Tredyffrin Easttown School District

Gov. Wolf Strongly Recommends No School Sports or Youth Sports until 2021 – Where does that leave high school football?

The Wolf administration left the decision about whether students should return to in-person classes, remote learning or a blend of the two up to the individual school administrators and school boards.  Apparently, that suggestion also applies to sports.

The governor’s office released the following press release regarding school and recreational youth sports.  The Wolf administration is strongly recommending that school and recreational youth sports be postponed until at least Jan. 1 to protect children and teens from COVID-19 – but it is only a recommendation, not an order or a mandate, made by the Department of Health & Education.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health and Department of Education today jointly recommended that Pre-K–12 school and recreational youth sports be postponed until at least Jan. 1, 2021, to protect children and teens from COVID-19.

The administration is providing this strong recommendation and not an order or mandate. As with deciding whether students should return to in-person classes, remote learning or a blend of the two this fall, school administrators and locally elected school boards should make decisions on sports.

Highlights of the recommendation to pause youth sports until Jan. 1, 2021:

    • Applies to team and individual, school and non-school recreational youth sports;
    • Includes competitions, intramural play and scrimmages;
    • Continue conditioning, drills and other training activities on an individual basis;
    • Does not apply to collegiate and professional sports;
    • Gathering limits remain unchanged – no more than 25 persons may gather indoors and 250 outdoors.

The administration is updating existing sports guidance to reflect this recommendation.

Immediately following the release of the Wolf administration recommendation on sports, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) issued this statement:

Today, Governor Wolf issued a statement of strongly recommending no interscholastic and recreational sports until January 1st. We are tremendously disappointed in this decision. Our member schools have worked diligently to develop health and safety plans to allow students the safe return to interscholastic athletics.

The Board of Directors with the PIAA will meet Friday afternoon to review the action. At that time, they will have an official statement.

Who will ultimately make the decision for fall sports in T/E? School board and/or administration? PIAA? Will the parents of the players have a say?

 

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T/E School Board Approves District School Reopening Plan 9-0

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for parents, students, teachers and the administration to figure out what they will need to do for an August 31 start to the 2020-21 school year.

With little state input, TESD like every other school district in Pennsylvania, grappled with its reopening plans. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, Gov. Wolf and his administration gave permission to the state’s 500 school districts to restart in-person instruction with a plan approved by the local school board. Sadly, this approach placed the superintendent and school board in a position to make public health decisions where they have no training or expertise.

From masks to buses to recess to sports, the public provided many questions about how the TE School District reopening plan will work.  And based on the questions from the original reopening plan presentation on Monday and then again at the special school board meeting last night, the families in our District are deeply divided as how to proceed. The administration responded easily to some questions from parents but others remained unanswered or with yet-to-be decided responses.

The special school board meeting began Wednesday night at 7:30 PM but unfortunately, the questions from the public did not begin until 11 PM. The ninety minutes of public questions was followed by school board deliberation and vote. In the early hours of Thursday, the school board voted unanimously 9-0 to approve the District school reopening plan as proposed.

In the approved District plan, schools will open on August 31 but with full virtual instruction for at least the first three weeks of school.  There will be a combination of synchronous and asynchronous instruction.  Parents will be given the option to transition to in-person instruction after Sept. 21 or continue with all virtual instruction.

(For full details about the reopening plan, visit the Tredyffrin Easttown School District website, www.tesd.net ).

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TESD Reopening Plan Now Available  – District Opens August 31 w/Remote Learning Only, In-Person Instruction after Sept. 21

With notification that the District would release the school reopening plan the “week of July 20”, parents waited anxiously all week. On Friday night, after work hours, the public finally learned about the plan on the TESD website.  (Click here for the District’s reopening plan page).

Below please read the reopening post on the District website with links highlighted. There are individual links to the slide presentation, feedback form, FAQ, Phased School Reopening Health and Safety Plan and Continuity of Education Plan.  Please make sure to click on all the links to review the specifics.

The timeline is very short for your review and response – you only have until Monday, July 27 at noon to make comments and you must use the highlighted feedback form link.

In my first quick review, a few points – the District will open on August 31 but with full virtual instruction for at least the first three weeks of school.  There will be a combination of synchronous and asynchronous instruction.  Parents will be given the option to transition to in-person instruction after Sept. 21 or continue with all virtual instruction.

Classrooms to be arranged to allow social distancing of 6 ft. in all instructional settings although the District states that 6 ft. social distancing cannot be managed in hallways or on buses. Facemasks required for all students and staff.

