Valley Forge Middle School

TE School District discusses laptops for teachers and students in grades 7-12 (Initial Cost: $1.8 million)

laptop stackThe TE School District’s Education Committee meeting included a surprising (and expensive) item on the agenda – the proposal to outfit all teachers and grade 7-12 students with District issued laptops.

A few short weeks ago, the school board approved a preliminary budget which included a 4.3% tax increase. With that unanimous vote, the Board assured the residents that expenses would be thoroughly reviewed ‘line by line’ in the coming months. And then we learn this week that this same board is discussing spending an estimated $1.8 million on teacher and student laptops. Where’s the fiscal responsibility?

Setting aside the expense of the laptops, is there research indicating this is a current school district need?  Don’t the majority of the teachers and students in the District already have computers? If a need for a computer exists with any of the students, it certainly should be met but has anyone polled the students/parents? What level of laptops are proposed? My guess is that many of our students and teachers already own a higher quality of computers than the District is proposing.

And what about liability issues that could arise with giving our students computers? Remember the Lower Merion scandal and subsequent lawsuit over district-supplied computers and the webcam spying on students. How will TE parents know that their children are protected from something similar? No one wants to believe that these things could happen in TE, but has the school board thought about security measures to protect the privacy of the students.

Because I did not attend the Education Committee meeting, I wanted to know if other residents shared my concerns.  Resident Doug Anestad attended and provides the following update for Community Matters:

The administration would like to buy a laptop for every teacher and student in grades 7-12 in what is commonly called one-to-one laptop program. They would roll it out over a three years. Each laptop would cost about $400 and they would purchase a 4 year warranty and accidental damage protection for $200 for a total cost of $600.

The school district just finished rolling out bring your own device (BYOD). However, they argue that it is not ideal because
– No expectation that all students will have a device
– No expectation that all devices will be the same
– Transformative on individual level
– Supplemental devices needed if instruction requires device
– Focus on device over instruction

They argue that 1:1 would be beneficial because
– Expectation that all students will have a device
– Expectation that all devices will be the same
– Transformative on class level
– Supplemental devices not needed
– Focus on instruction over device

As each laptop will cost around $600 ($400 + $200) and there are almost 3,000 students and teachers in grades 7-12, you are talking of a roll-out cost of around $1.8 million ($600 x 3,000). After the initial roll-out, I estimate would be an ongoing cost of around $450,000 ($1.8 every 4 years). These costs do not include software nor administrative overhead costs.

I find it disappointing that the education committee voted to proceed with this project right after the school board voted to approve a preliminary budget that increases our taxes 4.3% while still showing a projected deficit of $468,118.

I was a teacher for a decade. I taught grades 7-12. I taught math, science, and computer science. With the obvious exception of computer science, I never felt the need for the students to have computers every day.

I believe that teachers should have smart boards and laptops and should have access to either laptop carts or computer labs on those days when computers would be helpful. I also support the Office 365 initiative as it allowed all students to have access to the same software so that documents can be exchanged with fellow students and teachers as well as allowing shared documents.

I cannot however, support this abuse of taxpayer money when there is so much financial uncertainty and after so many massive tax increases over the past decade that show no sign of slowing down.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fencing April 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Message from Chesterbrook resident Doug Anestad, “Stop the TE School Board!”

No FencingThe fencing situation at Valley Forge Middle School remains in a word – unsettled. Many Chesterbrook residents showed up for the Facilities Committee meeting on Friday with the hope that the matter would finally be resolved. Although there has been some progress including no fencing directly behind the Green Hills homes and no fencing through the woods, open issues remain.

The compromise for the fencing on Rt. 252/Valley Forge Road (next to Valley Forge Middle School) is for a white vinyl rail-type fence rather than the 4 ft. chain link fencing installed at the District’s other schools. The pricing for the vinyl rail fencing is not known; however, the discussion is for Chesterbrook residents to pay fifty percent of any additional costs.Because less fencing will be required at VFMS, perhaps any additional costs for the vinyl rail type fencing could be absorbed by the District.

