Pattye Benson

Community Matters

T/E Taxpayers Draw Short Straw: School Board Approves $4.5 million maintenance building & 3.81% tax increase

Last night’s TE School Board meeting did not mark a good night for the District’s taxpayers! Many of us left the meeting disheartened and feeling like the warm summer evening would have been better spent with a glass of Chardonnay. Here are the highlights, or rather low-lights of the meeting.

New Maintenance & Storage Building: $4.5 million, approved 8-1 (Liz Mercogliano dissenting vote)

The District’s Business Manager Art McDonnell and the architect Tom Daley from Daley & Jalboot presented a lengthy presentation on the proposed $4.5 million maintenance & storage building. Helping to convince that the project was necessary, photos of current overcrowded storage facilities, closets, etc. accompanied the presentation. Taxpayers did not question that something needed to be done to improve the situation but did question the project’s escalating costs, the Old Lancaster Road location and the treatment of the neighbors. The fantasy architectural drawings indicate a tree-lined boulevard, not the realty of Old Lancaster Road … a narrow residential street of small homes sitting below grade to this new, large maintenance building.

2015-16 Budget: Approved deficit budget with a 3.81% tax increase, 8-1 (Liz Mercogliano dissenting vote).

The 3.81% tax increase marks the eleventh straight year that the TE School Board has raised taxes. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer from Sunday, June 14, the 3.81% tax increase for 2015-16 marks the largest tax increase in Chester County.

The last year the TESD saw no tax increase was 2004-05 as seen below:

• 2015-16: 3.81%
• 2014-15: 3.4%
• 2013-14: 1.7%
• 2012-13: 3.3%
• 2011-12: 3.77%
• 2010-11: 2.9%
• 2009-10: 2.95%
• 2008-09: 4.37%
• 2007-08: 3.37%
• 2006-07: 3.90%
• 2005-06: 1.40%
• 2004-05: Zero Tax Increase

Discretionary compensation increases above the 1.7% contract for Supervisors and Administrators: Approved 7-2 (Liz Mercogliano and Scott Dorsey dissenting votes)

Valley Forge Middle School Fencing: Board agreed to further discussion of hiring of a fencing safety consultant at the next Facilities Committee meeting. An RFP for safety expert to be sent in the Fall.

TE School District Redistricting: Based on the distribution of voters in the school district, there is under representation of elected officials in Tredyffrin, District 2. It was suggested that the Board’s Legislative Committee would review the redistricting issue at their next meeting, in September. Disenfranchised voters are discussing a grassroots effort of their own re redistricting.

Reflecting on last night’s school board meeting, had me wondering why should I or other citizens bother to show up? As some have often stated on Community Matters, the Board seemingly makes its decisions in advance and then delivers those decisions as a united front. Questions from the public are only marginally answered, if at all. The Board views comments from residents as criticism and/or annoyances.

Election Day is November 3, 2015. Five seats on the TE School Board are on the November ballot – Vote for Change!

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  1. The only conclusion I can logically come to is that the Board Directors don’t want to do the job. When talking to them over the years, more than one has stated to me, “it’s a volunteer position, O.K.?”, when confronted with questions they won’t answer or decisions they can’t justify. If you don’t want to do the job, or if you don’t have the time to do the job or you don’t have the courage to stand up for what is right for the tax payer, please do not run.

    We need Board members who perform their duty of inquiry, who have the courage and the confidence to stand up and serve the tax payers. We need Board Members who work for the citizens they are supposed to serve, instead of the Administration they’re afraid (?) to say no to.

    The amount of money siphoned out of the school budget to support Administrator salaries, a $4.5M maintenance building and $1M to $3.3M in renovation costs for an IT building and other waste that has nothing to do with student achievement is incredible. The public is in the dark about salaries and it has allowed salaries to skyrocket unnoticed year after year.

    This report should shock and anger tax payers.

  2. Thank you, Pattye, for your reporting. Please keep your spirits up – we have to believe that increased community awareness will eventually lead in turn to a more responsive government.

    Your high/low lights reflect my take-aways, too. Just a couple of comments:

    – The building presentation was long on photographs of storage closets and unsupported assertions, but short on up-to-date facts and data. All exemplified by the only discussion on the possibility of using the ESC site: Dr Motel: “I am steadfastly against the use of the ESC”. That may be a personal view, but why and what do others think?

    – Others can speak to the fencing situation better than I can, but again comments from the Board mis-represented what actually happened at meetings I was at and at one point Dr Motel put the neighbors’ issue down to “aesthetics”, rather than TESD’s attempt to arrogate contractual rights established through the Township Zoning regulations.

    – These points speak to the abhorrent process for public comment. Questions are mis-represented and interpreted however the answerer wants. We had a glimpse of a better way at the end of the meeting: Dr Waters spoke directly to a point I was trying to make about the choices being made about Supervisor salary increases. There was a brief dialog – an actual exchange, OMG! – that served to clarify exactly what was being decided.

    And finally, I have to remark on the contribution to the meeting made by my friend Neal Colligan. I encourage everyone to watch the video for a knowledgeable and extremely well-articulated alternative to the uncritical group-think that is all too common.

  3. The district is renting space from Norcini’s, behind Whole Foods, to house supplies while the new $4.5 M building is constructed. Does anyone have the exact cost? I think it’s a little over a thousand dollars a month. Why not use a warehouse like this one?


