Scott Dorsey

TE School Board Approves Administrator Bonuses, $22K/yr Salary Increase to Business Manager & 3.2% Tax Increase to Homeowners

Four important votes took place at last night’s TE School Board meeting and unfortunately there was little surprise in the results.

  • Approval of bonuses to TESD administrators – check
  • Approval of bonuses to TESD supervisors – check
  • Approval of $22K/yr. salary increase & 5-year contract to TESD Business Manager – check
  • Approval of 3.2 percent tax increase to TESD homeowners – check

It was encouraging to see some new faces in the audience and one resident, Tracy Gould of Wayne, came prepared with handwritten signs (see below) announcing her displeasure. Gould explained that she is a parent of three children and like many families, struggles during these economic times.  She appealed to the Board to consider the residents and not approve the salary increases and tax increase.

School Board meeting

You know how sometimes you can just forecast what the result is going to be before a vote is actually taken – well, that is exactly how last night’s school board meeting went.

To their credit, Board members Liz Mercogliano and Scott Dorsey were the lone dissenting votes on the employee bonuses, salary increase to Art McDonnell and tax increase to the homeowners. Both explained that they could not support giving bonuses and salary increases when the District does not provide basic healthcare benefits for the aides and paraeducators. Although Mercogliano and Dorsey are outnumbered 7-2 by the other Board members in their votes, I appreciate that they are concerned about the effect on residents of another year of tax increases.  Providing affordable health care to all District employees is important; I personally thank Liz and Scott for taking a stand on this issue and supporting the aides and paras.

School Board Vice President Kris Graham is chairing the superintendent search committee which also includes Board members Jim Bruce, Karen Cruickshank and Doug Carlson.  In her update, Graham reported that over 1,000 T/E residents responded to the Stakeholder Survey and the results are available on the District’s website, www.tesd.org

According to the survey results, the top 5 traits chosen as the most important in a new superintendent are:

  • Honest (54%)
  • Student Centered (52%)
  • Creative Problem Solver (49%)
  • Approachable (37%)
  • Collaborative (37%)

The survey results indicted the top 5 strengths that the new superintendent should be expected to maintain or enhance:

  • Highly qualified staff (54%)
  • High expectations for students (39%)
  • Strong fiscal management (38%)
  • Safe school environment (38%)
  • Culture of continuous improvement (36%)

The top 5 most important qualifications of a new superintendent as selected by respondents:

  • Leadership (74%)
  • Budget & financial expertise (58%)
  • Administrative/education leadership experience (49%)
  • Educational experience (47%)
  • Strategic planning expertise (36%) tie
  • Significant classroom teaching experience (36%) tie

The final survey question, asked respondents to name the top 3 challenges facing the new superintendent:

  • Budget/finance (83%)
  • Government mandates (44%)
  • District labor relations (36%)

My takeaway from the Stakeholder Survey is that the vast majority of respondents believe that finances is the most important issue and that it is important to have someone with leadership qualities and a business/financial background as the District’s next superintendent.

The School Board hired a consultant to help with the superintendent search and Graham explained last night that the she has conducted a couple of workshops with school board members in this regard.  According to Graham, there are currently five District employees with the educational qualifications for the position and they have received an application from one person.  The in-house superintendent candidate was unnamed by Graham but she did say that the Board would be conducting an interview in the next couple of days.

In the District’s online update of last night’s meeting the following information was provided on the superintendent search:

President Kevin Buraks and Vice President Kris Graham updated the public on the work of the Superintendent Appointment Committee and results from the Stakeholder Survey. The survey results are available on the District web site. The Board will continue to keep the public informed on the search process.

Although the message here is that the Board will “continue to keep the public informed on the search process”, there appeared to be something missing from this online information and from the Buraks and Graham update last night. There was no mention about where the District has posted the job for the superintendent position. I would be interested in know which educational resources the consultant suggested to the Board and where the job is posted.  Also, what is the timeline for the District to receive applications?

The Superintendent position is the most important job in the Tredyffrin Easttown School District and I know that the Board, parents, residents, employees and students want to make certain that the information is available to all possible candidates.

Although some in the administration disagree that a morale issue exists, too many District employees would suggest otherwise.  I will continue to maintain that the only way to fully correct the morale issues in the District is to hire someone from the outside – an individual with strong financial/budgetary experience (business experience and background) coupled with the educational component and someone that does not have an existing history with current employees is what is sorely needed.  The new Superintendent should fully understand the District’s financial needs and not simply rely on the Business Manager for answers.

Because the current Superintendent is not retiring for 12 months (June 30, 2015), the Board has the luxury to conduct a thorough superintendent search and fully vet all candidates for the job.  Once the job applications are received from outside the District, the Superintendent Search committee will be able to short list the candidates and then include the residents in their analysis prior to the final selection.

As discussed at last night’s meeting, informing the public of the Superintendent search process is important.  I look forward to the Board’s continued updates on the application process and search to find a new TE School District Superintendent.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

T/E Proposed Final Budget indicates 3.2% tax increase plus — the new Superintendent search gets underway

At the T/E School Board meeting last night, the Board approved the 2014-15 proposed final budget as follows – The Proposed Final Budget for the 2014-2015 school year is in the amount of $117,254,089 revenue, 2,671,891 fund balance transfers and $119,925,980 for appropriations on a tentative basis.

As presented, the ‘Budget Development Summary’ slide below indicates that the projected expenditures of $117,069,428 exceed the projected revenue of $113,962,589 = projected budget deficit of $3,106,839.   With a tax increase of 3.2% (Act 1, 2.1% and exception, 1.1%) plus a net revenue increase of $211,370 and a net expenditure increase of $1,356,552, the revised budget has a remaining deficit of approximately $1.8 M.  It is proposed that the $1.8 M will be satisfied with a fund balance contribution.  The final budget is to be approved in June.

TESD  2014-15 Preliminary Budget

Once the revenue and expenditures projections for the 2013-14 school year are in, it will be interesting to see if the District ‘finds’ surplus dollars.  If you recall, the District has found mega-millions in surplus the last two years in a row.  Unfortunately, for taxpayers, each year the money has been ‘found’ until after the next year’s budget was passed (with a tax increase).

