T/E School Board

TE School District Served With Another Lawsuit

Lawsuits against TE School District and Conestoga High School administrators are climbing at an alarming rate.

Two weeks ago on May 25, I wrote the headline, “Conestoga High School Hazing Fallout: Football Coach Sues T/E School District Administrators”.  We learned that Thomas Batgos, an assistant Conestoga High School football coach fired by the T/E School District in the aftermath of the alleged hazing and sexual assault had filed a lawsuit against District administrators – Superintendent Dr. Richard Gusick and CHS Principal Dr. Amy Meisinger. The lawsuit cited defamation of character, misrepresentation, fraud, improper termination, etc. and seeks damages of at least $50K in compensation plus punitive damages.

In April, I wrote about Arthur Phillips (age 67), a male instructional aide in the television production studio at Conestoga High School, who was charged with having sex with a 15 year old female student from January to April of this year.  According to the victim, they had sex on more than 10 occasions and that Phillips also groped and sexually assaulted her. Hundreds of sexual text messages were found on both of their cell phones, including a picture that Phillips texted the victim of his genitals. Phillips was charged with statutory sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, corruption of minors and related offenses.

Today we learn from an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, that a federal lawsuit was filed against TE School District by the parents of the girl, seeking at least $75K in damages and calling for the resignation of Conestoga High School Principal Dr. Amy Meisinger.

According to the article, the lawsuit claims that the District was aware of the improper conduct of Phillips and “created an environment that allowed the assaults to occur”.

The Inquirer article states, “According to the suit, Phillips took the girl from the Conestoga campus to buy her meals, took her shopping, and “groomed” her during and after the school day. The lawsuit alleges a teacher and her husband went to dinner on a “double date” with the girl and Phillips and that other teachers knew Phillips was taking the girl off campus during the school day. An aide referred to the girl as “Art’s girlfriend” to several teachers, the suit said.”

How in the world could a teacher go on a double date with Phillips and the 15-year old student?  And the relationship was known by teachers at the high school and the victim is called “Art’s girlfriend”.  How is it possible that this could go on and no one knows?  I just do not understand.

The original article has been updated to include a statement from the District’s solicitor, who claims that the accusations against the school district are false, that no staff (including Principal Dr. Amy Meisinger) knew of the relationship between Phillips and the student until contacted by Tredyffrin Township police.

An interesting point is made in the lawsuit – Phillips wrote hall passes for the girl to miss classes and that between January and mid-April, she missed 20 English classes. Isn’t there some kind of parental notification when a student misses that many classes?  What is the policy?

The parents also claim that there was no review of camera footage at by District employees which would have shown Phillips repeatedly leaving Conestoga High School with the girl. According the lawsuit, the sexual assaults occurred in the high school parking lot, Phillips car and office and in Conestoga’s production studio. Again, I would ask — what is the policy for reviewing camera footage?  School security has been an ongoing focus of the school board, which would presumably include routine review of the cameras.  I would think that if you have a student missing 20 classes during a relatively short time span, and there is an aide who is writing the passes, shouldn’t this cause an internal investigation, which might include a review of the camera footage?  Just asking the question, do not know if there is a process currently in place and it was ignored or if such a process doesn’t exist.

There is also the potential of another lawsuit against TE School District.  Remember the 26-year old Conestoga coach and teacher’s aide Christine Towers who had a sexual relationship with a 16 year old learning disabled student who she tutored.  Towers received a jail time of 11 to 23 months.  Now the parents of that boy are also considering a federal lawsuit against the District.

I have been harping about what I see as public information and transparency problems, most recently as it related to the three contracts due to expire in 3 weeks – TEEA (teachers), TENIG (non-instructional) and Act 93 (administrators). The monthly school board meeting is on Monday, June 12 where the final budget for the 2017-18 school year needs to be approved and the status of the contracts is unknown. The contracts make up 70% of the school district budget but the public has received no updates.

I think the school board’s approach to public information needs to expand to include lawsuits. In two weeks, two lawsuits have been filed against the school district with the potential of a third lawsuit.  My guess is that the school board will make no mention of the lawsuits at the upcoming school board meeting. It’s easier to pretend that it isn’t really happening.

A few weeks ago, the school board reappointed Ken Roos as the District solicitor for another year, July 1 – June 30, 2018 at a rate of $180/hr.   Wouldn’t you love to know what the taxpayers are spending on legal fees to Wisler Pearstine between lawsuits and contract negotiations?  Sadly, that would probably require filing a ‘right-to-know’ through Art McDonnell, and I have a feeling that the request would be denied.

By all accounts, Conestoga High School graduation last night was wonderful — congratulations to all our 2017 graduates and best wishes for the future!

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The saga continues in TE School District — Court rules against TE School District regarding residency of alleged hazing victim

court decisionThe saga continues … Sexting offenses, alleged hazing and residency dispute all involving one TE School District family. Chester County court rules against the TE School District in a stunning decision by Court of Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Sommer regarding residency.

(The complete article from today’s Main Line Media News follows my comments).

After reading the article, the first word that comes to mind is “accountability”.  Under whose authority did this situation happen — the hiring of the private investigator (from Cloud Feehery & Richter) at tax payer expense ($12K +) over a specific residency issue?  Does the District pay the private investigator over each claim of non-residency or was it just trying to get this specific student out of the District after sexting offenses? Who made this decision? Was it at the direction of the TE School Board and/or Superintendent? Is the hiring of investigators in residency situations routine in the District?  Does the School Board approve the residency investigations or is decision up to the school administration?

In rendering his decision in this residency case, Judge Sommer stated, “We find that the hearing officer willfully and deliberately disregarded competent portions of (the father’s) testimony and relevant evidence which one of ordinary intelligence could not possibly have avoided in reaching a result, thus making his credibility determination arbitrary and capricious,”  The judge also determined that the alleged victim and his father were denied their right to counsel.

The ruling of Judge Sommer certainly points to incompetence of the private investigator and the TE School District. The judge calls the District’s investigator incompetent and the taxpayers are stuck with the bill.  School Board, where are you?  Were you aware of this specific investigation regarding the residency of the alleged hazing victim and the apparent mishandling of the process? Was this a way to get the student out of the District?  And how does the District Solicitor Ken Roos factor into the residency investigation — was the decision to engage a private investigator in this specific case at his recommendation/advisement?

