Tredyffrin Easttown School Board

Apply Now — Vacancy on Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, District 1 (East) and Region 3 Vacancy Filled on T/E School Board

A vacancy on Tredyffrin Township’s Board of Supervisors was announced at its meeting this week. The vacated position of Township Supervisor in District 1 (East) was held by long-serving supervisor Paul Olson, who recently sold his home and moved from the township.

A Republican, Olson was first elected as a Tredyffrin supervisor in 1976 and has served 43 years, losing only one election.  Committed to serving the community, Paul was involved with many organizations, including the Red Cross, Tredyffrin Library, Surrey Services and the Carr School in Mt. Pleasant, to name a few.  On a personal note, the ongoing support of Paul (and his wife Andrea) to historic preservation was much appreciated by myself and the other members of Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust Board of Directors. As an elected official, he truly understood the importance of our local history and its preservation!

The Tredyffrin Board of Supervisors will make an interim appointment to fill the District 1 (East) seat. Persons interested in being considered for the appointment must be residents of District 1 (East) and voters of the E1, E2, E3, E4, E5 or M2 voting precincts. The Board of Supervisors will accept letters of interest (with resumes) through Friday, July 26 addressed to Tredyffrin Township, c/o Murph Wysocki, Chairman of the Board of Supervisors at Tredyffrin@tredyffrin.org.

The Personnel Committee of the Board of Supervisors (3 supervisors) will interview the candidates in a public meeting on Monday, August 5 at 7 PM at the township building. The Personnel Committee will make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors and the Board will vote on the appointment at its next meeting, on Monday, August 19.

It will be curious to see what happens with this supervisor appointment – will the Board of Supervisors, which currently holds a Democrat majority (4-2) honor the long-held Republican seat and appoint a Republican candidate? Or would the Board stick to the party line and appoint a ‘D’ to fill the vacancy?

The District 1 (East) seat is on the November ballot, making the vacancy an interim appointment. Although Julie Gosse (D) and Raffi Terzian (R) are the endorsed candidates for the seat in the November election, all residents of District (1) and registered voters (E1, E2, E3, E4, E5 or M2 precincts) are eligible to apply for the interim appointment.

Perhaps not wanting to appear partisan, the Board of Supervisors could appoint an ‘Independent’ registered candidate and make history – the township has never had an ‘I’ as a member of the Board of Supervisors. Of course, that assumes a registered Independent in District 1 (East) applies for the position.  Over the last few years there have been many new people moving in to the township — applying for the interim supervisor position would be a great way to get involved in the community!

On the same night as the Board of Supervisors officially announced its vacancy on the Board, the T/E School District Board interviewed and appointed to fill its Region 3 vacancy – if you recall, last month Heather Ward (D) from Easttown resigned from the school board after serving 18 months of the 4 year term, stating that she would be taking a new job and moving out of state.

Ray Clarke attended the July 15 school board meeting and offers his comments on the interview and selection process and notes from the regular meeting.  Although the school board agreed at its June meeting to correct the $1.2 million accounting error, it is noted that a month later the issue remains open.  As has been stated repeatedly, there is a process with the PA Department of Education to make the necessary correction so the question from the public, remains WHY hasn’t it been done? The District’s Business Manager Art McDonnell was missing from the meeting – certainly not working on fixing the District’s accounting problem, guess it summer vacation for him. Remember folks, McDonnell received a new 5-year contract (with a raise!) starting July 1.

School Board Meeting Comments from Ray Clarke –

 The TESD Board of Directors held special meetings on Monday; first to interview candidates to replace Heather Ward and second an official Board meeting to select one of them.  Six Easttown residents applied and all presented themselves well, having relevant (but different) experiences and skills, with a good general understanding of the issues confronting TE and the role of the Board.  In the formal Board meeting, three of the candidates were nominated and in the first round of voting Mary Garrett Itin was selected in a party line 5-2 vote (Tina Whitlow was out of the country). She has a social work and child mental health background and spoke of favoring a fact-based, objective and transparent approach. Kate Murphy and Ed Sweeney nominated applicants with legal and financial backgrounds who I thought might have been very well equipped to hold the Administration to account, but they were the sole supporters of their nominees.

The need for that oversight was starkly demonstrated in response to public comment during the remainder of the board meeting.  Many different tacks were taken in an attempt to ascertain any information about actions taken in response to the Board vote to correct the Annual Financial Report filings with the state.  All approaches elicited the same response: we’re working on it (in some unspecified manner) and you’ll find out more in the next scheduled Board meeting on August 26th.

Both aspects of the meeting then led to a round-about discussion of the ways to include qualified and motivated community members (such as the Board applicants) more directly in Committee deliberations.  As a specific example, involved parents continued to advocate for their participation in the direction of the reading curriculum and spoke of insights from a recent academic conference. Ed Sweeney moved to include the general question of Committee make up as part of the strategic planning process, but in the end it was agreed (Kyle Boyer excepting) to consider the issue in the first Policy Committee meeting of the new academic year (perhaps a quicker forum).  There are different approaches (eg voting/non-voting) and pros and cons to this, and it is a question well worthy of discussion.

