Tredyffrin Easttown School District

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

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

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

Response Protocols to Reported Threats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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TE Middle School Student the Target of Anti-Semitic ‘Dirty Jew’ Attacks by Classmate

Image result for anti-semitismI was sent an Associated Press news article about a middle school student accused of anti-Semitic bullying and of making threats to a fellow student and asked if I was going to write about the situation.  I opened the article, expecting to read about this latest horror story occurring in some faraway place – only to discover that the incident occurred in our own school district at TE Middle School in Berwyn.

According to the story, which the family shared with news media, the bully’s target was their 12 year old daughter who told him she was no longer interested in him.  His response was to retaliate by texting images of Adolph Hitler and ‘dirty Jew’ remarks.  He reportedly also threated to bring a gun to school and go after 33 classmates, including the female student who ‘broke up’ with him.

Although the male student faces criminal charges for his actions, the article states that he returned to school within a week.  The female student was so afraid when the boy returned to school, that the family has removed her from the school for the remainder of the year.

I understand that the administration has to balance the safety of the female student and her classmates with the right to an education of the male student but personally it seems unfair that the alleged victim is the one not attending TE Middle School! According to 6ABC News, “the 12-year-old was charged with harassment and marking terroristic threats. He was suspended from school for five days.”

Chester County DA Tom Hogan was contacted for comment and the AP news article states that “ … he could not comment on pending cases but added he had no reason to think the girl’s parents would give an inaccurate account.”

Since the news article first surfaced, I have heard that the death threat against the 33 fellow classmates was investigated and dismissed by the school.  I have no idea whether that the threat was real or not or if it was dismissed. However, what I do know is that anti-Semitic bullying is not simply a ‘cyber incident’ or a ‘boys will be boys’ situation.   These are scary times we are living in – if a kid makes ‘dirty Jew’ comments and texts Adolph Hitler images at 12 years old, a simple “I’m sorry” does not cut it for me.

Besides the seriousness of the actual incident, in my opinion there is a significant problem with the fact that the other parents at the school were not notified by the school district.  Instead, the parents and the community learn about the anti-Semitic act from the Associated Press!  According to the news article, “School officials made no public announcement about the case, and other parents know only what they heard around town.”   Subsequent to the AP news release, various versions of the story are appearing on the major TV networks.

Why does it take the anti-Semitic story working its way through to AP news channels and publically broadcast coast to coast for us to learn about it?  To my knowledge and unless someone tells me differently, no letters were sent to the TE Middle School parents regarding the anti-Semitic situation.

The following statement is now on the TE School District website – I do not know when it first appeared or it it was specifically added as a result of this anti-Semitic incident as it is undated:

Response Protocol for Reported Threats

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

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

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

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

It seems to me in the last few years we are hearing more and more of these anti-Semitic incidents.  A little investigation and I found that for the last 39 years, the Anti-Defamation League has conducted a yearly audit of anti-Semitic incidents. The 2017 survey reported there were nearly 2,000 anti-Semitic incidents – the highest number recorded since conducting the first survey in 1979 and an increase by 57% over the previous year. The annual audit tracks incidents of vandalism, harassment or assault reported to the Anti-Defamation League by police, media and victims. Only verifiable incidents are included in the survey.

In previous audits, the majority of reported anti-Semitic incidents occurred in public areas, like parks. However, the most frightening statistic to emerge from the 2017 report indicates that 457 incidents occurred in K-12 schools – an increase of 94 percent from the previous year!  And it is not geographic based – the anti-Semitic incidents reported in 2017 occurred in each of the 50 states, with Pennsylvania having the sixth highest number of incidents behind New York, California, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Florida.

Although I am not an educator, I am a parent and we are living in angry times. I know that there are two sides to every story and maybe I do not have all the facts but I know one thing for certain – hate-filled anti-Semitism has no place in our schools. The world should never forget that under Hitler’s leadership, some 6 million Jews were murdered during World War II.

All children need to feel safe at school. The school district went to great effort and expense to install fences around the schools. However, reflecting over the last several years, the threat has not come from outsiders (not to say that the District should not be prepared!) but rather internally – repeated assault of a female Conestoga student by a male District aide and assault of a learning disabled male student by a Conestoga aide and coach to name a couple.

Don’t sweep anti-Semitism under the carpet and turn a blind eye … use this as a teachable moment.

