Tredyffrin Easttown School District

Substance Abuse Discussion Continues — Berwyn Fire Company EMS Captain weighs in

Substance abuseContinuing the substance abuse discussion, Berwyn Fire Company EMS Capt. Michael Baskin provides background about Narcan and its use in heroin overdose situations. Important contact information is provided at the end of his remarks.

As a resident, it is reassuring to know that the local fire company and police department personnel are trained and equipped to handle drug abuse situations.  Discussions about drugs and their consequences are extremely important — perhaps a community forum with the school administration, police department, fire company, parents and residents.

Pattye,
Thank you for bringing some of these concepts to the forefront of your community readers.

Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is a medication used in opioid overdoses to counteract life-threatening depression of the central nervous system and respiratory system. If administered early enough, an overdose victim will begin to get a respiratory drive back, and shortly after become alert and aware. Naloxone only works if a person has opioids in their system; the medication has no effect if opioids are absent. There are many drugs that people overdose on that Narcan has no effect on. It is a temporary drug that wears off in 20-90 minutes and therefore anyone who received this drug needs to get to advanced care as the effects of the opioid may return after Narcan wears off.

As was noted, Tredyffrin police have been carrying Narcan for a little while now and have already administered it successfully. Berwyn, Radnor and Malvern fire company paramedics (the 3 primary paramedic providers to T/E) and other services have had Narcan as Advanced Life Support (ALS) providers for decades. As of July 1st, 2015 the Department of Health has allowed for Basic Life Support (BLS) to have access to Narcan in addition to the ALS. Departments across the Commonwealth are going through training now.

From a community approach perspective, the T/E community is well covered with Narcan access in an emergency. In extreme situations, providing rescue breathing and/or CPR to an overdose victim who is not breathing will provide needed oxygen prior to emergency services arriving. The ideal community focus needs to be preventing the need to ever use Narcan. Community, family and professional help should be available to anyone who needs it. Accepting that our community is not immune to these problems is a very big start.

Community education of drug, alcohol, mental illness and suicide prevention is a tremendous help. Acceptance of those who have these problems as a community is what leads us to success. By isolating, hiding, alienating or ignoring people who need guidance, we hurt rather then help this goal.

Here are some useful local numbers:
The Chester County Drug & Alcohol Hotline: 610-344-6620.
Crisis Counseling: 610-280-3270
Chester County Suicide Prevention: 610-344-6265

These numbers are just as much for someone searching for help personally as they are for someone concerned about another.

Respectfully,
Michael S Baskin
EMS Captain, Berwyn Fire Co

Republican T/E School Board candidate George Anderson has withdrawn from the race

Republican school board candidate Dr. George Anderson has withdrawn from the T/E School Board race, providing the following statement:

Dear Pattye,

I have just been informed of a travel schedule which will not allow me to campaign for much of the election season, therefore it is with regret I must announce my withdrawal from the TE School Board race. TE deserves a school board which operates for the citizens in an open and transparent manner. I am hopeful that goal can be achieved.

Sincerely;

George E. Anderson III, PhD

Neill Kling, Chair of the Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee, stated in an email that the “TTRC does expect to replace George on the ballot for Region 1 and we are working through that process.”

There are two seats available for the T/E School Board, Tredyffrin-Region 1 in the upcoming election.  With the withdrawal of George Anderson, currently three candidates remain on the ballot – Roberta Hotinski (D), Todd Kantorczyk (D) and Neal Colligan (R).  According to Chester County Voter Services, August 10 is the last day for candidates to withdraw from the election. August 20 is the last date to file substituted nomination certificates to fill vacancies caused by the withdrawal of candidates nominated at the primary election or by nomination papers.

Tredyffrin Township Police Department update on local substance issues, including the use of NARCAN

NARCANEarlier this week, I wrote the post, “Depression, alcoholism and drug addiction…Saving lives is the Answer”.  Completely by coincidence, on Wednesday, July 21, we learned that the Tredyffrin Township police had arrested Lynne Twaddle, age 61 of Pugh Road on suspicion of dealing heroin from her Wayne home.

Twaddle was charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, criminal conspiracy, possession of drug paraphernalia and criminal use of a communication facility (phone).  Beyond scary is the fact that Twaddle’s house is located 150 ft. from the entrance drive to New Eagle Elementary School.

At the time of the Twaddle’s arrest, Tredyffrin Township Detective Sgt. Todd Bereda commented, “It’s just now with the change in society, we’re seeing a burgeoning amount of oxycodone and opiate use, it starts with pills and ends up with heroin.”

As a follow-up to the post on Community Matters, I received an email from Tredyffrin Township Police Superintendent Anthony Giaimo and was given permission to share it.  Valuable information, the public needs to know that the Tredyffrin Police are actively involved and continuously seeking ways to combat the growing local drug abuse problems.

Greetings Pattye –

Thank you for your recent post regarding substance issues within our community (and beyond). We need to spread the word!

