Pattye Benson

Community Matters

TESD: Meetings tonight to discuss football team hazing, VF Middle School fencing, student computers and reapportionment

TE School District administrators and school board members are responding to the community on range of important topics tonight.

At 6 PM in the Conestoga High School auditorium, the District residents have an opportunity to comment on the recent events involving the football team. My guess is that the administration will have little to say regarding the criminal charges filed against three senior players for their alleged assault of a freshman 14-yr. old student. Now a legal matter, the issue is in the hands of district attorney Tom Hogan and the courts. However, I would expect comment from the administration and school board regarding “No Gay Thursday”, the weekly hazing tradition in the locker room. The letter of March 17 from the District indicated hazing occurred. The implementation of a zero-tolerance hazing policy going forward is needed.

The administration has conducted its own internal investigation and the community should expect an update on their findings. We know that Conestoga’s head football coach John Vogan resigned from his position and the other varsity and junior varsity football staff – five people – have been relieved of their coaching jobs in all sports through the fall season.

The regular meeting of the school board follows the public meeting regarding the football team – 7:30 PM in Conestoga High School cafeteria. Priority discussion topics on the agenda include the Valley Forge Middle School fencing project, one:one computing initiative, and reapportionment plan.

According to the agenda, the Valley Forge Middle School construction documents include options for 4 feet, 5 feet and 6 feet chain link fencing and 4 feet, 5 feet and 6 feet black estate fencing. According to the agenda, “The base bid will be per the recommendation of the safety and security consultant of a 6 foot chain link fence with the other options being bid as alternatives”. The $15,500 consultant’s report recommended a minimum of 5 feet fencing (and 6 feet fencing preferred), so why is 4 feet a consideration? I thought the public was told that 4 feet fencing does not meet school security standards. But more importantly, … where’s the ‘no fencing’ option?

“To fence or not to fence” was at Valley Forge Middle School was a major campaign issue in the November TE School Board elections. Several candidates, now school board directors, used ‘no fencing’ as part of their campaign platform. In District 2, school board directors Michelle Burger and Ed Sweeney, were both extremely vocal in their fencing opposition; promising voters they would not support additional fencing at VFMS. By some accounts, former school board president Kris Graham lost her bid for re-election over the VFMS issue and her support for the fencing. Tonight it looks like the fencing project may finally be coming to a head and it will be interesting to see how each school board member votes. A vote for no fencing remains an option.

On the plan to outfit students with District computers, not everyone in the community shares the administrations’ interest in the student computer initiative — for a variety of reasons, product choice, leasing vs purchase, privacy issues, costs, etc. Has the proposed one:one computing initiative been thoroughly vetted? The taxpayers are facing a significant tax increase for 2016-17, is the school board satisfied that they should move forward to implement this computer plan?

A reminder that in January, the school board unanimously adopted the 2016-17 preliminary budget, which contains a 4.3% tax increase. At that time, 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. If the 2016-17 budget passes with a tax increase, it will mark the 12th straight year of a tax increase. Some of the school board members publicly voiced concern over the proposed tax increase, vowing to work to lower the increase in the final budget.

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  1. Sure looks like a lot of decisions to be made; I wish the SB the best as they proceed on these various topics. But, I hope the Budget review that the community was promised doesn’t get side-lined too long. Again this year, we’re looking at a budget in deficit position AND a tax increase at the MAXIMUM allowed in the Commonwealth. As I’ve told the Board in their budget meetings; this is the same analysis and same prospective result that has been presented each of the last four years. It is important to remember that EACH of the last 4 budgets have (a) been in a deficit position, (b) included a tax increase; often at the Max, and (c) PRODUCED ACTUAL RESULTS OF A SURPLUS. That’s correct; in the last four years, the District has run a surplus of over $10 MM. Perhaps, the budget analysis being used to produce these results needs to be questioned????? Perhaps the 4.3% tax increase this year is not necessary to continue our fine educational franchise….recent history would indicate this tax increase is SUPER-adequate to the needs of the District for the coming fiscal year???? Budget adoption is only 10 weeks or so away yet no discussion has made it to the Board agenda.

