TESD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Adam Farence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

School district officials declined to comment.

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

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

Fritz Lumber, the oldest place of business in Berwyn, is closing its doors after 150+ years!

Sadly, Fritz Lumber, the oldest place of business in Berwyn is closing its doors after a century and a half of service to the community and is residents.

The history of the William H. Fritz Lumber Company began in 1863, when Abraham Lincoln was in office. Henry Fritz and his soon-to-be wife Mary Lobb decided to open a coal and lumber business in their hometown community of Reeseville, known today as Berwyn. Within a few short years, the business would prosper.

After 153 years, the fifth-generation of Fritz Lumber has decided to close its doors. Howard Fritz sent the following letter to the Easttown Board of Supervisors, detailing the sale of the business.

I would like to formally announce to you that the Wm. H. Fritz lumber company’s property is under agreement of sale to Eadeh Enterprises. Eadeh Enterprise is a very responsible and community minded organization as you all know. The business at Fritz, will remain open till all inventory is sold. Presumably by September 1, 2016.

This decision has been a very long and painful process. Wm. Fritz (Bill) is in his eighty seventh year and wishes to retire. I am sixty two and have health issues and concerns for both myself and my dear wife Roberta. My two adult children do not have an interest or desire to continue in this business. Neither have building experience or knowledge of it, nor do they have the required, management skills needed to sustain a viable and prosperous supply company.

It is very disappointing to have to close a family business that has been in existence since the civil war…153 years ago. With that said…I am very grateful to our community and the Easttown Township for the many years of support. The Fritz family has been active community members….past and present. From helping to start a bank, a church and Station II. To most recently, our vocation for the Berwyn/Devon business Assoc., Veteran Assoc., Easttown Tricentennial, and the park and recreation committee to name a few.

We also joyfully received the same high paying compensation the supervisors receive for all their hard work and efforts!! All jokes aside…l am honored to be allowed the opportunity to serve this very fine community which I lived in for twenty plus years. Obviously timely communications between us is an absolute must. We may be reached at our office at 610 – 644-0608 for any questions or concerns on this matter. Once again… we sincerely thank you all… and wish everyone the very best.

Sincerely, (and perhaps regretfully),

Howard Fritz

V.P. WM. H. Fritz Inc.

Redevelopment decisions by the new owners of the property, Eadeh Enterprise (another old business name in the community) will be guided by Berwyn Village zoning ordinance changes of 2013.   At that time, the plan approved by Easttown supervisors placed the Berwyn Village properties into three districts: Village Business, Village Residential and Village Transition.

The ordinance change allowed that the buildings located in the Berwyn Village could stay exactly as they were in 2013 – whether retail, multi-family or single family. However, if the building was sold, torn down or re-developed, it would need to conform to the new zoning requirements.  At the time the zoning ordinance was passed, some local residents were concerned that the neighborhood feel of Berwyn could be lost, depending how redevelopment were to occur — pointing to multi-story East Side Flats on King Street in Malvern as an example of what could happen.

For those concerned about the demands that the various land development projects are placing on the TE School District — Wayne Glen, Parkview at Chesterbrook, Station Square, etc.- the redevelopment of the Fritz Lumber site may pose another.

But regardless of Eadeh’s plans for the property, it is safe to say that after 150 years, the appearance of Lancaster Avenue in Berwyn is about to change.

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TESD: Proposed Tax Increase of 4.3% Drops to $3.875% — School Board to leave $20 in taxpayer pockets

Tax-increaseFor the 13th year in a row, it looks like the TE School Board will vote to increase taxes to its residents.

At the District’s budget workshop last night, the public learned that the proposed 2016/17 tax increase has decreased – the tax increase has reduced from the 4.3% contained in the preliminary budget approved in January.  The proposed tax increase is now 3.875%.  This ‘decrease in the increase’ means homeowners will keep roughly $20 of the proposed tax increase in their pockets.

T/E School District has one of the largest fund balances in the state – in 1996/97, the District had a fund balance of $4,333,661 and in the last decade we saw the fund balance increase to more than $28 million.  The total fund balance as of June 2015 was $32,381,047 – that’s $32.4 million in taxpayer dollars. Continuing to grow the fund balance, the District shows a budget surplus for the fifth year in a row yet residents continue to feel the sting of an annual tax increase.

