Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Harassment, intimidation and bullying have no place in our schools …

The troubling stories of intimidation by the TE School District administration continue, as does the School Board’s silence regarding this issue. After As I See It: Tredyffrin Easttown School District … Intimidation to Silence” appeared in Main Line Suburban, I received additional phone calls and emails from former and current District employees, describing our schools as a workplace which seeks to control and silence. A former TE teacher wrote, “Employees have noted for years that they felt bullied and targeted when raising any questions or concerns regarding building and/or programming changes.” From a current District aide, The negativity and lack of respect from the administration is always present.”

What is really going on behind the walls of our schools – the morale continues to plummet but other than bringing awareness to the problem, there is no indication that anything is changing or that anyone on the School Board is actually listening. Disappointingly, there has been no response to either of the two emails sent to School Board President Kevin Buraks in regards to this matter. Some may suggest that Buraks does not respond because he is in re-election campaign mode and does not want to risk his quotes appearing on Community Matters. If that is the case, I wonder what excuse is offered for not responding to the concerns of other School District residents. How about a press release suggesting that the School Board is addressing employee concerns and claims of intimidation? The employees need to know that their contributions are valued and that they have a right to a working environment free from harassment and intimidation.

By speaking out, employees feel that their jobs are threatened. Following the School Board meeting, the administration suggested to certain TENIG members that they had no business attending the meeting. These individuals did not speak at the meeting (although if TESD residents, they have that right); they merely attended the meeting. I find this level of control by intimidation from the administration extremely disturbing. All employees deserve a supportive working environment not a place where they fear losing their jobs for raising questions or concern.

With the level of discontent, negativity and lack of respect that many District employees are indicating, I simply do not understand why the School Board does not investigate and find answers. Why should employees fear retribution from the District administration for speaking out or … in the case of some TENIG workers, for just showing up a public meeting? When a District employee speaks as a citizen at a meeting, does the First Amendment not protect them? How is it possible that a school district is allowed to exercise control over an employee’s private speech.

There are examples of intimidation and low morale of the employees from all areas of the District — the kitchen staff, the custodians, the aides and the teachers. Large segments of the employee community feel disconnected from the District leadership; leaving them to question why the School Board seemingly does not care. How do the members of the School Board rationalize and not react to what District employees are saying? I will say it again, this is not some isolated, disgruntled employee looking for attention but rather the new reality of what it means to be a TE School District employee. Respect and support should be commonplace on the education ladders of TE schools, regardless of whom you are or whom you know.

There’s no magic wand to make this simmering problem within our schools disappear. Increasing awareness suggests that our award-winning TE School District needs a thorough internal examination and review to look at what is really going on inside our school walls.


Footnote: In a quick Google search, I found ‘School Perceptions’, an independent research company that collects data, conducts internal examinations, professional development, benchmark surveys, etc. and measures feedback from community, parents, students and staff in public and private schools. According to their website, their mission is to “help educational leaders gather, organize and use data to make strategic decisions” by measuring what matters. I understand the economics of the School District and I realize that School Perceptions, or a similar company, does not come without a price tag however … this situation requires action. One solution is an independent examination and review of the working environment of the District employees.

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  1. When push comes to shove it appears they just don’t care.
    The silence from the school board president says a lot.

    In the best interest of our children three administrative individuals should be asked to leave. Two to retire and one to be terminated.

    The school board should take some time and pop in to various schools and look around. Perhaps even sit in on a 90 degree class in an elementary school and get a feel for that.
    Damage control how about coming in and handing out ice cold water bottles?

  2. Pattye asks some interesting questions:
    When a District employee speaks as a citizen at a meeting, does the First Amendment not protect them? How is it possible that a school district is allowed to exercise control over an employee’s private speech?
    With a few narrow exceptions the Constitution and the federal laws derived from it only protect a person’s right to expression from government interference, not from the restrictions a private employer may impose. In other words, a private employee can say whatever they want, but that doesn’t mean they will have a job the next morning.
    There are different rules for public employees.
    A “public employee’s statements on a matter of public concern could not be the basis for discharge unless the statement contained knowing or reckless falsehoods, or the statements were of the sort to cause a substantial interference with the ability of the employee to continue to do his job.”
    See this site for a more detailed discussion:
    Thus, speech for a public employee is protected from reprisal if the subject matter is of “public concern”. In my layman’s opinion – a para can question the quality of service that might be provided to a student (public concern) by a temporary agency employee without fear of reprisal, but cannot express indignation about the level of compensation or working hours from a temporary agency (not a public concern).

