Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Conestoga Students Not Supportive of Possible High School Programming Changes

In today’s mail, we received an update from the T/E School Board – focused on the 2011-12 budget and the corresponding challenges facing the school district. The looming deficit facing the school district is a staggering $8.8 million. Reasons for the deficit include continuing decrease of revenue, salaries, increased teacher pension contributions and rising health care costs. These factors remain relatively unchanged from the 2010-11 school year.

The million-dollar question (or rather the nearly 9 million-dollar question) is how to solve the deficit problem. The school board will undoubtedly vote in favor of increasing property tax by 1.4% for the 2011-12 school year, which is the limit permitted by the Act I index set by the State. This move will provide the district with approximately $1.2 million in revenue . . . clearly, not close to the $8.8 million deficit. The district already has some cost cutting measures in place including the elimination of the FLES (foreign language in the elementary school program). There is also discussion of requesting an Act I exception that would provide an additional $2.4 million in revenue by increasing property taxes by an additional $2.8%. These suggestions will help decrease the deficit situation but do not eliminate the problem.

So what other cost-cutting measures can the school district take? Suggestions include (1) optimizing staffing – additional high school teachers will teach 6 periods instead of five; (2) restructure the high school program for 42 periods instead of the current 48 periods; (3) eliminate German and Latin in the middle school: and (4) continue to implement operational efficiencies.

There are some important T/E School Board meetings coming up in January. There is a special School Board meeting on January 3 at 7:30 PM to vote on using eligible Act 1 exceptions. If the Board votes to apply for exceptions, the School Board will present a preliminary budget on January 4 for public comment. The School Board will vote on the 2011-12 budget on January 24.

If you do not have children in the school district, it can be difficult to understand the impact of the cost-cutting suggestions. Conestoga High School students will be impacted if the school board members decide to restructure the high school program. I was curious if the students were surveyed (or asked) to offer their opinion on the proposed programming changes at the high school. By chance, I saw the following editorial in the recent edition of ‘The Spoke’, Conestoga’s newspaper. The opinion article speaks directly to student concerns in regards to possible programming changes.

No to proposed class cuts

Posted on 21 December 2010 by the Spoke Newsdesk
This article originally appeared on page 7 of the Dec. 21, 2010 issue of The Spoke.

The school district has proposed a plan that would cut down certain Conestoga elective courses from being six days a cycle to three days a cycle, a proposal that, The Spoke editorial believes, would have drastic repercussions in the future.

When asked what makes Conestoga unique when compared to other high schools, most students will not hesitate in answering that it is the wide variety of classes that the school offers. Elective courses offered here, ranging from AP Music Theory to Culinary Arts, allow the school to foster a sense of creativity and imagination that goes far in providing a well-rounded education.

Because of the ongoing budget crisis, however, the school district has proposed a plan that would, if passed on Jan. 3, jeopardize these elective courses. The district plans to remove some classes from the program of studies while cutting down the majority of them, including popular courses like Beginning TV and Ceramics 1, from being six days a cycle to three days a cycle. While this initially might not seem like a substantial decrease, it is sure to have repercussions in the future.

Though it is understandable that continuing some classes is economically unfeasible considering our current fiscal situation, the school should not cut down these important courses that offer students a way to creatively express themselves. Because many students at Conestoga take academically challenging courses, often filling up their schedules with Advanced Placement and Honors classes, they look at these classes as outlets that offer them both an entertaining and relaxing break. Such elective courses also allow students to branch out their interests so that they can focus on artistic or vocational skills, rather than center their high school careers on strictly academic disciplines. Most of the classes require students to gain a cumulative understanding of the topic, something that is difficult for the teacher to instill if classes only meet half of the cycle. Students are bound to forget important information and teachers will have to sacrifice valuable class minutes when classes resume next cycle. Therefore, students who eventually progress to the Advanced level classes might not be as proficient as others in past years and so the advanced matter will have to be diluted to compensate for information not taught in the limited amount of time.

By choosing to make these decisions about elective courses, the district will in essence stifle the uniqueness and creativity that thrives in our school community. In the past, students have left Conestoga knowing that they have had the opportunity in our high school to hone their artistic, technical and vocational skills.

Though The Spoke’s editorial board consists of mostly upperclassmen, we nevertheless lament the loss of the six-day elective courses, and are especially saddened by the fact that the underclassmen will not be able to capitalize on the many opportunities that we once took for granted.

We understand that Conestoga is among the elite in the country when it comes to offering students the luxury of elective courses and so we plead the district to reconsider their proposal. By limiting or eradicating some of these cherished courses, Conestoga risks its reputation as a place where creativity is fostered and originality is nurtured.

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  1. I think this comes down to dollars and sense. I completely understand the thinking behind this editorial. However, the question to ask the students is how do we pay for it?

    Would the parent of the student who wrote this article be willing to pay a premium while their son/daughter is in school so they can be afforded the ability to keep a full schedule and longer elective classes. Would the parents pay, maybe 2 times the tax rate while their student is in the school.

    As someone who does not have a student in the district, I do not wish to pay a premium for these things. I would like to pay my fair share of taxes based on the needs of ALL the students in the district, not just those who overload their schedules and take extra AP courses.

    It also sounds like there would be some benefit to elective classes that are not as many days per week. It almost sounds to me that you would be able to take a wider selection of electives over 4 years. Elective classes are interest classes. Most are not core education classes. Elective classes often help students find trades and interests to pursue in college. If you take 5 core classes at 6 days per week, that is 30 classes, and you still have 12 class periods open per 6 day cycle. The district website also says that this excludes co-curricular classes as well. So students who do the newspaper, music and etc may still schedule those classes beyond the 42 limit. It also excludes labs for classes they meet more then once per day.

    So as I commiserate with the students here, and I support their goals, I ask… who will pay??

    1. Prior to moving the 9th graders to the high school, Conestoga had a 7-period day. It was during that transition that the program “access, options and choice” was introduced, and the high school went to an 8-period day. Many students do not have a free period in their schedule by choice….but I have always maintained that if we allow kids to overschedule, we not only create artificial demand for a class — we also put a very high bar out there….if other kids take 7 majors, there is pressure to do it. The high school sends kids off to college with 1 or 2 years of AP credits if that’s how the kids choose to use it. It’s complicated, but the board looked at cutting this back well before this financial crisis hit in response to some senior citizens complaining that they were funding college credits. Kids don’t just go to school — they build college resumes. If Conestoga puts a ceiling on how much they can take, we actually take collective pressure off them. This is an articulate editorial and is actually accurate in that electives are wonderful options, but the best way to achieve much of this is to reduce the periods available to schedule – reduce the number of APs a student can take – and let the standards of the school be high, but not artificially so. Parents have a hard time telling their kids to be reasonable when their peers are pushing themselves to elite levels. Some kids who cannot reach that simply bail on the process. I had a child go to a “highly selective colllge” and he had taken many, many APs — as many as Conestoga could schedule for him. His college room-mate went to a high school with ZERO APs….and he took zero. They both got in. The college did not accept AP credits — you had to do your four years there. (They don’t want to lose tuition dollars either) Colleges expect you to take advantage of what your high school has to offer — and if the high school offers everything — too much– it can create artificial pressures that turn out to be real ones. And while electives are fun, perhaps they could have class fees associated with them? They tend to have more than the teacher associated with the class (art, photography, culinary etc sounds to me like it has lots of equipment and supplies)

    2. Agreed John,
      I am not saying that an idea like this will pass or be implemented, but if it were to be proposed, it should go towards the utilization of the direct services to the students education (not benefits, bonuses, healthcare…etc). I was simply just trying to make a theoretical point.

      I have ZERO issue with there being a wide variety of elective courses. I believe for those who aren’t going to be scientists of mathematicians that these courses offer direction in life.

    3. I also don’t have children in Conestoga, though I probably will one day (ages 2 1/2 and 1month). But I STRONGLY support keeping a wide range of electives, and will happily pay more for it today (and have happily paid for it already for the past 8 years)

      My support for this comes from two directions:

      1) Conestoga ranks consistently among the very best in the Philly area (and state). This is partly due to demographics (higher-income parents on average are more likely to support academic performance), and partly due to the parents and community being willing to pay to create a top-notch public school.