We have seen drug related tragedies among our young residents year after year.

We have taken a number of progressive steps, which have gained the attention of Commonwealth officials.

We were the first in the Commonwealth of PA (with ARCH) to acquire and maintain a drug “turn in” box. Additionally we have hosted town hall meetings (Kacie’s Cause) and are continuous attendees and participants at ARCH meetings.

We are presently formulating new educational programs through our Community Policing Unit.

One resource that has received excellent feedback is our new Crime Watch program. On this site, I posted a Parent’s Tool kit, suicide prevention and drug / substance abuse resources as well as other resources posted by our Community Policing Director Rhonda Carroll. Our site can be found through the township website or at www.tredyffrinpd.org (There is also a mobile app).

T/E School Board Director Liz Mercogliano mentioned the possible use of NARCAN, heroin antidote naloxone, in treating drug overdoses in a comment on Community Matters.  The public should know that the Tredyffrin police are trained in the use of NARCAN. I received a follow-email from Supt. Giaimo clarifying the department’s usage of the heroin antidote:

A number of people have asked if the police department uses NARCAN, an opiate antagonist, to combat the potential loss of life from a heroin over dose. I can say that we not only have this drug in all of the police cars but were on the leading edge of this program. To date we already saved a life with the use of NARCAN.

Rest assured we (I) will keep up the pace to keep our community safe from this deadly drug influence.

As we learned from Supt. Giaimo, the Tredyffrin police have already saved one life with the use of NARCAN.

If residents have concerns and/or questions regarding substance abuse, you are asked to contact Tredyffrin Township Police Officer Rhonda Carroll, Director of Community Policing, Tel. 610.644.3221.

Following the arrest of suspected heroin dealer Lynne Twaddle, the T/E School District posted the following message on their website, www.tesd.org

As you may have read in the news, on July 21 the Tredyffrin Township Police arrested a District resident for alleged sale of heroin. We congratulate the police on their continued efforts to combat the distribution of illegal drugs, and we cooperate as needed. The alleged perpetrator lives in close proximity to New Eagle Elementary School, but I have been assured by Superintendent of Police Anthony Giaimo that although the investigation is ongoing, there is no connection between this arrest and any T/E students at this time.

The District will continue to implement and extend safety measures to promote greater security in our schools. Such measures include but are not limited to buzz-in systems at school entrances with video capabilities, external fencing, improved locks on classroom doors, external window signage, and updated emergency preparedness procedures. Additionally, we continue to provide age-appropriate educational opportunities and support programs across the curriculum for students to learn about the negative consequences associated with illegal and prescription drug use and abuse. I thank the community for its continued support of these District efforts.

Best wishes,
Richard Gusick
Superintendent of Schools

Depression, alcoholism and drug addiction … “Saving lives is the Answer”

IDrug addictionn June, I learned that a local 20-something year old CHS graduate had committed suicide. Although I did not know the young man personally, I was told that he suffered from depression, drug addiction and was on probation through the courts.  Having attended the funeral of his friend, another young man, himself a Conestoga graduate, sent me an email.

Overcome with grief over losing his close friend from high school, and looking for answers, his email read in part,

I’ve been struggling with addiction for 5 years now. I know that people need to get it on their own, but I mean trying to educate them before this happens.  If I saw a fellow peer talk about how he/she just started out experimenting with drugs and eventually led to what it led to for me who knows what I would have done differently.

The problem is hard drugs have been normalized in the high school and almost glorified because they don’t see what happens when they are a little older and all of their friends are dying.

We have 15-year-old girls in Conestoga that are shooting heroin! It’s absolute insanity. Something needs to be done; we just lost ANOTHER graduate, one of my best friends, 3 days ago to this stuff.

The young man who sent me this email told me that had sent an email to the T/E School Board asking for their help with the drug problem in the schools.

Last year, Chester County officials released the statistics report on fatal heroin overdoses in the county.  Since 1999, the overdose death rate in Chester County has doubled with 24 overdose deaths in 2013, with victims ranging from 21 to 79 years old.  Fourteen were men and 10 were women. The report indicated that 18 of the fatal overdoses or approximately seventy-five percent, both heroin and prescription drugs were involved.

When the statistics were released, Chester County DA Tom Hogan stated, “One clear trend from these statistics is that prescription drug abuse is a gateway to a heroin overdose. Heroin does not discriminate.  It is a deadly drug that is abused by young and old, poor and rich, white and black.  Nobody is safe. There are students in every high school in Chester County who are using heroin, from Conestoga to Coatesville, from Unionville to Oxford.”

In 2014, we learned of the arrest of 11 people involved in the ‘Main Line Take Over Project’, a drug trafficking ring.  Two Haverford School graduates were the drug operation kingpins and hired students at main line high schools, including Conestoga, Radnor and Lower Merion as their drug peddlers. Every child is at risk.  According to experts, those with risk factors, such as a family history of mental illness or addiction, have a greater chance of becoming addicted.

