Tredyffrin Easttown School District

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.

To Fence or Not to Fence at VF Middle School? Safety Consultant Says Yes (plus a lot more!)

Fencing April 2015The TE School District saga of the fencing project at Valley Forge Middle School continues.  We learned on Thursday, through the District’s website, that the “Final Report on Fencing at Valley Forge Middle School’ was available to the public.  Or so we thought.

In September 2015, the District contracted with Ken Trump and his firm, National School Safety and Security Services to conduct a school safety assessment to evaluate fencing at VFMS.  A 3-day site visit was conducted on November 18-20.  On the final day of their site visit, Trump and his associate Charles Hibbert presented their preliminary findings at a District Facilities Committee meeting.  The long-awaited final report, dated January 8, 2016, was reviewed by the school board and administration and then uploaded to the District’s website on Thursday, January 28.

More about the final report in a minute but first, I need to explain that the consultant’s report mysteriously “disappeared without a trace” from the District’s website yesterday (Saturday) and then mysteriously “reappeared” late today without explanation. Word has it that there was some kind of computer glitch.  Interesting.

Much contained in the final VFMS fencing report was expected and very similar to the presentation by Trump at the Facilities Committee meeting in November.

Although hired to evaluate the fencing at VFMS, sadly the report also contains an unnecessary and offensive tone in regards to the community.  The report includes a negative critique of residents and their viewpoints and, in my opinion, comes across sounding very unprofessional. In describing the input from community members, Trump stated, “We found their opinions to be entrenched, their objectivity skewed, and the attacks by some of these individuals upon the consultants’ recommendations and intellect to be disingenuous.”  The report suggests that resident’s opposition to fencing had to do with “furthering entrenched personal and power struggles with select district board members and the administrators. “  Wow.

Bottom line is that Trump recommends fencing at Valley Forge Middle School.  According to the report, the fencing at VFMS provides “risk reduction benefits” which will ‘mark’ the school boundaries and deter deer, fox and dogs!

The report recommends five foot minimum (six foot preferred) chain link fencing to enclose the upper field and track.  Along Valley Forge Road (Rt. 252), the consultant recommends five foot minimum (six foot preferred) chain link fencing.  It should be pointed out that a variance would be required by Tredyffrin Township’s Zoning Hearing Board as the recommendation exceeds the height restriction of fences.

Trump closed his report by stating that the “community convenience, as well as community individual or group specials interests, cannot continue to drag out what is an already over-extended process …” A rather judgmental comment  by the consultant on the community  and  remember that we paid $15,500 for this report.

So what’s the next step?  At the January Facilities Meeting, chair Virginia Lastner stated that the consultant’s fencing report would be discussed at the next meeting on Thursday, February 18, 5 PM at the Administration Building.  A full school board discussion with the public should happen at the regular school board meeting on Monday, February 22, 7:30 PM at the high school.

For the sake of transparency and public involvement, the VFMS fencing project deserves a place on the agenda at the regular school board meeting on February 22.  Before the school board makes a decision in this matter, all options or possible compromises need to be fully vetted in front of the public. Presumably the vote on fencing at VFMS will take place at the March 28 school board meeting.

TESD: Conestoga Senior named finalist in 2016 Intel Science Talent Search

Michael-Zhang-300x300The list of finalists in Intel’s 2016 Science Talent Search (Intel STS) was released today and Tredyffrin Easttown School District student, Conestoga senior Michael Zhang. is on the list! Michael’s impressive achievement was based on his ‘Design and Assembly of CRISPR/Cas9-based Virus-like Particles for Orthogonal and Programmable Genetic Engineering in Mammalian Cells’.  Congratulations Michael!

Run by the nonprofit Society for Science & the Public since 1942, the Science Talent Search is America’s oldest and most prestigious science competition for high school students. Intel Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif., has sponsored the competition since 1998. Intel STS recognizes 300 students as semifinalists each year.  From that group, 40 finalists receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. from March 1016, where they will compete for more than $1 million in awards.

As an Intel STS finalist, Zhang will participate in rigorous final judging sessions, display his work to the public, meet with notable scientists and compete for three Medal of Distinction awards awards of $150,000 each – one for basic research, one for global good and another for innovation. Additionally, there are three second-place awards of $75,000, and three third-place awards of $35,000.  Each Intel STS finalist receives at least $7,500.

