TEEA Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association

The Results Are In … Two-Thirds Majority (67%) of T/E Parents Commit to Full In-Person Learning!

TESD parents were asked to select full in-person learning or 100% virtual instruction and submit the District’s form by March 3. As we learned at the special board meeting this week, the commitment was important to aid the District in the logistical details (such as classroom setup, bus routes, cafeteria/lunch arrangements, etc.).

The results from the parent’s commitment form are in and posted on the District’s website. Districtwide, the commitment is approximately two-thirds majority (67%) of parents are choosing full in-person learning and approximately one-third (33%) of parents are choosing virtual instruction.

The response to the District is clear — the majority of the parents want their children back in school full-time. Starting March 15, the schools will be open four days a week for instruction (Wednesday virtual only) with the hope for five days a week to follow. Once the schools reopen for full in-person learning the hybrid model will no longer exist although students can remain completely virtual.

T/E parents commitment to full in-person learning is shown in the graph below – Districtwide breakdown and also by individual school:

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Should Schools Fully Reopen in TESD? For 500 District Families, the Answer is Yes

As the one-year anniversary of school closing approaches, there remains much debate about their reopening. The issue of “when” and “how” to fully reopen the TESD schools is much discussed in the community.

There should be no argument on the many benefits of in-person schools – educational, developmental, emotional and mental health needs. Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine recently stated, “While it is impossible to eliminate the risk of disease transmission entirely within a school setting where community spread is present, recent studies have shown that when mitigation efforts, such as universal masking, physical distancing, and hand hygiene are followed, it may be safer for younger children, particularly elementary grade students, to return to in-person instruction.”

A group of 500 TESD families have come together to support in-person learning and to giving parents a choice. The virtual and hybrid models of learning are available in the District; the group is asking for a full in-person learning option.

The following letter from the group seeking full in-person learning was sent yesterday to the school board and administration. The thoughtful, well-written letter does not seek to pit parents against parents or parents against teachers — but instead makes the point that the District should meet the needs of all students and their parents.

The concerns and questions contained in the letter need to be addressed by the school board and the administration. The request for a meeting with Dr. Gusick regarding a full in-person opening plan will help the discussion move forward. Their request for a virtual school board meeting dedicated to discussing full in-person learning would be helpful to all parents and constituents in the TESD community.

Please take the time to read the letter below:

February 2, 2021

To: Dr. Richard Gusick, TESD School Board, and TESD Pandemic Team

CC: The Chester County Health Department

From: TESD Parents & Constituents for In-Person Learning

Re: Fully Open TESD Schools

We come to you as a group of nearly 500 (and growing) TESD families. We are moms, dads, psychologists, teachers, nurses, doctors, lawyers, and more. And we are bipartisan, mask-wearing, socially distant TE constituents who want our schools fully open now.

It has been nearly a year since our kids were sent home for 2 weeks in hopes of returning after Spring Break 2020. Since then, we have ridden the ups and downs with you, knowing the unprecedented nature of this experience. We did so willingly at first, but as we look back at the last 12 months and realize that most of our children have been in person, in school for 30 daysor less, we cannot remain silent any longer.

Our question today is: what is our plan? We are the parents of your students and the residents of your district – and yet we are completely in the dark.

Here is our request:

  1. A meeting with Dr. Gusick within the week with a few of our members to discuss a full, in person opening plan (we will be contacting you for this).
  2. A full, in person plan for the rest of the 2020-2021 that offers a choice for a) all in person or b) all virtual delivered publicly ASAP.
  3. A virtual school board meeting within two weeks focused solely on a full, in person plan.

We believe these requests are well within reason, as well as within our Right to Know civil privileges, especially should any information on a full opening plan already exist.

Here is what we know:

  • The PA’s Governor’s office said elementary students should return to as much in-person learning, as possible, by January 25, 2021.
  • The CDC has said that if a school and community’s safety measures are adequate, that there is a “preponderance of evidence” that schools can be more fully open.
  • The CCHD has said if evidence exists that community rates are lowering, schools may transition to a three-foot socially distanced model.
  • Data shows Chester County Covid rates are consistently dropping every week.
  • Evidence is being released nationwide showing that transmission rates in schools are nearly nil – including CHOP Policy Lab who have said children are safer in school.
  • Neighboring districts are successfully moving toward increased in-person instruction:
  • Upper Merion, Spring-Ford, Sounderton, Central Bucks, Upper Dublin, Council Rock, Pennridge, and Wissahickon school districts: back full-time for elementary, with a few back full-time for secondary (or voting to implement full time for secondary in the coming weeks).
  • Radnor: surveyed parents in preparation for next steps and applied for full time elementary approval from the CCHD.
  • Wallingford-Swarthmore: voting in the coming week on their full in person plan. o Private and parochial schools in Chester County: open at a three-foot distance since August 2020 with objective success

What we also know: That TESD parents have no idea if a full, in-person plan even exists for our students for the rest of the 2020-2021.