Alcoholism and drug addiction is a disease. People are suffering from this disease and dying from this disease every day. We really can’t do anything as a society to help those people until we start talking about it.

I received the following statement from T/E School Board Director Liz Mercogliano with a request to add it to Community Matters:

Rescue for Overdose

My name is Liz Mercogliano. I serve as a current T/E school board director. I also have practiced psychiatric nursing since 1984.  I am a practicing Realtor and lawyer.

I wanted to share the facts on overdose and/or harm to self or suicide. At T/E, I support giving our students mental and emotional support. Every year we lose a child to suicide or overdose. Overdose can happen in a second with prescription, legal and illegal drugs.

Many students and families are not familiar with the signs and symptoms of psychiatric disease or the fact that everyone has different levels of depressions throughout their lives. As a result, there are accidental overdoses as well as serious unidentified clinical depressions that may lead to suicide.

Please realize depression is treatable and many overdose accidents result in life changing events for the individual. The right thing to do is to help those who need our help. This help includes identifying persons at risk and offering professional help. This is not a small matter in our community. When it happens to you or a loved one, find help.  In my mind, EMTs and the ability to reverse the overdose will make our community a better place.

Saving lives is the answer. Provide mental and emotional support all the sick whether it is a traditional medical disease or drug or alcohol disease.

Sincerely,

Liz Mercogliano, RN, Esquire
T/E School Board Director

Tredyffrin Township Democrats attack Republican School Board Candidate George Anderson for extremist views on Facebook

Republicans-vs-DemocratsWith Election Day 2015 still four months in the future, the Tredyffrin Township Democrats are not letting the “dog days of summer” keep them from going after one of the Republican TE School Board candidates, Dr. George Anderson. With a headline reading “Extremist Views Espoused by TE School Board Candidate”, an email blast was sent to the TTDEMS mailing list and the article posted on their website. The use of graphics and commentary from Dr. Anderson’s personal Facebook page provide the proof of the TTDEMS accusations (see below).

The individual responsible for the TTDEMS email and the website entry is TE School Board candidate, Democrat Alan Yockey, but I am told that the other three Democratic school board candidates support his actions.

Yockey (D) is a candidate for Tredyffrin Region 2 whereas Anderson (R) is a candidate for Tredyffrin Region 1. Although Yockey and Anderson are not seeking the same TE School Board seat, it was interesting to note that Yockey used a entry from Anderson’s Facebook page, which also included a photo of Republican Ed Sweeney. Sweeney is a school board candidate for Tredyffrin Region 2, the same seat for which Yockey seeks office. It’s unclear whether Yockey’s inclusion of Sweeney’s photo from Anderson’s Facebook page was an oversight or calculated to discredit this school board candidate by association.

Politicians and political parties are in the era of Internet campaigning. Creating a social media strategy for use during political campaigns has quickly become an essential part of every candidate’s plan to get into office. Today’s example by the Tredyffrin Democrats shows that the use of social media is a two-edged sword. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. are all useful tools to help win an election but as Anderson (and possibly Ed Sweeney) learned today, can also be the secret weapon in local politics.

School Board candidate George Anderson and Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee Chair Neill Kling both provided responses to the posting by the Tredyffrin Democrats (see statements below).  The Chair of the Tredyffrin Township Democrats, Kathleen Keohane, was contacted and should she provide a statement, it will be added to this post.

The calendar may say July, but it looks like this could be a very long campaign season for local voters.  And the battle begins …

From the Tredyffrin Township Democrats email and posting (To read, click on the graphics or go to their website, www.ttdems.com)

TTDEMS

TTDEMS 1 TTDEMS 2

In response to the Tredyffrin Township Democrats posting, School Board candidate Dr. George Anderson provides the following:

In response to carefully excerpted selections from my personal Facebook page being put up by the Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee I plead guilty… I am guilty of believing those holding political office should not use governmental power to promote their personal political agenda, (as America witnessed in the recent use of the White House as a screen for the Rainbow Flag). I am guilty of believing in every American should have the ability to defend themselves and their families by exercising their Second Amendment Rights. I am guilty of believing Darwin’s explanation of how life developed on our planet was incomplete and is unsupported by science as it developed over the last 150 years. I am guilty of believing drug addiction is a horrible affliction and having the threat of imminent death may reduce the number of those who take the chance for a thrill. I am guilty of believing, there has been no global warming for the last 10 years and the continued calls for more draconian regulations are more about governmental control than they are about saving the planet. If basing my opinions upon the American Constitution and the existing science is extremist, then I am most certainly guilty.  (I have little doubt the next email from the Tredyffrin Democrats will headline … “Extremist Candidate admits Guilt”)

The level of effort which went into this email is interesting. I do post many political items on my personal page, and they are generally opposed to the policies of this administration but it also includes photos of my new Koi pond, photos of my birds and pictures of Bulldog puppies. One is forced to ask; why has someone put in so much effort, going through thousands of posts, to slandering me? Is it because on my official Facebook page (Dr. George Anderson for TE School Board), I expressed the radical concept that “We owe our children the best education we can provide. We owe it to our citizens to achieve that goal in the most transparent and frugal way possible.”  or perhaps it was the extremist concept that members of the School Board work for the citizens of the TE school district and should be available to them.