Ray Clarke and Neal Colligan were in attendance at the budget workshop and their comments from the meeting are appreciated.  Thank you both.

If residents care about the proposed ‘thirteen years in a row’ tax increase, they should plan to attend the TE School Board meeting of April 25 and voice their opinion.

Budget Workshop Notes from Ray Clarke:

Three hours of discussion at last night’s TESD Budget Workshop culminated in some good news for taxpayers – although you’d need a microscope to see it.  The Board will vote at its April 25th meeting for a “Preliminary Final Budget” that includes a tax increase of 3.875% – down from the maximum allowable by a token 0.4% (worth about $20 for the average taxpayer, who is still faced with an increase of more than $200).

Notwithstanding well-articulated positions from members Dorsey, Sweeney, Burger and Hotinski (and from the audience) for a lower rate, more considerate of the increased fees to families and the fixed, inflation-linked incomes of retirees, the outcome seemed pre-ordained, driven by the same majority that voted for the senseless VFMS fences.  That majority seems pre-occupied by risk and unable to appreciate that every number they are given by the Administration is conservative.  For example:

–  Half of the adjustments to the Preliminary Budget could arguably be higher – most notable being the use of approved rather realistic estimates to budget the impact of staff retirements.

–  There was much lamentation of the possible impact of the next union contracts (due in 2017/18), without recognition that the projections already include 7-10% increases in the benefits costs (worth 1-2% in total compensation).

–  Revenue projections are especially murky.  This year’s transfer tax is already $1 million over Budget, as are even base real estate revenues – the most predictable of all line items!  It’s not at all clear if next year’s Budget, developed months ago, considers these developments.

Years of operating outcomes favorable to Budget show that the Administration is skilled at managing its resources.  Superintendent Gusick read a scripted plea for the Board to set the District’s tax parameters and pledged to implement a process next Fall to conduct the oft-advertised “deep dive” into expense strategies that would address any apparent operating deficit that resulted.

The April 25th Board vote is not final, but is nevertheless significant.  Anyone that believes that our School District should be managed more like the County Intermediate Unit, which also last night presented its Budget and a commitment to live within the Act 1 2.4% Inflation Index, should come out in support of our Board members who are trying to hold the line here in TE

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Budget Workshop Notes from Neal Colligan:

-Current Year operating projections now show an estimated $984,000 Surplus for the District for the 2015-16 fiscal year (this year).  Current year’s budget was passed with an anticipated deficit of $1.654 MM.  It’s a miracle…a $2.5 MM swing!

-This “miracle” of Deficit Budget morphing into an Actual Surplus has now happened in EACH of the last five years.

-As a result of these Surpluses; the District has added almost $12 MM to its Fund Balance over the last 5 years…that’s a pretty profitable operation!!!

-With over $32 MM in Fund Balance (about to be over $33 MM with this year’s Surplus); at what point is that adequate?

-The growth of the Surplus is remarkable as we always seem to be “up against the wall” when it comes time to set a new tax rate.  Possibly this pattern is a result of the budget forecasting methods employed when looking at the next year’s budget.  On average (10 years); the District collects a bit over 100% of budgeted revenue and spends about 95.5% of budgeted expenses.  Perhaps this speaks more to the budget estimates used at tax setting time than actual operational changes employed during a given fiscal year.

-At 3.875%; the tax increase this year will be higher than the 3.84% increase imposed on the community for this year.  Not sure the new Board Members ran to increase taxes.

-Perhaps it is time to look at using a small amount of our Surplus (88% funded by local sources) to dampen current tax increases?  One could certainly argue that the Fund Balance is now super-adequate and it is taxpayer money that they were told would go to education….!!!???

TESD: Meetings tonight to discuss football team hazing, VF Middle School fencing, student computers and reapportionment

TE School District administrators and school board members are responding to the community on range of important topics tonight.

