Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Tredyffrin Easttown School District

It Happened Again — $2M Budget Deficit Magically Becomes $3.1M Surplus as TESD Taxpayers Endure 17 Yrs of Tax Increases! How is This Possible Year After Year?

At the time of the TESD budget passing in June the Business Manager claimed a projected $2M deficit for the year and … as a result, the taxpayers receive a tax increase. Fast forward and less than four months later and this same business manager tells the school board at the October Finance Committee meeting tonight (agenda attached) that not only did the District not have a deficit but instead magically had a surplus of $3.1M! Why Does This Keep Happening??

Folks, this happens yearly – the business manager presents fictitious deficit budget to the school board – the school board votes for a tax increase (17 straight years!) – and then millions are magically found in surplus. This is not a financial pandemic anomaly — just like the yearly tax increase, the surplus happens year after year. If you don’t believe me, go to the top left  on Community Matters homepage and enter “budget surplus” in the search bar – and you will see how this “new math” style of budgeting and increasing taxes has gone on for years with the Business Manager.

In advance of tonight’s Finance Meeting, I received the following email from Keith Knauss, former Unionville-Chadds Ford school board member. As noted by Keith, this is the third year in a row of a budgeting error — the budget surplus and resulting inaccurate taxing of residents did not happen as a result of the pandemic … it’s a yearly event!

After reading Keith’s analysis, I think you will agree that voters need to support school board directors with strong accounting backgrounds in the upcoming Nov. 2 election! (There are 4 seats available on the school board — please vote for candidates that understand finance and the budget process and that will hold the Business Manager accountable.)

Email from Keith Knauss, dated 10/10/21 (with his permission):

The agenda for the upcoming Finance Committee contained the following slide comparing the Original Budget for 2020-21 to the Projected Actual.  (we’ll get the audited numbers next month)

Mr. McDonnell misled the board in June 2020 when the Original Budget was passed with a 2.6% tax increase.  Mr. McDonnell told the board and public that even with a tax increase of 2.6% the district run a deficit of $2,223,426 (outlined in red) and the deficit would have to covered by withdrawing money from the Fund Balance.  Well, lo and behold, the district actually ended up with a $3,383,930 surplus instead of a $2,223,426 deficit! 


Why does this matter?  Shouldn’t everyone be happy that we have a surplus rather than a deficit?  There are two problems.

1. Had Mr. McDonnell estimated revenues and expenses correctly the board and public could have contemplated a lower tax increase, or no tax increase at all.  The 2.6% tax increase only brought in $3M.  Thus, the district could have had a balanced budget with no tax increase at all.  Instead, Mr. McDonnell presented the board and public with a fictitious deficit budget which induces the board to enact the maximum tax increase possible. 

While a one-year budgeting error would be excusable due to unforseeable circumstances, this the third year in a row where a deficit was predicted, but a significant surplus was realized ($4.5M and $6.0M) making the tax increases for the past three years questionable.

2.  Had Mr. McDonnell estimated revenues and expenses correctly the board and public could have dispensed with the ritual of Budget Impact Strategies that unnecessarily decrease the educational experience of the students.  Why cut student services if a cut is not needed?  A representative slide is included below.

The bottom line:

The administration provides the board and public with estimates of revenues and expenditures during the budget process.  The job of the board with input from the public is to balance the budget by either increasing revenue through taxation and/or decreasing expenses by cutting programs. 

If the revenue and expenditure numbers provided by the administration are false and unreliable either because of ignorance, or worse, by design then informed decisions on taxation and programs are impossible.   The administration has for the past 3 years skewed budget estimates in a direction (underestimated revenues; overestimated expenses) designed to present a false picture of financial distress leading to over taxation.
I’ll also note that the board is contemplating a $3M transfer from the General Fund to the Capital Fund to be back-dated into the fiscal year that ended last June 30th.  This is illegal as per School Code:

Section 687. Annual Budget; Additional or Increased Appropriations; Transfer of Funds.

(d) The board of school directors shall have power to authorize the transfer of any unencumbered balance, or any portion thereof, from one class of expenditure or item, to another, but such action shall be taken only during the last nine (9) months of the fiscal year.

If the board wanted to transfer funds to be recognized in the 2020-21 fiscal year, they should have made the motion before June 30th.  The board can transfer the $3M from the General Fund to the Capital Fund now, but the transfer must be recognized in the current fiscal year not in the fiscal year that has already ended.

