Tredyffrin Easttown School District

What Does it Take for a Vendor to Get Paid in T/E School District … GEM Mechanical Services Owed $36K+ for Work Completed in August 2019

About three weeks ago, I was contacted by Sean Gaffney, VP of construction at GEM Mechanical Services regarding TE School District Renovations Project PO 19102724 and an unpaid balance of $36,295 (of a $700K contract). The boiler project work at Devon Elementary School and Beaumont Elementary work was completed in August 2019.

Before reaching out to me, either Sean or other employees of GEM had sent 30+ emails to Heckendorn Shiles Architects and the District during the past nine months seeking payment. To date, the final payment for the work remains unpaid.

As a result, I sent three emails to the District’s business manager Art McDonnell (with copies to the school board and superintendent) inquiring about the final payment due GEM. Mr. McDonnell’s response to the first two emails was dismissive and unsatisfactory.  My third and final email on this subject received no response from the business manager.

I naively assumed that there was a simple explanation – a misunderstanding – and that TESD would send GEM Mechanical Services its final payment.  Unfortunately, promises of the “check is in the mail” remain unfulfilled. Other than for me to publicize the situation, it is unclear what else I can do to move the matter forward although legal options are available to the construction vendor.

From the time last August when GEM completed the boiler project, a punch list was requested and final payment sought.  Months went by and GEM was only very recently presented with a punch list (long past its legal due date), which included installation of gauges. It makes me wonder if this a tactic by the District to delay payment on a project by waiting nine months post-completion and then come up with a punch list?  And for what purpose – what’s the endgame?

Although Heckendorn Shiles placed an associated value of $7500 for the gauges on the punch list (and without explanation increased the value last week to $11,850), it does not explain why the District is withholding the remainder of the $36,295 final payment. It is my understanding that there are legal ramifications for withholding payment to a vendor for services rendered. In addition, the District will owe interest to GEM on the unpaid balance.

GEM Mechanical Services has worked in many neighboring school districts and the Philadelphia School District but this was the company’s first experience in TESD. And, according to Sean Gaffney, it will be the last. What is that saying, the “more you know, the more you wish you didn’t know”? In speaking with him, I have learned a lot about the reputation that the District has with construction vendors.

In an email last week to Heckendorn Shiles Architects and TESD, Sean Gaffney wrote the following,

GEM went above and beyond to complete your project on-time and the job has been completed for nearly a year…There were multiple project delays caused by existing and faulty equipment in Devon Elementary and asbestos in Beaumont that was uncovered and not included in the ACM reports. GEM is also due interest for TESD’s repeated late payments. All said, if HSA and TESD truly want to close out this project then they should consider releasing GEM’s final payment immediately and contact me to schedule one day for GEM to come out and complete the two remaining punch list items.

Have you ever wondered why there are so few vendors bidding the construction jobs in T/E? As Sean Gaffney says, “Some people at TESD want to continue to play by their own set of rules. GEM (and many others) will not bid construction projects for TESD”.

Based on GEM Mechanical Services’ experience, it is no wonder that there is decreasing vendor interest in working in TESD.  The low bidder turnout on TE School District projects compromises the competitive bid process; which is ultimately damaging to TESD taxpayers. For competitive bidding to work successfully, outside vendors need to feel confident that they will be treated fairly if hired by the TE School District.

In the TE School District, all roads lead “to” or “through” the business manager which I believe is a problem and indicative of a far greater issue. This is the same business manager who has yet to satisfactorily explain the $1.2 million accounting error. And these are the folks in charge of the $35 million high school expansion project!

In closing, I would be remiss not to remind TESD residents that the 2020-21 preliminary budget includes a property tax increase of 2.6% – in the midst of high unemployment, small business failures and an uncertain future! For the record, the school board approved the preliminary budget 8-1 (Scott Dorsey was the sole dissenting vote). The final vote on the 2020-21 budget is June 8.

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Contested Primary on April 28: Five Candidates (3 D’s & 2 R’s) on Ballot for Sen. Andy Dinniman’s Seat in 19th Senate District

Democratic State Senator Andy Dinniman is not seeking re-election, announcing his retirement a couple of weeks ago. The Senator has represented Chester County’s 19th Senate District since 2006 and we learned that he has endorsed Don Vymazal (D), his governmental relations advisor to succeed him.

