Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Tredyffrin Easttown School District . . . Continuing Discussion on 2010-11 Budget

The posting, Understanding the Tredyffrin Easttown School District Budget Process has generated interesting comments. Please take the time to read these thoughtful remarks from our local residents. In my review of the Tredyffrin Easttown School District (TESD) budget, I admit that I very surprised to learn that 75% of our school district budget is allocation to teacher and administration salaries.

In my attempt to understand the salary range of teachers, I found an interesting online site which details the salaries (2007-08) of the 195,000 Pennsylvania public school teachers and administrators. This link will now only allow you to review the range of TESD teacher and administration salaries but also allows a comparison of TESD salaries other school districts. It is particularly interesting to review the salaries of Radnor, Upper Merion and Great Valley school districts as compared to Tredyffrin-Easttown. There has been much discussion about the teacher unions, teacher salaries and benefits, pension plans, etc. I would like further research on the pension retirement programs.

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  1. The School District has published its own summary of the Finance Committee meeting at

    This corrects one important mis-reading that I had made. A voter referendum would ONLY be required if the district wanted to increase taxes BEYOND any exception approved by the state. That will make it especially important that voters let the School Board know how they feel before the budget and tax decision is made on May 10th.

    The press release is an interesting example of spin. The blame for the $9 million deficit is laid at the door of a “$5 million increase in employee fringe benefits”. The comparison period for the increase is not stated, but we might assume that the reference is to 2009/10 actual vs 2010/11 budget.

    Indeed the benefits expense line does increase by $5 million, but there is an offsetting $1 million increase in revenue from the state’s PSERS rebate. So the net benefits increase current year actual vs next year budget is $4 million, of which only $1 million is PSERS.

    Note that the healthcare cost increase resulted from board choices regarding the plan and the teachers’ choices to switch into more expensive plans.

    The press release also conveniently forgets the wage increase portion of the budget gap – $3.2 million.

    So, the net compensation increase built into the preliminary budget is $7.2 million – over 10% of the 2009/10 net compensation cost!! (For fewer FTE, I think!!)

    This is just part of the quantum shift in relative compensation levels between the teachers and those that pay that compensation which has occurred as a result of the current contract.

    Let us hope that our negotiators for the next contract are fully armed with all the data that describes this change and its result, and enlist the public accordingly. Taxpayers need to be prepared to negotiate just as hard as the unions do, and to be prepared to stand firm for what they believe is the right value in the light of all the options available.

  2. Pattye and Ray, thank you for continuing to dig up details on this.

    One assumption I would like to see challenged is that we can’t do anything about teacher compensation until their contract expires. I believe (although perhaps current or former board members could confirm the exact conditions for this) that layoffs are allowed under the contract. So why don’t we lay off enough teachers to get back within a reasonable budget?

    Of course parents and teachers will whine about class sizes increasing, but during a painful recession it’s not too much to ask teachers to juggle a few extra kids for a year or two. Besides, as I have previously explained, these are the primary parties responsible for the problem to begin with: The teachers for demanding ridiculous levels of compensation, and the parents for not being willing to stand up to them and bear a strike if necessary.

    If the consequences of the current contract are shifted to the teachers and parents for a year or two then they will be more likely to come to the bargaining table when the contract expires with more reasonable compensation demands that allow the lost positions to be reopened.

    If the shortfall created by the current contract and escalating pension costs is dumped entirely on the taxpayers then why wouldn’t the union, backed by parents, do everything possible to continue this fiscal rape in the next contract?

  3. Good points, Lysander.

    I would like to see at least that the Board make a strong effort to open up the contract in the light of the complete change in circumstances since it was negotiated. That would at a minimum put the onus on the unions to publicly stand up for their 10% annual total compensation increase. But the Board is not willing to take even this stand, which worries me about how skillfully they will represent us next time around.