At 6 PM in the Conestoga High School auditorium, the District residents have an opportunity to comment on the recent events involving the football team.  My guess is that the administration will have little to say regarding the criminal charges filed against three senior players for their alleged assault of a freshman 14-yr. old student. Now a legal matter, the issue is in the hands of district attorney Tom Hogan and the courts. However, I would expect comment from the administration and school board regarding “No Gay Thursday”, the weekly hazing tradition in the locker room. The letter of March 17 from the District indicated hazing occurred. The implementation of a zero-tolerance hazing policy going forward is needed.

The administration has conducted its own internal investigation and the community should expect an update on their findings.  We know that Conestoga’s head football coach John Vogan resigned from his position and the other varsity and junior varsity football staff – five people – have been relieved of their coaching jobs in all sports through the fall season.

The regular meeting of the school board follows the public meeting regarding the football team – 7:30 PM in Conestoga High School cafeteria. Priority discussion topics on the agenda include the Valley Forge Middle School fencing project, one:one computing initiative, and reapportionment plan.

According to the agenda, the Valley Forge Middle School construction documents include options for 4 feet, 5 feet and 6 feet chain link fencing and 4 feet, 5 feet and 6 feet black estate fencing.  According to the agenda, “The base bid will be per the recommendation of the safety and security consultant of a 6 foot chain link fence with the other options being bid as alternatives”.  The $15,500 consultant’s report recommended a minimum of 5 feet fencing (and 6 feet fencing preferred), so why is 4 feet a consideration? I thought the public was told that 4 feet fencing does not meet school security standards. But more importantly, … where’s the ‘no fencing’ option?

“To fence or not to fence” was at Valley Forge Middle School was a  major campaign issue in the November TE School Board elections. Several candidates, now school board directors, used ‘no fencing’ as part of their campaign platform. In District 2, school board directors Michelle Burger and Ed Sweeney, were both extremely vocal in their fencing opposition; promising voters they would not support additional fencing at VFMS.  By some accounts, former school board president Kris Graham lost her bid for re-election over the VFMS issue and her support for the fencing. Tonight it looks like the fencing project may finally be coming to a head and it will be interesting to see how each school board member votes.  A vote for no fencing remains an option.

On the plan to outfit students with District computers, not everyone in the community shares the administrations’ interest in the student computer initiative — for a variety of reasons, product choice, leasing vs purchase, privacy issues, costs, etc.  Has the proposed one:one computing initiative been thoroughly vetted? The taxpayers are facing a significant tax increase for 2016-17, is the school board satisfied that they should move forward to implement this computer plan?

A reminder that in January, the school board unanimously adopted the 2016-17 preliminary budget, which contains a 4.3% tax increase.  At that time,  the Board decided to “keep their options open” by approving a preliminary budget with the Act 1 index of 2.4% and allowable exceptions to Act 1 of 1.9% to close the project budget deficit of $4.75 million.  If the 2016-17 budget passes with a tax increase, it will mark the 12th straight year of a tax increase. Some of the school board members publicly voiced concern over the proposed tax increase, vowing to work to lower the increase in the final budget.

TESD Administration reacts against Conestoga High School hazing with strong words and offers course for change

Hazing abuseIn the two weeks since Chester County DA Tom Hogan filed charges of assault, conspiracy, unlawful restraint and other crimes against three Conestoga football players, the hazing scandal has brought nationwide attention to the TE School District. Allegedly, the senior boys penetrated a freshman teammate with a broomstick after he refused to help other underclassmen clean the locker room while wearing just their underwear. According to Hogan, the “No Gay Thursdays” was a tradition started by the football team at least three or four years ago, in which behavior the team normally considered to be “gay” was considered “not gay” on Thursdays,

The hazing scandal has quickly gained national attention and continues to appear in articles from the New York Times to the Washington Post.  Locally the community appears divided between those students and parents suggesting that the October 15 incident never happened to others in the public who were outraged and wanted answers.

I have found myself caught in the middle of the two camps. I fully support ‘innocent until proven guilty” regarding the three Conestoga football players – the presumption of innocence is essential to the criminal process. We know of mistakes made by overzealous district attorneys and lawyers who were quick to judge – look at the Duke lacrosse players falsely accused of rape in 2006. The mishandling in that case cost that district attorney his job and his law license, not to mention the millions of dollars paid by Duke University for legal bills and lawsuits.  On the flip side, it is hard to believe that the highly respected Chester County DA Tom Hogan and his office were not thorough in their investigation. Regardless … the boys are innocent until proven guilty.