Following the news of Sen Dinniman’s retirement on February 7, and subsequent endorsement of Vymazal, two other democrats added their names to the list of candidates seeking the position  … Rep. Carolyn Comitta, former two-term West Chester mayor and currently serving state representative of the 156th District and Kyle Boyer, a first-term member of the T/E School Board and chair of its Policy Committee. Whereas Vymazal received the endorsement of Sen. Dinniman for his seat, Rep. Comitta (D-156) received the endorsement of Gov. Wolf for the position.

At the Chester County Democratic Committee held a couple of weeks ago, Don Vymazal garnered the most votes and received the party’s endorsement.  The endorsement process requires a 65% threshold and voting was as followed:

First Ballot:
Carolyn Comitta – 25%
Kyle Boyer – 27 %
Don Vymazal – 47%
(Rep. Comitta Eliminated)

Second Ballot:
Kyle Boyer – 36 %
Don Vymazal – 63 %

Final Ballot:
Kyle Boyer – 31%
Don Vymazal — 69%

Once Chester County Democratic Committee make their endorsements, often times the other candidates will drop out of the race before the primary election. But not this time; both Boyer and Rep. Comitta are staying in the race for Chester County’s 19th Senate District and will appear on the April 28 primary ballot.

It should be noted that  incumbent Rep. Comitta (D-156) did receive Chester County Democratic Committee’s endorsement for state representative. My assumption is that should Comitta win the primary election as her party’s choice in both the senatorial race and the state representative race, she would need to make a choice.  I am not completely certain about how the process works, but presumably Rep. Comitta cannot be listed as a candidate for both races in the November general election.

After nearly thirty years in public office, replacing Sen. Dinniman is no easy task.  And given the number of important issues facing Chester County – education, pipelines, environment and land development, etc. – where  Sen. Dinniman has been front and center for the community, the selection of his replacement is all the more important.

For instance, as minority chair of PA State Education Committee, Sen. Dinniman has led various initiatives to ensure quality education programs and reduce the cost of education. Although he has championed many causes during his tenure as an elected official, advocating for our children and their education has remained a high priority.

As most of us know, T/E School District has recently received massive national (and international) attention regarding its policy decision that involved the police in the recent threat assessment of a kindergartner with Down Syndrome.  As soon as the matter surfaced, Sen. Dinniman weighed in with a lengthy letter to the T/E School Board, questioning how the threat policy is being carried out. Although his statement is now widely shared, the reading of the letter by an audience member was not permitted at the last Policy Committee meeting. (Click here to read Sen. Dinniman’s letter).

T/E School Board director and chair of its Policy Committee Kyle Boyer is a candidate for Dinniman’s senate seat. Should the school district’s threat assessment policy and the police involvement in the handling of the 6-year old with Down Syndrome impact Boyer’s chances in the primary election? For the record, T/E School District Policy 5401 Student Discipline remains under review by the school board.

In addition to the three democrats on the ballot for the contested 19th Senate District seat held by retiring Sen. Andy Dinniman are two republicans. Republicans Kevin Runey and Amber Little-Turner also filed petitions to run in the 19th district. Runey is in the healthcare industry and is a Supervisor in the London Grove Township. Little-Turner from Coatesville is a real estate investment professional.

With five candidates (three Ds and two Rs) vying for the seat of retiring Sen. Andy Dinniman, the contested primary race will be interesting.

In another local race, State Rep. Melissa Shusterman (D-157) is seeking reelection. Rep. Shusterman is running unopposed on her party’s ticket and has no counterpart on the Republican ballot for the April 28 primary election. In addition to Rep. Shusterman, the Chester County Democratic Committee also endorsed Tredyffrin Township resident Chrissy Houlahan, incumbent for the 6th Congressional District.

For further information on all the local candidates, please check their social media sites.

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With Major Headlines Across the Country — Should the TE School District Have Called the Police on a Special Needs Kindergartner?

The headlines about the kindergartner with Down Syndrome who was reported to the police for pointing a finger gun continue to roll in with no end in sight. There are countless articles in major newspapers, on network TV stations, Facebook groups, website and blogs on the issue all touting shock and disbelief that this has happened.