      You suggest that parents pay for any extras – the community (and those currently without kids in the schools) pay only for necessities). Effectively that’s done in many districts where a large portion of the electorate is not directly impacted – vacation areas (shore), retirement areas (Florida), etc. They vote down almost all taxes meant to pay for schools, and in reaction they end up with a necessities-only school system – and those schools typically end performing far worse than would be expected. In many areas like that, everyone who has the financial means sends their child to private school, even further lessening the support for the public schools.

      The problem with all this is that school districts have a VERY direct link to property values, especially in areas that aren’t retirement/vacation spots. I live on the Tredyffrin/Charlestown border, and one of the houses on my street just sold (in the current slow market). The reason it sold? Because the buyers were willing to go through the hassle of moving less than a mile just in order to send their children to the best school in the area. People buy houses in Tredyffrin because of the schools (and this significantly raises property values). I bought here 8 years ago, long before I had children, before we decided to *have* children, with one major factor being SPECIFICALLY that it was in the T-E district. I raised property values (because without my and others wanting to buy houses would sell for less and take longer). I paid higher taxes than I would for a lesser district for 8 years, with no children in school, and will pay for several more years before I’ll have a child in school.

      If in response to these budget issues T-E no longer has the top-notch results and reputation it has, and drops to middle or simply above average, people will stop wanting to locate here. Property values will decline, further exacerbating the budget woes as time goes on.

      2) These programs, these electives really do make a difference, especially to the gifted child or to those who really work hard. You can see the same thing (though at different levels) in private schools: I went to probably the best private school in NYC as a child, where 30% of the students were National Merit scholars. Due to my mother’s death, I ended up having to got to another very good (but not the top academically) private school in CT. I was amazed at how much less diverse the curriculum was, and as a result I really coasted there, sitting 5th in my class without trying. But when I got to college, the lack of challenge and diversity really bit me – I was no longer the smartest person in my classes, I could no longer not bother to study and still get A’s and B’s – but I’d lost all habits of studying, because I hadn’t needed them.

      That’s my personal story, but I’m sure Conestoga students could tell you how access to AP, advanced and diverse courses has kept them engaged, motivated, and at the same time helped them avoid the pure-academic-burnout problem. There’s a reason (many reasons) why T-E has been one of the best schools for so long.

      Part of the deal of public education is that by sharing the expense among the entire community, the entire community benefits in the long run. They get better schools, less social problems, higher property values, more investment, etc. “Necessities only” sees education as a forced requirement to be minimized, while it can be (and is here) a way to improve and drive improvement of the entire community.

      1. Randell

        Well thought out, but I hope you will allow me to point out that the diversity at Conestoga is dramatically improved by the fact that the course offerings are not exclusive to gifted children. In fact, the offerings are based on the fact that (Howard Gardner) all children possess varying levels of intelligence — and that there are different types of intelligence. The TV studio has been a god-send to students who in an earlier generation might have had a hard time sitting still 8 periods a day….art majors can be AP students in academic subjects too. Intellectual kids can hone artistic skills and not simply the 3 Rs. As a math major myself in the 70s, I “hit a wall” and was lucky enough to have the head of the math department tell me that most of the math majors were either musical, artistic or — get this in 1973 – Asian. And why was that? Even way back then, he believed that the written language Asians learn is visual / artistic — pictures and not sounds — and that expanded both sides of their brains. I switched to accounting…but made sure my children took music and instruments throughout their K-12 educational time.
        The math of taxes isn’t that hard either. The property tax is about 1% (some say 1.5%) of the market value of their homes in TE. It is clear that the value of a home is a great deal more dependent on the quality of the schools than that 1.5% annually costs them. If you can buy the same house in a lesser district for 10% less, that’s 7-10 years of tax payments here….
        Pennywise and pound foolish. It’s wonderful to be attentive to the ability of a population to afford to live here — but you are not benefiting from the schools just because you have children in them. That’s a tangible, payback for your taxes — in lieu of tuition — but if up to 25% of your home value is vested in the school’s reputation, it is an investment in your own equity to support programs that maintain educational excellence.

        One more piece of trivia — given TE’s property tax has historically been about 1% of property value, the math comes out that it takes about 25-30 years of taxes per child to pay for your TE education. So when your kids are done, you are not. (I have those numbers somewhere….and some won’t trust me, but they are accurate).

        It DOES take a village to raise and educate each child.

        1. I agree absolutely that a diverse set of courses benefits all students in the district, not just the top end. My personal example can be misunderstood – I believe a big part of why school is a top performer is the diversity of options and how that (and other things) feed into getting students engaged and keeping them that way, regardless of their level “natural” ability. I do think having programs and elective that allow “gifted” (I hate that word) students to stretch themselves are important, but I think it’s equally important to provide programs to let students who struggle more to be successful as well, and to not just let them drown if they can’t keep up.

          I also realize that it takes more than a few years without children to pay for children in school. This is simply reflected in part by the fact that (say) 80% of properties *currently* don’t have students in school. This is the case in all districts, though many need to assess much more percentage-wise than Tredyffrin does, even though they may spend less per student and have poorer results. (As mentioned, Tredyffrin real-estate is expensive, even relative to other high-value/income suburbs, partly due to the draw of the school district.) I’d considered a house of similar expense in Abington, but one factor that killed that was that total taxes would have been more than double my taxes in Tredyffrin – largely because the millage rate had to be high from lack of industry, and a larger amount of lower-value homes – and the school district was significantly below TE, such that my wife might well have insisted we send our children to private school, adding greatly to the expense of living there. Thus the TE district’s reputation drew a real-estate purchase, helping drive up prices in TE.

  2. This is a tough call, but it strikes me that while the board, and parents, and students are wrestling with these difficult issues, the teachers can go to the bank on their contracts and really aren’t involved in these hard decisions. ANy concessions from the teachers? Will there need to be a strike? ALL parties have to be involved in fixing this. I am finished with sending kids through the district and I understand the need to “protect” seniors and those on fixed income from being taxed out of their houses, then on the other hand one of the reasons why people live and buy here is the school district. Where are the teachers on this? Or at least their union. Maybe they ought to take a meeting with one another.

    1. Conestoga teachers will now be teaching six periods per day. Teachers will go from 130 students to 155-160 students each. This is a major change and will affect teacher work loads significantly.

        1. Sorry. It will be a fight to get teachers to teacher an additional period. The TEEA contract does not address the number of periods a teacher is expected to work. Absent explicit language, past practice rules. If they have been expected to teach 5 periods during the last contract then asking them to teach six will result in a grievance. The teachers would, most likely, win.

  3. It is difficult to know whether the thoughts in the student newspaper editorial were from the student or the union via the influence of the teacher adviser. Teaching jobs are at stake and the union is smart enough to use any avenue to forward their agenda.

    I had to stifle a giggle when the editorial mentioned Beginning TV and Ceramics I as “important courses”. These courses belong in a night time continuing education school where fees are covered by the individual; not the taxpayer.

    1. There is nothing wrong with having beginning TV and ceramics 1 as courses at the high school. These are introduction to career trades. Just like finance, economics, music, communications, photography, etc. They belong in the schools because not every student is proficient in or has a desire to start a career in math/science/literature.

      These are important to get into college just as the core classes are.

      1. I agree, “There is nothing wrong with having beginning TV and ceramics 1 as courses at the high school.”

        And there is nothing wrong with NOT having beginning TV and ceramics 1 as courses at the high school. It’s up to the desires of the community as expressed through their elected school board directors.

        I sense that, at this time, the majority of the community wants to spend less on education rather than more. That means prioritized cuts and I’d rather see cuts in courses like beginning TV and ceramics 1 rather than math/science/literature.

        Maybe I’m wrong. Let’s ask this board to go for an Act 1 referendum to make up the $8M budget shortfall. By my math it would require a tax hike in the 10% to 12% range. Let’s get a direct reading of taxpayer sentiment.

        1. There most definitely is something wrong with not having expanded learning opportunity at the high school. What is the end product that we search for of our students when they graduate?

