Tredyffrin Easttown School Board

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

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

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

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

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

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

Budget Workshop Notes from Ray Clarke:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Budget Workshop Notes from Neal Colligan:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Valley Forge Middle School fencing debate continues … And now the local Tredyffrin Republican Committee has joined the mix!

Fencing April 2015The Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee is taking a formal position opposing the proposed fencing next to Valley Forge Middle School, along Valley Forge Road.

In addition to serving as chair of the Tredyffrin Republicans, attorney Neill Kling is chair of Tredyffrin Township’s Zoning Hearing Board and was a candidate in the last school board race. At last night’s TTRC meeting, Kling proposed the motion to oppose the 5-6 ft. fencing at Valley Forge Middle School on Valley Forge Road – the resolution passed.

Recently elected TE School Board member Republican Ed Sweeney, who serves as Area 7 Republican Chair and committee person for the TTRC, continues to oppose the fencing project. During his campaign, Sweeney was a strong voice against the Valley Forge Middle School fencing project. Pleased with the stand his political party is taking, Sweeney took to social media, saying in part,

I view this vote and opposition to the fences as reflective of the will of Tredyffrin’s citizens and it is certainly the will of many Tredyffrin Republicans as well as many of my Region 2 constituents. There are various reasons for opposition, including it does not add significantly to safety and has nothing to do with violent attacks, the cost, and it will injure the appearance of the neighborhood on what for all practical purposes if a front yard in a gateway to the historic Valley Forge Park.

The rationale appears as explained by the consultant to be to mainly prevent the deer coming on the property and to prevent “runners” from leaving along Valley Forge Road. These rationales are weak. Historically, neither issue has been a big one and the local police chose not to weigh in on the expert’s report. I find the report subject to severe criticism because of its tone and attack on the numerous people who gave input. An ad hominem attack is not a good example for our children on how to professionally analyze and support an issue.

Sweeney is the only currently serving Republican school board director from Tredyffrin Township. Will the actions of the local Republican Committee have any bearing on the outcome of the fencing project? And what about the Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee … will they now feel any pressure to follow the actions of the local Republicans with a public statement of opposition. The Democrats hold a majority on the school board and all five are from Tredyffrin Township (Kevin Buraks, Scott Dorsey, Michele Burger, Roberta Hotinski and Todd Kantorczyk).

Kudos go to Ed Sweeney for taking a public stand on the Valley Forge fencing issue as an elected official. In the past, there has been much control (or at least perceived control) placed on the use of social media by school board members. Regardless of what happens on the fencing issue, I’m glad to see that at least one member of the Board is breaking with tradition!

The Valley Forge Middle School fencing project and the safety consultant’s report will be discussed at the upcoming Facilities Committee meeting, Thursday, Feb. 18, 5 PM. The recommendation from the Facilities Committee could determine the future of the fencing project.

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

stopped school bus

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

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

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

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

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

John Alexander

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tredyffrin, Region 2 Candidates for TE School Board respond

TE School Board Candidates for Tredyffrin, Region 2
Michele Burger
Kris Graham
Ed Sweeney
Alan Yockey

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

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

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

TE School Board Candidate Michele Burger
Tredyffrin, East – Region 2

Thank you for the opportunity to introduce myself. I’m Michele Burger, School Board candidate for Region 2. My family and I moved to the Glenhardie neighborhood in Wayne 17 years ago. As parents of three young children, we considered a number of communities but chose Tredyffrin because of its nationally ranked schools. We are very pleased that we did. All of our children have received excellent preparation for college and beyond.

Over the past 15 years, I have volunteered Mat every level of my children’s schooling including serving as PTO president at Valley Forge elementary. I have actively participated in monthly School Board meetings as well as finance and facilities subcommittee meetings. I have been a community activist and liaison regarding School Board decisions that impact residents of Region 2.

These experiences have afforded me the opportunity to work with many different committees, levels of school district personnel, township personnel, and community members. In every instance, I strove to maintain open communication, to look for creative solutions when needed, and to consider our tax burden and District spending priorities. With my degree in Business and my professional career as a manager of a large sales force, I have experience with negotiating employment contracts, setting measurable goals, and managing budget expenditures.

If I were to only focus on one issue that is important to me, it would not be a true picture of how I would approach my responsibilities on the School Board. There are a number of key standards that I will uphold, if elected.

1) I will work to maintain the highest quality education for all students at an affordable price to taxpayers.