From the New York Daily News, Washington Post, Education Week, The Daily Mail (UK), ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, CNN and on and on, including the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer today, the story of the 6-year-old Valley Forge Elementary School student has garnered much attention.

I have remained troubled since attending the school district policy meeting on February 4 and listened to Maggie and Mark Gaines, the parents of the special needs kindergartner caught in the middle of the debate, and to others referencing behavior problems that went unreported to the police. From school district parents, it is unclear which student behaviors constitute a requirement to “consult” with  police – the inconsistencies were glaring.

I simply do not understand how a middle school child can suffer a concussion at the hands of another student and there is no investigation from the school district yet on the opposite end of the spectrum, there is a special needs kindergartner who is reported to the police for pointing her finger like a gun.  If perceived “threats” require police involvement, then my question is what does it take to get attention for serious physical assaults in the District?

Was contacting the police the appropriate handling of a special needs child with specific behavioral issues? Late this afternoon, an editorial written by Dr. Kim Doan, a professor in the Special Education Department at West Chester University appeared in the Daily Local and helps answer that question.

A special education educator for 23+ years and a parent, Dr. Doan attended the TESD policy meeting and suggests that the District’s student behavior policy is in violation of Federal legislation,

The Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA) requires schools to individualize the education of children with special needs and that includes in discipline. A district policy cannot supersede federal legislation. Applying a policy in a “one size fits all” manner is tantamount to the violation of IDEA.

In assessing the student behavior policy of TESD, Dr. Doan states the following:

A policy, legislation, or assessment tool can be well written and thoughtfully designed but if the adults involved are not trained or consistent, then error is inevitable. Common sense should take precedence over all written policy. Let’s not criminalize our kindergartners before they’ve even learned their ABCs and 123s. The next time a similar event arises, consider the child for who he/she is as a whole person and think about why this little one made the statement to the teacher. We must remember that behavior is communication.

But rather than updating the student behavior policy to address special needs children as suggested by Dr. Doan, the school board is digging in its heels. At the policy meeting, all but two school board directors  (Scott Dorsey and Todd Kantorczyk) in attendance support the current policy, which includes reporting a six-year-old with Down Syndrome to the police.

Calling the police for a little kindergartner with Down Syndrome has become a public relations nightmare for the school district —  adverse media attention is problematic.  And touting the high performance test scores of our school district is not going to work this time; the problem is not going away. As the entire country (and beyond!) looks at the situation in disbelief, the District doubles down on the policy.

To be clear, the Valley Forge Elementary School teacher and the principal were doing their jobs when they called the police. The Tredyffrin Police in turn were doing their job. The problem is the District policy – we all want our children to be safe at school but the current policy goes too far.

Where does the school district go from here … ?

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State Senator “Andy” Dinniman (D-Chester) Announces Retirement, Endorses His Aide Don Vymazal

Late today we learned that state senator for Pennsylvania’s 19th District, “Andy” Dinniman (D) has announced his retirement.

A tireless champion for Chester County and its residents for thirty years, Senator Dinniman is a one of a kind.  He is everyone’s Senator. If you’ve ever observed him walk down the street. Or cross a crowded restaurant on his way to a table. Or appear at a parade or fair or other public gathering. The congenial legislator can’t make it more than a few steps without someone stopping him for a greeting, a friendly word or a handshake.

The news of the Senator’s retirement is bittersweet.  While I extend my best wishes for his much earned retirement, please know that you will be missed. Thank you for your many years of service and for making Chester County first but now is the time for your family. Best wishes for a speedy recovery for your wife.

According to www.politicspa.com, Senator Dinniman has endorsed Don Vymazal, his longtime Director of Government Relations and Policy, stating “Don, who is well-known in Phoenixville, is the most qualified, experienced, knowledgeable, and well-respected person to lead the 19th Senatorial District.” Vymazal experience includes 16+ years with the PA State Senate.

Vymazal will face a primary challenge from Kyle Boyer, first term TE School Board director. On Thursday, February 13, the Chester County Democratic Party will hold its endorsement meeting.

Below is Senator Dinniman’s announcement of retirement:

“For nearly 30 years, as your Chester County Commissioner and State Senator, I have had the privilege of building a close relationship with the people of Chester County. Now, I have a responsibility to explain why I will not be seeking reelection.

