Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Ignoring Community Outcry, TE School Board Approves 2.6% Tax Increase, the Elimination of ERB Testing & Salary Increases to Administrators

The voices of Tredyffrin Easttown School District residents were unified in their message to the school board. It took the District solicitor 1-1/2 hours to read into public record over sixty well-written, meaningful comments from residents and far less time for the School Board to ignore!

Resident comments focused on the District’s proposed 2020-21 budget, the proposed 2.6% tax increase, the elimination of the ERB testing as a cost-savings measure and the administrator raises. One lone resident supported the proposed budget; the remainder of the comments loudly and eloquently opposed.

To the many residents who spoke out during the 2020-21 budget process, thank you. Your collective voices do matter but, sadly, not to the TE School Board. Although technically the budget vote occurred during the meeting, it could have easily occurred before the meeting even started! Elected to serve the residents of the Tredyffrin Easttown School District, the Board remained unmoved by the outcry from the community.

At midnight, the School Board approved the 2020-21 budget (7-2) with a 2.6% tax increase – the largest increase permitted this year, marking the 16th straight year of tax increases to T/E residents. The Business Manager and some on the Board actually had the audacity to mention that it was the lowest tax increase in years – the truth is that 2.6% is the maximum tax increase permitted by Act 1, making those remarks ridiculous!

I would be remiss if I did not salute TE School Board director Scott Dorsey, the only real voice for the community. From the start of the budget discussion in January, Rev. Dorsey declared his opposition to any tax increase. Again, last night he highlighted the additional suffering in the community due to the pandemic – the increased unemployment, the struggling small businesses, etc. but gained no support for a zero tax increase. We heard you Rev. Dorsey and your words mattered to this community.

Although the proposed budget materials clearly listed that ERB testing (and associated $85K cost) as a cost-savings strategy, several Board members argued that the elimination was not a strategy to save money. To the viewing public, the remarks were ridiculous (and untrue). Nonetheless, with the approval of the budget, the District eliminated ERBs for the 2020-21 year.

In part, my comment to the School Board read, “Eliminating ERB testing is eliminating accountability…” It was no surprise to hear that TEEA (the District’s teacher union) supported the removal of ERB testing. There was much talk that that the elimination of the ERBs was for the 2020-21 school year only, leaving open the possibility of the testing to return the following year. If anyone believes that there is a remote chance that ERBs will reappear in future budgets, I think there’s a Brooklyn Bridge for sale.

Another consistent remark from residents was opposition to administration salary increases and bonuses for 2020-21, asking for fairness and shared sacrifice n the budget. A number of residents cited the past failings of the Business Manager and called for his removal. Not surprising there was no response from the School Board and Art McDonnell continues as the District’s Business Manager with a raise and bonus. All Administration, Supervisory and Confidential employees will receive salary increases for 2020-21.

Because of the Covid-19 crisis, we are all suffering. Residents have lost their jobs, and every segment of our economy, including our local small businesses, are feeling the effects of the pandemic. Almost all of us are in worse financial shape and a tax increase under these conditions was wrong.

Our voices should have mattered — Shame on the TE School Board for ignoring the residents and shame on the School Board for approving the maximum tax increase of 2.6% and eliminating the ERBs.

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  1. Thank you Pattye, what is there to say but wow. The school board is supposed to be looking out for our best interests but we don’t matter. Are any of these people on the board coming up for reelection?

    1. From the TESD website, Scott Dorsey (Region 1), Kyle Boyer (Region 2) and Tina Whitlow (Region 3) have school board terms expiring 2021. Although the TESD website states Mary Garrett Itin’s (Region 3) term expires in 2023, I believe that it is a typo and her term also expires next year, in 2021.

      1. It’s good to know that Community Matters or at least comments are monitored by certain school district employees and/or school board — because the error (which I stated in the above comment) on TESD website that Mary Garrett Itin’s school board term expires in 2023 was immediately corrected and now lists 2021.

        For those that are interested, the correct list of school board directors with terms expiring in 2021:

        Scott Dorsey (Region 1)
        Kyle Boyer (Region 2)
        Tina Whitlow (Region 3)
        Mary Garrett Itin (Region 3)

        Region 1 and Region 2 are in Tredyffrin and Region 3 in Easttown.

  2. Not that it really matter but who were the two that voted against the budget approaval?
    Was the vote for raises unanimous? Was the vote for the business manager separate?