According to Intel STS website, alumni of the competition have made extraordinary contributions to science and “hold more than 100 or the world’s most coveted science and math honors, including twelve Nobel Laureates, eleven National Medal of Science winners, two Fields Medalists, and eighteen MacArthur Foundation Fellows.” Intel STS 2016 finalists are from 38 schools in 18 states. Fifty-two percent of this year’s finalists are male, while 48 percent are female.

As one of the nation’s top high school researchers, congratulations and best wishes to Michael in Washington!

2016 brings new leadership to Tredyffrin Twp, 4.3% tax increase in preliminary TESD budget and a Chester County Substitute Teacher Job Fair

Belated Happy New Year!  Waking up to 23 degree temperatures today reminds us that we are not going to escape the winter after all. Having recently returned from holidays spent in South Carolina with balmy, sunny 83 temperatures makes the arctic cold even harder to take!

Since the start of the New Year, here are a couple of noteworthy items.  The 2016 reorganization of Tredyffrin Township’s Board of Supervisors came with two surprises – recently elected at-large supervisors Trip Lukens and  Sean Moir were elected chair and vice chair, respectively of the board.  Except for, also recently elected, supervisor Heather Greenberg, all other currently serving supervisors had served on the BOS longer than these two newly elected supervisors. But Lukens isn’t new to leadership roles in the township, having served previously as a member and chair of Tredyffrin’s Planning Commission. Congratulations to Lukens and Moir on the vote of confidence from their fellow supervisors and best wishes in their new positions!

The TE School District held their first school board meeting of 2016 last week.The Board unanimously adopted the 2016-17 preliminary budget which contains a 4.3% tax increase. The Board decided to “keep their options open” by approving a preliminary budget with the Act 1 index of 2.4% and allowable exceptions to Act 1 of 1.9% to close the project budget deficit of $4.75 million. It should be noted that Tredyffrin Township recently passed their 2016 budget with a zero percent tax increase.

The following chart shows TESD tax increases over the last twelve years.   2004-05 was the last zero tax increase year.

• 2015-16: 3.81%
• 2014-15: 3.4%
• 2013-14: 1.7%
• 2012-13: 3.3%
• 2011-12: 3.77%
• 2010-11: 2.9%
• 2009-10: 2.95%
• 2008-09: 4.37%
• 2007-08: 3.37%
• 2006-07: 3.90%
• 2005-06: 1.40%
• 2004-05: Zero Tax Increase

Although the adoption of the 2016-17 preliminary budget does not commit the Board to a tax increase, I cannot remember the last time the Board passed a preliminary budget with a tax increase and then decreased the tax increase in the final approved budget. Because the District does not allow the archive of meeting minutes on the website beyond the current year, there is no way to access this type of information, short of a ‘right-to-know’ request.  (Here’s a suggestion/request for the Public Information committee – please keep the minutes for all school board meetings on the District website; a RTK should not be a requirement to access public information.)

I want to note that although the Board voted 9-0 to accept the preliminary budget, both Scott Dorsey (D) and Ed Sweeney (R) voiced their objection to the tax increase and do not want to see a 4.3% tax increase in the final budget.  It was refreshing that newly elected Board member Robert Hotinski (D) spoke up about the way the budget information is presented — asking for more details on the line items from the District’s business manager Art McDonnell. Finance and Facilities Chair Virginia Lastner (R) encouraged the public to attend upcoming finance meetings and budget workshops and to look for solutions together with the District. 2016 is a new year and maybe the tides are turning …

I received a request from the staff of the Chester County Intermediate Unit to advertise the Chester County Substitute Teacher Job Fair, Thursday, January 14, 4-7 PM.  The Job Fair will be held at the CCIU office, 455 Boot Road, Downingtown, PA.  Representatives for all the public school districts in Chester County will be on hand to discuss current substitute teacher job openings and to accept applications and resumes. The CCIU press release states, “… According to the PA Department of Education, the current supply of available teachers, including substitutes, is not keeping up with the growing demand.” 

Walk-ins are welcome at the job fair, but interested individuals are invited to preregister for the event online:   help.thesubservice.com/chester

Although the Chester County Substitute Teacher Job Fair is for candidates seeking positions in all the Chester County public school districts, I post this notice in hopes of helping some of the experienced and educated aides and paraeducators whose jobs were outsourced by Tredyffrin Easttown School District.

Chester County Substitute Teacher Job Fair flyer

TE School District reorganization meeting: Election of Board president and vice president; plus update on Facilities Meeting

The five newly elected TESD school board members (Michelle Burger, Ed Sweeney, Roberta  Hotinski, Todd Kantorczyk and Kate Murphy) take office on Monday, December 10, at 7:30 PM.  The District’s reorganization meeting includes the nomination and election of school board president and vice president.