Keith Knauss

Debate Over Mask Mandate Moves from School Board Meeting to Courtroom – Lawsuit Filed in Tredyffrin Easttown School District!

Covid-19 cases are on the rise, fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant. As Covid-19 cases among kids continue to climb, it’s also important to keep students in school.

According to the headlines from the Philadelphia Inquirer today, “COVID-19 cases among Pa. school-age children are 10 times higher than they were last year”. The article cites a variety of factors for the surge, including the highly transmissible delta variant, the return of in-person school, and an increase in testing.  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, child covid-19 cases increased 240% since July.

So … what about the mask requirement for schools? We know that masks alone do not stop the spread of coronavirus, but should mandating masking be part of the whole package?

Masking was the subject of a heated debate at the recent TESD school board meeting, with parents arguing for and against. But for some local parents, the face mask battle did not end with the School Board’s unanimous vote on August 23 to approve the Health and Safety Plan and Covid-19 mitigation plan which included the mask mandate.

Nor did the anti-mask opposition cease when Gov. Tom Wolf announced a mask mandate on August 31 for all Pennsylvania school students aged two and over. (The state mask mandate order took effect on Tuesday, September 7.)

Less than a week after the Department of Health ordered universal masking in Pennsylvania schools, the Republican Senate President and a group of parents filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the Wolf administration’s new mask mandate. The lawsuit asserts that the Acting Health Secretary failed to comply with state law when she ordered masks to be worn in all Pennsylvania public and private schools, as well as childcare facilities. The lawsuit seeks an injunction against the masking order – the court scheduled a hearing for Sept. 16.

What is very clear is that when it comes to mandating masks for students, parents are divided. Lots of parents are thrilled. Lots of parents are angry.  And some parents are going to court hoping to reverse course.

On Wednesday, September 8, four District parents/guardians (Sarah Marvin, Andrew McLellan, Alicia Geerlings and David Goveranti) filed a lawsuit against T/E School District in the Pennsylvania Eastern District Court alleging that the mask mandate is unlawful and that, “… the School Board has no legal authority to require students to wear masks or to test students without their consent.”

Representing the parents is Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel.  To read the lawsuit, click the link below.

To offset legal costs for the lawsuit, a an “Unmask TE” GoFundMe page was created and to date has raised over $7,100 – https://www.gofundme.com/f/unmask-te-support-freedom-of-choice

Representing the District in the lawsuit are defense attorneys Deborah Stambaugh, Christina Gallagher and Brian Elias from Wisler Pearlstine, LLP. A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 14, 9 AM at the Eastern District Court in Philadelphia.

School Board Meeting Grows Heated — T/E School Board Approves Mask Mandate for All Students and Staff

Back to School — Masks Required for All T/E Students and Staff

Regarding the last school board meeting on Monday, August 23, I attended the meeting until 10:30 PM which was through the District’s Health & Safety Plan update and resident comments. Nearly a week later, the school board meeting video is not yet available — the District offers the following explanation for the delay on their website:

Due to the need to edit profane comments by audience members captured on the recording of the August 23, 2021 Regular School Board Meeting video, the recording will be posted online as soon as editing is complete.

I do not make a blog post about a meeting unless I have attended it or watched the video. Beyond the Health & Safety Plan Update and subsequent resident comments, I have no idea what occurred during the remainder of the meeting. The August 23 school board meeting agenda was lengthy, 122 pages long. To be clear, I attended the meeting 7:30 PM – 10:30 PM but left following the Priority Discussion (pg. 2 of agenda).

Because the new school year is upon us, and it is unclear when the District will release the edited school board meeting video, this post is limited to the Health & Safety Plan Update, which includes the mask mandate.

Prior to the start of the school board meeting there was an “Unmask T/E” rally held outside of Valley Forge Middle School with about fifty people in attendance carrying signs, posters, and flags.  

The anti-mask school board protest followed the heated debates about “critical race theory” (CRT) from the previous school board meeting in June. Across the country, school board meetings have become the ‘perfect battlegrounds’ for vicious culture wars, and T/E is no exception.

After the Unmask T/E rally, protestors opposing the mask mandate attended the school board meeting.  My impression was that the audience was about equally divided between those “for” and those “against” the District’s proposed mandate.

After the Health & Safety Plan presentation by the District, residents lined up and intense, emotional comments went on for hours – each commentor given a 3-minute limit, with the District attorney Ken Roos serving as the timekeeper.  Although many of those who spoke were respectful and measured in their remarks (both supporting and opposing the mandate), there were some over-the-top residents who choose to yell and use inappropriate language when sharing their stance on a mask mandate.

