TEEA

TE School District and Teachers Sign 3-Year Contract

Based on the agenda for last night’s TE School District Special Meeting, the purpose of the meeting was a Priority Discussion on the fact-finding timeline of the teachers’ contract with summary of the report. It was stated that the Board was unable to publish details contained in the report prior to the Board discussion.

However, we learned upon arrival at the meeting, that the school board and the teachers union had reached a tentative 3-year contract.  (The teachers contract expired June 30, 2017.) An overview of the contract negotiation process was presented by the District’s labor attorney Jeffrey Sultank of Fox Rothschild.  Specifics of the contract presented by District administrators Art McDonnell, Dr. Gusick and Jeanne Pocalyko.

The school board provided few updates to the public during the contract negotiation process which began in January. In past contract negotiations, the public received regular updates were provided, including the members of the committee. The lack of information (particularly after the teachers contract expired on June 30) added to an already stressful situation with the teachers mounting their own  PR campaign the last couple of months.

Below are the five slides that accompanied the fact-finding/teacher contract presentation. Although the fact-finding report and the teachers’ contract are not yet on the District website, the update should happen shortly.  Following the slides, Ray Clarke provides a few specifics from the contract.

The school board unanimously approved the new 3-year contract.

 

From Ray Clarke:

The Administration presented a lot of numbers showing the expected impact of most of the components of the agreement, but there was no integrated summary of how all added up to the stated 1.7% per year increase to the total expense budget.

–  Somehow this increase is equal to 47% of the revenue expected from increases in the Act1 Index of about 2.5% per year.  (Despite a question, I’m still not sure how these numbers reconcile – part of the problem of not having an integrated summary).

–  Salary increases aggregate to 10% over the three years, a cost offset to some extent by increases in the employee share of the premium for one of the health plans from 13% to 16% next year and by the implementation of a 6.5% share of the prescription plan premium, also next year.  The salary increases come from matrix increases of 0.5% to 1% and from step movement, plus raising the caps on tuition reimbursement and column movement.  The top step – always key with 40% of the staff there and earning ~$100,000/year – gets a $1,000 bonus this year, a ~2.5% increase next year and a 1% increase the year after.

–  The cost calculations assume the current teacher population moves along the matrix and stays at the top level, no retirements.

–  The impact of the extra PSERS and other salary-driven costs was not included

The Union and Board both seemed content with what appears on the surface to be a balanced agreement.  It will be important for the Board to remember that the District does not have to raise taxes equal to this or other cost increases.  Tonight Tredyffrin Township reported that its assessed base has increased 1.1% in 2017 YTD.

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“He Said, She Said” – Now What? T/E School Board Race Plagued with Legal Questions

“He Said, She Said – What’s Next” says it all!  There continues to be accusations of misinformation and confusion surrounding the T/E School District’s 60-day resignation policy and how this regulation affects the Region II School Director race between candidates Doug Anestad (R) and Kyle Boyer (D).

Local municipal races are important and facts do matter! On October 12, chair of the Tredyffrin Republican Committee Neill Kling provided an opinion on the PA State Law in regards to the 60-day resignation policy.  On October 17, the post was updated to include subsequent responses from candidate Doug Anestad (R) and Kathleen Keohane, chair of the Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee. In addition to their responses, I sent a personal email to candidate Kyle Boyer (D) inviting him to clarify his position and to ‘set the record straight’ on any inaccuracies. To date, Mr. Boyer has offered no further information nor responded to my email.

After reviewing TTDEMS chair Kathleen Keohane’ response dated October 17, Mr. Anestad believes it contains erroneous information and has sent a follow-up response. Rather than update the original post with this new information, below you will find Kathleen’s response followed by Doug’s.

Again, I need to ask where is Kyle Boyer? He’s the T/E School District school teacher running for the District’s school board. I understand that Mr. Boyer may not want to respond “on a blog” but isn’t the public entitled to some answers before Election Day?

Based on Mr. Anestad’s review (below) of the PA State Law, T/E School District policy and professional employment contract, it appears that there could be repercussions for Mr. Boyer if he were win the Region II School Director race. So … for any voters which be further confused by the “He Said, She Said” narrative, I suggest contacting Dr. Rich Guisick, the T/E School District Superintendent at gusickr@tesd.net.

Kathleen Keohane, Chair of Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee Oct. 17 response to Neill Kling, Chair of Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee regarding the T/E School District Region II School Director race:

Pattye,

Once again it is political season and some members of our community have sought to infuse false narratives into a local school board race that should be non-partisan and focused on the issues. Posted as a blog statement, last Thursday’s letter from Neill Kling, chair of the Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee, calls into question Democratic school board candidate Kyle Boyer’s fitness to serve. Neill chose not to post this letter on his party’s website or in a letter to the editor but on a local blog, which allows for anonymous comments.