Some have suggested that former school president Kris Graham’s re-election defeat last month was a message for change from the community – a call for transparency and improved public engagement. Will that message influence the reorganization results?

School board vice president under Kris Graham was Easttown resident Doug Carlson and he looks to want to step up to the board president position.  Also seeking the president role on the board is Tredyffrin resident Scott Dorsey.

For the first time in TE School District history, the school board of nine members now has a Democratic majority (5 D’s, 4 R’s). Presumably this should give Dorsey (D) an edge over Carlson (R) but … it is unlikely that all D’s will support Dorsey. However, Dorsey does have the public endorsement of newly elected school board member, Republican Ed Sweeney.

Committed to honoring his campaign promise of improving public information and citizen involvement, Sweeney posted the following on his Facebook page today, “I endorse Scott Dorsey for TE School Board President. My district elected me to fulfill their expectations. Mr. Dorsey is very concerned about the issues that I think Tredyffrin and my district care most about and is well qualified to be President. I was impressed with his ability to outreach in his campaign for Board President. Mr. Dorsey will partner with fellow members, residents, and stakeholders to bring a new spirit of cooperative government to our area.”   Here’s hoping that all newly elected school board members will likewise honor their campaign commitments!

For those in the community that are paying attention, the first meeting of the new school board and the nomination/election process for board president should be interesting.

On another note, the final meeting of the ‘old’ school board was held on Friday, December 7.  Ray Clarke attended the Facilities Meeting and provided the following update for Community Matters:

The last Facilities Committee meeting of 2015 and of Dr Motel’s 16 year tenure was held on Friday.  The meeting was generally routine:  discussion of minor change orders, an update on the ongoing New Eagle and Maintenance Building projects with helpful status photos, and an outline of the timetable for bidding next year’s projects.  A few items caught my attention:

– Dr. Motel stated that the original rationale for the fences was for “the specific purpose of making sure students do not leave”, “nothing to do with active shooters” and “you can put that on the blog”.  So here it is.  Others may have different recollections.

– Resident Cindy Marturano tried to engage the Committee in a discussion of protocols for communication to all residents of facilities projects that impact the community, linked with the possibility of extending West Walker Road to Chesterbrook Boulevard to ease the traffic congestion at VFMS.  The response to both points came down to: “if it’s a road matter talk to the Township”.  However, Tredyffrin Township records show that West Walker Road is “Private”, and the Chester County GIS has the property line between the school and church running right down the middle of the road.  On the other hand, the Township included West Walker Road on its list of roads to pave in 2015.  Are the maps incorrect?  Is Tredyffrin subsidizing the School District?  Or is there more opportunity here for the School District to improve the daily nightmare than the District knows about or would like to accept?

– The outgoing Committee spent some time discussing the goals for the 2016 Committee.  Since that Committee will have a different composition with likely some newly elected Directors, this seemed rather presumptuous, but the Committee did not take kindly to the idea of including even a “Recommended” modifier, noting that the new Committee can always repeat the same exercise.

– This last point may be related to a gift to the Committee from Daley and Jalboot of a life size “Flat Pete”, with the request that it be used as a reminder of Dr. Motel for future Committees.

Dr. Motel noted that when his parents came to Easttown in the last century it was because TE was a highly rated school district.  I think that the Board and staff are fortunate to serve a community that continues to be driven by this value.

Ray proFlat Petevided the following photo of the cardboard cutout of Flat Pete, as presented by the District’s architects, Daley & Jalboot. When asked about the bulls-eye on Dr. Motel’s chest, Ray explained that the necklace had a gold star one side and a bulls-eye on the other, presumably to represent Motel as a target.

I wasn’t at the meeting, but I found this gift rather bizarre. It was unclear if the Flat Pete cutout went home with Dr. Motel after the meeting or if it will continue to haunt the Facilities meetings going forward.

To fence or not to fence — Valley Forge Middle School fencing saga continues

Fencing April 2015

On Wednesday, Nov. 18 the public was invited to attend a community meeting at Valley Forge Middle School with the District’s safety consultant from National School Safety and Security Services (consultation fee: $15,500).

Chesterbrook resident Doug Anestad attended the fencing meeting and provided the following update of the meeting for Community Matters:

The Valley Forge Middle School fence safety consultant meeting was quite an event with a very large turnout with over one hundred in attendance.