The budget surplus was $3.9 million for the 2011-12 school year and nearly $5 million for 2012-13 school year.  It’s never been entirely clear what caused the budget surplus these last two years although I do recall that “lower than anticipated insurance costs” was used to explain a portion of the surplus.  I have to believe that the Board would not approve a 3.2% increase for the taxpayers only to discover a budget surplus for the third year in a row.  Not sure that there could be a valid explanation if that were to happen.

Another couple of notes from last night’s meeting. In the update from the Public Information committee meeting, Scott Dorsey announced that the process by which the public asks questions at School Board meetings and the Board responds has moved to the Policy Committee for further discussion. The next Policy Committee meeting is Friday May 9 at 12:45 PM at TEAO.

School Board President Kevin Buraks formally announced that Supt. Dan Waters will retire at the end of his current contract which ends June 30, 2015.   Regardless of how people personally feel about Waters, his time remaining on the job is winding down – a little over a year left on his contract.  As announced by Buraks, there is discussion underway about the process/search to hire his replacement. It appears that the Board will be utilizing the experiences of Jeanne Pocalyko, the new Personnel Direct, in conducting the search.

Ray Clarke sent the following note about last night’s meeting —

A note on the TESD Superintendent search from last night’s Board meeting.  A Board Search Committee has been appointed. Members I think: Graham, Cruickshank, Bruce, Carlson but I could have missed someone over the general hubbub at the beginning of the meeting.  There will be a survey to get public input sometime in May.

I wonder if they will ask meaningful questions:  eg:  From inside or outside the district? Re the above, definitely or preferably? Experience as a Superintendent?  Rank a given set of possible selection criteria in order of importance?  (Or, rate importance of the criteria, but all could be 10 out of 10).  Criteria such as: experience in  a high performing district; track record of improving educational results; track record of meeting budget; demonstrated public communication expertise; employee satisfaction results, and so on.

In her prior position at  Dallastown Area School District (DASD,  Pocalyko and the Superintendent search committee took a ‘community engagement’ approach and included administrators, teachers, parents, support staff, students, community and committee members in the effort.  Although ultimately the final determination and selection of the new Superintendent remained the responsibility of the DASD Board, the decision process included the compilation of stakeholder feedback, interview results and comments from each interview round, reference checks and the school board’s consideration of district needs and input from the Committee.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

T/E Superintendent disputes Montgomery County DA report — Conestoga High School NOT involved in drug trafficking

Conestoga High SchoolIn the days since the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office announced the drug trafficking arrests, including the two ringleaders, Haverford School graduates, the story has become widely reported — from CNN to Good Morning America, there are articles and videos on the subject.

I’m certain that an expensive prep school such as the elite Haverford School (with upper school tuition approaching $35K) is in overdrive with damage control — much is at stake with current parents and the endowments of wealthy alum. With a tag line on their website of “Preparing Boys for Life”,  the Haverford School struggles to handle the PR nightmare.

Watching Good Morning America report on the story and the high schools (Lower Merion, Haverford School, Radnor, Harriton and Conestoga) and the colleges (Lafayette, Haverford and Gettysburg) was sad — and really eerie to the Conestoga High School logo flash on the TV screen along with the others.  But is all the information contained in the Montgomery County DA’s press release of April 21 accurate?   Apparently, not according to T/E Superintendent Dan Waters.

Waters has just released a T/E School District press release which disputes the report of the Montgomery County DA’s office.  Although Conestoga High School was named by the District Attorney in the list of Main Line high schools involved in the drug ring, Waters claims that the information is not correct.  According to Waters in the following press release, no students were identified or arrested from Conestoga High School in this recent drug trafficking incident.  Don’t get me wrong, I want to believe that Waters is correct and that no Conestoga students are involved but it seems strange that the DA’s office would just add Conestoga High School to the list of high schools involved — how does a District Attorney make that kind of mistake?   If Waters is correct and that the Montgomery County DA’s office erred in their report, shouldn’t the T/E School District board and administration demand a retraction?  Shouldn’t Conestoga High School be removed from the list?

Below is Dr. Waters response to the Montgomery County District Attorney April 21 press release —  you make your own judgement.  Coincidentally, the T/E Public Information Committee, chaired by T/E school board member Scott Dorsey, is holding their regularly monthly meeting tonight (6:30 PM, Administration building).  Although the agenda for tonight’s meeting was set before these recent drug arrests, there is certain to be discussion. At every school board meeting, president Kevin Buraks invites the public to attend committee meetings, stating that the ‘real’ work is done at the committee level.  With that in mind, I’m guessing that the Public Information committee meeting may have a ‘higher than normal’ attendance.

The Montgomery County District Attorney’s office press release reported on recent drug related arrests naming nearby high schools and colleges. The press release once again highlights the need for continued efforts to provide a safe learning environment for our students. I write to inform our community that we continue to be vigilant regarding the use of drugs and alcohol by our students within our community.

The safety of our students is paramount in our efforts to provide them with a safe learning environment. The District’s drug and alcohol practices and policies include prevention, deterrence and support for our students. The prevention strategies include classroom education efforts, schoolwide programs, student activities supporting healthy lifestyles and counseling programs. Deterrence efforts include random canine sniffs supported by the police and the enforcement of the drug and alcohol policy when applicable. Support for our students include individual counseling by our school counselors and mental health specialists. The Conestoga High School student support team, known as CARE, accepts referrals from students, parents and staff to assist students who may be in need of services. In addition, drug and alcohol counselors provided through COAD (Chester County Council on Addictive Diseases) are available to our students and families. Within the community, we have our on-going strong partnerships with ARCH (Area Residents Caring and Helping) and the police departments of both townships.

Recently, the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office issued a press release which mentioned a drug distribution ring in local high schools and colleges. Although Conestoga High School was mentioned as one of the schools in the news report, at this time, according to the affidavits forwarded to me from the Montgomery County District Attorney, there were no sellers arrested or identified from Conestoga High School. We recognize that future arrest warrants may be issued by the District Attorney if the investigation continues. We are prepared to assist law enforcement officials when they request our involvement in investigations. What can we do as a community? As the police have directed us in the past, we are all encouraged to contact the police department with information concerning illegal drug activity in our community.

 Please contact the school principal, school counselor or me should you have any questions or concerns.

Dan Waters
Superintendent of Schools
Tredyffrin/Easttown School District

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

TESD Public Information Committee meeting tonight!

