TEEA

Will Conestoga High School Students Return to Hybrid Learning Tomorrow?

As the snowstorm looms today, the clock is ticking for the District’s high school students return to the classroom. If you re-read Dr. Gusick’s message from Sunday, December 13, Conestoga HS is remote learning only through today. The District’s plan is for the high school to return to hybrid teaching starting tomorrow, December 17.

But here’s the question, will the District have sufficient CHS teachers for in-person teaching tomorrow? It is my understanding that 54 teachers at the high school were out on Monday. Has the teachers union opposition to in-person now changed?

It is unclear as to why the safety of the teachers in the classroom is focused primarily on the high school. Shouldn’t any health concerns associated with in-person teaching be District-wide and include the those teaching at the two middle schools and five elementary schools.

The widespread support and concern that many CHS students have shown this week for their teachers is strong. In the past, only occasionally have students responded to Community Matters posts yet a review of the latest comments indicates the safety of teachers in the classrooms has struck a chord with many.

The District students took to social media and created a Change.org petition titled “Give teachers the option to teach virtually or physically”. The opening paragraph of the petition reads as follows,

This petition is in support of the teachers’ petition to boycott the school with their sick days because the Tredyffrin Easttown School District requires all teachers to go physically to school while students have the option to go hybrid or virtual. The primary goal is to force the school board to allow the option for both physical and virtual teaching for teachers.

In a matter of a few days, the petition has already received over 1,000 signatures of support.

Regarding the District’s return to hybrid teaching, TEEA union president Amy Alvarez read a strongly worded statement of opposition and asked questions of the school board at its meeting last week. Without responding to Ms. Alvarez, the school board voted unanimously (9-0) to return to hybrid teaching. Why did no member of the school board answer the union president?

No one likes to feel marginalized or not heard. Whether it’s a resident asking a question at a school board meeting, or in this case, the president of the teachers union, all deserve a response. School board, silence is not a response. The topic of the question does not matter, communication is expected, and answers are deserved.

There’s another week of school before winter break — will all students return to hybrid learning tomorrow, December 17? We understand that these are unprecedented times, but communication is critical. School board, our community needs leadership from you.

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A couple of notes: Since my previous post, I have been inundated with a firestorm of calls, emails and many, many comments. However, there are nearly 50 comments that were not posted because sadly their content was abusive, offensive or harassing.

In addition, the managerial board of The Spoke, Conestoga’s news source released the following statement:

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T/E Teachers Union “Sick-Out” Threat Closes Conestoga High School

This past week, the TE School Board voted 9-0 in favor of returning the District to hybrid instruction starting Monday, December 14. Students who selected the hybrid option would start returning to school for in-person instruction – the regular hybrid schedule would resume for all students in grades K-12.

I watched the last school board meeting and Amy Alvarez, TEEA union president and Conestoga High School chemistry teacher delivered a strongly worded statement opposing the return to hybrid instruction. Neither the school board nor administration responded to Ms. Alvarez comments and … then with little discussion, the board voted unanimously to reopen the schools on Monday, December 14.

Having personally been on the receiving end of a phone call from Ms. Alvarez in the summer, I was not surprised by what came next. By mid-week, I had heard from several people about an email to teachers from the union leadership, calling for a District “sick out” starting Monday, December 14.

On Friday, December 11, the District sent out its T/E News which confirmed that return to hybrid instruction for Monday, December 14. Additionally, all K-12 sports, including practices and competitions, are canceled until January 4. And all in-person extracurricular activities are suspended (although the activities can still be held virtually).

However, with the threat of teachers calling in sick for the coming week, TESD administration abruptly changed course at 7 PM on Sunday night. Parents received notice from Dr. Gusick and the following is posted on the District website that Conestoga High School will not re-open tomorrow, Monday, December 14:

So … what is the takeaway here – the power of the union! The level of clout that the teachers union has over the District’s administration and school board is remarkable. The T/E school board voted unanimously days ago to reopen the schools, so what exactly changed in the last two days?

