Pattye Benson

Community Matters

2016 brings new leadership to Tredyffrin Twp, 4.3% tax increase in preliminary TESD budget and a Chester County Substitute Teacher Job Fair

Belated Happy New Year! Waking up to 23 degree temperatures today reminds us that we are not going to escape the winter after all. Having recently returned from holidays spent in South Carolina with balmy, sunny 83 temperatures makes the arctic cold even harder to take!

Since the start of the New Year, here are a couple of noteworthy items. The 2016 reorganization of Tredyffrin Township’s Board of Supervisors came with two surprises – recently elected at-large supervisors Trip Lukens and Sean Moir were elected chair and vice chair, respectively of the board. Except for, also recently elected, supervisor Heather Greenberg, all other currently serving supervisors had served on the BOS longer than these two newly elected supervisors. But Lukens isn’t new to leadership roles in the township, having served previously as a member and chair of Tredyffrin’s Planning Commission. Congratulations to Lukens and Moir on the vote of confidence from their fellow supervisors and best wishes in their new positions!

The TE School District held their first school board meeting of 2016 last week.The Board unanimously adopted the 2016-17 preliminary budget which contains a 4.3% tax increase. The Board decided to “keep their options open” by approving a preliminary budget with the Act 1 index of 2.4% and allowable exceptions to Act 1 of 1.9% to close the project budget deficit of $4.75 million. It should be noted that Tredyffrin Township recently passed their 2016 budget with a zero percent tax increase.

The following chart shows TESD tax increases over the last twelve years. 2004-05 was the last zero tax increase year.

• 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

Although the adoption of the 2016-17 preliminary budget does not commit the Board to a tax increase, I cannot remember the last time the Board passed a preliminary budget with a tax increase and then decreased the tax increase in the final approved budget. Because the District does not allow the archive of meeting minutes on the website beyond the current year, there is no way to access this type of information, short of a ‘right-to-know’ request. (Here’s a suggestion/request for the Public Information committee – please keep the minutes for all school board meetings on the District website; a RTK should not be a requirement to access public information.)

I want to note that although the Board voted 9-0 to accept the preliminary budget, both Scott Dorsey (D) and Ed Sweeney (R) voiced their objection to the tax increase and do not want to see a 4.3% tax increase in the final budget. It was refreshing that newly elected Board member Robert Hotinski (D) spoke up about the way the budget information is presented — asking for more details on the line items from the District’s business manager Art McDonnell. Finance and Facilities Chair Virginia Lastner (R) encouraged the public to attend upcoming finance meetings and budget workshops and to look for solutions together with the District. 2016 is a new year and maybe the tides are turning …

I received a request from the staff of the Chester County Intermediate Unit to advertise the Chester County Substitute Teacher Job Fair, Thursday, January 14, 4-7 PM. The Job Fair will be held at the CCIU office, 455 Boot Road, Downingtown, PA. Representatives for all the public school districts in Chester County will be on hand to discuss current substitute teacher job openings and to accept applications and resumes. The CCIU press release states, “… According to the PA Department of Education, the current supply of available teachers, including substitutes, is not keeping up with the growing demand.”

Walk-ins are welcome at the job fair, but interested individuals are invited to preregister for the event online:

Although the Chester County Substitute Teacher Job Fair is for candidates seeking positions in all the Chester County public school districts, I post this notice in hopes of helping some of the experienced and educated aides and paraeducators whose jobs were outsourced by Tredyffrin Easttown School District.

Chester County Substitute Teacher Job Fair flyer

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  1. A zero tax increase for a school district should be a rare event and is most likely an indicator of poor financial management. Why? Schools need additional dollars each year to compensate for normal inflationary increases in labor costs (70% of the budget). All employees deserve a small increase in compensation (2%) each year don’t they? School districts raise most of their revenue from RE taxes which are levied by applying a millage rate against a fairly fixed assessment base. Unless the assessment base is growing (TE’s has been shrinking in recent years), the millage rate has to increase to bring in more dollars.
    And how much should the millage rate be increased? In theory, around the inflation rate for educational labor – which is the Act 1 Index. But in practice the required millage rate increase has already been determined by the labor contract negotiated with the TE teacher’s union 2 years ago.
    So why has the state been able to keep the income tax rate and the sales rate constant for so many years? Well, the tax rate is applied to income and sales which automatically increase year to year with inflation which automatically brings in more revenue without having to increase the income or sales tax rate.
    So, why has Downingtown SD been able to have multiple zero tax increase years? This is an example of poor fiscal management. DASD has been using their fund balance to support deficit spending. Eventually, if I’m correct, the piper will be paid with either a large tax increase via referendum or a teacher cut.