Although the proposed decorative vinyl rail fencing is aesthetically more appealing than chain link fencing, it really does beg the question (again) … why the fences?  Clearly, a rail fence (even more so than a chain link fence) has no safety value and only serves to mark the boundaries of the school. Surely, the school board cannot use the District’s safety study as the rationale for vinyl rail fencing.

The frustration among Chesterbrook residents regarding the fencing continues to rise; much like a hamster wheel, the conversation just keeps going in circles.  Green Hills homeowner Doug Anestad is no longer standing on the sidelines in the discussion but has become proactive in his pursuit of change. A former math teacher in Philadelphia, he has more than a passing understanding of school safety.  A parent with two children in the District, Anestad supports maintaining quality education but believes that the District’s spending is out of control. Printing and mailing postcards to 4,000, Anestad is taking his vision for reform in the school district to the residents.

In his message for change, Anestad is asking residents to contact the school board and voice their concerns.  Direct in his approach, Anestad appeals to District 2 voters not to support current school board president Kris Graham’s bid for reelection and further suggests voting for Ed Sweeney (R) and Michelle Burger (D) on Primary Election Day, Tuesday, May19. I give Doug Anestad a lot of credit – engaged and direct, he’s not standing on the sidelines!  Let’s see if his plan works.

Anestad provided the following response when asked about the impetus for the postcard. (Front and back images of the postcard are at the end of the post). 

From Doug Anestad:

I want to let people know some of the background of the postcards that went out this past Saturday, May 16th and the history behind them.

For the past couple of months, I have been involved with conversations surrounding the fencing project for Valley Forge Middle School, T/E Middle School, and Conestoga High School. The community around Valley Forge Middle School was unaware of the fencing project until Tredyffrin Township notified neighbors next to Valley Forge Middle School at the beginning of this year that the T/E school district was planning for construction that might impact them.

What the community discovered was a fencing project for the three above-mentioned schools that would have fences around the sides and back of all three schools for a cost of around $237,000. One of my children is a student at Valley Forge Middle School and another at Conestoga High School. I taught for a decade in the School District of Philadelphia before going back into industry and I can attest to the harm done to the atmosphere of a school and the ineffectiveness of fences as a safety measure for children due to the nature of schools. There are some cases such as steering students away from dangerous areas and in elementary schools where fences are necessary, but in general, less is more.

For anyone who falsely believes that the fences around the middle schools or high school might improve safety for our students, you should know that the side fences would only be 4’ high and there would be no fence along the front of the buildings. All someone would have to do is to simply hop over the fence or walk around to the front. Basically, what this means is that we are changing the atmosphere for our inviting and beautiful schools to be more prison like with no improvement to safety.

To add insult to injury, the T/E school district is currently running a projected $5,268,067 deficit for next year – yes over five million dollars! They will make up most of that with a tax increase of over $3,630,000. Even after raising our taxes by over three million dollars, they will still be over $1,600,000 short.

The fencing project isn’t the only place where the school district is spending money it doesn’t need to right now. They are also working on a new maintenance and storage building that was originally projected to be around $2 million. The cost overruns have now brought it up to $4 million. At some point, shouldn’t they reconsider? In addition, they are adding expensive positions to the T/E administrative team. When you are running a $5 million deficit, is now really a good time to be growing the administrative overhead?

For the reasons above, I wanted to make sure that the community better understood some of the T/E school board issues before the primary elections this coming Tuesday, May 19th. My hope is that I may have accomplished that to some small degree.

Front of postcard:

Stop Spending pg 1

Back of postcard:

Stop Spending pg 2

TE School District Submits VFMS Fencing Permit Application … Tredyffrin Township Denies Request!

No FencingValley Forge Middle School fencing was not on the Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors April 20th meeting, but many Chesterbrook residents attended the meeting and spoke against the TE School Board’s project.  The supervisors deferred all questions/comments to the township’s solicitor Vince Donohue for response who told audience members that the township would not get involved until the District made either a “permit request or there was a shovel in the ground”.  Chesterbrook residents left the meeting hoping for a more proactive approach by township officials.

The ‘wait and see’ township attitude was quickly tested when the School District submitted a permit request  for the Valley Forge Middle School fencing this past week.  The township’s Planning and Zoning Director Matt Bauman denied the permit request on the spot and in a letter to the School District, stated

“Please be advised that the permit is hereby denied.  The issuance of the permit would violate the terms of that certain Zoning Hearing Board Decision in Appeal Number 64-02 issued December 17, 2002.”