School board president Michele Burger was relentless during the resident comment period, continuously stopping the process to point out audience members who were unmasked (or where masks were “below the nose”) with a constant threat to stop the in-person meeting and go virtual.  Another continual remark from the president was to point to the District’s civility policy.

Interestingly, resident Doug Anestad commented to the school board that the board meeting was not legally permitted to “go virtual” – a point which the District attorney Ken Roos disputed.

One resident asked the question about what happens if your child doesn’t wear a mask. The response from the Superintendent was vague. Dr. Gusick responded that the District’s education program required mask wearing and that masks would be available.

The parent followed up and again asked specifically, “What” would happen to her child if they did not wear a mask. It process is unclear as to what would happen. Say it’s an older student who may enter the high school wearing a mask and then takes it off and refuses to wear it.

What’s the procedure (Plan B?) for mask noncompliance – Are parents called? Is the student sent home? If the student continues to daily refuse to wear a mask at school, what is the next step? If a parent is strongly opposed to mask-wearing, it is not a stretch to think that his or her child may share that belief. (This remark assumes that there is not a medical and/or religious reason for not wearing a mask).

There was a police presence both outside during the anti-mask mandate rally and then inside Valley Forge Middle School for the meeting. In my opinion, rather than a constant threat to stop the meeting, perhaps after one or two strong warnings, actual action and the removal of those audience members not in compliance would have been in order.

Ultimately the school board voted 9-0 to approve the District’s Heath & Safety Plan update, which requires all “individuals aged two and over to wear a face covering while indoors in any District building and on school buses regardless of vaccination status. Masking is optional but welcome during outdoor activities such as recess, activity or physical education …”.

In closing, with the start of school — my best wishes to the students, parents and staff for a very successful school year!

—————————————–

On a personal note, our only child is a high-risk OBGYN fertility surgeon at the University of Washington at Seattle (yes, the hospital where the first known COVID patients arrived in late February 2020). Lyndsey has delivered high-risk babies (many to Moms with COVID) while wearing a full hazmat uniform for the last eighteen months. I support vaccines, mask wearing and anything else that science deems may possibly help rid the world of COVID.

TE School District Says Yes to Mask Mandate but Where’s the Vaccine Requirement for Employees?

Just as schools are about to open in TESD on August 30, there is news from states where schools have already opened, about hospitals treating growing numbers of kids who have COVID-19. This is happening as schools are resuming in-person learning, leading to mask mandates, anti-mask mandates and frustration from parents, students and the community.

Experts don’t know if kids are getting sicker with the delta variant of COVID, but they do know that this variant is more contagious, meaning more people, including kids who can’t get vaccinated, are catching it. In our District, it was determined that a mask mandate is the safest way to start the school year.

According to Dr. Gusick’s August 13 letter to T/E parents, COVID mitigation protocol which took effect August 16 includes a mask requirement for all individuals aged two and over while indoors in any District building and on school buses.

The letter went on to state that masking is optional during outdoor activities such as recess, activity, or PE. The District’s mask requirement follows the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines which states, “… Due to the circulating and highly contagious Delta variant, CDC recommends universal indoor masking by all students (age 2 and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status…”

On Monday, August 23, 7:30 PM, there is regular school board scheduled at Valley Forge Middle School (note location change from Conestoga High School).  Based on Gusick’s letter all who attend the school board meeting must wear a mask — and how will that requirement be enforced?

There is an “Unmask TE”, anti-mask mandate rally planned for Monday night at 5 PM at Valley Forge Middle School, before the school board meeting. For some parents who oppose the mask mandate, they believe that their “individual rights and freedom” are at stake.

According to the Unmask TE flyer – “We are a group of parents supporting our kids physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.  We believe parents have the right to make health decisions for their children because every child is unique.” From a parent in the Unmask TE group, I received an email clarifying that, we ” … do not oppose masks but instead oppose mask mandates and believe masks should be optional.”

Given the essential goal of returning all students to a full, five-day, in person schedule, will those who oppose the mask mandate impact that achievement?  If parents are given a choice between masks and virtual school, which would they prefer?

From CDC, it is believed that mask wearing diminishes the risk of infection by the Delta variant – a risk that is likely to rise as temperatures cool and we spend more time indoors.

