Pattye Benson

Community Matters

T/E School Board Adopts Budget Resolution, Tax Increase 3% or less — Will 2021 Mark the 17th Year of Tax Increases?

Between the raging pandemic and the horror witnessed in our nation’s capital last week, focus on other matters is hard to come by these days.

The long, dark year of 2020 may have ended but January continues to bring new challenges. Since the T/E School Board meeting of January 4, I have received numerous communications from residents regarding the District’s 2021-22 preliminary budget. The school board voted 5-4 to approve a resolution certifying that the tax increase for the 2021-22 budget will be 3% or lower. The school board will vote on the final budget in June. Should the District’s final budget include any tax increase, it would mark the 17th straight year of tax increase to its residents.

It was stated that the District is facing a $9.3 million deficit for the 2021-22 budget and therefore requires the increase in property taxes. Think about it – for seventeen straight years, we have received an increase in our taxes. We receive our annual tax increase, yet the District seems to magically have a budget surplus. And to be honest, I have never understood what happens to those surplus dollars – where exactly does that “found money” go?

In June 2020, the community outcry over the tax increase fell on deaf ears. At the board meeting, it took the District solicitor 1-1/2 hours to read into public record all the resident’s comments and far less time for the school board to ignore! In the midst of Covid-19 when other school districts put a freeze on tax increases (including Unionville Chadds Ford School District) our school board approved the 2020-21 budget which included a 2.6% tax increase, the elimination of ERB testing and gave salary increases and bonuses for administration, supervisory and confidential employees.

So, what exactly has changed in 2021?  The Covid-19 crisis rages, and we all continue to suffer. Residents have lost their jobs, and every segment of our economy, including local small businesses continue to feel the effects of the pandemic.

Will the proposed 2021-22 budget include a transparent review of all expenditures and impact strategies? As an example – at the Education committee meeting last week, we learned that the District had chosen a new K-8 math curriculum program for the next six years at a cost of $703K. What I find troubling is no whether the District “needs” the math curriculum but rather where was the public comment regarding its selection? With the District’s stated $9.3 million deficit in the 2021-22 budget, the decision-making process regarding the $700K expenditure is deserving of an explanation.

In 2021, many of us are in worse financial shape than we were pre-Covid. We are learning that various school boards in Pennsylvania have decided to hold the line and not increase property taxes. Other PA school districts are utilizing a variety of savings solutions such as freezing wages for its employees and scaling back or putting projects on hold in their 2021-22 budget development process.

It appears that 2021 will mark seventeenth straight year our taxes will go up in the Tredyffrin Easttown School District.

The 2021-22 budget will be discussed at tonight’s January 11 Finance Committee meeting at 7 PM. The meeting will be held virtually, and a link will be available on the District website, www.tesd.net by 6 PM. To view the Finance Committee meeting agenda, click here.

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104 Comments

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  1. Pattye the first budget presentation had a 4.5% increase. I have made several comments as a senior on a fixed income, raising taxes during a pandemic plus ending up with yearly surplus instead of a deficit. I was glad the vote for a 3%
    increase passed 5 to 4 it’s a start. Please if any taxpayer has interest in their school tax bill send an email to the board NOW …there has been barely ANY comments except my own.

    1. With the starting point at 4.5%, I wonder if the board thinks that makes 3% OK? It was interesting that for some of the board members who voted against the preliminary budget did not do so because they opposed the tax increase. They voted against the preliminary budget because the District was not taking the Act 1 exceptions. Taxpayers can make comments regarding the budget for tonight’s Finance committee meeting to virtualfinancecomment@tesd.net .

  2. Pattye,

    As a senior on a fixed income & a life long resident of Tredyffrin, I find this tax increase absolutely unreasonable. 17 years in a row, and a senior for all of them! Am I to move from my home after all these years? If the other districts can hold the line on taxes as they did last year & maybe this, what the hell (I almost wrote something else) is the matter with TESD that they can’t do the same. Do they think the reduction to 3% is admirable? I don’t think so.

  3. Dear Finance Committee,

    Seventeen years with a tax increase every year?
    Shame on every one of you who are considering, and a pox on the houses of those of you who vote for it.

    I am a voter, and I have voted in every election. And I have a long (17+ year) memory.

    1. Stop with trying to blame Democrats.. The board has not been controlled by Democrats for all of the last 16 years of increases. Taxes have been raised regardless of which party sits in control. Take your rhetoric somewhere else.

  4. In August 2019 the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote an article about property taxes in the area — TESD had the distinction of tying for the highest tax increase with a 35% increase in the previous decade.

    Click on this link for details in my blog written at the time: https://pattyebenson.org/2019/08/15/t-e-school-district-ties-for-second-for-highest-school-tax-increase-in-philly-region-delivered-38-school-tax-increase-to-residents-in-last-decade-is-this-sustainable/

  5. Every school district produces a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) every year. It lists the money and assets owned by the district. It includes bank accounts, investments and enterprise activities, and is typically 4 to 8 times the amount listed in the budget, which is the document most people are familiar with. In essence the CAFR is a second set of books. There is so much money there that a fund could be set up to end taxation forever.
    It is our money and we should take it back. Actuaries and mathematicians will be very interested in the CAFR. For more information go to taxretirement (dot) com
    Great Valley School District CAFR: gfoa (dot) net/cafr/COA2012/GreatValleySchoolDistrictPA (dot) pdf

  6. The first mistake is to not vote these clowns out. Second mistake is to not demand the most current CAFR. It’s our money and we should take it back. School taxation can end if you want it.

    1. Shouldn’t the CARF be provided to the tax payers yearly rather then the fluff budget report? Isn’t the CARF required to be completed annually?
      Why aren’t school districts requested to post this on their websites?
      Any info is greatly appreciated.

  7. It’s unrealistic to expect zero percent tax increases. There may be an isolated zero percent increase here and there, but every district must increase taxes rates (millage) to handle inflationary wage and benefit increases for employees.

