TESD

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.

TESD: Conestoga Senior named finalist in 2016 Intel Science Talent Search

Michael-Zhang-300x300The 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!

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

To fence or not to fence — Valley Forge Middle School fencing saga continues

Fencing April 2015

On Wednesday, Nov. 18 the public was invited to attend a community meeting at Valley Forge Middle School with the District’s safety consultant from National School Safety and Security Services (consultation fee: $15,500).

Chesterbrook resident Doug Anestad attended the fencing meeting and provided the following update of the meeting for Community Matters:

The Valley Forge Middle School fence safety consultant meeting was quite an event with a very large turnout with over one hundred in attendance.

The meeting started at 7pm and the safety consultant said that he wanted to finish by 9pm. There was a line of people talking the whole two hours at the two microphones that were set up. Each person had a maximum of 5 minutes to speak with many not using their allotted time.

The message was consistent, loud, and clear: the audience did not think that the proposed fencing would increase student safety, are ugly, and the money would be better spent on the students.

The audience seemed to be much more worried about the daily traffic jams at Valley Forge Middle School during drop off and pick up than any supposed safety the fences would add.

It was not just parents of Valley Forge Middle School students that spoke out against the proposed fences. Valley Forge Elementary parents not only spoke out against the proposed fencing at Valley Forge Middle but also stated that they didn’t see the benefit of the fences that have already been installed at Valley Forge Elementary.

Valley Forge Middle School PTO members, including the PTO President Sarah Culbert, spoke out against the proposed fences.

Speaking of the PTO, a parent mentioned that he got a letter from the PTO trying to get raise money to purchase iPads for the students. He pointed out that the $80,000 budgeted for the fences would not only complete the fundraising, but go way beyond it.  I just looked it up, and for $80,000 we could purchase 200 iPads for the students at retail cost. The school district gets an educational discount so they could get even more.

The point wasn’t really about buying iPads. The point was that the money could be better spent on the students. The audience wholeheartedly agreed.

In addition to the PTO president, there were presidents of quite a few homeowner associations including David Miller, president of the Chesterbrook Civic Association. They stated that in their communities, everyone they talked to was against the proposed fences and people didn’t see how they helped student safety and were a waste of money.

One of the most telling things that happened was when one person speaking at the end stated that she was uncomfortable publicly speaking and commented that many other people felt the same way and therefore wouldn’t speak. She asked if there could be a show of hands for people who were against the fence. It looked as if every hand in the audience went up. When the safety consultant asked who was in favor of the fences, only one hand from the Tredyffrin community went up.

The bottom line is that the community came out in force yet again to give their input. The input was loud and clear. The community knows fences will not increase student safety.  Fences are an eyesore and a waste of money.

If the school board goes ahead with the fences, one has to ask what the point was of even asking the community for their input. The community wants the money spent on students – not useless fences.

As part of the District’s agreement with the safety consultant, a preliminary oral presentation is tomorrow, Friday, Nov. 20, 2 PM at the District’s Facilities Meeting. The safety consultant will provide written report with recommendations following the site visit.

Tredyffrin Township Police Department brings multiple pornography charges against middle school students in the TE School District

Today the Tredyffrin Township Police Department filed multiple pornography charges against three middle school students at TE Middle School and Valley Forge Middle School for allegedly creating and sending sexually explicit images.  According to the police report the images included nudity and child pornography.  The ages of those charged range from 11 – 15 years old. Suspects viewed and shared the images while in school.  The investigation by the Tredyffrin Township Police began in April 2015.

An excerpt from the Tredyffrin Township Police Department press release of November 3, 2015 is as follows:

The Tredyffrin Township Police Department has announced that Juvenile Allegations have been filed against three (3) juveniles, for different incidents related to the creation and distribution of intimate images and harassment.  The distribution of intimate images can range from a charge grading of a summary offense to a felony, depending on the age of the participants, the age of the receiver of the image and circumstances involved in the viewing, storage and distribution of the intimate image.