    There is the precedent in the Norristown police contract that the prospect of layoffs brought about a renegotiation of their contract to at least postpone compensation increases. However, for us to even get to that point, the Board would first have to be willing to recommend the changes in programs, class sizes, etc. that would bring about the 10% reduction required. (Actually maybe more than 10% because the lowest paid staff would go first). There is no sign that they have any appetite for any change that could be claimed to be worse than neutral to education quality.

    The one positive development is that the Finance Committee did ask the administration to develop proposals that would eliminate the entire $9.2 million deficit with no tax increase. We’ll have to see if they come up with document that is credible or merely serves as a CYA, and if it receives any serious discussion in forums other than this.

  4. Teacher layoffs are not an option. By law teacher layoffs can occur only when 1) there is a significant reduction in enrollment 2) there is a significant change in course requirements 3) schools are consolidated 4) a new school district is established. None of these situations exist for TE.

    Pattye had mentioned that she was surprised that 75% of the budget was allocated to salaries ( I think she means compensation). This is typical of all school districts. Those districts that contract out transportation, food preparation and support services have a slightly lower percentage because that labor show up under a different budget line item.

    Instead of comparing median salaries between districts it would be better to look at salary schedules to see if TE’s salaries are competitive. This link will direct you to the West Chester teacher contract and a typical salary schedule. The salary schedule is on page 37.

    Each teacher is placed on the schedule according to longevity (vertical movement) and credentials (horizontal movement). Districts that have experienced high student growth requiring additional employees typically have a majority of teachers placed in the upper left quadrant – new hires with less experience, fewer credits, lower salary. Districts that have experienced little or no student growth have not had to hire new teachers and the majority of their teachers have progressed into the bottom right quadrant – more experience, more credits, higher salary.

    TE’s median salary might look low compared to some districts (fast student growth, teachers in the upper left quadrant), but their salary schedule is comparable.

    1. Thanks — one clarification. MEDIAN salary is not a useful measure except in the amount of growth the district has experienced (and it’s just an indicator of that). AVERAGE salary, on the other hand, when compared to the salary schedules will help to explain the increases. When a teachers’ union gets a “4%” increase, that number is 4% on the entire cost of the teaching population and then the numbers are spread across the schedule. The higher the average salary (more senior teachers or more educated ones), the higher that number means to every teacher. TE’s contracts (for teachers and non-instructional) are on the website under District Information. Unless you have the matrices for the schedules from year to year, however, you cannot do much beyond look at increases from one year to the next on the vertical line. All good information for you to share. thanks.

  5. Thanks to efficienteducation for the information.

    I wonder how the administration is proposing to save money from the elimination of FLES and the changes to the Middle School program? Would those, or any other changes in programs or class size, qualify as a “significant change in course requirements”? If not, would the cost savings be illusory because the district would have to pay the teachers anyway?

    The comparative salary schedule information suggests that other districts may be in the same pickle as TESD.

    Our enrollment has flattened and now the migration of individuals down and across the matrix seems to be contributing at least half to the annual salary increase.

    1. Mr. Clarke
      The savings proposed for cutting FLES etc. will result in furloughing teachers. EE is correct but the rules relating to “reduction in force” are not precisely aligned with pure layoffs.
      You had written about the inadvisability about comparing millages, but I have done an analysis and if I can figure out how to post the table on my blog, it will be there. Maybe Pattye can post a link to it here (I have one there for this site). I’m trying to stay out of this discussion on this site as I have broader issues of school spending that probably have limited appeal to this readership. But I encourage the continued discussion. As I said earlier, TE residents are going to have to decide what they expect and are willing to pay for, because right now we are paying less and are contributing less to our district than Radnor, Great Valley and Lower Merion, the 3 neighboring districts that would be the ones whose salary schedules we watch and who recruit teachers from similar sites.

  6. I hope I’m not hearing AndreaHP equating higher spending with a better education. There is no correlation. LM is the poster child for bloated, inefficient education. It would be easy to name several districts with comparable academic performance with significantly lower per student spending.

