Sue Tiede

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Doug Anestad Response:

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

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

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

Michele Burger Response:

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

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

BUT, there’s more work to be done!

Roberta Hotinski Response:

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

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

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

Mary Garrett Itin Response:

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

Todd Kantorczyk Response:

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

Nicholas Lee Response:

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

Kate Murphy Response:

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

Stacy Stone Response:

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

Ed Sweeney Response:

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

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

Sue Tiede Response:

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

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T/E School Board Candidate Question #3: Utilizing Public Participation & Input

Here is the full list of candidates running for T/E School Board – See Question #3 and the candidate responses below (in alphabetical order by last name).

T/E School Board Region 1 Candidates
Roberta Hotinski (D) Incumbent, unopposed
Todd Kantorczyk (D) Incumbent, unopposed

T/E School Board Region 2 Candidates (2 seats available)
Doug Anestad (I)
Michele Burger (D) Incumbent
Stacy Stone (D)
Ed Sweeney (R) Incumbent

T/E School Board Region 3 Candidates
Mary Garrett Itin (D)* opposed by Nicholas Lee (R)
Incumbent Kate Murphy (R) opposed by Sue Tiede (D)

*Mary Garrett Iten was appointed to the T/E School Board in July 2019 (to fill the seat vacated by Heather Ward) to serve through the December 2, 2019 School Board Reorganization Meeting.

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Question #3: The participation and input of the T/E School District community is important. If elected, how do you propose involving residents and utilizing their expertise (budget, finance, literacy, etc.) in the process

Doug Anestad Response:

I would like to ensure that the public has a much greater say in the running of the school district. I understand that the reason we have such a great school district is because of our parents and community.

I have frequently witnessed the school board backing the administration and, at least initially, ignoring feedback by the parents or the community. I have seen this pattern many times, such as with the fences around Valley Forge Middle School, concerns from parents over curriculum, and the $1.3 million accounting error.

If I am on the school board, I will take input from the parents and community very seriously. I have demonstrated this repeatedly by supporting parents and community members in trying to implement change. I support adding parents and community members to district committees in order to give the public a more direct voice in the running of the district.

Michele Burger Response:

I have made it my top priority to gather community input PRIOR to making final decisions, meeting one-on-one with parents and taxpayers to listen to their concerns and ideas for improving the internal practices as well as the athletic and educational programs across the district. Currently the community is able to share their input and expertise by attending committee meetings, emailing individual Board members and/or the entire Board, and participating in focus groups and sub-committees. The Board approved the Administration’s request to begin a Strategic Planning process this year that will give all stakeholders an opportunity to offer their unique perspectives and expertise to guide the district. If re-elected, I will continue to listen to my constituents both publicly and privately, utilize resources provided by: educational leaders, Pennsylvania Department of Education, and the Pennsylvania School Board Association, as well as do my own “homework” prior to making final decisions

Roberta Hotinski Response:

I value the input of our community and believe the best way to capture it is generally through the public meetings of our committees, since everyone is invited to participate.  Recent successes in this area include community involvement in reapportionment of our voting regions and parent advocacy for later start times and changes to the reading program that resulted in concrete changes in our educational program.   We are also encouraging dialogue with parents through the district’s curriculum committee, which will provide a forum for education and discussion around literacy and other concerns.

Right now, the district is also undertaking a strategic planning effort that involves community members and parents in defining a vision and goals for the future.  I would encourage anyone interested in contributing his or her expertise to involve themselves in discussions and to serve on action teams that will be taking place in the spring.

Mary Garrett Itin Response:

Much of my work has focused on including youth, family members, and professionals as equal partners.  I have been a community organizer, children’s advocate, and facilitator.  I have organized parents, community leaders, and youth to bring pressure for changes in education, budget priorities, and legislation.  I am committed to revamping the Curriculum Council with meaningful, experienced parent involvement to meet current specific goals related to literacy and for other curriculum areas in the future.  There are a number of ways we can increase community, family, and youth involvement including the way this is/has happened with the Strategic Plan, School Start Time Survey, and Elementary Redistricting Committee.  I have begun looking into the research and practices of how school districts around the United States involve citizens in the budget process.  I will make myself available to have further discussions on this topic.