    1. thats a fine line and I am not sure it will stick. Why? well heres my amateur take….the hours and compensation for aides transferred to an agency can be considered PUBLIC domain if it effects the staffing and performance of these aides as they move forward… all in the public domain. I would think in a public school the public would be entitled to know this…

  3. I have worked for the T/E school district for over 5 years. I retired from corporate life and was bored. I worked mostly at menial tasks and really didn’t have a problem with that because it was keeping me active. I got to know many of the custodians, maintenance and cafeteria workers over this period. I also observed the most incredible mismanagement I’ve ever witnessed in my working life. T/E owned three or four homes adjacent to T/E Middle School. They were used for storage of supplies. They were previously private homes. One day I would deliver supplies and the next day I would be told to move them to the old administration building. Those homes were eventually torn down and are now vacant lots for which I imagine the school district pays taxes. What was the plan for purchasing those properties which don’t appear to be serving any purpose at this time? Why was the old administration building subsequently torn down and is now a vacant lot? I am sure others have asked these questions and the school board has come up with rationalizations, but these are properties that are now useless but still are taxed. I discarded truckloads of supplies and equipment because when these facilities were demolished there was no place to store them.
    WASTE like I’ve never seen in my lifetime which includes senior management at a $60 million manufacturer of research equipment. The school board is living in the twilight zone while T/E administration is intimidating it’s non teaching employees to cover up for their incompetence. I have seen it first hand and could elaborate if I weren’t so bad with a keyboard. The threats to outsource have been ongoing for several years and only serve to further alienate the non teaching staff. Who wants to be constantly looking over their shoulder knowing management id seeking ways of avoiding having to pay them? The five assistant principals at Conestoga High earn over $500,000 in salary among them. I wonder what the total payroll for the custodial staff is. I could go on and on but I doubt it will change anything. The bottom line is that when the economy was rolling along, the school board and administration made a lot of bad decisions and now somebody has to pay for them. T/E is just a microcosm of our federal government – full of incompetent management who feel that by offering budget solutions that don’t address their inadequacies they can make it appear that they are doing something. The dye is cast!

    1. I live across from TE’s ” million dollar dog park”.on Old Lanc RD
      They bought 5 homes & demolished every one. Total purchase price around 1.5 million. . The first plan was to build tennis courts then it changed into a million dollar parking lot for TEMS Now its going to be for a new maintenance facility and a separate storage building (maybe for all those supplies) Rough 2011 estimate 2.6 million .. they have a permit to build that parking lot so that might happen also Honestly if the district is broke WHY are they spending so much money at Faciliites?

        1. Has not been discussed at Faciliites..but its still listed in Capital Sources & Uses 10YR Plan .. only the dates were changed Phase 1 ( 1.1 million ) is 2013/14 and Phase 2 (1.6 mil) is 2014/15. The plans are for 2 separate buildings…Just looking at the figures . it looks like 57.8 million in projected projects over the next 10 years.

        2. This goes to my point about applying for exceptions and/ or instituting an EIT.

          This has nothing to do with not having enough money. This is about allocation of funds. This action not only gets these employees off the books, it would give the administration more control because many aides and paras live in the district and have kids in the schools. They care deeply about what goes on in and out of school. If we have 175 employees in the district, with no stake in the community and no stake in the school system, how do you suppose that is going to change the landscape of the whole system?

