school board transparency

T/E School Board Candidate Question #4: WHY Should We Vote for YOU?

The days are counting down to Election Day on Tuesday, November 5. There are 10 school board candidates for the T/E School Board and 6 seats available — do you know who you are voting for?

The saga of the elusive correction of the District’s $1.2 million accounting error continues. On my Community Matters post from yesterday I included the October 16 letter from Edward Furman, CPA from Maillie LLP which details their position. The Furman letter was subsequently added to the District website, ,although not easy to find.

It has been 4+ months since the school board vote of June 11 which directed the District to correct the District audits and Annual Financial Reports for 2016/17 yr and 2017/18 yr with the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Based on the Furman letter, it is obvious that as of October 16, the business manager has not moved the process forward.

Given this recent information from the auditor leaves the public with more questions than answers about the District’s financial management. As a result, the upcoming election of 6 school board directors takes on increased importance!

I thank and appreciate that all 10 T/E School Board candidates (and earlier, the 8 Tredyffrin Township and 4 Easttown Township supervisor candidates) responded to my questions and hope that voters take the time to read them!

It is appropriate that the fourth and final question which I asked the school board candidates is as follows.

Question #4: What differentiates you from the other candidates and /or board member? Why should you be elected or re-elected?!

 Doug Anestad Response:

One of the biggest things that differentiates me from the other candidates is my experience in both the private sector and the education field. I was in the technology field for a decade before being a public-school teacher for a decade. I have since returned to the private sector for the last six years. This diverse experience allows me to see issues from both sides.

The other thing that differentiates me is my history of speaking out for the parents and the community and trying to give them a real voice. If elected, I will not automatically think that everything the administration does can’t be improved.

I will do everything I can to give the parents and the community a real voice. This includes having them be members of committees and asking follow-up questions from the public instead of letting them speak and then ignoring their suggestions.

Michele Burger Response:

As a 21 year resident and parent of 3 district graduates, I have had the privilege of serving my community in various capacities, working in a non-partisan way to preserve the excellent public education that makes our community a desirable place to live, work, and raise a family. If re-elected, I’m planning for the future by advocating for an independent financial advisor, conducting a comprehensive evaluation of ALL district infrastructure, and supporting reading instruction based on “the science of reading” with data-driven interventions. My accomplishments to date:

  • Controlled wasteful spending (e.g. protecting taxpayers’ investment by saving $1.2 million on the security camera system without compromising student/staff safety)
  • Gathered community/expert input PRIOR to making decisions
  • Moved committee meetings to evenings
  • Held Open House regarding proposed high school expansion
  • Healthier start times
  • Air conditioning for elementary schools
  • Laptops for 7-12 grades

BUT, there’s more work to be done!

Roberta Hotinski Response:

I have spent my entire professional life working in science and higher education environments.  I have served on the Board for four years, as education chair since January 2018.  I have advocated for the following changes and helped make them a reality:

  • Healthier school start times
  • The Conestoga high school expansion
  • Elementary school air conditioning
  • Laptops for students in grades 7-12
  • Increased transparency through preservation of Board documents on the web (previously  maintained for only 1 year)

During that time I’ve also been involved in the negotiation of three district contracts that were concluded with no disruption to the district.   I’m an experienced leader who studies the issues and listens to the voices of all stakeholders, and I would be honored to serve another 4 years as a director for Region 1.

Mary Garrett Itin Response:

As a licensed social worker, I bring a unique set of skills to the School Board.  I am passionate about improving student wellness and safety.  Suicide is the second leading cause of death of youth ages 10-24.  Over 20% of children and adolescents in the United States experience mental health challenges impacting their academic success, functioning, and relationships. Oftentimes our students who are doing the best are struggling and don’t want to let us know.  Through my work, we have added explicit goals related to student’s social-emotional learning and mental health into the District Goals.  I am a skilled facilitator and trainer, and I have 15-years of experience working in difficult situations where trust, accountability, and transparency are challenged and developing collaboration. We can provide education excellence for ALL of our students and improve our budget process.

Todd Kantorczyk Response:

Each current Board member brings unique strengths and perspectives to this role based on individual experiences and views.  But one thing I have learned during my first term is that while from time to time I may disagree with individual Board members on a question, we all share a commitment to public education in our community.  This job requires the dedication of many hours, not just in meetings, but also outside of meetings reviewing materials and preparing to be able to make important decisions that affect our entire community—all on a volunteer basis.  Regarding the question as to why I should be re-elected, as an unopposed incumbent, I would say that over the past four years I have dedicated the time and energy to do this job and maintain the high standards for our public schools that our community deserves, and I am prepared to do it again.

