TESD

Unionville-Chadds Ford School District Continues to Top Pennsylvania’s Rankings for PSSA Standardized Test Rankings  Whereas TE School District Drops to No. 7 on the List

At the TESD meeting on June 8, the public learned that in addition to a 2.6% tax increase and administration salary increases, the school board’s approval of the budget included the suspension of ERB testing for the 2020-21 school year.

Although the elimination of the ERB testing was cited as a budget strategy, its associated $85,000 price tag did little to move the budget dial. In addition, some school board members argued that the removal of the long-valued ERB testing was not a budget strategy but rather something that was previously discussed.

Arguments on both sides regarding standardized assessment testing (like ERBs) existed long before coronavirus, school closings and distance learning was part of the discussion. Proponents say that standardized testing is a fair and objective measure of student achievement – that the testing ensures that teachers and schools are accountable to taxpayers, and that the most relevant constituents – the parents, actually approve of testing. Opponents say that the tests are neither fair nor objective, stresses out the students and detracts from real learning time.

Faced with the uncertainty of school reopening during the continuing coronavirus crisis, it would seem that assessment testing would be essential in providing an objective view of student performance. The test results provide parents, school board and administrators insight into individual, grade-level, school and district student performance – a thermometer to check the effectiveness of curriculum and gather information on any learning gaps.

Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) is the annual standards-based assessment of what a student should know and be able to do at varying levels in reading, writing, science and math and identifies strengths and weakness of student achievement.  In the spring, PA Department of Education cancelled PSSA testing for the 2019-20 school year because of COVID-19.

For the last sixteen years, the Pittsburgh Business Times has analyzed the PSSA test data given to third through eighth graders and the Keystone exams to measure high school proficiency. The Business Times looks at performance on three years of state standardized tests taken by students and compiles its annual school rankings, which were released last week.

Between 2011 and 2014, I tracked the top 15 school districts in Pennsylvania as ranked by PSSA results. As indicated in the chart below, TESD dropped in the PSSA rankings each year during those four years. The District was second in 2011, third in 2012, fourth in 2013, fifth in 2014 and in seventh for 2015. Unionville Chadds Ford topped the list in 2014.

Although the data is missing for 2015-2017, I can now add the 2018, 2019 and 2020 standardized test ranking results (shown below) from Pittsburgh Business Times.

In comparing the two charts, it is remarkable to see that Unionville-Chadds Ford School District consistently remains at the top of the rankings. It makes you wonder what UCFSD is doing so differently than TESD?

The standing of TESD was seventh in 2014 (again unclear about 2015-2017), moved up to fourth in 2018 and 2019 but has slipped back to seventh in the latest results. The 2020 results show that Radnor School District slipped from second to third, Great Valley School District moved up to eleventh and Lower Merion School District remained the same at tenth.

To be clear, a Pennsylvania school district that places in the top 15 or 20 out of 500 districts statewide based on the PSSA exams is an achievement for which  students, parents, teachers and administrators can all be proud. However, the downward drop in TESD rankings on PSSA testing does makes you question if the ranking trend had anything to do with the District’s decision to eliminate ERB testing for 2020-21 school year. What’s that saying about “timing is everything”?

Could it be that the District knows more about the standardized testing report card than they are letting the parents and taxpayers know? Rather than viewing standardized testing as a helpful assessment tool and indicator of “need to improve” areas, perhaps the District would prefer to avoid the accountability that accompanies those test results.

