Pattye Benson

Community Matters


175 Aides and Paraeducators are on the verge of outsourcing in T/E School District — Help save their jobs!

It is almost impossible to believe that we live in a wealthy Philadelphia suburb with award winning, nationally ranked schools and our School Board is voting whether to outsource 175 aides, paraeducators and substitute teachers at Monday’s School Board meeting.

Since attending the Finance Committee meeting and writing about it this week, I have heard from parents, residents, aides, TENIG members and teachers. Not a single person contacted me to say that they support outsourcing, touted as a cost-savings measure by the District. I understand that there is pressure to cut costs in the District budget but cutting costs should not be at the expense of our most vulnerable students.

Although the District business manager Art McDonnell presented a couple of slides at the Finance Committee meeting about outsourcing, many in the audience left short on answers and confused. Here’s a review of what I think we know at this point about the outsourcing. According to McDonnell, the staff researched outsourcing opportunities and met with five different vendors. We were not given the names of the other vendors, only the recommended vendor – Substitute Teachers Service, Inc. (STS). During the evening, it was repeatedly stated that STS is one of the nation’s largest outsourcing vendors and has been in the business for 25 years.

The “Analysis of Outsourcing of Aides and Paraeducators” slide indicated that the 2013-14 anticipated wage and benefits costs for aides and paraeducators is $3,359,784. The cost to the District to outsource with STS is 22.5% of actual wages paid to the aides and paraeducators. STS will pay all benefits form the 22.5%. It was unclear what those ‘benefits’ were beyond the required Social Security, etc. The agreement with STS will be for 3 years. The increased costs to the District for outsourcing in Year One is $126,307 and Year Two is $59,678. In Year Three, the District will see a projected savings of $529,544. How does the District go from losing money ($190K) the first two years to saving $500K? I have no idea.

The anticipated wages and benefit costs for substitutes for 2013-14 is $842,250. Like the aides and paraeducators, if outsourced to STS, the cost to the District is 22.5% of actual wages and vendor pays all ‘benefits’ out of the 22.5% and is a three-year agreement. The increased cost to the District is Year One of $76,500, Year Two of $60,112 and Year Three of $44,275. It is my understanding that the District will not see a savings until Year Six if the substitute teachers are outsourced! By outsourcing, the District loses money for 5 years before recognizing savings … and this is viewed as a solution?

To be very clear, should outsourcing occur, there is no guarantee that the aides and paraeducators will still have jobs in our school district. How do I know this absolutely … I asked that specific question at the Finance Meeting and was told by Sue Tiede that the District would ‘encourage’ STS to keep our employees. I asked if the District’s agreement with STS could mandate that the outsourcing company hire our employees and the answer was NO. I don’t view encouraging a vendor to hire our employees as any guarantee to the 175 aides, paraeducators and substitute teachers.

When I asked the Board if STS would compensate the TE employees at their current pay level, the answer from Art McDonnell was no, he indicated that their pay would be lower if outsourcing occurs. However, by the end of the outsourcing discussion, that response shifted with Dan Waters stating that the outsourced employees would actually be paid more if they were outsourced. The rationale behind this claim – when outsourced, the paraprofessionals will not be making the 7.5% PSERS contribution so therefore the employee makes more money. What? This is not more money as the contribution was the employee’s money in the first place.

I’m asking the question again, ‘Where’s the fairness”? Three months ago, the School Board approved raises for the highest paid employees — the administrators. Now the Board is contemplating outsourcing the employees with the least amount of power, making the least amount of money. If you recall, the administrator raises were buried in a consent agenda; and we came very close to see a repeat performance with the outsourcing. The game plan at the Finance Committee meeting was to add outsourcing on the School Board meeting consent agenda. However, thanks to Board member Anne Crowley speaking out, outsourcing will be a priority discussion, which allows for public comment prior to the Board vote. How does the District balance raises to administrators against the outsourcing of aides … interesting interpretation of ‘shared sacrifice.’