Who is in charge, where’s the oversight and accountability? I note that the District declined to comment for the article, what about the School Board? Will we receive an explanation?

Court rules in favor of the alleged hazing victim; judge rules student was legal resident of T/E SD

by Adam Farence

Court of Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey R. Sommer ruled in favor of the alleged hazing victim with regard to his residency issue with the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District, reversing the school board’s original decision to stop funding the alleged victim’s education at Buxmont Academy. Sommer also ruled the victim does not owe over $13,000 to the school district.

According to court documents, Sommer drew his conclusion from two issues. First, he determined the hearing officer from an earlier meeting incorrectly concluded the alleged hazing victim did not meet the federal definition of homeless.

The victim was reportedly kicked out of his previous Devon residence by his great-grandmother after his arrest for sexting-related offenses in October 2015. After he was kicked out, the alleged victim’s father drove him back and forth between his Devon bus stop and his mother’s residence in Chester, Delaware County.

It was during this time period that T/E officials hired a private investigator from Cloud Feehery & Richter to determine if the alleged victim did actually live within the school district boundaries. After several months of surveillance, the private investigator determined the victim did not live there.

The school district spent $12,281.92 on services rendered by Cloud, Feehery & Richter, according to a Right-to-Know request filed by the Daily Local News.

The alleged victim could not claim the Chester residence as his, according to court documents, essentially depriving him the chance to pursue a free education in Delaware County, and Sommer determined the alleged victim met the federal definition of homeless. He also criticized the hearing officer’s original finding.

“We find that the hearing officer willfully and deliberately disregarded competent portions of (the father’s) testimony and relevant evidence which one of ordinary intelligence could not possibly have avoided in reaching a result, thus making his credibility determination arbitrary and capricious,” Sommer wrote.

Sommer also pointed out the hearing officer was employed by the school district. “It takes no great leap of faith to recognize that the hearing officer is being paid by TESD, their ‘adversary,”” he wrote.

Second, Sommer determined the alleged victim and his father were denied their right to counsel.

According to court documents, the victim’s father was notified of the Jan. 20 non-residency hearing with the hearing officer only a few days prior. Sommer also wrote that the school district did not notify the father’s attorney even though they had been told in writing to do so.

Originally, the family was represented by William McLaughlin Jr., before he passed away in late March. For the remainder of the case, the family was represented by a new lawyer, Robert DiOrio. “…TESD not only did not notify Attorney McLaughlin of this hearing but made the pre-hearing notice period so short as to effectively cut Attorney McLaughlin out of the process,” court records state.

At the Jan. 20 non-residency hearing, the victim’s father did say he chose to come without counsel and knew he had the right to proceed with counsel if he wanted, but according to court documents, the circumstances surrounding the hearing undermined due process.

“We are very pleased with Judge Sommer’s well-reasoned decision,” wrote DiOrio.

School district officials declined to comment.

“We do not discuss individual student matters and therefore do not intend to comment on this specific case,” wrote district Solicitor Ken Roos. “However, the district remains committed to enforcing its policy of only permitting district residents, including anyone properly qualifying as homeless, to attend district schools.”

The alleged hazing victim’s father received a bill late January for over $13,000, after the school district originally determined he and his son reportedly lived outside the district’s boundaries. The father reported the alleged sodomy to school district officials about a week later in early February, and Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan announced assault related charges against three Conestoga High School football players on March 4. Over the course of a few days, news of the charges and the alleged sodomy spread across the nation.

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Republicans win all 4 seats on Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors and Democratic candidates win 3 of the 5 seats on TE School Board

The results are in for Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors and the TE School Board. Four supervisor seats and five school board seats were up for grabs with only one incumbent supervisor candidate, Paul Olson (R) and one incumbent school board candidate Kris Graham (R) seeking reelection. The four open seats on Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors went to the Republicans and three of the five seats on the TE School Board were won by Democratic candidates.

For the two at-large supervisor seats, Republicans Sean Moir and Trip Lukens will replace Michael Heaberg (R) and Kristen Mayock (R) who did not seek reelection as at-large supervisors in Tredyffrin. The results are as follows:

TOWNSHIP SUPERVISOR AT-LARGE TREDYFFRIN TOWNSHIP
ELVA BANKINS (DEM) . . . 3,326
LOUIS HORVATH (DEM) . .3,320
SEAN MOIR (REP) . . . . . .  3,786
TRIP LUKENS (REP). . . . . .3,700

In the Tredyffrin West 3rd District supervisor race, Heather Greenberg (R) beat Yolanda Van de Krol (D) by 27 votes and will take the vacated seat of John Buenaventura (R) who did not seek reelection. The results are as follows:

DISTRICT SUPERVISOR 3RD DISTRICT TREDYFFRIN 3RD DISTRICT
YOLANDA VAN DE KROL (DEM) . . . . .  1,186
HEATHER BOYD GREENBERG (REP) . 1,213

Paul Olson (R) retains his seat as Tredyffrin East 1st District supervisor against challenger Tory Snyder (D). This was the second match-up for these two candidates. Four years ago in a close race, Snyder lost by 13 votes to Olson. In the 2015 race, 20 votes separated the two candidates. Olson is the longest serving supervisor in Tredyffrin Township history with more than thirty years of service. The results are as follows:

DISTRICT SUPERVISOR 1ST DISTRICT TREDYFFRIN 1ST DISTRICT
TORY SNYDER (DEM). . . . . . . . 1,233
PAUL W OLSON (REP) . . . . . . . 1,253

On the TE School Board, there were five school board seats available, four from Tredyffrin and one from Easttown.. In the Easttown Region III race, Kate Murphy (R) will fill the seat of Peter Motel (R) who did not seek reelection. The results are as follows:

SCHOOL DIRECTOR TREDYFFRIN EASTTOWN REGION III
FRANCIS M REARDON (DEM). .  829
KATE MURPHY (REP). . . . . . . . 1,420

Democratic candidates Roberta Hotinski and Todd Kantorczyk won the two seats in the Tredyffrin Region 1 race. The results are as follows:

