Pattye Benson

Community Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the quick version of the new proposal:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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  1. Pattye,

    It may surprise you to learn that as far as the PA Open Records Law is concerned, no agenda in advance of the meeting is required. All that is required is a public notice that a meeting will occur and such notice shall contain the time and location of the meeting. There is a 72 hour notice requirement. the only exception is emergency meetings.

    With that in mind, while you may not like the answer you received, it is legally within bounds.

    For T/ESD, Art McDonnell I believe is the ORO and the policy in this case falls within that domain. It isn’t uncommon for the business manager or any other member of the administration to comment on the policy. Typically, an elected member of a school board will defer such items to either the solicitor or a senior administration member.

    In an earlier post, you mentioned an open records case. What was the result of that case? The evidence and legal arguments presented, are they available for the public to review here?

    1. The Office of Open Records is reviewing the case and notification of the case is due within 30 days of filing. I have all information pertaining to the case and the decision whether they will be released on Community Matters, will be made after the case is decided.

    2. No doubt that you are right re the agenda notification, Mr. Sunshine Expert. However, I would suggest that when property values are at stake, at a minimum, notification to those residents affected should prevail. If the Business Manager can decide on agenda policy for the school district, perhaps the courtesy of notification could be included in that policy.

    3. I guess we all forget that Chesterbrook came way after VFMS was there. Chesterbrook was beautiful fields that nobody in the area wanted changed into all that traffic.

  2. Since you mention last night’s meeting – a quick update may be in order. And it is quick, since absolutely nothing of substance came up. The aide/para outsourcing vendor will be discussed at the April 27th Board meeting, and the decision date for the employees deferred until an unspecified later date. No mention of fencing. And the Budget “workshop” was simply a rote and hard to follow recitation of the expenditure budget with all the previously discussed programs and impacts.

    And here’s a variation on an old trick: not budgeting a (recently unneeded) transportation contingency was used as a source of funds for a new admin position. That’s out of the same book as claiming debt costs are not increasing because we had previously budgeted them to be higher than they are.

    The whole approach seems to be: let’s just keep on spending operating funds and capital unconstrained, and run deficits that will be some other Board’s problem to solve. It would be one thing if there was any sense of a pathway to slower expense increases that will allow revenue to catch up before the fund balance is gone, but there’s none of that. Indeed, the structure of the recent bond issue loads more debt repayment costs into early years which further extends the squeeze.

    What, Me Worry?

  3. For these particular residents, I suspect they are aware of what is going on at each meeting. Therefore, they have not been prejudiced in any way.

    Here’s the other matter that I’m sure you are not going to be happy with. Even if there is an adverse impact on property value, which is a burden the property owner has to carry, that in no way impairs the district from its plan. The fact is, an appraisal would never consider the fence as an adverse issue. Indeed, it might be the case that somebody would pay less for the house. That however is subjective and unless a house is put on the market such that there is an offer, nobody would know for sure. An appraisal on the other hand can be ordered at any time and the only factors are things like # of bedrooms, bathrooms, acreage, etc.

    In this particular case, the business manager is not deciding on the policy Rather, he is simply citing it and abiding by it. The policy was approved by the entire board whenever it was enacted. In no event does the business manager or any one person act in isolation of the others. Is there discretion on the part of the board? Yes. Do they have to exercise it. No, they do not. The only thing they cannot do is flip back and forth with enforcement based on some arbitrary basis. Proving that

    Thanks for the update on the case. Since then, I’ve seen the relevant facts and the gist of the argument. I think you are going to see the case dismissed for failing to carry the burden. The complainant in this case will have a right to an appeal of course. Ken Roos has been doing this work for a long time and that firm is one of the best when it comes to representing school districts. A significant part of their practice and any other gov’t related practice has to deal with sunshine act claims all of the time. In other words, they get a lot of practice at defending these claims. I know because that’s what I do.

    The question in this case is what is the remedy as to the decision made re: the aides and paras? The district is entitled to make the decision they made. What remedy is Mr. Colligan looking for? For all the facts to come out? The facts are out? Is the goal for this to not happen in the future? That’s not what present claims are for. If there are future violations then those claims can be brought on the merits of those particular facts and circumstances.

    1. The fencing is no longer going on the TESD property line next to the back doors of the affected Green Hills homeowners. The 6-foot fencing is going next to the VFMS field connecting to the existing fence on Chesterbrook Blvd. (A concession to the homeowners that some have stated on CM was not possible and would not happen.) It remains uncertain how the 4 foot fencing on Valley Forge Road can go through the RC district parcel in a zig zag fashion. And open questions about the connecting trails between Chesterbrook and TESD property and the availability of the paths to residents. To restate, the affected Green Hills residents were NOT informed of the fencing update prior to the Facilities Meeting and were NOT informed that the fencing was to be discussed.