    1. Scott Dorsey and Mary Garret Iten voted against the budget. Scott stated he wanted a zero tax increase and Ms. Iten did not commit to a specific number, just lower than 2.6% (but not zero). I don’t now the individual votes on the administrator and business manager salary increases. After 4-1/2 hrs, I left the meeting at midnight once the budget vote was taken.

  3. According to all board members except for Rev Dorsey and Ms. Itin, if taxpayers aren’t squeezed for money they don’t have, and employees are not given extra compensation increases, Sally won’t get into an Ivy League school, Johnny won’t win a state robotics or lacrosse championship, and your house values will collapse. Really? Really?

  4. To be clear, not ONE school board director suggested freezing District salaries for a year. An interesting comment was made by Roberta Hotinski — she mentioned that her husband had lost his job for 6 months and that her own employer was freezing her salary for the next year but yet did not suggest the same for the T/E administration. It made no sense.

  5. The Board consistently advances the argument that enrollment increases require tax rate increases, for teachers and buildings.

    The additional teachers required by the last four years of student growth cost around $3 million a year. However, local real estate tax revenue has increased by over $18 million/year in that period. Some of that increase was generated by an increase the the tax base, a fact nver mentioned by the Board.

    The $15 million a year difference is the result of choices made by the School Board.

    The cost of any buildings required to accommodate future growth should be covered by future taxpayers, who have the good fortune that interest rates are at a very low level – the district just got three year money at a rate of 1.3%.

    1. And…lest we forget…the TESD runs very healthy and regular Surpluses (profits). They Bank this money in their Fund Balance. Bad budgeting (made to appear that we need every increase possible) does not JIVE with the actual results. Very Profitable District.

  6. I am disgusted that they approved increase in spite of what neighboring districts have done.
    And to know that Art McDonnell gets another increase just rubs salt in the wound. HE MUST GO & I don’t know why the board doesn’t have the guts to fire him. Absolutely inexcusable.

  7. I’ve been following all of this with a sad and heavy heart. One of the reasons my husband and I moved to this area was for the school district back in 1994. We raised our 3 children here with the last one graduating from Conestoga this year.

    We have always noticed the up tick in taxes but kept telling ourselves that it was the reason we moved to this area, to give the kids a “leg up” with a award winning public school experience and for that you have to pay for it, right? When my youngest was in middle school I started to notice that her experience wasn’t the same as her siblings that were 4 and 6 years older. Things were changing and not for the better in the schools and classrooms as well as the management of the district. The teacher’s union wanted more and more, even back in 2008 – 2012 with the recession when many tax payers were suffering financially taxes kept ticking up.

    We stayed the course. When we didn’t get raises some years (and very small ones other years), had to pay more into our health care and even lost a job for several months we did what we had to to pay the bills. We downsized when the older kids went off to college to help cover the college costs as well as lower our overhead to save some for retirement and for the ever rising taxes and cost of living in this area.

    Finally you just get tired of paying for other people’s inflated bonuses and benefits. I tell my kids, and anyone that will listen, that all politics is local. You see the results of your elections quickly and in your own pocket faster then anything at the national level. Unfortunately this area has fallen victim to the hyper-politics that is defining our time. Sadly when this area went to the polls in 2018 and 2019 they let their feelings of national politics override their clear thinking of voting on a local platform, of understanding the local issues and local candidates no matter their political affiliation. To the point, you the voters, have done this to yourselves. Unfortunately most of them are not informed and do not read this very informative and non-partisan blog. Before I get criticizing replies , I realize that over the past 2 dozen years taxes were riding up with all kinds of political mixes on the school board, but the last few years the campaigning and elections at the local level have been hijacked by national sediments and it’s a crying shame for the tax payers of the area.

    I have had enough, had enough of the inmates in charge of the asylum. I am tired of paying for other people’s inflated benefits and pensions with less and less accountability. The hiding of accounting errors, the June deficits and fall surpluses. The elimination of the ERBs is an absolute disgrace.

    I commend the people that are continuing to fight to keep it up. From my lips to G-d’s ears I hope you succeed because this truly a travesty. We purchased land last year in a warmer more tax friendly state and building begins next year. We truly love this area but I think it’s time to move on.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

      I am proud of the community for speaking out but so very disheartened that we were ignored by the school board. For this maximum tax increase, elimination of ERBs and administration salary increases to have occurred in the middle of this health crisis, is truly a travesty. Sometimes things happen and people forget but not this time. Just as resident after resident commented about the business manager, $1.2 million accounting errors, maximum tax increases, etc. – there will be reminders when we go to vote on school board elections in 2021. Enough!