In closing, I am including excerpts from some of the emails in the last few days in regards to the District’s proposed outsourcing:

From a District aide …

“These individuals have direct contact with our children on a daily basis. They are our greeters in the lobby, the aides who work one on one with special kids in the classrooms, they monitor lunch periods and recess, they work in the library and in the office , they assist teachers in the classroom, accompany our children on field trips and the do so much more. Many live in our community, have children in the school system. They are our neighbors and friends.

Personally, I worry that non-local strangers will be brought into our schools and not give the same quality of care and attention to our kids that my colleagues or I would. Our current aides have a college degrees and many master’s, they go through rigorous security screening by the district and by the school staff. Many have been working here for several years. “

From a resident …

“I challenge the School Board to spend some time really thinking about the outsourcing decision before you vote. Spend some time; really know what these people do, because those paraprofessionals have among the hardest jobs in the building. I’ve done that job; I respect the heck out of those people.”

From a TE teacher …

“This outsourcing will affect all students in various ways none of which are good. Paraprofessionals are partners to the teachers in the education process. They pick up where the teachers leave off. They are there to lend a hand when one or a few students need it, so teachers can continue teaching the other students in the classroom. I think the important message here is the fact that the role of paraprofessional in TESD is a very important one and I urge the Board to weigh the financial savings against the impact on our students. I’d like the Board to think about the students first. I think we’ve lost our way a little bit with regards to our students.”

From a parent of a special needs child …

“I completely support the paras of TE. They do this job because they love it and they love being with the children. The paras make very little money and many have teaching degrees. To me, as a parent, it makes me feel very comfortable sending my child who has special needs to school each day. I know what it would do to my child having a different face in class each day who doesn’t know what to do or how to help. Cutting costs should not come at the expense of our students. Both special needs and typically developing children benefit from having para professionals in our schools that are there every day.”

If you care about the future of 175 aides, paraeducators and substitute teachers in the Tredyffrin Easttown School District plan on attending the upcoming School Board Meeting. Whether you are a parent, a teacher, a paraprofessional, a TENIG member or a resident and oppose outsourcing, join me on Monday, May 13 at 7:30 PM at the T/E School District Administration Offices (TEAO), West Valley Business Center, 940 West Valley Road, Suite 1700, Wayne.

Is outsourcing aides and paraeducators to avoid the cost of complying with the Affordable Care Act the right alternative for TE?

Rising pension and escalating health care costs are putting intense pressure on school districts to lower costs. Tredyffrin Easttown School District is no different and there will probably be outsourcing discussion at Monday’s Finance Committee meeting. Fueling the discussion of outsourcing TESD aides and paraeducators is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. As of January 1, public schools are required to provide health care coverage to all employees working more than 30 hours per week. The penalty for not providing health care coverage will be steep and school districts will face significant fines for noncompliance.

There are around 150 aides/paraeducators working in the District. This group of employees is not included in the TENIG union and does not have benefits. Although TENIG is comprised of ‘non-instructional’ workers, I wonder if it would be possible to expand their membership to include the aides and paraeducators. There is strength in numbers; by increasing their membership could help TENIG when they fight their own outsourcing battle.

The District is currently not legally required to provide benefits to non-unionized support staff. Based on a right-to-know request filed by Keith Knauss, it appears that this group of employees does not have healthcare coverage. In response to Keith’s request for the benefit records of non-unionized staff, Art McDonnell’s response was, “The documents do not exist in School District records.” I take that to mean that the non-unionized staff receives no benefits. As a follow-up, I asked Keith about the benefits of non-union employees in Unionville-Chadds Ford School District. His response was that none of UCF’s 250+ support employees is unionized. However, most all are full-time and those that work 30+ hours per week receive standard benefits (healthcare, sick days, personal days, disability, life insurance).

If the interpretation of Art McDonnell’s response is correct and the aides/paraeducators do not receive health care benefits, then there is little doubt that the District is seriously considering outsourcing before the Affordable Care Act takes effect. While outsourcing may save the District money, is it really the right option? Special needs children and their families depend on the District aides and paraeducators. Mainstreaming children with special needs so they may interact and share a ‘regular’ education experience is an important task. Integral to a successful education experience is the consistency and established relationships with the support staff. How can the School Board consider outsourcing those employees who share the most personal, one-to-one relationship with our District’s students? It makes no sense that the children who need the most consistency will be subject to “outsourced” caretakers who can feasibly change daily based upon the staffing circumstances of the outside company.

