committee, but there is an important Education Committee meeting tomorrow at 1:30pm.  Topics include a review of the Special Education program (which we have told will be over-spending this year’s budget by $850,000 [over 5%], for over 1,000 students receiving special education services in the District].  Also on the Agenda, enrollment projections.  At 12:30pm the Legislative Committee will be reviewing the Governor’s education budget and perhaps providing some insight on its prospects.

5.  The district’s transportation staff drove the bus routes on Sunday to check that the roads were cleared sufficiently to allow the schools to open today – quite an effort and accomplishment, I think.

Affordable Care Act compliance ideas for T/E School Board

AffordableCareAct-MainPhoto1I am passionate about our community’s history and the preservation of our historic buildings and the demolition of the house on Pugh Road has had my attention the last few days. The discussion on the township’s historic resources will continue but I want to get back to other issues, including the TESD budget and the District’s compliance of Affordable Care Act.

The school district held a special meeting on January 6 to present the preliminary budget proposal and for a ACA presentation by Rhonda Grubbs, Wisler Pearlstine attorney and Art McDonnell, District’s business manager. (See Community Matters related post).  Following the ACA presentation, many questions remained.  School board president Kevin Buraks told the audience that the ACA discussion would next be discussed at the Finance Committee meeting on Monday, January 13.

I attended the January 13th Finance Committee expecting further discussion of the ACA.  However, the decision was to postpone any additional ACA discussion to the next full school board meeting — upcoming on Monday, January 27. Although it was the decision of the school board members attending the Finance Committee meeting to postpone the ACA discussion, Pete Motel actively reached out to the community and asked that we provide our own ideas for compliance to the school board.  Remember, all TESD employees are not currently offered health care benefits – facing the ACA compliance deadline, the  Board needs to decide what to do about the aides, paras and substitute teachers, the employees not currently receiving health benefits.

The Finance Committee meeting is not videotaped so probably few in the community are aware that Motel encouraged ideas and suggestions about ACA compliance from the public. If you want to help keep the jobs of the aides and paras from outsourcing, they need to have health coverage.  This is important and the Board needs to hear from the public.  Send your suggestions, (be specific) to schoolboard@tesd.net and share those ideas for discussion on Community Matters.

Compliance with the ACA is not an easy task for the Board. There are many factors to consider and I think the Board left the ACA presentation with as many questions as members of the public.  The ACA presentation gave a negative, ‘cannot be done’ slant to the compliance situation.  However, there are people in the community that believe that there are other options for the Board to consider.

In an email, resident Ray Clarke suggests that it is important for the Board, “to base the analysis on reasonable estimates of any underlying variables (family vs single status, % opting out in favor of cash, etc. while of course, recognizing that the actual outcomes could be different (back up with budget contingencies, fund balance commitments).  The values for these assumptions should be published along with the impacts.”

Taking school board member Pete Motel’s suggestion to heart, Ray sent a list of ACA ideas to the Board and they are included below:

–  Provide the “current” healthcare plan to full time aides, paras, subs, and so make the non-discrimination test moot.  Make reasonable estimates for and publish all the assumptions: premium share, family status, coverage provided, wage adjustment, coverage waiver bonus, etc.

–  Provide a minimum “basic-care” employee-coverage-only plan to full time aides, paras, subs and Admin.  Deal with the Admin group as Keith has suggested on CM.  Make assumptions as above.

–  Facilitate the formation of a union/bargaining group for either the Admin group or the aides, paras, subs so that their benefits can be bargained separately and avoid the non-discrimination test.

–  Cap hours/days of all aides/paras/subs at 27.5 hours/3.5 days.  Flesh out the impact on students and management overhead and provide realistic estimate of any partially compensating salary increase.

–  Outsource as needed.  Provide guesstimate of impact based on rates paid for current out-sourced employees and from last year’s discussions with vendors.

I think that the Board should also have a table comparing compensation rates and all benefits (including PSERS) for aides, paras, subs in neighboring school districts.

Perhaps the Board can also be encouraged to get direct feedback from the affected employees.  There are web-based tools that could be used, for example, for a simple anonymous ranking of employee priorities (while of course recognizing that the priorities are not in practice independent and none can be guaranteed).