          To eliminate things like this, even at a cost savings, will produce grossly under-educated, under-exposed graduates. And that will make the value of our taxes even worse.

        2. I graduated from Conestoga and never took any ceramics or TV classes and have never felt that I was ‘grossly-uneducated” or “under-exposed”.

        3. Before the debate rages on about what courses Conestoga should / should not offer, please remember that a teacher stands in front of a classroom of approximately 25 kids and teaches a course…the subject matter does not affect the budget. If Conestoga was proposing adding a ceramics kiln or building a TV studio, this would all be germaine, but they already have those facilities. And I hesitate to remind TT that Conestoga had metal shop in the old days (the TV studio took that over) and he may not have taken computer courses etc….we are educating kids for their future, not out past.

          As someone who heard countless debates on the wisdom of offering AP courses (there was an 80/20 uprising in the 90s relating to the 80% of taxpayers who did not have kids in schools and didn’t want to “fund” college credits), this is just a new lyric to the same melody. I grew up in this area and watched kids sort of drop from the system – square pegs in round holes — and in the last 20 years I have been incredibly impressed by the options offered kids that in fact provided some square holes, some creative outlets for kids that simply learn differently. Kids that in one generation might have been truant problems now have lots of places to succeed in the high school. And that’s not just self-esteem stuff….that’s true self efficacy.

          SO — the issue as I have tried to pose before is not about giving away the store or offering “fluff” courses…the issue is what we are willing to pay for education. Because it is not income based taxing, it is about how much you can wrench out of property values. In my time on the board, we absolutely did not rely on transfer taxes – that money was not designated for operational costs (but rather substituted for borrowing – I called it the “ante up” when you moved to this community). In an effort to keep tax rates low, subsequent boards have relied on it. No other choice except to raise taxes.
          The premise behind teacher contracts is that every year everyone gets to make more than the year before. THAT is the premise that has to change. We do not have to cut programs if we can presume that we can control costs.
          As to the technology comments above relating to unused equipment. My eldest son took part in all sorts of technology initiatives at CHS — went to college and double-majored in EE and CS and is now working for a technology company. If you are encountering teachers who don’t want to use smart boards, they are probably mired in a curriculum they developed prior to that technology or they are part of a “seasoned” teacher corp that has their own way of doing it. When my tech son was in middle school, he was not allowed to use the computer to produce a paper….had to hand write it in 6th grade. And that was not even a generation ago. He did a poem assignment and used the computer (the teacher forget to remind them not to) and I can still remember his teacher confessing to me that John dragged him into this era…because what he could do on a computer (illustration etc.) was so far beyond what the assignment called for initially that he realized he was holding kids back.

          So — as a community we need to understand the educational initiatives. We cannot fall prey to the board scaring us about what they might cut. The fact that they have mandated that the HS teachers lose a prep period to teach an additional class is good — but the backlash if it occurs will come in teacher willingness to do the extras. As taxpayers and parents, we need to thank teachers when they do their jobs well. Teachers are professionals who so rarely think of themselves as hourly workers — but w hen they do (“we don’t get paid to do that”) it can be quite disheartening.

          As to the suggestion above that the board go for a referendum — the state and anyone who understands the law knows that would not pass. It was a barrier to getting thigns done. Unionville CF is a great district and they went to a referendum specifically to renovate/fix some issues with an aging high school. It failed. That 80/20 rule (only 20% of homes have kids in school) has slipped some — a slightly higher percentage have kids, but it’s not the 70-80% that existed in the 70s when the schools were filled with baby boomers….though the school are filled again.

          Good luck to us all. My message to the board is to stop spending more money to do the same things. Freeze some costs. For those in the system, they know what I mean.

        4. Andrea,

          Your assumption that – “a teacher stands in front of a classroom of approximately 25 kids and teaches a course…the subject matter does not affect the budget.” – is wrong. Each additional course adds inefficiency to the master schedule. Ask the administration to provide a list of courses and the number of students in each course. Then see how many classes have 20, 15, 10 and sometimes less than 10 students.

          Also, I’m wondering if you could make your responses succinct.

        5. Some numbers:

          # of Conestoga HS students – 1986
          # of HS teachers – 132
          student/teacher ratio – 15
          (so much for an average class size of 25)

          In addition to teachers, here is the rest of the cast:

          Principals – 1
          asst. principals – 4
          psychologists – 3
          librarians – 2
          mental health specialist – 1
          counselors – 9
          nurses – 2
          secretaries – 19

        6. CitizenOne — the assumption is not wrong. The administration already eliminates classes that don’t have a minimum number. For instance, the Latin teacher might teach Latin 2 and Latin 3 to the same class of students. Not every teacher teaches fullt-ime.
          Remember no cutting teachers for economic reasons.

        7. CJ – No electives that I can remember. I did have an awful lot of free periods though. Any electives I did take are a distant memory. I vaguely remember taking a “stress management” gym elective where we basically laid down and took a nap while the gym teacher told us to breathe in and out.
          I did know a few people who took elective art classes and they loved them. Mainly because it gave them a chance to get high and catch a smoke while they were “drawing” outside.

  4. Excellent commentary here. Developed world economies are going through a quantum reset, and no stakeholders should expect to get everything they are used to or would like to have.

    The program changes that Pattye mentions have been approved by the Education Committee and do represent $525,000 of savings – when attrition allows them to be implemented.

    Since the District can not count on those dollars, the proposed preliminary budget shows a tax increase of 4.2% but no expense reductions (and others are available). The result (after a “budget contingency” of $1.5 million) is a Fund Balance reduction (ie a deficit) of $6.7 million, for an ending amount of $21.4 million.

    I encourage folks to peruse the numbers for a little light Holiday reading ahead of the Jan 3rd meeting.

    Of total expenditures of $113.7 million, $50.7 million (45%) goes to regular instruction, $15.6 million (14%) to special instruction. These are the areas that make up most of the increase from the current year and have been the focus of attention because of the salaries, pension and healthcare cost escalation.

    However, maybe we should ensure that sufficient attention has been, and will be, paid to the $37.6 million in Support Services. The biggest components of these are plant ($10.9 million), transportation ($7.0 million) and administration ($6.4 million). Pupil and instructional support account for about $4 million each.

    I believe that the taxpayers’ money sitting in the Fund Balance allows the School Board to minimize tax increases and that they should be encouraged to continue the practice of increasing taxes no more than the Act 1 index – a fair reflection of taxpayer ability to pay.

  5. A few days ago I had a short conversation with my daughter and her two friends who attend Conestoga regarding cost-savings. They all told me the same things…

    – The Smart Boards are a waste of money, nobody uses them. The teachers only use them as a projector… roughly 150 classrooms…they students say about 3/4 of them have Smart Boards….

    – There are 2 laptops carts holding about 60 new computers that have never been used…

    – There are over 75 security cameras…

    -MAC’s are updated regularly and are not used…

    – Ipads are not used…

    – mini-laptops are not used…

    – technology in auditorium not utilized

    – too many finance courses are offered, they could be consolidated

    This is not the first time my daughter or one of her friends have mentioned cuts at school…good teachers being laid off, class sizes getting bigger, courses being cut… they are concerned about this and I think
    they would appreciate someone listening to them…

    1. Thanks for information Christine – Conestoga student insider information really helps the discussion!

      Is there a T/E School Board member who oversees the school district’s technology? Or does technology fall under the jurisdiction of the ‘facilities’ committee. It was just a few weeks ago, that there was discussion about upgrading the technology at Conestoga HS. If the information is accurate from Christine (and unless proven otherwise, I think we have to believe the information she supplied from the students as accurate) than who should be looking in to the teacher/administration/student use (or non-use) of technology that the school district already owns.

      Andrea or Kevin G., can you offer us any information on this topic?

  6. There is a technology committee…and it has a board member assigned. Check out the district website under departments for more info.

  7. CJ ….Your analysis of student teacher ratios is flawed….there are about 8 special education teachers who do not teach regular classes…..yet count in the total number of teachers. My daughter goes to Conestoga and she says the average size of her classes is about 27.