Tonight at 6:30 PM at the TESD Administration Building, is the first meeting of the T/E School District Public Information Committee, chaired by school board member Scott Dorsey —  click here for the agenda.  Dorsey is committed to improving communication with the public and encouraging open dialogue between the Board and residents.

Unfortunately, I am unable to attend tonight’s meeting but I have a personal ‘wish list’ for the Public Information Committee to consider and will send a copy to Mr. Dorsey for his consideration.

  • Change how residents ask questions at school board meetings. Residents should be able to ask their question and receive an answer not have to wait until all the questions are asked before receiving an answer.
  • Televise the School Board meetings live, as is down with the Board of Supervisors meetings. I advocate for Finance Committee meetings to be televised.
  • Coordinate regular School Board meetings and Board of Supervisors monthly meetings == too often they fall on the same Monday nights.
  • Encourage open dialogue between the residents and the School Board – an example took place at last week’s Finance Committee meeting where residents were encourage to ask questions and participate. Questions were answered immediately with no standing in line.  I would like to see that refreshing relationship continue at regular school board meetings.
  • Provide sufficient details and supporting documentation on the financials and budget so the public understands where the numbers come from – too often, the public is not provided with the necessary background for the numbers to make any sense.
  • Many school districts, including Unionville Chadds Ford School District have the email address of school board members listed on their website.  We don’t need to have their ‘personal’ emails, (like UCFSD) but I think that there should be a way for the public to communicate directly with the Board.  Currently all emails to the school board are filtered through Art McDonnell.  Why is Art McDonnell, the business manager, the filter for resident’s emails to the school board?  This does not seem like an appropriate use of time by one of the highest compensated TESD employees.
  •  I would like to see the end to the consent agenda.  Too many non-routine items ended up on the consent agenda – as examples in  2013, included on the consent agenda was the hiring of Andy Chambers and salary increase to the administrators. Other school districts (including UCFSD) do not use the consent agenda for that reason.
  • Respect and civility is a two-way street.  The Board members (plus District solicitor and staff) should be encouraged to respect the residents at meetings as should the residents to to the Board.
Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Reflections from TE School Board Director Richard Brake

Locally elected school boards are the only entity that has the mission of keeping public schools public. They have a vested interest in retaining public control of schools and ensuring quality education since their actions directly impact local community life.

Richard Brake, a Republican, was defeated on Election Day in his attempt at a second term on the TE School Board; losing to Democrat Scott Dorsey.  Monday, November 25 marks the final school board meeting for Brake, Betsy Fadem and Anne Crowley.   On Monday, December 2, the torch is officially handed to those newly elected  to serve the school district,  including Dorsey, Doug Carlson and Virginia Lastner.

The defeat in a local election is not what defines you.  I hope that Dr. Brake and other school board (and township supervisor) candidates defeated in the recent election  will take the words of Andre Malraux to heart and remain involved in the community – it’s important.

 “Often the difference between a successful person and a failure is not one has better abilities or ideas, but the courage that one has to bet on one’s ideas, to take a calculated risk – and to act.”

The following is an editorial written by Rich Brake which appears in the print version of Main Line Suburban this week.

Why I Lost, and the Future of Tredyffrin Politics
By Richard A. Brake, Berwyn, PA

You win some, you lose some.  That’s what I told my family and friends after I lost my re-election bid for T/E School Board.  As a lifelong Cubs fan and former competitive long-distance runner, I have experienced defeat much more than victory, and so I know that you always learn more from your losses than your wins.  I also believe in Providence, and that it is likely that as this door closes, others will certainly open and new opportunities for service will present themselves.  I very much enjoyed my time on the Board, and hope that I performed some small public service for the benefit of our community.  The bottom line is that the sun rose the day after I lost, and since politics at all levels remains a peripheral part of our lives (which is a good thing I think, though not without its downsides), it would be wise to keep this small little episode in its proper perspective.

With that said, I am reminded of a saying one of my graduate school professors was fond of repeating – “If you’re not interested in politics that’s too bad, because politics is always interested in you.”  So I do think that there are important lessons to learn from this campaign season.  It is also the case that it is hard to have your entire life’s work, and the principles that this work represents, pilloried, caricatured, demonized, and ridiculed in front of the entire township.  It is natural, then, to try to make sense of a difficult experience like this – was it something I said; was it something I did?  Are my principles that reprehensible?  Did I allow them to blind me to the real issues we faced on the school board?

When I look into the mirror, I don’t see a monster or a label, but a flawed but nevertheless dedicated father, husband, educator, veteran, and public servant – but I know that we all come-off very differently to others than we do to ourselves, and maybe some of the problem was not what I said but how I said it.  Regardless, it was clear on election day that there were a lot of people that didn’t like me, or what I supposedly stood for, and that is a bitter pill to swallow, especially when you have to explain this to your kids (by the way, I don’t want to teach creationism in the schools, and have no idea where that outright lie came from!).  Obviously I could have done a much better job communicating to the voters who I am and what I really stand for, but it is also the case that the other side bears a great deal of responsibility in creating a false and misleading picture of me.  Politics ain’t beanbag, to be sure, but I brought a water pistol to a bazooka fight, and that kind of negative, name-calling brand of politics unfortunately won on November 5th.

As a result, I’d like to spend the rest of this piece examining the case my opponents built against me; whether that kind of campaign, though successful in the short-term, really serves the best interests of our community; and whether someone like me, with the principles I believe in, should be or will ever be allowed, to serve the public trust here in Tredyffrin again.  Along the way I hope to suggest a more optimistic, collegial, and effective brand of local politics than the slash and burn variety that we have witnessed these last two election cycles.

So why did I lose?  Four years ago I won by 400 votes, 55%-45%.  This year I lost by over 200 votes, even though I garnered more votes this year than four years ago.  So what happened?  From a sheer numbers perspective, the Democrats turned out their base more than the Republicans did, and in a local race like this, turnout is everything.  How did they do it?  Simple.  They labeled me Tea Party to their supporters – and successfully tarred me with the residue of the recent partial government shutdown, the responsibility of which – rightly or wrongly – has been placed by many at the feet of so-called tea party republicans in DC.  In other words, instead of focusing their campaign on local issues, the democrats nationalized a local election (sometimes Tip O’Neill is wrong; politics is not always local), and the white-hot antipathy local democrats have for the tea party convinced many more of them than usual to come out and cast their ballots not only against me, but other republicans as well.