This was a very tough decision, especially knowing just how many of you have faithfully and tirelessly supported my work over the years. However, as I sit at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center with my wife, Margo, who is now recovering from surgery, we both came to the sudden realization this was not the time to run again.

Anyone who seeks public office understands that it’s a family decision. Despite enduring a series of health challenges in recent years, Margo has always supported me. Over 51 years of marriage, she always said “yes” when I wanted to run. Even after a three-month stay at the hospital and Bryn Mawr Rehabilitation, she remained my biggest cheerleader, my most astute advisor, my rock. I remember times during her long hospitalization that I would go to Harrisburg, come home to walk and feed the dog, and then head back to the hospital to spend the night at her bedside. Margo and I have faced some long days and tough battles together, but that is what a real, loving relationship is about — and it only gets better with time.

Even after all of this, Margo again, out of steadfast love and devotion, agreed to support my plans to run in this year’s election. But now it is my turn to be there for her and lovingly support her as we focus on her recovery from a procedure that will allow her to again walk freely and live without constant pain for the first time in years.

Again, as I write this, sitting beside my wife and family, I cannot help but be overwhelmed by feelings of both gratitude and hope. I cannot help but reflect on my own career and marriage and the idea that “love is love.” I have been blessed to not only serve as your representative, but even more so, to share my life and all it’s ups and downs with a strong, supportive, and committed partner who I love. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

In closing, please know that I will continue to work hard for you until the very last day of my term. And Margo thanks all of you for the cards and well wishes.”

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TE Policy Committee Update: Public Wants Answers from School Board About Police Record for 6-Year-Old & State Senator Andy Dinniman Weighs In

I attended the District’s Policy Meeting last night. For nearly two hours of public comment, it was remarkable as parent after parent spoke out – all on the topic of Policy 5401 student discipline and the need for clarification. Many of the comments and discussion centered on which student behavioral situations constitute a requirement to “consult” with  police. As an audience member, it appears to be much confusion as to how Policy 5401 was intended to work vs the reality of what actually happens. In addition, concern for the handling (or mishandling) of special needs children and their specific behavioral issues.

It was troubling to learn from parents that the District appears more focused on students who make threats (including the 6-year-old Down Syndrome kindergartner) versus the students involved in physical altercations. Threats appear to escalate quickly to the police level yet on the flip side parents told stories about children who have been physically bulled and even beaten (yes, that word was used) without any police notification. These stories were difficult to hear – with one coming from a 12-year-old from Chesterbrook.

One of most poignant stories came from Tredyffrin Township supervisor Sharon Humble who reported that just yesterday her middle school son was bullied and pushed at school causing his head to hit the concrete. And although Mrs. Humble reported that her son was at home with a concussion, the District did not contact the police. This is crazy – how is that a kindergartner with Down Syndrome now has a police report but there’s no investigation into a significant physical alteration. I simply do not understand.

Throughout the two hours, CBS channel 3 was taping the meeting as was a T/E parent. Once the video from the parent is available, I will post. During the time that I was at the meeting, the members of the school board had little to say. But there was one remarkable moment between the Policy Chair Kyle Boyer and a District parent.

A parent attempts to read a letter from PA State Senator Andy Dinniman (D-19) regarding Policy 5401 which was sent to TE Superintendent Gusick and the school board prior to the meeting. Boyer interrupts the parent, saying “we’re not allowing you to read the letter” and refuses to allow her to continue. The parent then responds “Why, because you’re running against him?”  At which point, there were audible gasps from the audience.

In the comments on the last post on Community Matters, I provided an image from the public Facebook page of Sen Dinniman. The Senator was informed of the handling of the kindergartner with Down Syndrome; and states he has contacted the District and will post the letter shortly.  The letter was subsequently released on his Facebook page and a copy is at the end of this post.

To clarify, according to the Chester County Democratic Committee website, www.chescodems.org  first term T/E school board director Kyle Boyer is opposing incumbent  Senator Andy Dinniman, (who has served in the state senate since 2006). The two democrats will face off for the Pennsylvania Senate, District 19 seat.