The School Board’s action attempted to violate the legal agreement between TESD and the Chesterbrook Civic Association. Without an amendment to the Special Exception granted by Tredyffrin Township’s Zoning Hearing Board in 2002, how does the School Board think that they can move forward with their planned fencing project at VFMS?

Unless something has changed in the last couple of days, there has been no movement on part of the School Board or the District to resolve the VFMS fencing situation directly with the Green Hills residents or with the Chesterbrook Civic Association.  As David Miller, president of CCA told us at the supervisors meeting, there has been no return of phone calls or emails to either himself or to the Green Hills and CCA attorneys from the School Board or their attorney David Falcone of Saul Ewing. Yet the District went ahead and made a permit application for the fencing!

I encourage Chesterbrook residents and Valley Forge Road neighbors to bring their chain link fencing opposition message to the TE School Board meeting on Monday, April 27, 7:30 PM at Conestoga High School.  At some point, the School Board has to listen to those that they were elected to serve.

Contrary to what you may have heard … No compromise reached on planned Valley Forge Middle School fencing!

As we learned at Monday night Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisor meeting there seems to be some cfencing 2onfusion and/or misunderstanding surrounding TE School District’s planned fencing project at Valley Forge Middle School.  Some members of the school board have suggested that the issue was settled with the Green Hills homeowners and Chesterbrook Civic Association and compromise reached.  We learned at the supervisors meeting, that the township solicitor Vince Donohue (and apparently the supervisors), had heard the same inaccurate rumor.

Other than a statement by TESD President Kris Graham read to a handful of people at the Facilities Meeting on Friday, April 10, 2 PM, there has been no communication whatsoever between the school district and the Valley Forge Middle School neighbors regarding the fencing.  But somehow, the school board president’s statement was translated by the school board as an agreement and circulated to the public. Negotiation is a discussion between both parties trying to work on a solution.  It doesn’t work when you only have one party at the table.

During the public comment period at the supervisors meeting, Green Hills resident and president of the Chesterbrook Civic Association David Miller, read the following prepared statement which offers historical background.  I think its important for people to understand that the VFMS fencing issue is unique and differs from the other TESD fencing projects.

Although the fencing project will probably not be listed on the agenda for the TESD school board meeting, on Monday, April 27 (7:30 PM at Conestoga High School), I strongly urge the Green Hills residents to attend and voice their concerns and opposition.

Good evening my name is David Miller, I am President of the Chesterbrook Civic Association and a resident of Green Hills in Chesterbrook; I’ve lived in the township for over 20 years.

We are here because:

  • The Chesterbrook Civic Association has a legal agreement with the TESD concerning development around VFMS. This agreement was reached and documented with the township’s assistance through the special exception granted by the zoning hearing board when the 4 athletic fields adjacent to VFMS were developed in 2002/3.
  • At the April 10th Facilities Committee meeting we think the TESD presented plans that will violate this agreement. I say we “think” because nothing is in writing and the fact that the VFMS fence was going to be discussed was only added to the agenda 2 hours before the Facilities Committee Meeting which was held at 2:00 on a Friday.  So, as you would expect, it was difficult to getting people there at the last minute.
  • We think their plan is to build a fence along the northern border of the original Middle School lot and along Valley forge Road to the border with Green Hills and then along the border with Green Hills to the first residents property line.
  • So why should you care – This is not just a dispute between neighbors. This is issue impacts the entire community.  If the TESD builds the fence as we think they are planning, it will negatively impact all of Chesterbrook, cost the township money and is inconsistent with the Chesterbrook master plan.