All voters should continue to focus on the facts:

Kyle Boyer is fully entitled to run for T/E school board as a resident of the district. He is aware of and appreciates the requirement that he resign his teaching position and leave the district if and when he is elected on November 7, and is fully prepared to do so. As for the 60-day provision in the PA Code, it gives districts the latitude to hold teachers for sixty days. However, there is solid precedent that the T/E school district has released professional staff with much less notice.

Further, T/E School District Regulation 4031, which governs all district employees, states:

The District will accept, without prejudice, the resignation of any employee provided written notice is given at least two (2) weeks in advance of the planned resignation date.

In late winter, Kyle Boyer informed his supervisor of his intention to run for T/E School Board. He did so out of respect for his colleagues and the school district, knowing that it would become public information after nominating petitions had been certified. That initial conversation and the public knowledge of his candidacy constitute over 8 months’ notice of a possible vacancy in his position at Valley Forge Middle School. It is safe to assume that school administrators have planned for that possibility.

Kyle has chosen to continue working as a teacher in the district until voters select him to represent them on the school board. He is a native of T/E, graduated from our schools, and most importantly, is committed to serving our community. Parents have found him to be an excellent teacher and role model for their children. They see him participating in the community (he is a member of FLITE’s advisory board and a member of the Tredyffrin Parks Board). They know him as a person of integrity who has shown he cares about all T/E residents.

Regarding the suggestion of a conflict of interest, Kyle would be serving as a former teacher – with all the experience that entails.  As others have pointed out, his opponent also is a former teacher, along with current school board vice- president, Scott Dorsey. Former school board members who worked as teachers and administrators include Rich Brake, Karen Cruickshank, Sandi Gorman, Kris Graham and Pat Wood, who resigned as TESD Coordinator of Community and Volunteer Services after her election to T/E’s school board.  All have brought an appreciation for the educational process and the systems in which they operated.

Lastly, in response to anonymous comments about Kyle Boyer’s relative youth, remember that Debbie Bookstaber was elected to the T/E school board in 2009. She was 27 years old, a short-time resident of T/E, and had never attended public schools. The TTRC willingly supported her candidacy.

At 29, Kyle is an example of TESD’s great success at preparing its students well to succeed, and to serve their community. With a B.A. from the George Washington University, an M.S.Ed. and M.P.A. from University of Pennsylvania and his principal’s certification from Immaculata University, Kyle has successfully spent his career teaching.  An ordained minister, he currently is pursuing a third Master’s in Divinity from Lutheran Theological Seminary and serves in the local faith community as well.

As one Valley Forge Middle parent commented online, “We should be debating the fitness of the candidates for their prospective positions, not procedural minutiae that are irrelevant to most.”  I agree.

Sandi Gorman, former T/E school board member and head of T&E Care has endorsed Kyle Boyer. She writes, “I’ve honestly never known anyone more qualified and dedicated to the causes he follows.  How lucky for the TESD that he believes that the good of our kids is a cause he’d like to champion!”

Sandi has served the best interests of the children and families of this community for thirty years and has earned our respect and appreciation. She clearly knows the facts and the law. A long-time Republican, she is supporting Kyle. All Region 2 voters should consider doing the same.

Best regards,
Kathleen Keohane
Chair, Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee

T/E School District Region II School Director candidate Doug Anestad (R) follow-up to Kathleen Keohane, Chair, Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee:

Dear Pattye,

Both Kathleen Keohane and Kyle Boyer are wrong on state law and wrong on T/E school district policy on the fundamental concept of the 60 day rule that anyone with a background in education should understand.

Kathleen Keohane stated that “some members of our community have sought to infuse false narratives into a local school board race that should be non-partisan and focused on the issues”. The irony here is that it is she is the one that is infusing false narratives into the local school board race – and she has struck out on each.

Strike one: a false narrative that states the 60 day rule does not apply to Mr. Boyer because of T/E Regulation 4031. The problem is, T/E Regulation 4031 does not apply to teachers. It is for all non-contractual employees.

The actual T/E Policy that relates to teachers is Policy 4470, Permanent Separation from District Employment (Instructional Employees), under the Instructional Staff section. Policy 4470 clearly states:

Resignations

Certificated Professional employees desiring to resign must present a written resignation within the time period as required by law. If no time period is required by law, then the employee must present a written resignation at least sixty (60) days prior to the effective date of resignation.

Strike two is another false narrative claiming Mr. Boyer’s “initial conversation and the public knowledge of his candidacy constitute over 8 months’ notice” and “It is safe to assume that school administrators have planned for that possibility.”  There is nothing that a school district will do to prepare for a teacher’s exit until they give their actual resignation. School districts have a process in place that starts once a letter of resignation is received, not before – and definitely not based on the possible outcome of a political campaign months away.

