Sue Tiede

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.

TESD Finance Meeting Tonight — agenda includes RFP for TENIG contract

There is a TE School District Finance Committee meting tonight at 7 PM.  According to the agenda, the RFP for the TENIG contract will be discussed.  The RFP is lengthy (over 100 pages) and details all requirements.  The TENIG union includes the custodial workers, maintenance, security, kitchen staff and support staff.

After all the months of back and forth regarding the aides and paras and their employ in the District, I was curious as to how many actually returned for the 2013/14 school year.  The week before the start of school, I sent the following email to Sue Tiede:

Sue,

With the start of the 2013/14 school year only a few days off, I am following-up on the status of the returning aides and paras and have a few questions –
(1)  How many aides/paras did not return for the 2013/14 school year?
(2) Of the total vacated positions, how many positions were filled with new employees?
(3) Were the vacated positions filled with part-time employees?
(4) Did the District fill the vacated positions through outsourcing?
(5) If the District outsourced the vacated positions, which company was used?

Thank in advance for this information.

Pattye Benson

In response to my email, I received the following email from Sue.  I look forward to hearng the update at the Finance meeting tonight.

Dear Pattye,

We are finalizing our hiring process at this time and have received several resignations as late as yesterday afternoon. At the September Finance Committee Meeting we plan to summarize our staffing for the 2013-14 school year. Our hiring process for aides has remained unchanged. As always, we plan to fill each vacancy with qualified candidates.

Best regards,

Sue

A look at Enrollment, Projected Staffing, Real Estate Assessment Appeals and Economic Impact in T/E School District for 2013-14 Budget

I attended last night’s TESD Budget Workshop for the development of 2013-14 budget. Sue Tiede, Director of Personnel presented enrollment history and trends, projected staffing needs and changes for the District.

In the review of staffing changes from 2008 to 2013, it was interesting to note that full-time teachers during this period has decreased by 48 teachers, compared to an enrollment increase of 355 students during the same period.  The total enrollment in 2008-09 was 6,132 increasing to 6,487 in 2012-13, which indicates a 5.8% increase or 355 students.

An enrollment history chart dating from 1975 to 2012, indicated that in 1975 the District enrollment at 6,497 students.  From that point, 37 years ago, the District’s enrollment steadily decreased for 15 years to its lowest point in 1989 of 3,990 students.  Starting in 1990, the District’s enrollment began to increase yearly to 6,487 students in 2012, which marked the highest enrollment since 1975, when there were 6,497 students.  We know that there are currently 48 teachers fewer than in 2008, but the chart did not indicate what the staffing was in 1975, when the enrollment was within 10 students of where it is today.

The projected requirement for 2013-14 indicates additional staffing needs of 7.6 educators. Included in the 7.6 staffing number is the addition of one special education, one technology and three mental health specialists.  The special education professional is for autistic support.

The District’s Business Manager Art McDonnell presented updates on property tax revenue lost from reassessments and economic impact on other local revenues (interest income, transfer tax, delinquent tax, and interim tax) and provided a revenue variance analysis and 2013-14 budget summary. In 2006-07, the annual property tax revenue lost to the District in reassessments was $256,561.

As presented by McDonnell, annually since 2006-07, residents and commercial property owners have continued to appeal their property taxes. The annual loss to the District in property tax revenue due to reassessments is as follows: 2006-07: $256,561; 2007-08: $244,236; 2008-09: $417,041; 2009-10: $975,994; 2010-11: $826,923; 2011-12: $595,072; and 2012-13: $411,051.  However, these numbers do not paint the total picture.  There is a cumulative loss as the new reassessment revenue loss is compounded each year.  The accurate property tax revenue lost to the District from assessment appeals based on the cumulative effect is as follows: 2006-07: $256,561; 2007-08: $512,000; 2008-09: $44,126; 2009-10: $1,947,142; 2010-11: $2,847,464; 2011-12: $3,536,508; and 2012-13: $3,946,559.  The District’s budget for 2012-13 is nearly $4 Million less due to property tax revenue lost from assessment appeals. And by the way, the $4 Million may go up as Vanguard’s assessment appeal remains an open issue; scheduled court date is April.

McDonnell presented the economic impact on other local revenues (interest income, transfer tax, delinquent tax and interim tax).  Although we all know that the interest income rates at the banks is nearly nonexistent these days, it is certainly evident when reviewing the District’s financials.  In 2006-07, the District earned about $3 Million in interest income versus $109K in 2011-12.  However, there was some encouraging news – the District’s interest income for 2012-13 is projected to nearly double from last year, $200K.  The transfer tax revenue is also indicating projected growth, from approx. $1.7 Million last year to projected $1.8 Million for 2012-13.  Looking at the total revenues from interest income, transfer tax, delinquent tax and interim tax, the District is projecting $3,227,647 for 2012-13, down from last year’s $3,981,314 – indicating an approx. $750K loss in revenue.  However, when you look at interest income, transfer tax, delinquent tax and interim tax in 2006-07, the total revenues to the District was $7,542,466 – approximately $4.3 million more dollars than projected for 2012.13.