Also, I would be remiss if I did not mention the obvious safety concerns that comes with wholesale turnover of 150 familiar District employees by outsourcing. Is the newly hired safety consultant aware of the District’s possible outsourcing? Have the consequences of outsourcing been thoroughly discussed by the District Safety Committee? We know that making our school buildings secure is important but so are background checks and appropriate oversight for those in contact with our children.

Is outsourcing aides and paraeducators to avoid the cost of complying with the Affordable Care Act the right alternative for TE?

How can TE School Board approve longevity bonuses to retiring administrators equal to as much as 100% of their salary?

Tomorrow evening (Tuesday, 7:30 PM, TE School District Administrative office) at a special school board meeting, there will be an opportunity for interested parties to voice their opinion on the Valley Forge Elementary School tennis courts, and whether or not to demolish. Tonight Finance Committee will meet at 7 PM, followed by the Budget Workshop II at 7:30 PM at the TE School District Administrative offices. Click here for agenda.

The Budget Workshop II will continue the 2013-14 budget discussion, looking at expenditures and a projection model. I wonder if T/E administrator supplemental retirement bonuses and the potential impact on the budget is part of the discussion. Short answer, I doubt it. When the school board approved the ‘Administrator Compensation Plan’ which was buried in the January consent agenda, it was suggested that the process was “routine” and that any discussion on the bonus and compensation plan was to occur “after” the vote was taken.

Admittedly, in a budget the size of T/E School District, the one-time bonuses paid to the administrators is probably not a big deal – looking at the list below of the administrators and their bonuses, which was included with the School Board’s January agenda materials, the total is around $180K.

Administrators, base salary and one-time bonus, effective July 1, 2012 – June 30, 2013:

Adams $130,897 $2,200
Boyle $125,000 $2,087
Capuano $125,000 $2,028
Cataldi $144,000 $2,356
Chipego $163,500 $2,754
Cohle $147,719 $2,486
Demming $143,512 $2,414
Dinkins $152,940 $2,549
Fagan $125,000 $2,080
Gibson $144,000 $2,418
Groppe $125,732 $2,103
Gusick $152,000 $2,513
Hickey $115,481 $1,902
McConnell $176,823 $2,963
Meisinger $151,000 $2,520
Mull $117,283 $1,968
Parker $115,481 $1,849
Phillips $125,000 $2,001
Roy $125,327 $2,063
Tiede $173,070 $2,900
Tobin $155,091 $2,611
Torres $127,003 $2,134
Towle $132,409 $2,225
Whyte $146,676 $2,468
Wills $142,000 $2,190
McDonnell $156,309 $2,623

It is my opinion, that the recently approved compensation plan for the administrators contains something far more costly than $180K one-time bonus, and something that should have been publicly discussed – the ‘Retirement Supplemental Pension’. The newly signed Act 93 Agreement (the Administrator Compensation Plan) of January 29, 2013 to June 30, 2017 supersedes the prior plan that covered 13 years, July 1, 2001 – June 30, 2014.

When the previous administrator compensation plan was signed in 2001, TESD was not facing the dire economic situation and level of cost-cutting measures as is the case in 2013. The District’s multi-million dollar deficit has required the Board to look at making difficult decisions to cut-costs, including outsourcing of support staff, possible demotion of teachers, increase class sizes, etc. We have seen educational programming affected by cost cutting measures — example, the ‘Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools’ (FLES) program is no longer offered nor Latin in the middle school. For the 2013-14 school year, TESD will be the only school district in the state to institute teacher furloughs. All of this to stave off the financial cliff that TESD, like every other school district in Pennsylvania, is facing.

For 13 years the T/E administration compensation plan included longevity incentive bonuses – a so-called ‘Retirement Supplemental Pension’ where administrators receive an additional bonus check when they retire, based on the years they have served as administrators in TESD.