Making an argument in favor of a mask requirement in schools, a friend in South Carolina, wrote to me, “They’re just masks. They can be a little uncomfortable and annoying sometimes, but that’s it. They’re manageable. They save lives and – despite some people’s apparent fears – they don’t reflect on their wearers’ politics.”

Another point on which most medical experts agree is that kids should be “ringed” by vaccinated parents, teachers, and school staff.   Our District is mandating mask wearing for all, yet there is no vaccine mandate for those who work in the schools.  

In my opinion, there should be two choices for those that work in the District’s buildings – either you are vaccinated or agree to weekly COVID testing. I accept that my position is probably not favorable with members of TEEA (Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association), the District’s teachers union.

To be clear, leaders of both large national teachers unions — the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association — have both voiced support for vaccine mandates for school staff. They do however add the caveat, that the details should be negotiated locally.

The school board in Upper Merion Area School District (UMASD) voted unanimously to mandate all teachers and staff either show proof of COVID vaccination or or be tested twice a week for COVID (and wear a mask) when school opens. Interesting to note that Jeffery Sultanik is the solicitor for UMASD as he is for TESD! To read the Resolution on Amendments to to the UMASD Health & Safety Plan , click here.

My question to our school board is, why are YOU not requiring vaccines for everyone working in our schools?

If students must mask up for safety, their teachers should have to get their shots or participate in weekly COVID testing. As masks are mandated for all those that enter District buildings – COVID vaccines or weekly testing should also be required for all employees.

T/E Parents Have Option to Have Their Child Repeat a Grade – But Decision Deadline is Thursday, July 15!

As a result of the pandemic, it’s been more than a year of struggles for students, juggling the ups and downs of virtual and hybrid learning, leaving many behind in the process.

A newly passed state law in Pennsylvania (Act 66) allows parents and guardians to decide whether their children will move on the next grade level for the 2021-22 school year. However, if you decide that your child should repeat the grade you must act fast, the deadline to notify is Thursday, July 15.

In response to the pandemic, school districts had to enact many changes in a relatively short period of time. Like so many places, our District had to completely shift how they delivered education, from in-person to virtual school. Certainly, virtual learning posed a challenge for all – students, parents, and teachers – with some fairing better than others.

The possible pandemic-related learning loss means that some parents are weighing whether their children should repeat a grade.  Some parents are worried their children have fallen so far behind because of pandemic-disrupted learning that they should repeat the grade. If I were the parent of a school age child, not sure how I would feel,

During the pandemic closure of schools, many student athletes were unable to play team sports. How does Act 66 and having your child repeat a grade impact his/her eligibility rules for sports programs. What about giving your child some extra time in a sport in they excel by another year in the same grade. Many parents count on athletic scholarships for college – would repeating the grade help with scouts that were unable to see them play during the pandemic.

From the District’s website:

” … Act 66, signed by Governor Wolf last week, permits parents or guardians of students enrolled in TESD schools during the 2020-21 school year to retain their student for the 2021-22 school year in the grade in which they were enrolled last school year due to COVID-19 learning disruptions. Also, students whose special education services would have ended due to reaching the age of 21 may have the option to extend those services for the 2021-22 school year.

Please note that there is a hard deadline of July 15, 2021, in the law for families to exercise these options. For parents who wish to exercise the option to retain a student, please take the following steps:

  1. Complete the Act 66 of 2021 Student Grade Level Retainment Notification Form for the 2021-22 school year. Click here to access the form.
  2. Submit the form to your child’s principal by email or bring the completed form to the main office on or before July 15, 2021.
    1. If a student under the age of 18 plans to repeat a grade, a parent or guardian must submit the form to the school.
    1. If a student 18 years of age or older plans to repeat a grade, the student must submit the form on their own behalf.
    1. Both the parent/guardian and the student must complete this form if a student with a disability was enrolled during the 2020-21 school year, turned 21 during the time periods listed above, and intends to return to school for the 2021-22 school year.…”

Residents Speak Out about Critical Race Theory with CBS News Videotaping — and TE School Board Approves Tax Increase for 17th Straight Year!

A very long night, the public needed to stay at the school board meeting until midnight for the vote on the 2021-22 final budget. As expected, the taxpayers of TE School District will have the 17th straight year of a tax increase. The board vote was 7-2 in favor of a 2.5% tax increase.

Most of the standing room only crowd had left before the budget discussion and board vote because the first two hours of the meeting was devoted to resident comments regarding racial equity, critical race theory (CRT), the Pacific Educational Group contract with the District, etc.