In this case, those intimate images consisted of pictures or videos of students who attend Tredyffrin-Easttown School District middle schools; Valley Forge Middle School and T/E Middle School, as well as images retrieved from the internet.  The age of the juveniles charged ranged from age 11 – 15 at the time the incidents occurred.  Additional juveniles are likely to be charged in the near future.

The allegations were a result of investigations which were begun in April of 2015 by Tredyffrin Township Police Department and are continuing.  During the investigation it was reported by both victims and participants, that intimate images consisting of child erotica, nudity, child pornography and pornography were created, sent, stored, and viewed by a number of students both at their homes and while at school.

In most cases the images and videos were sent voluntarily by the juveniles to other minors.  In some cases intimate images were sent to unknown persons who were met in Cyber Chats conducted with various social networking applications.  In another case, a student offered to sell an intimate image of a classmate to another student. The charges connected to this were, Title 18 of the Pennsylvania Crimes Code, Section 6321 (a)(1), Transmission of Sexually Explicit Images by a Minor, a summary offense and a Misdemeanor of the 3rd.

In one case, an intimate image of a sex act was taken off of the World Wide Web by a juvenile male, then distributed and portrayed as being that of a juvenile female student to her class mates.  The resulting harassment lead to an assault at the T/E Middle School.

The charges related to this incident, from Title 18 of the Pennsylvania Crime Code included the following: Section 5903, Obscene and other Sexual Materials and Performances, a Felony of the 3rd degree; Section 7512, Criminal Use of a Communications Facility, a Felony of the 3rd degree; Section 6318, Unlawful Contact with a Minor, a Felony of the 3rd degree and Section 2709, Harassment, a Misdemeanor of the 3rd degree. Also charged was Section 3126 Indecent Assault, a Misdemeanor of the 2nd degree; Section 2709.1, Stalking, a Misdemeanor of the 1st degree.

During the investigation the majority of the parents whose children were involved were very concerned and cooperated fully with the investigation. One parent who routinely checked their child’s cell phone and computer usage was surprised to learn that his child was using a cloud based storage service to store and retrieve intimate images and avoid detection by his parents.

Many of the intimate images were found to have been created by the juveniles taking selfies, in their own homes with the location services setting on their phones activated.  This action would allow for viewers of the images, including child predators to locate the homes of the juveniles via Meta data stored in the picture file.

Following the release of the Tredyffrin Township Police Department special juvenile report today, the TE School District released the following statement:

The T/E School District has been cooperating with a police investigation related to alleged misconduct by middle school students. We take these matters very seriously and follow up with procedures that promote safety for all students. The incident may also carry school-based discipline. As such, the District cannot comment on specific student discipline matters, as we must do all we can to preserve the privacy rights of all students.

The District has cooperated fully with law enforcement agencies throughout this investigation and will continue to do so. We join with the police and the entire community to emphasize responsible use of technology and to affirm the rights of all individuals to live and thrive in an environment free from harassment. This message is central to our mission and our daily work with students.

Mark Cataldi
Director of Assessment and Accountability
District Safety Coordinator

School fencing is important school safety issue to TE School Board — Why not same level of safety concern for 5th grader?

stopped school bus

 During one of the two comment periods of the TE School Board meeting on September 21, District residents Mr. and Mrs. John Alexander asked the school board directors for assistance with a busing situation pertaining to their son Jackson. The Alexander’s, who live on Valley Forge Mountain, had previously attempted resolution through email and phone calls to the District but were unsuccessful. After their passionate appeal at the school board meeting, the District’s business manager Art McDonnell intervened to say that this was a bus schedule matter and any school bus policy changes need to go to the Policy Committee the following month. The Board concurred with no further discussion.