2) I will establish better avenues for open communication and transparency. This would include but is not limited to posting community questions and school board responses online.

3) I will gather community, student, teacher, and administrators’ input as well as the views of fellow school board members prior to making fiscal and educational decisions.

4) I will fight to eliminate Keystone exams as a graduation requirement.

With these standards in mind, the one “issue” that I will give extra focus to is the District’s spending priorities. Over the past several years, I have a track record of questioning the District’s spending – especially the $4 million maintenance building that was recently approved.  I have questioned the need for security fencing that provides no real security and has an impact on homeowners whose properties are adjacent to our schools. With the help of others, I was able to stop the destruction of the VFE tennis courts, a valuable community resource, which in fact saved money and allows the PTO and School District to generate revenue through usage fees to outside organizations.

If elected, I will utilize my business background, my track record of questioning the District’s spending priorities, and my key standards as guiding principles to serve students, employees, and taxpayers of the Tredyffrin-Easttown School district.

For additional questions, please contact me at burger4sb@gmail.com or 484-254-6515.

TE School Board Candidate Kris Graham
Tredyffrin, East – Region 2

I, Kris Graham, have the privilege to currently serve as president of the Tredyffrin Easttown School District. I spent forty years as a classroom teacher. I am a wife and a mother of two adult sons – both Conestoga graduates. I treasure two grandchildren and my husband and I nurtured eleven foster children over a dozen years. They too benefitted from the TE schools.  I have served for three and a half years on the T/E School Board chairing the Legislative and Education Committees, two years as vice-president, and led the Negotiation Team and the Superintendent Search Committee. My advanced degrees in education and teaching certificates in multiple areas enables me to work three mornings a week at a local school that serves at risk adolescents and maintain a private tutorial practice.

Ms. Benson invited me to submit an essay on one topic that I will concentrate on as an incumbent school board candidate. My campaign pledge comes directly from the TE School District mission statement crafted by TE stakeholders:

“To inspire a passion for learning, personal integrity, the pursuit of excellence and social responsibility in each student.”

I also commit to maintaining Conestoga among the elite high schools in the United States as recently recognized by BestColleges.com.

“Conestoga ranked number two overall (nationally) — trailing only Horace Greeley of Chappaqua, NY — (number one in Pennsylvania), 59th best in facilities (11th in the state), 19th in teaching faculty (third in the state) and the 54th safest high school in America (fourth safest in Pennsylvania).”

The survey compared 21,000 schools in the United States. I invite you to read the entire article, as well as all of the other achievements of our students and faculty, on Tredyffrin Easttown School District’s acclaimed website: www.TESD.org

I enjoy meeting you as I knock on doors, attend school functions and civic engagements. I look forward to working with this supportive community, sharing our TE pride, and continuing the TE legacy of academic excellence!

You can contact me via –  krismgraham6@icloud.com

Thank you!

Kris Graham

TE School Board Candidate Ed Sweeney
Tredyffrin, East – Region 2

Dear Neighbor:

Pattye Benson has laid down a real challenge: state what is the one most pressing issue facing the school board and what are my qualifications to address it.  Check out my Facebook EdSweeney4TE to review specific reform issues I am proposing in various areas, such as restoring applied technology and languages in elementary school, combating drug use, and using a more “user friendly” model for public comment.

Let me introduce myself.  My name is Ed Sweeney and I am a local attorney who fights on the side of people like yourself.  I will fight, effectively, for Tredyffrin’s interests and Region 2’s interests. My wife, Franny, and I have an 8 year old at VFES, Katie, and Franny volunteers regularly as a “library mom” and records the children singing.  For 20 years, I have tried to develop my volunteer leadership skill sets to effectively and efficiently obtain results in areas including government, church (Saint Isaac’s), charitable, and political venues.  This includes 15 years on volunteer Boards in Tredyffrin’s government, including Planning Commission and Zoning Hearing Board.  I have fought vigorously as a political leader to keep Tredyffrin affordable and competitive, and against budget busting school taxes and the PIT and EIT.

Our focus needs to be keeping Tredyffrin affordable for middle class families while improving the already fine academic quality in the School District.  We are not high priced Radnor.  The mistake Radnor and other school districts have made is placing scarce resources in building schools or on administrative costs.  We are drifting down a risky path of borrowing $24 million of capital without specific publicly articulated goals, installing expensive fences that bring little safety value, and a $4.8 million maintenance facility that is twice its forecast costs.  I agree with the comment: “no one likes to see money spent on facilities and not the students.”  The ability to make our total local tax obligations affordable makes Tredyffrin attractive to businesses which pay crucially important transfer taxes.  Affordability also is a magnet for families that chose to settle here based on value.