      As for the School District’s Sunshine Act violation – you write as the expert, stating that is what you do for a living. Don’t see how you can say —

      you are going to see the case dismissed for failing to carry the burden.

      when you have not seen the legal argument and case law.

    2. GVA Member – I think you are confused about the “case”. First, the case and the associated arguments have nothing to do with the Sunshine Act. It’s a request for records under the Right to Know Law. Second, under the Right to Know Law the requester is not seeking any “remedy” as you suggest. The only remedy for an open records request is the production of the requested records. Third, the requester bears no obligation to “carry the burden”. It’s the burden of the agency (school district) to prove that the requested record is NOT a public record.

      I hope you are more skillful when representing your clients.

  4. The Board and Administration make up rules and policy as they go, and the rules and policy they make up benefit and further the agenda they want to enforce. In this instance I would call it arbitrary. They don’t want citizens showing up at the meeting challenging them on the fencing matter, so they don’t include it on the agenda.

    What reason could they have for not including the fencing issue on the agenda? Other than they didn’t want citizens to come to the meeting and question them.

    Why is the business manager citing the Policy? Was the Policy Chair at the meeting? Why didn’t he or some other Policy committee person state the Policy?

  5. When agendas are set for committee and Board meetings, are they generally followed? If not, how often are items added or removed from agendas? What are the circumstances surrounding the changes, if agendas are modified?

    Is it accepted practice that the Business Manager state the Policy at Committee Meetings? How many times has the Business Manager stated Policy at Committee Meetings?

    When was this policy created and enacted? What were the circumstances surrounding the creation and implementation of this policy?

  6. The district doesn’t want to be challenged on ANY matter. Why are the plans for the proposed maint/storage building on Old Lancaster RD top secret ?
    I had to file a RTK at the township to see the new landscaping plans. Maybe TESD can claim “safety concerns” on this project also. SO glad Tredyffrin Township is on top of all these matters ..TESD won’t be getting a 14 minute approval like Easttown gave them.

  7. CHV

    I live in Easttown. What do you mean by…

    “TESD won’t be getting a 14 minute approval like Easttown gave them.”

    Will the maint./storage building be located in Easttown Twnshp. or Tred. Twnshp? Why does the TESD need to get approval from both twnshps.?

    1. The maintenance building is in Tredyffrin Twp and only requires approval from Tredyffrin not Easttown. BTW, the mega-million dollar TESD maintenance building is back on the Tredyffrin Township Planning Commission agenda tonight.

    2. Sorry to be so confusing ..At the last Facilities meeting DR Motel made the comment that the district got the approval for a parking lot addition at Devon Elementary from Easttown Planning in 14 minutes . Tonight we go back to Tredyffrin Planning for the second preliminary session … Really grateful that Tredyffrin has been listening to the neighbors.

  8. Maybe the maintenance building should be built on the old ESC property in Easttown. As I recall they don’t have nearly enough acreage to build a school there anyway. They would have plenty of parking and room for all of the 20+ district vans and trucks, snowplows, storage tanks, multiple storage sheds and employee vehicles numbering around 19. The problem with the Old Lancaster Road site is the narrowness of the property making it difficult to build a suitable facility that will serve the district well for decades to come. Also, with two schools on that section of roadway (The Timothy School and T/E Middle School) it is a congested area already. It seems like an ill-fitted plan for that property to begin with. Easttown would probably welcome the development there and the approval process has to be easier, at least according to Pete Motel.

    1. Now this makes some sense. I think I recall that the plan is to retain storage sheds up there anyway and I’ve not heard of any other possible use. Maybe the building could be simpler and lower cost if not so constrained by the site. Trouble is that TESD is not good at changing direction for simpler, lower cost solutions.

    2. The mainenance building will never be built in Eastown. Pet Motel doesn’t build maintenace buildings in HIS township, or install fencing in HIS neighborhood or spend HIS money for any of it. He uses other people’s money, other people’s neighborhoods and other people’s townships for congested roads, ugly buildings and massive debt.

  9. I am not a neutral party because this proposed building will be CRAMMED in the middle of our neighborhood…I refer back to a presentation given to Facilities by Tom Daley on March 2011..
    Disadvantages of Old Lancaster RD
    ” 1.expense 2. Site is undersized for maintenance & storage.
    Parking is limited ” ..that says it all.

    1. CHV

      I’m sorry, this sounds awful for you and for your neighbors. Did you attend the Tredyffrin Planning meeting for the second preliminary session? If so, what did you find out? Can you get a group of neighbors to band together to go with you to meetings? Nothing matters more to Public Officials than groups of citizens banding together voicing the same opinion. eg. tennis courts. eg. senior living center. Even though the senior center went through anyway, Commissioners lost seats in the next election. The President Michelle Kichline no less, who by all acounts, even those who campaigned and voted against her said she was the most knowledgeable, well prepared and hard working commissioner in the bunch. Sad.