          And the insensitive, dehumanizing way it is being carried out, only goes to demonstrate that they don’t care. Their dismal performance at the public meeting to citizens when they didn’t have the decency to invesitgate even one alternative solution to the problem of outsourcing aides sheds light on the true motivation of this plan. All their preparation time (had to have been no more than 10 minutes) was spent on justifying this action. It took citizens a matter of minutes to offer alternatives and poke holes in every part of this plan. Now they’ve all gone radio silent.

          I speculate that even with an EIT, a case would be made for outsourcing. If asked, citizens would hear about how important it would be to fund 57.8 million dollars worth of projects over the next 10 years. My guess is, part or all of this 57.8 million dollar plan would be going through and the aides and paras would still be slated for outsourcing. It would be an exact reflection of what is happening now, on a larger scale. Why is facilities spending over $200,000 on parking spaces (just one example, there are many others we know and don’t know about) when we can’t afford to pay our aides and paras? Their priorities are evident. Don’t go by what they say, (“our hearts are breaking”) go by what they do. They want parking spaces over paras. It’s very clear.

          To those of you who have advocated for an EIT, I believe if you were deciding on allocation of funds, decisions would be different. If you run for the board, I’ll support you and your ideas. Until then, this group has demonstrated it would be a big mistake to allow them authority over the allocation of one more penny of tax payer funds.

        3. There is a discussion here that is really worth having.

          Capital funds can not of course be used to pay operating expenses, but operating funds are used for servicing the debt that is incurred for capital expenditures. So, as has been stated here before, at the end of the day it’s all taxpayer money.

          The 5/3/2013 Capital Plan shows an expenditure of $53.5 million for the ten years beyond the current one. The available capital funds, however, are only $18.2 million – leaving a $35 million shortfall and running out by 2016/17. Moreover, taxpayers will be paying down the current debt at around $5-6 million a year until 2025.

          What is the current and would-be Board intending to do about this? One approach would be to keep right on with the plan, borrow more money with maybe minor repayments beginning in 2020 while we’re still repaying old debt but mostly deferred until 2026 and beyond where it is another generation’s problem.

          Another approach might be to look at where the $53.5 million is going and see if our coat can be cut more to fit our cloth. The full Plan is available here:

          I did a quick scan of the projects over $200,000. These total $34.3 million, nearly two thirds of the entire Plan. Not too many for a serious review and justification, one would think. Especially when there are 6 kitchen renovation projects ($3.2 million), 7 lighting renovation projects ($2.2 million) and 3 toilet projects ($1.2 million). Of course there are also the already much discussed IT network and Maintenance/Storage Building projects (nearly $3 million each). [Plus, BTW, $500,000 of other projects in 2015-16 for the existing Maintenance Building?].

          It is nice to see a few classroom projects (eg lab rooms at CHS for $1.1 million) along with the many millions going to HVAC and electrical systems, plus the sizable projects to replace Teamer field turf, fire alarm systems, storage closets, lockers and parking spaces. Not to mention the $6.5 million (!) that is earmarked for “Architect, District costs and Contingencies”.

          Perhaps a Board that applied some scrutiny to the Capital Plan could not only lower the outflow of taxpayer money, but also fund much of any remaining capital deficit with another transfer from the still bloated General Fund. As debt service needs come down, perhaps then there would be more to invest in our human capital?

        4. Ray,

          As you say, at the end of the day, it’s all tax payer money.

          You say, “this is a discussion here really worth having.” When we have no money to invest in our human capital, how is it worth having a discussion about available funds for capital expenditures in excess of 50 million dollars.

          I appreciate your expertise, knowledge, time and energy spent on budgetary matters. When an entire segment of human capital is under threat of losing their jobs to less educated, non members of this community, I’d say that’s a problem worth talking about.

      1. Off topic but … since you live on Old Lancaster Rd., how are the township’s bump-outs? The stormwater plan included these bump-outs with the responsibility for maintenance left to the individual homeowners. I know that the idea form the township was for wildflowers in the bump-outs; I’m curious if the plan worked.

        1. It is up to the homeowner ..TESD has 6 and keeps them mowed. I did see plans for a garden club to plant one but haven’t heard any more discussion on it.