The meeting started at 7pm and the safety consultant said that he wanted to finish by 9pm. There was a line of people talking the whole two hours at the two microphones that were set up. Each person had a maximum of 5 minutes to speak with many not using their allotted time.

The message was consistent, loud, and clear: the audience did not think that the proposed fencing would increase student safety, are ugly, and the money would be better spent on the students.

The audience seemed to be much more worried about the daily traffic jams at Valley Forge Middle School during drop off and pick up than any supposed safety the fences would add.

It was not just parents of Valley Forge Middle School students that spoke out against the proposed fences. Valley Forge Elementary parents not only spoke out against the proposed fencing at Valley Forge Middle but also stated that they didn’t see the benefit of the fences that have already been installed at Valley Forge Elementary.

Valley Forge Middle School PTO members, including the PTO President Sarah Culbert, spoke out against the proposed fences.

Speaking of the PTO, a parent mentioned that he got a letter from the PTO trying to get raise money to purchase iPads for the students. He pointed out that the $80,000 budgeted for the fences would not only complete the fundraising, but go way beyond it.  I just looked it up, and for $80,000 we could purchase 200 iPads for the students at retail cost. The school district gets an educational discount so they could get even more.

The point wasn’t really about buying iPads. The point was that the money could be better spent on the students. The audience wholeheartedly agreed.

In addition to the PTO president, there were presidents of quite a few homeowner associations including David Miller, president of the Chesterbrook Civic Association. They stated that in their communities, everyone they talked to was against the proposed fences and people didn’t see how they helped student safety and were a waste of money.

One of the most telling things that happened was when one person speaking at the end stated that she was uncomfortable publicly speaking and commented that many other people felt the same way and therefore wouldn’t speak. She asked if there could be a show of hands for people who were against the fence. It looked as if every hand in the audience went up. When the safety consultant asked who was in favor of the fences, only one hand from the Tredyffrin community went up.

The bottom line is that the community came out in force yet again to give their input. The input was loud and clear. The community knows fences will not increase student safety.  Fences are an eyesore and a waste of money.

If the school board goes ahead with the fences, one has to ask what the point was of even asking the community for their input. The community wants the money spent on students – not useless fences.

As part of the District’s agreement with the safety consultant, a preliminary oral presentation is tomorrow, Friday, Nov. 20, 2 PM at the District’s Facilities Meeting. The safety consultant will provide written report with recommendations following the site visit.

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

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

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

To All TE School Board Candidates:

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

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

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

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

Pattye Benson

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

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

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

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

The TE School Board candidate responses are as follows:

Neill Kling, Tredyffrin East, Region 1 candidate:

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

Neal Colligan, Tredyffrin East, Region 1 candidate:

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

From Ed Sweeney, Tredyffrin West, Region 2 candidate:

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

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

From Kate Murphy, Easttown, Region 3 candidate:

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

From Fran Reardon, Easttown, Region 3 candidate:

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

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

Next round on Valley Forge Middle School fencing project: TE School Board hires safety consultant

Fencing April 2015

What’s that proverb about a “bad penny always coming back”?  After last week’s TE School Board meeting, that could be a fair description of the Valley Forge Middle School fencing project.

Residents who attended the District’s June 12th Facilities Meeting expected the fencing discussion at Valley Forge Middle School to finally end.  But instead, the public learned that after many, many meetings and months of legal bills for the District (i.e. taxpayers), the Chesterbrook Civic Association and Green Hills homeowners, Board President Kris Graham’s proposed hiring a safety consultant for the Valley Forge Middle School.

The Board has repeatedly cited the 2013 safety report by Andy Chambers (the former Tredyffrin Township Police Chief) as the rationale for building fences around the District’s eight schools. However the public was not provided input for the safety study and the Board, citing safety reasons, never permitted the public to see the report.

Although District residents have not read the Chambers’ safety report, the Board claimed that its safety suggestions included fencing all schools. Taxpayers paid (“not to exceed $11,500”) for the safety report two years ago, so did the Board decide to spend more money on another study (to focus specifically on VFMS).  During the Facilities Committee meeting the Board was quick to point out that the District would send out a RFP for the VFMS safety consultant, which they admit was not done before they hired Chambers in 2013.

During the committee reports at the June 15 regular school board meeting, Dr. Motel (chair of the Facilities Committee) presented the following update,

The Facilities Committee met Friday, June 12 at the district offices on West Valley Road and the meeting was open to the public.