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$25 Million Gift to Abington School District — Where’s Public Input and Transparency?

A gift of $25 million from Blackstone CEO and co-founder Stephen Schwarzman recently made news as the largest donation ever given to a US public school. But did the gift to Abington School District by its billionaire alum come with “strings attached”?  At the very least, the gift was poorly handled by the Abington school board; giving new meaning to ‘lack of transparency’.

Although I had read about the Schwarzman multi-million dollar gift, I didn’t know the spider web of secrecy until I received the following email from Ray Clarke:

I’m sure that you are aware of the news around the $25 million donation to his alma mater by Abington alumnus and private equity billionaire Stephen Schwarzman.  At first sight, this gift was nothing but good news for the community, but has become highly controversial for the many conditions around the gift (including both an original requirement to rename the high school and also curriculum changes) and for the lack of transparency in the process.  Abington is taking steps to address its issues, but today’s news brings the issue home to T/E.

It turns out that T/E solicitor Ken Roos is not only on the Board of a secret foundation set up a year ago to receive the gift, but also is the solicitor for the Abington district that did not release any details of the agreement with Schwarzman until the day it was voted on, and is now refusing to release the agreement in response to Right-to-Know requests because it “needs legal review”.

This is the same solicitor who in 2015 fought TE community member Neal Colligan all the way to the PA Office of Open Records, who then ordered the District to release all records of the secret meetings relating to the actions taken in response to the Affordable Care Act.

It appears that Mr. Roos took nothing from that 2015 experience, and the community should have little faith that, should TESD ever have the good fortune to receive a large donation from a billionaire with an agenda, he will be the one that will help the district uphold its responsibilities to the community.  Instead, I’m hopeful that we can rely on the values of transparency and engagement that many on this forum have worked with the district to build.

And if anyone knows billionaire TE alum, they should be encouraged to chip in here, but – perhaps as important – to use their resources and position to support equitable funding for all our public schools.

Ray

As thanks for Schwarzman’s donation, Abington school board directors decided to rename the Abington Senior High School to Abington Schwarzman High School – outraging parents.  Sadly, the Abington School Board directors never sought public comment and didn’t give the community advance notice about the vote. After a backlash over the billionaire’s naming rights, the vote was rescinded.  With apologies and a promise to involve the community in the process, a new agreement is to be signed by Schwarzman and the school district.

As wonderful as the Schwarzman gift is, unfortunately it is mired in the darkness swirling over the re-naming of the high school, secret foundation, etc.

And Ray is quite right to point out that Abington School District’s solicitor Ken Roos of Wisler Pearlstine is also the solicitor for T/E.  In addition, Roos serves as solicitor for Lower Merion, Upper Perkiomen, Upper Dublin and Cheltenham school districts.  With the level of activity in Abington School District and the multiple lawsuits in Lower Merion and Tredyffrin-Easttown school districts, where is the ‘good counsel’ that these districts should expect from its solicitor?

Transparency and public input should be a hallmark for school districts – why isn’t Ken Roos delivering this counsel to his clients?

TE School Board, are you watching?

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The “N”-Word has No Place in T/E Schools — Or in Any Schools!

I received several copies of the recent live social media post by two Conestoga High School girls with racial slurs. The ‘white’ girls use the “N”-word multiple times in the racially offensive video which has since gone viral.

For African-American students living in some parts of the country, the use of the N-word by their white peers may be routine. But I admit that in 2018, living in the T/E School District, I found the racial vitriol  of the video shocking and extremely disturbing. Am I naive to think that this video by a couple of Conestoga High School students is an isolated situation or … is it symptomatic of a bigger problem in the school district?

Following the video going viral, the T/E School District families received a letter from Superintendent Gusick which contained the following message, “T/E School District strongly condemns this and all forms of racist language. Although this video was not made during school, it has hurt and offended many in our school community. This is unacceptable behavior, and it will not be tolerated. The school will investigate fully and apply consequences as appropriate. T/E School District will continue to stand for respect and inclusion, with schools where all are welcomed to learn and grow.”

I totally agree that the incident needs to be taken seriously as a type of expression of hate and an immediate investigation with consequences as appropriate. And would like to hope that the use of the N-word hurt and offends ALL in our school community. Please let this situation not be viewed as just a couple of teenagers fooling around or that it falls into “gray area” because the video was not made at school.