It is an old saying “If you cannot attack their ideas, attack them personally.”  With, personal attacks this early in the election cycle, one is forced to ask, who or what is the Democratic machine trying to protect?

Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee Chair Neill Kling provides the following statement in response to the Tredyffrin Democrats posting:

Dear Pattye:
I understand that the Tredyffrin Democrats (in the person of Region 2 School Board candidate Alan Yockey) have sent out an e-mail attacking Region 1 School Board candidate George Anderson as an “extremist” based on material that he has re-posted on his personal facebook page. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to respond.  

This is a tactic that the TT Democrats used in the last local election to foment opposition to our Republican school board members and candidates. It seeks to demonize certain of our neighbors who put themselves up for election and divide our electorate rather than bring us together to address the challenges that our school district faces.  I’m sure that we Republicans could find material against our Democratic opponents that would perhaps paint them in a way that some of our electorate would consider extreme.  But these are our neighbors, this is not the campaign that we Republicans choose to run, and we will not respond in kind.  Such tactics do not produce a healthy environment for school board (or any other) governance going forward.

Our school board candidates, while certainly all good Republicans, are individuals with many perspectives and  talents who bring their personal opinions to specific issues (issues we hope to engage fully in the Fall campaign) while focusing generally on the core principal of good stewardship — of our children’s education and safety, of our hard-earned tax dollars, of our invaluable school employees, and of our school facilities.  School Board is an unpaid, difficult, often thankless job and each of our neighbors who has served and has stepped forward to ask for your vote this November (Republican and Democrat) deserve our respect.

I also understand that Mr. Anderson has sent you a response to Mr. Yockey’s post.  For my part, I know Mr. Anderson as a devoted father and husband, as a former student of the T/E Schools, as an educator at Valley Forge Military Academy who is also tasked by that institution to bring diversity to its ranks, and as a person with a strong background in finance.   Mr. Anderson has told me that he welcomes any discussion about his views and he will be walking the neighborhoods this Summer (as will all of our candidates) so that our neighbors can get to meet him and engage him in conversation.  I hope that all take the opportunity to do so.

Thanks again for your courtesy,

Neill Kling
TTRC Chairman

Since this Community Matters post went up yesterday, the graphic from George Anderson’s Facebook page which included Ed Sweeney’s photo was removed from the TTDEMS website and replaced with a different graphic.

Kathleen Keohane, Chair of the Tredyffrin Township Democrats provided the following statement in response to school board candidate George Anderson and Tredyffrin Republican Committee Chair Neill Kling:

Hi Pattye,

I appreciate your bringing this troubling issue to light. I disagree strongly with Neill Kling’s characterization of the TTDEMS’ webpage post and email to our subscribers. They cannot be reduced to “a politically motivated attack” on a private person who reposts what some may find offensive material on his Facebook page.

On July 8, George Anderson stepped way over the line when he wrote, “I personally believe it should be against the law to revive someone who has a drug overdose. Letting them kill themselves would thin the herd.”

Understandably, our candidates expressed disbelief and revulsion that a person holding this view could be in the position to make decisions about the welfare of our District’s children.

No one disputes George Anderson’s right to express whatever views he may hold. But there are consequences to doing so. I believe every Tredyffrin voter needs to take a careful look at each of the candidates running for local office. Yes, they are our neighbors, and we appreciate their willingness to step forward to make a difference in our community. But who are they, and what do they stand for?

We are less than a month into the lazy days of summer, and I know that few people are focused on the fall election right now. From a political standpoint, our party’s decision to take a stand against George Anderson on July 11 was hardly strategic.

It simply had to be taken. His heartless belief that it should be a crime to administer life-saving medicine to a dying addict, along with some of his other extreme views need to be known. I feel certain that the reasonable, caring, well-informed people who live in our community will reject them.

Best regards,

Kathleen Keohane
Chair, TTDEMS

T/E Taxpayers Draw Short Straw: School Board Approves $4.5 million maintenance building & 3.81% tax increase

Last night’s TE School Board meeting did not mark a good night for the District’s taxpayers!  Many of us left the meeting disheartened and feeling like the warm summer evening would have been better spent with a glass of Chardonnay.  Here are the highlights, or rather low-lights of the meeting.

