Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Month – January 2013

Tredyffrin Receives 92% Fund Ratio Score from PERC

On January 21, 2013, a letter to the editor appeared in Main Line Suburban Life written by Chris Smith of Paoli. In his letter, ‘Willistown’s pension-fund shortfall must be addressed’ , Smith questioned how the supervisors planned to finance the $2.6 M pension shortfall? Smith pointed out that Willistown’s EIT is already at the highest level legally permitted.

Due to their pension shortfall, Willistown Township has received a Fund Ratio Score of 77 from Pennsylvania’s Public Employee Commission (PERC) that means that Willistown is only 77% funded against its liability. Every two years municipalities are required to submit their actuarially determined liabilities and in December PERC released their report, ‘Act 205 Distress Scores Based on the 2012 Actuarial Valuation Reports – 12/12/2012’. All municipalities contained in the report have listed all of their reported pension plans filed with PERC. The distress score based on the aggregate funded ration of a municipality’s pension plan. The score is used to determine a distress level and a municipality’s corresponding funding ratio.

Willistown’s Fund Ratio Score of 77% was an improvement from 2010 when PERC listed their pension funding at 65%. A Community Matters reader sent me Smith’s letter and suggested that I review the report for Tredyffrin. According to the December actuarial report from PERC, Tredyffrin Township received a Fund Ratio Score of 92%. In 2011, Tredyffrin reported assets in its public pension fund of $36,994,373 and liabilities of $40,257,326 for a shortfall of $3,262,954. Willistown’s Fund Ratio Score improved during the previous two years, Tredyffrin’s unfunded accrued liability of $1.4 M ranked a slightly higher 94% PERC score in 2010 versus 2012.

Of the 51 Chester County municipalities listed in the report, unfortunately approximately 50% received rankings in the ‘distressed’ category – Thornbury Township received the distinction of receiving a ‘severely distressed’ ranking of 23% with assets of $7.6 M as opposed to liabilities of $33 M. Twenty-five Chester County municipalities are listed in the ‘not distressed’ category including Tredyffrin Township. It was interesting to note that several Chester County municipalities received extremely high Fund Ratio Scores from PERC including our neighbors, Malvern Borough (122%) and East Goshen Township (125%).

In addition to Tredyffrin’s pension fund ratio score of 92%, there is some encouraging economic news – this month, Auxilium Pharmaceutical announced its moving its corporate headquarters to Lee Road in Chesterbrook and yesterday we learned that Teleflex, a medical device manufacturer is moving its headquarters from Limerick Township to Swedesford Road. With Auxilium and Teleflex moving into the township, that’s 300+ new Tredyffrin workers.

Andy Chambers Hired, Superintendent Waters to Retire and TESD Tax Increase not to Exceed 1.7%

Highlights of 1/28/13 TESD Meeting —

Adoption of the 2013-14 TESD preliminary budget: By a unanimous vote the Board approved a resolution not to raise taxes above the Act 1 Index level of 1.7%.

Reconsideration of District Safety Consultant, Andy Chambers: Former police chief Andy Chambers attended the TESD meeting last night. Chambers offered no comment; however Superintendent Waters defended his choice in Chambers, offering a list of his qualifications, and firmly stating that the hiring was not cronyism as some in the public had suggested. TESD solicitor Ken Roos stated that he was of the opinion that the Board had not violated the Sunshine Act with the consent agenda approval of January 7 to hire Chambers. However, Roos recommended the ‘reconsideration’ of Chambers so as to avoid possible legal costs to the District, if the Board’s January 7 action was legally pursued.

There was no mention from Waters, Roos or the Board members with regards to the issues surrounding Chambers departure from the Tredyffrin Twp Police Department. A few residents spoke in favor of hiring Chambers with only one resident asking about the “two sides of the story”, referring to the Finance Committee meeting and the dialogue between myself and Chambers and Kevin Buraks.

Although all members of the Board supported Chambers as qualified to serve as District Safety Consultant, two Directors voted against his hiring. Using the lack of transparency in the process as reason, Anne Crowley and Rich Brake did not vote with their fellow board members to hire Chambers. Crowley read a prepared statement, saying that although Chambers’ was qualified; she spoke of the need for transparency and that other candidates (besides Chambers) should have been reviewed in the process. Chambers was approved as District Safety Consultant 7-2.