This is not because we have not asked. We have asked endlessly and in nearly every instance, our emails go ignored. When they aren’t ignored, we quickly realize we have all been delivered the same copy and paste email back, with the “Dear X” line simply changed to make the response appear personal.

We also know we are the only district to have not had a full opening plan on the agenda for our first 2021 school board meeting. Peers from our neighboring school districts were shocked to hear this. We were also made aware that neighboring school districts have been allowing parents to join board meetings by video, so they can ask their own questions. TE has only allowed us to email in our questions so they can maybe be read by one of your representatives.

Please make no mistake, our group comes to you optimistic and hopeful to work together. We believe in the safety measures TESD has already put into place: you have succeeded keeping kids safe in school and we acknowledge the hard work and logistics that come with that effort.

Our group also supports our teachers. Parents and teachers have been pitted against one another in our nation’s discourse on opening schools and must not allow that narrative to continue. TESD parents know teachers have been given an impossible job and yet, many of our teachers and principals have been telling us for months they want students back. As parents, we know it is our responsibility to do what is asked of us at home and in our community in order to keep teachers safe. We believe we have already shown you we can be trusted.

TESD can no longer be a “great district” simply because of its staff and students. It has to be great because of our School Board and administrator’s willingness to work authentically with parents. The breakdown between your relationship with us has never been more dire, but it can be repaired – you just have to communicate with us.

Quite simply, we must move forward. We can all agree that our children have collectively sacrificed enough – enough for us and for you. It is time we collectively stand up for them.

Thank you and we look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

TESD Parents & Constituents for In-Person Learning

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Surprise — T/E Reaches Tentative Early Bird 3-year Contract Agreement With Teachers — Didn’t Know Negotiations Were Underway

Who knew? Interesting that the public found out on Friday that our school district has worked out a tentative early bird contract with the teachers union – the current contract with TEEA runs to June 30, 2020. The public was not informed that negotiations were underway, let alone that they are complete and the school board will vote on the tentative three-year contract on Monday night (seven months before the existing contract ends).

Question for the school board, where’s the transparency? In the past, the public was at least notified that the contract negotiation process was underway. So who is representing the public at the negotiating table? Which school board directors? Or … is this another case where all roads lead back to the District’s business manager and he is our chief negotiator?

Just a few short weeks ago, leading up to Election Day, some school board candidates spoke of increasing public communication and transparency. Not sure that telling the public afterwards that you have an early bird teachers contract ready to be signed can be viewed as transparency.

With the school board voting on the tentative TEEA contract tomorrow night there is a small window for the public to review – thanks to Ray Clarke for the following analysis! Much appreciated!

A surprise on Friday evening along with the Agenda for Monday’s School Board meeting – a proposed new three year contract with the TEEA. In essence, base salaries will increase 1.5% every year, teachers below the top step will move up a step every year, and the District and employee contributions to benefits costs will remain the same.

This is a significant improvement for the TEEA over the last contract, which contained base salary increases of 0.5 to 1.0% and an increased employee contribution to healthcare premiums.

The district did not provide the contract or any underlying detail – teachers have to ratify the agreement before taxpayers can see it. However they provided a set of statistics:

– The agreement commits 65% of the Act 1 Index

– Individual annual salary increases range from 3.5% to 3.0% over the 3 years

– The net expense increase is about 1.7% of the total district budget

No surprise, it’s difficult to see how all these can be true, even with herculean assumptions about healthcare cost inflation, PSERS projections, retirements, distribution of teachers on the matrix, etc. Those with time on their hands can try to reconcile them (given that, per 2019/20 budget workshops, TEEA salaries were budgeted at ~$46 million, real estate tax revenue at ~$115 million and total expenditures ~$150 million. The Act 1 Index for 2020/21 is 2.6%.

If the Administration provided any detail or had earned any trust maybe we would not have to wrack our brains to figure this out. I wonder if the Board will ask any questions about a contract for one third of the expense base that seems to consume at least two thirds of an Index tax increase that is already the highest since the 2.9% in 2010/11? How will other expenses be contained to offset this?

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Standing on the sidelines changes nothing — TE School District aides and paras taking steps to unionize

collective bargainIt’s official, the aides and paraeducators of TE School District are taking the necessary steps to unionize. As announced by Supt. Dan Waters at last night’s Finance meeting, this group of employees is currently engaged in the process to join the collective bargaining unit TENIG (Tredyffrin Easttown Non-Instructional Group).

If you recall last spring, the District’s aides and paras came very close to having their jobs outsourced over the Federal government’s Affordable Care Act. Because of ACA compliance issues, it appeared that the District would be forced to either offer insurance or outsource the jobs of the aides and paras. At that time, the Board claimed that the District could not afford healthcare for these employees and could not risk the possible financial risks for ACA noncompliance. As a point of record, the TE School District is the only school district in the area that does not offer healthcare coverage for this group of employees.