For retiring TESD administrators, you apply the appropriate percentage from the schedule below to the final year’s base salary:

  • at least 5 – but less than 10 years: 45%
  • at least 10 – but less than 15 years: 60%
  • at least 15 – but less than 20 years: 75%
  • at least 20 – but less than 25 years: 90%
  • 25 years or more: 100%

Considering that the former administrator compensation plan covered 13 years (2001-2014), a complete and thorough analysis of the entire agreement, including the ‘Retirement Supplemental Pension’ would have been fiscally responsible. It appears that those individuals affected by the administrator compensation plan are the ones that reviewed the plan and presented it to the Board. The newly signed Administrator Compensation Plan is a 4-year plan covering January 29, 2013 – June 30, 2017. This ‘routine’ consent agenda item contains the same language for the long-term one-time retirement bonus as was contained in the previous plan.

What exactly does the ‘Retirement Supplemental Pension’ mean to the taxpayers of TESD? In researching the 26 administrators named above, how many are in the category that could retire and receive this one-time payment? The District has announced the retirement of Tom Tobin this year as Devon Elementary School principal. If I understand the Retirement Supplement Pension correctly, with 21 years of service as a TESD administration, means that Tobin will receive a one-time payment equal to 90% of his $155K salary or approximately $139,500.

Here’s an interesting example of the Retirement Supplemental Pension … the director of Technology, Robin McConnell, currently has 39 years of service with the District. According to the compensation plan, McConnell will receive a retirement bonus equal to 100% of his salary or $176,823 upon retirement. Many of the 26 administrators have been with the District a long time, which means there could be a number of retirements before the expiration of the new administrator compensation plan in June 2017. It should be clear that the one-time payment of the Retirement Supplemental Pension is in addition to their regular pension.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know too many companies who pay longevity bonuses at this level anymore; unless perhaps you are president or CEO of the company. It seems astounding to me that the School Board can be considering outsourcing of TENIG workers, going after nonprofit companies for property taxes and instituting teacher furloughs in 2013/14 yet no discussion of the removal of the Retirement Supplemental Pension from the administrator compensation plan. Or, if not removed entirely from the plan, what about a decrease in the percentage received? Why no discussion?

Does the School Board know how many administrators could qualify for this retirement bonus by the expiration of the administrator compensation plan in June 2017? Also, according to Dan Waters contract, he too will receive this one-time bonus when he retires. With his years of service in TESD, he will receive his one-time payment at the 100% level of his salary. Considering the state of the economic situation in this school district, it is incredible that this information was deemed unnecessary for public dialogue. So much for all the discussion that the teachers and TENIG employees need to ‘give back’ to the District. Where was the School Board on the administrators ‘giving back’ when they approved the ‘Retirement Supplemental Pension’ as part of the administration compensation plan? Where do these one-time retirement payments appear on the budget? Where does the money come from to pay for the one-time retirement supplement pension bonus?

Remember, there were no changes made to the levels of this one-time payment in the new plan, and the public was not permitted to discuss the issue until after the vote to approve the administrator compensation plan!

TENIG President Mary Minicozzi delivers statement of pride and commitment to TE School Board

At the T/E School Board meeting last night, the public comment section offered several interesting remarks from TESD residents. Representing her Brookmead neighborhood, Rosemary Kait expressed disappointment to the Board for the lack of notification that the tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School will be razed on Saturday, March 23. According to Kait, adjacent neighbors were received very late notification of the demolition plans via an email from TESD Business Manager Art McDonnell yesterday. Although Kait, stated that following her comments to the School Board, she was headed to Board of Supervisors meeting last night, it is doubtful that the process will be stopped.

According to TE Patch, the School District states that there are two reasons for the demolition — “… the township will no longer maintain the courts, and the permeable ground that will replace the courts will offset new parking spaces at the school.” Apparently, the removal of the tennis courts was part of the District’s 2008 parking study. I was at the School Board meeting, so if someone has further information from BOS meeting, please update.