Now there is a lot to say about these tactics.  First, I think that the partial government shutdown was a collective failure to compromise on the part of the entire elective branches in Washington, and not just some vocal faction that controls only one house out of three.  And with the recent problems with the disastrous roll-out of Obamacare, we will just have to see how this DC morality tale plays out in the weeks and months ahead.  I also think that by and large, local campaigns should be about local issues and not distant fights in far-away capitols (I will have more to say about those local school issues in a moment).  I have no problem with a vigorous and aggressive exchange of views that draw sharp distinctions between candidates.  That is the heart of elections – a debate about competing ideas – and as long as those fights are fought on the merits, I am happy to accept the verdict of my community if they feel my ideas won’t work to solve the pressing issues of the day.  But that is not what happened here!

What did happen was a classic case of guilt by association.  What heinous thing was I guilty of being?  Why, a conservative of course, and working in the conservative movement and with local tea party groups on their constitutional education classes.  So let’s deal with the charge of being a conservative.

I am a constitutional scholar who has a great reverence for the founding principles of our country, and have spent most of my life teaching the story of our country and its animating leaders and ideas to high schoolers, college students, and ordinary citizens who have expressed an interest in learning more.  That’s what I do at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute today, and I am proud of our work in teaching American first principles – constitutional government, free enterprise, individual liberty, personal responsibility, the rule of law, and traditional moral values.  Since when have those principles become dangerous and subversive?

So again, I guess I am guilty of being a conservative, and I happen to be a conservative of the Edmund Burke, G.K. Chesterton, Russell Kirk, Robert Nisbet, and Ronald Reagan variety (just to name a few, along with founding fathers like John Adams, James Madison, John Dickinson, and Richard Henry Lee).  If you don’t know who these guys are, look them up and tell me if you disagree with them.  As a “traditionalist” conservative (www.imaginativeconservative.org), I have great sympathies for localism and grave misgivings about corporate “crony” capitalism.  I believe that liberty must always be tempered by the requirements of order and the mercies of justice, which means that we have both rights and duties in a free and virtuous society.  I believe in community and what some now refer to as “crunchy” conservatism, whose tenets are best expressed on this great blog www.frontprochrepublic.com.  I could go on, but I was under the impression that I was running for my local school board on November 5th, which is why I spent all of my campaign talking about my record on the issues, and not about far-away political battles and my particular brand of conservatism.

But my opponents had other thoughts in mind.  For them, conservatism is not a legitimate rival public philosophy that has a distinguished history and respectable intellectual pedigree.  My guess is that the local democrats are completely ignorant of the great thinkers of the modern conservative movement (I can assure you that I know and respect, though disagree with, their great thinkers, like Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Croly, John Dewey, and FDR), and instead rely on caricatures of conservatism from the mass media and their own think tanks and interest groups.  No, conservatism has become a dirty word, boiled down to the epitaph “Tea Bagger” – and like the term “communism” in the 1950’s, this neo-McCarthyite name-calling seems to have worked among a large swath of the electorate, not only here in Tredyffrin but across the country.  I honestly expected more from such a highly-schooled community, but clearly there is an emotional reaction this term engenders and it does the electoral trick (and as a conservative, I too had problems with some of the tactics employed by our politicians in Washington).

I think the main reason why the democrat’s tea party strategy worked is that they equated all conservatives and republicans with the tea party, and then they equated the tea party with one simple word – MEAN.  And there are a lot of Tredyffrin residents who view conservatives exactly in this way.  We are MEAN because at all levels of government we are skeptical of large government programs, and the growing tax burden they require, actually working to solve the very real problems of poverty, hunger, joblessness, and access to quality health care, housing, and education.  But what most people hear, and what conservatives do a horrible job of addressing, is that we are simply against THE PEOPLE who are poor, hungry, jobless, homeless, and lack other basic necessities.  And if that was really true, then conservatives would be MEAN, and should not be trusted in public office.  Since enough people believed that caricature on November 5th, conservatives like me were shown the door.

The only problem with all of this, besides the glaring rhetorical problem conservatives have, is that in my case, I really am not mean.  As a devout and practicing Catholic, I do try to practice my faith through good works for the poor, and a helping hand around the neighborhood.  I think those that know me, even those on the other side of the political aisle, know this to be true.  I really do believe in the parable of the rich man, the camel, and the eye of a needle, and hence know that we can’t serve both God and Mammon, which is why we must be truly charitable with our time, talent and treasure.

I guess what it comes down to is that I don’t believe that the only or primary way to be charitable is through large bureaucratic government programs that spend most of their resources not on their poor clientele but on salaries and benefits of an ever expanding government work force (I would be for a complete de-regulation and consolidation of welfare assistance, cutting out the government middle-men, and increasing cash payments to the truly poor for a fixed period of time).  And with our ever-growing unpaid debts we are incurring – whether it be in Harrisburg with our pensions or in DC with all of our entitlement programs (and now a new one in Obamacare) – the worry I have is that these unsustainable programs will continue to crowd-out private economic activity that produce the jobs that we all need to pay our mortgages, feed our families, and send our kids to school.  The best welfare program still remains a good job!

And so to turn the argument on its head, I actually thinks it’s MEANER to continue to rack-up mountains of debt and debase our currency in Washington; not to address our unsustainable pension obligations in Harrisburg; and not to put a brake on higher and higher property taxes here in Tredyffrin – because this failure to act will end up hurting our kids who will be saddled with debt, hyperinflation, bleak job prospects, and lower standards of living; will damage our educational program as more funds are diverted from the classroom to retirees; and will force more seniors on fixed incomes out of their homes.  In the end, then, it is MEAN to believe in utopian good intentions and hopelessly complex social engineering schemes that not only fail to ameliorate the true suffering that exists in our fallen world, but will also make it that much harder for those who are trying to play by the rules and be self-sufficient to have the spiritual and material resources they need to take care of themselves and not be overly-reliant on government.