  8. The policy on class size calls for classes aimed at 25. The “budget scenario” called for eliminating all classes under 15. When a teacher teaches ceramics, they are either part time or teach a full load of courses related to their certification.

    Quoting from the Insight:
    In developing the 2010-2011 budget, the Administration used current actual student enrollment numbers to identify instructional staffing needs. District class size practices are used to determine the
    staffi ng for each grade level in each building. The original 2010-2011 budget contained 491.5 full-time equivalent (FTE) instructional positions. Th e current projected staffing for 2010-2011 is 472.2 FTE. This reduction of 19.3 FTE results from program modifi cations and the curtailment of the Foreign Language in the Elementary School (FLES) program. The economic impact of these modifi cations are included in the proposed budget strategies

    I apologize that I am not “succinct” — I don’t go for sound bites and incomplete answers. Read until you are tired. :)

  9. Citizenone ( i.e. one citizen among many, not first among citizens), you illustrate perfectly the problem of wielding a few facts like a cudgel. Do you have any personal connection to the district’s schools? Or are you part of the 80% who have little incentive to spend the time investigating and understanding the costs of maintaining TESD’s excellent programs? It seems to be all about your wallet.

    Andrea correctly points out that the district has already invested in a tv studio and a broad-based fine arts program (including ceramics). They are the envy of many other school districts, some of which have spent more and added less value for their taxpayers’ dollars.

    As the parent of children who have benefitted immeasurably from both of these programs throughout their years at CHS, I strongly oppose the removal of these courses from the curriculum. Participation in them has given many students a competitive edge in college programs in the fine arts, journalism and digital media- not to mention the inherent value of learning these disciplines. Your suggestion that they are lightweight electives that can easily be eliminated is simply wrong.

    I believe most of the 80%ers support maintaining high educational standards in T/E. The evaluation process is complex. Uninformed judgments about program cuts and cynical comments about CHS students being manipulated by the teachers’ union add nothing positive to the discussion about keeping costs down and in line with projected revenues.

    Re your request for brevity, instead of asking others on this blog to offer up digestible little comments that meet your standards, how bout skipping those too long to be worth your while! Some of us appreciate substance over fluff and are willing to read a few paragraphs to understand what the writer has to say.

    1. Kate, 80% of people who are not enlightened like you? And yes, Kate, for some it is about their wallet. You are the female? John Petersen, Congratulations. And I’ll skip the rest of your stuff.

      1. FF,

        May 2011 be a year of enlightenment ( and fatter wallets) for us all!

        Of course our tax bite matters – more than ever for many people. But families didn’t move here for an “efficient” education. The value of our homes isn’t based on “good enough and no better”. We have an exceptional group of children in T/E whose parents expect the rigor, challenge and breadth of programs offered in T/E. Let’s not downgrade decades of success.

        I hope it doesn’t become a full-blown battle of the 20% plus supporters of a top-notch education vs. the wallet brigade. There is a middle ground here. Dr. Waters and the School Board are struggling to find it.

        And thanks for the compliment, FF. I know John Petersen personally. He is a very decent, thoughtful man who sometimes expresses strong opinions. The man and his opinions – they don’t define the man.

        Happy Holidays to all !

        1. I think they do define the man, and both he and you put down others. It is in black and white. So be it. I’m a grown up.
          I hope they find the middle ground too. It benefits all. But I think the elephant(s) in the room are the teachers. But one man’s compliment is another’s insult. Whatever. You and John would make a lovely couple.

        2. yes, John, BEWARE.. how foolish. “gravitar changes”? As far as I know I am only one person. How many are you? HA. I needed this laugh thanks!

      2. I wrote this above FF, but these posts are out of order, so I’m trying to respond to you too.

        The math of taxes isn’t that hard either. The property tax is about 1% (some say 1.5%) of the market value of their homes in TE. It is clear that the value of a home is a great deal more dependent on the quality of the schools than that 1.5% annually costs them. If you can buy the same house in a lesser district for 10+% less, that’s 7-10 years of tax payments here….
        Pennywise and pound foolish. It’s wonderful to be attentive to the ability of a population to afford to live here — but you are not benefiting from the schools just because you have children in them. That’s a tangible, payback for your taxes — in lieu of tuition — but if up to 25% of your home value is vested in the school’s reputation, it is an investment in your own equity to support programs that maintain educational excellence.
        For those on fixed incomes, the old “mortgage burning” parties are a thing of the past. You cannot expect to retain 100% of your equity if you choose to stay in a community committed to education. Even in this down market, I would assume that few people live in a home that hasn’t dramatically appreciated in value if they have lived here through raising a family.

    2. As someone who does struggle for brevity, I appreciate that Kate. I never want to leave ambiguity in many answers here — as people leap to all kinds of conclusions. These are tough times….we need to understand what we are facing. My onow tired-out board phrase “Those with all the answers rarely have all the information.” Thanks.

  10. Hold on, everyone!

    The Spoke editorial claims: “The district plans to remove some classes from the program of studies while cutting down the majority of them, including popular courses like Beginning TV and Ceramics 1, from being six days a cycle to three days a cycle”.

    Is this in fact true? The majority of electives being cut from 6 periods/cycle to 3? I don’t think so!

    I haven’t been to the Education Committee, but the only items with budget impact that are being sent to the Board relate to teacher periods/day, student periods/cycle and eliminating German and Latin from the Middle Schools. Budget strategy 3H would eliminate the Applied Tech program, but this has not been approved in the Committee.

    If anyone thinks that CHS does not offer a wide range of electives, I suggest they scan the 2011/12 course selection forms that are part of the Jan 3rd School Board Agenda. Note, for example, that the list of visual and performing arts courses for seniors is longer than that for math and science combined.

    Christine’s comment about the lack of use of the available technology echoes what I have heard. I think it’s really important that before we spend another $3 million to get the latest and greatest that we understand exactly how the the spending will improve the quality (or reduce the cost) of the educational program.

    1. Before we panic about cutting from 6 times per cycle to 3 times per cycle, it would be important to understand the history. Many electives were originally 2 or 3 times per cycle. The expansion to an 8-period day was done when the buildings were reconfigured (my 2001 Stoga graduate was beginning 5th grade…). The 8 periods (plus lunch) were meant to expand “access, options and choice.” In difficult economic times, which these clearly are, it is necessary to rethink some of that. If they reduce the number of periods kids can schedule, it only makes sense to reduce the numbers of periods some electives meet — to continue to allow students access to the electives, but at a less intensive rate.
      It’s arthimetic folks. Total students, number of periods scheduled, class size and staffing. The staffing is done based on enrollment in total. Yes — the master schedule would disclose how many classes have very few students — but as I said before — many times the district combines classes into one teacher to deliver material at different levels (An Honors and an AP course could be scheduled and taught simultaneously with differing course requirements for completion and assessment). Some of the smaller classes are meeting special needs — at both ends of the spectrum. If the budget calls for no classes under a certain number (15), then they are no classes that make it to the master schedule with fewer than 15 students. If some students drop the course during the year, the course isn’t suddenly cancelled.

      We have professionals in our district that are not newcomers to this process. Dr. Waters was the principal at Conestoga before he ever went into Central Administration. Dr. Dinkins did the master schedule when he was an ass’t principal at CHS. I won’t bore you with more details — but it is one of the benefits of seasoned administrators — they can make it work.

      FF — I appreciate your acceptance that these lessons will be hard ones to teach, not just learn. We still have a few teachers in our system that were here before we had a union (or at least some that worked with some who worked before a union.) There is a longstanding generalize that predates 1970 that “teachers are underpaid and underappreciated.” The fact is — that is absolutely not true. Teachers make choices just like anyone else with a job. They choose to teach — with all that goes along with that. They can only make what everyone else with their experience and education makes, regardless of quality. They get a pretty lucrative pension. They get paid for anything they do that qualifies for “EDR” pay (extra duty responsibility) like department chair, coaching soccer, leading the band. They are tenured. They are forced to be part of a union negotiation – “fair share”.
      40 years ago, they were mostly “second income” earners (read: wives) and coached and had summer jobs to supplement their income. Nowadays, the EDR pay can sometimes be quite substantial because many teachers are not eager to extend their work day. Like the rest of the working world, they want a life outside of their job.