Consent agreement and the inclusion of the Supervisory, Confidential and Administrator Compensation Plan, Compensation Adjustments for 2013-14 and One-Time Bonus: Ray Clarke asked if these items could be separated from the consent agenda for Board and public discussion. Board President Kevin Buraks response to Ray was that the discussion of these items could occur after the consent agenda approval.

Buraks took the vote to approve the consent agenda without discussion. The Board voted to approve the consent agenda with the exception of two members. Although voting with their Board members on the rest of the consent agenda, Crowley and Brake excluded their approval of the compensation plan , adjustment and bonus (#C2 and #C3), again using transparency in the process as the reason.

Following the consent agenda approval, Waters explained the compensation plan and budget impact. Unfortunately, at this point it was 11 PM, and I did not understand his explanation of the specifics of the costs. (If anyone has the details, please offer them as a comment.) Again on the defensive, Water defended the compensation plan, etc. listed as a consent agenda item – stating that this is the way it has been done for 10 years. My response is – does that therefore make it right? I have previously stated that the purpose of the consent agenda is for routine items (such as meeting minutes or financial reports) and I do not view a multi-year compensation plan and bonus as routine.

The other noteworthy item of the evening, occurred during Waters’ explanation of the compensation plan and budget impact — Waters announced his retirement at the end of the 2014/15 school year, explaining that he wanted to have the compensation plan in place for his successor.

For the record, between Waters and Roos talking about ‘blogs’ and ‘blog comments’ and the presence of Andy Chambers at the meeting, I found the meeting more than a little intimidating. Although Community Matters was never mentioned ‘by name’, the continual reference to the blogosphere was not lost on me.

It’s important that the public‘s business be done in public, so that we can be fully informed. When the right to public discussion is removed, it becomes our responsibility to speak out … our ‘collective voices’ are important. An easy cure for lack of transparency is full visibility.

1/28/13 TESD Consent Agenda Item — Approval for Administrator Bonuses & Compensation Plan

Included for priority discussion at Monday’s TESD meeting is the reconsideration of a District Safety Consultant and the hiring of Andy Chambers for the position. The hiring of Chambers was previously included in the January 7 TESD meeting on the consent agenda but was not originally listed on the meeting agenda. Without proper notice on an agenda, the public is deprived of its right to be present and to know when decisions affecting the public are being made.

Yesterday, I received an anonymous email suggesting that I review the consent agenda for the January 28 meeting, specifically section C – Personnel. Admittedly, when I reviewed the agenda for the upcoming TESD meeting, my attention was to the safety consultant matter, overlooking this significant item. Included on tomorrow’s consent agenda is the following:

C. Personnel
1. Routine Personnel Actions
The Board will take action on routine resignations, releases, retirements, leaves, and
appointments. The Board will also take action to record the names of volunteers who
have served in the schools in recent weeks.
2. Supervisory and Confidential Employee Compensation Plan, Compensation
Adjustments for 2013 – 2014 and January 2013 One Time Bonuses
3. Administrator Compensation Plan, Compensation Adjustments and January 2013 One
Time Bonuses
4. Contracted Services

The description of ‘consent agenda’ on the January 28 TESD School Board agenda states, “Although Board action is required, it is generally unnecessary to hold discussion on these items. With the consent of all members, they are therefore grouped and approval is given in one motion.”

The purpose of a consent agenda is to group routine, noncontroversial items together to be voted on under one motion. Items on the consent agenda should be routine items that board members don’t need any further information on prior to voting. The purpose of a consent agenda should not be used to hide important issues or stifle discussion.

Who is reviewing the TESD meeting agendas? For the January 7 TESD meeting, there was no mention made of anything related to ‘safety’ listed on the agenda, yet the hiring of Andy Chambers as the District Safety Consultant is added last-minute to the consent agenda. Now a couple of weeks later at the next Board meeting, we have administrator compensation and bonuses listed as routine consent agenda items. Again, … who is reviewing these meeting agendas?

Of the 141-page agenda, 40 pages are devoted to the compensation plan for supervisory and confidential employees and administrators and their one-time January 2013 bonuses. To include the approval of non-bargaining administrator salaries, benefits and their bonuses in a consent agenda can hardly be considered ‘routine’!

The Sunshine Act, no more than the discussion to outsource the custodians or aides as a cost-savings budget strategy, does not protect the discussion of administrator compensation and bonuses. The School Board and Finance Committee meetings have repeatedly discussed various budget strategies including increasing class size, student activities fees, possible further cuts to educational programming and recently the decision to review non-profits’ use of real property for qualified tax exempt status.

