Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association

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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TE School District Taxpayers in the Dark

I received the following press release Sunday morning from a Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) representative.

Tredyffrin/Easttown Education Association (TEEA) to Hold Informational Picket before September 25th School Board Meeting

What: Teachers and educators of the Tredyffrin/Easttown Education Association (TEEA) are holding an Informational Picket before the next School Board meeting to protest their lack of a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The CBA expired, June 30, 2017 and both parties met one time over the entire summer. The membership is frustrated by the lack of progress in one of Pennsylvania’s premier school districts. Conestoga High Schools was recently ranked the best high school in all of Pennsylvania.

Who: Hundreds of Teachers, Parents and Educational staff of TESD School District.
Visual Highlights: Teachers will assemble prior to the School Board meeting, holding signs and marching and chanting for a new contract. Community members and families are invited.

When: Monday, September 25, 6:30 p.m. (Assemble) | 7:30 p.m. (meeting)

Where: Conestoga High School (200 Irish Rd, Berwyn, PA 19312)

Statement by TEEA President, Dr. Bob DeSipio:
“Our contract expired on July 1, 2017. Despite multiple offerings to meet with the School Board this summer to continue the negotiations process, we did not meet until the end of August. We want the School Board to know that it is not just the five or six of us on the bargaining team that are upset with the slow pace of these negotiations, but a membership of more than 400 highly educated and highly dedicated educators. We hope tonight’s Board meeting is a demonstration to the District that TEEA is resolute in our dedication to achieve a new agreement and want to reach a fair and competitive settlement as quickly as possible.”

Dr. DeSipio’s statement is confusing and unsettling – although the teachers’ contract expired June 30, 2017, the District held no negotiating meetings during the summer!  No contract negotiation meetings between the District and the teachers union “until the end of August”!  This makes no sense.

It is impossible for the community “to take a side” in the contract negotiation battle between the school district and the teachers union. Why? Because the taxpayers have received no information from either side about the offers/demands.

The teachers are asking for a “fair and competitive settlement” … wish I knew the offer on the table. The public cannot possibly know what is “fair” without knowing the contents of the offer.

The secret negotiations between the District and the teachers union once again underscore the need for transparency.

Getting the state union officials from PSEA involved, the T/E teachers will show solidarity with signs, marching and chanting on Monday night before the school board meeting.  Working without a settled contract is difficult but isn’t this “informational picket” apt to make the contract negotiation situation more contentious?

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Cloaked in Secrecy Approach to Contract Negotiations Not Working … T/E Teachers Return to Classroom Without a Contract

In the T/E School District, the students have returned to school and the teachers have returned to work. However, the District teachers returned to the classroom without a settled contract. The Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association (TEEA) contract with the T/E School District expired on June 30, 2017. No automatic alt text available.

The teachers’ contract expired in June with absolutely no updates from the School Board – deafening silence on the status of the contract negotiations. In a conversation this summer with a recent teacher retiree of the District, I inquired about the contract negotiations. Asking if the teachers and the District were on the “same page” regarding negotiations, I was told that the sides were “not even in the same book”!

Other area districts started the 2017-18 school year without settled contracts – Lower Merion, Methacton, Coatesville, Springfield in Delaware County. And we learned this week that Lower Merion Education Association  has mounted a PR campaign, including an online petition asking the public to sign “and show the School Board that you a support a fair contract for Lower Merion School District teachers and staff.” Drumming up community support for a salary increase in Lower Merion may prove challenging; given that LMSD has the highest paid teachers in Pennsylvania. (average salary is $99,253).

Below is a letter Dr. Robert DeSipio, TEEA President which was posted on its website yesterday. In reading the letter, it is obvious that the teacher contract negotiations between the District and the teachers are stalled. I suggest that both sides need to “open the door” – this “cloaked in secrecy” approach to the negotiations by the School Board is not working and is showing signs of cracking.  The public deserves to see the sunlight shine on the negotiations – it would help the parents, taxpayers (and employees) better understand the process and the District’s priorities.

It’s time to turn on the lights, open the windows and the doors.