Without question, we are living in unprecedented times which makes communication and transparency from our elected officials all the more important. Residents and taxpayers deserve to know what is going on in our school district and who is really in charge.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

School Opens Virtually on Aug. 31 but Students Will Not Return In-Person until Oct. 12 plus … PIAA Rejects Gov. Wolf’s Recommendation and Votes in Favor of Fall Sports – Final Decision Up to TE School Board

The agenda for Monday, August 24 regular school board meeting is available on the District’s website, click here. The virtual school board meeting will start at 7:30 PM — Please visit the T/E School District website at www.tesd.net to access the virtual meeting. The link to the live meeting will be available on the TESD website by 6 PM the day of the meeting.

The community may submit comments/questions by using School Board Meeting Comment Form (the form will close at 5 PM on August 24). Click here for the comment form.

The priority discussion at the school board meeting includes the revised school reopening plan. According to the revised reopening plan for the 2020-21 school year, students will start school remotely on August 31, as previously announced. However, the District is now planning to continue virtual learning until at least October 12.

The plan for in-person teaching option after October 12 will include an “introduction of small groups of students into the schools on a rotating basis for approximately one week.” Parents will have the option to continue virtual instruction or make the choice to transition to in-person instruction.

In the proposed reopening plan, under the category of Special Education, Gifted Education, and 504 Plans is the following:

For some groups of students, the District will be offering in-person instruction. This format will begin on or about September 21 and will allow special education students with significant needs to access in-person instruction while the District remains in the virtual option.

For these students, on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, instruction from their special education teachers will occur in person, while they access their regular education teachers virtually. Most related services will also be received in-person on those days. On Wednesdays, students will receive Direct Supported Instruction. Students will attend school and receive adult support while accessing all their teachers virtually. This will enable students to learn the discrete skills needed to access virtual learning to the best of their abilities, while allowing them to come to be more comfortable working with their special education teachers on the virtual platform.

My understanding is that the District’s special education students will be return full time in-person to school on or about Sept. 21. The other students will not return in-person until October 12.

Also on the agenda is the approval of a Memorandum of Understanding between the District and the teachers union (TEEA). The MOU addresses virtual teaching, usage of cameras in the classrooms, etc. In addition, one of the points in the MOU protects the teachers from losing their jobs in the 2020-21 school year and reads as follows:

The District agrees there will be no involuntary furloughing or involuntary, non-disciplinary demotion of any Employee, which furlough or demotion would take effect during the 2020-2021 Contract Year. The District shall continue to employ at least 508.7 full-time equivalent bargaining unit employees for the term of this MOU.

The future of fall sports in the District remains unclear; and I did not see it listed on the school board agenda. We know that Gov. Wolf has strongly recommended against fall sports until at least January 2021, due to the pandemic. However on Friday, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) Board of Directors rejected Wolf’s recommendation and voted (25-5) in favor of fall sports.

Although the PIAA gave the go-ahead for fall sports, the organization said every school in the state must now decide if it wants to participate, so it will be up to the individual school boards or superintendents to choose the fate of their sports teams.

Some Pennsylvania schools have already cancelled fall sports prior to the PIAA announcement but the remainder of the school districts (including TESD) will have to make a decision. It’s not just about football – boys and girls soccer, girls volleyball, boys and girls golf, boys and girls cross country and field hockey are also the fall sports in the PIAA. Presumably, whatever decision the District makes, will be for all and not individual sports.

With in-person teaching on hold until at least October 12, what will our District decide about fall sports? PIAA gave the green light for fall sports; will TE follow their lead? Will the District announce the fall sports decision on Monday night?

Interesting that students can play football but the elementary age kids cannot use the playground equipment at recess. Can someone help me understand?Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

T/E School Board Approves District School Reopening Plan 9-0

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for parents, students, teachers and the administration to figure out what they will need to do for an August 31 start to the 2020-21 school year.