New Maintenance & Storage Building:   $4.5 million, approved 8-1 (Liz Mercogliano dissenting vote)

The District’s Business Manager Art McDonnell and the architect Tom Daley from Daley & Jalboot presented a lengthy presentation on the proposed $4.5 million maintenance & storage building. Helping to convince that the project was necessary, photos of current overcrowded storage facilities, closets, etc. accompanied the presentation.  Taxpayers did not question that something needed to be done to improve the situation but did question the project’s escalating costs, the Old Lancaster Road location and the treatment of the neighbors. The fantasy architectural drawings indicate a tree-lined boulevard, not the realty of Old Lancaster Road … a narrow residential street of small homes sitting below grade to this new, large maintenance building.

2015-16 Budget: Approved deficit budget with a 3.81% tax increase, 8-1 (Liz Mercogliano dissenting vote).

The 3.81% tax increase marks the eleventh straight year that the TE School Board has raised taxes. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer from Sunday, June 14, the 3.81% tax increase for 2015-16 marks the largest tax increase in Chester County.

The last year the TESD saw no tax increase was 2004-05 as seen below:

• 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

Discretionary compensation increases above the 1.7% contract for Supervisors and Administrators:  Approved 7-2 (Liz Mercogliano and Scott Dorsey dissenting votes)

Valley Forge Middle School Fencing:  Board agreed to further discussion of hiring of a fencing safety consultant at the next Facilities Committee meeting.  An RFP for safety expert to be sent in the Fall.

TE School District Redistricting:  Based on the distribution of voters in the school district, there is under representation of elected officials in Tredyffrin, District 2.  It was suggested that the Board’s Legislative Committee would review the redistricting issue at their next meeting, in September. Disenfranchised voters are discussing a grassroots effort of their own re redistricting.

Reflecting on last night’s school board meeting, had me wondering why should I or other citizens bother to show up?  As some have often stated on Community Matters, the Board seemingly makes its decisions in advance and then delivers those decisions as a united front. Questions from the public are only marginally answered, if at all.  The Board views comments from residents as criticism and/or annoyances.

Election Day is November 3, 2015.  Five seats on the TE School Board are on the November ballot – Vote for Change!

Question: To fence or not to fence at Valley Forge Middle School? Answer: No for Election Year, but 2016 is another story!

 

I attended the TE School District Facilities Meeting on Friday.   Thinking that the fencing at Valley Forge Middle School discussion would be put to bed finally, the audience learned instead that the never-ending saga would continue…

After months and months of legal bills on the District’s side (i.e. taxpayers) and on the part of the Chesterbrook Civic Association and Green Hills residents, the Board has decided the District needs another school safety study, which will focus on fencing at VFMS, before they can make a decision. After TESD President Kris Graham read her statement proposing the hiring of a safety consultant for the Valley Forge Middle School fencing project, other Board members embraced the suggestion.  What?

As background regarding the school safety study – In January 2013, the District hired Andy Chambers (the former Tredyffrin Township Police Chief) as the safety consultant to review the safety of the eight schools.  Initially Chambers’ hiring was included on a school board consent agenda.  Facing claims of Sunshine Act violation, the District solicitor Ken Roos recommended the ‘reconsideration’ of Chambers at the following Board meeting.  Ultimately, Chambers was hired with a 7-2 vote with former school board members Anne Crowley and Rich Brake citing ‘lack of transparency’ in their dissenting votes.   The public was told that Chambers contract was ‘not to exceed’ $11,500.

The Board has repeatedly cited the safety report as the rationale for building fences around the schools – it certainly provided the basis for why the five elementary schools were fenced last summer. The public was not provided input for the safety study and we were not permitted to see the safety study when completed (the Board cited safety reasons).   The District has denied right-to-know requests for the study.

The taxpayers paid for the District’s safety study two years ago, which claims to suggest that all District schools need to be fenced.  Why is the 2013 safety study not applicable for VFMS?

Now many, many meetings and legal and architectural fees later, the Board has decided that the District needs to spend more money for a new safety study – this study to focus specifically on Valley Forge Middle School fencing.  It should be noted that the Board was quick to mention that this time the District will send out an RFP to find a safety consultant (something they admit was not done before they hired Chambers).

I’m sorry but I just don’t understand.  Why is the District going to spend more money on the VFMS fencing project by hiring another safety consultant?  The uncertainty for the neighbors continues, as the Board was quick to say that when this new study comes out in early 2016, it may still require fencing VFMS. Here’s a question for the Board — why not have Police Superintendent Anthony Giaimo and the Tredyffrin police conduct the safety study for the District?  Certainly Giaimo’s background and experience would make him an excellent choice to review school safety.

Three school board candidates attended the Facilities Meeting (Fran Reardon, Easttown, Region 3 and Tredyffrin West, Region 2 candidates Michele Burger and Ed Sweeney).  For the two open school board seats in Tredyffrin West, Region 2, the Primary election results had Burger (D) and Sweeney (R) receiving the highest number of votes respectfully – with TESD Board President Kris Graham in third place. There’s little doubt that the ongoing VFMS fencing issues cost Graham votes.  I wonder if she thinks that by spending taxpayer dollars for another safety study and delaying the fencing project until 2016, will translate to a higher vote count in November.