      So — I say again that the mentality about a raise every year — but limited to 16 veritical steps — has to change. At the very least, there has to be a step for every year you expect to teach — 35 — or you have to spend several years on each step. It’s not possible to fix the current compensation issues because you cannot reduce someone’s pay constitutionally. But we need as a district and as a community to understand the compensation issue WELL (not knee jerk saying the boards have given away the store). We cannot accept the notion that we need to give raises for “morale” or meeting personal objectives. Each year any PSERS employee works is another year of 2.5% added to their pension. If you teach 40 years, you get 100% of average 3-years no matter what your raises were over the years. If you teach 20 years, you get 50% of that number. So getting to STAY teaching means a raise. It’s that simple — and that complicated. I truly believe that few teachers understand it well — at least not beyond what their union leadership (and state propaganda — and I do believe the PSEA is an agent of propaganda) tells them.
      So — despite the fact that at my core I do agree with Shakespeare that brevity is the soul of wit, I hope you don’t mind my tedious explanation of a subject that is incredibly tedious itself — but at the core of our community’s educational soul.

  11. To mainlinetaxpayer:
    OK. Subtract 8 special ed teachers from the total number of teachers and recalculate the student to teacher ratio.

    To Andrea:
    If we had the master schedule for the HS we would have a complete picture of class size. Until then, we are stuck with sometimes contradictory anecdotes and ratios.

    To Kate:
    Of course, it is about my wallet. If TESD were a private institution I’d have little interest in how others spend their money. I do have a keen interest in how others spend my money. There is no limit to the number of additional “valuable” programs that are requested by well meaning parents – to be funded with others’ dollars. Educating our children to be productive citizens is important and I fully support that. But let’s remember that every dollar spent on education is a dollar that can’t be spent on mortgage payments, health care, college savings, retirement savings, food, energy bills, etc. There is a balance to be struck between a “thorough education” and an “efficient education”. I think we need to lean a bit more in the efficient direction.

  12. Andrea, I appreciate your sober thoughts. And most teachers are dedicated professionals. But you hit it on the head when you said they cannot expect each new contract to be an automatic increase. They need to be part of the solution too.

  13. Wonderful discussion regarding our unsigned! I’m the co-editor-in-chief of The Spoke, and I wanted to clear up two things:

    1) The Spoke is completely student-run, meaning that my fellow editors and myself choose the unsigned topic, as well as all other content in the rest of the paper. The advisers do just that–advise–but have no say over what articles run and what tone we take. Therefore, there is absolutely no influence from our advisers or the teachers’ union.

    2) Mr. Clarke, you said “Is this in fact true? The majority of electives being cut from 6 periods/cycle to 3? I don’t think so!” While no course cuts have been officially announced (i.e. to the general public) there have been lists distributed to teachers currently teaching those electives regarding which classes will be changed that I viewed previously to publishing this unsigned. I believe the cuts will be announced in early January, and the program of studies will reflect these changes in February.

    Contact me at for any other questions or comments; we welcome community letters to the editor. You may also comment about our unsigned online at

    1. Thank you for weighing in Meghan. The TESD budget, deficit, pension issues and teacher contract are important topics of discussion. As a taxpayer without children in the school district, I find if very useful and appreciate student input. I was interested in a couple of the comments on Community Matters that focused on the under-utilization of technology. Having an insider student weigh in on technology usage by teacher/staff/students would be very interesting — care to comment from your vantage point?

    2. Many thanks for the background, Meghan.

      My comment arose because the editorial’s assertion seems to be belied by the 2011/12 program of studies that is up for Board approval next week and also “the majority of electives” is a very specific term. Possibly the “majority” is of those electives taught by the teachers who showed you the data?

      The problem we are all wrestling with here is that the amount of funding for schools is finite. Property taxes have increased 50% in a decade, yet still there is not enough money for everything we are used to. This is true not just in T/E but all neighboring districts. Somehow the Board has to maximize the education quality within the constraints of available funding, union contracts, state mandates, pension plan commitments, etc. Perhaps Mr Poissez can help solve that function!

  14. As a senior, I can’t speak for the elementary school teachers using SMART Boards; however, I can say that our librarians have to turn students away from using a laptop or desktop computer frequently because of shortages. One parent commented about the iPads in the library; we published an article about them in December. According to the head librarian, these are being tested, along with, in the near future, a Barnes and Noble nook, to see what technology will be most beneficial to students.

    The money for the iPads (I’m not sure about the laptops) comes from the library’s budget, and I think that these new technologies are a worthwhile investment. While iPads may not raise standardized testing scores, and thus property values, they do prepare us for the real world, which after all is part of our education. For instance, my mom, a vice president at a local biomedical firm, recently sought to buy 250 iPads for her sales team to use across the country, and I have friends at Ivy League colleges whose class texts are exclusively on Kindles.

    Regarding technology use by teachers, I’ve seen it go both ways: some teachers barely know how to turn on a SMART board, while others can use it to actually hold students’ attention during an AP Chemistry lecture–an impressive feat! Though I’m not 100 percent sure, I think that all/most teachers go to SMART Board training before using them. I did have one teacher who told the class upfront he had no idea how to use it; the board was installed in the classroom to which he was assigned.

    One important point has been glossed over in this discussion: the human element of teaching. We didn’t touch on this in our unsigned after writing about it previously, but as one poster noted, teachers may be required to teach six periods next year. To those removed from the high school, that may not seem like much, but this will, I believe, have a negative impact on both students and teachers. Many teachers teach class five periods, but they are still busy for the remaining three: overseeing independent studies, advising gifted students or those who simply need help studying for a test, writing teacher recommendations or even doing cafeteria duty. Requiring them to teach 25-30 extra students in a day and also take a prep period away can only lead to more burnout, and thus a poorer education.

    This post represents my personal opinion, not that of The Spoke, the editorial board or Conestoga High School.

    1. Meghan –
      It is certainly apparent why you are the The Spoke’s editor-in-chief – thank you for your well-written, instructive remarks!

      Appreciating that your comments are from a personal perspective and not necessarily representative of the high school or The Spoke, I thank you for offering your insight in to the use of technology. I do wonder if the administration instructs teachers to use the available technology. Or, is the technology available as an ‘option’ for the teachers and not mandatory. Questions for you — do all your teachers have the student assignments available online? Do you email your papers to your teachers? Is that an option? Do all the teachers provide students with email addresses?

      Without a child in the school district, your insight is invaluable and I’m sure there are many other grateful Community Matters readers! Thank you Meghan.

    2. How would you suggest they go about it? The IPad and the newer NOOK 3G are both capable of providing web access and therefore access to digital content that the school owns/uses.. The costs are different. The equipment would substitute for a laptop or desktop in the building. LMSD bought them all laptops and we know how that turned out. So in the practical non-RFP world, where they need to provide access,.what is the alternative? It’s a hardware decision, right? How can it be hardware agnostic.

  15. As part of the new district website last summer, each teacher now has an online page with at least basic information about his/her contact information and classes. [\ ]

    Before this single method of organization, teachers used a variety of tools: Google Docs, Moodle, wikipages, etc. This has streamlined the process, and as a result some teachers have moved all of their assignments and syllabi online. Not every teacher posts every worksheet online, but some do make an extra effort that is much appreciated by students. My math teacher, math department head Paul Poissez, will go as far as to scan a test review sheet in with handwritten answers the night before a test so we can see the correct work, not just the answers. Some teachers, particularly social studies, in my experience, utilize wikipages successfully in class for projects. These free sites can allow every group in a class to have a particular web page including video, documents, links, etc, which each group member can then edit from home or school.

    Most English and social studies instructors use, a site paid for by the school. This allows teachers to grade online, and also check for plagiarism through the website’s algorithm. Again, it depends on the teacher: I e-mail my physics teacher my lab reports and have turned every 5-point sophomore English assignment into turnitin, but my current English teacher will only grade paper copy.