To my knowledge (someone please correct me if I’m wrong), there has never been any public discussion of a (1) supervisory and confidential employee compensation plan, (2) compensation adjustment for 2013-14 or (3) one-time January 2013 bonuses. So now, the matter just appears on the consent agenda for approval. How is this possible?

In a review of ‘Compensation Plan for Supervisory and Confidential Employees” (pgs. 61-77), I read the following:

January 2013 – July 1, 2013 a one-time bonus will be awarded to each employee based upon the Superintendent’s recommendation. On July 1, 2013 adjustment to base for selected employees shall be recommended by the Superintendent.

July 1, 2014 – July 1, 2016:
For each of the academic years beginning July 1, 2014 and through to June 30, 2016, 1.7% of the total salaries of this group, from the prior year, will be available in a pool for the Superintendent to distribute, at his discretion and with Board approval, as base salary increases. Specific percentage increases will vary among members of the group. In June of each year, beginning in June 2014, a 1% one-time bonus will be awarded each individual for the previous year’s service.

Individual Salary/Compensation Changes:
1. Individual may receive an increase to his/her base salary
2. Individual may receive bonus (merit) adjustment which is not added to base salary, but paid throughout the current school year or paid in the form of a lump sum
3. Combination of the above

The Act 93 Agreement, the ‘Administrator Compensation Plan’, January 29, 2013 through June 30, 2017 (pgs. 78-101) contains the following:

January 2013-June 2017
In January 2013, each administrator shall receive a one time bonus for service in the previous two and half years as approved by the Board at its January 28, 2013 regular meeting. In addition, adjustments to base salary for the previous two and a half years will be approved by the Board at its January 28, 2013 regular meeting.

For each of the academic years beginning July 1, 2013 and through to June 30, 2017, 1.7% of the total salaries of this group, from the prior year, will be available in a pool for the Superintendent to distribute, at his discretion and with Board approval, as base salary increases; specific percentage increase will vary for any one individual.

Beginning in June 2014, and continuing annually in June of each year, a one time bonus of 1% of the individual’s salary will be awarded to each administrator for service in the previous year.

The Board may not have had any questions about the compensation plan and the bonuses, but I do —

  1. When did the School Board discuss the compensation plan and bonuses, or are they seeing this for the first time as a consent agenda item?
  2. Where was the public discussion about the administrator compensation plan?
  3. Where was the public discussion about supervisory and confidential employees receiving a one-time bonus? And it’s to be paid this month!
  4. What is the value of the one-time bonus? A percentage of salary or a set dollar amount (similar to the teachers $2500 bonus)
  5. How is the bonus calculated?
  6. What is the budget impact of the increased compensation?
  7. What is the value of the one-time bonus?
  8. Where is the money for the increased compensation and bonuses coming from? (Is this how the District is using the $3.9 million surplus from 2011/12 that was announced in November 2012)
  9. What does the ‘adjustments to the base salary for the last 2-1/2 years’ mean? Is the salary increase to the administrators retroactive?
  10. The financial distribution to administrators is at the discretion of Dan Waters?

How is it that something so important as this compensation and bonus plan can just get thrown in on a consent agenda without discussion? Bottom line … where is the fiscal responsibility, accountability and transparency to the public?

TE School Board Changes Direction — Is Andy Chambers ‘In or Out’ as District Safety Consultant?

T/E School District has released their agenda for Monday, January 28. Based on the agenda, it appears there has been a direction change on the hiring of former Police Chief Andy Chambers as the security consultant for the District. The following is from Monday’s School Board agenda:

B. Reconsideration of District Safety Consultant
The Board will consider a contract with Andy Chambers as District Safety Consultant.
1. Questions from the Board
2. Comments and/or Questions from Community Members
3. Board Discussion /Deliberation/Action

If you recall, the Board added Andy Chambers as District Safety Consultant to the consent agenda at the January 7 School Board Meeting. Neither Chambers nor any mention of District safety enhancements appeared on the January 7 agenda. The agenda did not notify the public that the School Board would discuss anything safety-related at the January 7 meeting, let alone the hiring of a ‘security consultant’. For most of us, we learned that the District had hired Chambers as District Safety Consultant at the January 9 public safety meeting. The announcement of Chambers hiring also appeared in the District’s ‘Action Line’ newsletter, summarizing the safety meeting.

Following the news of Chambers hiring, there was much public discussion, including on Community Matters. I questioned Superintendent Dan Waters and TESD President Kevin Buraks at the subsequent Finance Committee meeting and reported their responses on Community Matters.