Notably, at the end, the Solicitor reported that an Executive Session was held last week to discuss collective bargaining.  The teacher contract is up for renewal at the end of the coming school year.  In the new normal of budget deficits and cost pressures the usual issues of process transparency and compensation/program trade-offs may be more contentious than usual.

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T/E School District News: 3.91% Tax Increase, District to Correct $1.2M Accounting Error & School Board Member Resigns

The five-hour marathon school board meeting last night lasted until 12:30 AM, albeit the audience was kept waiting with a 30-minute late start.  For those community members who stayed the course until the end of the school board meeting, thank you!

Although I was unable to attend the meeting, I received multiple updates throughout the evening followed up with several phone calls today. The significant takeaways from the evening included the (1) 2019-20 tax increase decision of 3.91%, (2) the Board vote for the District to take responsibility for the accounting error and to correct the Annual Financial Reports (AFR) with PA Department of Education (although sadly all Board members were not in favor of “doing what’s right”) and (3) the announcement of the resignation of a school board member.

Luckily, we have Ray Clarke providing comments on the school board meeting until he left at 11 PM (following the 3.91% tax increase vote). At that point, Mike Heaberg picks up the commentary until the meeting finally ended at 12:35 AM.  See their remarks below — thank you both!

From Ray Clarke:

– Dramatically larger attendance than a typical meeting, which multiplied the persistent disregard for the community’s time when the meeting started half an hour late

– A long plea from the rugby club for Varsity status, but notably none stayed for the Budget discussion which might have suggested funding limitations

– The Board based its discussion around just the 3.91% tax increase, not all the other options (2.8% or 4.33%)

– The Board agreed to amend the 3.91% budget motion with an investment in the new elementary reading program as a $300,000 one-time “below-the-line” expense, contingent on a number of conditions. This did not satisfy parents who are advocating for parent involvement in selection of any new program

– The amended motion passed 7-2, with Kate Murphy and Ed Sweeney allied for a lower number. Todd Kantorczyk and Roberta Hotinski reluctantly went along with a lower number than they would prefer, the former (correctly) noting that budget and actual deficits cannot continue, while the latter continues (inexplicably) to want to move the following year’s – potential – exception forward into the coming Budget year.

All Board members seemed to agree that the Budget process is broken.  Board President Scott Dorsey wants to separate the budget from the routine Finance process. He spoke forcefully about his outrage at this and the $700,000 expense surprise revealed at the last meeting.  He warned of “someone paying the price” for any similar issues in the future.

– The District’s Solicitor (reportedly with financial experience, not Ken Roos but from the same law firm, Wisler Pearlstine) advised the Board that Annual Financial Reports to the state CAN be corrected, provided that there are new audited statements and if certified by a new auditing firm or individual.  The Business Manager reported logistical, cost, PDE and outcome risk issues with this, although to the audience it seemed that those were grossly over-stated.

– A wide cross-section of community members spoke compellingly in favor of the District basing its decisions on the correct financials, about the pattern of behavior that has got us to this point, and about the need for process and personnel changes

– Unfortunately many had to leave at 11pm after the budget vote, but the AFR revision discussion continued.

Mike Heaberg picks up the commentary on the school board meeting at this point, including the Board’s acknowledgement of the administration’s accounting error and subsequent vote to correct the District audits, the Annual Financial Reports (AFR) and resubmit.  Thanks so much Mike!

From Mike Heaberg:

– After the Board acted on the consent agenda, other action items, and “final” public comments, Ed Sweeney made a motion to begin the process of correcting the District audits and Annual Financial Reports for 2016-17 and 2017-18.  Kate Murphy seconded it.

A long Board discussion ensued including input from the District’s Solicitor, Business Manager, Superintendent and the public. At one point, Todd Kantorczyk made a motion to table action until a future meeting – the next scheduled is August 26. On a roll call vote, his motion failed 5-4.  After more discussion, the vote was held via roll call. It won 6-3.  Voting in favor of correcting the audits and AFRs were Ed Sweeney, Kate Murphy, Scott Dorsey, Michele Burger, Heather Ward, and Tina Whitlow.   Todd Kantorczyk, Roberta Hotinski, and Kyle Boyer voted against correcting the audits and AFRs.

– At the very end, about 12:15 AM, Heather Ward announced she is moving out of the District and resigning from the Board effective 6/16/19.  The Board has not sorted out the replacement process. Heather made gracious comments and her colleagues offered thanks and praise for her service to the District.

The 2019-20 budget process was one for the books with final changes and decisions coming in at the eleventh hour (or in this case 12:30 AM!).  I am appreciative that in the end, school board member Ed Sweeney had the resolve and courage to push forward for correction of the District audits and Annual Financial Reports.  I thank him and the other five Board members (Kate Murphy, Scott Dorsey, Michele Burger, Heather Ward and Tina Whitlow) for “doing what’s right” and voting to correct the District audits and AFRs but simply do not understand why the other three Board members opposed the action.