One question that I have – In an in-person school scenario, what is the process if a student or teacher tests positive to Covid-19.  What happens to the class? Or to the entire school? Are the other families notified? What is the process to re-close schools if there is a positive Covid-19 outbreak?

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Reopening Schools: 2020-2021

On Monday, July 27, 2020, the T/E School District Administration will present its proposed plans for reopening T/E schools this fall. The presentation slides on the reopening plans are available here.

The District Meeting to Present the Reopening Plans will be held at 7:00 PM on July 27. In accordance with state guidelines, the meeting will be held virtually. The link to the live meeting will be available on the TESD website by 6:00 PM the day of the meeting. The meeting will be live streamed and also recorded. Barring any technical issues, a video of the meeting will be posted on the District website later on Tuesday, July 28.

Community members may submit comments or questions about the reopening plan by using the Reopening Plan Feedback Form.

    • The feedback form will close at noon on Monday, July 27.
    • Comments received by noon will be forwarded to all School Board members for their information.
    • The administration will attempt to incorporate the answers to as many questions as possible in Monday’s meeting presentation.
    • During the meeting, at the conclusion of the reopening plan presentation, the feedback form will be available again for community members to submit additional comments and questions. There will be a short break in order for the public to submit additional comments and questions. The administration will answer as many of the new questions as possible during the remainder of the meeting.

On Wednesday, July 29, 2020 the School Board will hold a special meeting at 7:30 PM to take action on the proposed reopening plans. In accordance with state guidelines, the meeting will be held virtually. The link to the live meeting will be available on the TESD website by 6:00 PM the day of the meeting. Community members will also have the opportunity to submit public comment about the reopening plans at the Special School Board Meeting. Public comment submitted for the July 29 Special School Board Meeting will be read at the meeting, time permitting. The agenda materials for the July 29 Special School Board meeting and information on how to submit public comment will be available on the TESD website on Tuesday, July 28.

Additional documents on reopening schools include Frequently Asked QuestionsPhased School Reopening Health and Safety Plan and the Continuity of Education Plan.

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TESD to Provide School Reopening Plan on Friday, July 24 – All Public Comment Due by Monday, July 27, 7 PM

Below is the letter regarding school reopening procedure from Superintendent Richard Gusick which was posted on the TESD website today. Although we expected the District to post its reopening plan this week – it turns out that the public will only have a few days to review and comment on the proposed plan. According to the letter, the District since has been “working non-stop in preparation for the new school year” since June. 

The reopening plan will be posted on the District website on Friday, July 24 and public comments are due by Monday, July 27, 7 PM.  The school board will vote on the final plan at a special board meeting on Wednesday, July 29, 7:30 PM.  

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July 20, 2020

Dear T/E Families and Staff,

I wish you all good health and wellness. As the summer progresses, I would like to provide you with an update on our planning process for the 2020-2021 school year and to announce some important upcoming dates.

Planning for Reopening

Since June, TESD has been working non-stop in preparation for the new school year. We have been meeting with stakeholders, receiving input, monitoring guidance and developing different plans and scenarios. A sampling of the preparation work happening over the summer includes:

  • Distance Learning Survey Results were compiled and posted on the District website.
  • The District continues to review feedback received through the Distance Learning Inboxes (open through July 31) on a daily basis.
  • A TESD Pandemic Team was formed to develop a formal reopening plan.
  • Teacher representatives and District administrators collaborated to review ideas for reopening.
  • District administrators met with representatives from TESD parent groups to gather additional input on reopening.
  • Review of the health and safety recommendations with local health officials and our school nurse team has been ongoing.
  • The District continues to monitor state guidance and recommendations from a variety of health and research organizations.
  • District administrators met with teachers by level to discuss reopening, receive feedback and answer questions.

New Guidance from the State Impacts Schools

New and ever-changing health guidance has required TESD to continually pivot and adjust our plans for how to reopen our schools this fall. You may have heard that on July 15, Governor Wolf released new directions for schools to help further reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania. In addition, on July 16, the Pennsylvania Departments of Education and Health provided further clarification on these directions. This latest guidance includes limiting indoor gatherings to no more than 25 people and a recommendation for social distancing of six feet or more in schools. These changes prompted a complete review and reworking of the District draft plan.