Todd Kantorczyk Response:

The participation and input of the T/E community is always welcome, and our current Board decision-making process allows for public input at many levels.  In addition to multiple public comment periods at monthly Board meetings, the Board allows for relatively unrestricted public comment during committee meetings. Also, members of the community are free to e-mail the entire Board at SchoolBoard@TESD.net, e-mail Board members individually, or contact us by some other means.  At each of these opportunities, members of the community can offer insights based on their expertise.  Outside the Board process, the District employs a committee structure that allows for public input on various aspects of District operations.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, over the next year, the District will develop a new strategic plan, and opportunities for public input in that process include forums, focus groups and action teams.

Nicholas Lee Response:

I believe T/E has the highest concentration of intellectual capital of any school district in the country. Our residents are pillars not just of the region’s but of the nation’s business, legal, and educational communities. We must be committed to partnering with our residents to provide the best educational results for our T/E families. If elected, I would re-initiate an initiative recently voted down by the School Board to form a Literacy Committee. As a high school teacher, I’ve seen a steady decline in reading and writing skills in our youth. If our national political scene or modern media is any indication, our country appears to be growing less literate and less thoughtful by the day. Our T/E School District community needs to get out in front of this decline and commit to providing the best educational opportunities in the field of Literacy for our students.

Kate Murphy Response:

The district would benefit from more input from the community — whether subject-matter experts or concerned parents and citizens. That’s why I have strongly advocated for a literacy committee.  We have seen glimpses of how partnering with all stakeholder groups within our community can lead to good outcomes.  A few examples are the District’s Ad Hoc Reapportionment Committee (to rebalance our voting regions) and the District’s Diversity Committee (to facilitate the understanding and promote tolerance of cultural and individual differences and to promote inclusive curriculum at all levels).  I think this sort of approach would be beneficial in other areas as well, and we ought to be exploring the possibilities.

Stacy Stone Response:

Tredyffrin and Easttown townships are fortunate to have very well educated and engaged parents and community members with a wealth of skills and experience in many areas, including financial management, information technology, mental health services, and all curricular areas.  I welcome these community members as partners in improving our District and pledge to bring together parents, teachers, students, administrators, board members, and other experts to ensure that our children have the instruction they deserve and require to become lifelong readers and learners. To that end, I believe all school administration committee meetings—not just school board and board committee meetings—should be open to the public, announced on the TESD website, and should include parents and community experts appointed by the board in addition to members appointed by the administration.

Ed Sweeney Response:

I have been a firm supporter of a Literacy Committee built on the model of the Diversity Committee.  It would be a great forum to exchange ideas.  A great District needs to be open to new ideas and must not be “top down.”

I would use our “Strategic Plan” process to wholly revamp the types of committees the Board has and who serve on them. I would recruit members for the committees that not only have expertise, but a diversity of views.  We need a Finance Committee and an Accounting Committee.  While I would greatly prefer the Board to revisit the issue of a Literacy Committee, I would push for Everyone Reads TE to have strong voices on the Curriculum Committee.

I have proposed on several occasions having an expert volunteer, an outside “voice,” to be appointed by the Board to sit with us in regular sessions and on subcommittees.

Sue Tiede Response:

I believe that parent and community involvement is one of the greatest strengths of the T/E School District. As a district employee for 14 years, I was always grateful to the hundreds of community members who committed their time, talent and energy to support our students at every level and in many ways. For example, the District is currently developing a new Strategic Plan. Input from a diverse group of stakeholders is vital to creating a plan that will ensure the District can meet the needs of students in the future. Throughout my career I have welcomed involvement from parents, teachers and the community as we identified what was best for our students. As a member of the Board, I would look forward to continuing this dialog through public meetings and other avenues.

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T/E School Board Candidate Question #2: Financial Management

Here is the full list of candidates running for T/E School Board – See Question #2 and the candidate responses below (in alphabetical order by last name).

T/E School Board Region 1 Candidates
Roberta Hotinski (D) Incumbent, unopposed
Todd Kantorczyk (D) Incumbent, unopposed

T/E School Board Region 2 Candidates (2 seats available)
Doug Anestad (I)
Michele Burger (D) Incumbent
Stacy Stone (D)
Ed Sweeney (R) Incumbent

T/E School Board Region 3 Candidates
Mary Garrett Itin (D)* opposed by Nicholas Lee (R)
Incumbent Kate Murphy (R) opposed by Sue Tiede (D)

*Mary Garrett Iten was appointed to the T/E School Board in July 2019 (to fill the seat vacated by Heather Ward) to serve through the December 2, 2019 School Board Reorganization Meeting.