Undoubtedly, the Board heard from many community members,including John Petersen in regards to this situation. I was cc’d on a number of emails between Petersen and the School Board, Superintendent Waters and TESD solicitor Ken Roos. Petersen’s comments were strong and direct — claiming that the Board’s use of the consent agenda at the January 7 meeting, for the hiring of Andy Chambers, was in violation of the PA Sunshine Act. The tagline for Community Matters states, “Your Voice Matters … Join the Conversation” and clearly in this case, voices do matter and the Board listened.

Receiving the notification that the hiring of a District Security Consultant is now on Monday’s agenda for ‘reconsideration’, Petersen offered the following comment,

I was 100% convinced that the actions taken by Superintendent Dan Waters and the T/E School Board were not proper under the Sunshine Act. The District’s decision to now consider the matter in an open meeting is absolute proof that my assertions were correct and valid in spite of the solicitor’s comments to the contrary.

Whether or not at the 1/28 meeting former TTPD Superintendent Andy Chambers’ appointment as District Safety Consultant is ratified, the public will have a fair and appropriate opportunity to be heard. The goal of my efforts was to serve that end and only that end. Superintendent Dan Waters and the T/E Board disenfranchised the very public they are supposed to serve. Further, they exercised poor judgment. Regardless of what happens on 1/28, it is my opinion that the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District would fare better under new leadership.

The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act defines when government bodies must conduct official business in public and private, when they should allow public comment, and how and when to advertise meetings. We know now that the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has ruled that the “personnel exception” of the Sunshine Act does not apply when a government body meets to discuss an independent contractor or consultant.

In researching the PA Sunshine Act and how various school boards have handled possible violations, I came across an article in the Town & Country newspaper from September 2011, that is both interesting and apropos to the discussion.

The article referenced the hiring of a $15K consultant in Upper Perkiomen School District to help in their superintendent search. There was concern among several school board members, in addition to some members of the public, that the consultant hiring discussion had occurred during the school board’s executive session and not in front of the public – with the suggestion that this action violated the PA Sunshine Act. According to the article, the school board was “specifically instructed by their solicitor, Ken Roos of Wiseler Pearlstine, not to hold the talks in private.” The article further states, “According to state law, and Pennsylvania Newspaper Association general counsel Teri L. Henning, public officials are not permitted to discuss hiring independent contractors or consultants in executive session.”

Not understanding why there should be a difference between the process to hire a consultant the Upper Perkiomen School District and TESD, I sent an email with the Upper Perkiomen School District article to Roos, who coincidentally is also solicitor to both school districts, asking for clarification. Although Roos did not respond to my inquiry, I would suggest that based on the Upper Perkiomen School District article, it appears that Roos would agree that consultant ‘talks’ should not occur in private.

As John Petersen suggested in his comment, regardless of the Board’s ultimate decision on whether to hire Andy Chambers as the District Safety Consultant, “ … the public will have a fair and appropriate opportunity to be heard”. I could not agree more; although given the background of Chambers’ departure from Tredyffrin Township Police Department; I am not sure why the Board would want to invite the controversy that comes with his hiring as the District Safety Consultant.

The TESD School Board meeting is Monday, January 28 is at 7:30 PM at 940 West Valley, Suite 1700, Wayne 19087. I encourage all interested citizens to attend and offer your opinion.

What do the sidewalks at St. Davids and Former Police Chief Andy Chambers have in common?

What do the St. Davids sidewalks and former Police Chief Andy Chambers have in common? There is an eerie similarity between a vote of the Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors on January 25, 2010 and a recent T/E School Board vote of January 7.

January 25, 2010 BOS Meeting: Even though there was a signed land development agreement between Tredyffrin Township and St. Davids Golf Club requiring sidewalks, the Tredyffrin’s supervisors approved the return of $25K escrow money to the country club; removing the sidewalk agreement. Besides suggested Home Rule Charter violations surrounding the return of the escrow money, there was the procedural problem that the proposal had not appeared on the BOS meeting’agenda. Against the objections of many residents and some of the supervisors, the motion carried 4-3. For the record, Bob Lamina, Paul Olson, Warren Kampf and EJ Richter voted in favor of the motion and Michelle Kichline, Phil Donohue and John DiBuonaventuro voted against the motion.

