Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Michelle Berger

TESD Facilities Committee proposes fees for VFES tennis court usage

The monthly TESD Facilities Committee meetings are held at a time that makes it difficult for many to attend – Friday at 2 PM, and the Friday, June 15 attendance proved the point. Ray Clarke attended the comittee meeting with 3 other residents and provided the his notes for Community Matters. In addition, I spoke with him for clarification, specifically in regards to the infamous tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School. If you recall, Zoning Hearing Board granted the variance last month so that the District could build the additional parking spots and leave the tennis courts intact.

I had assumed that once the tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School received their ‘stay of execution’, residents would continue to enjoy them free of charge. However, based on Ray’s explanation, it looks like the District views the courts as a revenue source. According to Ray’s notes, initially the Facilities Committee proposed two options for the tennis courts – an hourly rate for usage ($15-$25) or a flat annual fee of $28K to be paid by an association! It is unclear what ‘association’ the District had in mind — the neighbors next to VFES? Looks like tennis court neighbor Michelle Berger temporarily thwarted a PR nightmare for the Board with an agreement that the resident usage fee will not start until the fall.

June 14, Facilities Meeting Committee Notes … from Ray Clarke

Well, an audience of four at the Facilities Committee was treated to a detailed exposition of the process underlying the Infrastructure Plan. On one hand, we were told the plan took 332 hours of Daley and Jalboot time at the bargain rate of $12,200 (plus $8,000 for mechanical engineering), using annually updated CAD drawings of every building, inspections of every building, meetings with the Maintenance staff, using cost projections updated for 4% annual inflation, etc. Bbut on the other hand, we were told that we should pay no attention to the fact the resulting cost estimate is over $50 million, and in fact, that to even mention that number is inflammatory and “foolish”!

I wondered about the status of the Infrastructure report. I was told it was approved in “the May Board meeting”. I see that the minutes of the 5/13 School Board meeting includes the Facilities Committee report: “Also on the May 13, 2013 consent agenda is the infrastructure report, which is a ten year renewal of the plan”. However, there is no record in the published agenda or in the minutes of the actual item. The only related item in agenda or minutes is “Daley + Jalboot 2013 Projects/Fee Proposal/Infrastructure Implementation”. So, is it possible that the Plan was not only put on the Consent Agenda, but also added verbally at the meeting (and not recorded clearly in the minutes), so only those still awake at midnight would be aware of it?

I proposed that the Board and the community might benefit from a detailed discussion of a plan that sets the tone for the next decade’s capital spending – a discussion that might be needed once every 10 or maybe five years. Perhaps the items could be prioritized — essential to nice-to-have. Perhaps payback identified for those projects that would reduce costs. These ideas were met with derision — the Facilities Committee has managed things just fine for the last ten years, we spend an amount only equal to the auditors’ arithmetical calculation of depreciation, our debt service is constant at $6 million a year, most of the school kitchens are original (although equipment has been renewed), told I didn’t know the difference between capital and operating funds, etc., etc. It seems to me that the whole reason that there is such interest in the affairs of the District now is that in fact there really is a “new normal” where funds are not so readily available and trade-offs must be made. Prudent governance should recognize that.

The discussion of the VFES tennis courts provided further indication that this Board leadership just doesn’t get it. Two usage fee options were presented: a) fee of $15/hr. weekday, $25/hr. weekend, or b) an annual fee to an “association” of $28,000. This was to be implemented July 1st. The courts to be locked and monitored. Thank goodness, for a sensible and articulate local resident, Michelle Berger, who was persistent and managed to get through to the Committee, suggesting that this approach would be a total PR disaster and that it was better to involve the community to figure out a practical approach than an abrupt implementation of a bureaucratic plan. Tennis camps and any other organized groups will be charged right away – I think at the $30 per court hour that the township charges. Fees for residents will start in the fall.

So common sense thankfully prevailed here. But it’s really unfortunate that the Board has developed such a bunker mentality. I wish I could offer a solution. Perhaps the Board candidates will offer realistic commitments for change that we can hold them to.

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