With little state input, TESD like every other school district in Pennsylvania, grappled with its reopening plans. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, Gov. Wolf and his administration gave permission to the state’s 500 school districts to restart in-person instruction with a plan approved by the local school board. Sadly, this approach placed the superintendent and school board in a position to make public health decisions where they have no training or expertise.

From masks to buses to recess to sports, the public provided many questions about how the TE School District reopening plan will work.  And based on the questions from the original reopening plan presentation on Monday and then again at the special school board meeting last night, the families in our District are deeply divided as how to proceed. The administration responded easily to some questions from parents but others remained unanswered or with yet-to-be decided responses.

The special school board meeting began Wednesday night at 7:30 PM but unfortunately, the questions from the public did not begin until 11 PM. The ninety minutes of public questions was followed by school board deliberation and vote. In the early hours of Thursday, the school board voted unanimously 9-0 to approve the District school reopening plan as proposed.

In the approved District plan, schools will open on August 31 but with full virtual instruction for at least the first three weeks of school.  There will be a combination of synchronous and asynchronous instruction.  Parents will be given the option to transition to in-person instruction after Sept. 21 or continue with all virtual instruction.

(For full details about the reopening plan, visit the Tredyffrin Easttown School District website, www.tesd.net ).Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

TESD to Provide School Reopening Plan on Friday, July 24 – All Public Comment Due by Monday, July 27, 7 PM

Below is the letter regarding school reopening procedure from Superintendent Richard Gusick which was posted on the TESD website today. Although we expected the District to post its reopening plan this week – it turns out that the public will only have a few days to review and comment on the proposed plan. According to the letter, the District since has been “working non-stop in preparation for the new school year” since June.

The reopening plan will be posted on the District website on Friday, July 24 and public comments are due by Monday, July 27, 7 PM. The school board will vote on the final plan at a special board meeting on Wednesday, July 29, 7:30 PM.

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July 20, 2020

Dear T/E Families and Staff,

I wish you all good health and wellness. As the summer progresses, I would like to provide you with an update on our planning process for the 2020-2021 school year and to announce some important upcoming dates.

Planning for Reopening

Since June, TESD has been working non-stop in preparation for the new school year. We have been meeting with stakeholders, receiving input, monitoring guidance and developing different plans and scenarios. A sampling of the preparation work happening over the summer includes:

  • Distance Learning Survey Results were compiled and posted on the District website.
  • The District continues to review feedback received through the Distance Learning Inboxes (open through July 31) on a daily basis.
  • A TESD Pandemic Team was formed to develop a formal reopening plan.
  • Teacher representatives and District administrators collaborated to review ideas for reopening.
  • District administrators met with representatives from TESD parent groups to gather additional input on reopening.
  • Review of the health and safety recommendations with local health officials and our school nurse team has been ongoing.
  • The District continues to monitor state guidance and recommendations from a variety of health and research organizations.
  • District administrators met with teachers by level to discuss reopening, receive feedback and answer questions.

New Guidance from the State Impacts Schools

New and ever-changing health guidance has required TESD to continually pivot and adjust our plans for how to reopen our schools this fall. You may have heard that on July 15, Governor Wolf released new directions for schools to help further reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania. In addition, on July 16, the Pennsylvania Departments of Education and Health provided further clarification on these directions. This latest guidance includes limiting indoor gatherings to no more than 25 people and a recommendation for social distancing of six feet or more in schools. These changes prompted a complete review and reworking of the District draft plan.