    Also, market signals are the best indicator of whether TE’s salary schedule is competitive. First, ask TE’s administration whether they have any teachers leaving for other districts. Second, ask TE’s administration whether they have trouble attracting a significant number of highly qualified applicants for every job opening. I bet you’ll get an unqualified no in answer to both questions.

    1. Not true to either question in relation to these other schools. TE, Radnor and LM in particular recruit from similar bases and do compete for teachers. TE has lost several teachers to LM, but I don’t care about that. If someone wants to change districts for money, so be it — I’ve compared the contracts and all they get at LM is more money — not a better job.
      But your comments are about what districts SPEND….the information I offered was about the level of revenue support….. Higher spending per student is not correlated to achievement– but our districts are competing in the same marketplace and when we talk about cutting $9M from the TESD budget, we are seriously looking at money over program. I just want to be sure that we don’t always see taxes as based on the increase — but rather in context with other district revenue sources and what revenues are generated per student. Please take a look at the spreadsheet on the website

    2. Name those districts. And I’m not talking about per student spending. I’m talking about per student revenue. Spending includes special education and unfunded state mandates…how many of the population choose to go to private schools….things like that affect spending. (Litigation costs for special ed too) .I’m looking at local effort as a percentage of local wealth/property values put toward education. Thanks.

      1. Andrea,

        I’m not sure what advantage there is to using just the local revenue from current RE Taxes , but let’s use your numbers from (you’re missing these local revenue sources – Act 511 taxes, RE transfer taxes, interim taxes) The conclusions are the same. The first column is the district, the second column is your local revenue per student, the third column is the % advanced PSSA math scores from 2009. The reading scores are similar. We could use SAT scores, but we’d have to adjust for participation rates.

        LM $24K, 69%
        Radnor $16K, 70%
        GV $15K, 63%
        TE $13K, 66%

        Notice that LM spends almost twice as much as TE, but gets very little extra in academic achievement. Notice that Radnor spends much less than LM, but gets the same academic achievement.

        But I think your concern might be, “What will happen to academic achievement when TE cuts $9M from the budget ?”

        I’d ask you to add two more districts to your list and fill in the question marks below:

        Unionville $?, 73%
        Cent. Bucks $?, 70%

        I think you will find that most districts have fat that can be trimmed without affecting academic achievement.


        1. Thanks. I’ll take a look.
          By the way — I can appreciate your saying I need to include the other sources of revenue, but that’s exactly why I am not looking at those. Interim and transfer taxes are variable and not “taxed” but instead come to you as businesses / homes change hands. They are “anti up” monies. The millage on property is specifically identified as local effort — and I am not looking at test results per se. What I am after is to educate our community on our level of funding vs. our expectations. Do you live in TE? You started with WCASD information — and the growth that district has faced has resulted in almost “multiple district” mentality. TE has 5 elementary schools, 2 middle schools and everyone ends up at Conestoga. One of the problems in TESD is that so many folks have only ever lived here that the rise in the value of their property has not really hit home — just the rise in their taxes. The dollar rise, not the percentage in relation to the value of their home.
          I happen to believe that PSSA testing simply verifies the socio-economic character of a community. Even when negotiating with teachers, who try to point out our test scores, I reminded them of their parents’ educational levels — which is a much higher correlation to student achievement than almost any other factor.
          Rambling here. I will pull the data on the two districts you mention — and will post it over on my blog. But here’s the rub for me — TESD residents worry about their tax levels, but they are falling far short of what their taxes levels would be in the neighboring districts I mentioned — ones that our residents no doubt considered when moving to the suburbs of Philadelphia. Ones that teachers consider working for. Ones that participate in our Central League with similar percentages going on to college. That’s why I show the revenue based on property taxes per student — that’s the intentional tax rate that the district sets — and in TE, it’s lower then the other 3. I’m not saying we need to raise taxes to reach the other 3, but I AM saying that we do need to acknowledge that our expectations are extraordinarily high, and if you talk to the people using the services, the system is not broken nor in need of massive cuts.
          I’ll continue over there going forward. Thanks.