Our philosophy should focus expenditures on students and teachers.  We should treat our employees fairly.  Transparency and effective public contribution help keep our system working well and is an important check on government.

Tredyffrin residents should also speak with one bipartisan voice on Pension Reform for new employees.  The Pennsylvania School Board Association (PSBA’s) has urgently declared that “the system is unsustainable and must be fixed now.”  I am in favor of a mixed system compromise as recently proposed.

Given the current dynamics of the Board, we need Directors who fight skillfully for Tredyffrin’s priorities both in public and “behind the scenes.”  As a PC member, I opposed with success proposals harmful to homeowners such as trying to make residents put in sidewalks and expanding the definition of “historic building” to apply to even post war homes.  Experience matters in a Board setting.  I am dedicated to earning your support.  Learn more about me on Facebook: EdSweeney4TE.

TE School Board Candidate Alan Yockey
Tredyffrin, East – Region 2

Hello. My name is Alan Yockey and I am a candidate for TESD School Board Director. I have spent 40 years in Information Technology as a programmer/analyst, business consultant, and IT Director. Before that I was a mathematics teacher. I know firsthand the rewards and frustrations of education. Now I am retired and have the time and experience to use serving our community on the school board. We moved to Tredyffrin in 1994 when our son was starting kindergarten at Hillside. He graduated from Conestoga in 2007.  I know the schools are excellent, and I would like to serve our community to maintain that excellent quality.

The first priority of any school board director should be to maintain the high level of excellence in our district. I will approach this on several fronts.

  1. Insure our teachers get the training and support to make them excellent in the classroom. Monitor class size. Reduce constraints imposed on teachers from standardized testing. The number one objective for teachers should be opening minds and developing critical thinking. Not having high scores on multiple choice tests.
  2. Involvement of the Community-Whether in academics, finances, art and cultural, or sports the school board needs to lead the way in providing opportunities for parents and community members to be involved. Put more material on the web. Require committees to schedule meetings both during the day and in the evening. Have more workshops like the budget workshops which both provide information and allow for citizen input. Put questions, responses and supporting material for citizen questions on the web. Agendas items should be sufficiently clear so that interested parties can be easily identified.
  3. Students-Prepare students to be well rounded adults. Make sure all students are exposed to academics, music, art, manual skills, etc. The goal is to allow every student to find their area of interest and excellence. We cannot measure the success of the schools by counting the number of students who are National Merit Scholars.
  4. Finances-Work with the administration to balance our resources among the complex mandates and demands levied on the schools by government, by the community, by the students, and by the teachers. Use my 40 years of analytical experience to evaluate needs and costs. Think long term. Do not make decisions today which will hurt the quality of our schools in the future.

Producing “Well rounded adults or citizens” is a goal for our education system and for parents and for the community. For our education system to succeed at this goal we need school board members who take a holistic approach to the school system. As an IT Director I balanced end user demands, budget, IT and end user resources, training requirements, government regulations, safety concerns, and corporate goals to achieve an optimum solution. I will do the same on the school board.

Head of Tredyffrin Republicans is now in the T/E School Board race!

The twist and turns of local politics … Replacing Dr. George Anderson (who withdrew from the TE School Board race last week) is the current Chair of the Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee, Neill Kling.  Neill sent the following note this morning regarding his candidacy for the TE School Board:

Pattye:
Just a quick note to inform your readers that I have been chosen by our Committeepeople in Region 1 to replace George Anderson as one of the Republican School Board candidates from that region.   The decision to run is my own; I have been thinking about doing this for some time now.  I run because I believe that I (along with my now running mates Neal Colligan and Ed Sweeney), will complement the excellent stewardship of sitting Board President Kris Graham, while at the same time offering a fresh perspective on the educational and fiscal choices that are vital to keeping the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District both outstanding and affordable.  Two of my children are graduates of private high schools, and two are and will be attending Conestoga High School, so I have experience as a parent with public and private education.  We should be proud that, at least in our district, public education keeps pace with the many first-class private schools at a fraction of the cost, and that is a testament not only to our wonderful public educators but also to the great parents of our school community.  Nevertheless, in the public sphere, we must be mindful that our operating expenses come from all of our taxpayers, whether they use the schools or not, and that our schools are an integral part of our neighborhoods and must be responsive to their needs as well.  