Strike three is another false narrative that “there is solid precedent that the T/E school district has released professional staff with much less notice.”  What is missing is that those teachers gave 60 days notice and then were allowed to be released early after the school district went through the hiring process, hired the replacement, and knew when the new teacher could start.

As if those three strikes weren’t enough, there is this: Kyle Boyer signed an individual contract with the school district. That contract clearly stated that he had to give 60 days notice when resigning.

Now let’s summarize as clearly as possible: Kyle Boyer has admitted he will not give 60 days notice to the T/E school district. This means that he has promised to break PA state law, break his personal contract with the T/E school district, and break T/E school district policy.

While I cannot fault Kathleen Keohane for not fully comprehending the 60-day rule, there is really no excuse for someone running on his educational background and educational knowledge not to understand it – especially after it was explicitly pointed out to him long before he was close to the 60 day deadline.

Sincerely,

Doug Anestad

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TE School District Taxpayers in the Dark

I received the following press release Sunday morning from a Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) representative.

Tredyffrin/Easttown Education Association (TEEA) to Hold Informational Picket before September 25th School Board Meeting

What: Teachers and educators of the Tredyffrin/Easttown Education Association (TEEA) are holding an Informational Picket before the next School Board meeting to protest their lack of a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The CBA expired, June 30, 2017 and both parties met one time over the entire summer. The membership is frustrated by the lack of progress in one of Pennsylvania’s premier school districts. Conestoga High Schools was recently ranked the best high school in all of Pennsylvania.

Who: Hundreds of Teachers, Parents and Educational staff of TESD School District.
Visual Highlights: Teachers will assemble prior to the School Board meeting, holding signs and marching and chanting for a new contract. Community members and families are invited.

When: Monday, September 25, 6:30 p.m. (Assemble) | 7:30 p.m. (meeting)

Where: Conestoga High School (200 Irish Rd, Berwyn, PA 19312)

Statement by TEEA President, Dr. Bob DeSipio:
“Our contract expired on July 1, 2017. Despite multiple offerings to meet with the School Board this summer to continue the negotiations process, we did not meet until the end of August. We want the School Board to know that it is not just the five or six of us on the bargaining team that are upset with the slow pace of these negotiations, but a membership of more than 400 highly educated and highly dedicated educators. We hope tonight’s Board meeting is a demonstration to the District that TEEA is resolute in our dedication to achieve a new agreement and want to reach a fair and competitive settlement as quickly as possible.”

Dr. DeSipio’s statement is confusing and unsettling – although the teachers’ contract expired June 30, 2017, the District held no negotiating meetings during the summer!  No contract negotiation meetings between the District and the teachers union “until the end of August”!  This makes no sense.

It is impossible for the community “to take a side” in the contract negotiation battle between the school district and the teachers union. Why? Because the taxpayers have received no information from either side about the offers/demands.

The teachers are asking for a “fair and competitive settlement” … wish I knew the offer on the table. The public cannot possibly know what is “fair” without knowing the contents of the offer.

The secret negotiations between the District and the teachers union once again underscore the need for transparency.

Getting the state union officials from PSEA involved, the T/E teachers will show solidarity with signs, marching and chanting on Monday night before the school board meeting.  Working without a settled contract is difficult but isn’t this “informational picket” apt to make the contract negotiation situation more contentious?

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No School for Students in Methacton School District – Teacher Strike Continues

Teachers in the Methacton School District have been working without a contract since January.   A stalemate in the bargain process led to the strike Monday by the teachers as authorized by its union, Methacton Education Association (MEA).

There are 5,000 students enrolled in the Methacton School District. The union represents 403 teachers and professional staff.

Issues being negotiated include salary, benefits, class size, teacher-student ratio and team teaching.  The talks broke down when the two sides failed to come to an agreement on how much teachers should pay for their health insurance.  The teachers argue that their salaries are in the lower range of salaries and the school district is expecting them to pay for health care as if they were in the upper range.

The teachers are using a pay freeze and delayed salary increases in the previous two four-year contracts, as examples of concessions from teachers that allowed the district to improve their finances dramatically and are unwilling to see this happen again.

The MEA released the following statement prior to striking:

The Methacton Education Association (MEA) is disappointed to announce that they were unable to reach an agreement with the School Board after the two sides bargained all afternoon and into the early evening on Sunday to avoid the potential of a work stoppage scheduled to start tomorrow.

The School Board’s position of dramatically increasing the employee’s share of the healthcare premium while not adequately increasing salaries is unacceptable to the Association. MEA was willing to increase premium share by over 23% in 3 years but that was not sufficient to the District.

In the end, MEA had 30 minutes to consider the final proposal of the Board and was more than willing to bargain later than the arbitrary 8PM deadline.

The strike will commence tomorrow at 7:30AM. MEA is willing to bargain with the District throughout the work stoppage.