  7. West Chester, Council Rock and Central Bucks SD all have a .5 earned income tax in addition to revenues produced from property taxes. Unionville/CF has a blended tax rate because of property in Chester and Delaware county, but I cannot find any public information on the breakdown of assessed values (can’t find any values in Delaware Co so used CC info only).

    The local tax revenue from property taxes only per enrolled student is as follows:

    TESD 13,359.45
    GVSD 15,263.00
    Radnor 16,376.43
    Lower Merion 24,464.21
    West Chester 12,497.04 plus EIT
    U-CFSD 13,409.22 estimated on CC values
    Central Bucks 9,675.55 plus EIT
    Council Rock 10,767.00 plus EIT
    Upper Merion 16,387.19

  8. Andrea,

    I’d like to continue the conversation since I think we have lots to learn from each other. However, I’m a school director in negotiations with a teacher’s union. This being a public forum I cannot be candid for fear of weakening the district’s negotiating position. Regards, EE

    1. I am a 3-term former board member and did many negotiations. The hard part about that job is that the union does it state wide and districts barely talk to their neighbors. I’d be happy to talk further.

  9. This discussion provides helpful foundation for the decisions facing our school district.

    Whatever else can be said, there is no doubt that property tax payers are being asked to pay increases in teacher compensation out of all proportion to their own aggregate increases/decreases in income.

    This is a result of the inherent problem of fixed long term contracts: they can not flex with economic circumstances. In globally competitive industries (like automobile, say) this leads to loss in market share, profitability and viability. Service industries like education are somewhat insulated, until new contracts are limited by the capability of the users to pay.

    At some point soon that limit will be reached. After five years of 10% union total compensation increases and 2% inflation, the percentage of pre-tax income paid in school property taxes by a household earning $100,000 living in a median T/E house assessed at $252,000 will have risen from 4% to 6%, after ten years, to 9%.

    Who knows what the right number is for that percentage? Or for any other measure (eg: spending per student, taxes per student, teacher compensation per FTE)? Comparison of these measures between districts seems to be especially vulnerable to differences in commercial/residential mix.

    What I do know, is that house purchase decisions are made on the basis of costs (mortgage payments, insurance rates, taxes) and benefits (jobs, schools, parks, neighbors, weather, etc.), in relation to income. When that equation is radically changed, as it has been recently, that is a big problem for the citizens. Something has to give.

    At some point tax payers will say that they are not going to take it any more. There are so many things that drive student achievement (let’s pick some: parent education, parent volunteer time, school size, smart SAT strategies, parent spending on college-favored sports, drug/alcohol use, etc., etc.) that the teacher compensation factor seems especially diluted. It can not be long before residents will be prepared to take on a strike to restore some balance and ensure that future increases are in line with ability to pay.

    In the meantime, our Township has taken action in all other areas to cut its coat according to its cloth. Our Manager reports from the front lines in last week’s Suburban: “We are taking a step back and evaluating each service, process and expenditure for value and efficiency. ….While we are working very hard to do more with less, the reality is that for the foreseeable future is that we will not be able to do as much as we did in the past”.

    It is the responsibility of our School District to embrace the same ethos, and the signs are modestly encouraging. The FLES program had not demonstrated the expected value. Other options are already on the table and more have been requested by February 8th. It’s a rare organization that can not come up with ways to improve its efficiency by the 10% represented by the $9 million deficit – especially when so much of its output quality is already factored in to its inputs.