Commitment to the best education possible combined with a concern for our taxpayers has been the hallmark of the T/E School District for many years.  It is why so many of us have chosen to live and raise our families here.  If elected, I will be honored to help continue and, where necessary, improve upon that wonderful legacy.  


Best,

Neill Kling  

Primary Election 2015 Results for Tredyffrin Board of Supervisors and School Board Races: Amidst Low Turnout, Results Indicate Interest in Change

Your vote mattersPrimary Election 2015 was yesterday and Chester County Voter Services has now calculated the results. Tredyffrin Township has 9,003 registered Republicans and 8,146 registered Democrats. For Primary Day, it was nearly a dead heat of Republicans and Democrats showing up to vote. Approximately 17.8% of the registered Democrats voted (1,447 voters) and 17.7% of the registered Republicans voted (1,596 voters) yesterday. If you want your vote to matter, you have to vote!

I received some early inaccurate results however the following information is verified from the County website. In reviewing the cumulative results, the total vote count for the Board of Supervisor races are as follows:

Tredyffrin Township Supervisor: At-Large 
Sean Moir(R) 1,378
Trip Lukens(R) 1,316
Elva Bankins(D) 1,264
Lou Horvath(D) 1,253

Two at-large seats are available on the Board of Supervisors and no incumbents are in the race. Republicans Mike Heaberg and Kristen Mayock are current at-large supervisors and are not seeking re-election. Both having previously run unsuccessfully for the Board of Supervisors, Moir and Lukens received the highest number of votes in yesterday’s Primary Election. Political newcomers, Democrats Bankins and Horvath followed closely behind Moir and Lukens in total votes.

Tredyffrin Township Supervisor:  District 3: West 
Yolanda Van de Krol(D) 444
Heather Greenberg (R) 416

Currently serving Western District supervisor John DiBuonaventuro is not seeking reelection. Both newcomers to the municipal supervisor races, Van de Krol received the highest number of votes in the Primary Election.

Tredyffrin Township Supervisor:  District 1: East 
Paul Olson(R) 466
Tory Snyder(D) 464

The District 1 supervisor race has a re-match between Tredyffrin Township Planning Commissioner chair Tory Snyder(D) and Paul Olson(R), the longest-serving supervisor in the history of the township. If you recall, in 2011, this particular supervisor race was extremely close with only 13 votes separating them in the General Election. For Primary Election 2015, Olson received only two more votes than Snyder. It doesn’t get much closer, it’s going to be interesting to see what happens over the next 6 months.

For many people, the Board of Supervisor races have taken a backseat to the TE School Board races.

Five of the nine seats on the school board are available. Four Board members, Karen Cruickshank (D), Pete Motel(R), Jim Bruce(R) and Liz Mercogliano(R) are not seeking reelection. The fifth available school board seat is held currently by Board President Kris Graham(R) who is seeking reelection.

The unresolved school fencing issues, the very expensive $4 million + maintenance building and the outsourcing of the aides and paraeducators are just three school district issues that recently have had some of us questioning the decisions of the current school board. The Primary Election results indicate an interest from the community in ‘change’, particularly the numbers in Tredyffrin, Region 2.

TE School Board: Tredyffrin West, Region 2
Michele Burger(D) 1138
Ed Sweeney(R) 922
Kris Graham(R) 764
Alan Yockey(D) 691*
(*Not cross-filed)

In the only school board race with an incumbent, Democrat Michele Burger has a commanding lead, with more than 200 votes separating her and Republican Ed Sweeney, with incumbent Kris Graham(R) in third place. With only two seats available in Region 2, if the General Election were held today it would mean that incumbent Kris Graham would no longer be sitting on the school board.

TE School Board: Tredyffrin East, Region 1
Roberta Hotinski(D) 604
Todd Kantorczyk (D) 572
Neal Colligan(R) 495
George Anderson(R) 398*
(*Not cross-filed)

Two positions on the school board are available in Region 1. All political newcomers, the Democratic candidates Roberta Hotinski and Todd Kantorczyk received the two highest vote totals in the Primary Election.

In addition to the Region 1 and Region 2 seats in Tredyffrin Township, Region 3 in Easttown Township has one seat available. Currently serving school board director Dr. Pete Motel(R) is not seeking reelection.