  8. Shame on the school board. I could not be more disappointed in them, except for Rev. Dorsey and Ms. Iten. I voted for most of those school board members. They have foregone their voters and their oversight responsibility. The current school board looks like a puppet of the administration. Do they ever say no to them? Raising taxes NOW?! “Suspending ERB’s”?! There were 59 comments against raises, taxes, and/or removing ERB’s. The school board discounts those comments and claims they are a small minority. Just wait for the next election, School Board. They do not know how to stand up to Dr. Gusick. Sorry students and fellow T/E residents.

  9. As a single young professional living in this district (With no kids- just a love for the area and great proximity to my job), I find the taxes absolutely stifling. I own my home and feel that truly, a large portion of my income has been spent paying for these administrative salaries, and for the tuition of children of families who RENT their homes, particularly in the Chesterbrook community. Had I known that over the past years I would be giving away a growing amount of money, I would have reconsidered my purchase vs renting options. And yes, having renters is TERRIBLE for home values.

    1. Fellow homeowner here. While renters may not pay property taxes directly, I am happy to report that the landlords who own those properties in developments like Chesterbrook do indeed pay those taxes. Let’s keep the attention on the school board instead of finding fault with those who choose to rent instead of own.

      1. How many properties do you rent out Dan?
        Renters are fine but studies have shown, owners take more of a vested interest in the community and are more likely to vote.

  10. The lack of regard for the concerns of the neighbor / citizen / taxpayer shows the ugly side of the participants who will benefit the most from this fiscal money grab. The single word I would use to describe the pervasive attitude is an ugly one, ENTITLEMENT.

    It must be stopped.

  11. I hope that exceptional community members with substantial Board supervisory experience will step forward and run for these offices in 2021 and beyond. Either party. We need experience. Right now all we have are T/E insiders (Tiede, Boyer, Stone) and perhaps well-meaning but amateur, untrained folks (Everybody else). The administration does what it wants, captures the Board members, and gets no pushback. That’s the problem.

  12. Not surprised. Tax increase coincides with MGMT raises.

    Until there are real physical consequences(you know what I mean), you will never eliminate political corruption no matter how local.

  13. I have lived in the TE school district the better part of my life. I attended Devon Elementary, TE Junior High and Conestoga Senior High. After college, I returned and lived here since 1978. My son was raised here, (He attended private school) So, I have paid taxes for almost 50 years with no direct personal benefit. That was OK. I am now retired and find myself growing increasingly resentful that the School Board will soon make it impossible for me to live here. But, what else would one expect from the Democrats? The citizens of TE are little more than free range revenue sources.

  14. The owners, whose homes are being rented, are paying the property taxes. It is immaterial who actually resides in the house.

  15. Art McDonnell has been doing such a lousy job. Yet he is making more than $200K + benefits. People like him would have been fired long time ago if he worked in the private sector. Only here in TE, he got rewarded instead. Unbelievable!

    To be honest, 2.6% tax increase would not have much effect on our dual income household. I feel bad for the rising tax burden put on retirees or people living on fixed income. I get more frustrated to learn that school board decided to cancel ERB testing on the backdrop of increasing tax. Without the baseline test, how do we know our children get adequate education and stay competitive? What are we paying for?

    I understand people have strong political views at federal and state level. Yet at our local level, the dynamic has shifted in recent years. There is no checks and balances. I don’t know why people keep electing these school board members who do not even listen to the opinions of the residents. Unless we vote them out next time, nothing will change! Our children deserve no less!

  16. I’m so disheartened to see the board not exercise common sense and proper overseeing responsibility. How does it make sense to raise the manager’s salary while seeing many people lose job, business struggling to survive, and firms freezing hiring and salary if not furloughing? Anyone with experience can organize any form of protest, online or in-person? I want to join so the deaf board can finally hear our voice.

  17. TE,

    You are so right. The people who truly suffer are those on a fixed income. A 2.6% increase in one year looks negligible, especially with a dual income family or another more affluent household in our area.

    But that is the problem! 2.6% this year, 3.0%, 1.7%, 4.3% another year. If you add up all of the “tiny” increases since the last year without an increase (in the early 2000’s) you have almost 50% in increases!!! Since I’ve been living in the district from the early 1990’s it’s even more.

    No one is saying zero taxes ever, because of cost of living increases, insurance increase etc. you have to adjust. But to constantly increase every year, especially during financially difficult times, like now and during the last recession, it is criminal. Especially when we know for a fact that the school board and the business manager are mismanaging someone else’s hard earned money.