    1. Mr. Clarke
      I am impressed by the clarity of your thought on this matter, but still want you to examine some of the conclusions you posit– i.e. relating income to school taxes. While I do not for a moment dispute your relating teacher compensation to the average taxpayer, the reason I offer the tax revenue per student based on property taxes alone is that is is the VALUE of your property that is affected by and feeds the school system. It is not income. While purchase decisions are made by people based on their income, long-time residency decisions are not — there are many, many residents in these two townships who have lived here and experienced 1000+% property value increases. That’s why the residents need to understand the decisions to make cuts — and FLES is a good example. US education has long been inadequate in addressing global issues — and speaking a second language is one of them. FLES lost its sponsors — the two administrators who stood firrmly behind it have since retired, and the remaining leadership have little interest in foreign language. That’s not a knock on them, but it is easy to discard what you don’t understand or value — and what you should probably consider fixing. I was on the 1996 strategic planning committee and the reference to global learning, and the appreciation for early introduction to language was a leadership position — so I am not at all impressed that TESD would end that program for financial reasons.
      But all that aside — there is no danger in comparing millages regardless of the perceived commercial/residential mix — as each property owner pays a specific percentage and since TESD has a lower tax revenue per student than any other district in our region (except those with EIT), I wnt us to embrace the issues of paying for what we get.
      Now — I will add to that comment that I was part of 3 teacher negotiations and after I left the board, I was no longer involved or consulted. I think that is very short-sighted of boards — to assume they know more than others about the state of the process. While districts use professional “negotiators” (usually a lawyer) at the table, each board comes to the process as relatively uninformed by previous efforts. The union, on the other hand, is directed in their process by uniserve reps who take marching orders from the state. In the last negotiation I did with our local union, the TEEA leadership excused the PSEA rep as we all agreed that working for TE was different than working for PA…and our goals were different. It was a very productive negotiation and many of the things we accomplished were steps in the right direction. The next negotiation, however, absent any questions from sitting members about the background, much if not all we had achieved disappeared and PSEA was again firmly in charge.
      I’d be happy to share the details on this anytime. Reopening the contract is an unlikely outcome — but until school districts and boards are willing to get up to speed before approaching a contract, and work together the way the PSEA works together, then you will only get results as good as the background will produce. Stop Teachers Strikes is a good website to visit — as that’s the essence of all things that produce non-market driven contracts.

  10. I think we have to agree to differ on the helpfulness of looking at property tax revenue per student!

    The drivers of costs in a school system are things like number, growth rate and grade distribution of students, class size, number of elective/AP programs offered, compensation (wages and benefits), special education requirements, administrative overhead, facilities age and condition. Correcting for these factors between school districts might indicate the efficiency with which the school district is managed.

    So, that’s what we get. How do we pay for it? School districts have a number of choices for raising that revenue, of which property tax is one. Property tax per student is a multiplier of average assessed value per property, millage rate and the inverse of the average number students per property. More commercial properties and longer-residing citizens would both lower number of students per property, and thus lead to a lower property tax per student. On the other hand, the higher the assessed value per property, the higher the property tax per student.

    So, lots of moving pieces that I have a hard time disentangling. A couple of other thoughts: the value of housing stock has increased nationwide, so I’m not sure it’s reasonable to expect an increase in home values to fund the school system here, rather than a roof over one’s head elsewhere. Also, since values are determined by the marginal marketplace transaction, the income choices that drive the value in that transaction are what counts for me.

    And those income limitations clearly point to the need to control expenses, and that means programs in the short run. Let’s take FLES. One recent data point on that comes from Robert Xu’s letter in today’s Spoke. He remembers only “reciting the alphabet in Spanish, staring at images of food and learning to say ‘My name is Paco’ in Spanish.” As implemented, the program was not achieving its goals. In today’s climate it’s especially right to explore ways to achieve the goals more efficiently.

    What about other “discretionary programs? For example, do we need so many AP offerings? Colleges take great pains to tell potential applicants that what counts is not how many APs they’ve taken, but what they’ve made of the opportunities that they do have. I actually believe that.

    The comments about relative sophistication in contract negotiations are right on point. I hope that our Board takes very seriously AndreaHF’s admonition that “…school districts and boards (should) ….. get up to speed before approaching a contract, and work together the way the PSEA works together”.

    1. Thanks. We can certainly differ on our view of assessed values and property taxes, and I appreciate your clarity. My numbers research, while extensive, is rather boring and I don’t want to clog this blog with it. Perhaps we’ll meet at a future meeting.