Timeline for Reopening Plan Presentation and Approval

As mentioned previously, the draft reopening plan will be shared with the community this week. The plan will then be publicly presented to the School Board and voted on next week. Key dates include:

  • Friday, July 24 – Draft Reopening Plan to be posted on the District website on a new page dedicated to sharing emerging information about school reopening
  • Monday, July 27 – District Meeting to Present Reopening Plan and receive public comment at 7:00 PM
  • Wednesday, July 29 – Special School Board Meeting to take action on Reopening Plan at 7:30 PM

In accordance with state guidelines that limit indoor gatherings to 25 people, both upcoming meetings will be held virtually. Links to the live meetings will be available on the TESD website by 6:00 PM the day of the meeting. Directions on how to submit comments or to ask questions will be provided on Friday.

Elements of the Plan

Pennsylvania school districts are charged with developing a plan that describes how schools will operate under a red, yellow and green pandemic phase. Red phase plans operate under the assumption that school buildings are closed to students, and instruction is delivered virtually to all students. The virtual learning program will include increased live synchronous instruction at all levels. Yellow and green phase plans allow for a combination of in-person instruction and virtual learning. Because in-person instruction must follow the health and safety guidance, modifications to our typical program will be required. A 100% virtual learning model will be available as a choice for families in the yellow or green phases. 

I trust that when we post our plan on Friday, some of your questions will be answered, but more will be generated. I would like nothing more than to open school safely on August 31 in the same manner as in previous school years, and I am saddened as an educator and as a parent that health directives will require major changes to what we normally do. Please know that we are doing our very best to maintain the safety of our school community and the integrity of T/E’s educational program delivered by T/E teachers and staff, either remotely or in person.

Sincerely,

Dr. Richard Gusick
Superintendent of Schools

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Does T/E Have an Actual School Reopening Plan – A District Elementary School Teacher Weighs In

We learned this week that Gov. Wolf has announced additional restrictions on indoor dining, alcohol consumption and large gatherings in Pennsylvania to regain control after a resurgence of COVID-19 in parts of the state. Under Wolf’s order, indoor events and gatherings of more than 25 people will be prohibited. And businesses will be required to have their employees work remotely to the extent possible.

Although Gov. Wolf did not specifically mention schools in his latest press release, he has previously pushed the schools to reopen but is leaving the details of “how” to the individual school districts.  The president of Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), the state teachers union, weighed in this week urging the Governor to begin planning for online instruction in schools for 2020-21 school year.

We know that some school districts have done better jobs with drafting their reopening plans and with including stakeholders in the process than others.   For instance, the Phoenixville Area School District completed its draft plan for reopening schools back in June and posted the plan on its website. During the summer, PASD sent regular updates to parents, conducted multiple surveys and is hosting a series of online meetings to hear from parents and community members on issues related to reopening schools.  Based on the new information from PSEA, Phoenixville’s superintendent immediately videotaped a message for parents and posted it on the website.

Please look at PASD website, www.pasd.org  – it is remarkable, with updated information on their “virtual academy”, videos and superintendent chats with the parents and community. PASD is providing impressive communication and transparency, especially regarding COVID-19.

I am certain that many school districts are providing the same type of public information and updates and only use PASD as an example.  Now please look at TESD website, www.tesd.org  – the most recent item on the page is the video from the June 29 school board meeting.

From parents this week, I learned that the planned Conestoga High School graduation for next week is cancelled. Again, from parents, I learned that several members of the CHS football team (voluntary football practice had started) have tested positive for COVID-19 and that the football is cancelled. From parents, we learned of the special “secret” reopening meeting between the administration and a select group of parents.

As you will read below, I learned about the virtual teacher reopening meetings from an attendee not the school board or the administration.  None of this information is on the District website – there are no updates.

Scheduled for release next week, TESD parents and teachers are anxiously awaiting the specifics of its reopening plans.

In addition to the select (read secret) parent meeting held last week, the District’s administration held three separate virtual meetings  for the elementary, middle and high school teachers respectively.  As was the case with the parent meeting, no agenda was provided and no draft reopening plan was presented to the teachers.  With the debate on whether and how to reopen school buildings, the teachers had anticipated details from the administration to be provided at the meeting.

However, much like the parents the week before, the teachers left the reopening meeting with more questions than answers. With the teacher’s permission, I provide the following notes from a District elementary school teacher who attended the reopening meeting:

Dear Pattye,

We had our reopening meeting today and I wish I could say I feel better after given some info and time to ask questions but I don’t.

The only definite information we were given is that we have to be prepared to be virtual for the fall, but that will only happen if we are in the red phase again. They did tell us virtual learning will have live learning for language arts and math, and they’re working on specials, science, and social studies.

Questions were asked about how many students would be in each room – the questions weren’t answered.

Questions were asked about procedures if a student or teacher gets sick – no plan was given, just that the CDC is notified and they control what actions the school takes.

