Pattye Benson

Community Matters

A New Year — Swearing In of Tredyffrin Supervisors and TE School District Projected $6.8M Budget Imbalance & Discussion of 5-Year Superintendent Contract

A New Year … and so it begins. This is the time of year when we say goodbye to the old and welcome the new; to review 2017 and judge whether we are better or worse off than we were 12 months ago.

Whether you were delighted with the politics of 2017 or devastated, we can all look forward to expressing ourselves in 2018 (and hoping that it will make a difference). We live in challenging times but staying informed and engaged is the catalyst that makes this grand American experiment work.

Starting off the new year, is the Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors meeting tonight at 7 PM. The 2018 organizational meeting, will elect the Board chair and vice chair — for 2017, Republicans Trip Lukens and Sean Moir served as chair and vice chair of the board.

The November election in Tredyffrin saw a historic increase in the number of Democrats serving on the Board. The Republicans still retain a 4-3 majority, including Paul Olson, the longest serving supervisor in the history of the township. Included on the agenda tonight is the swearing in of new supervisors – Matt Holt and Kevin O’Nell will be sworn in for their 1st term and Murph Wysocki will be sworn in for this 2nd term. Best wishes for a successful year to all seven supervisors!

On the TE School Board side, the school board starts off the new year tonight with their January school board meeting at 7:30 PM at Conestoga. Click here for agenda.

Two priority discussion items on the agenda — first, the Board will consider options to close the projected budget imbalance of approximately $6.8M for the 2018-2019 school year. Sounds like the start to tax increase discussion to me. For the record, TE School District residents have seen their property taxes increase for 13 straight years. You would have to go back to 2004-05 for the last zero tax increase year.

The second priority discussion is the reappointment of Dr. Rich Gusick as Superintendent of the District. Originally, Gusick was given a 3-year contract, July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2018. The superintendent agreement under discussion tonight is for 5 years, July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2023.

Much has happened in the District in 2017 including ” a federal lawsuit against the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District and Amy Meisinger, principal of Conestoga High School alleging administrators and teachers at the High School created and tolerated a culture that emboldened Arthur Phillips, a 67-year old instructional aide, to repeatedly sexually abuse a female student.” Phillips was sentenced to 10-20 years for his criminal action and the Federal lawsuit remains open against the District.

Also in 2017, the public learned that Christine Towers, a former teacher’s aide and coach at Conestoga was sentenced to 11 to 23 months for a sexual relationship with a 16-year old learned disabled student at Conestoga that she tutored.

In May of 2017, Tom Batgos, the assistant Conestoga High School football coach fired by the District in the aftermath of the alleged hazing and sexual assault filed a lawsuit against District administrators, including Dr. Gusick citing defamation of character, misrepresentation, fraud, improper termination, etc. and seeks damaged of at least $50,000 in compensation plus punitive damages. I do not think that this lawsuit has yet been resolved.

The latest employee incident occurred on November 21. David Walker, an employee in the District’s IT Department was arrested by Tredyffrin police on November 21 (on school district property) for “open lewdness” and “indecent exposure”. This case is set for its preliminary hearing tomorrow, January 3 at 9 AM in the Easttown court of Magisterial District Judge Thomas W. Tartaglio. It is unclear how this arrest affects Mr. Walker’s employment in the District.

In the midst of outstanding legal issues of 2017, including the potential of a very expensive Federal lawsuit against the District, will this have any bearing on the Board’s decision to grant a 5-year contract to the Superintendent (six months in advance of its expiration)?

A New Year … and so it begins!


UPDATE: Republican Heather Greenberg was elected Chair of Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors and Murph Wysocki (D) was elected Vice Chair of the Board of Supervisors. Congratulations Heather and Murph!

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  1. A few comments on the School Board meeting:

    – Many thanks to Ed Sweeney for emphasizing that a $7 million deficit on a $147 million budget will be unacceptable in the final budget. It should be noted that the approved preliminary budget includes many conservative assumptions (including $1 million to the capital fund, declining transfer taxes, no staff turnover, etc.). The administration has been tasked with “sharpening their pencils”, reviewing staffing assumptions and developing strategies to improve revenues/reduce costs.

    – Nevertheless, the notion persists, particularly in the Administration, that everything would be fine if only the Act 1 Index were higher and so taxes could be raised more. If the Index is low, that means taxpayers don’t have the money to pay for unconstrained school district expenses. There’s a helpful English proverb I grew up with: Cut your coat according to your cloth.