By my count, at least 29 TESD residents spoke on different aspects of the curriculum and the teaching of diverse perspectives on history. Local newscasters from CBS attended the meeting and videotaped a segment for the 11 PM evening news.  Here is a link: https://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2021/06/14/tredyffrin-easttown-school-district-meeting-on-new-race-curriculum-draws-full-house/

I would encourage everyone to watch the school board meeting when it is available online and really listen to the words of the many residents who spoke. But equally important, I would encourage you to listen to the remarks of two school board members which followed the resident’s comments.

The first board member to speak personally attacked residents with which he disagreed, disrespected several people in the audience and a political rant comparing the board meeting to the January 6 violent attack on the US Capitol building.

The TESD Policy 9370 Code of Civility for Board members, states in part the following words, “The School Board expects its members to be role models of civility while attending District sponsored events on or off District property. The Board expects its members to promote a respectful environment ….“. Policy 9370 further states, “Individuals who believe that a Board member has violated this Policy may report the perceived violation to the Board President or Vice-President. Policy violations will be handled on a case by case basis …”.

In stark contrast, the words of school board director Scott Dorsey were thoughtful and with meaning — he gave me hope for the future and I thank him.

TESD Board Meeting on Monday, June 14: Will This Mark the 17th Straight Year for a Tax Increase? Non-Agenda Item: Critical Race Theory Has Parents Looking for Answers

On Monday, June 14, 7:30 PM at Conestoga High School, the TE School Board will hold its first in-person regular board meeting in over a year. (Click here for the agenda). The lengthy agenda (400+ pages!) for the meeting includes the discussion and adoption of the 2021-22 final budget and virtual programming. Will the school board break the cycle of annual tax increases?

Regarding virtual programming, the school board will discuss and vote on the District’s recommendation as follows:

1. To decline K-8 virtual pilot for 2021-22 (based on insufficient enrollment commitment) and consider possibility of offering in future year and

2. To pilot on Personal Finance Course at CHS in a combination virtual format for the 2021-22 school year.

For many TESD residents, the focus on Monday will be on the school board and the vote on the 2021-22 final budget.  Included in the agenda information are three budget options – 0% tax increase, 2.5% tax increase and 2.7% tax increase. Given the school board discussion at the last finance committee meeting, the fact that a zero percent tax increase is included as a budget option is remarkable.  All school board members attended the finance meeting and as far as I could tell there was only one school board member (out of nine) advocating for 0% tax increase – and that was Rev. Scott Dorsey.

For months, some on the school board would have us believe that a zero-tax increase was an actual possibility, but is it really?  At one of the finance or budget workshop meetings at least one school board director suggested that a zero percent tax increase was disingenuous. (I took the remark to mean there would be a tax increase included for the 2021-22 budget). And at several meetings, another school board member repeatedly suggested that Harrisburg didn’t think that we (the TE taxpayers) were taxed enough, although there was no evidence presented to back up the remark.

For those that have only recently moved to the TE School District, you may think that a 2.5 or 2.7 percent tax increase is no big deal; particularly if your move here is based on a perceived quality of the education.  On the surface, I would probably agree but the problem is that a tax increase is an annual event in T/E.  If the approval of the final 2021-22 budget includes any tax increase – it will mark the  17th straight year of tax increases.

But it’s more than an annual tax increase that is troubling — questions continue to swirl regarding fictitious budgeting (underestimating revenues and overestimating expenses). Although residents regularly comment and ask specific questions regarding the District finances, there is little response from the school board. Clearly the answer should not be to simply follow the business manager, wherever he leads!

Critical Race Theory … Is the District teaching?

In addition to the scheduled agenda items, it is anticipated that parents will have questions for the board and administration regarding “critical race theory” (or CRT). There is confusion (or at least I should say that I am confused) about whether the school district is teaching critical race theory in the classrooms.

Critical race theory isn’t a simple – or single – idea. So … does the District teach CRT? There are those parents who claim that TESD teaches CRT and that it should continue. Conversely there are parents who do not support CRT in the classroom (and say that it is taught). And then there are those (including at least one school board member) who says that the District does not teach CRT. This should not be so difficult — does TE School District teach critical race theory?

The District has a contract with Pacific Educational Group (PEG), national consulting firm which provides racial equity training. Does this group provide CRT curriculum information/suggestions to the District?