Let me give you some background:

  • In 2002 the TESD presented a plan to build 5 fields and a parking lot on the RC zoned lot between VFMS and Chesterbrook. This plan had many significant issues and could not be built as presented.  But more importantly at this time the township was developing Wilson Park and there was some view that the school district should provide fields for students and the township should provide fields for the sports leagues.  From the residents perspective it’s the same kids in different uniforms.  After discussion the township formed a committee consisting of members of the township staff, planning commission, school board and residents to work out a plan.  Which we did and which was built and documented.  The legal agreement between the CCA and TESD, documented during the Zoning Hearing Board’s Public Hearing when the special exception was granted is the result of this process.
  • Let me read some highlights from 2002.
  • We do not know the school board’s view on this agreement, they will not return my calls or emails and have directed their attorney not to work with our attorney. But based on the last Facilities Committee Meeting we do know they moved the fence 600 feet away from the residents after receiving letters from our attorneys.  So maybe they are starting to take this seriously.

What are the issues?

  1. The fence will block community access to the playing fields. In 2002 the planning commission required the TESD to add parking to the VFMS lot to accommodate people who would be using the 4 new fields.  This fence will block the path from the parking to the fields.  People will either have to park on Chesterbrook Boulevard or the township will have to provide alternate sites for the sports teams.  How are you going to pay for 4 new multipurpose fields?  The TESD has made it very clear we should expect the gates to be locked except when students are going to and from school.
  2. The walking paths will be blocked so residents can’t walk to Gateway, Wilson Park and St. Isaacs. These paths are part of the original Chesterbrook Master Plan.  Again, back in 2002 the TESD was required to rebuild the walking path so residents could pass by the school … why would you let them block these paths now?  If there isn’t an alternate route for residents to get around VFMS they will walk on school property.  The school board has said they will direct the schools to call the police when unauthorized people are on school property, so are they really going to call the police when some resident is walking to Wilson Park or St. Isaacs?  Why would we create this issue? Police time is valuable and there is at least one easy fix, just build a short connector path behind the football field between the exiting sidewalk and the existing walking path.
  3. We think their plan calls for a fence to nowhere in the woods. Besides being silly since it will be parallel to an existing fence around the field closest to VF road, so that they are just fencing in the trees, it violates the provision that calls for the woods to be undisturbed.
  4. Finally, we believed the school board’s attorney when he said “the district will be legally bound” and “any material change in that plan we understand we have to come back before this board”… there has to be some integrity a process sanctioned by the Supervisors back in 2002.

So we would like you to tell the TESD to honor their commitment from 2002 and then implement the same process we used last time by creating a group consisting of residents, staff and officials to resolve this quickly and reasonably.  We are parents and are not against student safety we just want a plan that makes sense.

Fencing at Valley Forge Middle School is on the move: Plan now includes a “Zig Zag Fence to No Where”.

Chain_Link_FenceThe TESD Facilities Committee meeting was held on Friday, April 10 at 2 PM.  Although the agenda was available on the TESD website for a week, there was no mention of the Valley Forge Middle School fencing project. With the ongoing fencing discussions with the District, township and residents, it was odd that there was to be no discussion of the matter.  When we showed up for the meeting, we were surprised to learn that the VFMS fencing project was added to the agenda. No one was notified of the last minute addition – not even the adjacent Green Hills property owners most affected, the “abutters”.

When I asked about the last minute change in the agenda and lack of notification, Facilities Chair Pete Motel referred my question to Art McDonnell for the “policy” answer.  According to McDonnell, the Board can change the agenda has much as they want and anytime they want – that’s the policy. McDonnell added that the District was not sure if they would have a statement on the fencing (and apparently only decided minutes before the start of the meeting!).

Interesting that with 7 of the 9 school board members and Supt. Dan Waters all in attendance at the Facilities Meeting that it is the Business Manager who describes the District’s policy. Why do we need to pay for a Superintendent (and we currently have two – Drs. Waters and Gusick) or elect a School Board, when we have a Business Manager making so many of the District’s decisions?

Pete Stanton, Green Hills resident and abutter to VFMS property, was in attendance at the meeting and provided the following comments. (Pete, is the one who suggested the ‘green line’ location for the fencing at VFMS – click here to see the map of the project with the green line indicated.)

The Facilities Committee met on Friday April 10 and offered a counter proposal for the VFMS fencing project. As an affected homeowner, I was pleased to see at least some concessions made, but, in reality, I think there is much left to be desired in the new proposal.

Here is the quick version of the new proposal:

-no fencing in front of abutting homes; Instead, 6 foot chain link following green line plan on upper fields.