      I negotiated 4 different contracts while I was on the TE board, and after the last contract I did, which was for 6 years and made some dramatic inroads in salary schedules, I was not party to nor asked any questions for the next contract as I had left the board. Was I a critical factor? Doubtful — but the next round of negotiations did not have the background to build on what Carol Aichele and I had done. An example: We took starting salaries out of the union’s hands — allowing our district to hire based on experience. The union did not represent people who did not yet work here. Our starting salaries now are back on the schedule and we will exceed $50K during this cycle. We added new hires and the cost of benefits into the salary numbers. No schedule means anything without knowing the matrix. Your reference to 10% raises is conservative, because it’s based on the average salary, which is higher than the median or the starting salary.
      But it’s not about what we did — it’s about building on contract knowledge. Using a lawyer who knows the law only covers one view. I do know that when Phil Hooper needed to leave the school board for professional reasons, I deputized him and he stayed involved in his area of expertise because I realized that he was an asset. He did it as a favor to me. School boards don’t do typically do that, and Phil was incredibly generous with his time until enough time passed and we demanded he start billing us for his work. Up until then, he was my “deputy” and operated as the valuable participant he had long been, but off the stage. His death and our loss of his services still resonate in TE today.

      I’m not the equivalent in negotiations, by the way. But I know that I did have a lot of information and background that was not moved forward. So be it.

      As to your comment about discretionary programs — I believe you will find that APs are not a relevant factor because class size and number of periods per day define the staffing. It doesn’t matter if the teacher is teaching AP English or Remedial English. If the class size is met, the class is taught. (Note: when looking at ways to cut costs during my tenure, I urged a reduction in the number of periods kids could schedule, and a max on the number of APs they should be permitted to take at a time. Allow me to say that it was almost the same level of controversy that an earned income tax was) . As a longtime interviewer for a competitive college, I know that colleges want students to take advantage of what their high school has to offer — and as long as we offer APs, then highly competitive schools expect (demand) that students take them. If you can only take 2, that’s how many you should take. but that’s not budgetary — it’s about pressure.

      The staffing is also influenced by the amount of non-student contact time in the teacher day. Teachers have preparation time built into their schedule and lunch — (though with a 7.5 hour day, lunch is “unpaid” time). The number of periods students may schedule, and the number of periods available, along with the size of the class make the staffing an algebraic outcome. Which class is being taught is really just a result, not a driver. You would get a kick out of the negotiations where elementary teachers and middle school teachers and high school teachers all try to figure out who gets more prep time in the contract day…

      Keep asking the questions. Mr. Mahoney’s statement at the last finance meeting that perhaps we should use fund balance to pay benefits was a shot fired over the union bow — but having sat at the bargaining table and crafted many, many benefit alternatives (we did change the benefits for all administrators to a defined contribution, not a defined benefit) during negotiations, the PSEA stands firm and fast in wanting everyone to have the best plan at the district’s cost. The “concessions” they make are when the plans need to be redone because they are simply not marketable with such high costs. So they “back down” and accept a personal choice option instead of a full plan….Cost controls fall to the district, but as long as the user has no appreciation of the options or costs, controlling use is just not likely to happen. How careful are you with a $5 co-pay vs. a $50 co-pay? Likewise would you want the plan with the higher co-pays if you were paying part of the premium? The administrators learned a lot more about health care when their plan changed, and they spent a great deal less of their “allowance” on benefits than the premium plan the teachers had in their contract. But the admins were SAVING money…so we capped our exposure and they became consumers, not just recipients.

      By the way — we haven’t seen the breakdown of benefits, but some part of the increase may be due to the age of teachers. As the more senior teachers leave and the younger ones age, the composition of users drifts to full family plans rather than single or husband/wife. As someone who is about to reach the husband/wife stage with our youngest starting work, that is again a considerable cost difference. I know about that cost difference because we pay for it….we pick the plans and we pay the bills. Our employer only contributes…
      Good night.

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