There are important issues at play here. One is the criminal charges filed against the football players for the alleged assault. On that score, it is up to the legal process to decide the fate of those accused not the school district or the residents.  But another important issue is this so-called “No Gay Thursday” weekly hazing tradition – and the expectation from many in the community (including myself) that the administration can (and should) institute a zero-tolerance hazing policy going forward.

On Thursday, TESD Supt. Dr. Richard Gusick and Conestoga HS Principal Dr. Amy Meisinger released a letter to school district families. (Click here to read letter). Although understandably unable to comment on the legal investigation, the letter provides an update on the District’s internal investigation and findings, including the following:

* Hazing activities occurred with some members of the football team over the past several years, including back slapping, horseplay, and obscene behaviors targeted toward underclassmen.

* These activities sometimes occurred under the label of “No Gay Thursday.”

* No interviews or other evidence indicated that any adult had knowledge of these activities.

* The locker rooms had an insufficient adult presence throughout the football season, creating an environment where hazing activities could occur.

Accepting responsibility that hazing had occurred at the high school, the letter went on to say, that the school “… does not accept any type of intolerance, hazing, bullying or intimidation within our school community. “No Gay Thursday” is ignorant, intolerant, and has no place in any school. Even though no gay students were specific targets of discrimination, the practice itself is an affront to us all. We are committed to eliminating these activities and providing a positive, respectful environment that is safe for all students.”

These are words that the community needed to hear – a statement containing a clear anti-hazing message and indication that the District is taking the hazing seriously and is taking strong action against it for the future.

We also learned from the letter that John Vogan, Conestoga’s head football coach, had resigned, effective immediately. And that the entire football coaching staff was relieved of all coaching responsibilities in all sports through the fall season. (Does this mean there’s an opportunity for the District to re-hire the coaching staff after the Fall season?)

The administration is recommending hiring a full-time Athletic Director for TESD middle school and high school sports programs. Creating a new position for oversight of the sports programs is a good suggestion – however, for me there’s one caveat, conduct a search and hire from the outside. The District athletic program needs a new start.

This tragedy has shaken all of us and the public needs assurance that the District will take every step to try to prevent this from happening again.  Although originally the stance was no public meetings on this topic, the District has changed course and is now encouraging residents to share their thoughts on Monday, March 28, 6 PM in the auditorium at Conestoga High School.  This meeting will occur before the regularly scheduled school board meeting which starts at 7:30 PM.

TESD: Conestoga Senior Michael Zhang Awarded $75,000 in 2016 Intel Science Talent Search

Michael-Zhang-300x300

Exciting update —

Conestoga High School senior Michael Zhang, 18, of Berwyn, PA won the Second Place Medal of Distinction for Global Good in the 2016 Intel Science Talent Search last night in Washington, DC. He engineered tiny virus-like particles to deliver gene-modifying proteins to target cells for medical therapy by altering the genome of those cells in a controlled way.

The second place medal comes with a $75,000 award! Congratulations Michael and the Zhang family!

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I previously posted the following on Community Matters (January 20, 2016) when Michael was listed as a 2016 Intel finalist:

The list of finalists in Intel’s 2016 Science Talent Search (Intel STS) was released today and Tredyffrin Easttown School District student, Conestoga senior Michael Zhang. is on the list! Michael’s impressive achievement was based on his ‘Design and Assembly of CRISPR/Cas9-based Virus-like Particles for Orthogonal and Programmable Genetic Engineering in Mammalian Cells’.  Congratulations Michael!

Run by the nonprofit Society for Science & the Public since 1942, the Science Talent Search is America’s oldest and most prestigious science competition for high school students. Intel Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif., has sponsored the competition since 1998. Intel STS recognizes 300 students as semifinalists each year.  From that group, 40 finalists receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. from March 1016, where they will compete for more than $1 million in awards.

As an Intel STS finalist, Zhang will participate in rigorous final judging sessions, display his work to the public, meet with notable scientists and compete for three Medal of Distinction awards awards of $150,000 each – one for basic research, one for global good and another for innovation. Additionally, there are three second-place awards of $75,000, and three third-place awards of $35,000.  Each Intel STS finalist receives at least $7,500.