Tredyffrin resident Scott Dorsey had a couple of questions for the School Board. He stated that as a minister he was associated with various nonprofits and asked about the letter that the District is sending out to tax-exempt organizations. Dorsey wanted to understand what kind of documentation would be required by the organizations. School Board member Betsy Fadem reiterated that there are 300 tax-exempt property owners in Tredyffrin and Easttown Townships and that the questionnaire is to determine whether these organizations still qualify for that status or should they be paying property taxes.

Although the possible tax savings according to Fadem was again stated as $1.6 million in Tredyffrin and $920,000 in Easttown, those numbers seem very high to me. I understand that the District has financial needs, but what is the price tag for goodwill of nonprofits? Even if a nonprofit qualifies for exemption under the District’s rubric, just fulfilling the requirements of the questionnaire is certain to cause a degree of angst (and possible legal expense) to nonprofits. As someone directly associated with one of the nonprofits on the list, I know firsthand the level of anxiety the Board’s actions have caused.

The second question that Mr. Dorsey had for the School Board had to do with consent agenda process. He wanted to understand how an item could be removed from a consent agenda. Board president Kevin Buraks explained that it is generally unnecessary to hold discussion on consent agenda items but if a Board member wants to hold discussion, they can ask for the item to be removed from the consent agenda (and it will then be removed). Alternatively, a Board member may also vote against or abstain with respect to the consent agenda without having asked it to be removed.

Although Dorsey did not say why he was asking the question, it should be noted that at the February School Board meeting, Board members Anne Crowley and Rich Brake voted against the consent agenda, stating transparency issues because there was no discussion on the administrator pay increase included in the consent agenda. As an aside, Scott Dorsey is challenging Rich Brake for TESD Region II.

The most poignant and powerful statement came from Mary Minicozzi, the new TENIG president. Beyond the words that she read, was the passion for TESD as she expressed her commitment, and the commitment of all TENIG employees to the children of this District. A paycheck doesn’t buy that level of devotion … the dedication of Minicozzi to and her fellow TENIG members is not easily replaced. Most of TENIG don’t just work in the District, this is their home — most are taxpayers, many with children in the School District. How do you balance any perceived cost savings from outsourcing against the pride, commitment and dedication of TENIG employees? Here is Mary Minicozzi’s statement from last night:

TESD School Board Meeting, March 18, 2013
Mary Minicozzi, TENIG President

My name is Mary Minicozzi and I am the new TENIG President. I am a taxpayer and a parent of 3 children that graduated from Conestoga High School. I would like to speak today regarding outsourcing the TENIG Employees.

TENIG employees consist of custodians, maintenance, secretaries, cafeteria and security staff. There are more than 150 TENIG employees and all of us will be fired when you outsource our jobs. Our families, our children and our livelihoods will all be adversely affected by your decision. Please take a moment and think about the 100’s of people your decision will hurt. And nearly all of these people, like me, have lived in T/E their entire lives and their kids live here, their parents live here and all of us contribute to make this community the great place it is.

Outsourcing for the T/E Schools is flat out dangerous. How can you justify bringing strangers into our schools to watch over our children, support our teachers and advocate for parents. While we are trying to secure the outside of our buildings, with security cameras and ballistic film on our windows, we are considering putting strangers inside our schools.

The students lives are worth much, much more than that. Actually a child’s safety and a parent’s piece of mind are priceless. It is a fact that outside corporation’s highest priority is making money. They are not in the business of protecting our precious children. Please reconsider this dangerous method of cutting cost.

I would like to end with an experience I had several years ago when I was an elementary school secretary.

We had a fire in our Art classroom. The fire alarm went off. The Art teacher called me to tell me the kiln was on fire. I made an announcement to evacuate the building. I called 911 and notified the custodian who immediately went to the Art classroom to put out the fire.

After calling 911, I called Dr. Waters. Within 3 minutes, maintenance workers from the District were at the school. There was no principal in the building at the time of the fire. I was responsible until administration arrived at the school. My utmost priority was keeping your children safe. Maintenance workers surrounded the building checking every area in the school to make sure all children were safely out of the building.