We asked about teachers who are high risk and what provisions would be made for them – question was not answered.

We did learn that the District is buying masks and face shields, and some desks will be equipped with Plexiglas for students who cannot wear a mask due to health reasons.

They are spacing the desks 3 feet apart right now, and hope to extend that spacer closer to 6 feet if the numbers allow.

They did say the plan is not finished, and they do not have a plan for specials yet.

They were also iffy when we asked about how we would be notified of exposure, saying the CDC would do contact tracing. Currently- we aren’t even notified of lice outbreaks so I’m not confident we’ll get notified about this.

So many questions were left unanswered I’m even more concerned about returning.

We were told that they are really trying to improve the virtual learning plan so it is more like in person school, and that they hope if the plan is good enough more parents will opt in for virtual learning so we can have lower in-school numbers.

In terms of transportation, they are extending the pick-up and drop-off window in hopes that more parents will do that instead of riding the buses. Right now, the recommendation is 2 students per seat, which we already do and seating on the busses cannot be done socially distanced 3-6 feet apart.

Lunches will be in the classrooms and students will get 2 choices- there was no mention of recess.

Really, what I took from the meeting is that the school district is only fully “online” if we’re in red, and they have no idea about anything else.  They did really focus on how we have until August 31 before anything is set in stone and that it’s very possible things may change before then.

I had asked a question on Community Matters about whether the teachers had received summer technology training in advance of the reopening of the schools to be prepared for the fall.  A teacher, who attended the District’s reopening meeting, saw the question and responded as follows:

I read your post today, and one of the questions I saw asked was if teachers had been provided online training to help if the schools are virtual.

As far as I know, no we have not. The question was asked in our teacher reopening meeting if we would be provided distance learning training.  The administration say they may set up some practice times the week of August 24th for teachers to get used to possibly having a camera on them and juggling virtual and in person class at the same time (if the District chooses to go with the integrated plan).  It’s all a mess.

Following up on the teacher’s camera comment, it is my understanding that the District has purchased 500 cameras for the classrooms. The cameras would focus on the teacher and she/he would teach to the students who are in the classroom in addition to the students remotely learning from home.  Having participated in a number of Zoom type meetings over the last several months myself (and with adults!) this kind of technology is not always easy to maneuver.  I cannot imagine the juggling required for a teacher to do both distance learning and in class instruction simultaneously while the camera watches!

It was disappointing to learn from teachers that there was no distance learning training provided this summer. Although some parents and students had a favorable opinion of the remote learning provided in the spring, I think most would suggest that there was room for improvement.  The District needed to dedicate attention to developing and improving online instruction with the teachers.

I question whether TESD actually has a detailed reopening plan – according to the parents who attended the secret meeting and the teachers who attended the virtual reopening meeting; the District is coming up short on the details.

Regarding the coronavirus and the reopening of the schools next month, is the public expected to trust the TE administration and the school board?  Rather than expect communication and transparency from the District, should we adopt a casual “wait and see” attitude.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

As TESD Plans to Reopen Schools, Will the Teachers Return to the Classroom or Is the Risk Too Great?

Next week, the community will learn the specifics of the reopening plan for the TESD schools. Scheduled for release the week of July 20 with school board vote to occur the following week, the public will have a short window to review and provide feedback on the proposed reopening plan.

In advance of the public release of the reopening plan, we learned that last week the District leadership held a meeting with a select group of parents. In my last blog post, some have taken issue with my interpretation of the meeting — by my calling it a “secret” meeting and attendees as “handpicked”.

For the record, I will stand on the words in my post, the meeting attendees were handpicked and individually invited; the criteria for selection unclear.  Because the administration and/or school board presented no notice of the reopening meeting, provided no public agenda and repeatedly asked attendees not to videotape and to keep information to private “is”, in my opinion, the hallmark of secrecy.

From a transparency and communication standpoint, wouldn’t it have made more sense for the District to videotape the parent reopening meeting and then provide the link on its website for all those interested?

Moving on … Coronavirus cases keep increasing at alarming rates across the country and this comes as our District is wrestling with “how” to reopen the schools. Making these decisions is not easy. There’s the issue of safety, and that’s complicated because students, teachers and parents all have different Covid-19 risk levels.  With the upcoming release of the District’s reopening plan, parents debate whether they send their children physically back to school or take the distance learning option.

Available medical research seems to indicate that students would be at lower risk than adults for serious health problems related to the coronavirus, leading to concern for the risk teachers would take returning to the classroom. Considering teacher safety (in addition to the students), especially those who are older, medically vulnerable or who may be afraid of putting a family member at risk must be another priority in school reopening discussion.