We discussed again the possible installation of additional fencing at Valley Forge Middle School. The committee has decided after many meetings of which this issue was discussed to obtain a second opinion from an additional safety consultant who will review the Valley Forge Middle School site specifically and make recommendations as to whether or not additional fencing at the site is advisable and if so what it should look like and where it should be placed.

The process will be an RFP will go out this summer for a school safety consultant. The selection of the safety consultant will begin at the next committee meeting in public with public input. I want to clarify that this means no new fencing will be installed at Valley Forge Middle School this summer.

Fast forward three months to last week’s school board meeting and the safety consultant discussion – a discussion which was troubling on many levels:

  1. Initially the hiring of the safety consultant appeared as part of the school board’s consent agenda but was later removed to allow for discussion.
  2. Contrary to what the Board previously stated on at the Facilities Committee meeting on June 12 and at the June 15 School Board meeting, no RFP was released.
  3. The Business manager Art McDonnell contacted three safety security companies and asked them for a proposal.
  4. McDonnell ‘picked’ the company, National School Safety & Security Service at a cost of $15,500.
  5. No District signed contract for National School Safety’s services. Responding to Board and resident questions, McDonnell suggested that a contract was not necessary and pointed to the company’s proposal on the TESD website. (The proposal is found on pg. 177 of the Sept. 21 school board agenda}.
  6. Residents asked the cost of the other 2 safety security companies. McDonnell did not have the exact figures but thought one was around $4,000 and the other $20K.
  7. National School Safety’s proposal contains no dates for the deliverables. Their consulting fee of $15,500 is for pre-visit phone calls and review of existing documents, 3 day visit which includes 1-1/2 days of interviews and site visits, 1/2 day of debriefing and presentation to committee and written report of recommendations.
  8. No public meeting on this topic is included in the company’s proposal.
  9. McDonnell stated that earlier fencing correspondence, emails, etc. would be given to the consultant. However, when further questioned on this topic, McDonnell acknowledged he was not sure how long the District kept emails!  (What is the policy on email retention?)
  10. When pressed on the need for the safety consultant to receive public input on fencing, etc., McDonnell referenced a proposed public meeting for Thursday, Nov. 19 with a preliminary safety report from the consultant to be given on Friday, Nov. 20 at the 2 PM Facilities Committee meeting.
  11. What is the value of resident input if the public meeting is held less than 24 hrs. before National School Safety delivers their preliminary report at the Facilities Committee meeting.
  12. Several residents and Board members questioned McDonnell regarding the ‘scope’ of the consultant’s work without the benefit of an RFP. How would the company know the District’s expectations?
  13. In the end, the Board offered that residents could send emails about the fencing project to schoolboard@tesd.net and they would forward to the safety consultant. For the record, Art McDonnell is the public information person and all emails to the school board must go through him first.

I have attended many school board and committee meetings but the discussion to hire a safety consultant for Valley Forge Middle School had to be one of the most troubling I have ever witnessed.  The decision to hire the safety consultant lacked process …there was no RFP outlining the District’s expectations as the Board previously stated  – no dates for deliverables – no contract – no resident input provision, etc.  Even with all the questions and uncertainty the Valley Forge Middle School security consultant, the Board voted 9-0 to hire National School Safety & Security Services at a cost of $15,500.

Where’s the P.R.O.C.E.S.S.?  The public is repeatedly told that the ‘real work’ goes on at committee meetings. Really?

Easttown Township School Board Candidates for TE School Board, Kate Murphy and Francis Reardon, respond

TE School Board Candidates for Easttown Township, Region 3
Kate Murphy
Francis Reardon

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 two 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 one of these candidates in November for the school board.

TE School Board Candidate Kate Murphy
Easttown Township – Region 3

The School Board’s central challenge is sustainably delivering a high quality product at a reasonable cost. In addition to benefiting our children, excellent schools keep our community healthy by attracting and keeping families, companies seeking the best employees, and businesses to serve this robust community.

Part of what makes our schools effective in their educational mission as well as being a productive part of our community is their efficiency.  Productive schools, like productive homes or businesses, do not run themselves. Our school board has a long tradition of affordably providing excellent results, and there is no more important work I could hope to do than to help continue that tradition.