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Question #2:  The school district has acknowledged some lapses in its financial management. What in your background or experience will ensure that the performance is improved going forward?

Doug Anestad Response:

My experience as a project manager in charge of million-dollar projects gives me the experience necessary to understand how budgeting should work and how accountability should happen. I have also been a member of multiple community boards including the president and secretary of my HOA, treasurer and secretary of the Chesterbrook Civic Association, vice president of the Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust, and member of the Tredyffrin Environmental Advisory Council.

As a member of the community, I have already given multiple suggestions to the school board to improve the accuracy of the budgeting process to help avoid the annual “fall surprise” that turns projected deficits into surpluses.

I would push to hold the business manager accountable to his budget projections.  This would ensure that there are not any last-minute surprises, as has happened in the past, when the actual numbers ended up being drastically different from the projected budget.

Michele Burger Response:

I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and have been responsible for the budget associated with managing a sales force. I served as PTO president for three years at Valley Forge Elementary school and was responsible for ensuring that fundraising revenue and event expenses were properly accounted for. As an elected representative charged with the responsibility of financial oversight, I will continue to listen and gather expert advise from community members with a background in school budgeting and finance. I will continue to attend Pennsylvania School Board Association sponsored workshops that focus on improving financial planning and budgeting processes. Regarding the management of capital expenditures, I have a track record of saving a significant amount of money on proposed projects by ensuring that the project is a necessity, not a “nicety”.

Roberta Hotinski Response:

I would not agree that the “district has acknowledged some lapses in its fiscal management.” My  experience on the board has indicated that there is a need for improvement in the administration’s communication of financial issues to the board and the public, both in the timeliness and detail of reporting.  I have always advocated for providing detail and context in our financial discussions, but developments over the last year have strengthened my resolve to ensure the administration is more proactive in its communications around fiscal issues.  One improvement that the board has recently introduced to this end is monthly reporting of special education costs to ensure that we are tracking this highly variable expense center to understand its impact on our budget. I support making similar “deep dives” in other areas, including closer looks at major expense and revenue drivers and placing our annual budget in a longer-term context.

Mary Garrett Itin Response:

I have experience working with a team on multi-million dollars County Behavioral Health budgets, providing County oversight for budgets of funded programs, and reporting on outcomes and expenditures for programs funded by state and federal grants.  I am committed to transparency and strengthening our budget process by examining other Act 1 Budget Processes for best practices, working with other Board members to adopt the goal of achieving the Certificate of Excellence in Financial Reporting awarded by the Association of School Business Officials International, and putting 5 years of financial documents on our website.

Todd Kantorczyk Response:

I do not agree that the “school district has acknowledged some lapses in its financial management.”   That said, the district has faced and will continue to face financial challenges, due primarily to increasing enrollment.  I believe I possess the necessary background and experience to ensure that the district continues to meet those challenges in a way that respects funds provided through local tax revenues.  In my professional career, I have provided environmental compliance advice to many businesses ranging from Fortune 100 companies to closely held corporations.  In all instances, it is critical that I understand their business objectives and the associated financial ramifications of the solutions I provide.  These financial issues include: liability reserve estimation and accounting; financing options for mergers, acquisitions, and real estate transactions; and budgeting for construction projects.  Finally, I have gained valuable experience as a member of the Finance Committee, the past three as chair.

Nicholas Lee Response:

Anyone who knows me knows how zealously I commit to combatting injustice. The recent instances of financial mismanagement in our School District’s are an injustice to each and every one of our residents. When we commit financial mistakes, the students and residents suffer and trust in our institutions breaks down. My past and current experience in the realm of financial management consists of serving as a member of the Parish Council Member for St. Katharine of Siena in Wayne, managing budgets as Department Director for the Office of Young Adult Ministry in St. Louis, MO, and conducting an internal audit for the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

Kate Murphy Response:

Having gone through it over the past four years, I can certainly say there is a learning curve.  And the experience I’ve gained allows me to detect problems and assess options more quickly.  So I’ll be picking up where I left off and more prepared than ever to tackle financial management issues.  But more than anything, good oversight of the district’s finances requires a willingness to question assumptions and to insist on getting answers.  I have done that, repeatedly, on financial and other issues, and I will continue to do so if re-elected.