Timeline for Reopening Plan Presentation and Approval

As mentioned previously, the draft reopening plan will be shared with the community this week. The plan will then be publicly presented to the School Board and voted on next week. Key dates include:

  • Friday, July 24 – Draft Reopening Plan to be posted on the District website on a new page dedicated to sharing emerging information about school reopening
  • Monday, July 27 – District Meeting to Present Reopening Plan and receive public comment at 7:00 PM
  • Wednesday, July 29 – Special School Board Meeting to take action on Reopening Plan at 7:30 PM

In accordance with state guidelines that limit indoor gatherings to 25 people, both upcoming meetings will be held virtually. Links to the live meetings will be available on the TESD website by 6:00 PM the day of the meeting. Directions on how to submit comments or to ask questions will be provided on Friday.

Elements of the Plan

Pennsylvania school districts are charged with developing a plan that describes how schools will operate under a red, yellow and green pandemic phase. Red phase plans operate under the assumption that school buildings are closed to students, and instruction is delivered virtually to all students. The virtual learning program will include increased live synchronous instruction at all levels. Yellow and green phase plans allow for a combination of in-person instruction and virtual learning. Because in-person instruction must follow the health and safety guidance, modifications to our typical program will be required. A 100% virtual learning model will be available as a choice for families in the yellow or green phases.

I trust that when we post our plan on Friday, some of your questions will be answered, but more will be generated. I would like nothing more than to open school safely on August 31 in the same manner as in previous school years, and I am saddened as an educator and as a parent that health directives will require major changes to what we normally do. Please know that we are doing our very best to maintain the safety of our school community and the integrity of T/E’s educational program delivered by T/E teachers and staff, either remotely or in person.

Sincerely,

Dr. Richard Gusick
Superintendent of Schools

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Does T/E Have an Actual School Reopening Plan – A District Elementary School Teacher Weighs In

We learned this week that Gov. Wolf has announced additional restrictions on indoor dining, alcohol consumption and large gatherings in Pennsylvania to regain control after a resurgence of COVID-19 in parts of the state. Under Wolf’s order, indoor events and gatherings of more than 25 people will be prohibited. And businesses will be required to have their employees work remotely to the extent possible.

Although Gov. Wolf did not specifically mention schools in his latest press release, he has previously pushed the schools to reopen but is leaving the details of “how” to the individual school districts. The president of Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), the state teachers union, weighed in this week urging the Governor to begin planning for online instruction in schools for 2020-21 school year.

We know that some school districts have done better jobs with drafting their reopening plans and with including stakeholders in the process than others. For instance, the Phoenixville Area School District completed its draft plan for reopening schools back in June and posted the plan on its website. During the summer, PASD sent regular updates to parents, conducted multiple surveys and is hosting a series of online meetings to hear from parents and community members on issues related to reopening schools. Based on the new information from PSEA, Phoenixville’s superintendent immediately videotaped a message for parents and posted it on the website.

Please look at PASD website, www.pasd.org – it is remarkable, with updated information on their “virtual academy”, videos and superintendent chats with the parents and community. PASD is providing impressive communication and transparency, especially regarding COVID-19.

I am certain that many school districts are providing the same type of public information and updates and only use PASD as an example. Now please look at TESD website, www.tesd.org – the most recent item on the page is the video from the June 29 school board meeting.

From parents this week, I learned that the planned Conestoga High School graduation for next week is cancelled. Again, from parents, I learned that several members of the CHS football team (voluntary football practice had started) have tested positive for COVID-19 and that the football is cancelled. From parents, we learned of the special “secret” reopening meeting between the administration and a select group of parents.

As you will read below, I learned about the virtual teacher reopening meetings from an attendee not the school board or the administration. None of this information is on the District website – there are no updates.

Scheduled for release next week, TESD parents and teachers are anxiously awaiting the specifics of its reopening plans.

In addition to the select (read secret) parent meeting held last week, the District’s administration held three separate virtual meetings for the elementary, middle and high school teachers respectively. As was the case with the parent meeting, no agenda was provided and no draft reopening plan was presented to the teachers. With the debate on whether and how to reopen school buildings, the teachers had anticipated details from the administration to be provided at the meeting.