An effective school board brings together a variety of perspectives from the community, with the hope that the consensus the board reaches advances the common good. My perspective is primarily a mother of three young children who are (or will soon be) in the district’s schools. My husband and I are both Conestoga graduates; between us, we are alumni of Valley Forge Elementary, Devon Elementary, Valley Forge Middle School, T/E Middle School, and Conestoga. After living in all different parts of the country for twelve years after graduating from Conestoga, we returned to T/E (first daughter in tow) eight years ago to raise our children here, in large part because of the schools. Because the schools here mean so much to my family, we want to give back. Growing up, my parents were constantly active in public service in this community, and they instilled in me a passion for service as well.

There is a strong core of leadership and teachers in the district. I plan to put my full energy and enthusiasm into the job of helping them excel and providing them with guidance from the community. I am committed to learning about the challenges facing the district, and believe it is important not to rush to judgement. There is usually more than meets the eye to any difficult problem.

One “issue” in particular that concerns me is sustainability. Every day, the district leadership is bombarded with new and important demands. Because of my perspective as a parent of young children and a lifelong resident, I would hope to keep an eye on where we will be in five, ten, or twenty years. By planning not only for tomorrow, but also for the long term, we can responsibly provide the next generation with at least as many opportunities as we had.

My professional background – a degree from Cornell University in communications and experience in marketing and public relations for some of the world’s largest law firms – colors my perspective as well. A thorough yet organized flow of information among all the relevant stakeholders – students, parents, residents, administrators, teachers, businesses, and so on – is certainly vital for an effective board.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment, Pattye, and thank you and everyone else who gets involved in our collective mission to keep T/E a wonderful place to live.

TE School Board Candidate Francis Reardon
Easttown Township – Region 3

My name is Francis Reardon, and I live in Easttown Township.  As a candidate for School Board Director the one issue that caught my attention was the plan to privatize and subcontract out the employment of our current teacher aides, substitute teachers, and para-educators.  The stated reason given by the School Board was that the school district could not afford to provide this group of employees, who average about $20,000.00 per year in pay, with health insurance.  We were presented with cost numbers picked from close to the top end of the insurance cost scale which seemed to have no relation to the employees in this group. This process played out over a two year period and the final decisions were worked out in private sessions without knowledge of or input from the taxpaying public of TESD.  During this process it was astounding to see how money is spent and justified by the school board.  They seemed to have forgotten the value of the dollar.

In my personal life, after high school I spent two years in the United States Army Infantry.  Soon after the Service I attended Temple University, receiving a Bachelors of Science Degree in Education.  I was a substitute teacher in the Philadelphia School system and then taught at a high school in Chester County. I soon discovered that I was better suited for a different career.  I started working in construction in 1973 and retired in 2006.  For thirty of those years I had my own construction business and was very fortunate to be doing business in Chester County during that whole time period.  In 1980 my wife and I moved to our present home and raised our six children here where they attended St Norbert School, Archbishop Carroll High School and Conestoga High School. My family has been blessed with the opportunities provided both by our community and Conestoga High School.

Our school employees should have the same opportunities.  Together with common sense decisions we need to show common decency in how we treat our school district employees.  I think we have failed our teacher aides, substitute teachers and para-educators. All groups of school district employees should be treated the same and the school board can correct this situation.

In the future the school district will have to continue to make many important decisions in the area of personnel.  Beside salaries, the pension and benefits have to be structured to work long term.  We cannot promise everyone long term benefits and fail to fund it short term. We have created a situation where one group of employees works to protect their interests to the detriment of other groups of employees in the school district.  I believe my past experiences have given me the background and common sense decision making skills to continue the excellence of the TE school district.  If given the opportunity I hope to serve the community and everyone involved with the school district as a director of the Tredyffrin Easttown School Board.

TE School Board Candidates for Tredyffrin, Region 1 respond

TE School Board Candidates for Tredyffrin, Region 1:
Neal Colligan
Roberta Hotinski
Todd Kantorczyk
Neill Kling

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 Neal Colligan
Tredyffrin, East – Region 1

In Pennsylvania, the State is mandated to provide education to our children.  Local municipalities are permitted some autonomy in operating educational franchises.  This autonomy is centered on fiscal management and meeting established minimum standards…districts that fail come under State control.  We achieve educational excellence in T/E for reasons schools succeed anywhere…engaged parents who value education, experienced professionals in the education function and a socio-economic demographic that promotes physical and mental health.  T/E will continue to excel educationally because you (and I) will accept nothing less.