I never left the building! I stayed by the phone and answered every parent phone call. Parents were so concerned and I was there for them to let them know their children were safe.

As you can tell by the story I just told: It was the Custodian, The Maintenance Worker and the Secretary (ALL TENIG EMPLOYEES) who alongside our teachers ensured all your children were safe.

Do you think this same scenario would have occurred if these positions were outsourced? We are a critical piece to this wonderful school District. I am so very proud of that, my colleagues are proud of that and parents and community members talk with pride about T/E schools.

Are you prepared to look into our parents eyes and say, I promise you, I guarantee you safety will be exactly the same after you outsource TENIG.

In the past 3 years, TENIG has worked to help the District save money (even though that savings was the paid out to other employees in bonuses and pay raises. We have sacrificed to keep our jobs and keep our schools secure. Despite the sacrifices we have made in support of our fantastic district, we are now being threatened with being fired.

I hope that each school board member will seriously do their due diligence and consider the hundreds and hundreds of families that will be affected by your decisions.

Thank You.


Rising healthcare costs … the explanation for outsourcing strategies?

Economic times and tight school budgets have school districts scrambling to find ways to cut costs, and the ‘outsourcing’ chopping block continues as a major target. Proclaiming cost-savings for cash strapped schools is the driver behind school district outsourcing decisions – and there appears to be an outside company available for virtually every classified service.

There’s nothing wrong with researching the outsourcing idea; otherwise how will the School Board know if they are getting the best services at the best prices. That said, I do object that the notification letter from the District was mailed to TENIG without any mention at a School Board meeting. It struck me odd that the president of the teachers union rather than the president of the School Board disclosed this information. Don’t misunderstand, I am grateful that TEEA president Laura Whittaker brought the public up to speed on the outsourcing process. But I don’t think it should be her job to keep ‘us’ in the loop. It’s important that the public be in the loop during the Board’s ‘discovery’ process as it relates to the outsourcing bids, but also to important that the Board list to resident input on the topic.

The fact is that all the school districts are in a tough situation and that some form of outsourcing has become an avenue for some districts to save money. Over in Pennsbury School District, members of their support staff, PESPA (Pennsbury Educational Support Professional Association) have taken their cause to the community. With prominently displayed yellow lawn signs, PESPA are delivering strong words to their School Board, ‘STOP Pennsbury from Outsourcing’. Well-organized, the union is fighting back through a website dedicated to outsourcing, which includes an online petition with over 1200 signatures.

According Bucks Local News, Pennsbury’s business manager Dan Rogers (equivalent to our Art McDonnell) is claiming that they could save about $21 million over the next 5 years by outsourcing custodial services, maintenance workers, paraprofessionals, IT support technicians and instructional aides. An additional $4 million could be added through the sale of buses and equipment. PESPA represents about 600 support staff members – they continue to work under the terms of their old contract, which expired in 2011. Fascinating to note that the chief negotiator for the Pennsbury school board is Jeffrey Sultanik (remember he was the negotiator for T/E School Board with our teachers union).

Sultanik is quoted at a School Board meeting saying, “ …the only way the Board would not consider subcontracting is if the union is willing to make significant salary and benefit concessions.”

Bucks County’s Quakertown School District support staff, Quakertown Education Support Professionals Association (QESPA) fighting back against the privatizing threat of 100 custodians and cafeteria workers. Armed with 1,500 signed petitions from community residents, QUESPA members want their Board to know that taxpayers do not the high quality of services provided to the children to be given away to an outside private company that will bring strangers into the schools. QUESPA’s current contract expires the end of June but Board is underway in their solicitation of proposals from private outside vendors – believing that it could help save money on food and retirement benefits.

In southern Chester County, the driving force behind Brandywine Heights Area School Board’s decision to authorize an RFP to outsource paraprofessionals is the Affordable Health Act that will take effect in 2014. Currently, in the Brandywine Heights district, the paraprofessionals work 6 days a week, 30 hours a week and are considered part-time. However, under the Affordable Health Act, all workers who work 30 hours or more are eligible for benefits.