Although I may not have fully known the specifics of the situation, it was obvious that McDonnell understood the Alexander’s request.  A couple of days after the school board meeting, John Alexander called me.  After speaking with him, I asked that he provide me with a summary of the situation for Community Matters —

Our son, Jackson, is taking a school district shuttle bus from VFMS to VFES to ride the elementary school bus home two days a week, so that he can participate in 5th grade band and chorus as after school extracurricular activities since both my wife and I work outside of the home. The problem is that even though the elementary school bus passes right by our house twice on its route, the school district’s procedure is to only stop at the closest current elementary school stops. This means that Jackson has to get off almost a half a mile away at the nearest established elementary school stop and walk back to our house which unnecessarily increases his risk of being hurt or otherwise harmed, especially since there are no sidewalks on Valley Forge Mountain.

We had hoped that a simple phone call and/or e-mail requesting the bus to let him off at his old elementary school bus stop from last year would settle the issue and be a Win-Win situation since there would be less risk of danger to our son and the School District wins because there is less risk of an incident for which they would be liable while not impacting other students & families in any material way.

Our bottom line – It seems like the school district is more concerned with minimizing disruptions in their bureaucratic process & procedures rather than taking simple & reasonable steps to increase the safety of a child in returning to their home from school. Shouldn’t student safety be paramount and outweigh bureaucratic processes when reasonable alternatives exist? Now, we are faced with waiting for the Policy Committee to review this in the middle of next month with no guarantee of a favorable decision/ruling.

John Alexander

Over the last couple of years, the school board has focused much attention on school safety, including trying to convince residents that ‘fencing schools’ is the answer to keeping our children safe.  Yet, here we have a 10 year old boy walking ½ mile from the school bus on Valley Forge Mountain to his home, after the bus passes his house twice on the route.

The District is endangering a child and risking liability to allow this child to walk this distance and on roads without sidewalks! This makes no ‘safety sense’ whatsoever! The Alexander’s have been told that to change the bus route for them could mean that other families may want similar changes. However, when Alexander pressed McDonnell on how many ‘other’ families have ever had a bus schedule situation which required a change, he was given no response. The bus route included a stop at the Alexander’s house for the 2014-15 school year. As Alexander states, “Shouldn’t student safety be paramount and outweigh bureaucratic processes when reasonable alternatives exist?”

Beyond the obvious safety aspects of this situation, where is the open communication between the Board and this TE School District family.  Jackson is the youngest of the Alexander’s four children, so the parents fully understand how the school district works and are not seeking preferential treatment.  According to John Alexander, he had previously inquired about the existing “bus policy” cited by Art McDonnell; however, it was not provided. Rather than showing leadership and finding a reasonable solution, the school board accepted the business manager’s approach to “kick the can” to the Policy Committee meeting next month.

The Alexander’s have to wait a month to take their reasonable request (and simple solution) to the Policy Committee. To be clear, the Policy Committee can only hear the policy request and make recommendations. At best, the Alexander’s will have to wait until the next school board meeting for full board discussion. However, most policy changes, take more than one Policy Committee for recommendations so who knows how long this “simple family request” will take for resolution?

I do not understand “why” all school district roads seem to lead to Art McDonnell, the business manager. Beyond the expected business/financial related aspects of his job description, McDonnell is the keeper of the gate for the District’s communications and the Board’s emails from residents, the Public Information officer and the Right-to-Know request recipient. We learned at the last school board meeting that McDonnell ‘hand-picked’ the school safety consultant (without issuing an RFP) and now we find that apparently he is in charge of the District’s bus schedule!

I have sat through many regular and committee meetings of the District and have witnessed an alarming trend…many of the Board’s discussions/decisions seem to defer to Art McDonnell!  In my opinion, the decision making powers of Art McDonnell seems to extend well beyond the normal and expected business manager boundaries.  As of July 1, the District hired a new Superintendent; so where’s Dr. Gusick’s voice on these issues?

As residents, we didn’t elect Art McDonnell to govern the District – we elected the School Board. Plan to support those school board candidates in the upcoming election on November 3rd who will do their homework and govern with independent thought! We need effective leadership!

Next round on Valley Forge Middle School fencing project: TE School Board hires safety consultant

Fencing April 2015

What’s that proverb about a “bad penny always coming back”?  After last week’s TE School Board meeting, that could be a fair description of the Valley Forge Middle School fencing project.