The Primary Election results for Easttown, Region 3 have Republican Kate Murphy receiving 610 votes and Democratic Fran Reardon receiving 268 votes. Reardon did not cross-file. Although both Murphy and Reardon themselves are newcomers to the school board races, Murphy is the daughter of a well-known local political family, Steve and Carol Aichele. Steve Aichele served as the Chief of Staff for former PA Governor Tom Corbett. Carol Aichele served as Secretary of the Commonwealth under Corbett and previously served as a Chester County Commissioner and TE School Board member.

The results of the Region 2 School Board race should be a message not just to incumbent Kris Graham but to the entire school board. More and more people are ‘tuning in’ as to what is going on and do not necessarily support some of this Board’s decisions.  Whether it is the increasing taxes, school fencing, outsourcing of District employees, an over-priced maintenance building, lack of transparency,  etc. – these votes reflect a desire for change.  The Board needs to accept that this is no longer a ‘few discontents’ but that more and more residents are paying attention and are troubled by some of their decisions.

It will be interesting to see if the Primary Election proves to be an indicator for what we will see in November.  It is six months until the General Election and much can happen between now and then, particularly with the addition of the Independent voters.  Pennsylvania does not allow Independent voters a voice in the Primary Election but come November, our votes will count!  I am sure that the local political analysts will have more to say on the Primary Election results and I welcome the discussion.

In closing, I have to include this photo from Primary Day. I ran into the Democrat and Republican chairs (Kathleen Keohane and Neill Kling) at Our Lady of the Assumption, one of the voting locations yesterday and they generously posed for this photo. Although I’m delighted to include it here on Community Matters, I challenged each of them to include it on the respective websites!

Kathleen Keohane and Neill Kling

Kathleen Keohane, Tredyffrin Democratic Party Chair with Neill Kling, Chair of Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee on Primary Election Day, Our Lady of the Assumption.

Neal Colligan vs Tredyffrin Easttown School District in Right-to-Know Case: Follow-Up

right_to_know_squareOn April 23, 2015, Neal Colligan was notified that he won his appeal with the PA Office of Open Records (OOR) in the Colligan v. Tredyffrin-Easttown School District case, Docket No: AP 2015-0442.  If you recall, Colligan’s appeal stemmed from the District’s denial in his right-to-know request regarding the five closed meetings of the TE School Board between November 2014 – January 2015, concerning the Affordable Care Act and the employment changes of the District’s aides and paraeducators.

As a result of the OOR findings, the District was required to provide all requested Affordable Care Act records from the secret Executive Sessions withing 30 days. To comply with OOR, the District did make public on the website, some of the background ACA materials used in the meetings.

The District was given 30 days to appeal the OOR ruling but after discussion between Colligan and School Board member Virginia Lastner, an agreement between the sides was reached. Although the Board was unwilling to make the agreement public, Neal offered the signed communication and certification by Art McDonnell for Community Matters along with his thoughts on the Right-to-Know process and agreement from the School Board.

Below is his email and the signed letter from the TE School Board. Board members Kris Graham, Doug Carlson, Virginia Lastner, Peter Motel, Scott Dorsey, Jim Bruce, Kevin Buraks and Karen Cruickshank signed the letter. It is noted that because school board member Liz Mercogliano was not allowed to attend the Executive Sessions and participate in the Affordable Care Act discussion, she subsequently did not vote on the outsourcing of the aides and paraeducators, and therefore chose not to sign the letter.

Pattye,

Attached is a letter the members of the TESB and I signed last night ending the RTK request in relation to the aides/paras Executive Meetings and the directive from the OOR to produce documents/information.

As we’ve discussed, the issue at hand has already been decided (outsourcing) and the nature of the request made back on 2/18/15 for information used in the Nov, Dec, Jan Exec Meetings is pretty stale at this point. Having no interest in the District continuing to accumulate legals fees, we considered the matter closed.

Some notes from my side:

1) I don’t know if the District fully complied with the OOR directive. They had introduced a string of e-mails in their partial information disclosure back in March. The request for information was broadly written and these, and other, items may have been included in complying with the OOR order.

2)The “settlement” came about through the work of Virginia Lastner. She authored the attached although it’s been through several revisions. This approach was one that was presented by the Board to us.

3)The letter itself is a bit awkward….not addressed to anyone, no signature identification (I added “Members of the TESD Board” so at least they signed in that capacity) but on District letterhead.

4)The District’s side of the agreement is to leave the OOR finding intact. These also stops the legal work on this RTK request…I hope.