After much media publicity, many letters to the editor, accusations of Home Rule Charter and Sunshine Act violations, claims of deal-making and general resident outrage, the supervisors reversed and rescinded their decision at the following Board of Supervisors meeting in March 2010. Public comment is guaranteed by the Sunshine Act and the public’s rights were violated by the St. Davids sidewalk vote of January 25, 2010.

Fast forward to January 7, 2013: Instead of the township failing to notify the public of an intended motion on its meeting agenda, it was the T/E School Board who failed to notify the public. On January 7, the Board held a special meeting for the primary purpose to consider the 2013-14 preliminary budget proposal. At the meeting, the School Board voted to apply for Act 1 exceptions beyond the 1.7% allowable tax cap.

A consent agenda listed on the January 7 meeting agenda included the approval of December 3 meeting minutes, monthly financial reports, routine personnel actions, etc. but made no mention of anything safety-related such as enhancements or the hiring of a District safety consultant. However, as we later learned, the hiring of former police chief Andy Chambers as the District Security Consultant (hourly rate – $125) was approved … as it was ‘last-minute’ included along with the other items in the consent agenda. The agenda did not notify the public that the School Board would discuss anything safety-related at the special meeting, let alone the hiring of a ‘security consultant’.

Someone needs to explain to me how the actions of the School Board on January 7 are any different from the actions of the Board of Supervisors of January 25, 2010. Both of these examples speak to the process of our government. The fact is that the Board of Supervisors vote of two years ago was not about sidewalks in the same way that the School Board’s vote of January 7 is not about the hiring of Andy Chambers as the District’s security consultant. Rather, it is about transparency and open meetings; the basis for positive discussions between citizens and their elected officials. Government decisions should not be made in secret.

The Sunshine Act defines when government bodies must conduct official business in public and private, when they should allow public comment, and how and when to advertise meetings. Executive closed meetings can only be called for the following six reasons:

  • Discussions of matters involving employment or performance of officers or employees of the agency, provided that any affected individual is given the opportunity to request, in writing, that the meeting be held in public.
  • Meetings involving collective bargaining, labor relations, and arbitration.
  • To consider the purchase or lease of real property.
  • matters falling under the attorney-client privilege regarding litigation or issues where an identifiable complaint is expected to be filed.
  • To discuss agency business which, if discussed in public, would lead to the disclosure of information protected by law, including ongoing investigations and information exempt under Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know
  • To discuss matters of academic standing or admission at state schools

Responding to follow-up comments on the topic of the Sunshine Act, Keith Knauss, school board member of the Unionville Chadds Ford School District (UCF) offered this comment on Community Matters —

The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act requires all public agencies to take all official actions and conduct all deliberations leading up to official actions at public meetings. If the board met in executive session and deliberated on hiring Mr. Chambers, then they probably violated the Sunshine Act even though the official vote was taken in open session. It doesn’t matter if it is a contract or not. We’re conjecturing that the board deliberated (illegally) in executive session and based on that deliberation, took an official action to disburse funds to Mr. Chambers. We, of course, can only conjecture since the meeting was closed to the public.
The current Sunshine Act took effect on January 3, 1987. This law replaces the old Open Meetings Laws of 1957 and 1974, Under the old law, public agencies were required to hold open meetings only if votes were taken or official policy adopted. This led to the frequent abuse of discussing and deciding issues in so-called “workshop” sessions, with the official public meetings being relegated to conducting formal votes on issues already decided in advance. The current Act requires that any deliberations leading up to official actions also take place at public meetings. Municipal governing bodies have no authority, either under the municipal codes or the Sunshine Act, to conduct “workshop” sessions.’

Question … At the upcoming January 28 School Board meeting, will the Board take responsibility for their January 7 action and reverse their decision to hire Andy Chambers as the District Security Consultant?

If the Board understands the Sunshine Act, and supports the importance of open meetings, the choice they make on January 28 will be simple. The Board accepts responsibility for the situation and takes the necessary steps to correct the situation; reversing the decision and then appropriately advertising the matter for public discussion.

Artisan Indoor Farmers Market – A great way to ‘buy local’, even in the winter!

Summer outdoor farm stands have long been part of the American culture but now shoppers no longer have to wait until June to experience fresh produce. Open Saturdays, 10 AM – 2 PM, since early December, the Artisan Exchange in West Chester (208 Carter Drive, West Chester, PA 19382) is the first indoor farmers market of its kind in the region.