Residents who attended the District’s June 12th Facilities Meeting expected the fencing discussion at Valley Forge Middle School to finally end.  But instead, the public learned that after many, many meetings and months of legal bills for the District (i.e. taxpayers), the Chesterbrook Civic Association and Green Hills homeowners, Board President Kris Graham’s proposed hiring a safety consultant for the Valley Forge Middle School.

The Board has repeatedly cited the 2013 safety report by Andy Chambers (the former Tredyffrin Township Police Chief) as the rationale for building fences around the District’s eight schools. However the public was not provided input for the safety study and the Board, citing safety reasons, never permitted the public to see the report.

Although District residents have not read the Chambers’ safety report, the Board claimed that its safety suggestions included fencing all schools. Taxpayers paid (“not to exceed $11,500”) for the safety report two years ago, so did the Board decide to spend more money on another study (to focus specifically on VFMS).  During the Facilities Committee meeting the Board was quick to point out that the District would send out a RFP for the VFMS safety consultant, which they admit was not done before they hired Chambers in 2013.

During the committee reports at the June 15 regular school board meeting, Dr. Motel (chair of the Facilities Committee) presented the following update,

The Facilities Committee met Friday, June 12 at the district offices on West Valley Road and the meeting was open to the public.

We discussed again the possible installation of additional fencing at Valley Forge Middle School. The committee has decided after many meetings of which this issue was discussed to obtain a second opinion from an additional safety consultant who will review the Valley Forge Middle School site specifically and make recommendations as to whether or not additional fencing at the site is advisable and if so what it should look like and where it should be placed.

The process will be an RFP will go out this summer for a school safety consultant. The selection of the safety consultant will begin at the next committee meeting in public with public input. I want to clarify that this means no new fencing will be installed at Valley Forge Middle School this summer.

Fast forward three months to last week’s school board meeting and the safety consultant discussion – a discussion which was troubling on many levels:

  1. Initially the hiring of the safety consultant appeared as part of the school board’s consent agenda but was later removed to allow for discussion.
  2. Contrary to what the Board previously stated on at the Facilities Committee meeting on June 12 and at the June 15 School Board meeting, no RFP was released.
  3. The Business manager Art McDonnell contacted three safety security companies and asked them for a proposal.
  4. McDonnell ‘picked’ the company, National School Safety & Security Service at a cost of $15,500.
  5. No District signed contract for National School Safety’s services. Responding to Board and resident questions, McDonnell suggested that a contract was not necessary and pointed to the company’s proposal on the TESD website. (The proposal is found on pg. 177 of the Sept. 21 school board agenda}.
  6. Residents asked the cost of the other 2 safety security companies. McDonnell did not have the exact figures but thought one was around $4,000 and the other $20K.
  7. National School Safety’s proposal contains no dates for the deliverables. Their consulting fee of $15,500 is for pre-visit phone calls and review of existing documents, 3 day visit which includes 1-1/2 days of interviews and site visits, 1/2 day of debriefing and presentation to committee and written report of recommendations.
  8. No public meeting on this topic is included in the company’s proposal.
  9. McDonnell stated that earlier fencing correspondence, emails, etc. would be given to the consultant. However, when further questioned on this topic, McDonnell acknowledged he was not sure how long the District kept emails!  (What is the policy on email retention?)
  10. When pressed on the need for the safety consultant to receive public input on fencing, etc., McDonnell referenced a proposed public meeting for Thursday, Nov. 19 with a preliminary safety report from the consultant to be given on Friday, Nov. 20 at the 2 PM Facilities Committee meeting.
  11. What is the value of resident input if the public meeting is held less than 24 hrs. before National School Safety delivers their preliminary report at the Facilities Committee meeting.
  12. Several residents and Board members questioned McDonnell regarding the ‘scope’ of the consultant’s work without the benefit of an RFP. How would the company know the District’s expectations?
  13. In the end, the Board offered that residents could send emails about the fencing project to schoolboard@tesd.net and they would forward to the safety consultant. For the record, Art McDonnell is the public information person and all emails to the school board must go through him first.