    1. T/E has one of the largest fund balances in the state. In 1996-97, T/E had a fund balance of $4,333,661 and the amount has increased by more than $28 million to a total of $32,381,047 as of June 2015. The $32.4 million is tax payer dollars.

  2. I was disappointed, but not surprised, that there was not a greater effort at bipartisanship by the TT BOS. Old habits clearly die hard. That being said, Trip and Sean have demonstrated real commitment to the Township.

    Re the School District parade of tax increases at twice the rate of inflation or more: when do we say enough is enough? At what multiple of mortgage costs do real estate taxes stir a revolt? At what multiple of taxpayer salaries do educator salaries, pensions and healthcare averaging $125,000 a year increasing at Keith’s “routine” 2% a year become too much of a burden? Do the longest tenured teachers and all the Administrators merit an extra $2,000 to $4,000 a year (plus benefits) when social security increases are zero? When do we remember that the efficiencies from 2009-11 that the District is now busy rolling back were designed to spread the educational effort beyond just the taxpayers?

    The good news, lamented by some on School Board, is that the opportunity to increase taxes for PSERS is about to diminish. Which increases the importance of the Act 1 Index, which of course is one of those self-perpetuating things: if compensation costs went up two years ago, then taxes (and thus compensation) will go up next year, and so the year after that, and the year after that, …..

    Actually, here in Tredyffrin the real estate tax base has been increasing in recent years and is explicitly quantified in the township budget. Transfer taxes are also strong. However, the School Board chooses to focus on property owner appeals and look for ways to spend the the bonanza that will result from the highest possible rate applied to the higher base.

    Keith is quite right about the dangers of deficit spending. Closer to home than Downingtown, Radnor will be soon be facing the prospect of the referendum or expense cuts he cites in his last sentence; their $26,500 cost per student perhaps includes some opportunities.

    Only if TE’s Board shows that it can control expenses (operating and capital) (and debt, let’s not forget) will it be able to control taxes.

    Does anyone know why Chester County demand for substitute teachers is growing?

    1. Ray,

      As long as the current Bureaucracy is in place, and unless the new Board stands up and says enough, this madness will continue.

      The game is clear. The bureaucracy wants to pump monies generated by tax revenue back into the bureaucracy to grow the massive bureaucracy. This is about increasing the tax base.

      There is a huge disconnect between the bureaucracy and the students. This is not about the students. It hasn’t been for a long time.

      It’s about power and control. Money is power. The more money they amass, the more power they have.

      And they do it because they can.

  3. I attended the Education Committee meeting on Wednesday, January 13, 2016, at 1:00P.M. at the West Valley renovated, $7M, cavernous office space. (paid for right around the time the language program was cut, citing budget concerns)

    I haven’t attended an education committee meeting in years. I walked in to still find chairs reserved for citizens pushed uncomfortably back as far as the the room allows, leaving a wide empty space between citizens and the table where Board members sit. When the heater fan blasts on every 10 to 15 minutes, it makes it impossible to hear the conversation so I was grateful no one said anything when I moved my chair closer to the Board table.

    Chair of the Committee, Scott Dorsey did a great job facilitating the meeting. Veteran Board member Kevin Buraks sat to Scott’s right and did not interject, interrupt, answer questions for Scott, lead the discussion, shut down conversation or mock or ridicule citizens. Veteran Board member Virginia Lastner also showed deference to Scott, sitting at the end of the U shaped table to Scott’s right and allowing him to run the meeting without interference or objection.

    It was clear, new Board Members Kate Murphy, (Go Easttown) Michelle Burger, and Roberta Hotinski, were interested, engaged, smart knowledgeable and confident based on the numerous questions they asked and the content of their discussion.

    Mark Cataldi, new Director of the newly created Administrator position of Director of Assessment and Accountability created and presented an elaborate presentation asking the Board to hire more staff.

    The Committee discussed the roles and responsibilities of the counselors at the Middle Schools, average caseloads for TESD and surrounding Districts, and historical trends.

    Growing enrollment was listed as a reason for this expense, but as a knowledgeable citizen pointed out, enrollment is projected to decline in the coming years and then the District will be saddled with an unneeded expense.

    It was pointed out to me that the table reporting assignments for our competitors was designed to mislead, with the “1 per grade level” notation being compared with our 1 per grade 6-8, split grade 5, with no acknowledgment that TE starts at a younger grade. I would appreciate some comment about this and other points from those who attended the meeting.

    Mark presented an overview of Counselor Responsibilities which I will discuss later.

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