Nicholas Lee Response:

I offer a unique perspective as an educator without any personal ties to the T/E School District administration or teachers union. I studied at the Peabody School of Education at Vanderbilt University and at Saint Louis University’s graduate School of Education. I believe a healthy TE School Board should have a limited number of experienced educators on its team, but I also believe that the majority of these educators should not have a history teaching in or administering in TE schools. As a private school educator in Wilmington, DE, I bring knowledge and expertise concerning the educational needs of today’s students and families, as well as an understanding of the demands and strains on current teachers.

Kate Murphy Response:

My voting record demonstrates areas where I’ve differed from others.  First, delayed start times.  I liked the idea but wanted to hold off while we studied the options and carefully weighed the costs against the benefits.  Second, the proposed literacy committee.  I thought the committee would be a good mechanism for educating parents and taxpayers, supporting teachers in their work, and helping kids.  Third, the budget.  After lengthy discussion of the delayed payment of invoices and the troubling history of projected deficits and actual surpluses, I lost confidence in the budget process.  I advocated for a tax increase consistent with the cost of living adjustment.  I’m proud of these votes but even more proud of the work that went into them: studying the issues; discussing them with board members, administrators, and community members; and carefully weighing the options.  If re-elected, I’ll keep pushing for what’s best, even against resistance.

Stacy Stone Response:

With reading specialist, special education instruction and supervision, and Deaf education certifications as well as Wilson Reading System training, along with more than thirty years of experience as a teacher, supervisor, and consultant in public, private, and parochial schools in Pennsylvania and Illinois, I will bring a broad view of education to the board. Specifically, my background and experience make me uniquely qualified to advocate for and monitor the provision of literacy instruction that includes systematic, explicit phonological awareness and phonics instruction in K-2 classrooms in T/E. Finally, as a 33-year Tredyffrin resident and parent of two grown children who attended T/E schools, I understand parents’ concerns and will keep them in mind as I work hard to preserve and improve our district’s educational programs and services to prepare ALL of our students for the future.

Ed Sweeney Response:

For the past four years, I have had success as a challenging and reforming yet more conservative voice on the Board. TE needs to lower our yearly tax rate and have financial accountability, real time financial reporting, and partner with parents.  My record shows that I have tried hard to effectuate these needed changes.  I will take a minority position if it makes a necessary point that makes the community think more deeply on an issue.  I have been successful at working to find the votes for a middle ground position.

My vision as a TE School Director to maintain and improve the high quality of our School District is:  (1) be a world class school district that prepares our students for College and life and (2) maintain an affordable community where middle class voters, single income families, and retirees can live without being taxed out of the district.

Sue Tiede Response:

I have spent my entire professional career in education. As a teacher, school counselor, elementary principal and district-level administrator I have had the privilege and the responsibility of working with children, parents, teachers and community members to provide students with an unrivaled public-school education experience. As a proud parent of three Conestoga graduates and the grandparent of five young students who live in the T/E District, I am deeply invested in ensuring our first-rate schools continue to be the cornerstone of this vibrant community in which we live.

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Taxpayers Facing 6% Tax Increase in T/E School District as Questions about Possible Accounting “Timing” Errors Remain Unanswered!  Finance Committee Meeting and Budget Workshop on Monday, April 8

This blog post is follow-up to my last article.  Upcoming on Monday, April 8, 7 PM at the high school is the TE School District Finance Committee meeting and Budget Workshop II. The agenda materials were released last evening – Click here for Finance Committee agenda and Budget Workshop materials.

Ever the optimist, I had high hopes that the agenda for the meeting would address budget and accounting questions from the last School Board meeting.  Residents raised serious issues at the Board meeting, including the  “timing error” of special education expenses. I found nothing in either the agenda for the Finance Committee or the Budget Workshop materials regarding these issues.

As was discussed in the last blog post, the T/E taxpayers are facing the largest tax increase in decades – 6%.  Although the school board has assured us since December that the tax increase would be coming down, the number has only moved from 6.1% in December to 6% in April.

As was suggested at the last School Board meeting, resident Ray Clarke believes that the District’s accounting mistake could reduce the proposed tax increase significantly – Ray goes as far as to suggest that the tax increase could be lowered by as much as 50%!  I personally asked at the School Board meeting for confirmation that the Board would review this situation – so why isn’t the accounting timing mistake on the Finance Committee or Budget Workshop agenda for discussion? When faced with a 6% tax increase, why wouldn’t the School Board want to look at every opportunity to possibly lower that number?

We elected our School Board directors to provide oversight; with independent thought and transparency. In a little over three weeks, on Monday, April 22, the Board will take a vote on the “Proposed Final Budget. Realistically speaking, how are they going to move the dial to a more acceptable increase in three weeks!? 

It is important that the School Board knows that the public finds a 6% tax increase (or 5% increase for that matter!) completely unacceptable! If the largest tax increase in decades troubles you, please contact the School Board at schoolboard@tesd.net and/or plan to attend the meeting on Monday. 