    2. I noticed and observed the same stuff you are speaking about. I think the best solution to all is not the outsourcing answer. I believe we just need a new way of doing things and all this ” tired” mismanagement needs to retire and head on down the pike. Lower Merion I feel has a very well managed and yes wellpaid Maintenance and custodial dept. Maybe they should looked to see how these folks and others like them operate with more modern efficentcy. T/ E custodians have taken a paycut but they still hire back supreme janitorial for there summer help crew in the summertime who are nothing more than useless outfit.mour own students have worked circles around this lazy bunch. So again..tired old ways…

  4. I have said before, “how many assistant principals does Conestoga need?” Seems to me in this economic environment this is a bloated administration. Consolidation of duties is in order and at least 2 assistant principals need to be outsourced. How to make that happen? Well if you take it to THIS school board, that is like asking Barack Obama to fire Eric Holder..

    1. Maybe we could get at least one principal to come out of her office at VF Elementary?
      I wonder if that could be possible? Could we hire someone that actually doesn’t hide and knows the students and staff?

      Please the morale is at negative level. Teachers are low, aides are fearful and the kids are suffering and sweltering. Unless they are in the AC portion of that school.

      1. you bring up a good question take, who is watching the principals? If this VF elementary principal is doing such a poor job, wheres the evaluation? SOmetimes a good defense is a good offense.. The citizenry should request evaluations of ALL principals, and they should be made public. Lets make the bozos uncomfortable. They are tools of the administration and board anyway.

        1. Who should the citizenry request evaluations from? Who’s going to do the evaluations? How can citizens trust them?

          That outside audit idea seems better and better all the time.

        2. …and unfortunately one of the principals who is not a bozo and who is not a tool of the head admins is retiring in Dr. Tobin…

          We are also losing Dr. Denkins who is a great administrator too!

        3. Why would the people who appoint principals want to evaluate them? In the end it means they made a bad choice. So let’s keep the morale of that building on a downward spiral.

          The morale of teachers and aides (apparently aides don’t matter) is at a negative at Valley Forge. It’s gone from bad to awful over the past four to five years.

          I disagree that a few other principals are in place that are above average.
          Todd Parker will be a great addition to Devon if he doesn’t live in the fear of the ‘bullies’ that own him.

          Dr. Dinkins is a fine educator and what fools to lose him.

          Someone needs to hold everyone accountable because who suffers? The children!

        4. take, those that hire the principals SHOULD evaluate their performance.. Why wouldn’t they? Guess thats the boards duty. is there a performance check list? Are there indeed benchmarks used to evaluate? Isnt there a committee of the board charged with this responsibility? An outside audit may be fine, but really this could and should be done from within.

  5. I confirm that this information is accurate. Personally, I would welcome an outside audit of the District as Patty suggests. Assuming explicit confidentiality the results might give the school board a better indicator of what is really going on. Over the last few years the situation has exacerbated & TE is no longer the supportive environment it once was. Thank you for shedding light on this situation. Its something that we live with but no one wants to talk about.

      1. You are kidding, right? Unfortunately, the only that I would trust is Anne Crowley and she is choosing to leave the board rather than seek re-election. Maybe there was a time when confidentiality was sacred but my observation is that the most of these board members go along with whatever the administration says. They really are fooling themselves by living in this world of denial. TESD is not the place it once was. Personally, I would only trust an outside company. Done properly, I think that the public would be shocked by the results. This isn’t sour grapes on my part, I’m nearing retirement; my concern is for the younger employees of the District.

  6. It is disturbing to read the comments of employees that indicate how dysfunctional the culture of the District is. Clearly there is not an atmosphere of trust which is the core of great teams. This is not that difficult to correct. I first became aware of how quickly a culture can change by reading “It’s Your Ship” by Capt Abrashoff that described how a Captain took over the USS Benfold, with one of the worst crews in the Navy and within a year turned it in to such a high performing team that the Navy implemented his ideas system wide. Respect, communication and belief in his people were the key. With proper leadership our TE ship can be turned around quickly.
    I used consultants in my own business to benchmark our culture. Some of what we learned was painful……but if you want to get better you have to learn the truth. Once we uncovered the problems it just took dedication to work through them, with input from the entire team, and the results have been outstanding. When people feel they are a valued part of the team they are more than willing to help solve any problem.