I don’t have the answers, but parents should have no confusion on whether CRT is taught in TESD. According to District Policy 6132, “Parents have the right to inspect any instructional material in the child’s curriculum …” and “Parents have the right to inspect any instructional material in the child’s curriculum.” If followed, the policy takes away the confusion and parents can easily know what their children are taught. So other than the question about whether the District teaches CRT, is Policy 6132 followed?

This week, three Change.org petitions related to critical race theory and the TE School District began to circulate around the community.  The below links include the originator or group name, petition title and current number of signatures. To understand the position of those behind the individual petitions, click on the links. Review the petitions and read the comments.

Start Date: June 7, 2021
Originator: Concerned Parents
Title: Families Stop Critical Race Theory in the Tredyffrin Easttown School District
Current Number of Signatures: 493
https://www.change.org/p/families-stop-critical-race-theory-in-the-tredyffrin-easttown-school-district

Start Date: June 9, 2021
Originator: TESD Resident Anita Friday
Title: Support Critical Race Theory in the Tredyffrin Easttown School District
Current Number of Signatures: 123
https://www.change.org/p/change-org-support-critical-race-theory-in-the-tredyffrin-easttown-school-district

Start Date: June 10, 2091
Originator: United TE Parents & Community
Title: Uniting Tredyffrin-Easttown for Accuracy, Equity, & Respect
Current Number of Signatures: 264
https://www.change.org/p/the-entire-tredyffrin-easttown-community-uniting-tredyffrin-easttown-for-accuracy-equity-respect

Bottom line, whether it is the budget, yearly tax increases or critical race theory, the school board meeting on Monday, June 14 (7:30 PM, Conestoga High School) is important … please make the effort to attend.

Our collective voices need to matter more!

Will the TE School Board Break the Cycle of Annual Tax Increases? The Countdown is on!

The countdown is on for the final approval of the TESD 2021-22 budget. At the finance committee meeting on Monday, June 7, 7 PM, the budget specifics will be reviewed, and the school board will vote on the District’s 2021-2022 final budget and property tax rate at the June 14 regular board meeting.

It is unclear why the upcoming finance committee meeting on June 7 remains virtual but that the school board meeting on June 14 is in-person at the high school!

In early 2021, the school board voted to approve a resolution certifying that the tax increase for the 2021-22 budget will be 3% or lower. Should the District’s final 2021-2022 budget include any tax increase, it would mark the 17th straight year of tax increase to its residents.

As the 2021-2022 budget process moved forward this year, there are board members committed to a zero tax increase – most notably Scott Dorsey. On flip side, there are school board members who favor the highest tax increase possible. Although Scott has championed the zero tax increase cause during his tenure on the board, he (and the taxpayers) never enjoyed majority support.

To watch the video of the May finance committee meeting, click here. About three hours into the meeting (watch at 3.04.40 – 3.04.50) a finance committee member comments that the state says we are “not taxing enough” to our residents. All I can say is thank goodness for the Act 1 index which limits our maximum tax increase.

We saw what happened last year – amid the pandemic most of the board ignored the public and voted instead for a tax increase! Will the vote on June 14 finally break the cycle of the annual tax increase? We’ll know in a couple of weeks, and in person!

For those of you that follow Community Matters, you will recognize the name Keith Knauss as a regular contributor. Keith is a former school board director of Unionville-Chadds Ford School District, serving for many years, several as its president. UCFSD and TESD share striking similarities in rankings, test scores, etc. As a result, Keith follows our District, particularly its budget process and sent a detailed email regarding finances to the TE School Board last week.

Keith provided me a copy of his email titled “District Financial Programmatic Decisions Based on Quicksand” offering that it could be shared on Community Matters (see below). His message is clear and direct to the school board but will it make a difference? Keith points out that all deliberations, by law, must be made in public so that the public can provide feedback. Wouldn’t it make sense to have the June 7 finance committee meeting in person!? Did any of the school board bother to respond to him?

District Financial and Programmatic Decisions Based on Quicksand

To: TE School Directors

From: Keith Knauss

This note may help you with your current budget deliberations.

Each year your administration presents the board with revenue and expense numbers for the upcoming school year. They are supposedly their best estimates of revenues the district will collect and the expenses that will be used for the education of the children over the next fiscal year. Your job, which you’ve already begun, is to bring the budget into balance by either cutting programs to reduce expenses or increase revenue by either increasing taxes and/or user fees. Your deliberations, by law, must be made in public so the residents can provide feedback.