  • 4 foot fencing all along VF Rd. by track up to Walker (fence on school side of current sidewalk)
  • 4 foot fencing running down VF Rd extending to northern border woods.
  • 4 foot fencing extending into woods at northern border, zig zagging through trees, ending at a residents outer property line, well within view of their home.
  • “enhanced signage” at locations TBD on or near the school borders. Facilities Committee will meet with Abutting households at date TBD to get input on these signs.

More importantly perhaps, there was much that wasn’t addressed by the new proposal. For example:

-nothing in writing or indication that the 2002 agreement between CCA and TESD would be amended to reflect the new TESD proposal.

-A connector path is not being planned on the upper field after the rest room kiosk that allows easy pedestrian access to the sidewalk along VF Rd. The Facilities Committee chairman has repeatedly said that they “reserve the right” to lock the gates at some point in the future during school hours. I think this locking will be done sooner than later without a new accommodation, which is what the new connector path (approx. 80 yards long by 4 foot wide) will provide.

-under the revised plan, the woods will definitely not be “Undisturbed” as expressly promised in the 2002 agreement … so this would be a violation of the agreement, unless an addendum to the Special Exception is agreed upon.

In my opinion, Tredyffrin Township needs to realize that what is being proposed is far from a satisfactory outcome for the residents of Green Hills and Chesterbrook. The Township needs to actively intervene and disallow any potential violation of the 2002 Special Exception.

It’s imperative that as many residents as possible go to the Tredyffrin Townships Supervisors meeting on April 20th to express the position to them that the School District has to honor the 2002 agreement. Again, this requires the School District to get in in front of the Zoning Hearing Board to get an amendment to the 2002 Special Exception agreement that my homeowners associations can agree to. Until such agreement is reached, this is still an active issue. Please encourage anyone else in Chesterbrook that you know to attend as well … it isn’t just a Green Hills issue; it’s an issue for all the residents.

Did the School Board actually think that the concession stated to a handful of people at a Facilities Committee meeting to move the fence was somehow going to end the debate?

The Facilities Chair Pete Motel continues to state and re-state that the District does not have to go before the township’s Zoning Hearing Board – that VFMS is District property and that they can do what they want with it.

Unlike the fencing at the other District schools, the fencing at VFMS is unique – the property consists of two parcels with different zoning and a legal agreement with the adjacent community.  The 2002 Special Exception by the Zoning Hearing Board set the parameters for TESD with Chesterbrook Civic Association and Green Hills Association – it would seem that any changes to that agreement would require review and updating.

This ‘new’ plan from the District does have the fencing out of the backyards of the abutters and moves the 6-foot fencing to behind the fields. (This will be the first 6-foot fencing at any of the eight schools.) However, the fencing will run the length of Valley Forge Road in front of the VFMS and into the woods that is shared with Green Hills.  Rather than ending the fencing at the woods, the fencing goes through the woods and will turn into the Chesterbrook community.  I asked if the District intended to take trees down in the woods – the response was no, that the fence would zig zag around the trees!  To be clear, the zig-zagging of the fencing will abruptly stop at the end of the woods at an abutter’s property line.  The fence will not connect to another section of fencing … the “fence to nowhere”.

If the handful of audience members who attended the Facilities Committee meeting are to believe what was stated – no further discussion is required with the township on the VFMS fencing, no approvals are required, no amendment to the 2002 Special Exception is needed. When asked if this decision to change the plans required a full TE School Board approval, the answer again was no.  In other words, the District can do whatever it wants at VFMS because the agreement was meaningless and implies that there are no deed-restrictions on the property.

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Tonight the District has a Finance Meeting (6:30 PM) and a Budget Workshop (7:30 PM) at Conestoga High School.  Click here for the agenda. Although the outsourcing vendors for the District’s aides and paras was on the last Finance Meeting a and the last School Board Meeting agendas, it does not appear on tonight’s agenda.

How are the 73 full-time aides and paras supposed to make a decision by May 1 on whether to go part-time (to remain a District employee) or go with an outsourcing company when they don’t know who the outsourcing company is or the benefits … ? 