According to Intel STS website, alumni of the competition have made extraordinary contributions to science and “hold more than 100 or the world’s most coveted science and math honors, including twelve Nobel Laureates, eleven National Medal of Science winners, two Fields Medalists, and eighteen MacArthur Foundation Fellows.” Intel STS 2016 finalists are from 38 schools in 18 states. Fifty-two percent of this year’s finalists are male, while 48 percent are female.

As one of the nation’s top high school researchers, congratulations and best wishes to Michael in Washington!

Update on TE School District’s Finance Meeting

school-financeMy friend Ray Clarke attended the TESD Finance Meeting last night and kindly provides us with the following notes. Thanks Ray! Others in the community attended the meeting; I encourage you to offer your comments.
Some brief and arbitrary personal notes from last night’s TESD Finance Committee. There was fair community attendance and engagement, so hopefully others can supplement.
 
The attendance may have been encouraged by the prospect of “drilling down” into the expense Budget that requires the 4.3% tax increase, but once again we were left flat on our backs as Lucy pulled the football away.  For example, we learned that Special Education purchased services are slated to increase by $0.9 million, but have no idea why, beyond “unfunded mandates”.  Maybe someone can point out any new mandates, and indeed offer a quantitative analysis of how the $20+ million a year Special Education enterprise spends that money, where the increase is going next year, and why exactly the projection model has the expense increasing at 10% a year for the full five year length of the model.  Committee Chair Lastner again held out the prospect of sharing more with the public in future meetings.
 

The community is also struggling to understand the trajectory of health care costs.  Since the district went to the current self-funding model, experience has fluctuated considerably, $1 million or more ahead or less than budget.  Analysis of this is left to the insurance broker/administrator, so we have not seen the thinking that supports next year’s budget projection of a 5% increase and subsequent 8% annual increases.  If taxpayers are to be comfortable accepting perpetual tax increases to cover this benefit for our employees, it would be nice to see some “drilling down” here, too.  Let’s look at the five year trend, understand what’s driving that trend, including any change in the demographics of the covered population and the employee contribution, budget to that long term trend and use the $5 or $6 million of taxpayer money tucked away in the Fund Balance to systematically smooth out the inevitable fluctuations.

A comparison of budget to actual for the last three years was notable for one factor: in every year, actual employee compensation costs have been better than budget by at least $1 million and in 2013/14 more than $2 million to the good – because the impact of retirements and unpaid leaves of absence (both of which bring replacement with lower cost staff).  And a similar outcome is projected for the current year.  But we were told that this over-budgeting – which leads every year to a higher than needed tax increase – can not be budgeted for because the district only officially learns of retirements after the budget is completed.  Somehow we can estimate cost increases (eg: healthcare), but can not manage to deal with decreases?

More information to come re the laptop plan (hardware choice, roll-out timing, cost-sharing, etc.).  I gather the Education Committee approved the educational rationale, so maybe a good start for communicating that rationale to those of us who bought their own log tables and slide rules would be to provide a white paper documenting how educational outcomes will be improved.

Since the passage of the District’s preliminary budget last month which contains a 4.3% tax increase, it is not good news to read that there’s been no movement in the direction to decrease.  At the time the preliminary budget was passed, I recall that the Finance Committee Chair Virginia Lastner told the public that this only to “keep the options open”. Lastner stated that all expenses would be reviewed ‘line by line’. Maybe that discussion will happen at the budget workshops.

On Thursday, February 18. the Facilities Committee (with Virginia Lastner, chair) will return to the discussion of the fencing project at Valley Forge Middle School and the consultant’s report.  Interestingly, a review of the meeting agenda indicates a strict time schedule — public comment is from 5 PM – 5:05 PM. Five total minutes for public comment — what is that about?

Police investigating ritual hazing involving Conestoga High School football team

FootballHearing reports on the news about Tredyffrin Township police and Chester County detectives investigating alleged hazing at Conestoga High School involving the school’s football team.