It is unclear when the teachers will return to the classrooms. Pennsylvania State Department of Education rules will prevent the work stoppage from going past 15 days.  A state mediator is now involved to coordinate the exchange of proposals between parties.

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Cloaked in Secrecy Approach to Contract Negotiations Not Working … T/E Teachers Return to Classroom Without a Contract

In the T/E School District, the students have returned to school and the teachers have returned to work. However, the District teachers returned to the classroom without a settled contract. The Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association (TEEA) contract with the T/E School District expired on June 30, 2017. No automatic alt text available.

The teachers’ contract expired in June with absolutely no updates from the School Board – deafening silence on the status of the contract negotiations. In a conversation this summer with a recent teacher retiree of the District, I inquired about the contract negotiations. Asking if the teachers and the District were on the “same page” regarding negotiations, I was told that the sides were “not even in the same book”!

Other area districts started the 2017-18 school year without settled contracts – Lower Merion, Methacton, Coatesville, Springfield in Delaware County. And we learned this week that Lower Merion Education Association  has mounted a PR campaign, including an online petition asking the public to sign “and show the School Board that you a support a fair contract for Lower Merion School District teachers and staff.” Drumming up community support for a salary increase in Lower Merion may prove challenging; given that LMSD has the highest paid teachers in Pennsylvania. (average salary is $99,253).

Below is a letter Dr. Robert DeSipio, TEEA President which was posted on its website yesterday. In reading the letter, it is obvious that the teacher contract negotiations between the District and the teachers are stalled. I suggest that both sides need to “open the door” – this “cloaked in secrecy” approach to the negotiations by the School Board is not working and is showing signs of cracking.  The public deserves to see the sunlight shine on the negotiations – it would help the parents, taxpayers (and employees) better understand the process and the District’s priorities.

It’s time to turn on the lights, open the windows and the doors.

TEEA Open Negotiations Letter

A Fair Contract for TEEA, the Tredyffrin-Easttown Education Association

The teachers of the Tredyffrin-Easttown School District are currently working without a contract and it is a shame; a shame in many ways. The TEEA teachers are an enormously talented, dedicated group of educators who go beyond the expected and deliver the unexpected. Conestoga High School has been ranked the number one public high school in Pennsylvania for the last two years. Accolades of that magnitude and a number one ranking in the state are not only a reflection of the quality of education at the secondary level, but are also a testament to the dedication of the middle and elementary school teachers who prepare the students in their younger years. From top to bottom the TEEA teachers are top-notch and they deserve a fair contract!

fair contract means the employer is not asking its employees to pay for his/her own increase in salary; certainly not contract after contract after contract. When the recession of 2008 wreaked havoc on the economy, the TEEA teachers stepped to the plate. We agreed to break the contract that was in place and under which we were working and accepted a half year salary freeze, giving back one million dollars to the district. One million dollars that had been earmarked for teacher salaries instead went into increasing the district’s fund balance. When that contract expired, we continued to give back as the economy struggled to recover from the recession. From 2012 to 2014 we accepted a 2 year TOTAL FREEZE on our salary AND we reduced the quality of our medical benefits AND we agreed to pay more for those benefits. That 2 year total freeze contract ultimately saved the district about $14 million dollars. As we continued to go above and beyond what is expected of us, that FOURTEEN MILLION DOLLARS was not added to our base or awarded to us as bonuses. Instead, it was used to increase the Fund balance of the School District. In addition to all of the above concessions, we agreed to a huge reduction in tuition reimbursement–a large sacrifice for a career that requires additional coursework to obtain permanent certification. We have continued to give back financially while continuing to provide one of the best, if not the best, kindergarten through twelfth grade educations anywhere in the country.

From 2015 to 2017, our contract that just expired on June 30, 2017, continued to reflect give backs. We increased the amount we pay for our benefits while no additional money was added to the teacher’s salary steps.

It is a shame that people who give so much of themselves, have provided so much value to this community, and have given back to the tune of 14 million dollars, are continuing to be asked to subsidize their own raises. Enough is enough! The TEEA teachers deserve a fair contract. We are asking for the support of every TE family to stand with us and to tell the members of this board that enough is enough.

Sincerely,
Dr. Robert DeSipio
TEEA President

 

 

 

 

 

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Looking for public updates from the TE School Board on District lawsuits, teacher contracts … but none given!

Communication + Transparency = Trust

I attended the final TESD school board meeting of the 2016-17 school year on Monday night for several reasons.

First, I wanted to hear the District’s statement about the two important lawsuits filed in the last couple of weeks.

  • On May 17, 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 filed a lawsuit against District administrators – Superintendent Dr. Richard Gusick and Conestoga High School Principal Dr. Amy Meisinger. The lawsuit cited defamation of character, misrepresentation, fraud, improper termination, etc. and seeks damages of at least $50,000 in compensation plus punitive damages.
  • On May 8, a Federal lawsuit was filed against T/E School District and Conestoga High School Principal Dr. Amy Meisinger. The lawsuit alleges that District administrators and teachers at Conestoga HS tolerated a culture whereby Arthur Phillips, a 67-year-old instructional aide could repeatedly sexually abuse a 15-year old female student. The lawsuit filed by the parents of the student, seek damages of at least $75,000 in damages and calls for the resignation of Dr. Meisinger.

