TESD

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?

____________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pattye,

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

All voters should continue to focus on the facts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best regards,
Kathleen Keohane
Chair, Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee

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

Dear Pattye,

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

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

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

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

Resignations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Doug Anestad

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UPDATED: Who Said Local Elections Aren’t Interesting — T/E School District Region 2 Candidate is Also a T/E School District Teacher! How is that Possible??

UPDATE: The following  blog post originally appeared on October 12. After posting, I contacted T/E Region District 2 school board candidates Kyle Boyer (D) and Doug Anestad (R) and chair of Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee  Kathleen Keohane, offering to post responses to the post. I received responses from Doug Anestad and Kathleen Keohane and those responses now appear at the end of the post. (See Below). There was no response to my email from school board candidate Kyle Boyer.  

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Based on the colorful campaign yard signs sprouting in our neighborhoods, we know that the countdown to Election Day 2017 is underway.

While it should be a given that the the upcoming Municipal Election on November 7 for township supervisors and school board directors is important, we know that historically turnout on a non-presidential year is not good.  In an attempt to encourage interest in our local races, I wrote a post earlier this year after the candidates filed their petitions, listing all the supervisor and school board candidates.

In that March 8 post, I commented about the T/E Region 2 school board race between Democrat Kyle Boyer and Republican Doug Anestad; asking if a current T/E School District teacher (Boyer) could run for the T/E School Board.  Although intended as a “procedural question”, there were a few comments that suggested I was biased in this race because I knew Mr. Boyer’s opponent (Doug Anestad). My point wasn’t to advocate or side with one candidate over another — it was simply seeking an understanding of the situation from a legal/procedural standpoint.

I subsequently learned that a candidate (in this case Kyle Boyer) can run for T/E School Board as a T/E School District teacher.  The candidacy is not the problem; the difficulty arises should the candidate win the election … as a currently employed District teacher cannot also serve as a member of the District’s school board. However, it was stated in March that Boyer intended to leave the District and work as an administrator in another school district and that his departure would be long before the November election or the 60-day requirement of notification to the District. It was assumed that the situation would resolve itself.

Between the Trust’s 13th Annual Historic House Tour in September and a trip to Seattle to see our first grandchild Audrey last week, I have admittedly been distracted from local issues the last several weeks, including the upcoming municipal election. I have now learned that the situation with the T/E Region 2 school board candidate Kyle Boyer has not resolved itself.

Mr. Boyer did not resign from his position with the T/E School District and remains in the classroom as a T/E Middle School teacher. The deadline for candidates to withdraw their name from the election was August 8 and Mr. Boyer did not withdraw. We have a T/E School District teacher with his name on the ballot as a candidate for the T/E School Board yet he cannot serve the District as a member its school board and as a District teacher.  Now what??

The following email was received from Neill Kling, chair of the Tredyffrin Republican Committee regarding the Kyle Boyer issue, stating “what had been a troubling potential conflict of interest has now become a legal question …”  I will contact the chair of the Tredyffrin Township Democrats Kathleen Keohane and T/E School Board Region 2 candidates Kyle Boyer (D) and Doug Anestad (R) for their comments on this matter.  If responses are received, the post will be updated accordingly.

The local T/E School District Region 2 race just became a lot more interesting!

Pattye:
We know that T/E school district employees are forbidden by law from serving on the T/E School Board because that creates an obvious, immediate and irreparable conflict of interest. Nevertheless, one of the candidates for School Board in Region 2, Kyle Boyer, is currently a teacher at Valley Forge Middle School. While this may technically be permitted (so long as he leaves his position in time to serve — see below), it obviously creates a similar conflict of interest, particularly at this moment of District/Teacher contract negotiations.