    The ERBs is the nail in the coffin. “What are we paying for?” you ask….we are paying more for less year after year. Keep questioning them and vote!

  18. I would like to take time to thank the entire School Board for their decision, as it hopefully is the small spark which will lead taxpayers to finally learn that hyper politics (as mentioned above) does not mean you vote out qualified board members because they are Republicans.

    One board member openly supports anything the teachers union desires. Another board member who barely speaks, and only does when she has her head straight down to read a prepared statement. It is painful to watch her.

    They are in over their heads.

    Why should we be surprised?

    I have commented on past posts that I felt most of the board are fools. Actually, the joke’s on us and we may be the fools. There is no accountability from the administration. There are no negative repercussions on board voting. Both entities are secure in their surroundings.

    What a crazy community we live in.

    1. 16 straight years of increases. Have Dem’s been in control that whole time. Um, no. It’s not an R or D thing. It’s a bad people thing that for some reason have this Art fella on a pedestal.

  19. Hey, hey! What you said about Democrats is most unfair. I am a DEMOCRAT and I wrote to the school board numerous times to VETO the tax increase. I have lived here for over 40 years and my 4 children gained from T/E public schools. But for school taxes to increase year after year is wrong. What is even worse is to raise them during this pandemic, and yet give raises to admin.

  20. We all hate tax increases but a 2.6% raises mine about $150 – that’s one nice meal out with drinks! This should not a big deal when we live in an area with a great school district, right? The people who don’t have kids in the schools might eventually sell their homes – I bet they will put in the description “Great Award Winning T/E School district”. Maybe they can change it to “Low Taxes and Okay Schools”. Did anyone go to the Rising Enrollment meetings? We need a new elementary school – the ones we have now are at capacity and enrollment is going to increase next year. The district increased the teacher to student ratio and the small classrooms of our old schools are stuffed with kids. 24 kids per 1 teacher plus of those 24 kids you get the lovelies with behavior problems or learning issue that might add a few aides in the room. The administration and staff raises? Trust me, having to deal with parents in this day in age these people don’t get paid enough.

    How many of you have been in the buildings lately – we you aware that most of the elementary schools still DO NOT have air conditioning. That’s pathetic!

    Any idea on how to improve and add to our school buildings, pay our staff properly, and continue to improve as a school district I’d like to hear your ideas.

  21. Worst first. Lovelies with behavior problems or learning issues
    Are you KIDDING? Look up inclusion or FAPE,
    That’s as bad as the year some parents wanted a gifted elementary school… This district turned down AC years ago This school board voted for AC . Installed at Hillside last summer and at Devon and New Eagle this summer.
    Tax increase and seniors try living on a fixed income. That 2.6 % increase means groceries ,utilities and Medicare increases.

    1. First, the littles with with behavior or learning issues are the most vulnerable of our students. They NEED THE EXTRA HELP! Imagine not being able to hold still in class or being so angry and not knowing why? I dare you to walk a mile in their shoes.

      Addressing the Gifted School – maybe it shows that parents just want better for their kids. Gifted is a learning difference and just like those with learning differences on the opposite spectrum they get pulled for special instruction. Imagine having to sit through hours a day listening to something you already know. Not addressing those differences can lead to indifference towards learning. Now reality sets in and a gifted only school isn’t something remotely possible in this district.

      We can’t hold ourselves back from change or improvements because some can’t afford it. That sounds bad but it’s reality. I wish it wasn’t but it is….

      1. Are you serous? We can’t hold ourselves back from change or improvements because some can’t afford it? elitist attitude that shows you are a teacher or Administrator.

        it would be one thing if all the tax increases went to change or improvements for students. They don’t. As you pointed out, the buildings are old and the services and accommodations for students outdated or non existent. All the tax increases go to you, teachers/administrators.

      2. Joann,

        The elementary schools have the “challenge program / classes” for the children that are above grade level/gifted. That’s the beauty of our district , that the needs of kids on both ends of the spectrum are addressed.

        To suggest that a special additional elementary school is needed for gifted children only is such a “main line” idea… imagine the helicopter parents lining up because their child is just so so smart. And what assessment would be used for placement now that ERBs are gone?

  22. Joann,

    I’ve heard people characterize the $150 tax increase, as you did, as “one nice meal out”.

    I’ve heard others characterize the $150 tax increase as “one latte a week”.