SCHOOL DIRECTOR TREDYFFRIN EASTTOWN REGION I
ROBERTA M HOTINSKI (DEM) . 1,394
TODD KANTORCZYK (DEM) . . . 1,378
NEAL COLLIGAN (REP) . . . . . . . 1,287
NEILL C KLING (REP) . . . . . . .    1,269

The one incumbent TE School Board director Kris Graham (R) finished in last place in the Tredyffrin Region II race. Turnout was high in the precincts close to Valley Forge Middle School so it appears that fencing was an important issue to voters. Stressing transparency and public engagement during the campaign, Michele Burger (D) and Ed Sweeney (R) were the top vote recipients. The race results were as follows:

SCHOOL DIRECTOR TREDYFFRIN EASTTOWN REGION II
MICHELE BURGER (DEM). . . .  2,527
ALAN YOCKEY (DEM). . . . . . . . 2,189
EDWARD C SWEENEY (REP) . 2,310
KRIS GRAHAM (REP). . . . . . . .  2,055

Thank you to all candidates for your time, energy and willingness to serve as township supervisors and school district directors. Congratulations to those candidates who won and we look forward to your service to the community.

All results are from the Chester County Voter Services website.

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Easttown Township School Board Candidates for TE School Board, Kate Murphy and Francis Reardon, respond

TE School Board Candidates for Easttown Township, Region 3
Kate Murphy
Francis Reardon

The TE School Board candidates were asked to answer the following question in 500 words or less.

Although there are many important issues facing the TE School District, what one issue will you focus on should you be elected?  As a school board director, what in your background, experience or education prepares you to help with this specific issue.

The two candidate responses follow below in alphabetical order according to last name.  If your question and/or comment is for a specific candidate, please refer to that individual by name so as not to confuse. Voters will select one of these candidates in November for the school board.

TE School Board Candidate Kate Murphy
Easttown Township – Region 3

The School Board’s central challenge is sustainably delivering a high quality product at a reasonable cost. In addition to benefiting our children, excellent schools keep our community healthy by attracting and keeping families, companies seeking the best employees, and businesses to serve this robust community.

Part of what makes our schools effective in their educational mission as well as being a productive part of our community is their efficiency.  Productive schools, like productive homes or businesses, do not run themselves. Our school board has a long tradition of affordably providing excellent results, and there is no more important work I could hope to do than to help continue that tradition.

An effective school board brings together a variety of perspectives from the community, with the hope that the consensus the board reaches advances the common good. My perspective is primarily a mother of three young children who are (or will soon be) in the district’s schools. My husband and I are both Conestoga graduates; between us, we are alumni of Valley Forge Elementary, Devon Elementary, Valley Forge Middle School, T/E Middle School, and Conestoga. After living in all different parts of the country for twelve years after graduating from Conestoga, we returned to T/E (first daughter in tow) eight years ago to raise our children here, in large part because of the schools. Because the schools here mean so much to my family, we want to give back. Growing up, my parents were constantly active in public service in this community, and they instilled in me a passion for service as well.

There is a strong core of leadership and teachers in the district. I plan to put my full energy and enthusiasm into the job of helping them excel and providing them with guidance from the community. I am committed to learning about the challenges facing the district, and believe it is important not to rush to judgement. There is usually more than meets the eye to any difficult problem.

One “issue” in particular that concerns me is sustainability. Every day, the district leadership is bombarded with new and important demands. Because of my perspective as a parent of young children and a lifelong resident, I would hope to keep an eye on where we will be in five, ten, or twenty years. By planning not only for tomorrow, but also for the long term, we can responsibly provide the next generation with at least as many opportunities as we had.

My professional background – a degree from Cornell University in communications and experience in marketing and public relations for some of the world’s largest law firms – colors my perspective as well. A thorough yet organized flow of information among all the relevant stakeholders – students, parents, residents, administrators, teachers, businesses, and so on – is certainly vital for an effective board.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment, Pattye, and thank you and everyone else who gets involved in our collective mission to keep T/E a wonderful place to live.

TE School Board Candidate Francis Reardon
Easttown Township – Region 3

My name is Francis Reardon, and I live in Easttown Township.  As a candidate for School Board Director the one issue that caught my attention was the plan to privatize and subcontract out the employment of our current teacher aides, substitute teachers, and para-educators.  The stated reason given by the School Board was that the school district could not afford to provide this group of employees, who average about $20,000.00 per year in pay, with health insurance.  We were presented with cost numbers picked from close to the top end of the insurance cost scale which seemed to have no relation to the employees in this group. This process played out over a two year period and the final decisions were worked out in private sessions without knowledge of or input from the taxpaying public of TESD.  During this process it was astounding to see how money is spent and justified by the school board.  They seemed to have forgotten the value of the dollar.

In my personal life, after high school I spent two years in the United States Army Infantry.  Soon after the Service I attended Temple University, receiving a Bachelors of Science Degree in Education.  I was a substitute teacher in the Philadelphia School system and then taught at a high school in Chester County. I soon discovered that I was better suited for a different career.  I started working in construction in 1973 and retired in 2006.  For thirty of those years I had my own construction business and was very fortunate to be doing business in Chester County during that whole time period.  In 1980 my wife and I moved to our present home and raised our six children here where they attended St Norbert School, Archbishop Carroll High School and Conestoga High School. My family has been blessed with the opportunities provided both by our community and Conestoga High School.

Our school employees should have the same opportunities.  Together with common sense decisions we need to show common decency in how we treat our school district employees.  I think we have failed our teacher aides, substitute teachers and para-educators. All groups of school district employees should be treated the same and the school board can correct this situation.

In the future the school district will have to continue to make many important decisions in the area of personnel.  Beside salaries, the pension and benefits have to be structured to work long term.  We cannot promise everyone long term benefits and fail to fund it short term. We have created a situation where one group of employees works to protect their interests to the detriment of other groups of employees in the school district.  I believe my past experiences have given me the background and common sense decision making skills to continue the excellence of the TE school district.  If given the opportunity I hope to serve the community and everyone involved with the school district as a director of the Tredyffrin Easttown School Board.