    1. Wise words, Neal. We saw last night that at least four on the Board (Dorsey, Sweeney, Burger, Hotinski) are prepared to take a stand against the waste of public funds. They were not able to stop the spending of yet more money on the fence to nowhere for no purpose, but maybe the thinking will carry through to the budget analysis.

      The discussion of the student laptop computer program (approved) showed how easy it is to save $100,000/year by not replacing classroom computers budgeted to cost over $600 each (compare the unit cost of the lap tops at $385). What else in the budget can be replaced at lower cost, or not at all? Once upon a time the Board had a set of “expense strategies” to consider; not any more, it seems.

  2. I will say more later. To start, I am writing to thank the Board for the open mike format with the 3 minute time limit which they rightly permitted to spill over into extra time when citizens had more to say.

    Board President Doug Carlson, Supt. Gusick, Principal Meisinger and Solicitor Roos made up the panel and answered citizen questions with the rest of the Board taking seats in the front row with the audience.

    There were many citizens in attendance so perhaps I missed them if they were there, but I didn’t see law enforcement hovering in the corners making it comfortable and easy for folks to feel comfortable and at ease while speaking or deciding to speak.

    Solicitor Roos can’t help himself. He let slip his hostile and intimidating manner when citizens asked more than once about evidence and procedure regarding the charges.

    I would like to remind Solicitor Roos that he works for the citizens of this district and if they want to ask or comment 100 times on the same topic, it is his duty to do so with a smile on his face, and a calm demeanor.

    Remember, bullying, intimidation, retribution and retaliation have no place in CHS.

  3. It was good to see that Michelle and Ed honored their campaign commitment of ‘no fences’ at Valley Forge Middle School. Their ‘no’ votes were joined by the ‘no’ votes of Scott Dorsey and Roberta Hotinski. In the end, the VFMS fencing project moved forward with a 5-4 vote. Now it goes back to Facilities to review the 4 ft, 5 ft. and 6 ft. options and whether it will be chain link or ‘estate’ style fencing. The fencing discussion continues …

    1. Yes, Thank-you Ed, Michele, Roberta and Scott for having the courage—because sadly, I’ve learned that’s what it takes (courage)for Directors to vote with the will of the people instead of the whims of those in charge —– to vote no on this initiative which makes no sense, costs tax payers a lot of money and residents of Chesterbrook unnecessary heartache.

      There’s an election in less than 2 years. It will be here before you know it.

      We now know we have at least 4 Directors who do not function as pass throughs for the whims of the Administration.

      Thank-you for standing up for the citizens of this community and finally saying NO.

  4. I think others also noticed something Solicitor Ross said that caught my ear. I was pretty sure he stated that that when the detectives came to the school they told the school admin that they would NOT QUESTION the students , but apparently they ended up doing just that. Not sure if that would taint any evidence they may have? Or if that is the excuse they will use if the alleged assault charges are eventually dropped. I do have to say that I talked to more than a few people I had not seem for a bit and they are very close to the situation (kids still at stoga) and they are very resolute that the alleged assault is very much in question. I will let it play out but there are too many things that don’t seem to add up here.

  5. I remember parents asking why Administrators let Chester County Detectives talk to their children without calling parents first. Principal Meisinger said parents were called, parents angrily responded from the audience that they were not called.

    I wrote in my notes that Roos then said that the D.A. had a right to talk to students. He said that the school has an agreement with the TT police to call parents first but that they have no such agreement with the Chester County D.A.

    It’s surprising that students would be called down during the school day to talk to detectives without their parents knowledge.

  6. Please read:

    Meanwhile, in the neighboring Tredyffrin/Easttown School District, an alleged incident of hazing by players in the Conestoga High School football team’s locker room has led to criminal charges against some students and the resignation of a football coach.

    Rick Eckstein, a Villanova professor and resident, thanked the board’s policy committee for being “proactive on this issue of varsity sports” and Radnor High School principal Dan Bechtold and Michael Friel, the athletic director, for “putting together a coaches’ handbook.” He also suggested that an athletic advisory committee be formed, as well, noting that he serves on such a committee at the university. That committee would be a place people can go to express concerns before they blow up,” he said.