  7. Pete
    Before moving too quickly to fix things, please get someone with a real name to say something.
    When people you hired worked for you, who evaluates them? Here, there is a concern that having the people responsible for the performance be the ones to evaluate?
    Didnt the BOS hire consultants on the police….and the report was all boilerplate?

    Exactly what problems are being uncovered? Wnd what evidence is anyone providing except 100% anonymous anecdotes? I don’t discount the concerns, but at some point, doesn’t someone have to step up? You claim the two departing admins are great….why not talk to them? Or are they only great because they are leaving? TT spent time in two other districts after leaving TESD, and chose to return. ALL on Waters watch. DD was hired and developed by Waters as CHS principle, brought into admin on Waters watch and is taking an interesting opportunity in a non-union environment…chair of Episcopals Upper School.

    1. Do you REALLY think that a current employee is going to use their real name. Might as well advertise that you want to get fired. Ask a TE employee directly and he or she will tell you what is going on. Trust me the morale is the lowest it’s ever been and unlikely to improve unless there’s change in management.

      1. Took your advice…asked several. Cannot get any agreement on your view…and several like you are near retirement. And two are young. And I know their names…so I can judge the value of their answers. I don’t know what else to ask? Or believe. Tenure apparently means little with all this talk of harrassmeent.

        This morning, Michael Smerconish commented that anonymous reports and comments are about as reliable as bathroom graffiti….I think that goes a bit too far, but in reality? If you can’t own up to your views, why should people respond to them? I’m asking…I don’t know the answer.

        1. Do you want to give your name? You are posting anonymously too. If you did not get a clear answer from those you spoke with, I’m guessing that you must hold a position that they are fearful of. Maybe you are an administrator?

        2. Side,

          TESD is right on the money. I have friends who are teachers. I have been hearing what TESD reports for at least 2-4 years. My friendships with these teachers are outside of school so what they tell me is not prejudice. I am very frank with them about my views on salaries and pensions. We’re still friends. I would like to report on those conversations but I won’t. They are tenured and report what Teacher describes.

          You don’t live here. Your last child graduated in (2004?) That was a long time ago. When was the last time you stepped foot in a school? Until then, why should readers take your view seriously?

          The teachers you talked to know you are an ex board member and support administration. Do you really think they would tell you the truth?

          I appreciate and respect the information you provide about conditions 12+ years ago however, it has little to so with what is going on now.

        3. anonymous sources are unreliable? How so? Done all the time in media…sometime, I have found, anonymous sources are the best. You just cant lump anonymous with unreliable, just as known sources can be unreliable too..

          lets get back on point.. Mr Sidelines….. (is that your real name?)

        4. As politeia pointed out months ago, everyone has a supreme court, constitutional right to post anonymously for this very reason………fear of retribution.

        5. Side has commented more than once that he/she believes most people know who he/she is. He/She uses a moniker because of google. Parden me if I wrote out of turn, side.

    2. excellent idea to talk to outgoing administrators. But will they fess up? Im not sure. Also, why is moral low generally? Except for how the aides thing was handled, and I understand that can trickle up to the teachers, what is causing low morale? I would like to know. But who can speak with whom? who would risk reprimand or worse? If there is general fear, then that speaks volumes that no one would identify themselves. Look at how the administration admonished that young teacher at the last meeting. Ask bloated teide how she blew off this young kid when the kid tried to call her and set things straight. Who controls teide? Watch her, she will smile at you while turning a knife in your back. How do I know? Ask those she is responsible for.. they will confess… anonymously of course.

  8. Morale is low my observation is because the person governing a school is a bad choice and may have been wonderful in a class but stinks in management.

    They hate (dealing) with parents or small children and don’t get along with some of the teaching staff.
    Yet love the pay check and prestige of a promotion. Under this Administration. It means they were ‘chosen’ .