The tag line for Artisan Exchange is “local foods for a sustainable community – a small business collaboration”. According to their website, their mission is “to provide an affordable environment that supports entrepreneurs committed to producing hand-crafted, sustainable foods while sharing sound business practices that have a positive social impact”. My next-door neighbor John Sacharok, founder of Golden Valley Farms, a national coffee company, is the driving force behind this project, creating a space that leases small-scale individual food related manufacturing workshops in his 27,000 square foot distribution center.

Artisan Exchange is a fast 20 minute drive from Malvern, down Route 202 South – I visited a couple of weeks ago and enjoyed a behind the scenes tour. When I asked about the approval process for the market, John shared that the local government was supportive and offered that several of the township supervisors had stopped by since it opened. He explained how the market is helping to sustain many small Chester County businesses, especially during the winter months, when opportunities for this type of venue are more limited. At this point, the plan is for the farmer’s market to remain open each Saturday through April. Wouldn’t it be great to have an ‘Artisan Exchange’ farmer’s market in the empty Genuardi’s store in Chesterbrook.

Over 25 various Chester County vendors offer their organic products, including gluten-free, natural, organic, vegan and vegetarian products. Merchants offer local produce, fresh eggs, baked goods, pasta, special doggie treats, truffles and much, much more. With live music, hands-on demonstrations, crafters and food samples to satisfy, a visit to the indoors farmer’s market is a treat you don’t want to miss. And for those that arrive hungry (or get hungry while they shop), there’s a couple of far from typical food trucks parked outside offering breakfast and lunch … LuLu’s Cafe featuring Mediterranean flavors in their wraps and sandwiches and Ka Chi, serving “Korean with a twist”!

Artisans Exchange

Homemade truffles at Artisan Exchange

Inside the market, look for these Artisan members:

Confirmed: Former Police Chief Andy Chambers is TESD Safety Consultant and other notes from Finance Committee Meeting

As follow-up to last week’s announcement by TESD Superintendent Dan Waters to hire former police chief Andy Chambers as a security consultant, I attended the District’s Finance Committee last night. The meeting started with Waters making a statement addressing the criticism of Chamber’s hiring. A couple of things I learned from his remarks — Waters stated that he had no knowledge of the issues surrounding Chamber’s departure from Tredyffrin Township police department a year ago. Waters also wanted to set the record straight that he did not ‘hire’ Chambers. He made the recommendation to the School Board; the decision required their approval.

I found it incredulous that Waters could claim to have this close association with Chambers yet know nothing of the controversy surrounding the former police chief. Tredyffrin’s supervisors suspended Chambers for allowing his son to drive a police vehicle that was involved in an accident and his failure to report the incident. An anonymous tip notified the members of the Board of Supervisors. Although Chambers was allowed to retire, he left the township under a dark cloud of controversy.

Following Waters statement, I sought further clarification from the school board. Unlike Waters and Chambers, T/E school directors do live in our community and could not claim to have not known the circumstances behind the police chief departure. Board president Kevin Buraks, read from Community Matters, quoting my words, “…The focus needs to be our children and keeping them safe, not the additional drama and controversy that a consulting contract with Chambers may present.”

Although I spoke of concern for the hiring of Chambers (given the circumstances), Buraks claimed that the police chief’s suspension has nothing to do with the safety of the kids and therefore has no bearing on his serving as a safety consultant for the District. Buraks said that the decision to hire Chambers was based on the recommendation from Waters and was a unanimous decision. I found Buraks complete disregard of former police chief Chamber’s actions (which caused his departure from the police department) incredulous.

I asked if Police Supt Andy Giaimo was aware of the District’s decision to hire Chambers before announcing to the public and the answer was yes. According to Waters, Chambers was hired at $125/hr. under contracted services and therefore there was no contract or RFP (request for proposal) apparently required. There was no further discussion of Chambers’ qualifications, other than restating that … he knows our community and the schools.

I believe that the public has the right to participate in issues and be privy to what elected officials are doing by seeing discussions and debates in the open with all the facts clearly stated. In the case of hiring former police chief Andy Chambers as a safety consultant for TESD, that opportunity did not exist. I understand the need to act quickly in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy, but I believe it is also vital to the community, that all options be adequately vetted and to have a voice in decisions. The school board directors, like the members of the Board of Supervisors, are in their elected positions to be the voices of the people.