However, much like the parents the week before, the teachers left the reopening meeting with more questions than answers. With the teacher’s permission, I provide the following notes from a District elementary school teacher who attended the reopening meeting:

Dear Pattye,

We had our reopening meeting today and I wish I could say I feel better after given some info and time to ask questions but I don’t.

The only definite information we were given is that we have to be prepared to be virtual for the fall, but that will only happen if we are in the red phase again. They did tell us virtual learning will have live learning for language arts and math, and they’re working on specials, science, and social studies.

Questions were asked about how many students would be in each room – the questions weren’t answered.

Questions were asked about procedures if a student or teacher gets sick – no plan was given, just that the CDC is notified and they control what actions the school takes.

We asked about teachers who are high risk and what provisions would be made for them – question was not answered.

We did learn that the District is buying masks and face shields, and some desks will be equipped with Plexiglas for students who cannot wear a mask due to health reasons.

They are spacing the desks 3 feet apart right now, and hope to extend that spacer closer to 6 feet if the numbers allow.

They did say the plan is not finished, and they do not have a plan for specials yet.

They were also iffy when we asked about how we would be notified of exposure, saying the CDC would do contact tracing. Currently- we aren’t even notified of lice outbreaks so I’m not confident we’ll get notified about this.

So many questions were left unanswered I’m even more concerned about returning.

We were told that they are really trying to improve the virtual learning plan so it is more like in person school, and that they hope if the plan is good enough more parents will opt in for virtual learning so we can have lower in-school numbers.

In terms of transportation, they are extending the pick-up and drop-off window in hopes that more parents will do that instead of riding the buses. Right now, the recommendation is 2 students per seat, which we already do and seating on the busses cannot be done socially distanced 3-6 feet apart.

Lunches will be in the classrooms and students will get 2 choices- there was no mention of recess.

Really, what I took from the meeting is that the school district is only fully “online” if we’re in red, and they have no idea about anything else. They did really focus on how we have until August 31 before anything is set in stone and that it’s very possible things may change before then.

I had asked a question on Community Matters about whether the teachers had received summer technology training in advance of the reopening of the schools to be prepared for the fall. A teacher, who attended the District’s reopening meeting, saw the question and responded as follows:

I read your post today, and one of the questions I saw asked was if teachers had been provided online training to help if the schools are virtual.

As far as I know, no we have not. The question was asked in our teacher reopening meeting if we would be provided distance learning training. The administration say they may set up some practice times the week of August 24th for teachers to get used to possibly having a camera on them and juggling virtual and in person class at the same time (if the District chooses to go with the integrated plan). It’s all a mess.

Following up on the teacher’s camera comment, it is my understanding that the District has purchased 500 cameras for the classrooms. The cameras would focus on the teacher and she/he would teach to the students who are in the classroom in addition to the students remotely learning from home. Having participated in a number of Zoom type meetings over the last several months myself (and with adults!) this kind of technology is not always easy to maneuver. I cannot imagine the juggling required for a teacher to do both distance learning and in class instruction simultaneously while the camera watches!

It was disappointing to learn from teachers that there was no distance learning training provided this summer. Although some parents and students had a favorable opinion of the remote learning provided in the spring, I think most would suggest that there was room for improvement. The District needed to dedicate attention to developing and improving online instruction with the teachers.

I question whether TESD actually has a detailed reopening plan – according to the parents who attended the secret meeting and the teachers who attended the virtual reopening meeting; the District is coming up short on the details.

Regarding the coronavirus and the reopening of the schools next month, is the public expected to trust the TE administration and the school board? Rather than expect communication and transparency from the District, should we adopt a casual “wait and see” attitude.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

As TESD Plans to Reopen Schools, Will the Teachers Return to the Classroom or Is the Risk Too Great?

Next week, the community will learn the specifics of the reopening plan for the TESD schools. Scheduled for release the week of July 20 with school board vote to occur the following week, the public will have a short window to review and provide feedback on the proposed reopening plan.