It is apparent that many TESD parents differ with the District on assessment testing as a way to evaluate the teaching effectiveness and understand any learning gaps of their children, especially during COVID-19 and distance learning.  BUILD T/E has stepped forward, is offering an ERB testing option, and provides the following update:

Since the TESD school board voted to eliminate ERB-CTP testing for the 2020-21 school year, BUILD has had over 50 families with more than 70 children register to receive the registration information the BUILD’s ERB-CTP test. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive about this opportunity to ensure student learning is on track during this uncertain time. July testing dates will be released soon. If you are interested in signing up for testing or have more questions about ERB’s in TESD visit www.bit.ly/erbtesd

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TE School District Eliminates ERB Testing as a Budget Strategy for 2020-21 but BUILD T/E Offers ERB Assessment Opportunity to All T/E Families

Because of Covid-19, we can probably all agree that distance learning proved challenging for school districts, parents and students across the country and that TE School District is no exception. This for some TESD parents makes the long-valued ERB assessment more important as a means to gauge their child’s learning during the past year.

Many in the community remain troubled by the recent disregard of public comments by the school board at the June 8 meeting regarding the elimination of ERB testing in the 2020-21 as a budget strategy (as well as salary increases and the 2.6% tax increase). There is the suggestion that the elimination of the ERB testing was purposeful in order to hide how the District performed and its students progressed.

For those who support ERB testing as a form of student assessment, and are disappointed by its elimination for 2020-21, BUILD T/E secured an option for parents to understand their child’s learning progress this past year. Although greatly disappointed by the school board’s vote to eliminate ERB assessments, BUILD moved quickly to secure a summer 2020 virtual option through Homeschool Testing Services. That saying “Don’t let grass grow under your feet” certainly applies to this dedicated group!

There are limited spaces available for this assessment – see the flyer below.  If interested contact BUILD T/E by clicking this link.

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For those interested, the June 8 TESD School Board meeting is now available for viewing – click here for the link. It took the District solicitor nearly 1-1/2 hours to read the sixty public comments and remarkable how little our voices matter.

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2020-21 Results: 8th Year for Zero Tax Increase for Downingtown Area School District But Sixteen Straight Years for Tax Increases in TESD!

We know that there’s no going back, no “do-overs” – the TE School Board voted for its 2020-21 budget this week which includes a 2.6% tax increase. However, this morning I learned that the Downingtown Area School District School Board passed its 2020-21 $230 million budget with a ZERO TAX INCREASE.  Remarkably, this marks the 8th year in a row for no property tax increases for the Downingtown Area School District (DASD) residents.  What is the administration and school board of DASD doing differently than TESD?

How does DASD manage to control expenses without tax increases? Are the administration and teacher salaries that different?  On the other side, the 2.6% tax increase for 2020-21 is the 16th straight year of tax increases in TESD.  TESD had the distinction of the highest tax increase in Chester County in 201902 — it will be interesting to see where TESD tax increase lines up for the 2020-21 budget year in the midst of Covid-19.

As of this morning, TESD has not updated its website with the budget results (or video) from the June 8 school board meeting. However, DASA voted last night (June 10) on its 2020-21 budget and has already posted the press release with results its website. It is easier to announce good news!

I was particularly impressed to read that “ … DASD is the only district in Pennsylvania to earn the highest rating of AAA from both Moody’s and S&P rating agencies for the district’s superior financial health, and the district has earned the Meritorious Budget Award from the Association of School Business Officials fifteen years in a row for excellence in budget presentation.”   Would the same be said about TESD budget preparation and business manager?

Congratulations to Downingtown Area School District on this achievement – here’s the full press release:

On June 10, 2020 the Downingtown Area School District (DASD) Board of School Directors approved the 2020-2021 school district budget. For the eighth year running, the budget has been approved with no school property tax increases.

The unanimous vote approving the $230.8 million budget shows a 1.99% increase in expenses over last year’s budget. Understanding that the full financial effects of COVID-19 are not yet known, the district was conservative, committing to an operating budget of $226.6M with $4.2M set aside in a contingency fund. The Board of School Directors has the option to approve use of contingency funds based upon need and the strength of the economy.

Superintendent Emilie Lonardi commented, “As a district, we are committed to being fiscally responsible to our taxpayers. Thanks to the careful planning of our Board of School Directors and team of administrators, we are fortunate to be able to avoid a tax increase for the eighth year in a row.”

