Pattye Benson

Community Matters

TE School District – You Still Owe GEM Mechanical Services for Work Completed in August 2019! What does it take to Get Paid?

Last month I wrote about money owed GEM Mechanical Services, a TESD vendor for a boiler project work at Devon Elementary and Beaumont Elementary completed in August 2019.

Following my May 2020 post, the District paid $24K of the $36K balance and presented GEM with a punch list (nine months after the completion of the work); withholding the remaining $11,850. Sean Gaffney, the VP of Construction at GEM quickly scheduled the punch list work and it was completed on the morning of Friday, May 29. He has subsequently spent countless hours in an attempt to collect the debt from the District.

Each of the many follow-up emails from GEM regarding payment has included copies to the District’s business manager Art McDonnell and facilities supervisor Colm Kelly, its architects at Heckendorn Shiles (HSA), TESD School Board and myself. Although the work is long completed, no payment was received.

Where is the TE School Board on its follow-up? Just like me, they received these numerous payment requests from Gem Mechanical Services. Why doesn’t Michele Burger, the School Board president or Roberta Hotinski, School Board VP and Finance Chair respond to the situation? Where is the TESD Superintendent Rich Gusick on this matter? According to the District’s “org” chart, Dr. Gusick is in charge of the District and Art McDonnell, the business manager reports to him not the other way around. And Dr. Gusick reports to the TESD School Board. The lack of resolution is wrong on so many levels — Why doesn’t someone direct the final payment to GEM Mechanical Services?

It is no surprise that low bidder turnout continues on District projects, which compromises the competitive bid process and ultimately hurts the taxpayers. Simply put, why should a vendor work in a school district where you struggle to be paid? Is it any wonder that there is decreasing interest in District projects?

The TESD taxpayers received a 2.6% tax increase and the business manager received a raise in the midst of high unemployment, small business failures and an uncertain future, yet the school district cannot pay its bills.

Our collective voices should have mattered regarding the tax increase, elimination of ERB testing and salary increases but as we saw, it didn’t. And now we learn that paying a vendor for services rendered is not important either — what’s it going to take?

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  1. What is the purpose of the late payment? Does the Board know? Why doesn’t the Board question Art McDonnell and Supt. Gusick about the low number of bidders for school projects? What benefit to the District is a low number of bidders? Is there a benefit to the District? How can Art McDonnell keep getting away with not paying vendors?

    1. There is no benefit to the District for a low bidder number. It is my understanding that a number of vendors will no longer bid jobs in TESD. If a company bids and is awarded a job in TE, does the work and then has to spend considerable time and effort to get paid (like GEM Mechanical Services) it is no longer worth it. So those vendors willing to stay in the process have the advantage that they can inflate their prices and still win the contract — the aggravation of working in TE is offset by additional money! The losers in this scenario are clearly the taxpayers who underwrite the costs.

      As for Art McDonnell’s payment style — who is there to stop him? He makes a $1.2 million accounting error and there were no consequences! As far as I can tell, he enjoys unilateral support from the school board and superintendent and therefore, really is untouchable!

  2. Pattye….I don’t know if this question has come up in previous posts but how did Art McDonnell get the job he has. I can’t believe he still the business manager after all that has happened.

    1. The previous TESD Superintendent was Dr. Dan Waters — and I recall that Dr. Waters wife was a teacher and worked in a Bucks County School District. Art McDonnell worked in the same school district as Mrs. Waters and apparently they knew each other. McDonnell lost his job at that school district (not sure of the reason) and because of the connection w/Mrs. Waters, was hired by Dr. Waters as TESD business manager. This goes back many years but I feel my recall is accurate.

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