As for the actual school board issues that I thought would be the focus of this campaign, I’m not sure that the outcome on the 5th will help us come to terms with the very real problems we all face as a school community.  My opponent Mr. Dorsey criticized me for voting against recent school district budgets, and then his party put up signs saying to stop the cuts to our schools and vote democrat.  Hmmn?  I know that democrats Kevin Buraks and Karen Cruickshank voted for every district budget these last four years, and I voted for one.  Who then voted for the cuts?  I was for the cuts if they were also coupled with a more prudent use of our over $30 million reserve fund to cushion the blow to taxpayers during a recession.  Since that did not happen the last three years, and we raised taxes higher than we should have and still produced surpluses – I voted against those budgets.  Someone needs to tell me which side acted rashly and radically?

Now that I’m off the Board, I can also make clear that when we were negotiating our last teacher contract, which was indeed better than the last one (but that wasn’t hard – average salaries rose 8% per year under that one with virtually no teacher contribution to health care), we were told by our chief negotiator Jeff Sultanik that our $30 million fund balance was a major liability in our bargaining position with the teachers.  That is why the leadership of the Board moved $10 million out of the fund balance into the capital fund where it could not be touched.  Now, we do have anticipated capital projects that need to be paid for, but the more traditional approach would be to issue a bond and have more than one generation help pay for the capital expenditure.  I would have also developed a more transparent plan to draw down some of these reserve funds in a coherent fashion to help cover our growing pension obligations.  Instead, the board leadership decided to use part of the fund balance to give our teachers another bonus to help buy labor peace, and not to give our hard-hit taxpayers a break.

I now hear rumblings that the teachers are indicating that they have given all they can give, and that they will not accept further salary and benefit concessions, so my guess is that they will be looking at that reserve fund as ripe for the picking.  What will Mr. Dorsey and his allies do then – another pay-off bonus?  My guess is that they will also argue that we need more revenue, and with the Act 1 caps in place, they will say that they are forced by circumstances out of their control to adopt an earned income tax for approval by the voters.  My position, not surprisingly, would be different.  To be clear, I would NOT call for a cut in teacher salaries (just FYI, the average teacher makes over $85,000/year plus pension and benefits for 10 months work), but instead would reduce the rate of growth in teacher salaries by completely revamping the salary matrix, instituting pilot merit pay programs, and asking teachers to pay private-sector levels for their health care.  Now that I am off the board, there will be nobody making those kinds of arguments, and your taxes will continue to go up without any commensurate increase in enrollment or academic achievement.

Of course these positions I suggest are not easy to take – some would call them MEAN – but I don’t think realism is mean.  It’s actually what is called for when adults confront tough issues, instead of relying primarily on emotional appeals.  I do think that conservatives need to do a better job of appealing to both the heads and hearts of our community, but that does not mean we shouldn’t make the necessary changes to our system because it might offend those that stand to gain the most from maintaining the status quo.  This is what Edmund Burke, the father of modern conservatism, meant when he reminded us that “a state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.”  In an ironic twist, it’s conservatives like me who are calling for prudent reforms to the status quo financing of public education in order to save the system, while it is forces on the left – the public sector unions and their democrat allies – who are conservatively maintaining an unsustainable system.  I’m for change, and my opponents are for the status quo – who is for hope and change now?

Finally, a few words about the disturbing tone and declining civility of our local politics.  Two years ago I was the only school board member in Tredyffrin who spoke out publicly against some of the tactics employed during that election cycle.  The issue was the EIT, and while I am strongly opposed to such a measure, I did think we needed to study it, and probably have a public referendum on it to finally put the issue to rest.  There were misleading mailings sent out on this issue, and I took a lot of heat from my side of the aisle by speaking out against them in a public meeting.  I also had written a letter to the editor prior to the election making my opposition clear, but the Suburban refused to run it given its timing (I have the letter and emails to prove it).

That was not an easy thing for me to do, so I was very disappointed that my opponent Mr. Dorsey forgot what I did and proceeded to launch a negative campaign, not against my school board record, but my closely-held beliefs and educational career.  I can tell you that it hurt to have so many people on election-day cast disparaging looks my way, as if I was a leper or worse, because I believe in and work for the Constitution, free enterprise, and traditional values.  I guess Mr. Dorsey also forgot how we collaborated together on the bipartisan survey and forum I did with Sean Moir to help increase public input into school affairs.  I know Mr. Dorsey is a preacher and believes in Christian values like turning the other cheek, which I certainly plan on doing once I pull the knife out of my back.  Eh Tu, Scott?

In the end, we need a better brand of politics that treats rival beliefs not as heresies but as differences between means, not ends.  We all want the same things for our community, we just disagree on the size and scope of the government that is required to help us get to where we all want to be.  I for one would love, as a start, to completely shift the ratio of taxes we pay, so that most goes to our local governments, then the state, and the rest to Washington.  If that happened, not only would there be greater accountability, I think you would be surprised by the new political alliances that would emerge, because I know my brand of communitarian conservatism has a lot in common with such left-of-center causes as historic preservation, open space, local agriculture, the new urbanism, and anti-box store campaigns.

Now don’t get me wrong. I also think Americans as a whole pay far more in taxes than we should (right now, the average American pays 45% of their income in locals, state, and federal taxes, and I think the maximum should be around 30%).  I believe that because I would rather allow Americans to keep more of what they earn so they can practice private charity rather than compulsory government assistance, and to take care of their own problems rather than relying too heavily on government welfare.  Of course, you are free to disagree with me on this, but that doesn’t make me mean-spirited (and to think so might make you narrow-minded and overly-ideological).

What I am hoping for is an entirely new political paradigm that rejects the old bromides of the right and the left, and the cynical politics of personal destruction, and instead looks hard at the pressing issues of the day and offers common sense solutions and not bumper stickers.  And since I now have a lot more time on my hands, I’d be interested in helping begin a new conversation, perhaps even a new coalition, that would be inclusive and not exclusive, that would be open to tea partiers and occupiers, to libertarians and greens, to independents and partisans of all stripes, not because we will always agree with each other, but because we value each other’s opinions and are more interested in the public good rather than private interests that tend to dominate our politics (along with the insiders who benefit from the same old fights).

After all, wouldn’t this be a lot better, and a lot funner, than what we just went through this time around?  I certainly would hope so.

Thank you for taking the time to listen to this apologia, and for the great honor of representing you on the T/E School Board.  I look forward to continuing the conversation.

Sincerely,

Richard Brake
Berwyn. PA

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Election 2013 Results: Surprises for Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors & T/E School Board!