There was no statement from the school board on these lawsuits.  Nothing, nada, zippo … I get that this a legal matter but what about an acknowledgement from the school board that the lawsuits exist? What about a reassurance that all policies/procedures related to suspected sexual abuse will be reviewed and updated as needed?  The TE School District is more than school rankings and the number of college acceptances — it is the safety of our children!

The law firm in the federal lawsuit, Ross Feller Casey, has won record-setting awards for its clients, including victims of predatory sexual abuse like seven men who were victimized by Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky. This lawsuit has the potential to bankrupt the District financially and yet the board makes no public statement. 

Secondly, I attended the school board meeting to receive an update on the District teachers’ contract, the non-instructional employees (TENIG) contract and the Act 93 (administrators) agreement – all three of these contracts are due to expire in two weeks, on June 30, 2017.

There was no statement from the school board on the status of the TEEA or TENIG contracts.

The school board did however approve a raise of 1.7% plus a 1% bonus for District administrators to extend the Administrator Compensation Plan (Act 93 Agreement) through June 30, 2018.

And finally, I attended the school board meeting to see how the school board was going to handle the passing of the final budget for 2017-18 given that the TEEA and TENIG contracts and the Act 93 Agreement account for 70% of the budget and these items were labeled ‘TBD’ (to be decided) in the budget.  During the budget discussion prior to the vote, there was no discussion about needing any contingencies for these (soon to expire) contracts in the budget.

Although the preliminary budget had contained a 3.435% tax increase, the board agreed to lower the tax increase before approving the final budget. The school board passed the budget 9-0 with a 3.2% tax increase for 2017-18. The newly passed budget assumes no increases for teachers and non-instructional employees. By my calculations, this budget for 2017-18 marks 13 consecutive years of tax increases.  You would have to go all the way back to the 2004-05 to find a ‘no tax increase’ year.

I attended the school board meeting expecting to hear updates about specific important issues facing the school district. Instead I left the meeting feel very disheartened about the lack of information. The school board has a responsibility to involve the community and to communicate clear information to the public. The importance of transparency and providing public information to the community cannot be understated.

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Conestoga High School Student Sexual Assault Case: Federal Lawsuit Filed — Lawsuit in Separate Case Pending

This is a follow-up post to my last post “TE School District served with another lawsuit” dated June 8. After posting the previous article, I was emailed a copy of the federal lawsuit and  press release from Ross Feller Casey, the Philadelphia law firm who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the parents of the 15-year-old victim in the case.

In the Ross Feller Casey press release, it states that the law firm, “filed a federal lawsuit against the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District and the principal of Conestoga High School alleging administrators and teachers at the High School created and tolerated a culture that emboldened Arthur Phillips, a 67-year old instructional aide, to repeatedly sexually abuse a female student.”

Among other things, the federal lawsuit alleges that “Phillips, an instructional aide in the television production studio at Conestoga since 2006, engaged in a classic yet disturbing pattern of sexual grooming and assault against a student starting when she was only 15 years old.”

Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan has criminally charged Arthur Phillips with over 100 counts, including 10 felony charges of statutory sexual assault and 10 felony charges of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse. According to the lawsuit, the sexual assaults were daily between January and mid-April of this year and allegedly “took place in various locations at Conestoga High School, including the school’s TV studio, Phillips’ office, Conestoga’s parking lot and in Phillips’ automobile”.

According to Pennsylvania state law, “Statutory sexual assault becomes a first-degree felony offense in cases when the accused is 11 years, or older, than the minor. If convicted of this charge, a person could face a prison sentence of up to 20 years. Additionally, he or she may be fined up to $25,000.” The minor in this case is a 15-year old female and the accused is a 67-year old male, 52 years her senior.  And remember, the ten counts of statutory sexual assault is only one of the criminal charges against Phillips – if convicted, this man is going to prison for a very, very long time.

The lawsuit is against TE School District and Conestoga Principal Dr. Amy Meisinger, but numerous other CHS teachers and administrators are identified in the 36-page lawsuit.  The lawsuit is a public document but because 14 different CHS teachers or administrators (in addition to Meisinger) are identified by name, I will not upload it to Community Matters. To be clear, the only T/E School District administrator being sued in this lawsuit is Meisinger.

I have read the lawsuit several times. It contains many graphic and sexually explicit details that do not need to be repeated here. As the mother of a daughter, I cannot imagine the horror of this situation for the girl and her family.