      1. I’ve gone to everything..School Board,Facilities,Zoning, Planning and the township building to file RTK ‘s so I can see their top secret plans.
        I qive a lot of credit to Tredyffrin Township for demanding permits , asking great questions and making TESD follow the rules. Memo to TESD talk with to the neighbors for a change…Planning round 3 in May .
        Special thanks to Pattye for this blog !!!

        1. I find it absolutely remarkable that affected neighbors are not permitted to see the maintenance building drawings! Taxpayer dollars pay for these plans – why are they not public documents?

        2. I agree with everything you say. But you are 1 person. I have it from a good source, that when the township was 1 week away from voting on allowing the new GlenHardie development to proceed, a resident neighbor put flyers in every Glenhardie mailbox alerting them to this action stopping the process in it’s tracks.

          1. The Wayne Glen (Richter tract) continues to move through the approval process. Another public hearing on the matter is scheduled tomorrow night, following the Board of Supervisors meeting. The vote by the BOS has not yet been scheduled but I am not aware that it has been stopped in its tracks.

  10. Then why are they insisting to build it there?

    Also, is there a guarantee that in two years the board won’t be threatening to outsource maintenance? That would be a huge waste of the taxpayers’ money.

  11. Let me be more clear. It is my understanding from talking with GH residents, that the Richter tract plans were modified after residents became aware of them. It is my understanding that the original plans called for a development much different than the one going through.

    *I don’t live in GH, or Tred. Twnship and have never attended a Tred. Twnsp meeting.

  12. I attended the Township Supervisors meeting of 4/20, where there was a large and vocal turnout in protest of the VFMS fencing project and school fencing in general. David Miller, president of Chesterbrook Civic Association logically summarized the history of the plan to place fencing in this deed restricted RC zoned lot..basically asking the Township to honor the commitment made by the Township Supervisors in 2003 to maintain free and open access to residents (which fencing would violate)…the response from the Township Solicitor Donahue was in a word, puzzling. Basically the Township appears to view this dispute as a neighbor disagreement, rather than a potential violation of a valid, in-force agreement. The Township appears to want to wait until something happens, such as a permit application, or construction vehicles rolling into VFMS to start excavating for fencing, in order to review the situation actively. Something has happened, Mr Donahue…the School District has accepted a bid for construction of the fencing, and has scheduled a start date (6/24)..Is that not enough to engender a full investigation as to the legality of this project? It would appear not..The most Mr Donahue would commit to in the meeting, publically at least, was to urge all the parties’ attorneys to talk to each other..Additional evidence that the Township will do nothing actively to block this project. Donahue appears to be convinced that the School District’s attorney will call him to alert him to the construction prior to it happening. I wouldnt be so sure, Vince..

    Its an odd relationship that the Township has with the TE School Board. As evidenced last evening, he Township provides a sweetheart deal in permit costs to the School District, subsidized by individual taxpayers. Additionally, this fencing project reinforces that the School Board has “priority status” over taxpayers, and thinks they have pretty much carte blanche to do what they want.

    Only one Supervisor, Mr DiBuonoventuro, commendably voiced his opposition to fencing as an eyesore and a colossal waste of taxpayer funds..Hopefully there are other Supervisors in support of voiding this project as well, even if it is ‘behind the scenes”..

    As was stated previously, there is a legal enforceable agreement between CCA and the School District, recognized by the Township when they issued a “Special Exception” zoning ruling in 2002, that the parcel that the School District wishes to fence is out of bounds for them..I dont understand what part of this the School District and the Township dont get.

    1. I too attended the meeting and my takeaway was similar to your assessment. The township is in the ‘wait and see’ mode as was repeatedly stated by the solicitor. They will wait until there is a permit request or a shovel in the ground. The problem is there is likely never going to be a permit request. New Holland Fencing Co. has a contract with TE School District. They plan to build fences just has they have done at all the elementary schools. Do you think that the school district has told New Holland not to schedule? My guess is no.

      We learned last night that the township solicitor thought that both sides were talking and in agreement (school district and Green Hills). That misinformation comes as no surprise because some members of the school board are telling residents that based on the Facilities Committee meeting there is an agreement with Green Hills. I attended that Facilities Committee meeting — the one that put the fences on the agenda 2 hrs before the 2 PM Friday afternoon meeting — where School Board president Kris Graham reads a statement. And what she snaps her finger and poof, problem solved! Because she is up for re-election, she may like to THINK that the fencing problem is solved but it is not. There is NO resolution, there is No agreement!

  13. Old Lancaster RD is getting another traffic study today ..helps when all the schools are in session and not on spring break .
    Will TESD be charged again ????

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