The Downingtown Area School District is the largest School District in Chester County and seventh largest in Pennsylvania. DASD is the only district in Pennsylvania to earn the highest rating of AAA from both Moody’s and S&P rating agencies for the district’s superior financial health, and the district has earned the Meritorious Budget Award from the Association of School Business Officials fifteen years in a row for excellence in budget presentation.

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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.

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Gov. Wolf Announces PA Schools WILL Open this Fall!

According to NBC Philadelphia —

During a press conference in Harrisburg this afternoon, Gov. Wolf was asked about a possible resurgence of Covid-19 cases in the fall and whether that would affect schools. In response, Wolf said the educational facilities would open in August or September.

“We are going to be opening schools, whether it’s August or September, that depends on the local school district,” Wolf said in Harrisburg Friday. “We’re working, now, school will look different. You’ll probably have more online learning and maybe less classroom learning, there might be fewer students in each classroom on average, that kind of thing. So it probably will look different.”

It appears the specifics on the school openings will be left to the individual school districts.  There’s a variety of ideas for what the schools may look like — morning and afternoon sessions to accommodate social distancing, continuing distance learning or at least partially, etc. etc. How will T/E School District handle opening its schools?

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T/E School District Board Meeting Update: 2.6% Property Tax Increase, Proposed Suspension of ERB Testing, Unpaid $36K Vendor Payment (the Saga Continues)

Watching the virtual school board meeting for nearly three hours last night was not for the faint of heart.  A few of my takeaways —

With the sole exception of school board director Scott Dorsey’s vocal opposition, it appears that the TESD 2020-21 budget is on target to include a 2.6% tax increase, the highest permitted within PA Act I Index guidelines. (The TESD school board votes on the 2020-21 budget on June 8).

Recently at a May 19 press conference Governor Wolf was asked the question, “”Do you believe school districts should be raising taxes during the pandemic?” Wolf’s response, “We’re in a pandemic and this is not a time to burden any Pennsylvanian with additional responsibility or tax…we should be looking for ways to lighten the load; not the reverse.”  This response does not support the District’s proposed 2.6% tax increase!

Some PA school districts, including Unionville Chadds Ford are approving 2020-21 budgets with zero tax increases. Supt. Brian Polito of the Erie School District is appealing to its school board for zero tax increase. Polito understands that his district is facing challenges but “now is not the time” for tax increases as residents struggle.  Southern York County School District approved a budget cutting savings by freezing wages for its employees for one year to avoid a tax increase in its 2020-21 budget.

One of TESD budget strategies contained in the proposed 2020-21 budget is to suspend ERB testing for one year for a savings of $85,000.  A form of assessment to guide instruction in math and reading, ERB testing has been used in the District for many years to measure students’ progress.  Many pro-ERB test support letters from parents were read at the end of the board meeting. **

Several times during the meeting last night, the school board suggested that residents contact the District with comments regarding the budget, proposed budget cuts (including ERBs), distance learning, etc.  There is a Finance Committee meeting on Monday, June 1 — in advance, I suggest that you send your comments to schoolboard@tesd.net.

No update on the District’s unpaid balance of $36K to GEM Mechanical Services was included in the meeting agenda but surprisingly at 10:20 PM, Colm Kelly (head of TESD facilities) offered prepared remarks regarding GEM and asbestos in school buildings.

Kelly’s comment on asbestos at Beaufort Elementary School was circular and difficult to follow – my takeaway was that asbestos mediation was done in the building. TESD is required to keep copies of asbestos abatement reports up-to-date and on file in sll of its buildings.  Although I am not sure where the reports are located in the buildings – I suggest concerned parents contact the school district directly for a copy of the report for their child’s school.

Kelly’s response to the 2019 boiler project at Beaumont Elementary and Devon Elementary schools skipped right over many facts and left the biggest question about the District’s outstanding payment to GEM Mechanical Services unanswered.