Unfortunately, without the benefit of a collective bargaining organization there was little that the aides and paras could do to fight back against the proposed outsourcing of their jobs. In the end, the Federal government pushed off the required ACA compliance for another year. As a result, the School Board granted the District aides and paras a reprieve for the 2013/14 school year; their jobs and hours remaining intact for one more year.

As the current school year ends, what has changed for the District aides and paras during the last twelve months – are they any better off than they were a year ago? Based on their moving forward with plans to collective bargain, my guess is the answer to that question is ‘no’ – nothing has changed.

Without job security and healthcare benefits, the aides and paras are now seeking protection of their jobs and collective bargaining representation for their own jobs and for the jobs of those that will come after them. They seek fairness and consistency in employment policies and personnel decision, job security and protection of employee rights.

The community respects the passion and commitment of the aides and paraeducators to the parents and children of this District and values their contributions. It saddens me that this group of vulnerable, dedicated employees remains the school district pawns, at the mercy of the Board and the administration.

Supporting the need for an organized voice, the District aides and paras believe that all employees deserve fair and equal treatment. Standing on the sidelines changes nothing — I applaud the collective bargaining efforts of the aides and paras.; they deserve to be treated as full players not as an afterthought.

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T/E School District: Surplus $3.9 Million in 2011/12

Ray Clarke attended T/E School District Finance Committee on Monday night and provided his notes for Community Matters readers. After reading his notes, I spoke with Ray for clarification as I could not quite believe what I was reading. The 2011/12 actual expenses of the T/E School District were $5.5 million less than the District forecasted in June 2012. The District revenues were also less than the June 2012 forecast. Factor in the reduced expenses and reduced revenues and the District has a surplus of $3.9 million in 2011/12. Wow!

How could it be that the District financial forecast was off by nearly $4 million! We knew that the change in the medical insurance would be a cost savings but it is surprising that the surplus was so significant. The District has added the $3.9 Million to the General Fund Balance.

Ray’s Finance Committee Notes:

Monday’s Finance Committee meeting was most notable for a review of the full year 2011/12 finances in conjunction with a presentation of the draft audit. It turns out that a number of things broke in favor of the district.

The table below compares the forecast for the full year 2011/12 when 2012/13 budget was approved in June with the actual outcome and with the 2012/13 budget (figures in $ million, rounded)

11/12 Forecast11/12 Actual12/13 Budget

Revenues 106.4 105.6 109.2

Expenditures 107.2 101.7 110.3

Budget Imbalance (0.8) 3.9 (1.1)

So, expenses for the year to June 2012 turned out to be $5.5 million less than forecast in June 2012. (And about that amount less than budget).

Administration provided detail of the major drivers of the saving versus budget:

  • Lower Healthcare benefits: $1.8 million
  • Fewer teachers: $0.4
  • Lower tuition reimbursement: $0.3
  • Less natural gas usage: $0.4
  • Transportation savings: $0.3
  • “Breakage” $0.8
  • Other salary savings: $0.3

Total $4.3

“Breakage” is cost saving due to unexpected retirements, resignations, etc.; replacements are likely lower cost and there can be interim cost savings.

Clearly the final benefits accounting takes a while, but it seems quite likely that the 2012/13 budget and associated tax increase might have been predicated to at least some extent on an artificially high baseline. As Neal Colligan pointed out to me, there needs to be strict oversight to ensure that the current year expenses do not inflate by a whopping $8.6 million to the budgeted $110.3 million.

The $3.9 million surplus goes into the now ~$25 million general fund balance, with the $1.8 million benefits saving planned to be committed to medical plan rate stabilization and the remainder to the ever-open PSERS rate stabilization fund. On that score, it was announced that there’s a new GASB requirement that in 2015 districts must recognize on their balance sheet their share of the $27 billion unfunded PSERS liability. (Perhaps someone can work this out for TE, based, say, on TE’s % of teachers and a 50% share of the liability?). [Note also that in the year to June 2012 PSERS returned 3.4% compared to the 7.5% built into the system’s accounting used to calculate that $27 billion].

And this continues on to the 2013/14 budget, which will be rolled out at the next Finance Committee meeting on December 10th. It looks like we need to step up efforts to ensure that votes for tax increases are based on realistic projections.

On other matters, the Board continues with plans to harass tax-exempt non-profits. An outside attorney is being used to review and identify property owners that will be sent a letter and questionnaire to confirm tax exempt property use in the light of changes in the state law. This letter and questionnaire will be discussed at the January Finance Committee. The Committee has already determined that the a large percentage of the total are parcels owned by government entities (like the district itself) and for rights of way. Also, the district is planning to extend for six years the transportation agreement with Krapf; as presented, the terms looked reasonable.

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