  4. Did the School Board or Facilities committee consider sharing space with the two townships? Seems to me there would be economic advantages in so doing. But as we have seen, the facilities Czar (Motel) had his mind made up, meaning that anything else will not be entertained.

  5. Just to clarify a point—at Monday night’s school board meeting, Mr. Motel seemed to marginalize the public’s view regarding the fencing issue by saying that we were concerned about the “aesthetics” of the fencing project.

    The fact is, everyone in this township is concerned with our students’ and teachers’ safety.

    This point was discussed in a meeting on May 14th with Mr. Motel, two other school board members, David Miller, Mark Levine and myself to talk about the VFMS fences. We discussed moving the fences away from the Green Hills backyard-per 2002 agreement and placing a White Vinyl Fence along Valley Forge Rd instead of a cyclone fence.
    The White Vinyl Fence would be the same height as the cyclone fence—4ft.

    The White Vinyl Fence was brought up because, after doing research, it was discovered that Wayne Elementary School in Radnor, has a white vinyl fence—serving two purposes: providing delineation and fits in with the neighborhood landscape. An 8×11 picture of Wayne Elementary School was provided and given to the board members. At the time, we did not hear any issues from the board about “aesthetics” nor safety for that matter.

    The point of having a fence along Valley Forge Rd was to help “delineate” the boundaries and assist the teachers in knowing if a student is within school boundaries. This was the teachers’ request that was disclosed by Mr. Motel in the April 27th board meeting as it relates to the district safety committee results.

    There was thought and due diligence on the part of the community. We weren’t just an angry mob demanding what we wanted. With respect and trust, we worked with the board and provided viable solutions. In return, we expect the same from our elected board members.
    Pat McHugh
    Brookmead Farms

    PS-If safety is a true issue for the boards’ decision not to go forward with their original plan dated May 28th, then why not use our own police chief to review the plan? I believe this was outlined by Pattye, Ed Sweeney and others on this blog.

  6. If the public is in the dark about salaries it is only because they want to be. Took me 30 seconds to google TESD salaries. Most of the “Transparency” issues anymore is that people are too lazy to look or they simply don’t know how to.

  7. Thank-you Mr. McHugh for your point of clarification. You say above that:

    “This was the teachers’ request that was disclosed by Mr. Motel in the April 27th board meeting as it relates to the district safety committee results.”

    I am wondering if Mr. Motel mentioned what teachers requested fencing as it relates to the results. Was it a group of teachers? one or two teachers? was it union reps from one or more schools, speaking for the teachers as a whole? Because I haven’t spoken to one teacher who thinks the fencing initiative is a good idea.

    My guess is if asked, Mr. Motel will cite confidentiality as a justification for not revealing the teachers who are behind this request.

    I can’t count this claim by Mr. Motel as a valid reason for fencing when it is impossible to know who is behind it.

  8. Pattye, thanks for the enlightening chart of tax increases. The cumulative increase for the last 11 years amounts to a nearly 41% increase. The sad note is that with the new $24M bond and the district retirement funding responsibilities that are looming, taxes will continue to increase. The district debt service will always be there. Borrowing money isn’t free. Future taxpayers will be paying for the out of control capital spending going on now, as did the taxpayers for the last 11 years. It’s trend that has to stop.

  9. has to stop? WHEN has it ever stopped, notwithstanding a year or two… there is always an upward trajectory of taxes and expenses, even if just for inflation when there is some.
    or when the bubble bursts and we start over … time to go west.. really west!

  10. One of the disturbing aspects of the vote to borrow money and build the new maintenance building was the failure to consider all the options prior to making a decision. Specifically, the option of a Triple Net Lease Back, was not on the list of options the board considered.

    A Triple Net Lease Back, is a common financial transaction, where an investor puts up the money to cover the construction of the building, then leases the building back to the School Board. At the end of the lease, the School District could buy the maintenance building from the investor for as little as one dollar. The district would have had to borrow no money and they would have the exact building they wanted.

    It is unfortunate, but the Board had already decided on their course of action and were in no mood at the public meeting to entertain any additional discussion from the floor.

    Dr. George Anderson

  11. Cost for the maintenance building has increased 50% over time in large part because the district has decided to squeeze an ill fitting 15,00 square foot building into a small space in the middle of a residential neighborhood. The site is not suitable for construction of a 15,000 square foot maintenance building. Soil remediation and storm water management requirements for the site have pushed costs sky high. Instead of investigating other alternatives, like Dr. Anderson has suggested, our Board Directors are taking a $788,000 cost increase in stride and are spending unnecessary tax payer dollars on making it suitable. Tax payer ideas and suggestions are dismissed without the slightest bit of consideration.

    This $4.5M Maintenance Building will cost tax payers $6M to repay. $6M for a Maintenance Building. Student programs have been cut which saved the district only $500,000 per year. To add insult to tax injury, valuable employees have been outsourced and this same threat continues for TENIG employees who have already suffered massive cuts in their pay while others at the top who make these decisions continue to receive massive pay hikes year in and year out.

    Our taxes were raised AGAIN 3.81%. Is this how you want your tax money to be spent? On a $6M maintenance building? On hundreds of thousands of dollars in fencing costs? On new positions for Administrators at top of the pay scale salaries? On massive pay increases for those at the top who make these decisions while those who make the least in salaries lose their employment or suffer huge cuts in pay?

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