Following the Andy Chambers discussion, the Finance Committee moved to their regularly scheduled agenda and discussion of the 2013-14 budget. It is interesting that the discussion of outsourcing the custodial staff was minimal. In the last couple of years, the TENIG union was often seen as the target for revenue savings but there was no date set for initiating a RFP for these services. Reading between the lines, I think the TENIG staff and the aides and paraeducators who were on the chopping block for possible outsourcing may be safe for another year. A new expense item in the budget is the District’s security enhancements – the costs of the protective 3M film for the school buildings is not yet known but the District has allocated $250K in the budget for upgrading the security. Some of the enhancements are already underway, including additional cameras and a buzzer system.

The 2013-14 projection model summary with Act 1 index revenue indicates projected revenue of $110,769,734 and projected expenditures of $113,567,247, which gives a projected budget deficit of ($2,797,513). Applying the Act 1 tax increase of 1.7%, $1,500,000 and the revised deficit is ($1,297,513). The District has applied for Act 1 exceptions but there was not a recommendation at last night’s meeting whether or not they will be used. The court date for Vanguard’s property reassessment appeals is April and, depending on the results, may have a significant impact on the District’s revenue numbers.

Another potential yearly source of revenue for the District is from tax-exempt properties that may no longer be tax exempt. Chester County is reviewing and identifying TESD tax-exempt properties – once the District receives the report, these properties will be sent a letter and questionnaire to confirm tax-exempt property use. If a property’s use is no longer tax exempt, there is potential for revenue for the District.

Note: Ray Clarke and Neal Colligan also attended the Finance Committee meeting; I would welcome their comments on the financial details of the 2013-14 budget from last night,

TESD Selects Controversial Safety Consultant … Former Tredyffrin Police Chief Andy Chambers

I attended the 2-hour community meeting this week on school safety. The current safety procedures and planned enhancements were presented by Kevin Buraks, president of the T/E School Board, Tredyffrin Police Supt. Andy Giaimo, Easttown Police Chief David Obzud, the District’s architect Tom Daley, TESD Supt. Dan Waters, TESD Business Manager Art McDonnell and head of TESD Safety Committee (and Vice Principal of Conestoga HS) Andrew Phillips.

There was much discussion from the various panel members about the need to ‘harden’ the schools – to make it more difficult for entry into the schools. Some of the safety changes expected to be in place by the end of January include a new buzzer system in each of the schools. After school starts each day, all doors will be locked and visitors to the schools must be ‘buzzed-in’. Visitors to the schools will now be required to show photo IDs. Additional security cameras are to be installed at each school. Glass at the front entrance of each school will be equipped with a 3M safety and security film. This durable safety film is impact-resistant, making it much more difficult for bullet penetration.

Rather than audience members directly asking questions of the panel, questions were written on index cards. McDonnell grouped the questions and during the last half of the meeting asked the panel members to respond to the questions. Many questions had to do with the safety of the children outside of the school buildings – recess on the playground, field trips, etc. in addition to the student’s safety before and after school in the buildings. Although the questions were wide-ranging, there was no discussion of ‘arming’ the teachers and or administration. Clearly, all questions were not asked, there was a gentleman behind me in the audience who complained 3 times to one of the runners picking up the index card, that his question had not been asked of the panel. Using the index cards as the means to ask questions controlled which questions would be answered.

Personally, the bombshell of the evening came towards the end of the meeting. TESD Supt. Dan Waters spoke of hiring a safety consultant to review the current security of the District. Based on the Tredyffrin’s recent consulting study to review its police department which cost the taxpayers $49K, just hearing the word ‘consultant’ sends up a red flag. But in the case of the school district, the ‘bigger’ red flag was who Waters named as the District’s safety consultant … Tredyffrin’s former police chief Andy Chambers! Waters stated that he had a personal relationship with Chambers, having worked with him for 25 years and that Chambers knew the school buildings and would not need to be brought up to speed as other possible consultants. Doesn’t Dan Waters and the School Board recall the controversy surrounding Chambers and his departure from Tredyffrin’s Police Department?

To refresh everyone’s memory — In December 2011, the former police chief Andy Chambers was suspended for 4 days as a result of allowing his 16-year old son to drive a township police car which was subsequently involved in an accident in November 2011. Chambers failed to report the vehicle accident to the BoS – the information was leaked to the supervisors a month later through an anonymous tip. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, Chambers ultimately retired while serving his suspension. To say that Chambers left Tredyffrin Township Police Department ‘under a dark cloud’ would be quite an understatement!