Earlier in the day (a few hours prior to the school board meeting and Kelly’s remarks) there was communication between Sean Gaffney, of GEM Mechanical Services and Colm Kelly, both on the phone and through emails.  Many people were copied on the following email between the two, including the District’s business manager Art McDonnell, its architects at Heckendorn Shiles (HSA), TESD School Board and myself. Here is a copy of that follow-up email from Sean Gaffney to Colm Kelly which was sent a few hours prior to the school board meeting:

As per our phone conversation this afternoon, TESD will be cutting a partial payment check in the amount of $24,895.00 that will be available from the TE business office this upcoming Friday 5/29/20.

GEM Mechanical will be on site that same day (5/29/20) to complete our FINAL punch list items at which time we will request the remaining $11,850.00 that is being withheld by TESD and a check will be released no later than the following Friday 6/5/20.

I look forward to TESD and HSA’s cooperation in closing out this project.

It was fascinating that Kelly offered none of this information in his remarks. He no mention made of the outstanding $36K balance which TESD owes GEM Mechanical Services; or that the final punch list items would be completed on Friday. Furthermore, there were NO questions from the school board to Kelly or to the business manager about the money owed GEM or when it would be paid.  This is wrong on a lot of levels.

A review of the Facility Committee agenda materials from May 14, 2020 lists three vendors with outstanding final balances from the 2019 school boiler project: (1) $36,295 to GEM Mechanical Services for mechanical services, (2) $16,460 to Five Star, Inc. for plumbing services and (3) $20,075 to AJM Electric for electrical services. Based on the experience of GEM Mechanical Services, it makes me wonder if Five Star and AJM Electric are faced with similar issues.

An interesting Community Matters comment received on this topic —

… As for the districts “reputation” when it comes to paying, GEM is not the first to have payments withheld and they definitely won’t be the last. I am 100 percent sure that there is a job from 2018 that still has an outstanding balance against the district who has slipped thru the cracks by changing the punch list every time payment is questioned.

What exactly is going on with facilities in the school district regarding vendor payments.  If a vendor asks the District about their final payment,  are they faced with an ever-changing punch list until they finally just walk away.  If this tactic is used by the District, it certainly explains the decreasing list of vendors willing to work in TE School District.  Sean Gaffney has stated that GEM Mechanical Services will never work in TESD again – I wonder how many other vendors feel similarly.

Why isn’t the school board concerned? Where is the leadership for accountability and oversight of the facilities department? The school board had an opportunity to ask Colm Kelly questions about outstanding vendor balances last night but remained silent. The school board had an opportunity to ask Art McDonnell when GEM Mechanical Services would receive its long-overdue payment but again … they said nothing.

The school board is elected to be the community’s watchdog, ensuring that taxpayers get the most for their tax dollars. Where is the school board’s accountability to us?

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** I have received many emails and calls from parents regarding the District’s distance learning as required by COVID-19.  The next blog post will look at distance learning and the District’s proposal to suspend ERB testing for one year as cost-savings in the 2020-21 budget.

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TE School District Policy 5401 “Student Discipline” Results in Police Record for Kindergartner With Down Syndrome — School Board, How is This Possible?

I learned of a troubling situation from the January 21 meeting of TESD Policy Committee. Although I was not in attendance at the meeting, I reviewed the video of the meeting and would encourage all reading this post to do likewise (click here for video).

According to Maggie and Mark Gaines, their 6-year-old kindergarten daughter (who has Down Syndrome) now has a record with the Tredyffrin Township Police Department.  The following is from the statement read by Mrs. Gaines at the Police Committee meeting:

Our daughter Margot is a kindergartner at Valley Forge Elementary School. And she now has a record with the Tredyffrin police department, because the district alleged she had made a threat to her teacher.