Stacy Stone Response:

As the supervisor of the Educational Support Services Department (which included After School Programs, Art, ASL, the Educational Resource Center, Library Services, P.E., and Speech) at the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, I was charged with oversight of a budget of several million dollars.  I took that charge seriously, and was diligent both in tracking spending and in helping to develop budgets that were fiscally responsible while meeting the needs of our diverse student population.

In T/E, I support consulting an independent Financial Advisor to review best fiscal practices, as well as continuing to find creative strategies to curb costs while maintaining the high quality of our schools during this period of increasing enrollment.

Ed Sweeney Response:

A School Director’s highest priority should be public confidence in our budget process, knowing that the money is going to our students’ education. These reforms were my initiatives:

  • revising policy to address the $1.2 million invoices error never happens again
  • revising the AFRs to correct our submission with the Pennsylvania Department of Education
  • submitting a comprehensive Financial Reform Package to address issues of Financial Accountability

I will continue to fight for financial accountability and will continue to reach out to fellow Board members to seek their votes and support.  The options include personnel change.

I am a plaintiff’s lawyer who fights against big companies and insurers.  I have to confront and/or negotiate on a daily basis.  I have gained trust by 25 years of diligence.  Additionally, I have 25 years of experience on boards and commissions.  I have helped steer institutions in difficult situations which needed to correct course.

Sue Tiede Response:

Throughout my professional career, I have had significant experience and insight into public school budgeting. As the building principal of both Evergreen Elementary in Perkiomen Valley School District and Devon Elementary in T/E School District, I consistently created and adhered to a building budget that provided teachers with the materials and resources required to meet the needs of the children at each grade level. As Director of Personnel for the T/E School District it was my job to monitor student growth in all of the District schools. Using projected enrollment numbers I developed a multimillion dollar salary and benefit budget to responsibly address the staffing needs of the expanding District. These experiences have afforded me a greater appreciation for how to make sure every dollar provided by taxpayers is used most effectively.

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T/E School Board Candidates Question #1: Public Accountability

Here is the full list of candidates running for T/E School Board – See Question #1 and the candidate responses below (in alphabetical order by last name).

T/E School Board Region 1 Candidates
Roberta Hotinski (D) Incumbent, unopposed
Todd Kantorczyk (D) Incumbent, unopposed

T/E School Board Region 2 Candidates (2 seats available)
Doug Anestad (I)
Michele Burger (D) Incumbent
Stacy Stone (D)
Ed Sweeney (R) Incumbent

T/E School Board Region 3 Candidates
Mary Garrett Itin (D)* opposed by Nicholas Lee (R)
Incumbent Kate Murphy (R) opposed by Sue Tiede (D)

*Mary Garrett Itin was appointed to the T/E School Board in July 2019 (to fill the seat vacated by Heather Ward) to serve through the December 2, 2019 School Board Reorganization Meeting.

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QUESTION #1: Public accountability requires that our school board provide oversight of the school district. Do you see room for improvement in this area and if so, what would you change. Please be specific.

Doug Anestad Response:

I do not believe that the school board has been providing the necessary oversight of the school district. Over and over again, the administration has either not given the school board information in a timely manner or has outright deceived the school board into believing things that were not true.

The response from the school board has been to give the superintendent a satisfactory rating and give the business manager a pay raise and bonus. It is unacceptable for the administration to deceive and lie to the school board.

As a school board member, I would not sit silently by as district administrators keep important information from the board or deceive the board through lies, half-truths, misdirections, and straw man arguments. Anyone who has been watching the school board meetings already knows that I will speak up to tell the truth when the administration is not doing so.

Michele Burger Response:

Serving on the Board of a top ranked district might lead one to believe that the need for oversight is minimal. Not true. I will advocate for improvements specifically in the areas of financial planning and the budgeting process as a whole, user-friendly documents and communication regarding the district’s infrastructure and capital improvement schedule, effective communication to all stakeholders regarding the financial challenges of increasing enrollment and unfunded state mandates, and the need for providing data to teachers and parents when evaluating the effectiveness of the instruction that students are receiving. I have publicly advocated the hiring of an independent financial advisor in order to develop a long range plan for future financing of capital projects. I requested a monthly report of special education expenses which the administration implemented this year. I amended this year’s district goals to include that the Superintendent provide the Board with a new goals and objectives format that will be measurable.

Roberta Hotinski Response:

There is always room for improvement. One area I believe we need to work on is a data-driven approach to district management in all areas, but particularly to ensure that our educational program is working well for all students.  The new student data system will help us on that front by allowing us to easily view district-wide performance data, and I look forward to applying that information to understand and address literacy and equity issues.