    One might ask how the state has kept the income tax rate (3.07% since 2004) and the sale tax rate (6% since 1967) constant over more than a decade while still giving reasonable increases to employees. Both income taxes and sales taxes have a built-in inflation adjustments. The state gets more income tax revenue each year as citizen wages increase each year. The state gets more sales tax revenue each year as citizens spend more. But the district doesn’t get more revenue from real estate taxes each year because your home’s assessed value remains constant each year. My assessed value is $212K and has remained constant for over 20 years. The only way the district can get more money is to raise the millage rate. (I’m not trying to minimize the pain real estate tax increases inflict on fixed income residents.)

    That said, there is still a question why Unionville has raised taxes just 8% in the last 5 years where TE felt it needed to raise taxes 17%.

    1. I wonder how much money was not spent due to the pandemic? Put salary increase and bonuses to a public vote. How do you justify bonuses and raises for admin and teachers when many taxpayers are struggling and many who have suffered job/business losses? i find it unconscionable that school administrators and employees giving or getting raises and bonuses at a time like this. It’s time to tighten your belts and have more respect for the taxpayers

  8. Hi Pattye, Those of us who still have jobs at all haven’t gotten a pay raise and most have probably gotten quite a salary reduction due to Covid. It’s totally unreasonable to ask for a 3% tax increase again. Is the school board mad? I teach in a private school and received a substantial paycut.
    This is an extremely unreasonable ask for this year. Why does T/E always have the highest increases?

    1. I fully understand Barbara your position! I should make it clear that the school board will not pass the final budget until June — fingers crossed, maybe the tax increase will be much lower than the 3%. Trying to be the eternal optimist, perhaps the school board/administration will find meaningful ways to reduce costs so that residents are not burdened further by a tax increase.

    2. Ms. Fox asked, “Why does T/E always have the highest increases?”

      To put things into perspective, Unionville over the past 5 years has raised taxes 8%, TE 17%, Radnor 18%, Lower Merion 15%.

      Many boards think high spending is a virtue and taking as much money as possible is in the community’s best interest. Also, it’s so much easier to manage a district when there is money floating around to grant big increases to the employees and create new programs or reduce class sizes to placate parents.

      Other boards realize that it’s possible to deliver an excellent education with reasonable spending even if it requires fortitude to sometimes say no to employees and parents.

      1. FYI, Mr. Knauss: Unionville-Chadds Ford has experienced a 3% decrease in enrollment since 2014. In the 20 years from 1999-2019, T/E’s enrollment increased 37.5%.

        1. Stacy, except for this year, right? Our 10/1/2020 number shows we had 247 fewer student than we had on 10/1/2019.

          Also, and I thought this was interesting, in addition to the 247 who left TESD for the 2020-2021 school year, there were another 110 kids who didn’t show up! The demographer predicted 2020-2021 enrollment to be 7,295 and it was actually only 6,938.

          If anybody wants to check out the demographer’s reports, they can be found on TESD’s website. Meeting dates were 11/14/19 and 11/12/2020.

          1. This is very interesting information — so the enrollment in T/E is actually decreasing. I note that Stacy’s enrollment statistics are only until 2019. Perhaps it would be more accurate to acknowledge the District’s decreasing enrollment trend since 2019.

            1. The enrollment decreased this year due to the pandemic. Even with that, T/E’s enrollment for the past six years increased 6% while UCF’s decreased 3%. And here’s a chart from last year showing that UCF taxes for a house of the same value are higher because PAST tax increases were higher. file:///var/mobile/Library/SMS/Attachments/34/04/F940004B-BD09-402F-8457-7B1E47BA33F7/IMG_6447.JPG

              1. Families have left the school district since 2019 and pandemic aside, there is no way to know whether these children will return. These decreased enrollment numbers should impact staffing, etc. in the 2021-22 budget process.

        2. Ms. Stone,
          Thanks for your comment. It’s great to see school board members interacting directly with citizens.

          I think it’s more instructive to compare enrollment growth over the same time period. For the 5 year period between 2014-15 to 2019-20 TE enrollment increased by 10% and UCF decreased by 3%.
          https://www.education.pa.gov/DataAndReporting/Enrollment/Pages/PublicSchEnrReports.aspx

          Enrollment growth is certainly a driver of spending and might account for some of the difference in taxation between the two districts. However, let’s remember that enrollment growth brings along extra revenue from new construction (assessment base growth and transfer taxes) necessary to house those new families. Further, enrollment should bring some economies of scale to the district. TE still only needs one superintendent, one business manager, etc.

          I’ve been following the TE district for over a decade and once thought the board was making excellent decisions. Not so anymore. The board shot itself in the foot with the McDonnell accounting obfuscation and the early bird contract giveaway. Are you aware that the district ran an unexpected $6M budget surplus for the 2019-20 school year (as per the audit) and if the district had budgeted accurately there would have been no need for the 3.91% tax increase? In other words, the district could have kept taxes flat while delivering the same educational program and employing the same number of people while still realizing a $2M surplus.

          1. Thank you Keith!
            “…the district could have kept taxes flat while delivering the same educational program and employing the same number of people while still realizing a $2M surplus.”

        3. Stacy, even though I think that part of the historical tax increases were due to extremely poor decision making from the past school boards in regards to financing and infrastructure decisions, thank you for posting. It is really, really nice to see school board members communicating to the public. Please keep it up. :-)

  9. I grew up in Devon, Attended Devon Elementary, TE Junior High School and graduated from Conestoga Senior High School. I served our country in the military but my home of record has always been in the TE School District. We elected to send my son to private school but I was content paying my taxes so other children could be educated in our community. When I retired, we made the decision we would like to spend our ‘Golden Years’ in the home we love so much. Sometime soon the TE School Board will make that impossible. Perhaps that is the real point?

  10. In case you cannot view the attachment from last April’s budget workshop, it shows that, for a home with an assessed value of $260,000, taxes paid from 2011-2020 in T/E = $54,006 while those in UCF = $69,394. In fact, on that chart, T/E’s taxes are the third lowest of all the school districts in Chester County.

    1. To be clear, the taxes in TE have increased for the last 16 straight years. In 2019, TE had the distinction of tying for the largest tax increase in the Philadelphia region. For the decade ending in 2019, the taxes in the TE School District increased by 37%. And as we know, the taxes were again increased in 2020.