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TE School Board Candidates for Tredyffrin, Region 1 respond

TE School Board Candidates for Tredyffrin, Region 1:
Neal Colligan
Roberta Hotinski
Todd Kantorczyk
Neill Kling

The TE School Board candidates were asked to answer the following question in 500 words or less.

Although there are many important issues facing the TE School District, what one issue will you focus on should you be elected?  As a school board director, what in your background, experience or education prepares you to help with this specific issue.

The four candidate responses follow below in alphabetical order according to last name.  If your question and/or comment is for a specific candidate, please refer to that individual by name so as not to confuse. Voters will select two of these candidates in November for the school board.

TE School Board Candidate Neal Colligan
Tredyffrin, East – Region 1

In Pennsylvania, the State is mandated to provide education to our children.  Local municipalities are permitted some autonomy in operating educational franchises.  This autonomy is centered on fiscal management and meeting established minimum standards…districts that fail come under State control.  We achieve educational excellence in T/E for reasons schools succeed anywhere…engaged parents who value education, experienced professionals in the education function and a socio-economic demographic that promotes physical and mental health.  T/E will continue to excel educationally because you (and I) will accept nothing less.

In selecting SB members, we should understand the power we give them. The Position we’re discussing regards the management of the local educational operation; largely relegated to business/organizational decisions and setting a local tax rate.  Educational excellence is the over-riding mission but THIS JOB is very specific.  The inalienable right of the SB Member is to levy taxes…that affects every household and business in our community…THIS JOB is to assure the money is spent wisely.   To “keep our schools great” or “make education better”, one should seek a position in the Education Department…curriculum is State mandated.  To change the State’s funding of PSERs, the election venue would be State Representative.  No person in this race is running for teacher, coach, administrator or good parent…those jobs feature direct contact with students.

I’ve been a Tredyffrin citizen for 20 years, attending School Board meetings for 5 years.  From the “EIT Study” until today, I continue to educate myself on the operation of our District. I became an activist, speaking out was necessary.  I’ve written in The Suburban many times regarding T/ESD finances, worked with a group of para’s/aides (at their request) to prevent their outsourcing, compelled the Board to release documents in the PA Open Records Office case Colligan vs T/E School District and continue to speak out on District issues that impact the community.  I’ve worked with some great people…R’s and D’s and I’s.  You can read about the positions I’ve advocated by searching this site.  I am who I am and will continue to be…that’s my BIG promise.

The job is straight-forward. Deliver excellent education while operating efficiently….that’s what you deserve.  Basics:  be honest with the community in financial matters, welcome community input, adhere to established rules regarding transparency, focus on long-term viability of the system and be a good community citizen.  Follow that path and the T/ESB won’t be constantly locking-horns with the public….TEMS fence…$5 MM garage…deficit budget/maximum tax increase/annual surplus cycle…outsourcing paras/aides…secret meetings that s/b public…shouting down community members…ALL can be in the past.

The attitude of “we know better”…”the community doesn’t need to know”…”they’re OUR schools” needs to change…THAT’s the #1 issue.  I’m (uniquely???) qualified for THIS position…my accounting degree and MBA provide the education necessary for the task, years of educating myself prepare me for the position and I’m not too full-of-myself. My record is easy to access…watch the last/any video of a SB meeting, search here if inclined.  Know the candidates: prepared?…share your values?…have leadership qualities?  Change is coming…  Thanks for listening.

TE School Board Candidate Roberta Hotinski
Tredyffrin, East – Region 1

As a geoscientist with a Ph.D. from Penn State who has spent the last 12 years working at Princeton University, I have spent most of my career in environments of educational excellence.    After working in research, I moved into science management and communication, gaining extensive experience in project coordination and outreach to the public, including teacher professional development.   I am currently the project manager for a $3.5 million/year ocean research initiative at Princeton (http://soccom.princeton.edu), which has given me additional experience in budgeting and consensus building among stakeholders.

As a scientist and parent with children in T/E, the single most important issue for me is preserving the quality of education that has made our district and our community so successful.   If elected, I will work to guarantee that:

1. Spending is focused on students.
Recently the Board has committed to significant expenditures for capital projects that were not adequately justified to the community, including issuing $24 million in bonds for future projects and approving a $4.5 million facilities building. Funding decent and safe school buildings is important to the education program, but I would push to provide details on design and costs long before the meeting where a final vote is held.  In addition, with over $30 million in our reserve fund I believe the Board should set a formal target for an adequate fund balance and develop strategies to limit the fund’s growth, such as committing surpluses to the following year’s operating expenses or increasing contributions to capital projects.

2. Our district is providing a competitive 21st century education.
I am concerned about the impacts of high stakes testing and would propose an internal review of how much time (and thus money) is being devoted to preparing for PSSA’s and Keystone Exams, plus the costs of remediation.   I would also propose actively soliciting input from parents, teachers, and administrators on how current curricula and services are working for our students.  As a particular area of interest, I would advocate strengthening partnerships with local universities and businesses to enhance STEM initiatives, including internships and after-school or summer programs.

3) Community members are active partners in improving our district.
I am committed to transparency and accountability, improved communication with the public, and mining community talent to help improve our schools.  Specifically, I advocate
–  Increasing two-way interaction at Board meetings, providing a mechanism for the public to ask questions between meetings, and publishing answers to public questions online
–  Utilizing the expertise of our community members by creating citizen task forces or committees on complex issues

Residents of T/E deserve to feel confident that their tax dollars are being used wisely to provide a first-class education for every child in T/E.  I believe my background and professional experience have prepared me well to safeguard the interests of both students and taxpayers, and I hope voters will agree.   I am happy to answer questions and can be reached at hotinski@hotmail.com or (484) 320-7470.

TE School Board Candidate Todd Kantorczyk
Tredyffrin, East – Region 1

My name is Todd Kantorczyk, and I’m a candidate for Region 1 T/E School Board Director.  Serving on the board of a successful public school district like T/E requires directors to devote attention to a wide array of issues, many of which arise or shift significantly over the course of a school year.  Accordingly, choosing a single issue above all others would not be an accurate reflection of how I intend to approach my responsibilities as a school board director if elected.  With that said, I do believe a critical issue that will require much of my focus is ensuring that our district continues to provide a high quality education in an environment that demands consistent and transparent application of sound fiscal principles.