    – It would be nice to see a realistic long term view of the district’s finances. With a view of capital spending options and associated funding costs, of the effect of lagging special ed exception tax increases, etc., the Board might be in a better position to judge the merits of short term deficit funding and use of the fund balance.

    – Dr Gusick received praise from all corners for his performance and the approved new contract (very similar in form to the last) was reportedly benchmarked against other districts. It was surprising that the first year compensation increase could not be provided, especially as this will be influence increases for Administration across the board next year. After some prodding it was stated to be “5 or 6 percent”.

    – Also slightly surprising is the performance review posted on the TESD website, where Dr Gusick is stated to have met or exceeded ALL goals and objectives for 2016/17. The number of objectives in the current agreement is 50, so that’s either stellar performance indeed, or suggests that future objectives might include more stretch targets.

    – The elementary redistricting is setting up to be contentious, with a group of Devon Elementary parents arguing for busing of half of the students from Devon Home Properties to Beaumont. Whatever the merits of this, it would have been good to see the Board make an active commitment to providing the Redistricting Committee recommendations to the public before the Board vote.
    President Dorsey would only say that they would try to do so. The Board is required by law to publicize the budget; it should not take a law to get transparency on an issue like this.

    1. Thanks Ray for attending the SB meeting and providing your notes.

      I was curious about the Redistricting Committee — who is on it? I was able to find the following from the TESD website:
      The Elementary Redistricting Committee will consist of administrative staff, parents, an external facilitator and consultants as needed. The District will solicit parent volunteers from Devon Elementary School (2 parents), Beaumont Elementary School (1) and Hillside Elementary School (1) to serve on the Elementary Redistricting Committee

      According to the website, the Redistricting Committee began meeting in June 2017 and presumably have been meeting regularly for the last seven months. The projected enrollment for 2017/18 in the District’s elementary schools is as follows:
      Beaumont = 385
      Devon = 600
      Hillside = 415
      New Eagle = 481
      Valley Forge = 500
      It is clear by these numbers, that an imbalance exists — the target range for the number of students after redistricting is to be 450-500 students.

      The decision to bus kids from the Devon Hill Properties (apartment complex) to Beaumont Elementary is an important issue and needs to be publicly discussed. The findings of the Redistricting Committee must be made public in advance of the next school board meeting — families who are impacted by the redistricting need the ability to review the recommendations and offer their opinions and concerns to the school board directors. This is important public information — there should be no “trying” by the school board for transparency, it should just happen.

      1. It’s interesting that the redistricting process has gone dark after it was handed off from the Board Committee to the parent group. I recall that the membership was made public but I can find no record of it on the TESD web site.

        The committee was supposed to have presented a plan to the Board in December according to the timeline from the May 22nd Board committee meeting:

        ■ May 2017 – Solicit parent volunteers for Elementary Redistricting Committee
        ■ June 2017 – First meeting(s) of Elementary Redistricting Committee
        ■ Fall 2017 – Weekly meetings of the Elementary Redistricting Committee to develop
        plan along with periodic community updates
        ■ December 2017 – Redistricting plan presented to School Board
        ■ January 2018 – School Board votes on redistricting plan
        ■ Spring 2018 – Administration implements transition plan with schools and families
        ■ August 2018 – New attendance boundaries take effect
        ■ August 2018 and beyond – Continue to monitor enrollment trends

        Perhaps the “periodic community updates” have been limited to the communities in the three affected catchment areas.

        1. At a minimum, shouldn’t the board tell the residents that there are updates to the families of those affected by the potential redistricting? You are right — when I looked online, there appeared to be a process in place for the Redistricting Committee but since the start of the 2017/18 school year, I have not heard of any updates.

          The school board directors listed on the Redistricting Committee are:
          Virginia Lastner, Chair
          Roberta Hotinski
          Todd Kantorczyk
          Kate Murphy
          Since Virginia was not re-elected to the Board, who replaced her on the Committee? Who is Chair??

          From the TESD Website, the Committee is to: January 2018 School Board Meeting – provide the Board with two or three proposals for discussion and Board action.

    2. “Cut your coat according to your cloth.” Seven memorable words that should stick in the public’s mind. It should drive every decision in 2018-2019 TESD Budget.