In closing, it is my understanding that a draft of changes to Policy 5401 was presented by the Policy Committee (after I left) although a copy was not part of the meeting agenda. No final decision and the matter will continue to be discussed at a future Policy Committee meeting. It was a uncomfortable and troubling meeting without a clear path forward.

Senator Dinniman delivers a powerful message to TE School District in his letter below — please read.

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TE School District Policy 5401 “Student Discipline” Results in Police Record for Kindergartner With Down Syndrome — School Board, How is This Possible?

I learned of a troubling situation from the January 21 meeting of TESD Policy Committee. Although I was not in attendance at the meeting, I reviewed the video of the meeting and would encourage all reading this post to do likewise (click here for video).

According to Maggie and Mark Gaines, their 6-year-old kindergarten daughter (who has Down Syndrome) now has a record with the Tredyffrin Township Police Department.  The following is from the statement read by Mrs. Gaines at the Police Committee meeting:

Our daughter Margot is a kindergartner at Valley Forge Elementary School. And she now has a record with the Tredyffrin police department, because the district alleged she had made a threat to her teacher.

On November 19, Margot, who has Down syndrome and often struggles transitioning between activities, was asked by her teacher to do something she did not want to do. At one point in her refusal, she pointed her finger at her teacher and said, “I shoot you.”

I imagine the utterance was not unlike the instances when I’ve told her it’s time for bed and she says, “I hate bed. I hate mommy.” As most parents can attest, I have learned not to take offense. For I know that a short time later she is usually cuddled up to me, while we read bedtime stories and exchange kisses and cuddles before saying good-night.

At any rate, the teacher claimed this response was a “threat” and brought Margot to the principal, who talked to my daughter and quickly determined that she neither understood what she was saying nor meant any harm to her teacher or any of her classmates.

The principal then followed district policy and convened a “threat assessment” team. The threat assessment team met and determined Margot had made a “transient” threat, which is simply an expression of anger or frustration with no intent to harm anyone. The threat assessment team recommended no disciplinary action. Also, there was no recommendation from the principal, Margot’s teachers nor any other members of Margot’s IEP team to address the “problem” behavior in her IEP since it appeared to be an “isolated” event.

I think most people would agree that this is where the issue should have ended. And yet it did not.

Mrs. Gaines received a call from the principal after the assessment team met to notify that the District policy required a call to the police regarding the incident. As any parent would do, she “disagreed and argued it was absurd to involve the police for an episode involving a kindergartner who pointed her finger, not in malice, but in protest to a request to change classrooms.”

The Gaines do not believe that the District Policy 5401 “Student Discipline” requires the police to be called for a transient threat. However, the school district alleges that 6-year-old Margot with Down Syndrome made a threat to her teacher and therefore under Policy 5401 required police involvement.

Compounding the situation, we learn from Mrs. Gaines statement  that their kindergartner’s information was entered into the Tredyffrin Township police database and that it “would not be deleted or expunged after any reasonable time period”. When Mrs. Gaines asked the police officer who could have access to the information, the response was that it was publicly available.

I want to be clear  — nothing is as important as protecting our children and everyone wants our schools to be safe. But surely there must be a better solution than to create a police file on a special needs kindergartner. I do not want to believe that the District intended this outcome from its Policy 5401.

A statement by former school board director and chair of the policy committee Kate Murphy was read at the January 21 meeting and provided the following remarks,

Good evening Policy Committee Members,

When we revised Policy 5401, and reviewed the accompanying Administrative Regulation, we didn’t discuss a situation like this. Many of our changes and revisions were driven by events that occurred in our middle schools or high school, not in our elementary schools.

It wasn’t my intent to notify the police, or create a “record” with local law enforcement when an elementary-aged child made what our trained threat assessment team determined to be a “transient threat.”

Knowing now how this policy is enforced, please ask if this is your intent. Does it make sense to notify local law enforcement every time an elementary-aged student makes a non-substantive threat out of anger or frustration?

If this isn’t your intent, please clarify the language in Policy 5401, and ask the administration to do the same in their accompanying regulation.

Thank you

Thank you Kate for providing historic background on Policy 5401 — much appreciated.

Folks, watch the video of the January 21 meeting and the associated public comments and I think you will agree that review and clarification is needed for District Policy 5401 “Student Discipline”!