In advance of the public release of the reopening plan, we learned that last week the District leadership held a meeting with a select group of parents. In my last blog post, some have taken issue with my interpretation of the meeting — by my calling it a “secret” meeting and attendees as “handpicked”.

For the record, I will stand on the words in my post, the meeting attendees were handpicked and individually invited; the criteria for selection unclear. Because the administration and/or school board presented no notice of the reopening meeting, provided no public agenda and repeatedly asked attendees not to videotape and to keep information to private “is”, in my opinion, the hallmark of secrecy.

From a transparency and communication standpoint, wouldn’t it have made more sense for the District to videotape the parent reopening meeting and then provide the link on its website for all those interested?

Moving on … Coronavirus cases keep increasing at alarming rates across the country and this comes as our District is wrestling with “how” to reopen the schools. Making these decisions is not easy. There’s the issue of safety, and that’s complicated because students, teachers and parents all have different Covid-19 risk levels. With the upcoming release of the District’s reopening plan, parents debate whether they send their children physically back to school or take the distance learning option.

Available medical research seems to indicate that students would be at lower risk than adults for serious health problems related to the coronavirus, leading to concern for the risk teachers would take returning to the classroom. Considering teacher safety (in addition to the students), especially those who are older, medically vulnerable or who may be afraid of putting a family member at risk must be another priority in school reopening discussion.

Did the District’s newly formed Pandemic Committee seek input from the teachers in drafting the reopening plan– were the teachers engaged in the process? It is my understanding that two teachers were invited to the parent reopening meeting last week – unclear if they attended as TEEA (teachers union) representatives. Although I did not hear that these teachers participated in the reopening discussion, someone who attended the meeting did offer that other teaching staff (substitutes?) would be hired for the daily lunch period when schools reopen.

Has the District involved TEEA involved in the decision-making process for reopening? As preparation for the fall, was there online distance technology seminars held this summer for the teachers? In advance of the draft reopening plan announcement, did the administration schedule a special meeting for the teachers, similar as was held for the parents?

At the June school board meeting, the public learned that Dr. Chris Groppe was to head the TESD Pandemic Committee, part of the state required reopening process. Although the District’s announcement did not include the membership list of the committee, the additional eight members with their specific responsibilities, are as follows:

  • Jeanne Pocalycko, Personnel matters
  • Wendy Towle, Instructional plan development
  • Mike Szymendera, Technology implementation
  • Oscar Torres, Equity monitoring and liaison with families in need
  • Ellen Turk, School safety
  • Mark Cataldi, Liaison with principals and school board
  • Art McDonnell, Operations and facilities
  • Chris Connelly, Communications

We all know that reopening of schools is not simply a matter of turning a key. Will the District’s reopening plan next week include input from all stakeholders – the superintendent, administrators, Pandemic Committee, principals, teachers (and TEEA), school support staff (including TENIG), school board, parents, school nurses and psychologists and state health officials?

In closing, I saw the following posted on social media today – a thought-provoking list of questions as reopening plans develop with teachers returning to the classrooms. My understanding is the list was written by a teacher (and a parent) in Hawaii but is applicable everywhere.

  • If a teacher tests positive for COVID-19, are they required to quarantine for 2-3 weeks? Is their sick leave covered, paid?
  • If that teacher has 5 classes a day with 30 students each, do all 150 of those students need to then stay home and quarantine for 14 days?
  • Do all 150 of those students now have to get tested? Who pays for those tests? Are they happening at school? How are the parents being notified? Does everyone in each of those kids’ families need to get tested? Who pays for that?
  • What if someone who lives in the same house as a teacher tests positive? Does that teacher now need to take 14 days off of work to quarantine? Is that time off covered? Paid?
  • Where is the district going to find a substitute teacher who will work in a classroom full of exposed, possibly infected students for substitute pay?
  • Substitutes teach in multiple schools. What if they are diagnosed with COVID-19? Do all the kids in each school now have to quarantine and get tested? Who is going to pay for that?
  • What if a student in your kid’s class tests positive? What if your kid tests positive? Does every other student and teacher they have been around quarantine? Do we all get notified who is infected and when? Or because of HIPAA regulations are parents and teachers just going to get mysterious “may have been in contact” emails all year long?
  • What is this stress going to do to our teachers? How does it affect their health and well-being? How does it affect their ability to teach? How does it affect the quality of education they are able to provide? What is it going to do to our kids? What are the long-term effects of consistently being stressed out?