      For specifics, please read the Philadelphia Inquirer article from August 2019, “How Much Are Your School Taxes Increasing? Here’s a District-By-District Look at the Philly Region” https://www.inquirer.com/news/school-budget-property-tax-coatesville-colonial-bucks-chester-montco-delco-20190814.html The Inquirer article is cited in my blog post, https://pattyebenson.org/2019/08/15/t-e-school-district-ties-for-second-for-highest-school-tax-increase-in-philly-region-delivered-38-school-tax-increase-to-residents-in-last-decade-is-this-sustainable/

    2. Ms. Stone,
      I see you have been “taken in” by Mr McDonnell’s propaganda (the slide that hasn’t been posted).

      Yes, “the average tax bill in UCF in 2019-2020 was $7759, while in T/E it was $6121”.

      Yes, “T/E’s taxes are the third lowest of all the school districts in Chester County”.

      But this is not the result of some virtuous actions by past TESD school board or past administrations. It’s because TESD has a higher assessed tax base (more homes, higher value homes, more commercial properties) relative to student enrollment.

      1. Just FYI: The chart I posted showing a 4.91% increase in UCF enrollment versus a 28.88% increase in T/E’s and a corresponding 46.72% per pupil tax increase in UCF versus 14.57% in T/E is NOT from Mr. McDonnell, but from OpenPAgov.org, a project of the Commonwealth Foundation, which “advances fiscally conservative and libertarian public policies.”

        1. Ms. Stone,
          My comments were directed at the graphic below from Mr. McDonnell’s April 13, 2020 budget workshop presentation page 13. I believe you mentioned this data on one or more of your posts.

          The data on residential taxes paid over the last 10 years is meaningless for several reasons two of which I’ll mention below.
          1) Taxes are capitalized into the value of a house so a house assessed at $260K in TE cannot be compared to a house assessed at $260K in another district.
          2) The residential taxes paid are a function of the size of the industrial/commercial base in the district. TE is blessed with a large commercial base reducing the tax burden on residents while other districts are not so blessed.

          The only reason I can see why Mr. McDonnell (who should know the data is misleading) would want to include this graphic is to convince novice board members and residents that the district is doing a great job managing the district and there is ample justification to raise taxes.

          1. And what about the chart from the conservative/libertarian Commonwealth Foundation’s OpenPAgov.org project, showing that T/E’s enrollment increases were about 24% higher than UCF’s, yet T/E’s taxes/pupil went from being higher than UCF’s in 2001-02 (under the control of a board with a VERY different political make-up) to about 32% LESS than UCF’s in 2018-19?

            1. Good question. I don’t pay much attention to any data that starts in 2001-02. It’s two decades old and 7 years before the Act 1 Index took hold. I would pay attention to data that started 10 years ago. If I get time I’ll gather similar data starting in 2011-12 to the present.

              The one number I pay most attention to is cost per student and this is where TE outshines UCF. Comparing local peer districts:
              TE:$20K
              UCF:$22K
              Rad:$27K
              LM:$31K

              But the future has some pitfalls for TE which may cause the spending per student to rise in relation to other districts.
              1) TE has relatively more teachers lower in the salary matrix (new hires to satisfy enrollment growth). As TE’s growth levels off those teachers now earning $60K per year will command $100K in 5 to 7 years.
              2) TE needs additional space to house the growing enrollment. As you know, debt service will increase next year due to borrowing for the high school expansion.
              3) The board approved a generous early bird contract for the teachers. I believe TE now has the highest salary matrix in the county. (I’ll have to check on Great Valley’s) Teacher compensation represents about 50% of the budget. Large compensation increases drive large spending increases.

  11. Great Schools are flourishing in the Township, while the retirees try to stay in their homes while supporting this extravagance. There must be a way to tax the working parents of the kids who benefit by this. Don’t tell me AGAIN how the schools help my PROPERTY VALUES … The property value can go to the Million$ and it means nothing to me if I cannot afford to LIVE HERE!!! …..The feeble cost of living adjustment we get is not keeping pace with the cost of LIVING.

  12. Pattye you still haven’t changed the title of this “article”. A preliminary budget was not approved with a 3% tax increase. You are at best being disingenuous or at worst spreading false information.

  13. Same old, same old. Blah, blah, blah. Yak, yak, yak. Rates go up on claims of deficit. End of year there’s an excess. How does this happen? Where does the extra money go? Why do they have such a hard time actually anticipating spends, year after year? Meanwhile, the administration is the same incompetent group not accountable to the parents and the “accountant/business manager” is incompetent and unresponsive. blah, blah,blah. yak, yak, yak. Nothing changes.

  14. Can’t believe I’m getting back onto this but I have a lot of data accumulated. I’ve shared this with Stacy a few years back when she came on the Board. She was making a good-faith effort to learn District finances from some folks outside the Admin. For that I’m thankful.

    Data includes the 15 years for 2005-06 to 2019-20…so it’s dated by a year. Source is District’s audited Financial Statements. Non-cumulative tax increases for these 15 years: 47.8% (3.19%/year). Cumulative tax increases (tax increase for year 1 continues in years 2, 3, etc.) for this period are 57.8% (3.85%/year). Total tax revenue increase for the period (this takes into account the increased assessment base) is 65% or a 4.33% revenue increase per year (on average of course). Enrollment increase for the 15 year period is 21.7% or 1.4% annually (on average).

    Enrollment does not account for the tax increase. Enrollment plus inflation? Still falls short of the local tax revenue increase….Sorry my figures are one year removed but I’ve been digging out of Covid business interruption too.

    1. I’m very grateful to you for your Finance 101 session–and would love Finance 102 some day.

      I, too, don’t really want to get into this any more, but you neglect to mention the huge increases in special education and transportation while state funding has remained flat, nor do you talk about the district’s increased share of pension funding. As Keith so rightly pointed out, assessed property values have not increased but our costs have–and continue to do so. In addition, the district has lost $7.2M to assessment appeals since 2006.