There is a school board Policy Meeting tomorrow, Tuesday, February 4 at 7 PM at the Administration Building.  According to the meeting agenda, there will be follow-up on Policy 5401 Student Discipline. I plan to attend the meeting in hopes that the school board clarifies Policy 5401 and takes the appropriate action.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Do You Live in Tredyffrin Township and Struggle with Stormwater Issues? Plan to Attend: Public Forum of the Resident Stormwater Task Force on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 7 PM

If you are a Tredyffrin Township resident dealing with stormwater issues (and aren’t we all?), please plan to attend the first public form of the Stormwater Task Force on Tuesday, January 7,  7 PM at Tredyffrin Township building. Tredyffrin supervisors authorized the citizens’ Stormwater Advisory Task Force to assist the township in characterizing stormwater problems and recommending solutions. At the meeting on Tuesday, the Task Force will provide some background to stormwater in the township and lay out its goals and approach and ask for resident input.

The Task Force is primarily collecting data about stormwater problems through an on-line survey. Residents can go to: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/TredyffrinStormwater to enter information into the comprehensive Township wide database. If you have general questions, you can email the Task Force at: stormwatertaskforce@gmail.com.

Given that many of our neighborhoods regularly deal with major stormwater issues, a citizen-led township Stormwater Task Force is needed and much-appreciated. Nobody knows a community better than its residents.

A recent example is the proposed parking lot on Irish Road which is part of the Conestoga High School expansion project.  The parking lot plan requires the removal of many trees from its wooded lot.  We know that rainwater does not percolate into impervious surfaces but runs off instead. Impervious surface is the primary contributor to stormwater runoff and is a major contributor to flooding.

Residents in the high school area (particularly Irish Road, Lizbeth Lane and Oak Lane) have suffered with major stormwater and flooding issues for years – if you know the area, many homes in the neighborhood sit downhill from the proposed high school expansion project and parking lot. Such a large land development project, which includes the removal of many trees, is certain to impact a community already impacted by stormwater runoff problems and stormwater issues.

Residents township wide are experiencing severe stormwater issues – from Glenhardie, Deepdale and Strafford Park areas to the Pennsylvania Turnpike neighbors in the Great Valley and anyone in the township living close to the Trout and Valley Creek watersheds. If you are experiencing stormwater issues, you are encouraged to attend the meeting on Tuesday and make your concerns known.  Neighbors cannot afford further damage and possible devaluation of property as a result of severe runoff issues.

Let’s work together with the citizens’ Stormwater Task Force to help mitigate and prevent flooding and erosion of our properties!

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TESD Auditor to Attend Finance Meeting Monday, Dec. 9 – Will the Public Receive Answers to $1.2M Accounting Error? Some Taxpayers are Suggesting Fraud & Cover-Up!

As the T/E School District launches its $40 million high school expansion plan and new parking lot, there remain unanswered questions and concerns about the District’s finances and budget process – particularly the unanswered status of the $1.2 million accounting error.  Six months ago the school board voted 6-3 for the District to take responsibility for the accounting error and to correct the audits and annual financial reports for 2016-17 and 2017-18 years.

At the Finance Meeting on Monday night (7 PM TEAO), the District’s audit report and updates is on the agenda and will be presented by Auditor Donald J. Pierce, CPA and partner at Maillie, LLP. Former school board President Scott Dorsey previously assured members of the public that they would be able to ask the Auditor questions directly – it is assumed that newly elected Board President Michele Burger will honor that commitment.

Since the District’s accounting error was first identified in early 2019, residents in the community, including financial professionals, have attended meetings, asked questions, voiced concerns and followed up with emails to school board directors. To date, there have been few answers.