McDonnell was able to provide some possible good news.  Under Governor Corbett’s 2013-14 proposed budget, the state subsidy revenue for TESD is basic education funding increase of $92,016 and special education funding decrease of $11,024 – providing a net increase of $80,992 in state subsidy revenue.  This is cautionary news as Corbett’s budget is the preliminary stage.

The impact items included in the District’s 2013-14 budget: $200K for administrator salary increases, $250K for District safety enhancements and $125K for support staff for network upgrade.  Open budget impact items under consideration including the outsourcing of TENIG staff and outsourcing of aides and paraeducators.  The President of TENIG, Dave Fillippo, read a statement in regards to outsourcing, which will be presented in a separate post.

T/E School District and Teacher Union Contract Negotiation Honeymoon Period Over

The contract negotiations between the T/E School District and the T/E Teachers Union (TEEA) started in early January.  What is the saying about the ‘calm before the storm’ – I had been thinking that the teacher contract negotiations must have been going well as everything was quiet.

In a Community Matters post, Expert Negotiators Named as TESD Teacher Contracts Talks Begin, dated January 28, 2012, I wrote the following:

“ … With a cooperative tone, both sides have issued their preliminary statements – the school board recognizing the quality and standard of the District’s teachers but reinforcing the severity of our economic times.  And the teachers union proudly applauding the school district as one of the best in the state and stating their desire to work together through the contract negotiations…”

This week in the Tredyffrin-Easttown School District would suggest that I might have spoken too quickly.  First, the T/E School Board publicly stated in a contract negotiation update on the school district’s website that ‘TEEA Negotiator Refuses to Discuss Healthcare Options”.  The school district’s negotiator, Jeffrey Sultanik claims that TEEA “does not want any changes to the existing plan or premium share increases for the employee”.  Sultanik suggests that the negotiator for the teachers union, Ruthann Waldie, refuses to budge on the healthcare issue.  The school board has made it clear from the start that the teacher contract needs to focus on reducing healthcare costs.  Having attended a number of finance committee meetings of the school district, the teacher’s benefits are routinely discussed, especially healthcare.

When the school districts’ negotiating team was named (Dan Waters, Sue Tiede and Art McDonnell in addition to Jeffrey Sultanik), I shared TEEA’s concern that there was no school board director serving on the negotiating team.  The residents of TESD elected the school board members to serve them and at least one of them should be ‘at the negotiating table’.  One of the school board directors, Kevin Buraks, is an attorney who specializes in the collection of unpaid real estate taxes in municipalities and school districts in Pennsylvania.  Certainly, given his background, Buraks would have been qualified at the very least to participate as a contract negotiation ‘observer’.  As far as I know (please correct me if I’m wrong) no prior contract negotiations in T/E school district ever occurred absent school board directors.

Soon after the school district posted the contract negotiations update on their website, TEEA fired back with a response that suggested the school district’s update is “a collection of factual inaccuracies, misinformation, mischaracterizations and personal attacks”.  The response from the teacher’s union suggests a willingness and desire to negotiate issues … but at the bargaining table, not through press releases and websites, as the path that TEEA believes the school district has chosen.

Because there is no representation by the school board at the negotiation table, it is a bit like ‘whisper down the lane’.  The information and updates that the school board receives are not through first hand attendance at the meetings, it is from one of the four members of the negotiating team.  That’s not to suggest that the school district is intentionally misleading the public through its updates, but I would suggest that some of the nuances that occur in a meeting can be missed in the translation.

According to TEEA, the teachers union has presented a comprehensive set of proposals to the school district and are willing to discuss “the district’s finances, staffing levels, school calendar, health insurance, wages and all other important issues …”

As a taxpayer in this school district, I want to know that the contract negotiation updates are completely accurate … can the school board members provide that reassurance to the public.  On the other hand, having attended a number of school district finance committee meetings, I also know that the current teacher healthcare benefits exceed much of what most of the residents of this school district receive themselves.

We are fortunate to live in one of the best school districts in the state and preserving that school system should be a priority to the residents, school district and the teachers.  The new teacher’s contract needs to be line with our current economic reality. However, the negotiation process should be accomplished with a spirit of collaboration.

According to TEEA and the school district, there is no next negotiation session scheduled.  I make a motion to move the contract negotiation process forward; do I hear a second?

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