In selecting SB members, we should understand the power we give them. The Position we’re discussing regards the management of the local educational operation; largely relegated to business/organizational decisions and setting a local tax rate.  Educational excellence is the over-riding mission but THIS JOB is very specific.  The inalienable right of the SB Member is to levy taxes…that affects every household and business in our community…THIS JOB is to assure the money is spent wisely.   To “keep our schools great” or “make education better”, one should seek a position in the Education Department…curriculum is State mandated.  To change the State’s funding of PSERs, the election venue would be State Representative.  No person in this race is running for teacher, coach, administrator or good parent…those jobs feature direct contact with students.

I’ve been a Tredyffrin citizen for 20 years, attending School Board meetings for 5 years.  From the “EIT Study” until today, I continue to educate myself on the operation of our District. I became an activist, speaking out was necessary.  I’ve written in The Suburban many times regarding T/ESD finances, worked with a group of para’s/aides (at their request) to prevent their outsourcing, compelled the Board to release documents in the PA Open Records Office case Colligan vs T/E School District and continue to speak out on District issues that impact the community.  I’ve worked with some great people…R’s and D’s and I’s.  You can read about the positions I’ve advocated by searching this site.  I am who I am and will continue to be…that’s my BIG promise.

The job is straight-forward. Deliver excellent education while operating efficiently….that’s what you deserve.  Basics:  be honest with the community in financial matters, welcome community input, adhere to established rules regarding transparency, focus on long-term viability of the system and be a good community citizen.  Follow that path and the T/ESB won’t be constantly locking-horns with the public….TEMS fence…$5 MM garage…deficit budget/maximum tax increase/annual surplus cycle…outsourcing paras/aides…secret meetings that s/b public…shouting down community members…ALL can be in the past.

The attitude of “we know better”…”the community doesn’t need to know”…”they’re OUR schools” needs to change…THAT’s the #1 issue.  I’m (uniquely???) qualified for THIS position…my accounting degree and MBA provide the education necessary for the task, years of educating myself prepare me for the position and I’m not too full-of-myself. My record is easy to access…watch the last/any video of a SB meeting, search here if inclined.  Know the candidates: prepared?…share your values?…have leadership qualities?  Change is coming…  Thanks for listening.

TE School Board Candidate Roberta Hotinski
Tredyffrin, East – Region 1

As a geoscientist with a Ph.D. from Penn State who has spent the last 12 years working at Princeton University, I have spent most of my career in environments of educational excellence.    After working in research, I moved into science management and communication, gaining extensive experience in project coordination and outreach to the public, including teacher professional development.   I am currently the project manager for a $3.5 million/year ocean research initiative at Princeton (http://soccom.princeton.edu), which has given me additional experience in budgeting and consensus building among stakeholders.

As a scientist and parent with children in T/E, the single most important issue for me is preserving the quality of education that has made our district and our community so successful.   If elected, I will work to guarantee that:

1. Spending is focused on students.
Recently the Board has committed to significant expenditures for capital projects that were not adequately justified to the community, including issuing $24 million in bonds for future projects and approving a $4.5 million facilities building. Funding decent and safe school buildings is important to the education program, but I would push to provide details on design and costs long before the meeting where a final vote is held.  In addition, with over $30 million in our reserve fund I believe the Board should set a formal target for an adequate fund balance and develop strategies to limit the fund’s growth, such as committing surpluses to the following year’s operating expenses or increasing contributions to capital projects.

2. Our district is providing a competitive 21st century education.
I am concerned about the impacts of high stakes testing and would propose an internal review of how much time (and thus money) is being devoted to preparing for PSSA’s and Keystone Exams, plus the costs of remediation.   I would also propose actively soliciting input from parents, teachers, and administrators on how current curricula and services are working for our students.  As a particular area of interest, I would advocate strengthening partnerships with local universities and businesses to enhance STEM initiatives, including internships and after-school or summer programs.

3) Community members are active partners in improving our district.
I am committed to transparency and accountability, improved communication with the public, and mining community talent to help improve our schools.  Specifically, I advocate
–  Increasing two-way interaction at Board meetings, providing a mechanism for the public to ask questions between meetings, and publishing answers to public questions online
–  Utilizing the expertise of our community members by creating citizen task forces or committees on complex issues

Residents of T/E deserve to feel confident that their tax dollars are being used wisely to provide a first-class education for every child in T/E.  I believe my background and professional experience have prepared me well to safeguard the interests of both students and taxpayers, and I hope voters will agree.   I am happy to answer questions and can be reached at hotinski@hotmail.com or (484) 320-7470.