In advance of the finance meeting tomorrow, one of the community’s financial experts Neal Colligan sent me an email detailing specific concerns/questions re the District’s accounting error. Neal is convinced that the accounting error was intentional on the part of the District (I read this to mean the Business Manager) and wants to know specifically when the Auditor learned about the error. It was previously established that the Administration did not tell the school board of the accounting error.  Neal states the following in his email –

The Administration has always maintained that the Auditor was aware of this timing error when the decision was made (by the Business Office) to post them in the wrong year.  Some of the Board has parroted the same story.  On April 22, 2019; the Superintendent read a statement into the record that included, “once the invoices were found, they were booked, according to GAAP, in the 2017-18 year…” and that this information “was shared by the auditor at the time..”.  On August 26, 2019; the District Solicitor wrote this statement of Fact: “concurrent with the processing of the invoices and recording of the expenses in the 2017-2018 fiscal year, the District informed its independent auditor of the found unpaid invoices….” and “the independent auditors verbally advised that the invoices did not meet their test for materiality…”

Over the course of the last year it was apparent to the public that some members of the school board were not interested in the correction of the accounting error (remember three members of our school board opposed the vote in June).  It appeared that they expected the public to quit asking questions about the accounting error; probably in hopes that the problem would just go away. The good news is that Neal and others in the public may finally get the answers from the Auditor tomorrow night!

Aside from simply “doing what’s right”, why should this error in the District’s accounting be important to the school board (and the taxpayers)?  Neal answers that question here –

The Auditor is hired by, and works directly FOR, the Board.  They are reviewing the Business Office and their internal controls.  Mistakes or break-downs in controls MUST be reported directly to the Board (by the Auditor if the Administration does not share with the Board as in this case).  The Auditor has NEVER mentioned this “timing error” in their Management Letters report to the Board; they will certainly address it THIS year.

An audit is an expensive (cost of the audit) check on the Administration.  IF the Administration is not honest with the Auditor, this important control does not exist.  There’s plenty of written evidence that this accounting error was engineered by the Administration and that they never informed the Board or the Auditor.  If that’s the case: this is extraordinarily dangerous to the Community.

Board Members must then consider the likelihood that this has happened before and assure that it does not happen again.  An audit can never catch Management Fraud.  The reason is obvious; Management can commit the Fraud and then cover it up.  Did this happen here?  If so, the Board needs to take serious action and remove the individuals who engineered this financial mis-statement and non-disclosure.

There are plenty of documented statements like the ones above indicating those involved in this saga and (???) cover-up.  The timing of the Auditor’s “notice” of this November of 2017 event is a critical piece of information.  The Board wants to be trusted by the Community, can they trust their Administration/Solicitor?  Maybe we’ll find those answers when the Auditor speaks.

Here’s hoping that Neal is able to help to find the community’s needed answers from the Auditor at the Finance Committee meeting!Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Surprise — T/E Reaches Tentative Early Bird 3-year Contract Agreement With Teachers — Didn’t Know Negotiations Were Underway

Who knew?  Interesting that the public found out on Friday that our school district has worked out a tentative early bird contract with the teachers union – the current contract with TEEA runs to June 30, 2020. The public was not informed that negotiations were underway, let alone that they are complete and the school board will vote on the tentative three-year contract on Monday night (seven months before the existing contract ends).

Question for the school board, where’s the transparency? In the past, the public was at least notified that the contract negotiation process was underway. So who is representing the public at the negotiating table? Which school board directors? Or … is this another case where all roads lead back to the District’s business manager and he is our chief negotiator?

Just a few short weeks ago, leading up to Election Day, some school board candidates spoke of increasing public communication and transparency. Not sure that telling the public afterwards that you have an early bird teachers contract ready to be signed can be viewed as transparency.

With the school board voting on the tentative TEEA contract tomorrow night there is a small window for the public to review – thanks to Ray Clarke for the following analysis! Much appreciated!

A surprise on Friday evening along with the Agenda for Monday’s School Board meeting – a proposed new three year contract with the TEEA.  In essence, base salaries will increase 1.5% every year, teachers below the top step will move up a step every year, and the District and employee contributions to benefits costs will remain the same.

This is a significant improvement for the TEEA over the last contract, which contained base salary increases of 0.5 to 1.0% and an increased employee contribution to healthcare premiums. 

The district did not provide the contract or any underlying detail – teachers have to ratify the agreement before taxpayers can see it.  However they provided a set of statistics:

 – The agreement commits 65% of the Act 1 Index

– Individual annual salary increases range from 3.5% to 3.0% over the 3 years

– The net expense increase is about 1.7% of the total district budget

No surprise, it’s difficult to see how all these can be true, even with herculean assumptions about healthcare cost inflation, PSERS projections, retirements, distribution of teachers on the matrix, etc.  Those with time on their hands can try to reconcile them (given that, per 2019/20 budget workshops, TEEA salaries were budgeted at ~$46 million, real estate tax revenue at ~$115 million and total expenditures ~$150 million.  The Act 1 Index for 2020/21 is 2.6%.