      Looking at special education costs, when Congress passed the predecessor to IDEA in 1975, it decided to cover the additional costs associated with special education by providing states grants equal to the overall number of students with disabilities multiplied by 40 percent of the national average per-pupil expenditure, but funding has always fallen far behind. Here in PA, state funding covers ~23% of the costs for most districts, but only ~10% of T/E’s costs. These mandated special education services are budgeted at $28.4M this year.

      As for transportation, we are required to either bus everyone or no one–except students receiving special education services, so we bus students to 88 private and parochial schools within a 10-mile radius of T/E’s boundaries. If the state would cut that requirement to a 5-mile radius, our savings would be substantial.

      Perhaps, instead of sniping at each other, we could all join together and lobby the state to increase special education funding and to relax the underfunded transportation mandate.

      Just FYI: There is a lot of interesting information in the slides shared at the 2019 budget workshop: ttps://www.tesd.net/cms/lib/PA01001259/Centricity/Domain/56/031920 DRAFT Workshop I Agenda.pdf

      I should also include the disclaimer that I speak for myself and not for the TESD School Board or Administration.

      1. Ms. Stone, your statement in the second paragraph above that “…assessed property values have not increased…” is absolutely false. I refer you to page 67 of the District’s 2019-20 audit, presented at the November Finance Committee meeting. In fact, INCLUDING the reassessments the District’s business manager whines about at every opportunity, the value of assessed property in the District has grown by more than $300,000,000 since 2006, including growth of $186mm in just the past 5 years.

        1. I quote Keith Knauss: “But the district doesn’t get more revenue from real estate taxes each year because your home’s assessed value remains constant each year. My assessed value is $212K and has remained constant for over 20 years. The only way the district can get more money is to raise the millage rate.” That’s not to say that additional properties aren’t built.

          1. Over the 5 year period between 2015-16 to 2020-21 the assessed base in TE grew by 4%. Thus, the millage increase of 17% results in 21% additional dollars. ($4,850,620,152 to $5,035,833,379)

            If one were to look at another one of the district’s misleading slides (below) it might look like the assessment base was decreasing and this was another justification to raise taxes.

            Someone needs to cry BS when this slide is presented year after year.

            I need to compliment Stacy for engaging with people with opposite views. It will lead to better solutions.

            1. Thank you, Keith. Significant growth in the District’s tax base is inarguable. Maybe Ms. Stone is advocating for a Countywide reassessment? As they say, “Be careful what you wish for, you might get it.”

              This idiotic slide has been displayed by the Distrct’s business manager for years during his budget presentations . To be clear, the District “lost” tax revenue when property owners appealed the assessed value of their property and won the appeal, thus lowering their school taxes. In other words, property owners were overpaying their school taxes based on an inflated assessed value, after appeal the situation corrected, and the District is whining of “lost” revenue.

              John Murphy, point well made below. The Board should review the District’s budget presentations for clarity and balance for content that increase community input and inform smart Board decisions.

      2. Special Education and Pension costs affect every District yet TE has the largest tax increases in Chester County (compared to all the other Districts) in the last 10 years…that’s Apples to Apples comparison. These are old “Bogey-Men” expenses used to scare up tax increases. Every point has a counter point. For 13 years, I’ve involved myself in the conversation. It gets us nowhere and now public discussion is too controlled. Again, I appreciate your willingness to talk about these issues….BUT- for me at least- participating in SB meetings is a fruitless endeavor. One important change you should discuss as a Board (IMHO) is to seriously evaluate your current hired leadership in terms of honesty with the public and competency. Bad inputs produce bad results.

        1. Thank you Mr. Colligan. For years I watched as you and Ray Clarke (as well as others) provide expert financial advice to the board only to see if fall on deaf ears. In the midst of the pandemic in June, many taxpayers emailed comments to the board, pleading with them not to raise taxes. It took the District solicitor 1-1/2 hours of taxpayer money just to read the comments opposing the tax increase. I’m all for the public attending school board and committee meetings but has it ever made a difference?!

          And it continues to boggle my mind that TE has a Business Manager with multiple DUIs managing our million dollar budget and yet continues to receive salary increase and annual bonus. Every twist and turn in the process and no matter what anyone says, the board stands behind their guy! One of these days the house of cards is going to crumble.

          I appreciate your weighing in Neal — your words are important!

  15. Pattye: You said, “Families have left the school district since 2019 and pandemic aside, there is no way to know whether these children will return. These decreased enrollment numbers should impact staffing, etc. in the 2021-22 budget process.” You’re correct: we do not know whether this one-year decrease in enrollment due to the worst pandemic since 1918 is temporary or permanent. We do not know if the students (mostly in grades K and 1) who did not enroll in T/E this year will stay in their private, parochial, charter, or homeschool arrangement in the fall. We also do not know if the prior, unabated enrollment increases will return. Because of this uncertainty, the demographer’s report gave three different projections, and we will need to decide which of these to use in this year’s budget process. I invite everyone to attend all school board and school board finance committee meetings, but especially the budget workshops in March and April.

  16. In addition to tax increases driven mostly by operating expense increases, the District continues an active school refurbishment program, has built an expensive maintenance facility on Old Lancaster, acquires land, and is in the middle of a $40mm project at CHS. Does anyone have the figure for the growth in total TESD debt? It has to be repaid at some point, by the taxpayers.

    1. Dear M. “How About”, who seems to be too shy to comment under an actual name: The District has not built a new school since 1965. If we did NOT have “an active refurbishment program,” we would have had to build another school long before now. The $40M project at CHS is in lieu of building another high school, which would have cost more than 3 times as much. From 1999-the end of the 2019-2020 school year, enrollment increased 37.5%. (No one could have predicted a pandemic–and no one knows whether or not the current year’s decrease in enrollment will continue or is just an anomaly.) In just the last 6 of those years, more than 700 new students came to our district. That’s more than the 500 or so typically enrolled in one of our elementary schools. Science and applied tech classrooms have been converted to CORE classrooms, storage spaces and the dental clinic to smaller instructional spaces, and additional wings have been constructed, but we still haven’t added a new school–which has kept borrowing and the debt service down. Centralizing maintenance allowed for needed increased space for the NOC as well as centralized purchasing. This latter has resulted in significant savings. And land purchases will allow for additional expansion and/or much needed athletic fields.