On November 19, Margot, who has Down syndrome and often struggles transitioning between activities, was asked by her teacher to do something she did not want to do. At one point in her refusal, she pointed her finger at her teacher and said, “I shoot you.”

I imagine the utterance was not unlike the instances when I’ve told her it’s time for bed and she says, “I hate bed. I hate mommy.” As most parents can attest, I have learned not to take offense. For I know that a short time later she is usually cuddled up to me, while we read bedtime stories and exchange kisses and cuddles before saying good-night.

At any rate, the teacher claimed this response was a “threat” and brought Margot to the principal, who talked to my daughter and quickly determined that she neither understood what she was saying nor meant any harm to her teacher or any of her classmates.

The principal then followed district policy and convened a “threat assessment” team. The threat assessment team met and determined Margot had made a “transient” threat, which is simply an expression of anger or frustration with no intent to harm anyone. The threat assessment team recommended no disciplinary action. Also, there was no recommendation from the principal, Margot’s teachers nor any other members of Margot’s IEP team to address the “problem” behavior in her IEP since it appeared to be an “isolated” event.

I think most people would agree that this is where the issue should have ended. And yet it did not.

Mrs. Gaines received a call from the principal after the assessment team met to notify that the District policy required a call to the police regarding the incident. As any parent would do, she “disagreed and argued it was absurd to involve the police for an episode involving a kindergartner who pointed her finger, not in malice, but in protest to a request to change classrooms.”

The Gaines do not believe that the District Policy 5401 “Student Discipline” requires the police to be called for a transient threat. However, the school district alleges that 6-year-old Margot with Down Syndrome made a threat to her teacher and therefore under Policy 5401 required police involvement.

Compounding the situation, we learn from Mrs. Gaines statement  that their kindergartner’s information was entered into the Tredyffrin Township police database and that it “would not be deleted or expunged after any reasonable time period”. When Mrs. Gaines asked the police officer who could have access to the information, the response was that it was publicly available.

I want to be clear  — nothing is as important as protecting our children and everyone wants our schools to be safe. But surely there must be a better solution than to create a police file on a special needs kindergartner. I do not want to believe that the District intended this outcome from its Policy 5401.

A statement by former school board director and chair of the policy committee Kate Murphy was read at the January 21 meeting and provided the following remarks,

Good evening Policy Committee Members,

When we revised Policy 5401, and reviewed the accompanying Administrative Regulation, we didn’t discuss a situation like this. Many of our changes and revisions were driven by events that occurred in our middle schools or high school, not in our elementary schools.

It wasn’t my intent to notify the police, or create a “record” with local law enforcement when an elementary-aged child made what our trained threat assessment team determined to be a “transient threat.”

Knowing now how this policy is enforced, please ask if this is your intent. Does it make sense to notify local law enforcement every time an elementary-aged student makes a non-substantive threat out of anger or frustration?

If this isn’t your intent, please clarify the language in Policy 5401, and ask the administration to do the same in their accompanying regulation.

Thank you

Thank you Kate for providing historic background on Policy 5401 — much appreciated.

Folks, watch the video of the January 21 meeting and the associated public comments and I think you will agree that review and clarification is needed for District Policy 5401 “Student Discipline”!

There is a school board Policy Meeting tomorrow, Tuesday, February 4 at 7 PM at the Administration Building.  According to the meeting agenda, there will be follow-up on Policy 5401 Student Discipline. I plan to attend the meeting in hopes that the school board clarifies Policy 5401 and takes the appropriate action.

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Regular T/E School Board meeting tonight + T/E Finance Committee Update

The School Board will meet in regular session on May 21, 2018 at 7:30 pm at Conestoga High School, 200 Irish Road in Berwyn. There are no priority discussion topics on the agenda. Click here for the meeting agenda.