    Each student in the high school is provided with a Conestoga e-mail address when s/he enters high school. The e-mail account itself looks like it’s from the 1990s, but it serves an important purpose nonetheless. This is the only e-mail account we can access from school, as everything else is blocked. Because the address is so simple– graduation year, last name, first initial ( for me)–it makes group projects easy. Of course, in this Facebook age, group members are more likely to start a Facebook message about the project than use e-mail, but it’s still useful.

    Please let me know if you, Pattye, or anyone else have questions; I’m happy to answer them.

      1. Andrea,

        I believe you over estimate the effect of test scores on home prices by saying “up to 25% of your home value is vested in the school’s reputation”. This is the refrain we hear from everyone trying to justify more educational spending.

        The effect of school test scores on home prices is over estimated by most people.

        From: Capitalization of the Quality of Local Public Schools: What do Home Buyers Value, Fed Reserve Bank of Phila. 2006.

        This study used data from 17 Montgomery County school districts to determine the effect of test score on home values.

        “A one-standard-deviation increase in these scores raises house prices between 1.7 percent and 2.4 percent depending on which score we use.”

        To put this into perspective:

        The average SAT test score for TE students is about 600. Even if the average SAT score took a precipitous drop to 500 (one standard deviation) the value of a $500K home would drop by only $10K.

        Instead of 25% of a home’s value being affected by the school’s reputation a better estimate might be 2%. And that 2% drop only comes with a large test score decline.

        Let’s make data driven decisions.

        1. Go find your TE House in Downingtown…same age and condition…and tell me what you will pay. Likewise, go find your house in Upper Merion….ignore test scores. It’s anecdotal indeed….so ask the realtors which districts people inquire about. Supply and demand are driving market prices. And I don’t think that average SAT scores has a thing to do with anything related to the perceived quality of the educational program. But I’ll defer to statistical experts…I only know that when I “downsize” it will be to a community that either has few schools or one with bad schools….resale won’t matter.

          Any my comment before that John questioned relates to the fact that being “debt free” on your home after it’s paid for is not a right — it’s a decision. If you want to stay in an area that is expensive to live in because it cares about education, you need to be prepared to find ways to afford the community. Home equity is an obvious choice.

          These are clearly my opinions, and my observations. This is an exchange of ideas. I’m not trying to persuade anyone…I did this for 3 terms and had a hard enough time getting 5 votes to get things done….not likely to gather us all together to take a vote anytime soon. And from my days on the school board, people are more actively discussing it here than we could get to show up at a budget hearing. I used to say “Want a crowd…move a bus stop” — because until you hit people personally, few take the time to learn about it.

        2. Without the statistical pieces, your reference is interesting (2006)…but here is the concluding information:

          Prospective home buyers appear to value school quality primarily at the district level. In the regressions using our full sample of 3150 observations, intra-district differences in elementary school scores are not a significant determinant of house prices once we control for district-wide averages. When we restrict our sample and use school district boundary dummies to
          control for neighborhood characteristics, we find that district-wide high school scores significantly affect house prices, but elementary school scores do not. Although these results are tentative because of the smaller sample size of houses on district boundaries, they support our earlier conclusion about the primary importance of the school district. In effect, prospective home buyers base their offers on differences across school districts rather than across school attendance zones in the same district.

          So – to be succinct :
          district-wide high school scores significantly affect house prices

        3. Andrea,

          I think you are confusing the statistical definition of “significant” with “large”.

          In the study mentioned above the effect of high school scores on home prices was statistically significant (unlikely to have occurred by chance), but small (2% per 1 standard deviation).

        4. a) Those are PSSA scores, not SAT scores
          b) the “1 standard deviation” they refer to is a standard deviation in the average score among the districts in MontCo, NOT the deviation in individual student’s scores (as you imply by discussing a 100 point swing in SAT values as 1 std. dev.)
          c) 1.7-2.4% is for the worst of the 3 comparisons (tables 3, 4, and 5) – school level. District level is strongest, and 5th-grade reading scores have the highest correlation (4.5% per All correlations except 1 are strongly significant (1% level or better).
          d) This study only measured direct effects; the authors acknowledge that other studies have shown that school reputation causes indirect effects of 2-4 times the direct effect. (I.e. good school district leads to other community improvements and differences that also increase home values): “Bayer, Ferreira, and McMillan (2003 and 2004) have developed a general equilibrium model in which other desirable neighborhood characteristics are affected by the quality of public schools through Tiebout sorting. They find that, when we take into account Tiebout sorting, the full effect on house prices of differences in school quality is two to four times as great as the direct effect. The hedonic model in this paper does not attempt to capture the indirect effects of school quality on house prices due to Tiebout sorting”
          e) This study makes a simplifying assumption that PSSA tests are the primary source of information to buyers to determine school quality. I think most people would realize that while those might be looked at, at best they’re stand-ins for what buyers really use: “reputation”, which is based on SAT, college entrance rates, facilities and programs, PSSA tests and simply “perception” and word-of-mouth. Those are very hard to accurately measure, however, so PSSA is used as a rough approximation.

          READ5_DIST (the highest correlation) has a mean of 1377 with a of 45. So roughly 1 in 20 districts in MontCo would have had a 3 better than average, for an assumed direct increase in value of 13.5%, and one in 20 would have been -3 std dev, for -13.5%. Add in indirect effects, and you’re talking (for a top district) around 25-50% increase in value over an average district. Now, 25-50 may be overstating things, but I’d also say that TE schools are better (and better perceived) than the 1 in 20 standard mentioned. And I think I could believe 25%, perhaps higher, over an average school district (note that many neighboring districts (Lower Merion, Radnor, Great Valley, etc) are also above average, so that makes it harder to notice the difference).

          I live on the TE/GV line, and our road runs along it, and it’s clear here that the TE side of the road is preferred by buyers, when everything else is obviously the same.

          So, ironically, the study you cite actually backs up the hypothesis that District school quality/reputation has a strong effect on home values.

  16. Citizenone

    I responded to your article reference as a closing remark. My initial comment was that statistical influences aside, anecdotal study of our communities is pretty obvious — and you can check out Upper Merion, Marple Newtown, Phoenixville, Downingtown and beyond…the demographics of the homeowner differ and so does the housing price…and so does the expectation for educational programs.

    So I have not confused “large” with significant…any more than I would suggest that you have confused “statistical” with “anecdotal.” JP believes it’s a blinding flash of the obvious. I know that it’s about square footage costs of over $200 a foot in TE (sometimes well over) vs. under $175 a foot elsewhere in fine residential areas with less successful high school programs.

    1. Randall,

      First, thanks for your comments. It’s refreshing to hear from someone who can read and interpret a study.

      Second, you correctly point out that the artiocle used PSSA scores and I used SAT scores in my example. This was done purposefully because readers are more familiar with SAT scores and there is a high correlation between PSSA scores and SAT scores. However, I should have used the std deviation of the districts (about 50 for PA schools in 2008) rather than individuals (100).

      Third, you stated that “roughly 1 in 20 districts in MontCo would have had a 3 better than average”. Check my math, but I think the probability of a district falling 3 std deviations above the average is 0.13% (area under the tail of the z curve) or 1 in 700 rather than 1 in 20. If 1 in 20 is the goal then we’re looking for about 1.5 std deviations.

      Fourth, let me take a few days to read the Bayer, Ferreira, and McMillan article and I’ll respond in more detail. After a quick scan, the Bayer, Ferreira, and McMillan article does not include school inputs (factors under school director control) such as per student spending, teacher tenure, teacher education and class size. I’m also reading “Parents, peers, or school inputs: Which components of school outcomes are capitalized into house value?” This article may help.

      For argument sake let us assume that school quality/reputation does have a strong affect (~25%) on home values. The next question to answer is – Will program cuts have any effect on quality/reputation? Followed by – Will tax increases necessary to forgo program cuts have a negative effect on home values?

      1. You’re right, I was thinking 2 standard deviations (= ~ 95%, but that’s +- 2 std deviations for 95%, so +2 std deviations is more like 1 in 40). That would be +9.x%, or with indirect roughly +20 to +35-40%. Note also that was the strongest correlation; most of the others would be around 1/2 to 3/4 of that value.

        Like I said, I could believe (including indirect effects) 15-25%. Indirect effects are probably higher in areas known for a low average quality level, but I haven’t read the study on indirect effects.