I have attended many school board and committee meetings but the discussion to hire a safety consultant for Valley Forge Middle School had to be one of the most troubling I have ever witnessed.  The decision to hire the safety consultant lacked process …there was no RFP outlining the District’s expectations as the Board previously stated  – no dates for deliverables – no contract – no resident input provision, etc.  Even with all the questions and uncertainty the Valley Forge Middle School security consultant, the Board voted 9-0 to hire National School Safety & Security Services at a cost of $15,500.

Where’s the P.R.O.C.E.S.S.?  The public is repeatedly told that the ‘real work’ goes on at committee meetings. Really?

Update on TE School District Finances and Tredyffrin Township declares State of Emergency for Pope’s visit

 

Tuesday night marked TE School District’s first Finance Committee meeting of the new school year.  Although I was unable to attend the meeting, my friend Ray Clarke did attend the meeting and shared the following notes from the meeting.  Thanks Ray!

The TESD Finance Committee opened the 2015/16 season with a relaxed session on Tuesday night.  The meeting was attended by candidates Berger, Colligan, Kling, Hotinski and Kantorczyk.  A few highlights from my perspective:

Budget Process

– Finance committee approval of the Preliminary Budget is due in just three months.  After some discussion about teeing up review of opportunities in the district’s self insurance of its health plan and potentially of some special education risks, Doug Carlson requested that the Administration present the Committee with full district budget scenarios that start with expenses managed to revenues with no tax increase.  Hopefully we’ll get more than the standard operating procedure showing a $6 million deficit.

– By the way, somehow in an environment of last 12 months US inflation of 0.2%, the Act 1 index is 2.4%.  Half of the index is the increase in the Federal school employment cost index, showing how contract awards get baked into future taxes.

Current Financials

– August YTD expenses/encumbrances are up across the board, total up 12% versus last year, driven by special ed instruction up 32% (over $3 million) YTD.  I don’t recall the explanation for this but I didn’t hear any immediate concern that the overall 5% budgeted expense increase would be exceeded.  One number that does stand out for the full year budget is the $770,799 (11%) increase in the Administration budget.

– For those of use that liked to do a quick scan of the month’s check register from high to low, the task has been made harder by a switch to reporting the check register by pay period in alphabetical order.  This seems arbitrary; when asked why, no reason was provided.

– The actual results for last year are still months away, awaiting the external audit.  The Business Office is working through the encumbrances and deciding what should be released; an interesting exercise, no doubt.

Department of Unintended Consequences

– Restricting part-time employees to 27.5 hours has caused a significant shortfall in the number of teachers/aides available to support the after-school homework clubs, and this is becoming a real problem with the clubs usually starting up in October.  Part of the program is funded by FLITE, which is not able to contract with employees of our out-sourcing company, CCRES.  The District is looking to advertise specifically to hire homework club leader and assistant positions at $28 and $17/hour, which FLITE would apparently be able to continue to fund.

Other

– Kris Graham brought up the need to fully air condition all of the elementary and middle school buildings in the light of the current heat wave.  She did not offer a cost estimate for this.

Residents also learned on Tuesday that the Tredyffrin  supervisors voted to declare the township a state of emergency for the upcoming Pope’s visit, citing expected traffic and congestion. According to Police Supt. Giamio, there will be over 16,000 train riders during the pope’s visit and that the highest number are expected to use the Paoli station!  Yikes!  As an aside, I am glad about my decision to move the annual historic house tour up a week to Saturday, Sept. 19 (www.tredyffrinhistory.org) to accommodate the Pope’s visit.

We should plan around the Pope’s visit as if the weather people were predicting a blizzard — get to the grocery store and don’t forget your medication before the storm hits (or rather, the Pope lands).

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

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

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

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

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

TE School Board Candidate Kate Murphy
Easttown Township – Region 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TE School Board Candidate Francis Reardon
Easttown Township – Region 3

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

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

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

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

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