Given the background of Chamber’s departure from Tredyffrin’s police department, why would the school district want to invite the controversy that comes with his hiring as a safety consultant? Just because Waters has a personal relationship of 25 years with Chambers should not be ‘reason enough’ for his hiring as a consultant. The focus needs to be our children and keeping them safe, not the additional drama and controversy that a consulting contract with Chambers may present.

No Second Term for DiBuonaventuro as Tredyffrin’s Vice Chair

Attending the organizational meeting of Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors last night, all I can say is, “What a difference a year makes!”

Last year with only two years of service as a supervisor (and neither as a vice chair) Michelle Kichline was chosen by her fellow supervisors as chair of Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors. Historically, this leadership position would have gone to the most senior serving member of the Board, John DiBuonaventuro. Instead, DiBuonaventuro was named second in command, ‘vice chair’, under Kichline, for 2012.

At last night’s 2013 organizational meeting of the Board of Supervisors, Kichline received a vote of confidence from her fellow Board members for a second term as chair. Then came the vice chair announcement. In what appeared to be a vague cover story, Kichline explained that supervisor DiBuonaventuro had removed his name from consideration as vice chair. She stated that for the next 2 months, DiBuonaventuro will be attending a canine training certification program and he did not think he had the time for the position.

The position of vice chair on the Board of Supervisors is for the most part ceremonial – I attended every 2012 BOS meeting, and to my knowledge Vice Chair DiBuonaventuro was never ‘acting chair’ in Kichline’s absence. DiBuonaventuro does not have time to serve in the ceremonial position of vice chair on the Board of Supervisors but he does have the time to serve as supervisor. Interesting.

The supervisors themselves decide the choice of who serves in the leadership roles of chair and vice chair. With a unanimous vote, Mike Heaberg was selected vice chair for 2013.

2012 proved to be a challenging year for Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors and some of their decisions not always popular:

  • C1 zoning ordinance change to permit assisted living (Duffy property in the Daylesford community)
  • 2 Tredyffrin police missing a criminal District Court hearing (due to clerical error)
  • Trout Creek Stormwater Overlay District (Richter property in the Glenhardie neighborhood)
  • Township Manager Mimi Gleason’s resignation and her township consulting contract
  • $49K Police Department consultant’s study
  • Costly arbitration of Police-township collective bargaining agreement
  • $40 Million unfunded retirement liability
  • DiBuonaventuro’s controversial personal letter using township resources which appeared on the township website, resulting in a township ‘communication policy’

T/E School Board leaves option open for tax Increase — How much more can we afford?

At the same time as the Board of Supervisors organizational meeting last night, the T/E School Board held a special meeting to vote on using allowable exceptions to Act 1 for the 2013-14 budget. By using Act 1 exceptions, provides the School Board the ability to raise taxes above the State index of 1.7%. The School Board voted to apply for the Act 1 exceptions and the preliminary 2013-14 budget should be on the TESD website sometime today. The Board considers the preliminary budget at their regular meeting on January 28.

Due to a conflict with the township’s Board of Supervisors meeting, I was unable to attend TESD meeting. However, Ray Clarke attended the meeting and shared the following comments with me. His remarks suggest a rather strong position and I will be interested to know if others share his sentiments.

The School Board voted its usual 7-2 to publish a 2013/14 budget that includes tax increases of 1.7% from the Index plus another 1.74% from Exceptions. This is preparatory to a vote at the next meeting (Jan 28th) to formally apply for the Exceptions.

There was slightly more than the usual Board commentary that tonight’s vote was “only to keep the options open”, and certainly the numbers would support a moderation in the rate of increase. With a 1.7% increase the projected deficit is $1.3 million – just about equal to the one-time payment due to the teachers, which should absolutely not be built into the tax base.

Not only that, the projection model was positioned without the context of the 2011/12 actuals and 2012/13 forecast, which I have argued here would show an artificially inflated base. Remember the unexpected ~$3 million surplus last year. Also, there is no explicit consideration of the cost saving impact of retirements which have in recent past years saved $800,000 per year.

In addition, the administration did list a number of items that could have a significant budget impact that have yet to be quantified. The majority of the Board wanted more details on these. (I fear that the expense additions will turn out to total more than the subtractions). The more courageous move, advocated eloquently by Dr Brake, would be to have signaled a leadership commitment to manage these opportunities and risks within a modest tax increase that does not continue to load up the property tax base, and to begin a serious dialog with the community about the form we want TE public education to take.

Anyone with an interest in limiting the extent to which their pockets can continue to be picked by this Board should attend the Finance Committee next Monday (7pm).

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