        I should also not we shouldn’t get *too* wrapped up in exactly how much it affects housing values, since that’s not the only reason one funds education. The fact that there is a strongly significant effect is something that should partially alleviate the complaints over “why should I pay for good schools when I have no kids in them”. Agreed one can argue over “how good” (and the property value effect can come into play here).

        One can also argue that this community has long agreed to fund “good” schools, which is why it has the results and reputation it has, and this has also shaped the community itself, by drawing families that value education, leading to higher real estate values which also forces a shift towards higher-earning homeowners. (The indirect effects cited.) A downside of this is that people on fixed incomes can get priced and taxed out of the market or their homes – a common problem due to how schools are funded in PA (and many other states), with no real good answer other than a major revamp of how schools are paid for (and broadening the tax basis used to fund them).

        1. Randall,

          There is a popular concept that we “fund good schools”. Andrea brings up the concept that , “If we start cutting programs, your home’s value erodes.”

          Yet every study I read that evaluates the effect of school inputs (spending, class size, teacher tenure, teacher education) on test scores finds these factors either insignificant or significant, but small. Likewise, every study I read that evaluates the effect of demographics (parental income, parental education, ESL students, racial characteristics) on test scores finds these factors significant and large.

          If TE wants to keep test scores high (a well accepted proxy for school quality) then school directors should not be concerned with spending; they should be concerned with factors that select for favorable socioeconomic residents – zoning that favors high home prices (large homes, large lots) and minimizes rental units. These factors, of course, are not under the control of school directors, but are somewhat under the control of township supervisors.

          This is not my thinking, but that of Brasington and Haurin in their paper “Parents. peers or school inputs….?” ,2009. Here is a quote: “Thus, community leaders, landowners, and homeowners may be interested in controlling who enters their community through exclusionary zoning.. …..increasing the ratio of homeowners to renters and increasing average household income in the school district, which could be achieved by legislating a minimum
          lot size and perhaps minimum house size.”

          If one subscribes to the theory that school quality (as measured by test scores) is driven by zoning (not spending) we should find a correlation. When I have time I’ll look at zoning in TE, LM and Unionville. From census data we already know that TE, LM and Unionville have the highest percentages of college educated parents and the lowest percentages of poverty.

  17. Thanks Randall. Wonderful analysis/summary. So — a house valued at 500,000 in TE would have a probably assessment of $277,000, (County CLR 55.4) and the school taxes would be $4977. Same house price in LM would have an predicted assessed value of $280,500 and school taxes of $6,252. GV – $277,000 assessed value and taxes of $5,124. Radnor’s house would be assessed at $321,000 and would pay school taxes of $7195. Upper Merion’s school tax on the house selling for $500K (alued at 280,500) would be $4468.

    Boring. Certainly these CLR assessments are not promises of any relative value….but the TE taxes would rise 25% to meet LM’s, and 2.9% to meet GV. Radnor….where the teachers rejected the settlement offer (last time I saw any update anyway), 45%. UM pays less…..relative house value? IF lower taxes meant higher values? No sign of it there.

    1. Careful just comparing real estate taxes between TE and other districts – especially if the other district has a EIT.

      That especially complicates it because an EIT hits working people much more than retired, and hits higher earners more than low earners, so it greatly complicates looking at the relative tax levels – it depends on who owns the house, not just the house itself.

      For added fun, a $500K house in each of those districts would not be the same house….

      1. I agree — and that’s the point: If you want to spend $500,000 on a house (which is presumably how people start the search prior to making a buying decision — they have a budget and then ask the realtor or the search engine to find houses in that price range….they set the variables for the home itself personally).

        So if you want to spend $500K on a house, these are the likely tax implications. And the districts I used do not have EITs…GV has one but the schools do not share it. Presumably the total tax burden is another variable someone looks at. The statistical models are valuable in analysis but price reflects many of those variables IN the pricing decision, but not (again, presumably) in the “setting your budget” underwriting decision. To try to isolate the school part in that price is interesting, but anecdotally moot, since it would be a decision that doesn’t allow you to control for it. (which your own conclusions identifies—the $500K would buy you very different homes – catch 22). So it’s a bit ironic to use a statistical model to conclude some of the things Citizenone wants to conclude.

        The reason EIT often suffers in a TE analysis is precisely because it doesn’t hit unearned income, and working families are not sure that is fair. The value of many homes has risen significantly for longtime residents, yet their ability to afford the home is moot because taxes are the only piece left they cannot truly control (except at the voting booth). The mind-set of “no debt” on your home protects their equity position while challenging the notion that “fixed income” is unable to rise. You can defer maintenance, keep thermostats within a range, minimize improvements….but you have to pay your taxes. The homestead exemption was meant to help that, but it’s such a small population that applies for it that I’m not sure how it affects their tolerance for increased taxes.

        Regardless — the statistical analysis is only useful to the extent that it helps some understand the variables involved in making the buying decision. But the reality is that the buying/pricing decision only anecdotally incorporates these multiple variables. You tell the realtor or search engine your price range — they ask about “schools” in your buying decision and you go on sites like and look at school rankings and then click the “homes for sale” around those districts/ schools. Highly sophisticated buyers like you and Citizenone might be informed by these individual variables, but “untangling” them to figure out school taxes is not a “popular wisdom” rubric.

        Part of the complexity here is that the school program as it has evolved is priced for the budget, and then the tax burden is calculated. If someone determines that the tax burden is “too high”, then the program is cut/pared. There is fund balance in reserve to offset any poor revenue forecasting, but under the days of rapid selling, the transfer tax protected that fund balance from actually being accessed. But because of how it’s done, (not zero based, but “program based and then pared back) no one knows at what point paring the program will affect the results of the school performance. Seasoned administrators are asked to make the cuts – and will do what they can to protect the program. They make recommendations on ways to reduce costs, and the board must review and accept/refuse some of the options. SPOKE analysis is anecdotal for sure – but the kids are the ultimate consumers so they are trying to protect the status quo. They are the people “building their resume” and they have ideas and plans about how their 4 year experience will turn out. Any reduction in “access, options and choice” is likely to destabilize their view.

        People look at the overall tax burden of moving to an area, but clearly personal choices distort those buying decisions (or who would live in Radnor? It is a very expensive community!)

        So I will stop using my anecdotal “popular wisdom” but will stand by the history recent and otherwise, that when the economy was good, the school board held a public “listening post” on the topic of using an income tax to offset property taxes. (The legally formed TSC was a more recent version) The conventional wisdom on the board was that a higher percentage of people with earned income had a vested interest (meaning children) in the schools. It was an 80/20 time. We FILLED Conestoga’s auditorium with people of every age and stage, of every demographic. NO one wanted the schools to have any access to another source of taxing. WHY? Because the investment they made in TESD was based on real estate. That was their “stake” in the system. The fact that people moved between homes and stayed local was (sorry ) anecdotally supportive of that. People moved here to starter homes and after a few years, upgraded locally. They didn’t go looking for bigger homes in other districts – they looked to keep their school choice and upgrade their living conditions. The renovations to many homes in this community is just another version of that absent the cost of a transfer tax.

        I apologize for the length of this. Citizenone is rolling his/her eyes at this point. Don’t worry,so am I. People only know what they BELIEVE. If these debates ever took place in public, it would be useful, but that’s not going to happen because this is NOT a debate. Perhaps someone so motivated among us could get a conference room at the library and talk all this through. A BAWG of sorts. Coming to the board one at a time doesn’t influence anyone in a meaningful way. Perception is the public’s reality, and so is their checkbook.

        So we can debate all sorts of issues, but the fact remains – about 10- 25% of your home price locally is the premium influenced by the “perceived” value of the schools. If we start cutting programs, your home’s value erodes. The perception that the schools are “going down” will become a rumor-based reality. To protect the “cushion/premium” in your home’s value, you need to decide if you can support an increase in your home’s taxes so that cuts to the program will not affect the real OR perceived quality, and thus your home’s value.

        I have a numerical example and will post that too…..and then will try to end my input. Good luck to us all. Happy New Year!