  • Currently, you and the public have been presented with budgeted revenues (before any tax increase) of $150.2M.
  • You and the public have been presented with budgeted expenses of $156.7M.
  • That leaves you with a $6.5M hole to fill to achieve a balanced budget.
  • That’s a pretty large hole to fill and the situation cries out for you to raise taxes to the maximum amount allowable (3%) to bring in an additional $3.6M to partially fill that $6.5M hole.
  • In the end, after raising taxes by 3% you’ll close the budget gap by using $3M from your savings account which is officially called the Fund Balance.

In summary: The administrators, using their wisdom and experience, supposedly gave you and the public their honest estimates of revenues and expenditures for the next fiscal year. You are deliberating before the public on tax increases, user fees, program cuts and use of savings based on those budget numbers.

But what if the administrators are not very good at estimating or, worse, are purposefully presenting a false financial picture? What if the administrators have a history of underestimating revenues and overestimating expenses so as to present a bleak financial picture scaring the board and public into either cutting programs, instituting user fees and/or taking the maximum tax increase possible?

To see if there is any evidence of previous fictitious budgeting we can examine the latest two independent financial audits – 2019-20 and 2018-19. The audit is the only place where the budget numbers used to justify taxation are placed side-by-side with actual year end results. How did the administrators do in 2018-19?

As can be seen from the graphic above, budgeted revenues were underestimated by $2.4M and budgeted expenses were overestimated by $2.2M for an aggregate error of $4.6M. To put the $4.6M error in perspective, that year’s tax increase of 2.4% brought in an extra $2.6M. If the board and public had better budget numbers they could have contemplated a lower tax increase, no tax increase or even a tax decrease.

How did the administrators do in 2019-20?

As can be seen from the graphic above, revenues were underestimated by $1.6M and expenses were overestimated by $5.0M for an aggregate error of $6.6M. To put the $6.6M error in perspective, that year’s tax increase of 2.6% brought in an extra $3.0M. If the board and public had better budget numbers they could have, again, contemplated a lower tax increase, no tax increase or even a tax decrease.

What about this year – 2020-21? The fiscal year won’t be done until June 30th and the audit won’t be available until December. However, the administration has already indicated their budget numbers will have underestimated revenues and overestimated expenses by at least $1.8M.

Bottom line:

  • School directors make taxation and program decisions based on revenue and expenditure estimates supplied by the administration.
  • The administration has a history of providing inaccurate revenue and expenditure estimates so as to make informed budget decisions impossible.
  • The board should ask probing questions to determine whether the revenue and expenditure estimates for the upcoming fiscal year are a true picture of expected results or whether the estimates are “padded”.
  • The board should make the public aware of how inaccurate revenue and expenditure estimates can adversely affect taxation and educational program decisions.

Feel free to contact me for further clarification or comments.

Will 2021 Mark a Sea Change in Local Tredyffrin and Easttown politics?

The 2021 Primary Election is in a few weeks on Tuesday, May 18 but how many know the candidates on the ballot? In the lead up to the primary, campaign signs are dotting the community but for some, the candidate names may be unfamiliar. Locally we are seeing less incumbents seeking reelection.

Tredyffrin Township supervisor Kevin O’Nell (D) and Easttown Township supervisors Marc Heppe (R) and Jim Oram (R) will not seek reelection. The four members of the TE School Board not seeking reelection are Scott Dorsey (I), Tina Whitlow (D), Mary Garrett Itin (D) and Kyle Boyer (D).

With many incumbents not seeking re-election, it means “new” names on the ballot. Over the last several weeks, many of the first-time candidates have reached out and I have had the pleasure to meet and get to know them. My initial reaction to the candidates I met is “wow” and, that our community is lucky to have so many well-qualified residents willing to serve! Thank you!

Below is the list of our local candidates for Tredyffrin and Easttown Townships Board of Supervisors and for the TE School board.

Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors

There are three Tredyffrin Township supervisor positions available – two at-large and one in the middle district. Currently serving middle district supervisor Kevin O’Nell (D) has chosen not to seek reelection. At-large supervisors Murph Wysocki (D) and Matt Holt (D) are seeking re-election. Terms are four years.

Two attorneys, three corporate executives and a member of the Army National Guard will vie for Tredyffrin Township’s three available supervisor seats.

For Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, the Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee has announced the following candidates:

  • Supervisor at Large: Murph Wysocki, Attorney *
  • Supervisor at Large: Matt Holt, Attorney *
  • District 2 (Middle): David Miller, Retired executive, president of Chesterbrook Civic Association

* Incumbent

For Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, the Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee has endorsed the following candidates:

  • Supervisor at Large: Sean Sweeney, Corporate executive
  • Supervisor at Large: Jim Zdancewicz, Business executive
  • District 2 (Middle): Nick Sarracino, member of Army National Guard

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Easttown Township Board of Supervisors

There are two Easttown Township supervisor positions available – currently serving supervisors Marc Heppe (R) and Jim Oram (R) have chosen not to seek re-election. The Supervisors, who are all elected at large, serve staggered terms of 6 years.

An attorney, a corporate executive, an engineer, and an educator will vie for Easttown Township’s two available supervisor seats.

For Easttown Township Board of Supervisors, the Easttown Township Democratic Committee has endorsed the following candidates:

  • Supervisor at Large: Alex Bosco, Professional Engineer
  • Supervisor at Large: Eric Unger, Attorney

For Easttown Township Board of Supervisors, the Easttown Township Republican Committee has endorsed the following candidates:

  • Supervisor at Large: Alessandra Nicolas, Corporate executive
  • Supervisor at Large: Jay Jennings, Educator

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TE School District School Board

The TE School District school board race is going to be interesting as there are no incumbents on the ballot – Scott Dorsey (I), Tina Whitlow (D), Mary Garrett Itin (D) and Kyle Boyer (D) are not seeking reelection. Terms on the school board are four years.

Voting Precincts:

Region 1- Tredyffrin E-2, E-3, E-4, E-5, M-1, M-2, M-5, M-6, W-3, W-4,
Region 2- Tredyffrin M-3, M-4, M-7, W-1, W-2, W-5
Region 3- Tredyffrin E-1, Easttown 1-7

The Tredyffrin Township and Easttown Democratic Committees endorsed the following candidates for the office of Tredyffrin-Easttown School Director:

  • Region 1: Dr. Yolanda Allen, Nonprofit executive
  • Region 2: Dr. Robert Singh, Vascular surgeon *
  • Region 3: Susan Audrain, Retired
  • Region 3: MaryAnn Piccioni, Constituent Services Advisor for State Representative

(* Region 2 School board candidate Nancy Coradi (D), Sales & Marketing Specialist is challenging Singh in primary)

The Tredyffrin Township and Easttown Republican Committees endorsed the following candidates for the office of Tredyffrin-Easttown School Director:

  • Region 1: Leslie Elken, Educator
  • Region 2: Deanna Wang, Pharmaceutical consultant
  • Region 3: Rachel Kill, Senior underwriter
  • Region 3: Bill Nolan, Retired cost price analyst

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The COVID-19 pandemic overwhelmed the functioning of school districts (and school boards), including T/E. Few would question that this past year has been difficult for schools, and for school boards who oversee them. Could this be part of the reason that no incumbents are seeking reelection?

With four seats available on the TE School Board and no incumbents on the ballot, it’s going to be interesting to see what happens. Except for Scott Dorsey who is a registered Independent (although he was elected as a Democrat), the remaining school board directors are all Ds. The nine candidates vying for the four school board seats represent diverse and varied backgrounds.

In recent years, I do not recall a primary election for the school board where there is a challenge for a seat, but we have that this year. The local democratic committee officially endorsed Robert Singh as their candidate for Region 2. However, Nancy Coradi (D) is challenging Singh in the primary election. Here is a case where your vote in the primary election matters. Once the votes are counted, either Singh or Coradi will move onto the general election in November against Republican Deanna Wang.

The Results Are In … Two-Thirds Majority (67%) of T/E Parents Commit to Full In-Person Learning!

TESD parents were asked to select full in-person learning or 100% virtual instruction and submit the District’s form by March 3. As we learned at the special board meeting this week, the commitment was important to aid the District in the logistical details (such as classroom setup, bus routes, cafeteria/lunch arrangements, etc.).

The results from the parent’s commitment form are in and posted on the District’s website. Districtwide, the commitment is approximately two-thirds majority (67%) of parents are choosing full in-person learning and approximately one-third (33%) of parents are choosing virtual instruction.

The response to the District is clear — the majority of the parents want their children back in school full-time. Starting March 15, the schools will be open four days a week for instruction (Wednesday virtual only) with the hope for five days a week to follow. Once the schools reopen for full in-person learning the hybrid model will no longer exist although students can remain completely virtual.

T/E parents commitment to full in-person learning is shown in the graph below – Districtwide breakdown and also by individual school:

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