However, I learned over the weekend that Mr. Boyer did not notice his resignation as a teacher in the T/E School District by October 6 and, to my knowledge, still has not done so. That is critical, because, as I understand PA law, a teacher must give 60 days notice of their resignation before it takes effect. I presume that rule is to protect the smooth transition of instruction for the students being deprived of a teacher, and give the district time to identify a proper replacement. In any event, should he be elected School Board Member, Mr. Boyer will not be able to assume the office on December 4, 2017, which is when the new school board sits. Thus, what had been a troubling potential conflict of interest has now become a legal question: is Kyle Boyer eligible to be on the ballot given that he will not be able to serve at the appointed time? And that raises other troublesome questions, such as: 1) By whom would a waiver of the 60-day rule be given and on what basis? 2) Could such a waiver be given conditioned on his election? 3) Is there some deal in the works whereby Mr. Boyer has already been promised such a conditional waiver? 4) Has he asked for one? 5) If Mr. Boyer’s name remains on the ballot and he gets the most votes, but withdraws from the race or is unable to serve, who decides upon the person to serve on the School Board in his stead, and under what criteria? 5) Should the parents of Mr. Boyer’s students have been told what the potential status of his employment is?

The PA state law for school directors can be found athttp://www.legis.state.pa.us/WU01/LI/LI/US/HTM/1949/0/0014..HTMunder ARTICLE III. SCHOOL DIRECTORS. The prohibition against an employee serving as school board member is Section 324. The language requiring teachers to give 60 days notice can be found in ARTICLE XI. PROFESSIONAL EMPLOYEES. Section 1121.

We are currently looking into these questions but I would appreciate your putting this up on the CM website to generate valuable discussion among community members.

Best,

Neill Kling
Chair, Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee

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UPDATE:  Below is the response to the post above from T/E School Board District 2 Candidate 2 Doug Anestad (R):

Pattye,

It is telling that neither Kyle Boyer nor Kathleen Keohane have responded for four days, and is a clear indication that they don’t have a good explanation. I am sure they will come up with something, but it will not answer the fact that teachers are required by state law to give 60 days notice to resign, or that teachers cannot serve on the school board of the district in which they work.

There are only two possibilities here if Kyle Boyer wins:

1) He violates state law and resigns with less than 60 days notice before the December 4th swearing in date. All signs point to the fact that – because he has violated the law and not resigned in time – he cannot serve on school board.

2) He does not resign as a teacher and simply cannot serve on school board.

This looks increasingly likely as Mr. Boyer has already missed two important dates this year in regards to resigning.

Now, no matter what explanation is provided, it must be noted that Mr. Boyer and his party leaders have already lied to the public about this issue.

On March 14, 2017, Kathleen Keohane stated on Community Matters that, “Kyle will have left the District long before the November election or the 60-day requirement.” He has not.

If Mr. Boyer were absolutely certain he was going to resign, he would have done so with the proper legally required notice, and in time to be seated on December 4th.  Again, he has not.

As noted by Mr. Kling, the legal problems run even deeper. The same law that says a school district employee may not serve on school board in that district also says: “No school director shall, during the term for which he was elected or appointed, as a private person engaged in any business transaction with the school district in which he is elected or appointed, be employed in any capacity by the school district in which he is elected or appointed”

The important phrase there? “During the term for which he was elected.”  This means that if Mr. Boyer were to win, he could not teach in T/E for the next four years unless he received special treatment from the board.  Nor could he serve for the next four years as he violated the resignation notice requirements.

Finally, if Mr. Boyer were to win, he would be taking away the voice of Region 2 residents.  Remember: he can’t serve.  That means that the remaining school board members choose who would take his spot – some of the same people who ignored our Region 2 community in the past would be the ones to pick our representative.

Mr. Boyer’s actions have put residents, the school board and even his students in an untenable position. A position that was avoidable had he and his party leaders just kept their word.  But they didn’t.

As for me, I will continue to run on my record and background as an active and involved citizen fighting for our schools. For example, after I found out that our region was underrepresented by almost 50%, I pushed for, and got, new boundaries for the voting regions for school board that are equal in population size. I was a voice for our parents and community in the Valley Forge Middle School fence issue. I fought to bring technology education to our middle schools. And, I have helped protect taxpayers by stopping wasteful school spending. If elected, I will continue to do the same.

Sincerely,
Doug Anestad


The following is the response to the October 12 blog post from Kathleen Keohane, chair of the Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee:

Pattye,

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

All voters should continue to focus on the facts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best regards,
Kathleen Keohane
Chair, Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee

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

Communication + Transparency = Trust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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