TE School Board’s proposed fencing at VF Middle School costing taxpayers thousands of dollars, Tredyffrin Township Solicitor and Board of Supervisors now involved

legal feesThe legal bills to the taxpayers continue to mount because of the TE School Board’s fencing decision at Valley Forge Middle School.

Last week, residents of Green Hills in Chesterbrook sought a compromise at a meeting with members of the District’s Facilities Committee, (Pete Motel, Liz Mercogliano, Kevin Buraks and SB President Kris Graham), Art McDonnell, Dr. Gusick, attorney David Falcone of Saul Ewing, Tom Daley of Daley & Jalboot Architects and the District attorney Ken Roos, regarding the planned 6-ft. chain link fencing.

In addition to the homeowners, attorney Brian Nagle of MacElree & Harvey represented Chesterbrook Civic Association and Michael Gill of Buckley, Brion, McGuire & Morris represented Green Hills Homeowners Association at the meeting. The meeting ended with no compromise to the proposed 6-foot chain link fencing.

Agreeing that proposed fencing violates the terms of the 2002 agreement with the Chesterbrook Civic Association, attorneys Nagle and Gill filed official Complaint letters with Tredyffrin Township yesterday on behalf of their respective clients.  The letters were sent to Tredyffrin Township’s solicitor Vince Donohue with copies to the Board of Supervisors and Township Manager. (Click here to read Nagle’s letter; click here to read Gill’s letter).

After reviewing the records, attorneys Nagle and Gill each concluded that the proposed fencing would violate a condition which Tredyffrin’s Zoning Hearing Board imposed on TESD in granting the 2002 Special Exception. The Special Exception does not permit the installation of a fence in the 250’ buffer area next to the Green Hills homes.  In his letter to Donohue, Gill states that “ … TESD’s present proposal to introduce an invasive and visually offensive fence into the agreed upon 250 foot buffer is a material change to the development to which our clients agreed and requires the Zoning Hearing Board’s approval.”  Gill further states that, “…the Township must not permit or otherwise allow that proposal to succeed.”

With this official Complaint letter, the School Board, under the leadership of Kris Graham, has caused additional costs to the taxpayers to defend their proposed Valley Forge Middle School fencing project. In addition to paying legal fees to the District’s attorney Ken Roos and to Saul Ewing attorney David Falcone, taxpayers can now add the legal fees of Tredyffrin Township solicitor Vince Donohue to the cost of fencing at VFMS. Plus, the TESD taxpayers of Green Hills in Chesterbrook must pay the legal costs of Nagle and Gill.

Here’s my question to the members of the TE School Board – when is this going to end? This isn’t YOUR money that you are using to defend your decisions, it’s OUR money – it’s the taxpayer’s money.  School Board, how many thousands more taxpayer dollars are you going to spend on legal defense of your decision?

Kris Graham, as President of the School Board, we challenge you to lead!

TE School Board’s idea of ‘compromise’ at Valley Forge Middle School … Green Hills homeowners to get 6-foot high chain link fences in their backyards instead of previously announced 4-foot fences

Green Hills residents met with TE School District representatives regarding the proposed Chesterbrook fencing project last night and learned that compromise isn’t in the school board’s vocabulary.

Representing the TE School District at the meeting were school board members Pete Motel, Kevin Buraks, Liz Mercogliano and Kris Graham in addition to Art McDonnell, Dr. Gusick, attorney David Falcone of Saul Ewing, Tom Daley of Daley & Jalboot Architects and the District attorney Ken Roos. Motel, Buraks and Mercogliano are all on the Facilities Committee and School Board President Kris Graham attended in the absence of Virginia Lastner, the fourth member of the Facilities Committee.

In addition to the homeowners, attorney Brian Nagle of MacElree & Harvey represented Chesterbrook Civic Association and Michael Gill of Buckley, Brion, McGuire & Morris represented Green Hills Homeowners Association at the meeting.

With the proposed chain link fencing planned extraordinarily close to the abutting properties, residents appealed to the school board for a reasonable discussion of the project. However, rather than finding common ground and understanding, the affected property owners learned that their backyard fencing would not be 4 feet high as previously stated at the District’s Facilities Meeting. No, in a surprise announcement, the Green Hills residents learned the District has changed the height of the chain link fencing in their backyards to six feet!