According to the report, teams of detectives are interviewing as many as 60 or 70 students about an alleged assault during hazing where one student was seriously injured.  The investigation is interviewing current football players and going back two years.

The report said that the investigation centers on ritual hazing by football players which occurred on the same day each week. Apparently some of the students were aware of the hazing going on and would deliberately avoided the high school gym at certain times.

The news report makes it sound like this was a routine weekly hazing … how is that no one knew what was going on? Where were the coaches, teachers, administrators?

All of this attention paid to fencing our schools for safety reasons but what about the safety of our children inside the schools?

Although at this point, the focus is on ‘alleged’ hazing, it’s hard to believe that Chester County DA Tom Hogan would have teams of detectives investigating if there wasn’t significant reason. According to the TE School District’s website, the District is not conducting their own investigation. From an administration standpoint, I would think that the District would want to conduct their own internal investigation and find out ‘who knew what and when’.

The following appears on the TE School District website:

Police Investigation into Alleged Hazing

We have been advised by Chester County law enforcement officials of a police investigation related to alleged hazing by Conestoga High School current and/or former football players. The District places the highest priority on student safety and, to that end, is cooperating in any way it can with law enforcement officials. As this is not currently a school district investigation, we are not in a position to answer any questions or provide more information at this time. However, if you or your child has any information pertinent to this matter, please contact the Chester County District Attorney’s Office or the Tredyffrin Township Police Department.

 

To Fence or Not to Fence at VF Middle School? Safety Consultant Says Yes (plus a lot more!)

Fencing April 2015The TE School District saga of the fencing project at Valley Forge Middle School continues.  We learned on Thursday, through the District’s website, that the “Final Report on Fencing at Valley Forge Middle School’ was available to the public.  Or so we thought.

In September 2015, the District contracted with Ken Trump and his firm, National School Safety and Security Services to conduct a school safety assessment to evaluate fencing at VFMS.  A 3-day site visit was conducted on November 18-20.  On the final day of their site visit, Trump and his associate Charles Hibbert presented their preliminary findings at a District Facilities Committee meeting.  The long-awaited final report, dated January 8, 2016, was reviewed by the school board and administration and then uploaded to the District’s website on Thursday, January 28.

More about the final report in a minute but first, I need to explain that the consultant’s report mysteriously “disappeared without a trace” from the District’s website yesterday (Saturday) and then mysteriously “reappeared” late today without explanation. Word has it that there was some kind of computer glitch.  Interesting.

Much contained in the final VFMS fencing report was expected and very similar to the presentation by Trump at the Facilities Committee meeting in November.

Although hired to evaluate the fencing at VFMS, sadly the report also contains an unnecessary and offensive tone in regards to the community.  The report includes a negative critique of residents and their viewpoints and, in my opinion, comes across sounding very unprofessional. In describing the input from community members, Trump stated, “We found their opinions to be entrenched, their objectivity skewed, and the attacks by some of these individuals upon the consultants’ recommendations and intellect to be disingenuous.”  The report suggests that resident’s opposition to fencing had to do with “furthering entrenched personal and power struggles with select district board members and the administrators. “  Wow.

Bottom line is that Trump recommends fencing at Valley Forge Middle School.  According to the report, the fencing at VFMS provides “risk reduction benefits” which will ‘mark’ the school boundaries and deter deer, fox and dogs!

The report recommends five foot minimum (six foot preferred) chain link fencing to enclose the upper field and track.  Along Valley Forge Road (Rt. 252), the consultant recommends five foot minimum (six foot preferred) chain link fencing.  It should be pointed out that a variance would be required by Tredyffrin Township’s Zoning Hearing Board as the recommendation exceeds the height restriction of fences.

Trump closed his report by stating that the “community convenience, as well as community individual or group specials interests, cannot continue to drag out what is an already over-extended process …” A rather judgmental comment  by the consultant on the community  and  remember that we paid $15,500 for this report.

So what’s the next step?  At the January Facilities Meeting, chair Virginia Lastner stated that the consultant’s fencing report would be discussed at the next meeting on Thursday, February 18, 5 PM at the Administration Building.  A full school board discussion with the public should happen at the regular school board meeting on Monday, February 22, 7:30 PM at the high school.