    I like to think most of us will be living in our houses for 20 or more years. Therefore I would characterize the tax increase as a $3,000 bill (20 x $150) which I pay in yearly installments. That’s just this year’s bill. Then there is a another similar sized bill next year and another and another.

    Regardless, of how we view the tax increase I think we can all agree that there should be vigilant oversight of self interested administrators, close questioning of budgeted spending and vigorous debate by the school directors. Unfortunately, this is not what I see.

  23. Does anyone know whether these school board members have their own children enrolled in TE school district? Do they have skin in the game with respect to elimination of ERB exam?

  24. Joann,

    TESD taxes have gone up yearly for 15 years — 2020-21 will be the 16th straight year. See chart below:
    2019-20: 3.91%
    2018-19: 2.42%
    2017-18: 3.2%
    2016-17: 3.6%
    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

    Thats alot of lattes and alot of dinners out—-especially over 20 years!

    Thank-you Keith Knauss. Thank-you CHV.

    And thank-you School Board Directors Scott Dorsey and Mary Iten.

  25. Thank you. So if you were paying $5000 in 2010, you are now paying $6,850 — a jump of nearly 37%! Even with no additional increases, over the next 10 years that would be $18,500 more than you were paying ten years ago.

    When people pushing for an increase frame conversations they usually only talk about that year and that amount and what you can buy for it. As others have pointed out, this is permanent and compounded with previous increases. Ray Clarke kept repeatedly showing TESD with their own numbers that the money has not been solely focused on enrollment even though that is the reason that is repeatedly stated. And by midnight of the board meeting, no one answered his direct question of why the large increases and bonuses. They didn’t even acknowledge the question. Nor did they respond to any posed questions about where are the savings (buses, utilities, etc.) that have been realized these three months. Dollars to donuts, come the fall all of a sudden they will celebrate a windfall from “renegotiated contracts” in those areas after it is too late to rescind the increase or put it to better use.

  26. It is interesting to note that sadly the video of the June 8 TESD Board meeting has yet to be posted on the District website. I think it’s important for the community to hear the 60 comments from the community (and these public comments residents are in addition to the 25+ from the Finance Committee meeting the week before).

    The District solicitor read the public comments for 1-1/2 hrs — and isn’t that an interesting use of taxpayer dollars on legal fees!

  27. I was told, in no uncertain terms, by a retired TESD Administrator, that “our” tax dollars are earmarked and go for teacher salaries. He said “we” want to attract the best. Ask your kids about their teachers. See what they say. “We” fail to ask questions to the people who are most affected by “our” decisions.” There is no correlation between higher salaries and job performance.

    He said, “look at our buildings, they are old, the money goes to teacher salaries.” He’s right. Every decision that is made in “our” district goes for the consideration, comfort and benefit of TE teachers/Administrators. The latest decision is a perfect demonstration of the point. Another tax increase, another salary increase for Administrators and the elimination of yet another student program.

    He told me he belongs to one of the most exclusive country clubs in the country. I don’t doubt it.

  28. I think you’re drinking too much Kool Aid.

    First, you are not including the hard working parents in your equation.
    In other words, you can raise taxes all day long, it does NOT equate to having good outcomes.
    Our parents are VERY-involved with our kids schooling including, paying for summer tutoring, music lessons -which benefit their Math development, and involved with the nightly homework routine. You take away the parents in this community, you do not have a #1School district. Period.

    Regarding the Admin and staff raises, do you know the avg salaries, healthcare, pensions?

    During a pandemic when 2 Million Pennsylvania’s are Unemployed,
    you are either out of touch with reality or a troll for the SB.
    Sorry for being blunt, but your analogy of “a Ice meal with drinks” doesn’t take into account, that’s….CUMULATIVE…
    The yearly tax rates multiply on top of the previous years, making it much more than the cost of your simplistic analogy.

    Please step back from your emotional attachment and try to see without your TE rose colored glasses.

  29. This was going on with the republicans also. No one is standing up to the administration. I expected more when we replaced
    Much of the school board. I am deeply disappointed.

  30. Adrienne,

    I’m confused by your comment. How can we expect anything different when we elected 2 Dem teachers and a Dem Administrator to the School Board? I’m also confused by your comments about ousted Republican Board Members Kate Murphy and Ed Sweeney. The only Directors who consistently voted for citizens and stood up to the Administration. I’m also confused and dumbfounded by the outrage of citizens concerning Administrators giving themselves raises during the Adversity of a pandemic. When we elect teachers, Administrators and others who work in education to the School Board, how can we expect anything other than what we’re getting?

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