What is remarkable is the level of detail contained in the lawsuit of places that Phillips took the student during school hours and after school including Berwyn Pizza, Handel’s Ice Cream and restaurants such as Estia (Radnor), Christopher’s in Wayne and City Works Eatery and Pour House (King of Prussia). Phillips and the student went to multiple Wawa convenience stores in the area including Malvern, Paoli, King of Prussia, Audubon and Norristown. Additionally, Phillips took her on shopping trips to the King of Prussia Mall and ice skating in Dilworth Park outside of City Hall in Philadelphia, and to the IFly Indoor Skydiving Center and to Valley Forge Casino.  Phillips gave the student numerous items, including gift cards.

My guess is there would be security cameras, date and time stamped credit card processing receipts, etc. from most of these locations. According to the lawsuit, “many of Phillips contacts with Plaintiff are documented on Conestoga’s video monitoring system, including those cameras used to observe school entrances and exits and around the bus drop-off/pickup location.”  The lawsuit claims that the school district “failed to review the camera footage and failed to intervene in the outwardly inappropriate and illegal behavior of Phillips” which therefore constitutes a “systematic violation of school district policies”.

To celebrate her birthday, Phillips and the student ‘double-dated’ with a Conestoga teacher and her husband at Paladar Latin Kitchen and Rum Bar in King of Prussia. According to the lawsuit, “numerous district officials and teachers were aware of Phillips’ inappropriate relationship with the girl but failed to take steps to investigate or halt the conduct”.  Further, the lawsuit alleges that Phillips’ office was decorated with homemade signs that included the girl’s initials, her first name and the word “love”.

The lawsuit alleges that Phillips continually wrote ‘hall passes’ for the student to miss class when school district policy only permits a teacher (not an aide) to write these passes.  It is alleged that “none of the teachers who received these ‘hall passes’ filled out by Phillips took any action to investigate, manage, question or stop said absences or tardiness”.  Between January and mid-April of this year, the student missed over 20 English classes yet the teacher (allegedly) never discussed the absences with the parents.

Ross Feller Casey is also representing the parent of the 17-year old male CHS student who was sexually abused by another Conestoga staff member, 26-year-old teacher’s aide Christine Towers. Towers was convicted earlier this year and is currently serving time for the crime. The law firm is investigating a separate federal lawsuit against TE School District in that case. In both the Towers case and the Phillips case, the parents of the two abused students are calling for the resignation of the Conestoga principal.

In the Ross Feller Casey press release, attorney Matt Casey stated, “The heartbroken parents I represent, and their children, are demanding accountability on the part of the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District, something that has yet to be achieved despite repeated, shocking instances of sexual abuse at Conestoga High School. The already-known facts lay bare a school district custom of deliberately turning a blind eye to criminal acts in its midst.”  To support this claim, the lawsuit includes the middle school sexting scandal, the football hazing incident and the teacher’s aide who sexually abused the male student case prior to this latest criminal investigation – all occurring in the last couple of years.

—————————————————–

The school board meeting is tomorrow, Monday, June 12, 7:30 PM at Conestoga High School and includes the adoption of the 2017-18 final budget. The meeting agenda continues to list the teachers’ contract (TEEA), the non-instructional contract (TENIG) and Act 93 Agreement (administrators) as ‘TBD’ in the proposed final budget. The contracts constitute 70% of the District budget yet the budget includes no contingencies.  However, it is noted that on page 293 of the agenda, we see that the school board will take a vote on giving administrators a 1.7% increase to their 2016-17 base salary plus a one-time bonus of 1% to be paid in June 2018.

Since the last regular meeting of the school board, there have been two lawsuits filed against the District … the agenda makes no mention of either.

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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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Three T/E School District Contracts Due to Expire in 30 Days … What is the Status on the Teachers (TEEA) Contract, Non-Instructional Group (TENIG) Contract and Act 93 (Administrators) Agreement?

The TESD Finance Committee meeting agenda for Wednesday, May 31, 6:30 PM is available here.

The school board is on the countdown to the approval of the 2017-18 budget on Monday, June 12 but there’s a major open issue as indicated in the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting. Actually, there are three unknowns or ‘TBD’ as stated on the draft budget as shown below:

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For the first time that I am aware, the school board is faced with the contracts of the District teachers (TEEA), the non-instructional group (TENIG) and Act 93 (administrators) all expiring on the same date — on June 30, 2017. In years past, the contracts terms were staggered. To my knowledge, there has been no update from the school board regarding any one of these three contracts that expire in a month.

In years past, the threat of outsourcing of some of TENIG’s employees was considered by the school board (as a budget savings).  In tight budget times, the District’s custodians, secretaries, maintenance workers and kitchen workers all became a target for outsourcing during budget negotiations.  Don’t get me wrong — I’m no fan of outsourcing.  (We don’t need to look any further than the school board’s decision to outsource the aides and paras and ask how that has worked out.)