I have also supported improving our annual goal-setting process by including measurable goals and metrics for success, and I have proposed that our committees take a more active role in developing district goals.

Finally, I advocated to expand the district’s strategic plan to address not just the educational program, but also operations and sustainability, to ensure that the board is taking a long-term view of those issues.

Mary Garrett Itin Response:

Good governance and well-run organizations require that we are all accountable.  Strengthening accountability has been a focus of my work since joining the School Board.  I request detailed information to make decisions.  Additionally, we need improved transparency and communication for the community to understand and have input.  When I make a proposal, I work to be as specific as possible for real discussion and defined next steps.  I see room for improvement in the following areas: 1. Ending each meeting with the review of the agreed upon action items with due dates and reviewing progress on action items at the beginning of each School Board meeting. 2. For our District Level Goals and any applicable changes, we need to define outcomes and utilize data and assessments to evaluate and refine goals as needed. 3. Inclusion of letters received by the Board in the agenda.

Todd Kantorczyk Response:

School Board oversight is comprised of two major components: providing direction to the District consistent with the District’s mission statement and what the Board feels is in the best interest of the community; and obtaining information the Board feels is necessary to provide this direction.  The first point depends on the views of each individual member.  For the second point, during my four years on the board, I feel that lines of communication between the Administration and the Board have been very good, and I have been provided with information I felt was necessary to provide informed direction.  But there are always opportunities for improvement, and during my tenure we have implemented new practices to enhance information communication, including regular administration reports on special education spend, a new policy concerning unpaid invoices, and supplemental administration reports on significant initiatives including elementary redistricting, delayed start times and reading instruction.

Nicholas Lee Response:

I would demand that our T/E school administration provide a clear and transparent budget each and every year. The recent $5.5 million budget discrepancy and the accounting error that cost our district $1.2 million are glaring examples of disorder in our financial household. Community Matters has done a great job documenting both of these cases (as well as the recent tax increases) on this website and I believe the T/E taxpayers and parents are frustrated and angered with the status quo. Governmental agencies should not fear financial transparency nor should a school district avoid providing a balanced budget for its taxpayers.

Kate Murphy Response:

Unfortunately, recent events have made it clear that we do need to improve our oversight.  I’ve made several efforts through my position as chair of the Policy Committee to do this, including changes to our superintendent’s responsibilities with regard to payment of invoices and more public engagement though a proposed Literacy Committee.  But your question is a difficult one because each board member represents only one of nine votes.  And frankly, the style and quality of oversight depends on how the members of the board go about doing their jobs.  In this regard, my strength is the time and energy I put into working with other board members to exchange our thoughts and build coalitions within the board.  I do not think a dissociated and dissonant board is effective—we need to work together, and I intend to continue taking every opportunity to do that.

Stacy Stone Response:

T/E consistently ranks among top districts in the Commonwealth and nation; however, there is always room for improvement.  The duty of the administration and school board is to adhere to sound fiscal practices while ensuring that our students get the best possible education. One area needing improvement is district goal setting, both process and product. The board recently requested inclusion of “success indicators” for each goal, but the administration’s first attempt resulted in the insertion of rather vague statements. Additionally, the process to date has been to delete the previous year’s district goals from the website prior to the first board meeting of the new school year without any public review. We need specific, measurable goals and objectives as well as a public process—beginning in the spring rather than the fall—that reviews the District Goal Completion Report to inform development of appropriate goals for the next school year.

Ed Sweeney Response:

Absolutely yes!

First, revamp the budget process.  I have submitted a comprehensive Financial Reform Program developed by knowledgeable citizen volunteers to the Board for consideration.  Key points:

  • The Superintendent is accountable to give the Board the most accurate financial picture possible
  • The administration must submit a balanced budget without use of fund balance
  • TESD is challenged to win the award for budget transparency in Pennsylvania
  • The appointment of a committee with 6-12 volunteers of exceptional financial backgrounds to give the Board advice.

Our goal: “real time” knowledge of the financial status of the district to make decisions. Second, all options must be on the table to obtain the goal, including personnel change. Third, we need to partner more with parents and knowledgeable citizens to get diverse viewpoints.  Common sense ideas like a Literacy Committee need to be implemented. Fourth, the ongoing Strategic Plan Process is an excellent opportunity to effectuate change.