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Ignoring Community Outcry, TE School Board Approves 2.6% Tax Increase, the Elimination of ERB Testing & Salary Increases to Administrators

The voices of Tredyffrin Easttown School District residents were unified in their message to the school board. It took the District solicitor 1-1/2 hours to read into public record over sixty well-written, meaningful comments from residents and far less time for the School Board to ignore!

Resident comments focused on the District’s proposed 2020-21 budget, the proposed 2.6% tax increase, the elimination of the ERB testing as a cost-savings measure and the administrator raises. One lone resident supported the proposed budget; the remainder of the comments loudly and eloquently opposed.

To the many residents who spoke out during the 2020-21 budget process, thank you. Your collective voices do matter but, sadly, not to the TE School Board. Although technically the budget vote occurred during the meeting, it could have easily occurred before the meeting even started! Elected to serve the residents of the Tredyffrin Easttown School District, the Board remained unmoved by the outcry from the community.

At midnight, the School Board approved the 2020-21 budget (7-2) with a 2.6% tax increase – the largest increase permitted this year, marking the 16th straight year of tax increases to T/E residents. The Business Manager and some on the Board actually had the audacity to mention that it was the lowest tax increase in years – the truth is that 2.6% is the maximum tax increase permitted by Act 1, making those remarks ridiculous!

I would be remiss if I did not salute TE School Board director Scott Dorsey, the only real voice for the community. From the start of the budget discussion in January, Rev. Dorsey declared his opposition to any tax increase. Again, last night he highlighted the additional suffering in the community due to the pandemic – the increased unemployment, the struggling small businesses, etc. but gained no support for a zero tax increase. We heard you Rev. Dorsey and your words mattered to this community.

Although the proposed budget materials clearly listed that ERB testing (and associated $85K cost) as a cost-savings strategy, several Board members argued that the elimination was not a strategy to save money. To the viewing public, the remarks were ridiculous (and untrue). Nonetheless, with the approval of the budget, the District eliminated ERBs for the 2020-21 year.

In part, my comment to the School Board read, “Eliminating ERB testing is eliminating accountability…” It was no surprise to hear that TEEA (the District’s teacher union) supported the removal of ERB testing. There was much talk that that the elimination of the ERBs was for the 2020-21 school year only, leaving open the possibility of the testing to return the following year. If anyone believes that there is a remote chance that ERBs will reappear in future budgets, I think there’s a Brooklyn Bridge for sale.

Another consistent remark from residents was opposition to administration salary increases and bonuses for 2020-21, asking for fairness and shared sacrifice n the budget. A number of residents cited the past failings of the Business Manager and called for his removal. Not surprising there was no response from the School Board and Art McDonnell continues as the District’s Business Manager with a raise and bonus. All Administration, Supervisory and Confidential employees will receive salary increases for 2020-21.

Because of the Covid-19 crisis, we are all suffering. Residents have lost their jobs, and every segment of our economy, including our local small businesses, are feeling the effects of the pandemic. Almost all of us are in worse financial shape and a tax increase under these conditions was wrong.

Our voices should have mattered — Shame on the TE School Board for ignoring the residents and shame on the School Board for approving the maximum tax increase of 2.6% and eliminating the ERBs.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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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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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