Did the District’s newly formed Pandemic Committee seek input from the teachers in drafting the reopening plan– were the teachers engaged in the process?  It is my understanding that two teachers were invited to the parent reopening meeting last week – unclear if they attended as TEEA (teachers union) representatives. Although I did not hear that these teachers participated in the reopening discussion, someone who attended the meeting did offer that other teaching staff (substitutes?) would be hired for the daily lunch period when schools reopen.

Has the District involved TEEA involved in the decision-making process for reopening? As preparation for the fall, was there online distance technology seminars held this summer for the teachers? In advance of the draft reopening plan announcement, did the administration schedule a special meeting for the teachers, similar as was held for the parents?

At the June school board meeting, the public learned that Dr. Chris Groppe was to head the TESD Pandemic Committee, part of the state required reopening process. Although the District’s announcement did not include the membership list of the committee, the additional eight members with their specific responsibilities, are as follows:

  • Jeanne Pocalycko, Personnel matters
  • Wendy Towle, Instructional plan development
  • Mike Szymendera, Technology implementation
  • Oscar Torres, Equity monitoring and liaison with families in need
  • Ellen Turk, School safety
  • Mark Cataldi, Liaison with principals and school board
  • Art McDonnell, Operations and facilities
  • Chris Connelly, Communications

We all know that reopening of schools is not simply a matter of turning a key. Will the District’s reopening plan next week include input from all stakeholders – the superintendent, administrators, Pandemic Committee, principals, teachers (and TEEA), school support staff (including TENIG), school board, parents, school nurses and psychologists and state health officials?

In closing, I saw the following posted on social media today – a thought-provoking list of questions as reopening plans develop with teachers returning to the classrooms. My understanding is the list was written by a teacher (and a parent) in Hawaii but is applicable everywhere.

  • If a teacher tests positive for COVID-19, are they required to quarantine for 2-3 weeks? Is their sick leave covered, paid?
  • If that teacher has 5 classes a day with 30 students each, do all 150 of those students need to then stay home and quarantine for 14 days?
  • Do all 150 of those students now have to get tested? Who pays for those tests? Are they happening at school? How are the parents being notified? Does everyone in each of those kids’ families need to get tested? Who pays for that?
  • What if someone who lives in the same house as a teacher tests positive? Does that teacher now need to take 14 days off of work to quarantine? Is that time off covered? Paid?
  • Where is the district going to find a substitute teacher who will work in a classroom full of exposed, possibly infected students for substitute pay?
  • Substitutes teach in multiple schools. What if they are diagnosed with COVID-19? Do all the kids in each school now have to quarantine and get tested? Who is going to pay for that?
  • What if a student in your kid’s class tests positive? What if your kid tests positive? Does every other student and teacher they have been around quarantine? Do we all get notified who is infected and when? Or because of HIPAA regulations are parents and teachers just going to get mysterious “may have been in contact” emails all year long?
  • What is this stress going to do to our teachers? How does it affect their health and well-being? How does it affect their ability to teach? How does it affect the quality of education they are able to provide? What is it going to do to our kids? What are the long-term effects of consistently being stressed out?

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Unionville-Chadds Ford School District Continues to Top Pennsylvania’s Rankings for PSSA Standardized Test Rankings  Whereas TE School District Drops to No. 7 on the List

At the TESD meeting on June 8, the public learned that in addition to a 2.6% tax increase and administration salary increases, the school board’s approval of the budget included the suspension of ERB testing for the 2020-21 school year.

Although the elimination of the ERB testing was cited as a budget strategy, its associated $85,000 price tag did little to move the budget dial. In addition, some school board members argued that the removal of the long-valued ERB testing was not a budget strategy but rather something that was previously discussed.

Arguments on both sides regarding standardized assessment testing (like ERBs) existed long before coronavirus, school closings and distance learning was part of the discussion. Proponents say that standardized testing is a fair and objective measure of student achievement – that the testing ensures that teachers and schools are accountable to taxpayers, and that the most relevant constituents – the parents, actually approve of testing. Opponents say that the tests are neither fair nor objective, stresses out the students and detracts from real learning time.

Faced with the uncertainty of school reopening during the continuing coronavirus crisis, it would seem that assessment testing would be essential in providing an objective view of student performance. The test results provide parents, school board and administrators insight into individual, grade-level, school and district student performance – a thermometer to check the effectiveness of curriculum and gather information on any learning gaps.

Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) is the annual standards-based assessment of what a student should know and be able to do at varying levels in reading, writing, science and math and identifies strengths and weakness of student achievement.  In the spring, PA Department of Education cancelled PSSA testing for the 2019-20 school year because of COVID-19.