Over many months, much time and energy was expended by the public in urging the Board to do “what’s right” — I’m left wondering why it took months of meetings, emails and phone calls (many by resident financial experts) plus an official letter of complaint to the PA Dept. of Education to finally achieve this goal.

In my opinion, there is an imbalance in power and control in the school district administration. All roads lead back to (or through) Art McDonnell, the Business Manager and the 2019-20 budget process debacle was a direct  result of his actions.  The Board (and the District’s taxpayers!) are ill-served by this business manager and we deserve better!  When is enough, enough?

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T/E taxpayers Facing 6% Tax Increase, $1.2 million Accounting Error Remains Uncorrected & Concerned Citizens contact PA Department of Education

I attended the school board meeting on Monday night and waited until 9:30 PM for the budget discussion to begin.The majority of the meeting to that point was spent on the discussion and subsequent vote (7-2) for delayed school start times for 2019-20 school years. The approved plan moves the high school start time to 7:50 AM, middle school to 8:30 AM and elementary school to 9:10 AM. The financial cost to the District for the change in school start times is $610K (and not contained in the proposed final budget).

School start times is an important issue for many parents but with taxpayers facing the largest tax increase in decades, I was left wondering how does the District find the additional $610K in the 2019-20 budget which contains a projected operating deficit of almost $11 million.

The proposed final budget was approved (5-4) with a 6% tax increase; the public was told again that there is time to adjust that number. But the school board is running out of time – it’s the end of April and the 6% number has not moved since first announced in December.

The review and discussion of the budget was confusing to say the least. Remember folks, there is still the open issue about the $1.2 million accounting error caused by the delayed payment of a special ed invoice(s). This District’s accounting error has been discussed at two school board meetings, a finance committee meeting and a budget workshop over the course of 6 weeks yet the financial “can” continues to be kicked down the road with no resolution.

Residents and some school board members have repeatedly asked the business manager Art McDonnell for data on how correcting the accounting error impacts the budget … but he has yet to supply the corrected numbers.

The school district’s $1.2 million accounting error and lack of answers caused a group of concerned citizens (Ray Clarke, Neal Colligan, Mike Heaberg and myself) to send a formal complaint to the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE). For the record, the T/E School Board and Superintendent Gusick were copied on the letter. (Click on “formal complaint” link to read letter).

Although Art McDonnell maintains that the District’s accounting error is not a legal problem, apparently PDE does not agree with his assessment … as a result of our complaint, the matter is now under legal review at the Department of Education. The business manager also stated that the annual financial reports cannot be changed once submitted – again, not true. Art McDonnell, there is a “do-over” button! According to PDE, all you need to do is hit the revision button on their website to make the corrections!

It is absurd that citizens are now going to the Board of Education to get resolution — folks, this is not an insignificant problem. Where do we go from here?

I share with you Ray Clarke’s comments from the school board meeting:

Monday’s budget discussion and vote was a good illustration of the challenge facing even the most diligent of School Board members.  They learned more than a year after the fact that not only was there an error in the numbers submitted to the Department of Education (PDE) to authorize the allowable tax increase for next year, but also that the error could have been corrected in time for consideration of this year’s tax rate.  The arithmetic and PDE processes are a little complicated, so the most concerned of them request a full analysis from the Business Office.  After six weeks and two meetings they finally tease out that the maximum accurate increase for the coming year is 3.9%, and that the district forwent an opportunity for a 0.8% additional increase for the current year.  None of this is documented, and the Board and public have to wait until May 13th for whatever comes next.  In the meantime, the Proposed Final Budget contains the 6% tax increase and the Board has given the Administration no mandate to come up with any concrete plans to balance the budget with a lower tax increase.

Because the Board can not, for some reason, accept the fundamental argument that our School District should base its taxing decisions on calculations that are materially correct, they are left with a problem.  There are no experts in school district finances on the Board, so they tend (to a greater or lesser extent) to accept what is told them.  They are told that the auditor said the error was not material and the audit was “clean”, but we know the audit is unrelated to the Annual Financial Reports (AFRs) from which the tax increase is authorized by PDE.  They were told on Monday that the District does not complete a worksheet for the Exception, but we know that it does complete the AFRs which generate that worksheet.  They were told on Monday that the calculation is “locked down by PDE, you can’t change it, it is what it is”, when we know from PDE that there is in fact a “Start New Revision” Button on the on line AFR system!

The community members who have asked PDE to look into this are not experts in school district finances either, so how do we know what the Board does not?  We do know that there’s a problem with submitting incorrect numbers to the state and a problem with allowing the situation to fester, and we also know that it’s a good idea to get counsel from folks who do have the needed expertise and are not central to the problem themselves.

So I think it is past time for the Board to commission an independent review.  Completely independent unaffiliated with the Administration.  A good candidate for this would be the lawyer that has advised the Board in the past on financially complex contract matters, Jeffrey Sultanik of Fox Rothschild.  In the meantime, I guess the public has to wait for May 13th, take some comfort in the four No votes on the Budget and rely on our neighbors on the Board to eventually come to terms with the fact that a 6% tax increase based on inflated numbers is just not tenable.

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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….!!!???

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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  

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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.

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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

 

 

 

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