Leadership by the school board and administration is needed to answer the question, “Where do we go from here?” Our children need to be safe in our schools — and that includes safe from racial discrimination.

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TESD Conestoga Teacher Debra Ciamacca Uses Her Powerful Voice to Speak out Against the Arming of Teachers!

By DEBRA CIAMACCA

Ciamacca, who served as a Marine from 1980-1984 and was in the reserves in 1985, is a high school Social Studies teacher in Berwyn, Pennsylvania.

Many years ago, I had the privilege of serving as a Marine Corps officer. I felt that serving my country was a calling and a duty. As an officer, I was charged with not only leading, but protecting the young Marines who served with me. I was not a combat Marine — I was an Adjutant/Legal Officer serving at the Camp Pendleton Correctional Facility. But I was trained to fire a weapon. Back then it was the .45 pistol and the M-16 rifle. I was an expert marksman on the M-16 and a sharpshooter on the .45. Not too bad for a nearsighted young Lieutenant who had never fired a weapon before.

Today I am a high school Social Studies teacher. I teach government and politics to some of the brightest young students in America. I love my job — and I love my students. I am responsible for protecting them too. But how far should that protection go?

I tell students at the beginning of each year, that if there is an intruder in the building we will exit my classroom to a second-floor roof through a window near my desk. Students usually laugh, because they think I am kidding. I am not. I have carefully considered the layout of my classroom and its proximity to doors and windows in the building. Going out the window makes sense. That is how I plan to protect my students.

But what else should I do? I will lock my door and barricade it with a file cabinet or a desk. I will pick up a heavy, stainless steel paperweight to use as a weapon to defend myself. I will call 911 and the main office. What I won’t do is pick up a pistol or a rifle or another lethal weapon. Why?

Guns have no place in the classroom. First of all, teachers are in constant close proximity to students. I teach about 150 students per day. The chance for an accidental discharge is guaranteed. Second, I am not trained to make instantaneous life-or-death decisions in a school environment with 2,400 innocent children as possible collateral damage. Even trained police officers have trouble reacting to threats and properly executing the use of deadly force. A good person with a gun can still make bad decisions, especially in highly stressful situations. Lastly, a gun acts as an impediment in my relationships with students. Teachers are guides and mentors and discussion leaders and lecturers. We talk; we cajole; we jump up and down; we clown around. We prance; we laugh; we instruct; we care. We put our whole selves out there to students so that they can see that we are real people. A gun is a barrier that separates me from my students. It says stand back instead of stand up. Weapons are not conducive to the teacher/student relationship.

But let’s talk turkey. The reason the President and the National Rifle Association and others are suggesting that teachers carry weapons in the classroom is that it sounds like a quick and cheap solution to a difficult and expensive problem. I find it incredible that people who don’t trust teachers to meet state and federal education standards now trust teachers to hold the sacred lives of children in their hands. I find it incredible that those who can’t find an extra ten cents in taxes to pay for counselors and psychiatrists and new “gun-proof” buildings can now find money for weapons and bonuses for gun-toting teachers.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, and I don’t trust folks who think they do. But I do know that we need to reframe this debate. Let’s not talk about school shootings in terms of gun control and mental health. Let’s talk about school safety. Let’s talk about whether we as a society have the will to keep our precious students safe in the place that most demands safety. It’s about getting all the stakeholders in a room: parents, teachers, police, politicians and students, rather than asking teachers to carry the entire load.

Parents must pay a bit more so that the schools can hire security guards and improve building safety features. Police must train a bit harder and faster. Politicians must compromise and risk their seats. And the NRA must stop its absolutist gun-freedom-at-all-cost position.

I pledge to do everything in my power to protect my students. I will run. I will fight. And I will hide if I have to. I will help students to survive an armed intruder if I have to. But I will not arm myself with a gun in my own classroom just because those in power refuse to wield the more powerful weapon of common sense. That is where I draw the line.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pattye,

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

All voters should continue to focus on the facts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best regards,
Kathleen Keohane
Chair, Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee

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

Dear Pattye,

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

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

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

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

Resignations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Doug Anestad

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

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

———————————————————————————————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best,

Neill Kling
Chair, Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee

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

Pattye,

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

There are only two possibilities here if Kyle Boyer wins:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,
Doug Anestad


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

Pattye,

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

All voters should continue to focus on the facts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best regards,
Kathleen Keohane
Chair, Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee

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No School for Students in Methacton School District – Teacher Strike Continues

Teachers in the Methacton School District have been working without a contract since January.   A stalemate in the bargain process led to the strike Monday by the teachers as authorized by its union, Methacton Education Association (MEA).