For the last sixteen years, the Pittsburgh Business Times has analyzed the PSSA test data given to third through eighth graders and the Keystone exams to measure high school proficiency. The Business Times looks at performance on three years of state standardized tests taken by students and compiles its annual school rankings, which were released last week.

Between 2011 and 2014, I tracked the top 15 school districts in Pennsylvania as ranked by PSSA results. As indicated in the chart below, TESD dropped in the PSSA rankings each year during those four years. The District was second in 2011, third in 2012, fourth in 2013, fifth in 2014 and in seventh for 2015. Unionville Chadds Ford topped the list in 2014.

Although the data is missing for 2015-2017, I can now add the 2018, 2019 and 2020 standardized test ranking results (shown below) from Pittsburgh Business Times.

In comparing the two charts, it is remarkable to see that Unionville-Chadds Ford School District consistently remains at the top of the rankings. It makes you wonder what UCFSD is doing so differently than TESD?

The standing of TESD was seventh in 2014 (again unclear about 2015-2017), moved up to fourth in 2018 and 2019 but has slipped back to seventh in the latest results. The 2020 results show that Radnor School District slipped from second to third, Great Valley School District moved up to eleventh and Lower Merion School District remained the same at tenth.

To be clear, a Pennsylvania school district that places in the top 15 or 20 out of 500 districts statewide based on the PSSA exams is an achievement for which  students, parents, teachers and administrators can all be proud. However, the downward drop in TESD rankings on PSSA testing does makes you question if the ranking trend had anything to do with the District’s decision to eliminate ERB testing for 2020-21 school year. What’s that saying about “timing is everything”?

Could it be that the District knows more about the standardized testing report card than they are letting the parents and taxpayers know? Rather than viewing standardized testing as a helpful assessment tool and indicator of “need to improve” areas, perhaps the District would prefer to avoid the accountability that accompanies those test results.

It is apparent that many TESD parents differ with the District on assessment testing as a way to evaluate the teaching effectiveness and understand any learning gaps of their children, especially during COVID-19 and distance learning.  BUILD T/E has stepped forward, is offering an ERB testing option, and provides the following update:

Since the TESD school board voted to eliminate ERB-CTP testing for the 2020-21 school year, BUILD has had over 50 families with more than 70 children register to receive the registration information the BUILD’s ERB-CTP test. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive about this opportunity to ensure student learning is on track during this uncertain time. July testing dates will be released soon. If you are interested in signing up for testing or have more questions about ERB’s in TESD visit www.bit.ly/erbtesd

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TE School District – You Still Owe GEM Mechanical Services for Work Completed in August 2019! What does it take to Get Paid?

Last month I wrote about money owed GEM Mechanical Services, a TESD vendor for a boiler project work at Devon Elementary and Beaumont Elementary completed in August 2019.

Following my May 2020 post, the District paid $24K of the $36K balance and presented GEM with a punch list (nine months after the completion of the work); withholding the remaining $11,850.  Sean Gaffney, the VP of Construction at GEM quickly scheduled the punch list work and it was completed on the morning of Friday, May 29.  He has subsequently spent countless hours in an attempt to collect the debt from the District.

Each of the many follow-up emails from GEM regarding payment has included copies to the District’s business manager Art McDonnell and facilities supervisor Colm Kelly, its architects at Heckendorn Shiles (HSA), TESD School Board and myself. Although the work is long completed, no payment was received.

Where is the TE School Board on its follow-up? Just like me, they received these numerous payment requests from Gem Mechanical Services. Why doesn’t Michele Burger, the School Board president or Roberta Hotinski, School Board VP and Finance Chair respond to the situation?  Where is the TESD Superintendent Rich Gusick on this matter? According to the District’s “org” chart, Dr. Gusick is in charge of the District and Art McDonnell, the business manager reports to him not the other way around. And Dr. Gusick reports to the TESD School Board. The lack of resolution is wrong on so many levels — Why doesn’t someone direct the final payment to GEM Mechanical Services?

It is no surprise that low bidder turnout continues on District projects, which compromises the competitive bid process and ultimately hurts the taxpayers. Simply put, why should a vendor work in a school district where you struggle to be paid? Is it any wonder that there is decreasing interest in District projects?

The TESD taxpayers received a 2.6% tax increase and the business manager received a raise in the midst of high unemployment, small business failures and an uncertain future, yet the school district cannot pay its bills. 