      On January 2, 2018, the TESD School Board met to pass a Preliminary Budget. I had a prepared statement (which was not delivered verbatim) to give to the public in this televised meeting given the budget numbers that were to be presented:

      We must cut costs. The budget numbers show we must cut costs. TESD has a 9.6 million dollar deficit. This budget assumes in its numbers we will raise taxes to the highest level. This budget builds into it already the largest tax increase we can do by law. Let me repeat. Even if we raise taxes to the highest amount, the TESD budget deficit will be 6.4 million dollars. A 6.4 million deficit is huge with anticipated expenditures of 147 million. It suggests a possible structural deficit. We must cut costs. We cannot have a several million dollars imbalance year after year. There is no greater priority in my view for this administration.

      I thank Ray Clark for his summary of the above situation from the memorable old English adage “cut your coat according to its cloth.” Most of those who frequent Community Matters have seen Mr. Clark’s postings on School Board matters, particularly ones that involve spending and taxation. Mr. Clark is the citizen observer and participant who has come to most of TESD’s finance and budget-related meetings for years. He appears to be of English origin and has a formidable intelligence and wit and significant financial acumen. Mr. Clark summarized in the above seven memorable words the situation in a recent post on Pattye Benson’s Community Matters blog from the old English saying: “Cut your coat according to your cloth.” That’s my view exactly simply put. That’s what we need to do. It’s a challenge. Get down to business. Recognize we can’t spend what we don’t have.

      As a School Director, it is my responsibility to draw attention to what I see as an important particular challenge to the community. In my view, this is a particular challenge. There is no greater priority this budget cycle and possibly going into the future. TESD has not had such a projected imbalance since 2009-2010 after the economy collapsed. However, there is normally a significant imbalance in every Preliminary Budget before the School Directors and the Administration works hard on priorities.

      I have confidence that we can meet the challenge. In my view, the TESD Administration and the veteran Board members have worked successfully through previous challenges, including the recent contract negotiations for the Teachers and TENIG.

      Disclaimer. This is my viewpoint. I am not authorized to speak on behalf of the TESD School Board or Administration. Thus, please consider this an opinion based on facts as I perceive them.

      1. Thank you Ed for your fiscal responsibility to the TE taxpayers; it is appreciated. Your words, “We must cut costs. We cannot have a several million dollars imbalance year after year” need to be heeded.

      2. Cut your coat according to your cloth.” Seven memorable words that should stick in the public’s mind……

        Yet you just approved salary increases adding $2M to an already out of control budget. Then you call out citizens saying “we must cut costs.” School district employees already received compensation and benefits far outweighing what citizens earn.

        As an elected representative in office elected to serve taxpayers, wouldn’t these words be better served sticking in your mind?

  2. The purpose of minimizing tax increases by acting like everything would be fine if only the Act 1 Index were higher is to make an unethical act seem more trivial than it is. Typical but offensive government official ploy.

    Did the Board of Directors share this attitude? Did they mention any of the events of the past 3 years that have Nationally cast our District and especially our High School in the worst way possible?

    The Supt. Contract agreement should wait until the outcome of the lawsuits are revealed. The past 3 years have been abysmal and it’s not a good sign from the Directors that they praised the Supt. from all corners especially while not mentioning a word about the elephant in the room.

  3. Looks like David Walker waived the preliminary hearing. Doesn’t that normally mean a guilty plea is likely? Next court date is Jan 17th. That’s pretty quick.
    Still no communication from the district on this one?

    1. No communications regarding David Walker from the District — last time I checked, Mr. Walker was still listed in the online directory of the school district.

  4. The arrests and lawsuits from the last 3 years continue and the Board is still a mindless cheering section and ready to reinstate a leader for FIVE years whose management style has brought this on the District? Institutions have brought in new management for much less than what we continue to endure.

    I don’t see how anyone who has read the lawsuits can possibly think about signing on for five more years of this.

    1. I read the agenda for the Jan 2 meeting and expected that the school board would open the public discussion about the contract. Since the contract didn’t expire for 6 months, I thought that this was preliminary discussion and it was only after reading this post and comments did I know that the contract was approved.

      It was a smart (?) move for the school board. If you want to push something through without adequate notification, discussion and transparency, do it 6 months in advance the day after New Years when no one is paying attention. Sign of things to come in 2018.