TEEA Open Negotiations Letter

A Fair Contract for TEEA, the Tredyffrin-Easttown Education Association

The teachers of the Tredyffrin-Easttown School District are currently working without a contract and it is a shame; a shame in many ways. The TEEA teachers are an enormously talented, dedicated group of educators who go beyond the expected and deliver the unexpected. Conestoga High School has been ranked the number one public high school in Pennsylvania for the last two years. Accolades of that magnitude and a number one ranking in the state are not only a reflection of the quality of education at the secondary level, but are also a testament to the dedication of the middle and elementary school teachers who prepare the students in their younger years. From top to bottom the TEEA teachers are top-notch and they deserve a fair contract!

fair contract means the employer is not asking its employees to pay for his/her own increase in salary; certainly not contract after contract after contract. When the recession of 2008 wreaked havoc on the economy, the TEEA teachers stepped to the plate. We agreed to break the contract that was in place and under which we were working and accepted a half year salary freeze, giving back one million dollars to the district. One million dollars that had been earmarked for teacher salaries instead went into increasing the district’s fund balance. When that contract expired, we continued to give back as the economy struggled to recover from the recession. From 2012 to 2014 we accepted a 2 year TOTAL FREEZE on our salary AND we reduced the quality of our medical benefits AND we agreed to pay more for those benefits. That 2 year total freeze contract ultimately saved the district about $14 million dollars. As we continued to go above and beyond what is expected of us, that FOURTEEN MILLION DOLLARS was not added to our base or awarded to us as bonuses. Instead, it was used to increase the Fund balance of the School District. In addition to all of the above concessions, we agreed to a huge reduction in tuition reimbursement–a large sacrifice for a career that requires additional coursework to obtain permanent certification. We have continued to give back financially while continuing to provide one of the best, if not the best, kindergarten through twelfth grade educations anywhere in the country.

From 2015 to 2017, our contract that just expired on June 30, 2017, continued to reflect give backs. We increased the amount we pay for our benefits while no additional money was added to the teacher’s salary steps.

It is a shame that people who give so much of themselves, have provided so much value to this community, and have given back to the tune of 14 million dollars, are continuing to be asked to subsidize their own raises. Enough is enough! The TEEA teachers deserve a fair contract. We are asking for the support of every TE family to stand with us and to tell the members of this board that enough is enough.

Sincerely,
Dr. Robert DeSipio
TEEA President

 

 

 

 

 

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Will Lower Merion School District’s handling of teacher’s contract play out similarly in TE School District — Some school board candidates weigh in

Last week a tentative agreement was reached between Lower Merion School District and their teachers. The deal between LM and the union was made in secret, with a process devoid of transparency.  The proposed teacher’s contract and its terms were not published for public review.

There are rumors that the TE School District is currently in ‘Early Bird’ contract negotiations with the teacher’s union. Because of the existing situation in Lower Merion, rumors of early bird talks and five seats on the TE School Board up for grabs on Election Day, there was discussion as to where our candidates stand on this issue.  The following email was sent to the ten Tredyffrin and Easttown school board candidates on Saturday.

To All TE School Board Candidates:

I know that you are all very busy campaigning in advance of Election Day. Tredyffrin resident Ray Clarke added a comment on Community Matters regarding the teacher contract, negotiations and keeping the public informed. He has spoken with several of you regarding his concerns, particularly given what is currently going on in Lower Merion School District.  As a result, I am asking you to read the following and provide a very  brief (100 words or less) response to me by 9 PM, Sunday, Nov. 1. The question and all candidate responses received will appear on Community Matters on Monday, Nov. 2.

Negotiating union contracts (teachers and support staff) will be important tasks for the new Board.  In Lower Merion School District, a secret deal is playing out between their school board and the teachers union.  Much to the chagrin of Lower Merion taxpayers, the union members get to review the contract before signing but the public is left in the dark and provided no information.

During the last teachers’ contract negotiations, the TE School Board moved in the correct direction with periodic updates to the public. Assuming that there are no secret “Early Bird” deals already in discussion  between the current Board and the union, [if elected] where do you stand on publishing any proposed contracts to the public at the same time as the unions send it to their members? In addition to publishing the terms of the contract to the public before signing, to also include the full annual cost of the contract for each year (including PSERS, salaries, benefits, etc.) with an explanation of how the Board will pay the costs. 

Again, I understand that you are pressed for time and I thank you in advance. Your responses may help get additional voters to the polls on Tuesday.