The 2013 Election Day results are in and there are some changes for the Board of Supervisors in Tredyffrin Township and the T/E School Board.  National politics and the Tea Party movement certainly appear to have influenced the outcome in some of our local races.

In a surprising upset, two Democratic at-large candidates Murph Wysocki and Mark Freed, beat incumbent Michelle Kichline (R) who currently serves as the chair of the Board of Supervisors and Trip Lukens (R), chair of the township’s Planning Commission.    In the middle District supervisor race, EJ Richter (R) beat Laurie Elliot (D).  Prior to this election, only 2 Democrats (Paul Drucker and Mark DiFeliciantonio) have ever served on Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors.  As of Election Day 2013, that number has now doubled.

For the T/E School Board, incumbent school board president Kevin Buraks (D) won his race against opponent Pete Connors (R).  However, incumbent Rich Brake (R) lost his seat on the school board to Democratic candidate Scott Dorsey.  Election results indicate that Republicans Virginia Lastner and Doug Carlson will join the school board from Easttown Township.

Thank you to all the candidates and congratulations to those who won!

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

TESD Voters will select 4 school board directors on Tuesday — Who will get your vote?

Commenters have started a dialogue on the last Community Matters post about the selection of TE school board directors.  The discussion is important and I want it to continue. On Tuesday, the TE community will select 4 school board members from the 8 candidates in the race.

The following are TESD School Board candidates:

  • Tredyffrin, East – Region 1:  Kevin Buraks (D) **
  • Tredyffrin, East – Region 1:  Pete Connors (R)
  • Tredyffrin West – Region 2:  Rich Brake (R) **
  • Tredyffrin, West – Region 2:  Scott Dorsey (D)
  • Easttown, Region III:  Doug Carlson (R)
  • Easttown, Region III:  Virginia Lastner (R)
  • Easttown, Region III:  Maryann Piccioni (D)
  • Easttown, Region III: Jean Kim (D)

** Buraks and Brake are incumbents seeking re-election for another 4-year term.  With the exception of Piccioni and Kim, the other candidates participated in the League of Women Voters forum.  In case you missed it, click here.

With the exception of Kim, the other candidates supplied Main Line Media News with a brief statement that contained their background, experience and why they thought they should be elected (or re-elected as in the case of Buraks and Brake). Click here for the MLMN article on the school board candidates.

Beyond the LWV forum and statements in the newspaper, you can find further information online – some of  the TE school board candidates have their own websites.   A quick Google search found Tredyffrin residents Buraks, Connors, Dorsey and Brake with websites but I couldn’t find sites for Easttown candidates.  Additional information can be found on the Democratic school board and supervisor candidates at Tredyffrin Township Democrats website, www.ttdems.com.  Unfortunately, the local Republican Committee in Tredyffrin has not updated their website since before the May Primary, www.ttgop.org .  And then we have all been bombarded with the endless stream of campaign literature in the mailbox.  As a registered Independent, I have the good fortune (?!) of receiving candidate campaign flyers from the Democrats, Republicans and any ‘other’ political party affiliation!

There has been much discussion on Community Matters about ‘knowing’ the candidates before you go on Election Day.  As voters, what should we look for in a school board candidate?  What important issues in TESD are important to you, the voter … teacher contract negotiations, special education, outsourcing, pension reform, transparency, quality of education, employee morale, respect for diverse points of view, property taxes, etc.?  Which candidate supports your position?

At the baseline, we know that all the school board candidates believe in the value of public education. But who do we select that will govern with the interests of the entire school community – the children, the parents, the taxpayers. Whose background and experience makes him or her most qualified for your vote?

I welcome your comments on the 8 TE school board candidates but will not post any comments that contain personal attacks or mention of candidates spouses and/or children.  Please keep the focus of your comments on the individual candidates and the important District issues.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

League of Women Voters Debate: Part I, TE School Board Candidates

democrats-republicansYesterday, the League of Women Voters held the TE School Board candidate debate and the Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors candidate debate.  I attended both debates.  Although the debates were not shown live, they will be available for viewing (Comcast 2 and Verizon 24 channels) sometime after Monday’s Board of Supervisors Meeting.  My guess is that there will be separate schedules for the two debates – check the township website for details.

Unfortunately, due to the lateness of scheduling, the school board debate was limited to a 1-hour format versus the 2-hour supervisor debate format.  In speaking with the League of Women Voters representative, Mary Lou Dondero, before the debate, I learned more about their scheduling process.  Ms. Dondero was none too pleased about the lateness of which the school board candidates debate was scheduled.  When asked who was responsible for debate scheduling, it was interesting to learn that it not the local political party leaders that should ask but rather the candidates themselves who should contact the LWV.  This is good information to know going forward.

Six of the eight school board candidates participated (due to prior commitments, Easttown Democrats Maryann Piccioni and Jean Kim were unable to attend). After each candidate presented a 2-minute opening personal statement, the moderator read questions, which audience members had anonymously submitted.  Each question was answered by all candidates with the moderator giving each candidate the opportunity to be first to answer.  Following the questions, each candidate had an opportunity for a 2-minute closing statement.

The LWV debate is not the traditional format that many of us recall from our high school/college days, but rather a Q&A forum. The downside of the LWV debate style is it does not allow for rebuttal by candidate. Case in point, the LWV repeatedly asked the candidates (both school board and supervisors) to respond to the specific question yet several candidates answered the LWV questions with accusations against their opponents.  Due to the LWV format, it made it difficult for the candidates to defend the accusations.

Everyone that follows Community Matters knows that I fought for a school board candidate debate.  Important school district issues surfaced this year, making for a contentious situation for all involved — the Board, administration, employees and the public.  For my efforts in moving the school board debate forward, some questioned my agenda.  If I had an agenda, it was simple – voters need to ‘know’ the candidates and candidates need to have the opportunity to deliver their views on issues, before Election Day.  Hindsight being 20/20, I’m actually glad that I had nothing to do with the school board debate other than to attend.  I cannot be accused of unfairness or a bias in the organization of the debate – candidates were not coerced; they own their words.

For those of us who regularly attend and/or watch the school board meetings, there was little surprise in most of the audience questions. As a result of contentious school board meetings this year, many of the questions related to communication, trust, transparency and morale issues, — asking what would the candidates do to ‘improve’ the current situation, if elected.