In the current TENIG contract (July 1, 2014 – June 30, 2017), the custodians received a 2% salary reduction and additionally had to give back 1 week of their vacation.  (The rationale was that the District had to hire subs when the custodians are on vacation).  The other members of TENIG (security, kitchen, maintenance, and cafeteria) received a 4% salary reduction in the new contract but their vacation benefit remains intact.  Since the current TENIG contract required salary reductions, it does not seem plausible that these T/E workers would not receive an increase in the new contract (at least the new contract should bring the TENIG employees back to their June 30, 2014 salary level). The public doesn’t know the answer.

The current TEEA contract (July 1, 2014 – June 30, 2017) was ratified in February 2014, months in advance of its June 30, 2014 expiration date. The contract protected the jobs of the District teachers and included a ‘no furloughs or demotions’ clause through June 2017.  The teachers received salary increases based on their step movement in the matrix.  The contract included a Distance E-Learning Pilot Program that ran the length of the contract, expiring on June 30, 2017.  If you recall, TEEA previously filed a suit (and won) against the District over their implementation of distance learning so it was somewhat surprising to see its inclusion in the contract. Are we confident that the new TEEA contract will honor the ‘no furlough or demolition’ clause contained in the current contract?  The public doesn’t know the answer.

The third TESD contract due to expire in a month is the Act 93 Agreement — the District’s administrator compensation plan. The current Act 93 Agreement (January 29, 2013 – June 30, 2017) included a one-time bonus for service in the previous two and one-years and a one-time bonus of 1% of the individual’s salary award each June.

At the time the Act 93 contract was signed, there was discussion that the lowest paid groups – the TENIG workers – were taking a salary decrease whereas the administrators’ salaries were increasing.  So with the teachers, administrators and the non-instructional workers with contracts expiring in a month, it’s going to be interesting to see if fairness will prevail. Will the administrators continue to receive an annual bonus? The public doesn’t know the answer.

For me, the problem is that there’s been no update whatsoever in the contract negotiation process and the final budget is to be approved in a couple of weeks on Monday, June 12.

Although the draft budget includes a maximum tax increase of 3.4%, it indicates a $1.6 million deficit. The plan is to make up the deficit with a transfer from the District’s fund balance. Plus, we do not know the impact of the teachers, administrator and TENIG contracts on the budget. As indicated in the graphic above, the three contracts are ‘TBD’.

I re-read an old Community Matters post on this topic from April 2012, ‘Seeking Transparency in TESD Teacher Contract Negotiations’  which had a follow-up post on May 17, 2012, ‘TE Teachers Turn on Transparency Lights in Contract Negotiations’. In re-reading these posts and the many comments, what was striking was the need for regular updates to the public by the Board. The lack of information and/or misinformation during the contract negotiations aggravated an already difficult situation. In the CM post of May 17, 2012, I wrote,

” … making the teacher contract negotiation process transparent for the public would help the community understand how our children will be taught and how our tax dollars will be invested.  The relationship between teachers and school administrators is an important element in what shapes this school district.  There is no better way to understand this relationship than to observe the contract negotiation process. …”

Harping on the lack of transparency and public information by the school board does not seem to work – except maybe in an election year! (School board directors Doug Carlson, Virginia Lastner and Scott Dorsey are up for re-election although Scott has no opposing candidate.) No doubt the school board would lament that they cannot provide updates during the contract negotiating process as its explanation for keeping the public in the dark.

The final approval on the TESD 2017-18 budget looms in two weeks, Monday, June 12. When will the school board provide the public with the three contracts? When will the final budget (with the missing ‘TBD’ contract information) be made available to the public?  Perhaps some of these answers will be available at the Finance Meeting on Wednesday night.

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Will Lower Merion School District’s handling of teacher’s contract play out similarly in TE School District — Some school board candidates weigh in

Last week a tentative agreement was reached between Lower Merion School District and their teachers. The deal between LM and the union was made in secret, with a process devoid of transparency.  The proposed teacher’s contract and its terms were not published for public review.

There are rumors that the TE School District is currently in ‘Early Bird’ contract negotiations with the teacher’s union. Because of the existing situation in Lower Merion, rumors of early bird talks and five seats on the TE School Board up for grabs on Election Day, there was discussion as to where our candidates stand on this issue.  The following email was sent to the ten Tredyffrin and Easttown school board candidates on Saturday.

To All TE School Board Candidates:

I know that you are all very busy campaigning in advance of Election Day. Tredyffrin resident Ray Clarke added a comment on Community Matters regarding the teacher contract, negotiations and keeping the public informed. He has spoken with several of you regarding his concerns, particularly given what is currently going on in Lower Merion School District.  As a result, I am asking you to read the following and provide a very  brief (100 words or less) response to me by 9 PM, Sunday, Nov. 1. The question and all candidate responses received will appear on Community Matters on Monday, Nov. 2.