TESD Facilities Committee proposes fees for VFES tennis court usage

The monthly TESD Facilities Committee meetings are held at a time that makes it difficult for many to attend – Friday at 2 PM, and the Friday, June 15 attendance proved the point.   Ray Clarke attended the comittee meeting with 3 other residents and provided the his notes for Community Matters.  In addition, I spoke with him for clarification, specifically in regards to the infamous tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School.  If you recall, Zoning Hearing Board granted the variance last month so that the District could build the additional parking spots and leave the tennis courts intact.

I had assumed that once the tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School received their ‘stay of execution’, residents would continue to enjoy them free of charge.  However, based on Ray’s explanation, it looks like the District views the courts as a revenue source.  According to Ray’s notes, initially the Facilities Committee proposed two options for the tennis courts – an hourly rate for usage ($15-$25) or a flat annual fee of $28K to be paid by an association!  It is unclear what ‘association’ the District had in mind — the neighbors next to VFES?  Looks like tennis court neighbor Michelle Berger temporarily thwarted a PR nightmare for the Board with an agreement that the resident usage fee will not start until the fall.

June 14, Facilities Meeting Committee Notes … from Ray Clarke

Well, an audience of four at the Facilities Committee was treated to a detailed exposition of the process underlying the Infrastructure Plan.  On one hand, we were told the plan took 332 hours of Daley and Jalboot time at the bargain rate of $12,200 (plus $8,000 for mechanical engineering), using annually updated CAD drawings of every building, inspections of every building, meetings with the Maintenance staff, using cost projections updated for 4% annual inflation, etc.  Bbut on the other hand, we were told that we should pay no attention to the fact the resulting cost estimate is over $50 million, and in fact, that to even mention that number is inflammatory and “foolish”!

I wondered about the status of the Infrastructure report.  I was told it was approved in “the May Board meeting”.  I see that the minutes of the 5/13 School Board meeting includes the Facilities Committee report: “Also on the May 13, 2013 consent agenda is the infrastructure report, which is a ten year renewal of the plan”. However, there is no record in the published agenda or in the minutes of the actual item.  The only related item in agenda or minutes is “Daley + Jalboot 2013 Projects/Fee Proposal/Infrastructure Implementation”.  So, is it possible that the Plan was not only put on the Consent Agenda, but also added verbally at the meeting (and not recorded clearly in the minutes), so only those still awake at midnight would be aware of it?

I proposed that the Board and the community might benefit from a detailed discussion of a plan that sets the tone for the next decade’s capital spending – a discussion that might be needed once every 10 or maybe five years.  Perhaps the items could be prioritized — essential to nice-to-have.  Perhaps payback identified for those projects that would reduce costs.  These ideas were met with derision —  the Facilities Committee has managed things just fine for the last ten years, we spend an amount only equal to the auditors’ arithmetical calculation of depreciation, our debt service is constant at $6 million a year, most of the school kitchens are original (although equipment has been renewed), told I didn’t know the difference between capital and operating funds,  etc., etc.   It seems to me that the whole reason that there is such interest in the affairs of the District now is that in fact there really is a “new normal” where funds are not so readily available and trade-offs must be made.  Prudent governance should recognize that.

The discussion of the VFES tennis courts provided further indication that this Board leadership just doesn’t get it.  Two usage fee options were presented: a) fee of $15/hr. weekday, $25/hr. weekend, or b) an annual fee to an “association” of $28,000.  This was to be implemented July 1st.  The courts to be locked and monitored.  Thank goodness, for a sensible and articulate local resident, Michelle Berger, who was persistent and managed to get through to the Committee, suggesting that this approach would be a total PR disaster and that it was better to involve the community to figure out a practical approach than an abrupt implementation of a bureaucratic plan.  Tennis camps and any other organized groups will be charged right away – I think at the $30 per court hour that the township charges.  Fees for residents will start in the fall.

So common sense thankfully prevailed here.  But it’s really unfortunate that the Board has developed such a bunker mentality.  I wish I could offer a solution.  Perhaps the Board candidates will offer realistic commitments for change that we can hold them to.

Community Matters © 2015 Frontier Theme