Our collective voices should have mattered regarding the tax increase, elimination of ERB testing and salary increases but as we saw, it didn’t.  And now we learn that paying a vendor for services rendered is not important either — what’s it going to take?Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Ignoring Community Outcry, TE School Board Approves 2.6% Tax Increase, the Elimination of ERB Testing & Salary Increases to Administrators

The voices of Tredyffrin Easttown School District residents were unified in their message to the school board.  It took the District solicitor 1-1/2 hours to read into public record over sixty well-written, meaningful comments from residents and far less time for the School Board to ignore!

Resident comments focused on the District’s proposed 2020-21 budget, the proposed 2.6% tax increase, the elimination of the ERB testing as a cost-savings measure and the administrator raises. One lone resident supported the proposed budget; the remainder of the comments loudly and eloquently opposed.

To the many residents who spoke out during the 2020-21 budget process, thank you.  Your collective voices do matter but, sadly, not to the TE School Board.  Although technically the budget vote occurred during the meeting, it could have easily occurred before the meeting even started! Elected to serve the residents of the Tredyffrin Easttown School District, the Board remained unmoved by the outcry from the community.

At midnight, the School Board approved the 2020-21 budget (7-2) with a 2.6% tax increase – the largest increase permitted this year, marking the 16th straight year of tax increases to T/E residents.  The Business Manager and some on the Board actually had the audacity to mention that it was the lowest tax increase in years – the truth is that 2.6% is the maximum tax increase permitted by Act 1, making those remarks ridiculous!

I would be remiss if I did not salute TE School Board director Scott Dorsey, the only real voice for the community. From the start of the budget discussion in January, Rev. Dorsey declared his opposition to any tax increase. Again, last night he highlighted the additional suffering in the community due to the pandemic – the increased unemployment, the struggling small businesses, etc. but gained no support for a zero tax increase. We heard you Rev. Dorsey and your words mattered to this community.

Although the proposed budget materials clearly listed that ERB testing (and associated $85K cost) as a cost-savings strategy, several Board members argued that the elimination was not a strategy to save money. To the viewing public, the remarks were ridiculous (and untrue). Nonetheless, with the approval of the budget, the District eliminated ERBs for the 2020-21 year.

In part, my comment to the School Board read, “Eliminating ERB testing is eliminating accountability…”  It was no surprise to hear that TEEA (the District’s teacher union) supported the removal of ERB testing. There was much talk that that the elimination of the ERBs was for the 2020-21 school year only, leaving open the possibility of the testing to return the following year. If anyone believes that there is a remote chance that ERBs will reappear in future budgets, I think there’s a Brooklyn Bridge for sale.

Another consistent remark from residents was opposition to administration salary increases and bonuses for 2020-21, asking for fairness and shared sacrifice n the budget.  A number of residents cited the past failings of the Business Manager and called for his removal.  Not surprising there was no response from the School Board and Art McDonnell continues as the District’s Business Manager with a raise and bonus. All Administration, Supervisory and Confidential employees will receive salary increases for 2020-21.

Because of the Covid-19 crisis, we are all suffering.  Residents have lost their jobs, and every segment of our economy, including our local small businesses, are feeling the effects of the pandemic. Almost all of us are in worse financial shape and a tax increase under these conditions was wrong.

Our voices should have mattered — Shame on the TE School Board for ignoring the residents and shame on the School Board for approving the maximum tax increase of 2.6% and eliminating the ERBs.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The Clock is Ticking Down to TESD Budget Vote, Monday, June 8:  Includes 2.6% Property Tax increase, Administration Salary Increases (Business Manager +3.1%) and Elimination of ERB Testing

T/E School Board votes on the 2020-21 final budget on Monday, June 8, 7:30 PM.  Due to Covid-19, the meeting is held virtually — to access the meeting visit the T/E School District website, www.tesd.net.

Last chance to have your voice heard as the clock ticks down – Send your public comment to the school board at virtualboardcomment@tesd.net If you sent a comment prior to the June 1 Finance Committee, I suggest that you send another comment! Comments must reference Priority Discussion topic Final Adoption of the 2020-21 Budget and must be received before 6 PM on Monday, June 8. Make sure you include your name and township of residence (Tredyffrin or Easttown).

As it now stands, the District budget includes a 2.6% tax increase – the largest increase permitted by Act 1 guideline. Should the School Board approve the 2020-21 budget with a tax increase, it will mark sixteen straight years of a tax increase to the District’s residents.  How does the School Board respond to raising property taxes to people who are losing their incomes?