Ray Clarke reviewed the Finance Committee agenda and the Budget Workshop materials. Here are his comments; read carefully the unanswered questions at the end of his remarks:

There is little new in the materials, although the annual drama production continues to unfold.  We are heading to the second intermission, with a vote on the “Proposed Final Budget” on April 22nd.

For the current year: 

 – Investment income is already year-to-date nearly $1 million, or 3 times, over the full year budget

 – The projection for benefits expense has jumped from the budgeted $15.6 million, past last December’s estimate of $16.1 million, to $16.9 million now.  Still less than 2017-18’s $17.5 million.  A self-funded plan is certainly going to be variable and, given the capabilities of medical billing systems, likely another area subject to timing difficulty.  

 – “Other” expenses are exactly unchanged from the budget at $47.4 million,

 – So this year’s deficit is now projected at $2.28 million.

For next year:

 – The Special Education Exception tax increase remains at 3.642% for a total tax increase of 5.964%.

 – The reported $4.5 million increase in purchased professional services from 2016-17 to 2018-19, on which the tax increase is largely based, remains unchanged.

 – Second look healthcare projections and prescription drug discounts have reduced budgeted expenses by $575,000.

 – With the 6% tax increase and the latest expenditure numbers, next year’s budget is now projected to have a slight surplus.

Key questions thus remain to be answered:

 — What expenditures were incurred for Special Education services provided by the CCIU in 2016-17 and 2017-18?

 — If those expenditures were different to those provided to the Department of Education to authorize the tax increase Exception, what action does the Board plan to take?

 — How should the community reconcile the county-certified assessment history of assessed value used by the Townships, showing a 1.2% increase in the past year, to the numbers submitted by the School district to PDE, showing a 2.5% increase?

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$25 Million Gift to Abington School District — Where’s Public Input and Transparency?

A gift of $25 million from Blackstone CEO and co-founder Stephen Schwarzman recently made news as the largest donation ever given to a US public school. But did the gift to Abington School District by its billionaire alum come with “strings attached”?  At the very least, the gift was poorly handled by the Abington school board; giving new meaning to ‘lack of transparency’.

Although I had read about the Schwarzman multi-million dollar gift, I didn’t know the spider web of secrecy until I received the following email from Ray Clarke:

I’m sure that you are aware of the news around the $25 million donation to his alma mater by Abington alumnus and private equity billionaire Stephen Schwarzman.  At first sight, this gift was nothing but good news for the community, but has become highly controversial for the many conditions around the gift (including both an original requirement to rename the high school and also curriculum changes) and for the lack of transparency in the process.  Abington is taking steps to address its issues, but today’s news brings the issue home to T/E.

It turns out that T/E solicitor Ken Roos is not only on the Board of a secret foundation set up a year ago to receive the gift, but also is the solicitor for the Abington district that did not release any details of the agreement with Schwarzman until the day it was voted on, and is now refusing to release the agreement in response to Right-to-Know requests because it “needs legal review”.

This is the same solicitor who in 2015 fought TE community member Neal Colligan all the way to the PA Office of Open Records, who then ordered the District to release all records of the secret meetings relating to the actions taken in response to the Affordable Care Act.

It appears that Mr. Roos took nothing from that 2015 experience, and the community should have little faith that, should TESD ever have the good fortune to receive a large donation from a billionaire with an agenda, he will be the one that will help the district uphold its responsibilities to the community.  Instead, I’m hopeful that we can rely on the values of transparency and engagement that many on this forum have worked with the district to build.

And if anyone knows billionaire TE alum, they should be encouraged to chip in here, but – perhaps as important – to use their resources and position to support equitable funding for all our public schools.

Ray

As thanks for Schwarzman’s donation, Abington school board directors decided to rename the Abington Senior High School to Abington Schwarzman High School – outraging parents.  Sadly, the Abington School Board directors never sought public comment and didn’t give the community advance notice about the vote. After a backlash over the billionaire’s naming rights, the vote was rescinded.  With apologies and a promise to involve the community in the process, a new agreement is to be signed by Schwarzman and the school district.

As wonderful as the Schwarzman gift is, unfortunately it is mired in the darkness swirling over the re-naming of the high school, secret foundation, etc.

And Ray is quite right to point out that Abington School District’s solicitor Ken Roos of Wisler Pearlstine is also the solicitor for T/E.  In addition, Roos serves as solicitor for Lower Merion, Upper Perkiomen, Upper Dublin and Cheltenham school districts.  With the level of activity in Abington School District and the multiple lawsuits in Lower Merion and Tredyffrin-Easttown school districts, where is the ‘good counsel’ that these districts should expect from its solicitor?

Transparency and public input should be a hallmark for school districts – why isn’t Ken Roos delivering this counsel to his clients?

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