There are 5,000 students enrolled in the Methacton School District. The union represents 403 teachers and professional staff.

Issues being negotiated include salary, benefits, class size, teacher-student ratio and team teaching.  The talks broke down when the two sides failed to come to an agreement on how much teachers should pay for their health insurance.  The teachers argue that their salaries are in the lower range of salaries and the school district is expecting them to pay for health care as if they were in the upper range.

The teachers are using a pay freeze and delayed salary increases in the previous two four-year contracts, as examples of concessions from teachers that allowed the district to improve their finances dramatically and are unwilling to see this happen again.

The MEA released the following statement prior to striking:

The Methacton Education Association (MEA) is disappointed to announce that they were unable to reach an agreement with the School Board after the two sides bargained all afternoon and into the early evening on Sunday to avoid the potential of a work stoppage scheduled to start tomorrow.

The School Board’s position of dramatically increasing the employee’s share of the healthcare premium while not adequately increasing salaries is unacceptable to the Association. MEA was willing to increase premium share by over 23% in 3 years but that was not sufficient to the District.

In the end, MEA had 30 minutes to consider the final proposal of the Board and was more than willing to bargain later than the arbitrary 8PM deadline.

The strike will commence tomorrow at 7:30AM. MEA is willing to bargain with the District throughout the work stoppage.

It is unclear when the teachers will return to the classrooms. Pennsylvania State Department of Education rules will prevent the work stoppage from going past 15 days.  A state mediator is now involved to coordinate the exchange of proposals between parties.

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Conestoga High School Student Sexual Assault Case: Federal Lawsuit Filed — Lawsuit in Separate Case Pending

This is a follow-up post to my last post “TE School District served with another lawsuit” dated June 8. After posting the previous article, I was emailed a copy of the federal lawsuit and  press release from Ross Feller Casey, the Philadelphia law firm who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the parents of the 15-year-old victim in the case.

In the Ross Feller Casey press release, it states that the law firm, “filed a federal lawsuit against the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District and the principal of Conestoga High School alleging administrators and teachers at the High School created and tolerated a culture that emboldened Arthur Phillips, a 67-year old instructional aide, to repeatedly sexually abuse a female student.”

Among other things, the federal lawsuit alleges that “Phillips, an instructional aide in the television production studio at Conestoga since 2006, engaged in a classic yet disturbing pattern of sexual grooming and assault against a student starting when she was only 15 years old.”

Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan has criminally charged Arthur Phillips with over 100 counts, including 10 felony charges of statutory sexual assault and 10 felony charges of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse. According to the lawsuit, the sexual assaults were daily between January and mid-April of this year and allegedly “took place in various locations at Conestoga High School, including the school’s TV studio, Phillips’ office, Conestoga’s parking lot and in Phillips’ automobile”.

According to Pennsylvania state law, “Statutory sexual assault becomes a first-degree felony offense in cases when the accused is 11 years, or older, than the minor. If convicted of this charge, a person could face a prison sentence of up to 20 years. Additionally, he or she may be fined up to $25,000.” The minor in this case is a 15-year old female and the accused is a 67-year old male, 52 years her senior.  And remember, the ten counts of statutory sexual assault is only one of the criminal charges against Phillips – if convicted, this man is going to prison for a very, very long time.

The lawsuit is against TE School District and Conestoga Principal Dr. Amy Meisinger, but numerous other CHS teachers and administrators are identified in the 36-page lawsuit.  The lawsuit is a public document but because 14 different CHS teachers or administrators (in addition to Meisinger) are identified by name, I will not upload it to Community Matters. To be clear, the only T/E School District administrator being sued in this lawsuit is Meisinger.

I have read the lawsuit several times. It contains many graphic and sexually explicit details that do not need to be repeated here. As the mother of a daughter, I cannot imagine the horror of this situation for the girl and her family.