Five of the six candidates spoke of the need to improve communication and several of them mentioned morale issues.  School board director Rich Brake (R), who is seeking re-election, accepted that there have been communication issues between the Board and the residents and spoke of the need to improve the dialogue, suggesting town hall meetings. Brake believes that the negativity issues need to be handled directly and wants to bring people together. It was refreshing to have a current elected official acknowledge the problems, accept responsibility and suggest ways for improvement.

With a similar response, Brake’s opponent Scott Dorsey (D) supports greater transparency and open dialogue between the public and the Board, suggesting a public advisory board. Dorsey spoke out against the Board’s use of the consent agenda and suggested its use should be reconsidered. The consent agenda is designed for routine items, such as meetings minutes. However, as Dorsey explained, the consent agenda takes away the public’s right to question an issue.  The consent agenda can bury an item that the Board does not want publically discussed.  In my opinion, in 2013 we saw the misuse of the consent agenda by the school board for the hiring of Andy Chambers and the inclusion of administrator raises and bonuses.  If the hiring of the former police chief as the District’s security expert or giving raises to the administrators was such a  good idea, why not openly discuss them in a public school board meeting, than than buried in a consent agenda. Dorsey was the only candidate to address the consent agenda issue.

Easttown Republicans Doug Carlson and Virginia Lastner spoke favorably on the topic of communication, wanting to see greater resident participation and awareness of District issues.  Lastner wants the employees to feel that they can speak candidly and not risk their jobs by speaking out.  Referring to her background and prior elected positions in Connecticut, Lastner is a proponent of the “listen and learn” concept.

Tredyffrin school board candidate Pete Connors (R) remarks on this topic included “morale starts with leadership”.  Connors believes that there exists a trust issue in the community and proposed an advisory citizens group.  He specifically cited the threat of outsourcing and the proposed demolition of the tennis courts where the Board was forced to reverse their decisions due to the public.  Concerned about the Board’s lack of transparency that has decisions being made in private, Connors promoted a greater sharing of information with the public.

The consistent theme from Brake, Dorsey, Connors, Lastner and Carlson was the need for the school board to provide greater communication opportunities for the public. Dorsey, Brake and Connors took it a step further and spoke of changing the negative tone, improving trust and respectfulness and supporting the creation of some type of citizen advisory group.

As president of the school board, Kevin Buraks (D) was center front to the confrontational monthly and committee school board meetings of 2013 yet did not agree with the other candidates on District morale or communication issues.  Unmistakably Buraks is disconnected to the important issues raised by his fellow school board director Rich Brake and by Democrat Scott Dorsey.  At times, it was hard to believe that Buraks and Brake are both on the same school board or that Buraks and Dorsey are representing the same local political party.

Responding to a question, Buraks stated clearly that there are no morale issues in the District. He further commented that if there were moral issues in the District, the employees would leave.  On the issue of communication, his stance is that the school board already provides an open forum, is transparent and that through emails, website, etc. all District information is available.  He pointed out that the Board listened to the public about the demolition of the tennis courts and the outsourcing of the aides and paras and reversed their decision. In other words, according to school board president Kevin Buraks, there is no trust, respect or communication issues in the school district. He backed these assertions by continuously pointing to T/E school district’s rankings as his proof.

So overall, was there any new ‘news’ or any surprises learned from the school board candidate debate for me?  Yes and no.  Because I regularly attend the school board meetings and understand most of the issues, some of the information was not new.  However, I did not know the background and views of Easttown residents Virginia Lastner and Doug Carlson, so appreciated the opportunity to learn more about them.  I know candidates Pete Connors and Scott Dorsey and both have previously spoken out about the District’s communication and transparency issues, so was not surprised by their responses.

The surprise was in the school board incumbents performances. Perhaps it is because Kevin Buraks is an attorney, but his stance during the debate was not to back down or take responsibility for any of the public’s  perceived ‘miss-steps’ of the school board or of his term as the president.  I guess as an attorney, you make a calculation and then stand by your decision, using the mantra of no ‘do-overs’ allowed. Taking the approach that because the TE School District is highly ranked, Buraks wants the voters to believe it is a result of his leadership.  Other the other hand, incumbent Rich Brake took a completely different approach and surprised me with his candor. Portraying himself as somewhat of a school board outsider, Brake acknowledged that there needs to be greater dialogue with the public and more openness.  Whereas Buraks would have the public believe that everything is cohesive and agreeable among the school board directors, Brake paints a very different picture.

These are my personal observations from the school board debate, I welcome others who attended to contribute their opinion.  If you did not attend the debate, I would encourage you to watch in on online when it is available.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Partisan Politics; No need to go to Washington!

The Federal government shutdown has magnified the political partisan bickering in Washington.  Unfortunately, over the last week, I have had a front-row seat to the local version – I’ll explain.

In the last Community Matters post, I mentioned that the League of Women Voters is conducting a Tredyffrin Township supervisor candidate debate on Saturday, October 19, 2-4 at the township building.  Knowing that in the past a similar LWV debate was scheduled for the school board candidates, it struck me odd that no such event was planned for this year.

I was told that the reason that there was no scheduled TESD school board debate was that the LWV calendar was full and therefore could not accommodate the event. The explanation seemed plausible and I probably would have walked away from the situation except that two TESD school board candidates (Scott Dorsey (D) and Pete Connors (R)) approached me (separately) questioning ‘why’ there was no scheduled school board debate as both were interested in participating in such a forum.

This discussion of a ‘Meet the School Board Candidate’ forum occurred last week as I was completing last minute details for the Paoli Blues Fest.  Between the Blues Fest and community street fair on October 5, the 9th Annual Historic House Tour the Saturday before and eye surgery in between, I was certainly not anxious to take on  another ‘project’.  However, believing that more people in our community need to be engaged in local issues and to ‘know’ the candidates before casting a vote next month, a debate/forum needed to develop. Without the assistance of the LWV or any other organization, I first contacted Tredyffrin Township to check available dates/times to hold the forum.  To the credit of the Tredyffrin Township staff (particularly the township secretary Pat Hoffman) and the police department, township manager and ultimately the Board of Supervisors, I was given approval to hold the candidates forum on Saturday, October 26, 2-4 PM.  If you are wondering why I approached the township for use of their building rather than the library or one of the schools – the answer is simple, cost.  There is a fee to use the schools or the library for an event.