Negotiating union contracts (teachers and support staff) will be important tasks for the new Board.  In Lower Merion School District, a secret deal is playing out between their school board and the teachers union.  Much to the chagrin of Lower Merion taxpayers, the union members get to review the contract before signing but the public is left in the dark and provided no information.

During the last teachers’ contract negotiations, the TE School Board moved in the correct direction with periodic updates to the public. Assuming that there are no secret “Early Bird” deals already in discussion  between the current Board and the union, [if elected] where do you stand on publishing any proposed contracts to the public at the same time as the unions send it to their members? In addition to publishing the terms of the contract to the public before signing, to also include the full annual cost of the contract for each year (including PSERS, salaries, benefits, etc.) with an explanation of how the Board will pay the costs. 

Again, I understand that you are pressed for time and I thank you in advance. Your responses may help get additional voters to the polls on Tuesday.

Pattye Benson

Because I know how busy the candidates are in the last days leading up to the election, their responses were to be brief – 100 words or less. One hundred words is very short; the second paragraph in the statement above (from “During … costs.”) is 109 words.

During this campaign season, most every school board candidate has used themes of transparency, public engagement and responsiveness to citizens in their campaigning literature, meet and greets with voters and during the Chester County League of Women Voters candidate forum. It is for that reason, that a brief response would allow each candidate the opportunity to restate and to reconfirm their transparency commitment to the voters before Election Day tomorrow (November 3).

Of the ten school board candidates, responses to the question were received by Kate Murphy (R) and Fran Reardon (D), Easttown, Region 3 candidates; Neill Kling (R) and Neal Colligan (R) Tredyffrin East, Region 1 candidates and Ed Sweeney (R) Tredyffrin West, Region 2.  The responses from these five candidates appear below.

The four Democratic school board candidates from Tredyffrin (Alan Yockey, Michele Burger, Roberta Hotinski and Todd Kantorczyk) each sent similar emails; all declining to respond, citing time constraints due to the campaign and/or previous personal commitments.  There was no response from Kris Graham.  If, as rumored (and I do say if) there are early bird negotiations already underway between the TE School District and TEEA, the District teacher’s union, it would not be possible for Ms. Graham to respond.

The TE School Board candidate responses are as follows:

Neill Kling, Tredyffrin East, Region 1 candidate:

A cloak and dagger approach serves neither party.  The union must understand throughout that what their members receive can be no more than what our tax base will reasonably be able to bear.  The current PESERS situation resulted from disregard of that sound principle.  Thus, I believe that the taxpayers should view the contracts when they are sent to the teachers for approval.  I am also in favor of providing a public estimate of how we propose to meet the contractual obligations.  The District must conduct negotiations with this estimate uppermost in mind.  Publishing it when they are completed is responsible stewardship.

Neal Colligan, Tredyffrin East, Region 1 candidate:

Of course, the public should be informed as negotiations move forward….this is by far the largest municipal contract in our community.  Start now by presenting the existing economics…total salary, benefits, pension contribution…show the history of these costs.  This information, reviewed at an entity level, will not disclose any employees’ personal compensation package and will not violate the rules of new contract discussions.  As the process advances, let the community know of the issues…I doubt the Union side would object.  People here are pretty fair and can draw their own conclusions on what is just as negotiations move towards a new contract.

From Ed Sweeney, Tredyffrin West, Region 2 candidate:

I would strongly agree to the first proposal if it was consistent with current agreement between the School District and the Union and with the provisions of relevant labor law.  As far as his other proposals, I need more information but I am a proponent of maximum disclosure at the appropriate time.

I agree with the principle of “MORE” . . . more transparency, more public disclosure, more committee meetings convenient to working parents, and more involvement of residents and stakeholders at an early stage of committee consideration of issues.  In my view, more = better.  More increases public confidence and protects the taxpayer.

From Kate Murphy, Easttown, Region 3 candidate:

In Pennsylvania, salaries and benefits make up the lion’s share of any school district’s budget, generally between 70% and 80%.  Pension benefits (PSERS) are set legislatively by the General Assembly and the Governor, and are not negotiated by local school boards.  All collective bargaining agreements must be available to the public for review and comment well in advance of the public vote to approve such agreements.  Periodic updates during the negotiations can be a helpful tool to inform the public.  District estimates of the full annual cost of the contract for each year should be available for timely public examination.

From Fran Reardon, Easttown, Region 3 candidate:

In negotiating contracts within the School District, we should maintain a high level of transparency for all parties involved.  Periodic updates should be available to the taxpaying public and all other stakeholders.  Current annual cost of contracts should clearly be given with the long term effects of PSERS obligations also laid out and presented to the TE community in a timely fashion before any vote by the school board.

As a member of the TE School Board, I will work with the full board to give the taxpayers value for their dollar and also maintain the excellence of our schools.

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