By all objective measures, we have excellent public schools.  Our schools provide a wide array of benefits, all of which maintain our home values and help define us as an outstanding community where people want to move and live.

But it will be a challenge to maintain this excellence looking at the financial pressures facing the district.  For example, the district will face almost $44 million in pension obligations over the next five years plus increases in unfunded mandates such as high stakes testing.  At the same time, the primary sources of revenue for the district are taxes from residents and businesses, and recently the current board has asked the community to shoulder additional tax burdens.  Accordingly, it is critical to ensure that: (1) funds are being managed in a fiscally responsible manner that adequately supports our excellent educational programs; and (2) requests for additional tax revenues are scrutinized and minimized.

My background and experience demonstrate that I am up for this task.  For example:

  • As the father of three current students in our district, I have a good sense of the issues schools face “on the ground” and the resources necessary for the district to deliver a high quality education;
  • As an environmental attorney, I find innovative solutions to complex issues, including land use and development matters, through input and buy-in from wide groups of stakeholders;
  • As a partner at a law firm, I understand the financial principles employed by Fortune 100 companies and small businesses; and
  • As the child of a former school board president, I appreciate the important role that committed local leaders can play in making sure that public schools deliver for our children and the entire community.

Finally, I feel strongly that our neighbors can provide valuable input on this and many other issues.  To that end, I would like to explore ways to increase public engagement and board transparency, including revising the procedure for interaction at monthly board and committee meetings.  Moreover, I hope to advocate for more local control of our schools so that our community, rather than Harrisburg or Washington, can decide how to focus our educational resources.

For additional questions, please contact me at toddfortesd@gmail.com or 484.832.8888.  Thank you.

TE School Board Candidate Neill Kling
Tredyffrin, East – Region 1

I welcome the opportunity to speak to what I believe is the most pressing issue facing the T/E School Board:  how to transition from the strong leadership of Dr. Waters and work with incoming Superintendent Gusick to keep our school district the best that it can be without overspending taxpayer money.  This will require cooperation and foresight, and it should be undertaken by those with the humility to listen, the energy to think about where the district needs to be several years from now, and the courage to take steps now to make that possible future a reality.

The question is, will the Board sit back and let administrators decide most everything, merely providing a rubber stamp for their plans on the theory that educators know best what they need?  Or will the board members be proactive, strategic and constructively critical partners, offering their own unique insights and always listening keenly to the parents and the taxpayers with the understanding that we all have to live with the consequences whether we use the schools or not?  To my mind, the answer must be “no” to the former and “yes” to the latter.  There are a great many things that educators are uniquely equipped to handle – e.g. the curriculum and the quality of the hired teachers – but there are many other areas in which the citizens and their representatives must have significant input – e.g. salaries and benefits, administrator to teacher ratio, how much we should provide for facilities and safety, and how all of that that impacts the taxpayers and the quality of life in the surrounding community.  It appears that the District has managed the education side quite well, but there is always room for improvement on the other issues, along with earning the confidence of the citizens that their voices are being heard throughout.

What qualifies me to join the team of school directors in what promises to be a new era is the insight that comes from working cooperatively to manage a business enterprise.  I am a graduate of Lafayette College and the Law School of the University of Pennsylvania.  My day job is as a commercial litigator in Philadelphia with the law firm Harkins Cunningham LLP where I have spent 23 years representing companies large and small in lawsuits involving state and federal law.  But I don’t just practice law, I also help manage my firm.  I know what it means to meet a payroll, to lease real estate, to manage mostly wonderful and occasionally not-so-wonderful employees, and to do so in an environment that requires the consensus of a small group of very dedicated, intelligent people who are not afraid to speak their minds.  I also understand neighborhood concerns about the aesthetic health of our community, having served on the Tredyffrin Zoning Hearing Board since 2007.  I hope to continue my service by helping to set the future course for a school district that I have called home for over twenty years and to which I have and will entrust the secondary education of two of my children.  I will be honored to have your vote to enable me to do so.

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Republican T/E School Board candidate George Anderson has withdrawn from the race

Republican school board candidate Dr. George Anderson has withdrawn from the T/E School Board race, providing the following statement:

Dear Pattye,

I have just been informed of a travel schedule which will not allow me to campaign for much of the election season, therefore it is with regret I must announce my withdrawal from the TE School Board race. TE deserves a school board which operates for the citizens in an open and transparent manner. I am hopeful that goal can be achieved.

Sincerely;

George E. Anderson III, PhD

Neill Kling, Chair of the Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee, stated in an email that the “TTRC does expect to replace George on the ballot for Region 1 and we are working through that process.”

There are two seats available for the T/E School Board, Tredyffrin-Region 1 in the upcoming election.  With the withdrawal of George Anderson, currently three candidates remain on the ballot – Roberta Hotinski (D), Todd Kantorczyk (D) and Neal Colligan (R).  According to Chester County Voter Services, August 10 is the last day for candidates to withdraw from the election. August 20 is the last date to file substituted nomination certificates to fill vacancies caused by the withdrawal of candidates nominated at the primary election or by nomination papers.

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Depression, alcoholism and drug addiction … “Saving lives is the Answer”

IDrug addictionn June, I learned that a local 20-something year old CHS graduate had committed suicide. Although I did not know the young man personally, I was told that he suffered from depression, drug addiction and was on probation through the courts.  Having attended the funeral of his friend, another young man, himself a Conestoga graduate, sent me an email.

Overcome with grief over losing his close friend from high school, and looking for answers, his email read in part,

I’ve been struggling with addiction for 5 years now. I know that people need to get it on their own, but I mean trying to educate them before this happens.  If I saw a fellow peer talk about how he/she just started out experimenting with drugs and eventually led to what it led to for me who knows what I would have done differently.

The problem is hard drugs have been normalized in the high school and almost glorified because they don’t see what happens when they are a little older and all of their friends are dying.

We have 15-year-old girls in Conestoga that are shooting heroin! It’s absolute insanity. Something needs to be done; we just lost ANOTHER graduate, one of my best friends, 3 days ago to this stuff.

The young man who sent me this email told me that had sent an email to the T/E School Board asking for their help with the drug problem in the schools.