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The District’s mega-million proposed Maintenance & Storage Building received much discussion at Friday’s Facilities Meeting.  This proposed maintenance building and the adoption of the 2015/16 Final Budget are scheduled for Priority Discussion at the school board meeting on Monday, June 15. Board discussion and public comment opportunity. 7:30 PM, Conestoga High School

TESD Facility Meeting to discuss school fencing project and mega-million dollar maintenance building

The proposed middle school and high school fencing project and the mega-million dollar Maintenance Building are two of the agenda items for the District’s Facilities Meeting tomorrow, Friday, June 12 at 12 Noon.

The school fencing project, specifically at Valley Forge Middle School, has seen a lot of attention in recent months. The school property abuts the property of some of the Green Hills properties in Chesterbrook. and initially the plan had the fencing going directly behind the Green Hills homes. It now appears that the District has agreed to move the proposed fencing away from the homeowner’s back doors but unanswered questions remain.

Discussion (debate?) continues on the placement of the interior fencing, the height of the fence (4 ft, 5 ft. or 6 ft.), the type of fencing material, signage, etc. The five District elementary schools received chain link fencing but the Chesterbrook residents are asking for a material upgrade to white vinyl fencing to match existing fencing in the planned community.  There appears to be an agreement that any upgrade materials fee from chain link to white vinyl will be split between Chesterbrook residents and the District’s taxpayers.  The white vinyl fencing is to run along the side of VFMS property on Valley Forge Road (Rt. 252).  This upgrade fencing option would only ‘mark’ the District’s property and cannot be viewed as a safety feature.

The construction start date for school fencing at Valley Forge Middle, TE Middle and Conestoga is June 24 with a scheduled completion date of August 14.  Since there is a change order for the originally approved fencing at VFMS, the Facilities Committee will need to decide the next step – will it need to go back to the full Board on Monday, June 15?

Although the District has been unwilling to publically state how many residents have contacted the Board regarding the proposed fencing – I know that the number continues to rise.  Many residents have copied me on their correspondence with the District and then complained when they have received no response. To be clear, there may be residents who support the fencing project, but I have personally not received copies of any such correspondence.

Below is a copy of a recent email to the school board from Mr. Gary Wolf, a Chesterbrook resident.  This email is included below with his approval.

Dear School Board,

Our tax dollars are irresponsibly and continually misused by the T/E School Board.  One of my choices to address this concern, besides moving out of our Tredyffrin home that my wife and I have lived in for 27 years, was to exercise my right to vote … which I did.  I chose not to vote for Kris Graham on May 19th.  While my vote is only one in many, I’m fed up with our taxes being increased and our school board acting as though this district is a “money pit.”  Specifically, we don’t need fences at our schools to the tune of almost a quarter million dollars.

My wife worked at VFES for 19 years, and saw the waste and misdirected funding of the T/E administration.  For example, the kids had a paltry allocation of $1.00/year/student for their first aid care while the principal bought new office furniture essentially every year, applying the “use or lose his budget” mentality.  If I managed my department for my employer in that manner, I’d be out of work.  And … we continue to pay for Dan Waters’ amenities and life style that even us reasonably blessed professionals will never realize.   Spend it on the kids!!  Enough is enough!

Gary C. Wolf

Another of the major discussion items on the agenda is agenda items is the new Maintenance & Storage Building.  As we learned at Monday’s Finance Committee meeting, the bids for this project were due in this week on June 9.  The project bid will not include any of the costs leading up to this point – the legal and architectural fees, traffic studies, township permits, eco soil testing, etc.

When the Business Manager was asked about a total of those pre-construction costs, Art McDonnell stated that he would provide a total of those costs as well as the construction bid costs at the Facilities Meeting. At this point, the District has already invested a lot of money on the maintenance building project. Because this project has greatly exceeded initial estimates, it would be fiscally responsible for the Board to thoroughly analyze the costs, and review all available options, before granting final approval. According to the District, the construction start date for the maintenance building is August 17, 2015 with a scheduled completion date of June 29, 2016.

Regarding this week’s Finance Meeting, the proposed tax increase has now edged up to 3.81% for the 2015-16 school year. Should this tax increase be approved, it will mark the eleventh year in a row that residents have seen their taxes go up — you would have to go back a decade to 2004-05 to find the last time that there was no real estate tax increase. Is this really the best time to spend $4-5 million for a maintenance & storage building?

There were a number of school board candidates at the Finance Meeting, it would be interesting to know their thoughts about the proposed budget. There was a brief mention about the District’s food service budget and something about a $400K loss but … that the department really didn’t have a loss but actually had a profit! I have no idea what this is about — is the District practicing a form of ‘new math’?  Perhaps my friend Ray Clarke can enlighten us!

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Update: Neal Colligan sent the following email to the T/E School Board Thursday evening regarding the District’s proposed Maintenance & Storage Building and provided a copy for posting on Community Matters.