At a time when residents have lost their jobs, and every segment of our economy, including our local small businesses, are feeling the effects of the pandemic, could the School Board at the very least ensure no increase in property taxes.  Most all of us are finding ourselves in worse financial shape — freezing property taxes for District residents should be more than a nice thought!

At the Finance Meeting on June 1 (click here for video), it was obvious that I was not alone in my concern about the proposed tax increase.  At the end of the meeting [and only stopping because of video time constraints] at least twenty-five resident comments were read — and all but a couple asked for no tax increase and/or no to the elimination of ERB testing.

To his credit, Scott Dorsey has remained a constant, the only school board director who echoed the words of residents and asked for a zero tax increase in the 2020-21 budget!  Thank you Rev. Dorsey for understanding that we are all suffering because of the Covid-19 crisis and that now is not the right time to raise our property taxes.   Two other board members, Michele Burger and Mary Garrett Itin, asked for a 2% tax increase with the remaining six members apparently in favor of a 2.6% tax increase.

As noted in the 2020-21 budget agenda materials (see pgs. 311- 314), the School Board will vote on salary increases and bonuses for the District’s administration, supervisory and confidential employees.  Thank you to resident Ray Clarke for providing commentary on the proposed employee increases:

Once again, the final fiscal year Board materials contain proposed salary increases and bonuses for Administration, Supervisory and Confidential employees.

And, as usual, there is no information provided to allow the Board to assess the appropriateness of the increases, and perhaps we now see the reason why.

Increases have moderated this year, but the increases for employees in all these categories still add $141,987 to the annual budget, moderated a little by the replacement of some Supervisory/Confidential personnel by lower paid employees.  The straight average of increases for personnel in place both last year and this is 2.25%.  Increases are mostly in the 2% to 2.5% range, with the maximum of the Act 1 Index 2.6% being received by a few.

Note that the total of Administration increases still exceeds the 1.7% stipulated in the Act 93 contract.  At a time when other school districts are freezing salaries, it seems unlikely that this exceptional increase is required by “the competitive job market”.

However, there is one exception to the Index limit, and that is listed only in the Employment Agreement section of the TESD website.  No increase comes close to Business Manager Art McDonnell’s 3.1% annual increase to $216,427/year, stipulated by contract, regardless of the Act 1 Index, inflation, or taxpayers’ ability to pay. This increase is worth $6,507, and amounts to 4.6% of all the salary increases.

These increases average at about $2,000 a year for Supervisory/confidential personnel and $3,500 for Administration.  I hope that the Board considers the appropriateness of these substantial additional payments at a time of such economic uncertainty.

Adding insult to the residents, who are struggling in the midst of an uncertain future and a proposed 2.6% tax increase, is that the School Board would consider salary increases that exceed the Act 93 contract for administration, supervisory and confidential employees.  And further, that TESD Business Manager Art McDonnell will receive the highest salary increase, +3.1%!

There are school districts in Pennsylvania that are freezing employee salaries as a cost-savings measure for 2020-21. Not only is TESD not freezing the salaries, the Board’s vote to approve will increase salaries above the contractual agreement. School Board, how is this possibly fair to the taxpayers?

The administration, supervisor and confidential employee increases will add $142K to the District 2020-21 budget with no discussion to freeze the salaries for one year. Yet on the other hand, the proposed budget includes the elimination of ERB testing to save $85K as a cost-savings measure. Budget savings should not come at a cost to our students!

A form of assessment to guide instruction and reading, ERB testing has been used in TESD for many years to measure students’ progress and to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the District’s curriculum. TESD has no other tests that give grade level snapshots of students’ performance in reading and math – it is the only test of its kind!

ERBs are particularly important given the distance learning challenges faced by District families because of Covid-19. Parents need to know that their children are on track academically and many support the continuation of ERB testing as evidenced by the number of comments previously received by the District.

BUILD T/E, an advocacy organization in TESD for parents of children with learning differences, fully supports ERB testing in the District and opposes its elimination in the 2020-21 budget. Click here for BUILD’s latest blog post concerning the proposed elimination of ERBs in budget.

Do you have a comment for the School Board regarding the 2020-21 budget? Do you OPPOSE a 2.6% tax increase? Do you OPPOSE the elimination of ERB testing? Have a comment about employee salary increases in the proposed budget?

Send your comments to the School Board NOW — email the comments to Virtualboardcomment@tesd.net.  If you sent a comment prior to the June 1 Finance Committee meeting, I suggest that you send another comment!

Comments must reference Priority Discussion topic Final Adoption of the 2020-21 Budget and must be received before 6 PM on Monday, June 8. Make sure you include your name and township of residence (Tredyffrin or Easttown).Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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