Once I had the day/time locked in, I gathered the email addresses of all eight TESD school board candidates, which includes incumbents Rich Brake (R) and Kevin Buraks (D).  All eight received the same invitation to participate. With my contact information, I sent the following email to the eight candidates:

Dear Tredyffrin Easttown School District School Board Candidates,

‘Meet the Candidates’ forums are central to democratic processes and are an important element of civic action and engagement. In recent years, the League of Women Voters has held these forums for township supervisor candidates and school board candidates.  The League of Women Voters will hold a debate for Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors candidates on Saturday, October 19, 2 – 4 PM but a similar forum is not planned for school board candidates of the Tredyffrin Easttown School District.

This type of forum establishes connections between candidates and residents; allows voters to make informed decisions on election day, gives candidates the opportunity to present their platforms on issues that matter to residents; and gives residents the opportunity to raise issues that they feel need to be addressed by the successful candidate(s).

Utilizing a grassroots community organizational approach, there will be a ‘Meet the School Board Candidates Forum’ on Saturday, October 26, 2 – 4 PM at the Tredyffrin Township Building, 1100 Duportail Road, Berwyn, PA 19312.  All candidates for the T/E School Board are invited to participate in this upcoming forum.  The purpose of this forum is to give school board candidates an opportunity to address a wide range of issues that affect our school district…

Appreciating that the moderator of the candidate forum needed to be a non-TESD resident, I contacted a friend who is an attorney and a financial planner.  With no questions asked, he agreed to help.  I then asked four residents (representatives from Easttown and Tredyffrin Townships) to serve on a committee to help with the planning, logistics, marketing, etc of the candidate forum. For the record, two were Republicans, one a Democrat and the fourth a non-US citizen.  As a registered Independent, I looked more at choosing people that understood the local school board issues versus their party affiliation.  These four individuals were enthusiastic and anxious to help with the event.  As stated in my invitation to the candidates, I was utilizing a “grassroots community organizational approach” to this “Meet the School Board Candidates” forum.

Of the eight school board candidates, I immediately received responses from five candidates (3 Republicans, 2 Democrats), offering support, appreciation for the effort, willingness to re-arrange personal schedules so they could participate, etc.  With a moderator, a volunteer committee, a place, day/time and support from the majority of the candidates, I was feeling confident about this TESD school board candidate forum.

Then the rumblings from the local political parties started – I should mention, that my invitations went directly to the candidates, not the political parties that they represent.  Believing that elected officials need to be independent-thinkers, it seemed the decision of whether to participate in this public community event should be up the candidates themsevles, without influence from the leadership of the respective political parties.  Again, to the credit of many of these school board candidates, there was overwhelming support for the candidate forum.

What do I mean by ‘rumblings’ – I received questions about the format, where would the questions come from and how would the questions be asked, would questions come from the audience, (if so, how would they be categorized), would the process be ‘fair’ or  biased to the Republican candidates or biased to the Democratic candidates, what political party were the volunteers, etc. etc.  The rumblings started within 24 hours of my sending the invitations to the candidates – but it should be noted that not one of the five candidates who contacted me criticized or questioned my motives or my fairness.

About the time the local partisan politics started to surface, it mysteriously became known that the League of Women Voters schedule was not full and that they could accommodate a school board candidate’s forum.  Imagine that!  I knew if ever there was a moment when something was meant as a ‘sign’ this was it.  It had become painfully obvious and very quickly, that no matter how I organized this candidates forum, either the local Democratic Party or the Republican Party (or both) was not going to be satisfied with my efforts or the results.  The finger pointing had already started and it was only 24 hours since I sent the candiate’s their invitations.  If a school board candidate debate was to happen, it was up to the ‘D’s’ and the ‘R’s’ to organize it with the League of Women Voters.

As a result, the following email was sent to the eight school board candidates:

TE School District Board Candidates —

I was working on scheduling a TESD School Board Candidate Forum on Saturday, October 26 for two reasons: (1) to provide an opportunity for candidates to present their platforms on important issues facing the TE School District and (2) to give residents the opportunity raise issues that they feel need to be addressed by the candidates.  A public forum to discuss school district issues is important. When I questioned why there was no school board candidate forum scheduled as in prior years, I was told that the League of Women Voters did not have availability on their calendar.  Based on the information that the League of Women Voters was unable to schedule such an event (and having been approached by two school board candidates, a ‘D’ and an ‘R’), I moved forward to make the necessary arrangements for such a forum.

It has now come to my attention that the League of Women Voters is available for Saturday, October 26 to host the forum/debate for the school board candidates.  To those candidates that contacted me either with a commitment to participate in the forum or a willingness to rearrange their personal schedules, thank you and your responses were most appreciated. Please know that as a community member and as a registered Independent, my only intention in scheduling a school district candidate forum was to engage more residents in our important school district issues and to allow candidates an opportunity to express their views on these issues.  There was no personal agenda on my part.

The location, day and time for the school board candidate forum has been reserved for Saturday, October 26, 2-4 at the Tredyffrin Township Building. If you were interested in pursuing this opportunity with the League of Women Voters, I would encourage you to contact your local Republican and Democratic Party representatives.

Please accept my apologies for any confusion and best wishes for a successful campaign.

Pattye Benson

The moderator and committee members that I had contacted to help received the same update as the candidates.  I thank these five volunteers for their support and willingness to help.  So … where does the school board candidate situation now stand?  It is my understanding that the leadership of the political parties is working with the League of Women Voters to organize a debate. The last update I received was that the plan was to schedule the school board candidate debate prior to the Tredyffrin Township supervisor debate on Saturday, October 19 at the township building. I look forward to hearing a confirmation on the date and time.

It remains unclear why the local Democratic and Republican parties scheduled the supervisor candidate debate with the League of Women Voters and did not do the same for the school board candidates. However, I am hopeful that the school board candidate forum will occur; that important school district issues will be discussed and that candidates can have the opportunity to present their view.

In closing, the last ten days has taught me one thing, … whether it’s  elected officials in Washington or our local political parties, I recognize that I am no fan of the partisan sandbox. For me, it’s about understanding the issues and then supporting the candidate that best represents my views.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Community Matters © 2017 Frontier Theme