    People have to stay unnamed because of many reasons.
    However if you got someone like Donovan (former principal) at CHS to talk or any teacher or aide at VF elementary you’d be told some scary stuff.
    Even some parents of children have some very dark tales.
    People were threatened to keep quiet. It’s just not worth the fight. Yet that means the bully wins. The staff loses and most of all the children face the brunt of it all.

  9. Correct shining…I don’t want to google my name and see every post. Then again, no danger of that with any of you. And you are out of line presuming that 1) you can out me with any purpose and 2) that I don’t have relationships that are personal and have nothing to do with intimidation.

    I am not for one minute suggesting people don’t have the right to post anonymously, though your need to ensure I have no anonymity is a bit odd, but I do believe that the anonymity leaves people with no responsibility for what they say and who they hurt. Until you have ever done a search for an administrator, and interviewed people from all over the country, you haven’t the first clue what options districts face. And I find the disregard for these people, who are members of our school community — a highly successful community — by using their names but not your own is completely inappropriate. It is, in a word, bullying. And suggesting that people fear for their jobs means little to me. Why would you be afraid of losing a job that you so desperately hate?

    But you can say things are bad, and I can read it. Until someone with any credibility — i.e. will stand behind what they say and not just post from behind the wall — confirms it, I’m relying on what I hear. And if my friends tell me things are bad, I will deal with it privately….not disregard the professionals who have put careers into educating our community. Or do you think TESD got to be what it is by pure accident? These people you so publicly insult and denigrate hired the people you are talking to….

    When you stop fighting for something, you stop having a reason to care.

  10. So now you’re blaming the targets of the bulling behavior (they have received threatening letters because they attended a public meeting about outsourcing?) and your calling them bullys because they post anonymously on a public forum because they are afraid of losing their jobs in a dreadful job market where there is little prospects to find other employment? That is just brilliant!!!!! Blaming the victim sometimes works but I don’t think it will in this case. The evidence is overwhelming and the more people step up and tell the truth about their experiences the more pressure it puts on citizens to do something about it.

    Teachers have repeatedly stated, they don’t hate their jobs. Most love their jobs. They love teaching. They don’t love a work environment where feel intmidated and are fearful of losing their jobs.

    If your friends tell you things are bad, why would you deal with it privately? How can you deal with it privately? Especially since you don’t live or pay taxes here, you have no say anyway.

    These professionals who have put their careers in educating our community are the perpetrators of the this action. Why would teachers go to them for relief? It makes no sense.

    1. Shining:
      Please produce ONE letter …just one. If so many were sent out, it is easy to redact the name. Just produce ONE letter. And it won’t be from a teacher — their union knows better. And they have tenure. Have you ever been privy to a termination effort in a public school???

  11. shining, sidelines logic is fallacious (sp). He or she must be ignored… he says we hate our jobs so why would we want to keep them? Who said we hate our jobs? there is a lot wrong with him/her.. Why would this person not want to be googled and read? There is more here than meets the eye and I would be wary of what this poster says. maybe this person is Tiede..

  12. Nobody hates their job. They hate the job it has become because the morale in the district is at an all time low.
    People are grateful for jobs and for what the job has offered.
    Aren’t we on a fight to save the aides, sub. teachers who care so deeply about the children and district many call home and can’t stand being silent about things anymore?

  13. Parents and their children also fear TESD administrators. Intimidation and bullying is not reserved for the TESD staff. Parents and children are also victims of this in TESD. There is a culture of fear and reprisal imposed by TESD administrators, including within the schools. The system is rotten from the top down and it is time to clean house. Certain administrators need to go along with Board members neither of which feel any accountability to this community for their actions. These are our children and this is our money, we and they are entitled to a district led by individuals with integrity and who lead through example not by oppression, threats and intimidation and certainly not by denying community members their First Amendment rights.

    1. Take ONE specific example public. Truth is an absolute defense. Take ONE example public and these people can be removed for cause. There will be no house cleaning. Stop ranting about that. ONE EXAMPLE — specific and actionable. With your name behind it.

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