      To you and to all who have offered so many comments and questions: Please attend all school board meetings as well as committee meetings–especially Finance and Facilities, but also Education and Policy. If you have great ideas about how to fill the projected $9.3M budget deficit–whether through program cuts, additional fees, or increased revenue fro something other than property taxes, please share them.

      1. Why is the answer always “increase revenue” and “”additional fees”? How about cutting costs? And I don’t mean programs. It’s a sin the ERBs were cut (one of the last reliable metrics for parents to gauge how their child was learning AND measure teacher/teaching effectiveness).

        How about employees (teachers) pay more for their medical benefits or change their benefits to plans that are more cost effective (not for them, but us, their ultimate employer). Surcharges to cover a spouse/partner if they can be covered elsewhere etc.

        Raises every year no matter what is going on in the real world is a joke as well. I just completed my self evaluation for my annual review. Even meeting or exceeding all my 2020 goals will get me 1-2% if I am lucky.

        I have had to adjust my spending more times then I can count in my adult life to make ends meet, why can’t the school district do the same?

      2. It’s a simple question – I would like the year by year total TESD debt, going back over the past 15 or 20 years, and this would be valuable information for the Board, too.

  17. As of 10/1/19, TESD had 501.1 FTEs (full-time equivalents). As of 10/1/20, TESD had 511.6 FTEs. FTEs increased by 10.5.

    As of 10/1/19 TESD had 7,185 students. As of 10/1/20 TESD had 6,938 students. Enrollment decreased by 247 students.

    For the 2020-2021 school year, staffing is up and enrollment is down.

    1. Thank you for the opportunity to share these facts and figures, Kate.

      The 2020-2021 budget actually included 13.5 additional FTEs for a total of 514.6. Mostly driven by anticipated increased enrollment, they included:

      4.0 at the Elementary level (1.0 Art, .5 guidance, 1.0 reading specialist, 1.0 Autistic Support, and .4 speech)
      4.5 at the Middle School level (.4 CORE, .6 World Languages, 3.0 special education, .5 speech)
      4 CORE at the HS
      1 District-wide mental health specialist

      While the decreased enrollment did result in some reductions, we continued to need all of the additional special education and speech FTEs and the mental health specialist position (actually funded by a 1-year grant). The pandemic also necessitated some additional staffing. These COVID-19-related positions (which are for the duration of the pandemic only) include:

      1 FTE to produce asynchronous instructional science videos, used in all K-4 classes
      1 FTE to produce asynchronous instructional social studies videos, used in all K-4 classes
      1 FTE to provide district-wide technology support
      1.1 FTEs to provide asynchronous PE instruction and eliminate the need to share staff between buildings in order to mitigate viral spread
      .5 FTE additional special education position at the Middle School level
      TOTAL: 511.2 FTEs

      1. So Stacy, we agree! For the 2020-2021 school year, staffing is up and enrollment is down. :)

        514.6 was the number of FTEs budgeted for in the 2020-2021 school year. As you said, that number was mostly driven by anticipated increased enrollment. That part makes sense. Except, that anticipated increase didn’t happen, and kids actually left the district. And not a few kids here and there–247 kids!

        That TESD’s actual enrollment is down 247 students from last year (and 357 from the projected number the Board used for budgeting purposes), and that staffing is up 10.5 FTEs is interesting. It stands to reason that, as unfortunate as it is that so many students left, we would have been able to realize some savings.

        I am sure you will all keep this in mind as you move through this spring’s budgeting process.

        1. We agree, Kate, but with a HUGE caveat: The pandemic is the reason for both the decrease in enrollment–again, mostly in K and 1st, and for the increased, COVID-19-related staffing needs that I itemized above. Reducing those two facts to your simplistic comment is disingenuous.

          There are so many unanswered and unanswerable questions right now. Among them, when will it be safe to fully reopen school buildings? Will some of the students who did not enroll this year enroll for next? Will all of them do so? Or will all of them PLUS additional students move into T/E at the same rate of increase as in most of the past 20 years? The demographer’s report lists all three scenarios, and we will need to decide on which one we should base our budget. Uncharted territory…

          1. Stacy, you say, “Reducing those two facts to your simplistic comment is disingenuous.”

            We agree on the facts with regard to staffing (up) and enrollment (down). That part actually IS simplistic and doesn’t need to be “reduced”.

            Were there public discussions about Covid-related staffing increases to the tune of 10.5 FTEs? Were the staffing needs you itemized above presented at a public meeting? I don’t think so. But if yes, please point me in the right direction.

            Historically, increased staffing has been a result of increased enrollment. That the staffing number is higher due to Covid and not enrollment, is actually the potentially misleading part.

            Don’t know if you have seen this before. Discussions are more valuable if participants stay closer to the top of the pyramid. :)

  18. By the way, doesn’t UCF collect an Earned Income from residents of 4 townships? T/E, as you know, does not levy an EIT. Apples to oranges…

    1. No, UCF does not have an earned income tax as per Mr. McDonnell’s slide shown below.

      Again, this slide showing that TE has the lowest equalized mils in the county is meaningless and seems only to be a [misleading] justification to raise taxes.

      (raise your hand if you know what an equalized mil is)

  19. This is really a great comment thread—would love to see this kind of active discussion all the time. Thanks to the participants for taking the time. By comparison, the information level of district presentations could really use an upgrade.

    1. I encourage you to attend the meetings and ask questions, then. And I thank you for posting under your real name, Mr. Murphy. I believe that other elected officials would be more likely to engage in discussions if anonymous posts were not allowed, but the real work of local government is not done on blogs.