Dear School Board,

Apologizes for not being able to join you at the Facilities Meeting tomorrow. I did want to take this opportunity to give you some thoughts on your maintenance building that you will be discussing tomorrow.

Much has been said on that project and I see know need to go into its history… You’ll already have reviews all that.  The choice you may make tomorrow is to recommend a contract for the construction of this 14,000 SF facility that has been in the planning stage for so long. At the last Facilities meeting, the revised estimate for the construction of the building is almost $4 MM. After you add the cost of land acquisition, planning and architects, legal, and other sunk costs… This facility could well coat almost $5 MM. On a price per square foot basis, this gets pretty close to $300/SF.

I work financing commercial real estate and I’d like to share some insights.  In a commercial loan scenario, a lender would give you only a portion of the value of a piece of real estate (typically 65-75%). This discipline is adhered to for obvious reasons..,. The lender would like to get paid back.  If they don’t get paid back frontmen owner, they’d like to see their way to get their money back through taking the real estate back and selling it. Why is the germane?  You’re a not for profit building for your own needs. Here’s why the above is important:  you are borrower inc the money. Further you’re borrowing it on the back of the taxpayers. You just completed a large bond offering.  You have a AAA rating based primarily on the ability of the citizens of our community to pay taxes. Indeed, WE; the taxpayer, are the security for this loan.

As THE security for your bond issue, I would appreciate it if you would apply the same discipline that you would see from a normal commercial real estate deal. If you had that building appraised… You would find out it’s worth about $1 MM. Don’t believe that?  Find out…have it appraised OR ask Tripp Lukens on the Planning Board…. He’s a commercial appraiser and would be happy to speak on value, likely for no charge. At least investigate it…please don’t pay 4x value for a non-strategic asset (one where no learning takes place).

I know you’ve spent considerable time on THIS plan but now it’s costs have far out-stripped it’s utility/value….my opinion. And my opinion should matter; I guaranteed the bond issue by being a citizen of this community. You should not pay anywhere near the amounts recently released by Facility for this asset. There ARE other alternatives….lease/buy an older building/etc. At $4-$5 MM of money borrowed on the credit of this community; you must go look at new alternatives.

Thank you-and I apologize for any miss-spellings; writing on my handheld without glasses.

Neal Colligan

Questions continue regarding VF Middle School fencing — still no resolution!

No FencingThe TE School Board approved the 2015 graduating class of Conestoga HS at Wednesday, May 27  school board meeting.  Commencement will take place on June 2, 7 PM at Villanova University.

Although the infamous Valley Forge Middle School fencing project was not on the Board’s agenda, Green Hills (Chesterbrook) resident Doug Anestad utilized the public comment period with a list of questions to the Board.  His statement and questions –

Doug Anestad, Green Hills

First, I would like to say congratulations to the class of 2015.

This school board has heard from many residents both in person an in email about the proposed fencing project. Not one person has spoken out in support of the fencing project.

Here is my first question

How can the school board continue to hear from the residents in person, in email, and in the voting booths and continue to be deaf to them?

My second question is how many emails have you received so far from residents in the past couple of weeks asking you to stop the fencing project.

I would like to conclude with an observation

The residents in TE Region 2 are really starting to get upset with the under representation that we have on this school board. TE Region 2 has almost as many people living in it as TE Regions 1 and 3 combined. That means that we have half the representation per person.

Perhaps this is why you feel that you can keep shoving this fence project down the throats of the parents of students and residents who live here.

This situation feels like TE Region 1 and 3 coming in like a bunch of carpetbaggers and ignoring the opinions of the people in TE Region 2.

Here is my third and last question

How many more residents do you need to hear from before you halt the current fencing plan and reconsider the scope and placement of proposed fences, this time with actual community input?

I will conclude with the same request that I made at the last school board meeting. I would really like for someone on the board to please make a motion to table the fencing project for further cost benefit analysis and someone else second that motion.

While you are at it, it would be likewise helpful to have someone make a motion to table the new facilities building until a cost benefit analysis is done. That is another project where the school board needs to step in and give guidance as it is running way over the original budget.

Thank you.

For the record, Doug Anestad reports that not one Board member answered any of his questions. Why doesn’t the Board respond to resident questions?

For example, all emails addressed to the school board filter through the Public Information Officer Art McDonnell, who then in turn forward them to the individual Board members. There is no question that residents have contacted the Board with their opposition to school fencing and the use of taxpayer money for fencing.  I have heard from several residents who tell me that they have sent emails regarding the fencing but received no response from the District.  Resident’s emails to the Board are private but there is no reason that the ‘number’ of emails received on an issue is not public.  Not every resident question should require him or her to file a right-to-know with the District to receive an answer!

Doug Anestad is the frustrated District taxpayer who mailed (at his expense) an anti-school fencing postcard (below) to all residents residing in TE School District Region 2.   Timed to arrive days before Primary Election Day, Doug suggested that voters support Michele Burger (D) and Ed Sweeney (R) versus incumbent school board president Kris Graham (R) for the two Board openings.