There is no mention of the latest anti-Semitic threat (by a 12 year old student at TE Middle School) on the meeting agenda. There is a comment period at the beginning of the school board meeting but “the Board requests that each public comment made during this first opportunity be limited to items on the agenda.”   Therefore, parents and community members cannot speak about the recent threat at the middle school during this comment period (because it is not listed on the agenda).  The other comment period for ‘non-agenda items’ comes at the end of the meeting — for those willing to stay until the end of the meeting you would have an opportunity to address the school board with your questions and/or concerns on this topic.  Below is the only response that I have seen regarding threats which I previously posted and do so again —

Response Protocols to Reported Threats

Since the February event at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the District has received some questions about how TESD responds when information about a potential threat is shared with school officials.  The following is a short summary.

All reports involving threats are taken seriously. Once a report is received, the school opens an investigation.  Depending upon what is learned, District responses may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Application of discipline consistent with District policy and school law
  • Police notification
  • Enhanced supervision and monitoring measures
  • Administration of risk assessment protocols involving mental health professionals to determine whether or not a student is a threat to self or others
  • Appropriate supports for involved students

Parents and students are encouraged to report potential threats to school administrators so the school may begin to investigate and implement appropriate measures.

Ray Clarke attended the District’s Finance Committee last week and offered the following notes from the meeting — thanks Ray and there certainly are several very costly items under consideration by the school board.

Last Thursday’s TESD Facilities Committee meeting was notable for a couple of items with multi-million dollar financial impact to the District.  They will come up on Monday’s full Board agenda, so your readers might want to weigh in.

Of most import: the Administration has modeled classroom utilization at Conestoga given student enrollment projections based essentially on students currently in lower grades – so there’s a high degree of certainty.  Science labs would be at full capacity by 2020/21 and regular class rooms and other room types would reach that by 2023/24.  Solutions include another high school and grade level realignment and construction, but these seem much inferior to the concept of expanding Conestoga, which would also allow the addition of desirable space for, say, engineering labs.  The Committee seemed surprisingly uninterested in whether this is even feasible and how it might be done (an option we elicited was to expand towards Old State Road) but gave the OK to study this (how many classrooms, what types, what other common facilities, what approach, costs, etc.) over the course of the next year.

[This of course would have no impact on today’s parking issues – apparently now three quarters of all seniors (up from half a few years ago) request parking permits, and there is no space left.  The preferred option looks like allowing each student to park for (a different) 4 days out of 5.]

On a more dispiriting note, the Cadillac CCTV system is back on the radar, and the Committee recommended the spending of up to $100,000 to flesh out the design of a system which in the best case is projected to cost $2 million.  The provided materials lacked any statement of project objectives and presented no priorities or alternative solutions.  There was no explanation of how this time around the video can be streamed right through the current data network, whereas last time we saw this project an entire separate network was required.  The best support offered was “the cameras and technology are old”, “the police would like better quality” and “other schools have better systems”.  The District has selected WITH NO BID long term personal consultant Peter Heverin who in turn picked security consultant Kteck Engineering.  Of course there will be protestations that this first $100,000 spending is not a commitment for the $2 million, but note that the district is about to authorize the design of a very specific system by a very specific supplier of that system.

(I should just say here, that Open Land Conservancy and Tredyffrin Police work together very effectively to catch culprits in our Nature Preserves using $100 trail cameras.)

(And another kind-of-related-to-video side note re the discrimination incidents in the district discussed on CM: these are of course not isolated to T/E, and we are seeing more and more captured on cell phones.  Activist Shaun King has a strategy: identify and bring public pressure on the bigots (eg Haverford School alum and NYC lawyer Aaron Schlossberg).  Perhaps if students and parents were very aware of public consequences there might be more civility?)

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Justice: Former TE School District Aide Receives 10-20 Years for Sexual Abuse of 15-Year Old Conestoga High School Student – Where Do We Go From Here?

It seems that in the aftermath of the scandal surrounding movie producer Harvey Weinstein, allegations of sexual harassment and assault against powerful men are flying left and right.