Pattye Benson

Because I know how busy the candidates are in the last days leading up to the election, their responses were to be brief – 100 words or less. One hundred words is very short; the second paragraph in the statement above (from “During … costs.”) is 109 words.

During this campaign season, most every school board candidate has used themes of transparency, public engagement and responsiveness to citizens in their campaigning literature, meet and greets with voters and during the Chester County League of Women Voters candidate forum. It is for that reason, that a brief response would allow each candidate the opportunity to restate and to reconfirm their transparency commitment to the voters before Election Day tomorrow (November 3).

Of the ten school board candidates, responses to the question were received by Kate Murphy (R) and Fran Reardon (D), Easttown, Region 3 candidates; Neill Kling (R) and Neal Colligan (R) Tredyffrin East, Region 1 candidates and Ed Sweeney (R) Tredyffrin West, Region 2.  The responses from these five candidates appear below.

The four Democratic school board candidates from Tredyffrin (Alan Yockey, Michele Burger, Roberta Hotinski and Todd Kantorczyk) each sent similar emails; all declining to respond, citing time constraints due to the campaign and/or previous personal commitments.  There was no response from Kris Graham.  If, as rumored (and I do say if) there are early bird negotiations already underway between the TE School District and TEEA, the District teacher’s union, it would not be possible for Ms. Graham to respond.

The TE School Board candidate responses are as follows:

Neill Kling, Tredyffrin East, Region 1 candidate:

A cloak and dagger approach serves neither party.  The union must understand throughout that what their members receive can be no more than what our tax base will reasonably be able to bear.  The current PESERS situation resulted from disregard of that sound principle.  Thus, I believe that the taxpayers should view the contracts when they are sent to the teachers for approval.  I am also in favor of providing a public estimate of how we propose to meet the contractual obligations.  The District must conduct negotiations with this estimate uppermost in mind.  Publishing it when they are completed is responsible stewardship.

Neal Colligan, Tredyffrin East, Region 1 candidate:

Of course, the public should be informed as negotiations move forward….this is by far the largest municipal contract in our community.  Start now by presenting the existing economics…total salary, benefits, pension contribution…show the history of these costs.  This information, reviewed at an entity level, will not disclose any employees’ personal compensation package and will not violate the rules of new contract discussions.  As the process advances, let the community know of the issues…I doubt the Union side would object.  People here are pretty fair and can draw their own conclusions on what is just as negotiations move towards a new contract.

From Ed Sweeney, Tredyffrin West, Region 2 candidate:

I would strongly agree to the first proposal if it was consistent with current agreement between the School District and the Union and with the provisions of relevant labor law.  As far as his other proposals, I need more information but I am a proponent of maximum disclosure at the appropriate time.

I agree with the principle of “MORE” . . . more transparency, more public disclosure, more committee meetings convenient to working parents, and more involvement of residents and stakeholders at an early stage of committee consideration of issues.  In my view, more = better.  More increases public confidence and protects the taxpayer.

From Kate Murphy, Easttown, Region 3 candidate:

In Pennsylvania, salaries and benefits make up the lion’s share of any school district’s budget, generally between 70% and 80%.  Pension benefits (PSERS) are set legislatively by the General Assembly and the Governor, and are not negotiated by local school boards.  All collective bargaining agreements must be available to the public for review and comment well in advance of the public vote to approve such agreements.  Periodic updates during the negotiations can be a helpful tool to inform the public.  District estimates of the full annual cost of the contract for each year should be available for timely public examination.

From Fran Reardon, Easttown, Region 3 candidate:

In negotiating contracts within the School District, we should maintain a high level of transparency for all parties involved.  Periodic updates should be available to the taxpaying public and all other stakeholders.  Current annual cost of contracts should clearly be given with the long term effects of PSERS obligations also laid out and presented to the TE community in a timely fashion before any vote by the school board.

As a member of the TE School Board, I will work with the full board to give the taxpayers value for their dollar and also maintain the excellence of our schools.

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T/E School District and Teachers Sign New 2-Year Contract

After 9 long months, the T/E School Board approved a new 2-year (2012-13 and 2013-14) contract between TESD and T/E Education Association last night.  To read the contract summary of the teacher’s contract, click here.  If you prefer to read the entire contract, click here.