    Eckstein added, “If such a group were in place in Conestoga and T/E, someone would have come forward. That would be nipped in the bud,” he said. “I think we need to give as much attention to these extracurricular activities as we do curricular activities,” he said.

    School Board Member David Falcone, chair of the policy committee, said that committee will discuss the coaches’ manual at upcoming meetings.

    I think we should form an athletic advisory committee too. Great idea Radnor!

    Like Mr. Eckstein says:

    Eckstein added, “If such a group were in place in Conestoga and T/E, someone would have come forward. That would be nipped in the bud,” he said.

    Please let the parents participate on advisory committees. We’ve been asking for years. Now is the time.

  7. I wonder why the football players were suspended for 10 days if nothing happened. I guess that’s 10 days for making players clean in their underwear??

  8. From what I understand from the comments at the Monday meeting, the 3 were suspended because they violated the “no hazing” policy at the school, which they described as “backslapping , horseplay and obscene behavior” – so you are correct , part of it may have been from making the underclassmen clear the locker room in their underwear.(if that was the point of your comment). The admin would not talk about the punishment (district privacy policy) that the 3 individual’s rec’d but I have heard that it was initially 5 days, then another 5 days.

    If the School Admin had concrete evidence that the alleged assault had taken place, my opinion is they would have been expelled , not suspended. The Admin stated in their letter and at the meeting that they did not have evidence of the alleged assault happening, therefore they could not act on that allegation.

  9. I don’t know if an advisory committee would have helped in the Conestoga case (not that the proposals is not a good idea). The problem in the Conestoga case is, according to what i have read, is that there were no parents , coaches or teachers who were aware of what was going on in the football locker room. So unless a student went to the advisory board to complain, how would the advisory board have found out about it? The football players apparently never told any adults about any hazing, so I don’t think they would have gone to a committee.

  10. I think an advisory committee would have provided the much needed connection between school leadership and the practical concerns of everyday life in the school that is clearly desperately needed.

    Guest5, were you at the meeting? Did you hear the angry parent when she addressed the panel about how the boys were going to be integrated back into the school on Tuesday morning after an extended suspension? Did you hear the Principal say the school is good at welcoming kids back in the system who have been through situations like this? Did you hear the two Junior boys address the Principal and say they feel as though they have targets on their backs since the scandal broke, they feel judged and marginalized by their peers and by their teachers and by their community. They told her directly that they don’t feel welcome, they don’t feel comfortable and they don’t feel like they’re a part of the school.

    Did you hear the student leader at the end of the meeting talk about the need for student unity and a need for dialog and change in the culture in the school?

    An advisory committee, made up of parents, would have provided a much needed place kids could go to speak freely, without the fear of retribution or judgement or punishment from their peers or their teachers or school administrators.

    Why is it the Standard District answer for problems the District faces is to hire consultants and bring on more full time employees? Clearly that doesn’t work. How about we have more direct physical presence from all those who currently work here? Boots on the ground as a citizen suggested Monday night. How about we take advantage of the vast knowledge and resources of the very intelligent and experienced citizens who live in this community and create Advisory Committees to put these resources to good use for the District and our children.

    We have hired more administrators with more staff hire proposals for next year. We have hired consultant on top of consultant around the fencing issue. How is this working out for us? It doesn’t work and we’re going back to that same old plan that gets us no where.

    1. I was at the meeting, I did hear all those you referenced and I do think that an advisory board is a good idea. But my opinion is still that if there was an advisory committee in place previous to this incident , I find it highly unlikely that any students would have come to a meeting with a group of adults they didn’t know and raise any issues when they apparently previously didn’t raise any concerns with their parents , teachers, counselors, coaches, etc.

      Now if an advisory committee is created (and I think it would be a good idea and I think the school admin is likely to consider it at this time), you may have students come forward with concerns they may have – if it is properly presented to the students and the students are guaranteed anonymity.(kids would still be concerned about being seen going to an advisory meeting with adults). Maybe it ends up where you have students telling their parents of issues now and then the parents would have a place to go to raise these concerns with the advisory committee.Or there would be an online forum where students could anonymously raise any concerns they have and these would be brought to the advisory committee.