Actors, politicians, lawmakers, newscasters – each day brings new complaints alleging “inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace”. From Hollywood to the White House, prominent men are accused of using their status to take advantage of women in unconscionable ways.

The men accused of sexual misconduct with adult women are very, very wrong. Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore is accused of inappropriate sexual conduct with children. This is not the same thing. They are not comparable. When an adult in power – whether a teacher, clergy member, coach, or in the local TE School District case an instructional aide —initiates sexual contact with a minor child, the incident is child sexual abuse, period.

Sixty-seven year old Arthur Phillips, a former instructional aide in Conestoga High School’s television production studio, sexually abused his 15 year old female victim for months. According to the police investigation, the alleged victim said that Phillips sexually assaulted her from January until April of this year on more than 10 occasions in various areas in Tredyffrin, despite saying no. Investigators alleged that Phillips made the student have sex with him. Police said that Phillips would grope, touch and kiss the student in his office at the high school. The investigation revealed that Phillips and the victim talked about “sexual issues” via text messages and at least once, he sent her a picture of his genitals.

In April, Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan criminally charged Phillips with 100 counts including statutory sexual assault, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and endangering the welfare of a child, among other related charges.

In June, a Federal lawsuit was filed against the TE School District by the parents of the victim, seeking at least $75K in damages and calling for the resignation of Conestoga’s Principal Dr. Amy Meisinger. The lawsuit claims that the District was aware of the improper conduct of Phillips and “created an environment that allowed the assaults to occur”.

According to the lawsuit, a Visual and Performing Arts teacher at the high school was aware of the ‘relationship’ between Phillips and his 15-year student and that with her husband, “double-dated” for dinner to celebrate the victim’s birthday.  The lawsuit contains the names of 14 District administrators, teachers and aides who were aware of Phillips’ inappropriate relationship but took a “blind eye” and failed to take steps to investigate or halt the conduct. The Performing Arts teacher lost her job in the District last month.

We learned from Caroline O’Halloran’s Savvy Mainline that the District has responded to the lawsuit against it and Principal Meisinger on August 14 with a 28-page “motion to dismiss”.  The court has yet to rule.

Last week Phillips had his day of reckoning before Chester County Court of Common Pleas Judge Patrick Carmody.  As a former Chester County Assistant DA, Carmody has handled thousands of cases from white crime to homicide and we now know he has no tolerance for child sex offenders. We learned from the Daily Times, that Phillips pleaded guilty to charges of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault, institutional sexual assault, and corruption of minors and in a plea agreement was given a sentence of 10-20 years in state prison.  Phillips will also be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

According to the Daily Times article, Judge Carmody was particularly incensed that Phillips apologized to his wife, his daughter, his son-in-law, and to his friends but not to his victim.

The judge told Phillips, dressed in a plaid shirt and a black jacket and speaking in a nervous whisper,  that the only reason that he was accepting the proposed plea agreement and sentence offered by the prosecution and defense was that its specifics amounted to a near life term for the 67-year-old. If not for Phillips’ age, he would reject the agreement as too lenient, he said.

“You may never leave jail, you understand that?” Carmody asked. “You’re going to be sitting in jail for at least the next 10 years.”

As the accusations of sexual harassment and assault fill the national news daily, there is much talk of “fixing the problem”.  What about the outstanding federal lawsuit against the TE School District and Principal Meisinger.  Having read the lawsuit filed by the parents of the Conestoga student, it certainly appears to provide substantial evidence. I do not claim to be an attorney but it seems to me that the Phillips guilty verdict will only strengthen the case against the school district and the principal.

So the question is, where do we go from here? Although it remains to be seen how Phillips’ guilty verdict will impact the federal lawsuit,  shouldn’t the larger issue be, has the school district “fixed the problem”? Are there policies now in place to prevent this sort of thing from ever happening again? Are our children safe?

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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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