Last year, Chester County officials released the statistics report on fatal heroin overdoses in the county.  Since 1999, the overdose death rate in Chester County has doubled with 24 overdose deaths in 2013, with victims ranging from 21 to 79 years old.  Fourteen were men and 10 were women. The report indicated that 18 of the fatal overdoses or approximately seventy-five percent, both heroin and prescription drugs were involved.

When the statistics were released, Chester County DA Tom Hogan stated, “One clear trend from these statistics is that prescription drug abuse is a gateway to a heroin overdose. Heroin does not discriminate.  It is a deadly drug that is abused by young and old, poor and rich, white and black.  Nobody is safe. There are students in every high school in Chester County who are using heroin, from Conestoga to Coatesville, from Unionville to Oxford.”

In 2014, we learned of the arrest of 11 people involved in the ‘Main Line Take Over Project’, a drug trafficking ring.  Two Haverford School graduates were the drug operation kingpins and hired students at main line high schools, including Conestoga, Radnor and Lower Merion as their drug peddlers. Every child is at risk.  According to experts, those with risk factors, such as a family history of mental illness or addiction, have a greater chance of becoming addicted.

Alcoholism and drug addiction is a disease. People are suffering from this disease and dying from this disease every day. We really can’t do anything as a society to help those people until we start talking about it.

I received the following statement from T/E School Board Director Liz Mercogliano with a request to add it to Community Matters:

Rescue for Overdose

My name is Liz Mercogliano. I serve as a current T/E school board director. I also have practiced psychiatric nursing since 1984.  I am a practicing Realtor and lawyer.

I wanted to share the facts on overdose and/or harm to self or suicide. At T/E, I support giving our students mental and emotional support. Every year we lose a child to suicide or overdose. Overdose can happen in a second with prescription, legal and illegal drugs.

Many students and families are not familiar with the signs and symptoms of psychiatric disease or the fact that everyone has different levels of depressions throughout their lives. As a result, there are accidental overdoses as well as serious unidentified clinical depressions that may lead to suicide.

Please realize depression is treatable and many overdose accidents result in life changing events for the individual. The right thing to do is to help those who need our help. This help includes identifying persons at risk and offering professional help. This is not a small matter in our community. When it happens to you or a loved one, find help.  In my mind, EMTs and the ability to reverse the overdose will make our community a better place.

Saving lives is the answer. Provide mental and emotional support all the sick whether it is a traditional medical disease or drug or alcohol disease.

Sincerely,

Liz Mercogliano, RN, Esquire
T/E School Board Director

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Tredyffrin Township Democrats attack Republican School Board Candidate George Anderson for extremist views on Facebook

Republicans-vs-DemocratsWith Election Day 2015 still four months in the future, the Tredyffrin Township Democrats are not letting the “dog days of summer” keep them from going after one of the Republican TE School Board candidates, Dr. George Anderson. With a headline reading “Extremist Views Espoused by TE School Board Candidate”, an email blast was sent to the TTDEMS mailing list and the article posted on their website. The use of graphics and commentary from Dr. Anderson’s personal Facebook page provide the proof of the TTDEMS accusations (see below).

The individual responsible for the TTDEMS email and the website entry is TE School Board candidate, Democrat Alan Yockey, but I am told that the other three Democratic school board candidates support his actions.

Yockey (D) is a candidate for Tredyffrin Region 2 whereas Anderson (R) is a candidate for Tredyffrin Region 1. Although Yockey and Anderson are not seeking the same TE School Board seat, it was interesting to note that Yockey used a entry from Anderson’s Facebook page, which also included a photo of Republican Ed Sweeney. Sweeney is a school board candidate for Tredyffrin Region 2, the same seat for which Yockey seeks office. It’s unclear whether Yockey’s inclusion of Sweeney’s photo from Anderson’s Facebook page was an oversight or calculated to discredit this school board candidate by association.

Politicians and political parties are in the era of Internet campaigning. Creating a social media strategy for use during political campaigns has quickly become an essential part of every candidate’s plan to get into office. Today’s example by the Tredyffrin Democrats shows that the use of social media is a two-edged sword. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. are all useful tools to help win an election but as Anderson (and possibly Ed Sweeney) learned today, can also be the secret weapon in local politics.

School Board candidate George Anderson and Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee Chair Neill Kling both provided responses to the posting by the Tredyffrin Democrats (see statements below).  The Chair of the Tredyffrin Township Democrats, Kathleen Keohane, was contacted and should she provide a statement, it will be added to this post.

The calendar may say July, but it looks like this could be a very long campaign season for local voters.  And the battle begins …

From the Tredyffrin Township Democrats email and posting (To read, click on the graphics or go to their website, www.ttdems.com)

TTDEMS

TTDEMS 1 TTDEMS 2

In response to the Tredyffrin Township Democrats posting, School Board candidate Dr. George Anderson provides the following:

In response to carefully excerpted selections from my personal Facebook page being put up by the Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee I plead guilty… I am guilty of believing those holding political office should not use governmental power to promote their personal political agenda, (as America witnessed in the recent use of the White House as a screen for the Rainbow Flag). I am guilty of believing in every American should have the ability to defend themselves and their families by exercising their Second Amendment Rights. I am guilty of believing Darwin’s explanation of how life developed on our planet was incomplete and is unsupported by science as it developed over the last 150 years. I am guilty of believing drug addiction is a horrible affliction and having the threat of imminent death may reduce the number of those who take the chance for a thrill. I am guilty of believing, there has been no global warming for the last 10 years and the continued calls for more draconian regulations are more about governmental control than they are about saving the planet. If basing my opinions upon the American Constitution and the existing science is extremist, then I am most certainly guilty.  (I have little doubt the next email from the Tredyffrin Democrats will headline … “Extremist Candidate admits Guilt”)

The level of effort which went into this email is interesting. I do post many political items on my personal page, and they are generally opposed to the policies of this administration but it also includes photos of my new Koi pond, photos of my birds and pictures of Bulldog puppies. One is forced to ask; why has someone put in so much effort, going through thousands of posts, to slandering me? Is it because on my official Facebook page (Dr. George Anderson for TE School Board), I expressed the radical concept that “We owe our children the best education we can provide. We owe it to our citizens to achieve that goal in the most transparent and frugal way possible.”  or perhaps it was the extremist concept that members of the School Board work for the citizens of the TE school district and should be available to them.