Ray Clarke attended the Special Meeting of the School Board and the Finance Committee meeting which directly followed.  In his review of the teacher’s 2-year contract, I thank Ray for offering the following highlights and his personal commentary on the contract.  As expected the teacher’s healthcare benefits and salaries are the primary focus of the changes in the new contract.

  • The basic details are more or less exactly the same as the first 2 years of the District’s 3 year proposal (as Keith Knauss predicted here).  Salary freeze, no matrix movement, furlough days equivalent to 1% salary reduction in 2013/14, slightly higher contribution to healthcare premiums and prescription drugs, two new (lower cost?) health plans, capped tuition reimbursement, and one time $2,500 per employee bonus (a “legitimate” fund balance use?) in 2013/14.
  • Net saving vs status quo/budget of $400,000 for the current year (2012/13); 2013/14 cost increases from that by $400,000 plus the $1.1 million one time bonus (but presumably a cost saving vs the status quo model).
  • The rest of the contract structure basically unchanged
  • No demotions in either year of the contract, but specifically on the table for the next contract
  • No resolution of the 6 period CHS grievance (a ruling in favor of the TEEA would require the hiring of 12 additional FTE – say $1.5 million ongoing cost (salary, benefits, PSERS) plus one time payment of I think I recall $3 million?)
  • The President of the TEEA is allowed to speak at TESD Board meetings
  • Family health benefits available to same-sex domestic partners

My general sense is that both sides went about as far as they could go this round.  This contract is only for two years, at which point we’ll see how the economy and political landscapes have progressed, and the Board members Rich Brake, Kevin Buraks, Anne Crowley and Betsy Fadem will have had to choose their election platforms, if running in 2013.

Interesting that the standard bonus helps those at the lower end of the scale more than proportionately (my concern, if teaching is to remain attractive for the next generation in an environment of benefits slashed in favor of the currently tenured), and that lead negotiator Deb Ciamacca keeps her higher-end CHS constituency happy by keeping the grievance on the table.

Following the Special Meeting of the School Board, the regular Finance Committee meeting followed.  Ray offers the following notes from that meeting:

The Finance Committee reported on the Act 1 index for 2013/14 – 1.7%.  Slightly higher than expected – someone in the state bureaucracy (or government?) made a decision to change the calculation method (to include a longer period for averaging state weekly wage increases) that raises the index by 0.2%.  Shenanigans?

The Finance Committee spent some time discussing how to establish that parcels currently listed as tax-exempt conform with recent PA Supreme Court rulings that narrow the availability of tax exempt status.  More details remain to be gathered on exactly what these rulings are and what entities might be affected.  I was pleased to see that while Committee chair Fadem was advocating a 13 part, multi-point data request be sent to all tax exempt property owners (mainly the townships, federal government, schools, churches, right-of-way owners and land trusts), Board members Brake and Motel were at pains to avoid an “undue burden” on both volunteer charities and the district.

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T/E Teachers Contract Not yet Public

The TESD held its regular monthly school board meeting last night.  I was unable to attend but Ray Clarke attended and forwarded his notes from the meeting.  There had been much speculation about whether or not the public would see the tentative agreement between the District and the teachers union, TEEA.   The agreement was not available last night but the residents were told that TEEA will vote to ratify the agreement by October 11.  Therefore, as a result the school board has scheduled a special school board meeting for October 15 at 7 PM, before the previously scheduled Finance Committee meeting, which has now moved to 7:30 PM.

Ray asked the board if the public would see the contract before the school board vote and they said it would be available at the meeting and the public would have a chance to comment before the vote.  As Ray says in his notes, “We’ll have to do some speedy analysis in the allotted 30 minutes”.  Ray’s questions to the school board were fielded by the solicitor, who offered “a lot of legalese about ‘labor relations case law’ and prejudicing the TEEA vote, while never explaining exactly how those factors would operate to adversely impact the district and its taxpayers”.  I am pleased to know that school board member Rich Brake attempted a thoughtful explanation as to the rationale behind not providing the complete information at this point but with a commitment of a thorough explanation in the meeting before the vote.