  20. Finally, I need to clear up another piece of misinformation in Pattye’s original post and which has not been corrected despite offline communication. Pattye claimed that the District has “chosen a NEW [capitals added for emphasis] K-8 math curriculum program for the next six years at a cost of $703K” and attacked the Education committee for approving a NEW program without public comment. (This, by the way, is false. There was an opportunity for public comment, and one such comment was received and the resident’s questions answered.)
    1) The program is NOT new, but rather a continuation of the current one.
    2) It is needed because the publisher is no longer printing the 2017 version of Math in Focus. 3) The materials will be purchased from THIS year’s budget, and reflect a $200K savings that the District administration negotiated with the publisher. The publisher agreed to waive shipping costs for all 6 years—resulting in yet more significant savings.
    4) $703K for 6 years’ worth of materials for 9 grade levels is not by any means outrageous.

    All of these facts were shared at last Thursday’s Education Committee meeting. Perhaps Pattye just read the agenda rather than attending the meeting; otherwise, if she had either attended the meeting or watched the video, she would have heard all of this information.

    1. I joined last week’s Education Committee meeting–primarily to hear the reading presentation, but stayed for the math presentation. The Education Committee Chair was really clear at the beginning of the math presentation that no Board action was necessary, and that it was informational only.

      The curriculum supervisor presented the slides, almost exactly as written in the materials included with the agenda (https://www.tesd.net/cms/lib/PA01001259/Centricity/Domain/56/Ed%20Committee%20Agenda%20-%20January%202021.pdf). If you look at the slides, there is no mention of cost of the program, duration of deal, or the $200K savings for mid-year purchase. If Pattye had just read the agenda, she wouldn’t have known to comment on this I don’t think.

      When the curriculum supervisor was finished, there were no follow-up questions or comments from the Committee or Board with regard to her presentation.

      Then, during public comment, a community member wrote in with these questions, and it was only then that the cost of the program and the duration of the deal were shared. At this point we also learned about the $200k discount for the mid-year purchase. It was also clarified that it wasn’t a new program but a continuation.

      There were again no questions or comments from the Committee or Board during their second comment period.

      I checked to see if the recording of the meeting was up yet to refresh my memory, but it isn’t. Everybody should watch when it is up.

      For what it is worth, I didn’t read Pattye arguing that $703K was outrageous for 6 years of a math program. I read that she thought a $703K expense was worthy of some public discussion and perhaps not only informational.

      I agree with all the positive comments about Mr. John Murphy. :)

      1. Thank you Kate. The cost of the math program ($703K) was not included in the agenda materials nor was the the 6 year term length. Following the presentation, there were no questions from the Education committee or other board members in attendance. Were it not for the question from a resident attending the meeting, the public would not have known the cost of the program or its term.

        You are correct that my point was not whether or not the math program was needed but rather that ALL the details be known to the public – such as its cost and term. And that it should not be left to a resident to ask the questions!

        1. The slides clearly state that our current math program, the 2013 edition of Math in Focus, is now out of print and that digital resources are no longer available. The slides also clearly show that the replacement is the 2020 edition of Math in Focus–i.e. the SAME program. Therefore, no “selection” process was needed. As for the rest, as Kate well knows, Board members are given information in updates and often talk with administrators when draft agendas are circulated before meetings if they need more information. So committee members already knew the cost, the fact that the District anticipated having sufficient money in the authorized spending to pay for the materials out of THIS year’s budget–not next year’s, the fact that most of the surrounding districts are also using Math in Focus, etc. The cost will be clearly stated in the supporting materials for the next school board meeting.

          1. Well, it’s great that the committee knew the cost — isn’t the public entitled to know the details at the meeting where its presented. Were it not for the resident asking the questions, the public would not have known. And the information was NOT on the agenda as you suggested.

            1. I’ll agree with you on that, Pattye. When school board members are well prepared ahead of time with all the information, it’s hard to see and hear the presentation with new eyes. Again, even though the board must sign off on every single purchase–no matter how large or small, buying a new edition of an already-approved program did not need board approval. The presentation was informational only. The per pupil cost for texts, assessments, online resources, etc. comes to less than $30/year. Pretty good deal, actually.

          2. Stacy, we agree again! The $703k was not in the materials, nor was the duration of the deal, or the $200K in savings for the mid-year purchase. The Committee and Board didn’t comment or question because they were able to have additional information/questions answered offline.

            Again, I interpreted Pattye’s comments on this to mean she hopes for more public consideration in the process especially in light of a big spend in a bad year.

            Folks should watch the recording when it is posted.

  21. Someone should audit spending in TE. I used to work in the district. Every year when we got our budget number my manager would give us big office supply and textbook catalogs. She’d say “order away. If you don’t spend all the money we won’t get as much next year” We had enough books, paper and office supplies to last 10+ years. It was a waste and a sin.
    Wish someone would take a close look but it will never happen Members of our current school board were in admin and on staff at the time!!

    1. Would love to talk to you. Since you have decided to remain anonymous, though, I have no idea in which building(s) you worked or whether you were a classroom teacher or what. For that matter, I have no idea where in T/E teachers have “managers.” Department heads, yes, principals, yes, supervisors, yes, but no “managers.” I DO know that I was NEVER given free rein to order anything I wanted. Because I was a special education teacher, I could order something if it was mandated in a student’s IEP, and all the special education staff in a building split a modest supply and book budget. Beyond that, I routinely spent hundreds of dollars a year of my own money buying supplies as well as books for my classroom library, just like every teacher I know pretty much everywhere does. These allegations–unless you can prove them–are just that, and are inconsistent with my experience.

      1. Pardon my language. My Supervisor. And it’s not an allegation. Just the truth.
        Any TE teacher or secretary could vouch for the fact multiple catalogs get passed around the building every year at budget time. TE teachers are not buying their own office supplies, student books or class supplies such as paper, crayons, etc. Sure TE teachers might choose to buy snacks, teacher planning items or specific crafts we may want but nothing that’s necessary to get the job done

        1. Heavens! Catalogs passed around at budget time! Clear malfeasance! ;)

          Again, I don’t know who you are, what you taught in which building(s), etc., but I would swear in a court of law and on a stack of Bibles that every T/E teacher I knew in the four out of five elementary schools in which I taught over the course of 14 years absolutely DID spend money on supplies, books, and more.

          You can contact me at stone4sb@gmail.com any time. That goes for anyone who would like to identify themselves and initiate or continue a conversation.