Finally, the District/Board would not make it public on their website but you are free to put it on yours if you choose. In this case, it was the best course of action. As the Requestor, I did not “get” much but possibly a stop to the District legal bills on this issue. Clearly, if the issue at hand were still undecided, we had the right to continue to push for all the materials granted by the OOR.

Thanks….

Neal Colligan

Neal Colligan vs TESD School Board letter

 

Neal Colligan vs TESD Art McDonnell certification

 

 

 

Notes from TESD Finance Committee Meeting – Do we borrow $18 million or $24 million to pay for District capital projects?

I attended the first 2015 meeting of the TE School District’s Finance Committee this week that focused primarily on the preliminary 2015-16 budget.  According to the District’s capital sources and uses report, there is a projected capital need of $24 million over the next five years.  The Finance Committee discussed options to fund these planned facilities projects … either to borrow $18 million or $24 million. Citing the District’s stellar credit rating and the historically low-interest rates, the committee members supported this borrowing approach to help pay for the new construction and needed renovations to existing buildings. However, because TESD currently has a $32 million fund balance, some in attendance at the meeting questioned adding debt in this way.

Another topic that received some discussion from audience members was Dr. Gusick’s proposal to add a couple of new director positions in the District. Gusick explained that Robin McDonnell, Director of Assessment and Instructional Technology for the District, will be retiring in June and thinks that the job requirements are such that they now require two people, a Director of Technology and a Director of Assessment. I don’t know that anyone would question Gusick about the need for the positions, but may question the suggested salaries — $160k/yr. for each position.

Ray Clarke also attended the Finance Committee meeting. Following the meeting, he emailed comments to the school board and sent me a copy for Community Matters.  Below is an excerpt from those remarks:

First, I would like to thank you for the presentations at last night’s Finance Committee meeting proposing to restructure the Administration team and to make a $18 to $24 million bond issue.  We are at the stage in the budget process where many worthy proposals are on the table.  Dr Gusick’s idea for qualified Directors of Technology and of Assessment is one of them, but the compensation gives pause: salaries of $160,000, plus 30% PSERS, plus $20,000 healthcare, plus ……?  Unfortunately, accepting all of them – even with the maximum 3.7% tax increase – leaves the District with an unsustainable deficit approaching $2 million.

This makes it all the more important for you to critically examine the one discretionary spending item that defies understanding – raising $18 million that the District does not need, and will cost taxpayers over $28 million to repay.  Further, you propose to eliminate the annual $300,000 savings from last Fall’s bond re-financing rather than giving taxpayers some offset to the otherwise continual expense increases.

The proposed financing is driven by a capital plan for the four years from 2015/16 to 2018/19 that calls for spending $30.7 million, while only $6.9 million will remain in the Capital Project Fund at the beginning of the year.  The assumption is that the $24 million gap has to be filled by 75% bond funding because “that’s the way we have always done it”.  However, we have not always had a General Fund Balance of $32 million earning negligible interest.

Instead of contriving financial schemes to defer interest on the new borrowing beyond the $300,000 of lost savings (and increase total borrowing costs), I believe that it is your fiduciary duty to present and analyze other options that show some fiscal restraint.

For example, a transfer of $16 million from the General Fund to the Capital Fund would take the District through 2017/18 and even through 2018/19 – if just $2 million of capital spending was deferred.  At that point the 2014 bonds are repaid and there is leeway for bond financing without a premium for a convoluted structure that defers interest and principal repayments.  You avoid the three quarter of a million dollar annual expense (loaded on future generations) for the unneeded 4% bond money sitting under the District mattress.  And there is still $16 million in the General Fund for contingencies that you can not tax for (contrary to the $10 million “committed” to PSERS, which you can and do raise taxes for).  There is already over $5 million “committed” to Capital Projects.

In the last five years, TESD taxes have risen at twice the rate of inflation and this is forecast to continue in the preliminary Budget.  Radnor is finding a way to limit next year’s tax increase to the State Index 1.9%.  There is great risk to the value proposition that brought many of us to Tredyffrin.  As taxes rise relative to our neighbors, the more likely that existing communities and new ones like Wayne Glen will be unaffordable to those without families, the more children will enter the school system and the worse your problem will get.