It is an old saying “If you cannot attack their ideas, attack them personally.”  With, personal attacks this early in the election cycle, one is forced to ask, who or what is the Democratic machine trying to protect?

Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee Chair Neill Kling provides the following statement in response to the Tredyffrin Democrats posting:

Dear Pattye:
I understand that the Tredyffrin Democrats (in the person of Region 2 School Board candidate Alan Yockey) have sent out an e-mail attacking Region 1 School Board candidate George Anderson as an “extremist” based on material that he has re-posted on his personal facebook page. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to respond.  

This is a tactic that the TT Democrats used in the last local election to foment opposition to our Republican school board members and candidates. It seeks to demonize certain of our neighbors who put themselves up for election and divide our electorate rather than bring us together to address the challenges that our school district faces.  I’m sure that we Republicans could find material against our Democratic opponents that would perhaps paint them in a way that some of our electorate would consider extreme.  But these are our neighbors, this is not the campaign that we Republicans choose to run, and we will not respond in kind.  Such tactics do not produce a healthy environment for school board (or any other) governance going forward.

Our school board candidates, while certainly all good Republicans, are individuals with many perspectives and  talents who bring their personal opinions to specific issues (issues we hope to engage fully in the Fall campaign) while focusing generally on the core principal of good stewardship — of our children’s education and safety, of our hard-earned tax dollars, of our invaluable school employees, and of our school facilities.  School Board is an unpaid, difficult, often thankless job and each of our neighbors who has served and has stepped forward to ask for your vote this November (Republican and Democrat) deserve our respect.

I also understand that Mr. Anderson has sent you a response to Mr. Yockey’s post.  For my part, I know Mr. Anderson as a devoted father and husband, as a former student of the T/E Schools, as an educator at Valley Forge Military Academy who is also tasked by that institution to bring diversity to its ranks, and as a person with a strong background in finance.   Mr. Anderson has told me that he welcomes any discussion about his views and he will be walking the neighborhoods this Summer (as will all of our candidates) so that our neighbors can get to meet him and engage him in conversation.  I hope that all take the opportunity to do so.

Thanks again for your courtesy,

Neill Kling
TTRC Chairman

Since this Community Matters post went up yesterday, the graphic from George Anderson’s Facebook page which included Ed Sweeney’s photo was removed from the TTDEMS website and replaced with a different graphic.

Kathleen Keohane, Chair of the Tredyffrin Township Democrats provided the following statement in response to school board candidate George Anderson and Tredyffrin Republican Committee Chair Neill Kling:

Hi Pattye,

I appreciate your bringing this troubling issue to light. I disagree strongly with Neill Kling’s characterization of the TTDEMS’ webpage post and email to our subscribers. They cannot be reduced to “a politically motivated attack” on a private person who reposts what some may find offensive material on his Facebook page.

On July 8, George Anderson stepped way over the line when he wrote, “I personally believe it should be against the law to revive someone who has a drug overdose. Letting them kill themselves would thin the herd.”

Understandably, our candidates expressed disbelief and revulsion that a person holding this view could be in the position to make decisions about the welfare of our District’s children.

No one disputes George Anderson’s right to express whatever views he may hold. But there are consequences to doing so. I believe every Tredyffrin voter needs to take a careful look at each of the candidates running for local office. Yes, they are our neighbors, and we appreciate their willingness to step forward to make a difference in our community. But who are they, and what do they stand for?

We are less than a month into the lazy days of summer, and I know that few people are focused on the fall election right now. From a political standpoint, our party’s decision to take a stand against George Anderson on July 11 was hardly strategic.

It simply had to be taken. His heartless belief that it should be a crime to administer life-saving medicine to a dying addict, along with some of his other extreme views need to be known. I feel certain that the reasonable, caring, well-informed people who live in our community will reject them.

Best regards,

Kathleen Keohane
Chair, TTDEMS

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Message from Chesterbrook resident Doug Anestad, “Stop the TE School Board!”

No FencingThe fencing situation at Valley Forge Middle School remains in a word – unsettled. Many Chesterbrook residents showed up for the Facilities Committee meeting on Friday with the hope that the matter would finally be resolved. Although there has been some progress including no fencing directly behind the Green Hills homes and no fencing through the woods, open issues remain.

The compromise for the fencing on Rt. 252/Valley Forge Road (next to Valley Forge Middle School) is for a white vinyl rail-type fence rather than the 4 ft. chain link fencing installed at the District’s other schools. The pricing for the vinyl rail fencing is not known; however, the discussion is for Chesterbrook residents to pay fifty percent of any additional costs.Because less fencing will be required at VFMS, perhaps any additional costs for the vinyl rail type fencing could be absorbed by the District.

Although the proposed decorative vinyl rail fencing is aesthetically more appealing than chain link fencing, it really does beg the question (again) … why the fences?  Clearly, a rail fence (even more so than a chain link fence) has no safety value and only serves to mark the boundaries of the school. Surely, the school board cannot use the District’s safety study as the rationale for vinyl rail fencing.

The frustration among Chesterbrook residents regarding the fencing continues to rise; much like a hamster wheel, the conversation just keeps going in circles.  Green Hills homeowner Doug Anestad is no longer standing on the sidelines in the discussion but has become proactive in his pursuit of change. A former math teacher in Philadelphia, he has more than a passing understanding of school safety.  A parent with two children in the District, Anestad supports maintaining quality education but believes that the District’s spending is out of control. Printing and mailing postcards to 4,000, Anestad is taking his vision for reform in the school district to the residents.

In his message for change, Anestad is asking residents to contact the school board and voice their concerns.  Direct in his approach, Anestad appeals to District 2 voters not to support current school board president Kris Graham’s bid for reelection and further suggests voting for Ed Sweeney (R) and Michelle Burger (D) on Primary Election Day, Tuesday, May19. I give Doug Anestad a lot of credit – engaged and direct, he’s not standing on the sidelines!  Let’s see if his plan works.

Anestad provided the following response when asked about the impetus for the postcard. (Front and back images of the postcard are at the end of the post). 