What is remarkable is the level of detail contained in the lawsuit of places that Phillips took the student during school hours and after school including Berwyn Pizza, Handel’s Ice Cream and restaurants such as Estia (Radnor), Christopher’s in Wayne and City Works Eatery and Pour House (King of Prussia). Phillips and the student went to multiple Wawa convenience stores in the area including Malvern, Paoli, King of Prussia, Audubon and Norristown. Additionally, Phillips took her on shopping trips to the King of Prussia Mall and ice skating in Dilworth Park outside of City Hall in Philadelphia, and to the IFly Indoor Skydiving Center and to Valley Forge Casino.  Phillips gave the student numerous items, including gift cards.

My guess is there would be security cameras, date and time stamped credit card processing receipts, etc. from most of these locations. According to the lawsuit, “many of Phillips contacts with Plaintiff are documented on Conestoga’s video monitoring system, including those cameras used to observe school entrances and exits and around the bus drop-off/pickup location.”  The lawsuit claims that the school district “failed to review the camera footage and failed to intervene in the outwardly inappropriate and illegal behavior of Phillips” which therefore constitutes a “systematic violation of school district policies”.

To celebrate her birthday, Phillips and the student ‘double-dated’ with a Conestoga teacher and her husband at Paladar Latin Kitchen and Rum Bar in King of Prussia. According to the lawsuit, “numerous district officials and teachers were aware of Phillips’ inappropriate relationship with the girl but failed to take steps to investigate or halt the conduct”.  Further, the lawsuit alleges that Phillips’ office was decorated with homemade signs that included the girl’s initials, her first name and the word “love”.

The lawsuit alleges that Phillips continually wrote ‘hall passes’ for the student to miss class when school district policy only permits a teacher (not an aide) to write these passes.  It is alleged that “none of the teachers who received these ‘hall passes’ filled out by Phillips took any action to investigate, manage, question or stop said absences or tardiness”.  Between January and mid-April of this year, the student missed over 20 English classes yet the teacher (allegedly) never discussed the absences with the parents.

Ross Feller Casey is also representing the parent of the 17-year old male CHS student who was sexually abused by another Conestoga staff member, 26-year-old teacher’s aide Christine Towers. Towers was convicted earlier this year and is currently serving time for the crime. The law firm is investigating a separate federal lawsuit against TE School District in that case. In both the Towers case and the Phillips case, the parents of the two abused students are calling for the resignation of the Conestoga principal.

In the Ross Feller Casey press release, attorney Matt Casey stated, “The heartbroken parents I represent, and their children, are demanding accountability on the part of the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District, something that has yet to be achieved despite repeated, shocking instances of sexual abuse at Conestoga High School. The already-known facts lay bare a school district custom of deliberately turning a blind eye to criminal acts in its midst.”  To support this claim, the lawsuit includes the middle school sexting scandal, the football hazing incident and the teacher’s aide who sexually abused the male student case prior to this latest criminal investigation – all occurring in the last couple of years.

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The school board meeting is tomorrow, Monday, June 12, 7:30 PM at Conestoga High School and includes the adoption of the 2017-18 final budget. The meeting agenda continues to list the teachers’ contract (TEEA), the non-instructional contract (TENIG) and Act 93 Agreement (administrators) as ‘TBD’ in the proposed final budget. The contracts constitute 70% of the District budget yet the budget includes no contingencies.  However, it is noted that on page 293 of the agenda, we see that the school board will take a vote on giving administrators a 1.7% increase to their 2016-17 base salary plus a one-time bonus of 1% to be paid in June 2018.

Since the last regular meeting of the school board, there have been two lawsuits filed against the District … the agenda makes no mention of either.

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Election 2017: Candidates for Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, TESD School Board & Magisterial District Judge, District 15-4-01

The 2017 Election campaign season is officially underway for Tredyffrin Township supervisor, TE School District directors and Magisterial District Judge candidates.

All candidates who wished to appear on the Democratic or Republican ballot in the Primary Election needed to have filed their “nomination petitions” along with a “statement of financial interests” with Chester County Voter Services. The nomination petition documents required the signature of registered voters, who are enrolled in the party of which the candidate sought nomination and reside in the electoral district of the office sought. The statement of financial interests requires the candidate to provide information regarding the filer’s source of income.