It seems to me that these homeowners are being targeted – the Valley Forge Middle School fence project calls for the two sections of fencing along Chesterbrook Boulevard and Valley Forge Road to have four foot high fencing whereas the Green Hills residents are facing 6 foot chain link fences in their backyards. I don’t’ think any of the other school fencing projects have 6-ft. high fences, do they? You have to wonder what the District uses as their criteria for 4 ft, 5 ft. or 6 ft. fencing.

I thought that you needed a variance for 6 foot fencing in Tredyffrin Twp and we know that that the District previously withdrew their variance request. However, the District sidesteps the ZHB application process by putting a 4-ft fence along Valley Forge Road, which is technically the front of the school. According to Tredyffrin Township Zoning Ordinance 208-119, the back and rear yards at Valley Forge Middle School (which includes the Green Hills-TESD property line) only requires a permit for the 6-ft. fence not a variance. (Note – as of late today, the township had not received a fence permit request from TESD).

Green Hills resident and abutting property owner Pete Stanton attended the meeting and provides his summary below.

Summary of meeting 3/25/15 with representatives of the TE School Board and concerned citizens of Green Hills and Chesterbrook regarding proposed VFMS Fencing project.

– No agreement was reached over fencing. The status is that the School Board is still determined to place the fence at or near their property line. They plan to notify residents in the near future exactly where the line of the fencing will go.

– In a surprise turnaround, the Facilities Committee Chair Peter Motel announced the fence facing Green Hills homes would be 6 feet high. Previous Facilities Committee discussions that I attended had indicated the fence near our properties to be a four foot fence. No explanation for this change was offered. The Contractor is making an application for a fencing permit to Tredyffrin Township.

– The fencing architect from Daley and Jalboot reinforced the idea that the primary goal of the fencing on their property line was border identification. The School Board had evidently not considered any other option to fencing to “mark” their borders, such as signage.

– Attorneys for Green Hills, Chesterbrook Civic Assn and the School Board’s attorney as well as their outside Counsel were all present. There was some back and forth questioning, but nothing substantive at this time.

– The invited guests presented a wide variety of commentary … the excess expense of the fence in time of fiscal crunch for the school District, the security flaws inherent in their planned fence placement and deployment, and the general disruption to all residents in cutting off the continuous access to the Rural Conservation (RC) zoned areas and paths to the fields, St Isaac’s etc.

– An alternative fencing line was proposed by a citizen (non-Green Hills resident) as a “compromise” which places the fencing well out from the homes but still cuts off access to the paths. This proposed alternative is certainly an improvement to the District’s plan, but may wind up costing the District more (due to needed new path construction) and in my opinion does not go far enough in allowing unfettered access to the 20.7 acre RC zoned open area. I have color coded the 2 alternative proposals for consideration. Please see the attached map showing my desired fencing line, (the green line plan), the Citizen’s “compromise” fencing route (red line plan) along with the pathway needed for that plan (new path is blue line). Click here for map of VF Middle School Fencing Plan.

– Green Hills and local Chesterbrook residents and the 5 “abutter” families seem clear that they want unfettered access to the 20.7 acre open area behind their homes as they have for decades. By placing the fence as a continuation of the four foot fence already in place on the upper fields closest to the school, the School District will enhance student safety. By being able to visually monitor the entire fenced area directly from the School plant, continue to allow resident path access that they have utilized forever, and save the District thousands of dollars in fencing costs… All these arguments taken together are compelling for the District to alter their current plans and strongly consider the one that I am offering here. With the “green line plan”, everyone wins.

It would seem that supporting the District’s proposed chain link fencing project is not a particularly smart political move for anyone seeking reelection to the school board. Board President Kris Graham (the only incumbent seeking reelection) and her unfavorable position on the Valley Forge Middle School fencing plan could pose a political hurdle for her in November.

It is my understanding that some members of the school board have agreed to a walkabout at the Green Hills fencing location with the five affected homeowners. I still contend that if all the board members would take the time to walk the abutting neighbor’s property, they would agree to a compromise discussion.

Here’s hoping that there is still time for reasonable people to make reasonable decisions on the Valley Forge Middle School fencing project.

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