From Doug Anestad:

I want to let people know some of the background of the postcards that went out this past Saturday, May 16th and the history behind them.

For the past couple of months, I have been involved with conversations surrounding the fencing project for Valley Forge Middle School, T/E Middle School, and Conestoga High School. The community around Valley Forge Middle School was unaware of the fencing project until Tredyffrin Township notified neighbors next to Valley Forge Middle School at the beginning of this year that the T/E school district was planning for construction that might impact them.

What the community discovered was a fencing project for the three above-mentioned schools that would have fences around the sides and back of all three schools for a cost of around $237,000. One of my children is a student at Valley Forge Middle School and another at Conestoga High School. I taught for a decade in the School District of Philadelphia before going back into industry and I can attest to the harm done to the atmosphere of a school and the ineffectiveness of fences as a safety measure for children due to the nature of schools. There are some cases such as steering students away from dangerous areas and in elementary schools where fences are necessary, but in general, less is more.

For anyone who falsely believes that the fences around the middle schools or high school might improve safety for our students, you should know that the side fences would only be 4’ high and there would be no fence along the front of the buildings. All someone would have to do is to simply hop over the fence or walk around to the front. Basically, what this means is that we are changing the atmosphere for our inviting and beautiful schools to be more prison like with no improvement to safety.

To add insult to injury, the T/E school district is currently running a projected $5,268,067 deficit for next year – yes over five million dollars! They will make up most of that with a tax increase of over $3,630,000. Even after raising our taxes by over three million dollars, they will still be over $1,600,000 short.

The fencing project isn’t the only place where the school district is spending money it doesn’t need to right now. They are also working on a new maintenance and storage building that was originally projected to be around $2 million. The cost overruns have now brought it up to $4 million. At some point, shouldn’t they reconsider? In addition, they are adding expensive positions to the T/E administrative team. When you are running a $5 million deficit, is now really a good time to be growing the administrative overhead?

For the reasons above, I wanted to make sure that the community better understood some of the T/E school board issues before the primary elections this coming Tuesday, May 19th. My hope is that I may have accomplished that to some small degree.

Front of postcard:

Stop Spending pg 1

Back of postcard:

Stop Spending pg 2

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US News releases ‘Best High Schools in America’ list but where’s Conestoga High School?

Conestoga High SchoolEach year the US News and World Report releases ‘Best High Schools in America’ list of the top 500 public high school in America.  More than 21,000 public high schools in 50 states and the District of Columbia. Schools were awarded gold, silver or bronze medals based on their performance on state assessments and how well they prepare students for college.

Anxious to see how our award-winning high school compared with others based on the 2015 US News ranking criteria, I was very disappointed.  When I searched for Conestoga High School on the US News website, instead of a ranking number, I found the following for our high school:

  • Medal Awarded: None
  • National Rank: Unranked

Why is Conestoga High School not on the Best High Schools in America list?  

For several years, I have reported on the US News rankings and Conestoga’s standing in the state and nationally.  In 2012, Conestoga was ranked #3 in Pennsylvania and #279 nationally.  For 2013, Conestoga  was ranked #5 in Pennsylvania and #313 nationally and for 2014, Conestoga was ranked #5 in Pennsylvania and #341 nationally.  Radnor, Great Valley, Lower Merion, Unionville Chadds Ford high schools are all on US News 2015 ranking list for the state and nationally – so what happened to Conestoga High School?

US News standings of the top 10 high schools nationally:

  1. School for the Talented and Gifted (Dallas, TX)
  2. BASIS Scottsdale (Scottsdale, AZ)
  3. Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology (Alexandria, VA)
  4. Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science & Technology (Lawrenceville, GA)
  5. School of Science & Engineering Magnet (Dallas, TX)
  6. Carnegie Vanguard High School (Houston, TX)
  7. Academic Magnet High School (North Charleston, SC)
  8. University High School (Tolleson, AZ)
  9. Lamar Academy (McAllen, TX)
  10. Gilbert Classical Academy High School (Gilbert, AZ)

US News standings of the top 10 high schools in Pennsylvania:

  1. Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School (Philadelphia)
  2. New Hope-Solebury High School (New Hope)
  3. Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy (Erie)
  4. Upper St. Clair High School (Pittsburgh)
  5. Radnor High School (Radnor)
  6. Quaker Valley High School (Leetsdale)
  7. Great Valley High School (Malvern)
  8. Unionville High School (Kennett Square)
  9. Strath Haven High School (Wallingford)
  10. Mt. Lebanon High School (Pittsburgh)

There has been much discussion, including on Community Matters, in regards to the quality of our T/E school district.  Repeatedly, people have affirmed that the quality of our school district is helping to sustain our property values.  If that is correct, why shouldn’t TESD taxpayers expect the same ‘bragging rights’ as the other school districts?

Not that this answer will be OK for some of the District’s parents, but I think I know why Conestoga High School is not on US News Best High Schools in America list.  Similar to US News rankings, Newsweek does an annual ranking of the top 500 public high schools in America.  When Newsweek released their 2011 rankings Conestoga High School was not listed. As a result of questions on this topic, the District released a statement regarding Newsweek’s 2011 rankings, which read in part:

For the T/E community members who follow Newsweek magazine’s annual America’s Best High Schools story, you are aware that Conestoga High School (CHS) has been included in the list for the past several years, yet was absent from the list this year. Since the criteria Newsweek uses to determine rankings did not significantly change, we inquired about our status. We learned that Newsweek changed the way in which they collect data about high schools. Newsweek responded that they sent an email earlier in the year to all secondary schools requesting information. According to Newsweek, the email was sent to a CHS counselor. The counselor, however, reported that the email was not received. We subsequently sent our data to Newsweek, and were informed by the Newsweek staff that CHS would have ranked competitively based upon our students’ performance and Newsweek’s calculations.

In 2011, the local community was assured that the error would be corrected and that T/E would participate in the Newsweek high school survey going forward.  T/E has award-winning schools so there’s little doubt that Conestoga High School should have been on the 2015 rankings of best high schools.  So, I’m left wondering if the same thing happened four years later – was the District’s clerical error of 2011 repeated in 2015 and that US News did not receive the required ranking materials from TE School District?

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