  5. Wait a minute. I didn’t know it was approved. Can someone verify that it was approved? How can the Board do that?

    1. Yes, the school board unanimously approved the 5-year superintendent contract on Tuesday night. Dr. Gusick’s current 3-year contract was not due to expire until June 30, 2018, 6 months from now.

  6. This says the Board is fine with events of the past 3 years. They’re OK with a management style that allows sexual asssults to continue and lawsuits that burden taxpayers further.

    Someone has to get the critical will to stand up and say ENOUGH!

  7. By law the district had to act on the superintendent’s contract 150 days before expiration. Otherwise the contract automatically renews. And doesn’t it make sense for both parties to express their desire to continue the agreement or part ways well before the expiration date? From the School Code:

    (b) At a regular meeting of the board of school directors
    occurring at least one hundred fifty (150) days prior to the
    expiration date of the term of office of the district
    superintendent, the agenda shall include an item requiring
    affirmative action by five or more members of the board of
    school directors to notify the district superintendent that the board intends to retain him for a further term of three (3) to five (5) years or that another or other candidates will be considered for the office. In the event that the board fails to take such action at a regular meeting of the board of school directors occurring at least one hundred fifty (150) days prior to the expiration date of the term of office of the district superintendent, he shall continue in office for a further term of similar length to that which he is serving.

  8. I listened to the section of the meeting dedicated to the new superintendent contract. I found the board fairly transparent. The contract motion was on the agenda. The contract itself was on the web site prior to the meeting. The old contract was on the web site. The board did their homework by placing Gusick’s compensation in the middle of the pack of other county superintendents. (it would have been nice to see the numbers) Several board members commented; the public was invited to comment and one did. (Ray) Compare this to some districts where the contract is not made available to the public and the motion is passed without comment. I was surprised, however, that there was no mention of the lawsuits and how Gusick can make sure there in no recurrence.

    1. The school board has never mentioned any of the lawsuits — I believe that there are currently 3 outstanding lawsuits, including the major Federal lawsuit against the TE School District and Conestoga HS Principal Amy Meisinger. I guess that the board would argue that the lawsuits fall under the ‘legal’ matters which are confidential. Personally, I don’t see how the acknowledgement that the lawsuits exist is some kind of school district breach. However, beyond that I am more interested in how the school district (Administration, Superintendent) is assuring the public that that there will not be a recurrence. A Federal lawsuit is serious — a 15-year old student was allegedly raped by a CHS aide Arthur Phillips over a 4-month period. Phillips received a sentence of 10-20 years in the state prison.

      Doesn’t the public have a right to know (1) that the lawsuit exists and (2) how will the damages be paid? Where does the settlement money come from? What happens if the settlement amount exceeds the school district’s level of insurance? As we know, TESD has a large fund balance of taxpayer dollars — would that money be a resource for lawsuit settlement needs? But its not just the settlement, its the attorney fees to defend the multiple lawsuits. I am certain that I am not the only person who is clueless how this works, so why can’t the public have this information? I think that is part of the reason that some residents are upset about the handling of the 5-year Superintendent contract. The contract is given to Dr. Gusick against a backdrop of major legal issues and no acknowledgement that the lawsuits even exist.

      1. Pattye,

        The lawsuits are public record and the progress can be followed on websites. Didn’t we discuss how to access the Federal website a few months ago? I would hope the board is updated on all lawsuits on a timely basis.

        Damages would be paid by the insurance company, the district or both. A copy of the district’s insurance policy can be obtained with a RTK request. The district’s money would come from the millions that TE has in reserve.

        The attorney’s fees are covered by insurance up to a certain dollar amount and then by the district depending on the insurance policy. A RTK request asking for legal invoices paid in defense of the 3 lawsuits would reveal the charges.

        I noticed that the latest audit has no mention of the lawsuits under the section entitled Risk Management.

        The School District is exposed to various risks of loss related to torts; theft of, damage to and
        destruction of assets; errors and omissions; injuries to employees; and natural disasters. It is
        the policy of the School District to purchase commercial insurance for the risks of loss to which
        it is exposed, including workers’ compensation and employee health and accident insurance.
        Settled claims resulting from these risks have not exceeded commercial insurance coverage
        in any of the past three years.

        I’ve seen other districts mention specific lawsuits in this section of the audit so bond holders are fully aware. Either TE thinks these lawsuits are immaterial or it’s an oversight.