TE School Board Candidate Todd Kantorczyk
Tredyffrin, East – Region 1

My name is Todd Kantorczyk, and I’m a candidate for Region 1 T/E School Board Director.  Serving on the board of a successful public school district like T/E requires directors to devote attention to a wide array of issues, many of which arise or shift significantly over the course of a school year.  Accordingly, choosing a single issue above all others would not be an accurate reflection of how I intend to approach my responsibilities as a school board director if elected.  With that said, I do believe a critical issue that will require much of my focus is ensuring that our district continues to provide a high quality education in an environment that demands consistent and transparent application of sound fiscal principles.

By all objective measures, we have excellent public schools.  Our schools provide a wide array of benefits, all of which maintain our home values and help define us as an outstanding community where people want to move and live.

But it will be a challenge to maintain this excellence looking at the financial pressures facing the district.  For example, the district will face almost $44 million in pension obligations over the next five years plus increases in unfunded mandates such as high stakes testing.  At the same time, the primary sources of revenue for the district are taxes from residents and businesses, and recently the current board has asked the community to shoulder additional tax burdens.  Accordingly, it is critical to ensure that: (1) funds are being managed in a fiscally responsible manner that adequately supports our excellent educational programs; and (2) requests for additional tax revenues are scrutinized and minimized.

My background and experience demonstrate that I am up for this task.  For example:

  • As the father of three current students in our district, I have a good sense of the issues schools face “on the ground” and the resources necessary for the district to deliver a high quality education;
  • As an environmental attorney, I find innovative solutions to complex issues, including land use and development matters, through input and buy-in from wide groups of stakeholders;
  • As a partner at a law firm, I understand the financial principles employed by Fortune 100 companies and small businesses; and
  • As the child of a former school board president, I appreciate the important role that committed local leaders can play in making sure that public schools deliver for our children and the entire community.

Finally, I feel strongly that our neighbors can provide valuable input on this and many other issues.  To that end, I would like to explore ways to increase public engagement and board transparency, including revising the procedure for interaction at monthly board and committee meetings.  Moreover, I hope to advocate for more local control of our schools so that our community, rather than Harrisburg or Washington, can decide how to focus our educational resources.

For additional questions, please contact me at toddfortesd@gmail.com or 484.832.8888.  Thank you.

TE School Board Candidate Neill Kling
Tredyffrin, East – Region 1

I welcome the opportunity to speak to what I believe is the most pressing issue facing the T/E School Board:  how to transition from the strong leadership of Dr. Waters and work with incoming Superintendent Gusick to keep our school district the best that it can be without overspending taxpayer money.  This will require cooperation and foresight, and it should be undertaken by those with the humility to listen, the energy to think about where the district needs to be several years from now, and the courage to take steps now to make that possible future a reality.

The question is, will the Board sit back and let administrators decide most everything, merely providing a rubber stamp for their plans on the theory that educators know best what they need?  Or will the board members be proactive, strategic and constructively critical partners, offering their own unique insights and always listening keenly to the parents and the taxpayers with the understanding that we all have to live with the consequences whether we use the schools or not?  To my mind, the answer must be “no” to the former and “yes” to the latter.  There are a great many things that educators are uniquely equipped to handle – e.g. the curriculum and the quality of the hired teachers – but there are many other areas in which the citizens and their representatives must have significant input – e.g. salaries and benefits, administrator to teacher ratio, how much we should provide for facilities and safety, and how all of that that impacts the taxpayers and the quality of life in the surrounding community.  It appears that the District has managed the education side quite well, but there is always room for improvement on the other issues, along with earning the confidence of the citizens that their voices are being heard throughout.

What qualifies me to join the team of school directors in what promises to be a new era is the insight that comes from working cooperatively to manage a business enterprise.  I am a graduate of Lafayette College and the Law School of the University of Pennsylvania.  My day job is as a commercial litigator in Philadelphia with the law firm Harkins Cunningham LLP where I have spent 23 years representing companies large and small in lawsuits involving state and federal law.  But I don’t just practice law, I also help manage my firm.  I know what it means to meet a payroll, to lease real estate, to manage mostly wonderful and occasionally not-so-wonderful employees, and to do so in an environment that requires the consensus of a small group of very dedicated, intelligent people who are not afraid to speak their minds.  I also understand neighborhood concerns about the aesthetic health of our community, having served on the Tredyffrin Zoning Hearing Board since 2007.  I hope to continue my service by helping to set the future course for a school district that I have called home for over twenty years and to which I have and will entrust the secondary education of two of my children.  I will be honored to have your vote to enable me to do so.

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