Sue Tiede Response:

As a member of the T/E School Board, I would work with the other members of the Board to provide effective oversight of the district by adhering to the principles of the non-profit Pennsylvania School Boards Association. The PSBA describes the role of the Board of School Directors in the following way: “School boards are most effective when they concentrate their time and energy on using the authority delegated to them to govern at the strategic level, determining what it is the community’s schools should accomplish, enacting policies that implement those goals, hiring professional staff to accomplish them and allocating the resources necessary to make all of that happen.”

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Ten Candidates for T/E School Board – Where do they stand on important community issues? Know before you VOTE – Responses to Community Matters questions (plus a question for Easttown Township Supervisor Candidates)

The four Community Matters questions and responses from the eight Tredyffrin Township supervisor candidates are now posted – I appreciate the candidates taking the time to respond and encourage voters to review.

I have been asked by several Easttown Township residents to include their supervisor candidates in the Community Matters Q&A.  Between the eight Tredyffrin supervisor candidates and ten TESD school board candidates (which includes Easttown candidates), the management of these 18 candidate responses has been challenging and I did not think I had time for other candidate races.

However, Easttown residents share the T/E School District with Tredyffrin residents and together we have many of the same issues. I have changed my mind and emailed the Easttown Township supervisor candidates the following question:

In your opinion, what is the single most important issue facing Easttown Township; and what in your background, experience or education prepares you to help with this specific issue?

Easttown Township voters will elect two supervisors on Election Day – The candidates are incumbent Karl Romberger (R),  Alessandra Nicolas (R), Michael Wacey (D) and Beth D’Antonio (D). Due to prior personal commitments, there is short turnaround for the candidates to respond and any responses received will be posted on Community Matters on Tuesday, Oct. 29.

In 10 days, local voters we will go to the polls to select six T/E School Board directors. People bring different backgrounds and qualifications to the job of school board director and as voters; we need to know as much as possible about the candidates to make the right choices on Election Day.

As elected school board directors, residents count on their leadership in overseeing the academic, legal and financial health of the T/E School District.  School boards are nothing less than the governing body of our school district. They are the bosses’ bosses representing the public interest and to this extent, they should serve the diverse values and needs of our community.

Aside from your child’s teacher, principal, and the District’s superintendent, school board members have the greatest influence on your child’s education because they decide on how to spend the District’s public school funds and set its governing policies.

T/E School Board Candidates:

  • Region 1: Incumbents Roberta Hotinski (D) and Todd Kantorczyk (D) are running unopposed.
  • Region 2: Four candidates are seeking two seats. Incumbents Michele Burger (D) and Ed Sweeney (R) are opposed by Doug Anestad (I) and Stacy Stone (D).
  • Region 3: Incumbent Kate Murphy (R) is opposed by candidate Sue Tiede (D). Mary Garrett Itin (D)* is opposed by candidate Nicholas Lee (R).

*Mary Garrett Itin was appointed to the T/E School Board in July 2019 (to fill the seat vacated by Heather Ward) to serve through the December 2, 2019 School Board Reorganization Meeting.

T/E School District Voting Precincts:

  • Region 1: Tredyffrin E-2, E-3, E-4, E-5, M-1, M-2, M-5, M-6, W-3, W-4
  • Region 2: Tredyffrin M-3, M-4, M-7 W-1, W-2, W-5
  • Region 3: Tredyffrin E-1, Easttown 1-7

Some voters may not be aware of a late entry in the school board race – Doug Anestad (I).  As a registered Independent, Anestad was not on the Primary Election ballot and only entered the race in August. He previously ran as a Republican in a highly contentious race against Kyle Boyer (D) in 2017.

Should Anestad win in 2019, he would make history as the first registered Independent to be elected to the T/E School Board. However, the District does have another registered Independent currently serving on the school board — School board president Scott Dorsey was first elected to the Board in 2013 and re-elected in 2017, both times as a Democrat. However, in advance of the upcoming election, Dorsey recently changed his party affiliation from ‘D’ to Independent.

To assist voters in the decision-making process, it is important for the public to know the candidates and where they stand on important community issues. To aid in the process, four questions were sent to the ten school board candidates.

Completely voluntary, the questions were chosen on what I believe are important issues and included public accountability, financial management and participation and input from the community. All ten candidates responded and their responses (in alphabetical order by last name) will appear on Community Matters one question at a time. The public is encouraged to review the responses and comment.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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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