No one can say if it was the power of Anestad’s campaign strategy or simply coincidental but the election results had Burger and Sweeney receiving the highest number of votes with Graham in third place.

Stop Spending pg 1

Stop Spending pg 2

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Anestad is representative of a growing concern on a number of issues, including the District’s use of taxpayer dollars for fencing projects and an overpriced maintenance building while continuing to raise taxes. The overall lack of public input and communication between the Board and the residents seems to be the core of the problem.

Regarding the VF Middle School fence project, residents have received mixed messages from Board members resulting in a ‘he said-she said’ conflict rather than resolution.  If the debate continues over District spending on fencing and the multi-million dollar maintenance building, the November election results may not be what School Board President Kris Graham wants.

Discussion regarding the school fencing project and the District’s $4 million++ maintenance (“Taj Mahal”) building will continue at the Friday, June 12 Facilities Committee meeting.  It is my understanding that if the committee does not reach consensus, the issues go to the full Board on Monday, June 15.

T/E School District to Build the ‘Taj Mahal’ or … Otherwise Known as the New ‘Maintenance & Storage Building’!

The school district’s planned maintenance and storage building on Old Lancaster Avenue, next to TE Middle School, has mushroomed into a major multi-million dollar project!

The District’s plan is to demolish and replace the existing maintenance and storage building on the site with a new 12,000 square ft. building with 29 parking spaces.  If you recall, the District purchase purchased an adjacent property, 892 Old Lancaster Avenue in August 2012, for $265K and paid to have the house demolished to have it in the ready for the new maintenance building.

According to the District’s ‘Capital Sources & Usage Report’ in October 2013, the estimated building costs for the new maintenance and storage building was $2.7 million. During 2014, the proposed construction cost escalated another $500K to and an estimate of $3,177,500.  Fast-forward to the last District Facilities Meeting and the Taj Mahal (sorry maintenance and storage building) construction estimates has soared again.  The new estimate for the building is $3,966 … nearly $4 million to store tractors, snowplows and extra paper towels. Wow.

Why the significant increase? In two years, the building costs have escalated from $2.7 to $4 million!  According to the Facilities Committee documents, some of the additional costs of the nearly $1 million increase is for site work, including the mitigation of unsuitable soil.  Soil testing has revealed that the soil on the site is fill.  Up to 8 feet of soil has to be removed and then replaced in one foot ‘lifts’, each one being compacted.

Other reasons for the increase are related to the final design of the storm water system (particularly given that this large building is going in to a residential neighborhood), the replacement of the retaining wall, final design of foundations, and landscaping.

It really is inaccurate to say that the District’s new maintenance and storage building is a $4 million project.  You have to add in the purchase of the neighbor’s property, District studies, township fees, geotechnical soil survey, traffic study, Chester Valley engineering, legal and architectural fees, etc. etc. which make the final cost more likely $5 million than the current estimate of $4 million!

The Facilities Committee documents also contained the following language concerning the maintenance and storage building:

As we develop the construction documents, we will continue to make the building as economical as possible. But the scope of the site development is established.  In our experience Becker & Frondorf is a conservative estimator, so we would expect some movement in the number, but I do not expect a significant reduction.

For anyone that has been involved in a construction project of even the smallest scope, there’s never a ‘reduction’ from the original estimate.  From personal experience, construction projects always end up with unexpected ‘add-ons’!

In a comment from Ray Clarke on the subject of the maintenance and storage building, he states, “That $4 million purchases 11,600 square feet ground level, 3,300 square feet “mezzanine”:  $270 per square foot cost.  Google tells me “a typical 20,000-square-foot warehouse will cost you about $35 a square foot”.    How, or rather ‘why’ should the school board allocate $270/square foot cost if a typical warehouse space should cost $35/square ft.  Even if Ray’s Google search is off by an order of magnitude, how can this building cost this much money!

The District’s planned Taj Mahal of a maintenance building is on Tredyffrin Township’s Planning Comission’s agenda tomorrow night for Final Land Development approval. The meeting is at the township building at 7 PM. On May 7, the District released a RFP requesting sealed bids for the new maintenance and storage building listing a deadline of 1 PM on Friday, June 5.  If all goes well at the Planning Commission meeting, my guess is that this project is on a fast track for a summer start date!

How can the District possibly afford a $5 million maintenance and storage building? Seriously, spending $5 million on a maintenance building does not benefit the kids or the quality of the education in the school district. Taxes go up year after year, yet the Board tells us that they are continuing to look at ways to reduce spending.  If that is true, why not look at other solutions to the District’s storage problem that don’t include spending mega-million dollars for a maintenance building.

The Board wants us to believe that they must outsource the aides and paraeducators because the District cannot afford to pay health care but … somehow; there is money for a $5 million maintenance and storage building.  Anyone else but me think that there’s something wrong with this picture?

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