      I can see some concerns by the school admin over a parents advisory committee – we all know those “helicopter “parents who complain about every little perceived slight or know better how to run a school of 2,000+ students.But now is the time to get it up and running , because there will never be a time when the school admin is as accepting of new ideas. And you are right about the consultants – they cost money , will likely take months to deliver some report with common sense guidelines that a committee of school admin and parents could probably have put together in a couple of weeks.

      Going forward, I think the students at Conestoga will be exposed to much more tolerance, diversity and acceptance training and education than any school around, and that will make for a much better school environment and a student body that better reflects those values.

    2. so I would like to know how kids sneak water bottles filled w vodka into the schools.. do any teachers police the bathrooms?

  11. I’m not suggesting that students come to a meeting with a group of parents they don’t know and raise issues when they didn’t do that before.

    Parents on the Advisory committee will talk to their children and their children’s friends and bring back the information they have learned. We need a drastic change in the way we operate. Change starts with communication and an open, HONEST, direct dialog between all segments.

    I have learned that many kids knew about NGT. How can we know what to ask when we don’t know what to ask because there is no dialog, no communication or connection between students and adults about sensitive issues like this one?

    I believe this is one of those intangible unintended by products of outsourcing aides and paras. Our eyes and ears in the schools are gone, replaced by those who mostly don’t live here, don’t care about our kids or our community so come here for the paycheck and leave.

    We are a school, and our Parent meetings are now classified as business meetings in parent e-mails. Schools are not businesses, kids are not widgets, they bring to school with them every day their own unique sets of emotions, feelings, problems etc. I think that this is what you get when you try and make it something it isn’t.

    Did you hear the parent respond to the Principals opening statement that “we will not let this redefine us” by addressing her with a tone of disbelief saying, “We HAVE BEEN redefined by this” Denying this will not make it go away. Ignoring it, not talking about it and throwing the same solutions at it won’t make it go away.

    Throwing more money by hiring Consultants and Creating new positions are not going to fix this. We need people to engage, and no better people than parents.

  12. sometimes I think PARENTS out source THEIR jobs as parents.. you want to form committees and groups and liasons and all that, but how about talking to your kid during dinner? how about setting standards way before high school? how about setting limits, yes limits all through high school? how about setting expectations high, And parenting so that they are met? consequences? yea right.
    I say talk to your own kids first. they can tell you stuff if they trust you. gotta get them when they are young…. committees…. how about first committee… at home…

  13. Individual class meetings are held each month for Freshman, Sophomore, Junior and Senior parents. These meetings are scheduled for 9:30am on Tuesdays and Thursdays and minutes from the meetings are emailed to all CHS parents.

    To accommodate those who can’t make those times, Principal Meisinger,the guidance Counselor Department Chair , and the Volunteer Coordinator were available to meet with parents at 7:30 am this morning.

    The meeting addressed the hazing incident and steps the district is taking to address the issue. The District has hired Thom (With an h)Stecher. Thom will bring in Sports psychologists and others to help with finding the answers needed to address the issue.

    I asked if the District issued an RFP for this job and I got the sense that we did not. The Volunteer Coordinator and the Counseling Department Chair talked about how the District has worked with him in the past, how much they liked him and what a great job is does. They said that people called in inquiring about the position and that Supt. Gusick, Principal Meisinger, A.D, Boyle, and Director of Accountability Cataldi vetted all who were interested in the position and that Mr. Stecher was chosen because he has run programs at the schools before, he has worked with ARCH, “he’s incredible and a great speaker” They are overjoyed and he is from Malvern.

    There will be a lot of small group work where kids will break away and operate in safe, private spaces. Alot of small group work focusing on Character, leadership and healthy dynamics.

    Principal Meisinger stated that we are not sweeping this under the carpet, we are facing it head on.

    On Thursday, March 31, 2016 the Tredyffrin and Easttown communities were invited to watch teachers and staff from all eight T/E schools perform on stage where proceeds generated benefit ARCH and support their future community programs.

    I applaud the teachers and thank them. All but 40 tickets were sold and as if they’re not busy enough, they take time out away from their families and busy lives to do this to benefit ARCH which partners with School Administration on many important informational topics and programs and therefore should be funded by the school district budget.


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