        You or Ray should ask these questions of the board at the next meeting. There is no reason why the board can’t respond.

        1. Keith — Yes, I and many others have copies of the Federal lawsuit against TESD. At this point, my interest was more in the process which caused the lawsuit — what has the Administration/Superintendent changed as a result? And secondly, to fully understand how the legal fees and handling of large lawsuit settlement costs.

          I find this disturbing —
          “The district’s money would come from the millions that TE has in reserve.”

          You say that there’s no reason why the Board can’t answer our questions at meetings — if I were a betting person (which I’m not) I’d wager there’s NO way that school board would answer any questions regarding the Federal lawsuit, except to possibly say “the question is a legal matter and therefore cannot be discussed”.

        2. Pattye,

          The board can’t answer legal questions that would jeopardize their legal standing. Your questions, however, are not legal. They should answer who is representing the district, what they are paid, who is paying and the level of insurance coverage. Ask Ed Sweeney. He seems fairly open.

    2. The issue is the unilateral decision by the Board to renew his contract while keeping tax payers who pay for his 6 figure 5 year salary in the dark about it. Because it’s on the website and the agenda before the meeting amidst Christmas and New Years Holiday when no one is paying attention, hardly qualifies as transparent. Anger, resentment and rumor fester in decisions made in secret. Because of his leadership and management style resulting in numerous lawsuits, taxpayers will be forced to pay, did Directors think they would receive pushback so they they renewed it quickly and quietly knowing citizens would have no recourse? If they were so confident about their decision to renew his contract, why do it in secrecy? Why not open it up to the Democratic process and the exchange of ideas?

      In America, democracy is a dialogue, not a unilateral decision

      1. Outraged,

        I’d be interested to hear what you would consider an transparent process for renewing the superintendent’s contract. Were you able to attend the meeting as did Ray Clarke and offer public comment? Did you contact any of the 9 board members to offer your opinion? Did you listen to the board president describe the process used by the board to arrive at a decision in the YouTube replay? Would you like notice 4 weeks before adoption published in a newspaper? Would you like negotiations between employer and employee open to the public?

        Let’s remember that the Sunshine Act does not require negotiations in open session and the Open Records Law exempts negotiations material (except the final contract) from public disclosure. That said, I understand the anger raised by the [mis]behavior of some TE employees. Candid comments from the board on this subject would have been welcome.

        In America, democracy requires active participation.

        1. I receive information from TE newsletter and I receive information from the Middle School. The Supt. Contract renewal was not mentioned until Jan.4,2018 after the action was taken. I believe this was by design to keep citizens from being involved the process.

          I would like to have been informed about this last October at the latest. I was not involved in the process because I did not know about it until after the decision was made and the papers signed. Our District has been through a lot and I believe we have a right to be informed about every decision regarding employees responsible for keeping our kids safe.

          How can parents actively participate when we are not informed about issues until after decisions are made?

  9. Outraged,

    On the issue of the superintendent’s contract the board didn’t want a high level of public participation as evidenced by their their behavior. They are your elected representatives and used their best judgement. I understand others would have taken a different path if they were on the board.

    I imagine the board addressed the lawsuit problems in closed session and was satisfied with Gusick’s plan. If I was concerned, I would attend a board meeting and ask questions about how the district is changing things so it is less likely that the bad behavior would be repeated.

    1. That’s the problem. The Board doesn’t want a high level of participation.

      How can he deliver a complete and transparent report to the Board when his conduct and management style are the issue? There should be an open and transparent investigation and not by him.

  10. Sorry but the January 2 SB agenda was listed on the TESD website prior to the meeting.
    B. Reappointment of Superintendent
    At the meeting President Dorsey made a statement ,some board members commented Item 3 Comments or Questions from Community Members ..none.
    Then the board voted.

    1. At least the district is not going to press charges, after the ACLU weighed in with:

      “The Constitution prohibits the government from punishing or retaliating against people for expressing their views, and the fact that a schoolteacher was arrested at a public meeting of the school board is especially troubling.”

      Notwithstanding past lawyerly instructions from the dais, I can’t see this happening in TE, where the Administration has done a good job of keeping all levels content with their compensation progression. Compare Oklahoma, where the median teacher compensation is half the TE level, and they have not had a raise in a decade.

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