          1. Stacy your responses are exactly why former employees should not be on the school board. Your first reaction is to say I’m lying. Who do you work for teachers or voters? You never research this claim in the district!

            I worked in the same building as you. Office Depot, Staples and various educational supply catalogs got passed from the secretary to each department. We’d fill out lists of what we wanted. Time consuming process because you’d fill out pricing, catalog codes etc on TE requisition forms. The catalogs got passed from grade to grade. Teachers would sit down together and itemize what they wanted. Ring a bell? It should.

            1. Former TE Teacher,
              1- I apologize re: manager, I did not see that you already cleared that up and misspoke.
              2- no one accused you of lying…so?

              3- of course teachers pass catalogs around for budgeting. I’m not sure I understand what is bad about that. We need the catalogs (mostly done on the computer the past few years but maybe a catalog here and there). You need the item numbers, prices, etc for the requisition sheets, and to stay within or under your allotted budget amount.

              Most importantly- from my previous comment: I have never, in more than 20 years, been told to or even heard of “spend it or lose it”

              And like I said, we set a goal two years ago to reduce our spending and budget amounts. We did so thoughtfully, carefully, and most important- successfully!

              1. Nothing wrong with passing catalogs around. I was trying to refresh Stacy’s memory on how ordering was done and explain process. She seemed to insinuate I did not know what I was talking when I suggested the school board review spending. Just a voter expressing my experience in the district.

        2. Former TE Teacher,
          Some TE teachers might choose to buy snacks? I can’t remember the last year that was even allowed, it has been so long! And Stacy is correct, we spend hundreds of our own money. Not on snacks, that’s for sure. And certainly on more than just “crafts” that we want but don’t need. (Although, yes, those are sometimes part of it!) Anytime I spend my money for my classroom, I view it as an investment. If it will help my students, or enhance a lesson, or for many other reasons, if I have the money, I will spend it.

          How long did you work here? And how long has it been since you stopped? Just curious because your ideas and perceptions seem to be not just different from mine and Stacy’s, but pretty outdated as well.

    2. Dear Former TE Teacher,
      I have worked as a teacher in TE for more than two decades. Like Stacy said, I’ve never heard the term “manager”- team facilitator, department head, principal, supervisor, yes, but manager?
      We actually have worked extremely hard the past two years to decrease budget spending. We set a goal and worked very hard, successfully doing so.
      But- even before that, we didn’t try to “spend it or lose it.”

    3. Just FYI: Spending in T/E IS audited every year–by law. Is it my understanding that the district has had “clean” audits every year since Mr. McDonnell has served as the business manager. I would be happy to share a copy with you.

      For your information, hundreds of pages of financial statements, student activity accounts, procurement card expenditures, check registers, vendor contracts, etc. are included with every school board agenda. They’re available online for all to see. Here’s the link to January’s agenda: https://www.tesd.net/cms/lib/PA01001259/Centricity/Domain/56/January 4 2021 Agenda – Web.pdf

      1. Ms. Stone, I’m happy to see you used “clean” in quotes, in referring to all of the audits during Mr. McDonnell’s time. In 2019, before your Board service started but as you are aware, there was $1mm+ accounting debacle the likes of which the District has never seen. To resolve erroneous financials prepared and signed off on by Mr. McDonnell consumed much of every Board meeting over the course of 7 or 8 months, cost the District significant legal and accounting fees, changed the District’s taxing authority, and badly damaged the public’s trust. The District was forced to restate multiple years of financial statements, there were disclaimer and disclosure letters written back and forth, and the District’s longtime audit firm was replaced – many would say they took the fall for the business manager’s errors and very poor judgment.

        Thank you for the dialogue with the public and sharing your perspective, Ms. Stone. It takes courage, you are clearly engaged, and we can all learn from each other. I will remain anonymous – I have a daughter in the District and I don’t want my sometimes critical comments to impact her standing.

    4. Oh my. The responses to “former teachers” original comment and request that spending is looked at highlights exactly what is wrong with our School Board. Rather than Stacy swearing on a stack of Bibles that this person is wrong, maybe Stacy should said yes maybe spending could be evaluated and studied.

      I am a retired TE teacher. I worked in elementary for all my years and yes in the same building as Stacy at times.

      Let’s not pretend TE teachers are wanting for much of anything to deliver a good curriculum. Everything needed to teach the standards and curriculum is provided by the district. If it is not, the school board should research into that too! ALL of the office supplies needed to run a room are provided as well.

      Of course I spent my own money on items I chose to get – bulletin board decorations, pretzel sticks for the student without a snack, glitter, M&M’s or candy corn for special math fun, etc. I needed to buy nothing to deliver the content required. But those things were my choice. Stacy mentions using her own money to buy books. That is for classroom libraries – that is not for curriculum delivery. And let’s not fool ourselves, teachers use Scholastic to get free books every time students purchase. And it does take years to gather a nice library but again that is extra. The district provides more than enough reading material for the kids plus lovely libraries in each building. If teachers are buying books to to meet state standards they are not following the district curriculum.
      I agree with Former Teacher, we never had to buy our own construction paper, copy paper, BB paper, crayons, staples, post its, highlighters etc. All things a less privileged district does not supply in the quantity TE does.

  22. Very nice to hear that in the past 2 years you’ve worked extremely hard to decrease budget spending

  23. Budget v Actual
    Each year in January the business manager presents his estimates of revenue and expenses for the next year so school directors can make informed taxation decisions and the pubic can comment on same. That was the subject at the January 11th board meeting. In the ensuing months the estimates will be refined culminating in a formal budget being passed in June along with a tax increase to balance the budget.

    We need to keep in mind that the budget is an estimate of revenues and expenditures; it will never match the actual revenues and expenditures tabulated when the fiscal year ends 12 months hence. But what type of accuracy should the board expect? As a rule of thumb, if the board is making taxation increase choices between, for instance, 3% or 2% or 1% it makes sense to strive for budget estimates within about 1%.