Kennett Consolidated School District (KCSD) is slightly ahead of TESD in the process. Having already sent RFPs out for outsourcing custodial staff, they are now reviewing the bid received from Servicemaster, a worldwide provider of custodial services. According to data provided, outsourcing of custodial services would save KCSD approximately $400K in 2014, with higher projected savings in years ahead. KCSD is set to make a decision this month on privatizing custodial services and are planning a similar review of outsourcing proposals of instructional and teaching assistant staff in the next few months.

I thank Keith Knauss, School Board director for Unionville Chadds Ford School District (UCFSD) for supplying the following background information for discussion:

” … As background, in 2009-10 TE had 312 full-time support personnel and 78 part-time support personnel. That’s the most recent year available from PA Department of Education.

Those 312 full time support personnel are entitled to salary and benefits defined in the current TENIG contract.

Let’s examine the district’s cost to employ a hypothetical 10 month, 190 day, 8 hour per day, Clerk Typist for this year and next.

2012-13 2013-14
Salary $31,981 $33,410 $21.04 to $21.98 per hr (4.5%)
FICA @7.62% $1,218 $1,273 7.62% half reimbursed by the state
PSERS $1,976 $2,835 12.36% to 16.97% half reimbursed by the state
Healthcare $18,700 $20,196 est. family coverage, 8% inflation
Holidays, Sick Leave $3,703 $3,868 10 paid holidays, 10 sick days, 2 personal days
Total $57,579 $61,582
% incr 7.0%

There are two factors that might lead school directors to investigate outsourcing.

First, the cost increase from this year to next is estimated to be 7%. This a problem when the district’s revenue is constrained by the Act 1 Index that is estimated to be 2.2% next year.

Second, the cost of benefits is far higher than in the private sector. The PSERS retirement plan and associated cost has been under discussion several times in this blog. What hasn’t been discussed is the cost of healthcare. According to the Kaiser Foundation, the national average family plan costs $15,745. The employer pays $11,429, the employee pays $4,316. This is compared to TESD where the family plan is estimated to be $19,000. The TESD pays $18,700, the support staff employee pays $300. The district’s cost of healthcare for support employees is estimated to be $7,000 above the national average.

As always, I try to be thorough and accurate. I have purposely not advocated for any solution or made any determination as to what is fair. Constructive criticism is welcome….”

Thank you Keith for this information. Accepting that the District’s ‘hands are tied’ re PSERS costs (at least for the short-term), clearly the focus needs to be redirected towards healthcare costs, where the opportunity for change does exist. I have been vocal in my support of TENIG, but as was the case with the teacher contract negotiations, healthcare costs are negatively affecting the budget bottom line. The teachers provided healthcare concessions in their latest contract and I am hopeful that given the opportunity, the TENIG members may do likewise.

Outsourcing ‘Chopping Block’: A real possibility for custodians, secretaries, maintenance workers, kitchen staff, security personnel, aids and paraeducators in T/E

In my last blog post, I indicated there would be a follow-up post on TENIG and discussion of outsourcing. TENIG President Dave Fillippo delivered an emotional statement at Monday night’s TESD Budget Workshop on the eve of his TESD retirement this Friday. His statement, in its entirety, follows this post.

Much troubles me about the idea of outsourcing of the non-instructional employees of the District, especially at this time. Excluding the District’s administrators and teachers, TENIG members are the secretaries, custodians, maintenance workers, kitchen staff and security personnel. Although aides and paraeducators are not members of TENIG, their jobs are also on the outsourcing ‘chopping block’ as budget impact items under consideration.

The Budget Workshop presentation only included two budget impact items for the Board to consider – (1) the outsourcing of TENIG staff and (2) the outsourcing of aides and paraeducators. The Board has given the required 120-day written notice of their intention to issue an RFP to seek outsourcing bids for TENIG and the aides and paraeducators.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, we know that the Board has increased the District budget for safety. They approved $250K for ‘district security enhancements’ and hired former Tredyffrin Township police chief Andy Chambers as a security expert, in an effort to make the school buildings more secure and to protect the students and staff. From a security standpoint, how then can it possibly make sense to dismiss long-serving members of the T/E school district community in lieu of strangers that do not know our schools or our children?