If the Administration provided any detail or had earned any trust maybe we would not have to wrack our brains to figure this out.  I wonder if the Board will ask any questions about a contract for one third of the expense base that seems to consume at least two thirds of an Index tax increase that is already the highest since the 2.9% in 2010/11?  How will other expenses be contained to offset this?

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What does historic preservation, an assisted living facility and a high school parking lot have in common? Answer: Tredyffrin Twp Planning Commission Meeting, Thursday, Nov. 21, 7 PM

There should be a standing room only audience for the Tredyffrin Township Planning Commission meeting (Click here for agenda) on Thursday, Nov. 21, 7 PM at 1100 Duportail Road, Berwyn. For those that do not typically attend these meetings, I suggest that you come prepared to “stay awhile”!

First up on the agenda is the historic resource amendment. The township has over 800 historic buildings and this ordinance is to protect (from demolition) the 70 most critical historic structures.  The 70 township structures on the list are either on the National Historic Register or are deemed eligible. Putting my historic preservation “hat” on as president of Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust, chair of the annual historic house tour and owner of one of the 70 historic properties on the list, this ordinance has been a long time coming. Members of the township’s Historic Commission and the Trust are in full support of this ordinance and look forward to a recommendation from the Planning Commission. The proposed historic preservation ordinance will next go to the December Board of Supervisors meeting.

Next on the agenda is the final land development application for Solera Senior Living, the proposed assisted living facility on Russell Road in Paoli. You may recall a few years back; C-1 zoning in the township was updated to include multi-family and assisted living facilities. As a result, the Daylesford Crossing assisted living facility was built as a permitted use in C-1, with many neighbors opposing. However, Daylesford Crossing is located on Lancaster Avenue, not on a narrow residential street like Russell Road.  The Russell Road applicant plans to demolish two office buildings, consolidate three separate parcels and construct a 3-story 116 unit assisted living facility.

There is increased discussion about reviewing the permitted uses of C-1 zoning. However, it should be noted that any future zoning changes to C-1 will not impact the Solera project, already in progress. In addition, there are some in the community who feel that the Board of Supervisors should retain final land development approval not the Planning Commissioners who are appointed, not elected.  At this time the planning commissioners will have final approval on the proposed Russell Road assisted living project.

TE School District’s $40 million high school expansion and parking lot plan is back in front of the Planning Commission. At the Zoning Hearing Board meeting tonight (Wednesday, 7 PM at township building) the District will seek an amendment to its appeal to reduce the number of proposed parking spaces from 128 to 94 (270 parking spaces are required).

The District is seeking preliminary/final land development approval to build a 40,500 sq. ft. two-story addition to the existing 215,900 sq. ft. high school. In addition, a new surface parking lot with 94 spaces (presuming it is granted by the Zoning Hearing Board).  It is the proposed parking lot on Irish Road and the possible unintended consequences that are of concern to many of the neighbors. In addition to the removal of many mature trees, questions/concerns about the parking facility range are wide-ranging including storm water, increased traffic, safety, lighting, etc. etc.

Adding to another layer of complication to the proposed project, is the very recent decision by the school board to take the 13 acre Doyle-McDonnell nursery site by eminent domain. There are some in the community (including myself) who feel that the pause button should be put on the proposed $40 million high school expansion plan and parking lot. I understand the demographics and increasing student enrollment plus the perceived additional cost (?) to slow down and review but still … there could be additional opportunities for the high school expansion plan with the purchase of the adjacent nursery property (and this is a $40 million taxpayer-funded project!)

I am of the opinion that to push forward with the parking lot and the high school expansion without a thorough review of alternatives (in light of the eminent domain purchase of 13 adjacent acres) is short-sighted. This planned parking lot on Irish Road is going to have a detrimental impact to the neighbors – in an area already greatly affected by stormwater issues.

All residents should be encouraged to attend the Planning Commission meeting – find out firsthand what is planned for the community – this is your tax dollars.  All Voices Matter!Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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