However, Ray writes, “Kevin Buraks, on the other hand, used the recent property purchase as an example of the need for the secrecy, which of course proves my point rather than his! That draft contract [Old Lancaster Rd. property purchase] – negotiated privately directly between the parties, of course was made available to the public a full week-end before the ratification vote”.  If you recall last month, I was surprised to see the property purchase of the house on Old Lancaster on the school board agenda.  Its agreed that there had been much discussion over the years about that remaining property and the need to purchase it – just came as a surprise and a little unsettling how the property purchase was seemingly buried in the bottom of the agenda. The agreement of sale identified the property as 892 Old Lancaster Avenue, the seller as the Estate of Arthur Fennimore, and the price as $265K.

Ray’s noted the school board’s updated communications objectives for 2012-13 as including the communication of “milestones”, not substance.  He reminds that it is this board of nine that “completely determines the budget, programs and taxes”.  I was hopeful that the school district was moving forward in the direction of transparency but there certainly appears to be a sense of mystery surrounding the contents of the teachers’ agreement.  My guess is that the school board believes in the ‘less is more’ approach when dealing with the public.  Their theory appears to be the less that we [public] know, the less that we [public] can then question.

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Community Matters Not Going Anywhere — ‘Our Collective Voices’ Matter!

Community Matters was down for about 4 hours yesterday, causing some regular readers to speculate that either I had voluntarily closed the site down or, that someone had  forced its closure.  For those prone to conspiracy theories, concerns heightened when it was discovered that the township’s website was also down.  I have no idea what caused the township website to go off-line but it is possible that the problem, was the same as for Community Matters.  Go Daddy, one of the largest Internet hosting firms, had major technical difficulties yesterday, which resulted in 5 million of their sites (including Community Matters) to go down.  An anonymous hacker is claiming responsibility for the service disruption.

So, for those who would wish otherwise, I remain stoic in my resolve … our ‘collective voices’ are important in this community.  Community ‘matters’ and our voices are part of this community.  In the last couple of days, I  have been in contact with two members of the Board of Supervisors in regards to (1) the use of the township website by a supervisor for personal messages and the policy (procedure) for such usage and (2) the communication I received from our township manager, which was posted on Community Matters.  My hope is that the Board of Supervisors will address my concerns, and those of many in the community, prior to their next meeting on Monday, September 17.  One thing I can say with absolute certainty is that what happened last week will not be forgotten.  The offensive letter may be off the township website, but its damage is not easily erased. At this point … I say, stay tuned.

Moving forward, I could not help but think about our own school district as a I watched the news yesterday and the striking teachers from Chicago’s 675 public schools.  As I understand it, Chicago teacher union leaders and district officials were not far apart in their negotiations on compensation.  But other issues – including potential changes to health care benefits and a new teacher evaluation system based partly on students’ standardized test scores, remain unresolved. Chicago teachers object to their jobs and performance being tied to students’ standardized test scores.

In T/E School District, on September 5, members of the school board and Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association (TEEA) reached a tentative agreement on the contract.  The existing contract expired on June 30.  The public will not see the agreement until both sides ratify the tentative agreement.  I am not sure why the delay, but it will be about 6 weeks until the school board votes on the tentative agreement at their October 22 school board meeting.  Presumably, at that point, the contents of the agreement will be released to the public.

The TESD Finance Committee held their first meeting of the 2012-13 school year last night. for 2012-13 year was held on Monday night. Thank you to Ray Clarke for attending and providing his notes to Community Matters.

First, a few miscellaneous items I jotted down:

  • We got an unbudgeted $330,000 refund from Blue Cross.  This flows from mysterious BC prior year accounting which has in other years resulted in a charge.  This is a nice non-recurring bonus (especially since we are now self-insured).
  • Federal revenues from the ACCESS program were also $300,000 more than budget.
  • The risk from new commercial assessment appeals remains, and a $1.4 million reduction is included in the budget
  • Residential appeals of about 150 parcels is at about the same rate as last year and we’ve lost $56,000 from about a quarter of these settled so far.  The reduction is less than it was last year, though.
  • The district is appealing 23 commercial assessments; the historical success rate has not been high (~10%, I think).
  • At this early stage, the administration sees no need to use the $5.15 million “budgetary reserve”.
  • Over the last couple of years we have actively managed bus routes to reduce the need by 5 buses (down to 105) – a saving of $250,000 a year.  This success makes me think that it would be nice to see a short table of the results of all the budget strategies.