  18. Andrea,

    You’ve chosen 4 homes with equal market values, calculated the school tax burden and drawn the conclusion that there is no sign that “lower taxes meant higher values”.

    Of course not! The effect of school taxes is significant and large, but is masked by multiple other variables. The whole thrust of the statistical models in the quoted articles is to “untangle” the multiple factors (test scores, # of bedrooms, lot size, municipal taxes, school taxes, crime rate, household income, parent education, per pupil spending, teacher tenure, class size, etc.) that affect home value.

    These studies are important so school board directors can make informed decisions rather than blindly relying on the popular wisdom that cutting school spending will have a negative effect on home values.

    1. I’m starting to feel like I am trying to convince people, but that is NOT my goal. My goal is to try to get people thinking about what they want to support, rather than the idea of saying “NO MORE TAXES” == which is reasonable, but is starting to sound like people simply don’t want to pay for things that are already inherent in the expectations held in the housing choice they made.
      ‘m I not ignoring, but I won’t try to use your statistical models (once upon a time I lived them….but some parts of my skill set are atrophied and the land of “politics” needs to relate to what people think and feel, not what studies conclude. That’s simplistic, and I apologize. I appreciate the references, truly, but here’s a simple example, going back again to my house costing $500,000 that is properly priced based on the CLR for the county. (I wasn’t being glib in my previously poorly proof-read post — I was being easy.)

      In TE, a house selling for $500,000 is likely assessed at $277,000. The taxes for this past year are $4,977 for 17.97 mills. That $4,977 is .9954% of your home’s “value.” If 10% of your home’s price is based on the school’s “quality”, it is a $50,000 premium. If we only attribute 2% to the school, then it’s $10,000.
      Now – a 5% increase in mills would convert to 18.87 mills, for a tax about $5,225, or a $250 increase. Many on this board are demanding 1/3 of that. What I am suggesting is that to save $175, we are willing to gamble the $10,000 premium in home value. You model says that’s too facile — that school performance won’t do that – but cannot say it has ZERO effect. So how little an effect on home value would it have to have to make the kinds of cuts we are asking our board to make? (They cannot get to 5% even with approvals – it would take a referendum). I’m suggesting that given our tax burden is lower than any surrounding district except Upper Merion, that people who are making
      housing choices and use school “quality” as ANY sort of decision-influencing variable would choose to live here. (I’m presuming is the kind of study most buyers would reference, not a statistical model).

      Whew. Enough from me for sure. I actually started a blog several years ago and didn’t want to put anywhere near the effort Pattye does, but perhaps I should post there to avoid clogging up these posts.

      The board will make decisions based on feedback/perception about how much the community will bear. I’m hoping the community will give some thoughtful consideration to how much they already pay relatively, and stop looking at the “increases” to the tax burden in a pure sense. We have a pretty decent tax burden – cheap by some standards – and continuing to support programs in place with some expectation that the next contract will resolve some (very few I’m pretty sure) compensation issues, we should be vigilant, but not ask the district to throw out this baby with the bathwater.

      At some point, you DO get what you pay for.

  19. Hi! I attend Conestoga, and I spoke up at two school board meetings in defense of keeping Latin in the middle schools, as that will lead to the total collapse of the Latin program, but the school board just said good job but actually didn’t stop the removal, which will begin next school year. This being said, I believe that the district cuts too many vital programs, like Latin, because they care less about what we think than what our taxpayer parents do, so they keep taxes low to appease them. I disagree, as our education is vital.

    1. Thank you for your comment and I happen to agree with you on the subject of Latin. Our daughter started Latin in first grade and went all the way through 12th grade with latin — went on to double major in Latin & Neuoroscience in college. She would be the first one to say that it is Latin that helped her not only with MCAT exam but with medical school. I agree 100% that Latin should remain in TESD middle school . . . middle school Latin is all about laying the foundation for Latin in high school and beyond. School board members, I did not realize that Latin was on the chopping block for middle school. Is it too late or can it be saved?

  20. Unfortunately, it is too late to do anything now. I tried in June, I tried in December, but unfortunately I think few of the school board members understand all the benefits of Latin firsthand (some have no kids in the district and the president has two kids but neither take Latin), so Latin gets pushed away. There is no guarantee that it will last in the high school either, as currently Latin I enrollment is almost null. But thank you for your support!

    1. The enrollment is almost “null”. Curious. Can that be why Latin was on the chopping block? Or at least did it help to have it discontinued. Why is enrollment almost “null’?

      1. The enrollment is almost null for those starting it in high school, while it is high for those continuing it from the middle school (2 normal-sized classes of Latin 3, 1 of Latin 4, 2 of Latin 5 this year). It is because the students have no intro to Latin before selecting their high school language–and just see it as a dead language, not one with benefits such as improved SAT scores. When MS Latin is removed, the total enrollment of CHS students in Latin may fall so low that students will have to take it online because there may not be enough registrants for a full class (I think its a fifteen-person cutoff).

  21. As a reporter on The Spoke, I have come to value the diverse options that our district has to offer, much more than many around us, from electives to language options to a full-fledged monthly paper. These options are part of the reason that the district gets such high rankings, because students leave more prepared for the outside world. Being on a student newspaper or a student T/V crew gives experiences unlike any other that students benefit greatly from. However, when the times get rough, sometimes these are what get cut because they are not mandatory by law. Now, when the economy has still to recover, cutting these can greatly harm the district’s reputation, even if it helps us get out of debt.

  22. I’m not sure about this. In England in the 60′s I took three or four years of Latin up to age 14 or 15, 5 days a week, no-frills concentration on the language. I learned enough for it to really help my comprehension of English and French. (All of which I abandoned at that point to concentrate on the sciences!). Plus it seems to me that study of Latin helps you learn how to think.

    So I encouraged my daughters to take it here in T/E in middle school, and one at CHS. Not at all the same thing. I think I come down on the side of focus and real understanding: start early with a set of modern languages, facilitate spoken interaction, with the objective of fluency in at least one.

  23. The middle school is where Latin should stay — as high school should be a time for modern language learning — with continuing Latin as a second language. It’s elective regardless. Only one trimester of one year of Latin was mandatory (FLEX?) and then two years were elective in 7th and 8th grade. (competing against Spanish, French and at one time German, but I think that’s gone too) The broader choice of languages in high school was open again entering 9th grade. But it’s not surprising to hear a student say that the sitting board has little appreciation for Latine since they don’t have any direct experience with it. ….and their kids are fine…..

  24. I believe the proposal would keep Latin for 8th graders. Does anyone have any details?

    I don’t think it’s fair to say that the school board doesn’t have experience with Latin or that they don’t appreciate it. I’ve spoken to several of the board members, and I know that Karen Cruickshank, Rich Brake and Debbie Bookstaber all took Latin when they were in school and strongly support it. Kevin Buraks also mentioned that he supported Latin. But all of the school board members are trying to balance the budget and that involves competing priorities.

    Much of the “fat” in the budget has been cut, but personnel is the biggest area in the budget. So that means it’s necessary to reduce staff to balance budgets. Yet ridiculous state laws that do not allow a school board to reduce staff (this includes administrators too!) for economic reasons. So the only way to legally reduce staff is by cutting programs that are not mandated by law. And Lavi is right to say that this would result in more of the wonderful electives being cut. It’s an unfortunate situation. And even if the school board taxed to the absolute legal maximum (taking exceptions, etc), there would still be a budget deficit. Until the school district reduces staff and renegotiates the contract, we’re in a tough spot.

  25. Just a note: Latin will be able for current seventh graders to take next year (so they’re not switching after 1 year of Latin) so there will be classes of Latin 8 next year but current sixth graders can not take Latin.

  26. Lavi
    I think the previous poster was right — they are trying to cut the budget, so something has to go.
    What they won’t do is something that might wake up the sleeping taxpayers….cutting latin from the middle school might be damaging to the educational program, but won’t offend enough people to complain and make their lives difficult.
    The school board doesn’t want people mad at them. They will do as many things as they can without distrubing the peace.
    If you have many many friends who are upset about this, look at their alternatives. If you believe there are some, or think that the taxes and money in savings are the better use, fill the meeting room with kids protesting.

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