Clarification of TE School Board receipt of outsourcing alternative strategy

This post is offered as clarification regarding the ‘outsourcing alternative’ strategy that Neal Colligan prepared for the TE School Board’s consideration and the receipt of the document . On June 4, Neal sent the following email to the school board at the District email address (schoolboard@tesd.net ) with the outsourcing alternative document attached. (I was copied on the email).  As previously explained on Community Matters, the document represented the  collaborative effort between community members, District aides and paraeducators and, health care experts. (You can find a copy of the document at the end of this post).

As you know, a group of community members, along with many of the Paraeducators working in the district have been working on an alternative to the outsourcing strategy discussed at the May 13, 2013 Board Meeting.  Attached is the result of these efforts.  The many citizens of our community who have supported this initiative ask that the Board please seriously consider what we propose.  In essence, we urge you to comply with the letter of the Affordable Care Act and keep these several hundred jobs in the District.  We believe that this can be accomplished in a fiscally responsible and budget positive manner as you will see.

To be clear, we do NOT represent this employee group.  They, like us, are members of our community searching for solutions to a community issue.  Unlike those of us who have volunteered to help, they will be directly impacted by your decisions on this matter.  Their input was critical in considering the design of this strategy.  Many of these District employees are living in fear of workplace retribution for being a part of this effort.  As such, we will not attach their names to this conceptual plan.

Finally, it is a conceptual plan only.  As we did not possess all of the data necessary, we used estimates where necessary.  You will not be limited by this lack of information.  As in any conceptual plan, there will be issues to work out in the implementation process if you choose this alternative.  We believe that this concept can produce a viable alternative to your current strategy that is good for the District employees, taxpayers and the community at large.  As engaged members of the community, we are prepared to help in any way we can as you search for a solution to this issue.

Please accept this in the spirit it is intended…as an attempt to help.  Let me know when you receive as I can send this attachment in another format if necessary.

Neal Colligan

Rather than a response from the School Board to this email, a receipt from business manager Art McDonnell was sent to Neal.  It was unclear whether the Board received the information.  Because the outsourcing alternative document was to be publicly distributed on June 5, and because it was important that each Board member receive a copy in advance, I forwarded Neal’s email (with accompanying outsourcing strategy document) to each School Board’s personal email address (Neal was copied on the email) with the following message:

All –

I am re-sending Neal’s email and attached ‘Outsource Alternative’ on the outside possibility that you may not have received it.

Over the course of the last 3 weeks, we have met with many of the aides, paras and substitute teachers and I’m certain that as Board members, you share our interest in saving these District employees and their jobs.  It is impossible to fully measure the value that this group of employees brings to the District’s children and their families daily. Understanding the current economic requirements of the school district, I hope that you will give Neal’s plan the complete review that it deserves.  We both believe that the aides, paraeducators and substitute teachers are valuable assets to this community and their jobs need to be preserved, not outsourced.

Please let Neal or me know if there is anything we can do to help, as you review the various options.

Kind regards,

Pattye Benson

Following the re-sending of the email with the attached outsourcing alternative document, I received no notice of receipt from any Board member nor was there any response from the District.  As a result, it remained unclear if individual Board members had received the information.  A couple of days after sending the initial email, Neal did receive a personal email from Anne Crowley (no other Board member or myself were included on the email) stating that she would review the information he had sent regarding the alternative proposal. She went on to thank him for his “attendance, comments and thoughtful participation regarding school board issues.”

Other than the private email from Anne Crowley to Neal, I am unaware of no other school board or District communication to Neil in regards to the outsourcing alternative document – official or otherwise. Neal received no Board ‘thank you’ for his efforts as was stated at the Finance Committee meeting.  And for the record, there was no response to my email (above) by any School Board member. I hope that this clarifies the matter and I apologize for any misunderstanding.

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Click here to read the outsourcing alternative strategy as provided by Neal Colligan.

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The Saga of the Tennis Courts Continues …

The saga of the tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School continues.  On April 2, representatives from the School Board, Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, staff and the District’s architect held a public meeting to discuss the fate of the two tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School.

Although there was support to save the tennis courts from those residents in attendance, no decision was made at the meeting. The tennis courts are on the Facilities Committee agenda for tomorrow (Friday), 2 PM at the TESD Administration Building.  Also included in the agenda packet  is the site map for the parking lot expansion and aerial view of the courts.

I remain confused as to why the District wants to demolish the tennis courts.  From a logical standpoint, some of the arguments simply do not make sense to me.