The Financial Report did not include any impact of the tentative TEEA contract agreement.  I was told that this could not be done, since anything would be “speculation” until the Board votes on the contract.  Dr Waters said that releasing tentative contract details would be counter to “40 years of history”.  Dr Motel said that the Board has complete authority to enter into an agreement, regardless of what their constituents think.  There was no explanation of why the secrecy is in the interests of the district or of the taxpayers.

It strikes me that if 40 years of history was always the guide, then most CM readers would never have got the right to vote.  How is it that the beneficiaries of a contract have the ability to review and approve it, but the people paying for that contract do not?  Every other budget item gets months of public discussion.  We heard tonight a report of the revenues from advertising, which was debated ad nauseam for 2 years and has just now realized its first revenues of $760 (over two years).  Every year the $10,000 or $20,000 cost of PSBA membership is discussed in multiple meetings.  The TEEA contract represents one-third of total expenses for just salaries alone (and probably influences double that), yet we have no chance to give our representatives our opinion?

So that leaves us to speculate for ourselves.  My thought is that the back-end loading of the tentative deal busts the budget far beyond the maximum tax increase will allow, and leaves the post-election mess for the next school board generation to sort out

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School Board Members to Join T/E Contract Negotiating Team

Last night’s School Board meeting represented a distinct shift in attitude from the School Board directors in regards to the teacher negotiations.  Since the District named their negotiating team last January (Dan Waters, Sue Tiede, Art McDonnell and professional negotiator attorney Jeffrey Sultanik), I have been very vocal in my concern that there was no school board director serving on the negotiating team.  I was of the opinion that the residents of TESD elected the school board members to serve them and at least one of them needed to sit at the negotiating table.

Without representation by a school board director, the reporting process had the appearance of a ‘whisper down the lane’.  I understand that Sultanik was hired to negotiate at the direction of the School Board, but I think that the Board’s public appearance of ‘hands-off’ to the process, may have added to the strife with the teachers.  The information and the updates that the school board receives were not by firsthand attendance at the meetings, the flow of information was from one of the four members of the negotiating team.  I am not suggesting that the District intentionally mislead the public through its updates, but I was of the opinion that without a seat at the table, it was possible that subtle nuances that occur in a meeting could be missed in the translation.

But here is some good news for anyone that shares my concerns with the negotiation process.  At the end of last night’s meeting, Board president Karen Cruickshank gave a brief update on the status of the teacher contract talks.  She explained the District has made another offer to the teachers and offered hope that a resolution could be forthcoming.  Not certain what is contained in the latest offer but there was something else … Cruickshank announced that going forward, school board directors would have a seat at the negotiating table.   Karen Cruickshank, Pete Motel, Kevin Buraks and Betsy Fadem will join the negotiating team at all future meetings with the teachers union.  I believe that this was the right decision for the District, the residents and for the teachers! The last few months have been contentious between the two sides, but I think this latest decision represents an encouraging sign.

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Given Our Economic Times, How Can T/E Afford A Real Estate Purchase?

Here we are nine days and counting until school starts, in the midst of contentious teacher contract negotiations and parents in the District hoping that school starts on time.  Residents have repeatedly been told that T/E School District cannot afford the demands of the teachers … escalating health care and pension costs.  With decreasing revenues and rising costs, in June we witnessed, as tough decisions were required to balance the District budget.

During the discussion on the Fact Finder’s report at the August 20 special School Board meeting, school board members weighed in on why they could not vote in favor of the report.   Karen Cruickshank, Board president, commented in part,

“… The public knows how hard the Board has worked to balance the budget over the past 3 years.  We have explored ways to increase revenues.  We’ll be charging students an activity fee for the first time this year. We have raised taxes 2 years in a row to the Act 1 limit with allowable exceptions to referendum. We have cut $10 million from our budget, or one tenth. We have held administrators, aides and paras at zero raises over the last 3 years. The members of TENIG agreed to a 4.5% cut last year. The custodial staff has agreed to waive both the 4.5% increase for next year and has given back an additional 10% of current salary. The numbers still don’t balance. It is the responsibility of the Board to balance the budget. The Board has no control over large increases in state mandated pension obligations put in place by the legislature in 2001. The District has also suffered significant financial losses through commercial and residential real estate reassessments and tax appeals. These reassessments and appeals have resulted in the likely loss of $1.5 million this year. These factors together have wreaked havoc on what was once a stable T/E budget…”