    So, how has the administration done with their budget estimates? The most recent year where actual results are available is 2019-20 – the year ending this past June. It turns out the estimate was off by 4.6% and the district ended up with an unexpected $6M surplus. Revenues were underestimated and expenses were overestimated. The upshot is that the 3.91% tax increase for that year was unneeded. The board could have kept taxes flat, delivered the same educational experience to the students with the same number of employees while still reaping a $2M surplus. A tax decrease would also be possible. And there was a similar 3.3% error with a $4.5M unexpected surplus and an unneeded tax increase in the previous year.

    I wonder if the board is aware of this problem. Will the administration publicize historical budget v actual performance and strive to tighten the accuracy so the board and public can make informed decisions on taxation this year?

    1. Keith is right. In our (Stacy, Ray Clarke and I) Budget discussions-refer to the materials in Part 101; Section 2-“Budget vs Actual”…over the 13 years of data presented by the District (and again-I’m one year in arrears here)…you’ll see that the District, on average, collects 101% of it’s Budgeted Revenue and spends 96% of its Budgeted Expenditures. This is the average over 13 years. It’s a structural flaw in the way budget’s are constructed and presented for Tax Increase purposes. Taking these anomalies into context; it shows the Budget (on average over 13 years in the data set) OVER-states it’s Budget Deficit by 5%/year. This may not sound like a lot but on this years’ Budget with $163.4 MM in Budgeted Expenditures…5% is $8.17 MM.

      If we factored in the average error rate of Budget vs Actual (5% or $8.17 MM) when looking at this year’s anticipated Budget Deficit of $9.3 MM- it doesn’t seem so shocking. From history we know that most of that Deficit will be offset when Actual results are realized next year. In addition, the District just experience a $6.75 MM surplus in the last year of operations (I can be corrected on the number but that’s the last amount I saw). If the will existed for a 0% tax increase….it can be supported…and I’m not advocating for anything here…just doing the analysis. The TESD is a very profitable District when we look at the Actual Surplus results in recent times.

      A word on Surpluses…and a warning: $4 MM of last years Surplus was “Transferred” to the Capital Fund after year end. This was done by re-opening the Budget and making this change. It’s a way to eliminate some of the operating surplus on paper. While totally within the guidelines of Pa Accounting Practices for School Districts in PA….the community should understand that they “opened and modified” a Budget some 6 months after the end of the fiscal period covered by that Budget. Specifically, they can change the Budget in October/November 2020 for the Year ending 6/30/20. The warning: this was part of the case in the Lower Merion School District that the LM District lost when sued by Members of the Community. I believe this case is on appeal but the initial findings went against the LM District. That may be too much “Inside Baseball”.

  24. Working in elementary for 15+ in TE. Chose to leave for another district approx. 8 years ago. Yes snack policies have changed sorry to date myself. Again you can invest in your class by choice nothing wrong with that but don’t tell me TE doesn’t over spend on supplies I witnessed it.

    As a tax payer there is nothing wrong with me asking the School Board to look at where the money goes in the context of a conversation about budget and taxes.

  25. Teachers don’t spend their own money for anything. As a matter of fact, they ask parents to bring in “supplies” in the form of food-pizza, pastries etc. because, “they’ve always done that for the class”. Teachers send out e-mails to parents asking them to donate prize items kids can pick from a bag if they get a right answer. It’s highly offensive but insecure, needy parents do it to get favor and give their child an edge.

  26. It is possible, of course, that “Teacher,” “Former TE Teacher,” A Retired Teacher,” and I are all correct, you know. Think of the parable of The Blind Men and the Elephant, in which each man describes the elephant based on his limited experience and the resulting descriptions of the elephant all differ. It is possible that there is uneven distribution of budgeted funds for supplies. I have thought of a potential solution: In the same way that centralizing storage and restocking of cleaning and maintenance supplies has resulted in significant savings, perhaps similar efficiencies can be realized if ordering (at least of supplies, not of grade- and/or subject-specific educational materials) is done at a building level rather than teacher by teacher or department by department. Of course, never having worked in administration in T/E (only at the PA School for the Deaf), I don’t know what the potential problems might be. What do you think?

    1. I’ve work at 2 other districts (one public and short stay in private when I entered teacher) as well as in a business office and that’s how office supplies were handled.
      Sounds like a solution worth investigating.

  27. I would like to thank Stacy Stone, a sitting TESD board member for her time to engage with the community regarding TESD’s budget. As noted on this thread, in the past, others in Ms. Stone’s position have not been so open for discussion.

    For the record, due to retaliation concerns, some parents have resorted to anonymous postings. Please note, just because they are anonymous, their content is no less valid.

    Once again, Thank You for your engagement.

    Also, would like to Thank the Administration, Teachers & Custodians who have worked diligently to keep TESD open for our students during a pandemic. It’s not perfect, but for our student, attending school (seeing friends & teachers) has been a glimpse of normalcy (even with various protocols), it’s much appreciated.

  28. Keith Knauss and Neal S Colligan, thank you for your details, honest information and FACTS. Your descriptions are affirmation that I and other members of the community have observed from the outside for years running…ie increases in assessment with resulting millions in surplus when the final books are closed. Many have questioned then what has become of the year upon year excess, and while transferring to the Capital has some merit, I’d suggest the overall result should be openly acknowledged and described to the public when there are (the usual and presumably anticipated) questions / criticisms on the subsequent years predictable increases. Why does all the Surplus have to be transferred year after year? Why not keep some in Operational funds for the subsequent year, and hence lower or even eliminate the increase tax rate? The Board should consider how much good will this would raise within the overall community in their demonstrating greater overt fiscal responsibility with taxpayer’s money. I hope in upcoming election cycles we have new candidates come forward, campaigning on this approach as a key objective for them to be chosen to the School Board.

  29. You’re right Mallum on a lot of levels. As I’ve said in public meetings…seeding money into your Capital Fund can be very appropriate BUT tell the taxpayers of that plan. That would be far superior to passing a false budget that produces a surplus and then transferring part of the Surplus AFTER the fiscal year ends. As of the last finance meeting: the District has $22.8 MM in it’s Capital Fund and $32 MM in the Fund Balance (operating). It should be noted that we are involved in a large capital project so some of the Capital Fund will be spent in short order.

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