  •  The tennis courts are not located adjacent to the parking lot and their location does not affect the parking lot expansion plans.  To add the 24 parking spaces does not require the demolition of the 2 tennis courts.
  • There has been much back and forth between the School District business manager Art McDonnell and the Township Manager Bill Martin and Township Engineer Steve Burgo in regards to “trading” impervious surface requirement of the parking lot expansion by demolishing the courts.  McDonnell claims that there was a prior agreement with former Township Manager Mimi Gleason in regards to this arrangement;  Martin and Burgo claim otherwise. 
  • In an email to Bill Martin and Art McDonnell (cc Phil Donohue) dated March 20, Burgo states the following: 

Township staff including the previous Manager (Ms. Gleason), Engineer (Mr. Burgo), and (Mrs. McPherson), attended meetings with Art McDonnell and TESD consultant staff on these Tennis Courts more than a year ago.  In those meetings, the TESD discussed their plans to add a new parking lot at the VFES in the future. I want to be clear that the TESD and their consultants originally asked if they could swap the impervious, but were told by the Township that they couldn’t.  Stormwater Management controls are required by the Township Stormwater Ordinance, for all new impervious being constructed onsite. There is no credit or swap if the courts are removed from a stormwater management standpoint, only from a zoning standpoint.

  • On behalf of the District, Art McDonnell has publicly maintained that there was a ‘deal’ in regards to the impervious surface requirement. Yet as evidenced by Burgo’s email, the township has denied any such deal existed.  Further, to the point, such a deal would be illegal as the stormwater ordinance makes no provision for such a credit.  Therefore, we can only conclude that the School District represented by the business manager Art McDonnell has been less than truthful as to their rationale for demolishing the tennis courts.
  • The construction of the additional parking spaces will require a zoning variance. According to VFES neighbor Matt Morgan, township officials indicated at the April 2 Facilities Committee meeting that they would expedite the process and probably waive the associated fees (if asked).

Besides the impervious surface debate, another rationale for the removal of the tennis courts from the District was their cost to maintain.  I have had a number of residents tell me that courts are in excellent condition – although I don’t claim any expertise on tennis courts, the 2 courts at VFES looked in good shape to me.

Another neighbor to the tennis courts, Don Detweiler, has been providing routine maintenance for a number of years.  Neither the School District nor the township has expended any dollars on the courts.  In an April 1 TE Patch article , local resident Jeff Sacks, a tennis coach, is quoted as offering to pay the maintenance cost.  According to Matt Morgan, a local Davis Cup tennis player who lives in the neighborhood and uses the courts, has offered to hold tennis clinics for children and donate the proceeds to maintain the courts.

Beyond the ‘he said, she said’ aspects of this story, that has me shaking my head is the notion that the tennis courts are going to cost money unless they are demolished.  According to the District, the cost to seek a variance from the township’s Zoning Hearing Board will be $12K – $14K; $2K in fees and the remainder in architectural fees.  However, the supervisors stated at the April 2 public meeting that they would probably waive the fees if asked.  And there would not be need for additional architectural services or drawings — the District could apply for a variance based on the current drawings.

Why is there such a rush to take down the tennis courts?  Why is the building of the 24 parking spaces contingent on the removal of the courts?  It has been verified that there was no such ‘deal’ exists to swap the tennis courts for impervious coverage requirement.  There should be a better reason to remove the tennis courts other than the courts are on District property and they School Board has the right to do what they want.  It’s true the courts are on District property but the District property is owned by the residents.

Tomorrow is the Facilities Committee meeting.  Representing the School Board on Facilities is Pete Motel, Jim Bruce and Liz Mercogliano.  According to a April 2 article in the  Main Line Media News, Mercogliano is siding with the residents and supports keeping the tennis courts.  From the article —

“There is no legitimate reason based on impervious surface, stormwater management, safety (or) sink holes to remove the court,” Mercogliano said in an e-mail. “The parking can be built in same area with no issue as there is more land space.

“The community deserves their right to be heard and look into other means of raising funds for maintenance and possible takeover of the court through the Parks and Recreation board or a similar foundation to raise funds. I am supporting a delay to allow the opportunity for the taxpayer to seek an alternative method to save the courts for the kids.

There will be a recommendation from the Facilities Committee tomorrow. If you are unable to attend the 2 PM meeting, you could send an email to the Board at:  schoolboard@tesd.net or to individual Board members. However, I emailed the School Board president Kevin Buraks 8 days ago (in regards to the tennis courts) and to date, have received no response or acknowledgement to my inquiry.

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