For the sake of transparency and public involvement, the VFMS fencing project deserves a place on the agenda at the regular school board meeting on February 22.  Before the school board makes a decision in this matter, all options or possible compromises need to be fully vetted in front of the public. Presumably the vote on fencing at VFMS will take place at the March 28 school board meeting.

2016 brings new leadership to Tredyffrin Twp, 4.3% tax increase in preliminary TESD budget and a Chester County Substitute Teacher Job Fair

Belated Happy New Year!  Waking up to 23 degree temperatures today reminds us that we are not going to escape the winter after all. Having recently returned from holidays spent in South Carolina with balmy, sunny 83 temperatures makes the arctic cold even harder to take!

Since the start of the New Year, here are a couple of noteworthy items.  The 2016 reorganization of Tredyffrin Township’s Board of Supervisors came with two surprises – recently elected at-large supervisors Trip Lukens and  Sean Moir were elected chair and vice chair, respectively of the board.  Except for, also recently elected, supervisor Heather Greenberg, all other currently serving supervisors had served on the BOS longer than these two newly elected supervisors. But Lukens isn’t new to leadership roles in the township, having served previously as a member and chair of Tredyffrin’s Planning Commission. Congratulations to Lukens and Moir on the vote of confidence from their fellow supervisors and best wishes in their new positions!

The TE School District held their first school board meeting of 2016 last week.The Board unanimously adopted the 2016-17 preliminary budget which contains a 4.3% tax increase. The Board decided to “keep their options open” by approving a preliminary budget with the Act 1 index of 2.4% and allowable exceptions to Act 1 of 1.9% to close the project budget deficit of $4.75 million. It should be noted that Tredyffrin Township recently passed their 2016 budget with a zero percent tax increase.

The following chart shows TESD tax increases over the last twelve years.   2004-05 was the last zero tax increase year.

• 2015-16: 3.81%
• 2014-15: 3.4%
• 2013-14: 1.7%
• 2012-13: 3.3%
• 2011-12: 3.77%
• 2010-11: 2.9%
• 2009-10: 2.95%
• 2008-09: 4.37%
• 2007-08: 3.37%
• 2006-07: 3.90%
• 2005-06: 1.40%
• 2004-05: Zero Tax Increase

Although the adoption of the 2016-17 preliminary budget does not commit the Board to a tax increase, I cannot remember the last time the Board passed a preliminary budget with a tax increase and then decreased the tax increase in the final approved budget. Because the District does not allow the archive of meeting minutes on the website beyond the current year, there is no way to access this type of information, short of a ‘right-to-know’ request.  (Here’s a suggestion/request for the Public Information committee – please keep the minutes for all school board meetings on the District website; a RTK should not be a requirement to access public information.)

I want to note that although the Board voted 9-0 to accept the preliminary budget, both Scott Dorsey (D) and Ed Sweeney (R) voiced their objection to the tax increase and do not want to see a 4.3% tax increase in the final budget.  It was refreshing that newly elected Board member Robert Hotinski (D) spoke up about the way the budget information is presented — asking for more details on the line items from the District’s business manager Art McDonnell. Finance and Facilities Chair Virginia Lastner (R) encouraged the public to attend upcoming finance meetings and budget workshops and to look for solutions together with the District. 2016 is a new year and maybe the tides are turning …

I received a request from the staff of the Chester County Intermediate Unit to advertise the Chester County Substitute Teacher Job Fair, Thursday, January 14, 4-7 PM.  The Job Fair will be held at the CCIU office, 455 Boot Road, Downingtown, PA.  Representatives for all the public school districts in Chester County will be on hand to discuss current substitute teacher job openings and to accept applications and resumes. The CCIU press release states, “… According to the PA Department of Education, the current supply of available teachers, including substitutes, is not keeping up with the growing demand.” 

Walk-ins are welcome at the job fair, but interested individuals are invited to preregister for the event online:   help.thesubservice.com/chester

Although the Chester County Substitute Teacher Job Fair is for candidates seeking positions in all the Chester County public school districts, I post this notice in hopes of helping some of the experienced and educated aides and paraeducators whose jobs were outsourced by Tredyffrin Easttown School District.

Chester County Substitute Teacher Job Fair flyer

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