For the most part, I think that residents are starting to recognize the economic problems facing the District and the importance of School Board members to make responsible and sound fiduciary decisions. It is because of this, that frankly I was astounded to see a specific item listed under the ‘Consent Agreement’ on the agenda for the School Board meeting, Monday, August 27. According to the agenda, a ‘Consent Agenda’ requires Board action but “… it is unnecessary to hold discussion on these items. With the consent of all members, they are therefore grouped and approval is given in one motion.”  

There are probably 15 or 20 consent agenda items listed on Monday’s agenda, ranging from approving minutes, and acceptance of gifts to ‘purchase property’.  All of these consent items are lumped together and then rather than going through them item by item, approved by the School Board in one motion.  The purchase property item caught my attention but I had to read to page 45 of the agenda’s supplement materials to find the following:

Consent VII, E, 3:Purchase of Property

“That the Board of School Directors authorizes the Superintendent to execute, and the Board Secretary to attest, and deliver to the record owner of property designated as Tax Parcel No. 43-10L-2 [which is property adjoining the District’s property], the Agreement of Sale in the form attached to the resolution…….”

The agreement of sale that follows further identifies the property as 892 Old Lancaster Avenue, the seller as the Estate of Arthur Fennimore, and the price as $265K.  The date of sale is left blank.  On Saturday morning, I stopped by the property to take a photo and spoke with the grandson of Mr. Fennimore.  He and his brothers were cleaning out the house in advance of the purchase by TESD.  Mr. Fennimore was 97 when he passed away and was the original owner of the house. According to the grandson, closing between the Estate and TESD is expected by the end of the week.

I have attended most, if not all, of the 2012 School Board meetings and have absolutely no recall on the discussion to purchase additional real estate property, …  especially given the agonizing budget decisions, the possibility of demotion and the contract negotiations with the teachers.  Therefore, I don’t think that I missed the discussion about purchasing additional real estate.

This past Friday there was a Facilities Committee meeting and although I did not attend, according to the agenda there was no discussion about the upcoming purchase of the Fennimore property. To be clear, in the past, there have been on/off discussions about the maintenance building and the need to expand the storage facility.  In fact, there are existing architectural plans —  but as far as I knew, the project was ‘on hold’ for obvious economic reasons.

The Fennimore house is the last remaining property between the current maintenance building and T/E Middle School on Old Lancaster Rd. – the District previously purchased all other properties.  So … I guess from an overall planning standpoint, the acquisition of this property makes sense.  However, given the District’s current economic climate and the unsettled teachers’ contract, it would seem that the topic to ‘purchase’ would still require some discussion, not just buried with 20 other consent items.  Unfortunately, the word that immediately comes to mind … transparency, or rather ‘lack thereof’.

Based on my conversation with Mr. Fennimore’s grandson, the estate has a deal with the school district and that closing and settlement will occur later this week. Given that there appears that there will be no discussion about the School Board’s decision to purchase the property, here are my questions …

How did they arrive at the price for the property?  The sale price is listed as $265K.  My friend Ray Clarke did the research and determined that the assessed value is $129,500.  According to Ray, if we “… multiply $129,500 by the current Chester County Common Level Ratio of 1.70, you get $220,150.”  Subtract $220,150 from $265K, and you have to ask, why is the School District paying a $45K premium for this property.  Regardless of future development plans, for the time being, the District will need to tear down the house, which means an additional expense.  Another question — is the maintenance-storage facility project still on the back burner or does the Fennimore house purchase have the timetable moved up on the construction project?

Some may suggest that a $265K real estate purchase in the T/E School District is a ‘bargain’ and a ‘smart’ move for the District in these depressed economic times.  But the bottom line for me, is $265K really such a bargain for a property assessed at $130K?  And what about the public – do we deserve an explanation about the purchase?  What is the plan for the acquisition? And if there is a plan, how much will that plan cost? 

I have the questions, but it doesn’t look like there will be much in the way of answers.

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