Below is the list of our local candidates for supervisor, school board and magisterial district judge – best of luck to all those taking the journey!  Regardless of party affiliation and stance on specific issues, we thank you for your time, effort and willingness to serve!

The last day for withdrawal by candidates who filed nomination petitions is March 22.  The Primary Election date is May 16.

Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors

There are three Tredyffrin Township supervisor positions available – two at-large and one in the middle district.  Currently serving at-large supervisor Mark Freed (D) and middle district supervisor Evelyn Richter (R) have chosen not to seek reelection.  At-large supervisor Murph Wysocki (D) is seeking a second term. Terms are four years.

Three attorneys, a physician, corporate CEO and real estate agent will vie for Tredyffrin Township’s three available supervisor seats.

For Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, the Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee has endorsed the following candidates:

  • Supervisor at Large: Raffi Terzian, MD
  • Supervisor at Large: Robin Bond, Attorney
  • District 2 (Middle): Beth Coppola, Real Estate Agent

For Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, the Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee has announced the following candidates: (official endorsement meeting not yet held)

  • Supervisor at Large: Matthew Holt, Attorney
  • Supervisor at Large: Murph Wysocki, Attorney *
  • District 2 (Middle): Kevin O’Nell, CEO, Peoplelinx

* Incumbent

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TE School District School Board

For the 2017 election, there is a change to the election districts in the TE School District. The regional election districts in the TE School District were approved for realignment last year to address changes in population that had resulted in disparity among the voting regions. The new regional election districts take effect with the 2017 voting cycle. Terms on the school board are four years.

Voting Precincts: (Representatives will serve through December 31, 2017.)

Region 1- Tredyffrin E-1, E-2, E-3, E-4, E-5, M-1, M-5, M-6
Region 2- Tredyffrin  M-2, M-3, M-4, M-7, W-1, W-2, W-3, W-4, W-5
Region 3- Easttown 1-7

Voting Precincts Beginning with the 2017 Election: 

Region 1- Tredyffrin E-2, E-3, E-4, E-5, M-1, M-2, M-5, M-6, W-3, W-4,
Region 2- Tredyffrin M-3, M-4, M-7, W-1, W-2, W-5
Region 3- Tredyffrin E-1, Easttown 1-7

The Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee has endorsed the following candidate for the office of Tredyffrin-Easttown School Director:

  • Region 2: Doug Anestad, Senior Technology Consultant

The Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee has announced the following candidates for the office of Tredyffrin-Easttown School Director: (official endorsement meeting not yet held)

  • Region 1: Scott Dorsey, Pastor, Director of Children’s Services *
  • Region 2: Kyle Boyer, Educator

* Incumbent

Incumbent school board director Scott Dorsey (D) is seeking a second term on the TE School Board. The Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee has chosen not to oppose Rev. Dorsey in the Region 1 school board race.

Incumbent school board directors Doug Carlson (R) and Virginia Lastner (R) are seeking reelection for a second term in Region 3.  Carlson currently serves as the President of the TE School Board.

UPDATE: Candidates Tina Whitlow (D) and Heather Ward (D) have filed to run for TE School Board for Region 3.

The Region 2 school board race will be interesting.  Republican Doug Anestad, a computer consultant, attends many of the school district meetings and is an active resident participant – most notably outspoken in his opposition of the VF Middle School fencing project (which the current school board elected to install).  Anestad’s opponent in the school board race is candidate Kyle Boyer (D) who is a currently a TESD social studies teacher at VF Middle School.  I do not recall when we have had a candidate for the TE School Board, who was a current TE School District teacher.  This could prove to be a delicate balance for candidate Boyer – employed as a teacher in the school district where he seeks to serve on its school board.

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Magisterial District Judge, District 15-4-01

Incumbent Analisa Sondergaard (D), an attorney is seeking her second 6-year term for Magisterial District Judge, District 15-4-01.  Opposing Sondergaard is Liz Mercogliano(R), attorney, realtor and RN.

Unlike the school board and supervisor candidates, where only 10 signatures are required on the nomination petitions, the magisterial district judge candidates are required to have 100 signatures. As is the case with school board candidates, those seeking district judge position, can cross-file and appear on both Republican and Democratic ballots.  To appear on both Republican and Democratic ballots, a school board candidate would need to have a minimum of 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats signatures and a magisterial district judge candidate would need a minimum of 100 signatures from each political party.

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