Those employees whose jobs are under consideration for outsourcing, are highly trained, dedicated and caring professionals with roots in our community; the majority live in the T/E School District. These are the people who the community knows and trusts. How could it make sense to replace them with high turnover, sub-standard inexperienced workers? There is no doubt in my mind that the quality of workers (and probably the productivity) will diminish with the largest percentage of new workers coming from outside the District. Should outsourcing occur, the District will not only lose local, dedicated employees, but we also lose the community pride and spirit that comes with people working in the schools that ‘they’ attended, and that their children attended.

In these tight budget times, the custodians, secretaries, maintenance workers, kitchen staff and aides all become a target for outsourcing. By privatizing the jobs, the District hands over important public service jobs to huge, private corporations who pay their employees lower wages. When private companies take over, they do away with as many full-time positions as they can and hire part-time workers at the lowest wages possible, so that do not have to offer basic health care benefits.

Outsourcing is not non-profit. Outsourcing companies only exist for one reason – to make money. The profit margin is key to the success of outsourcing companies and they will always act in their own self-interest. As a result, our students, their parents and our community will come ‘second’ to the financial driver of outsourcing companies … profit. Saving the District money may be the endgame of outsourcing, but with that decision should be the acceptance that our children are nothing more than a “commodity for profit” to an outsourcing company.

The budget of Tredyffrin Easttown School District should not be balanced on the backs of the lowest paid public service employees. It is remarkable to me that the Board could bury administrator raises in a consent agenda and then just a few weeks later notify TENIG members of the impending outsourcing RFP. As I said in an earlier post, “Where’s the fairness?”

Beyond this discussion of outsourcing, something else occurred on Monday night that troubled me. At the end of the meeting, there was opportunity for resident comment. It was at this point that Dave Fillippo delivered his emotional statement (see below). As President of TENIG, Dave was speaking out on behalf of the union against outsourcing of the members’ jobs. However, his statement was also his “swansong’, his good-bye to the Board and to the staff. Having served the District for 32 years, Dave retires this Friday – as a result, his words delivered with emotion and pride for a community and a career that he loves. Upon finishing his statement, I found it incredulous that Board President Kevin Buraks offered no words of appreciation or thank you for a “job well done’ to Mr. Fillippo. Sure, for those 32 years, Dave was ‘doing his job’ for the District, but does that make him any less deserving of gratitude for doing it. Acknowledging years of service is important, not only to the one retiring but also to show that the Board and administration cares about its staff.

I know I am on my soapbox on this one, but saying thank you to people and letting them know that they are appreciated is important. If we do not acknowledge our thanks, I think we lose a human moment, a human connection. So, in what I hope was an oversight on Mr. Buraks and the School Board’s part, I want to wish Dave Fillippo all the best as he begins a new chapter in his life. And to thank Dave for his 32 years of dedicated service to the Tredyffrin Easttown School District and for the contributions he made to the community. Thank You!

Dave Fillippo’s statement read at the TESD Budget Workshop, March 4, 2013

Community and friends, Dr. Waters, Sue Tiede, members of the Board, principals, teachers and colleagues that have made my career here at TE so special. My association with this school district started at kindergarten at Paoli Elementary School through graduation at Conestoga, and eventually employment in the maintenance department in 1980. I have never lived a day of my 60-plus years outside of residence in Tredyffrin Township. TE is my home and always will be.

I have loved working here in the community, no regrets, even though I was mocked at times, by friends and contractors who made millions while I, in comparison worked for a meager hourly wage. Today, I have a deep concern that in the future, others like myself, that are gifted with a servants heart will not be able to earn a sustainable wage here, in our community.

For the last two years, I have listened to the “Success and Sustainability” speeches here from the Board. A campaign destined in part on devaluing the employees of TENIG. Knowing that indeed the members of TENIG in fact are much of the reason for this District’s success and sustainability.

TENIG harbors a wonderful culture that provides security and safety to our children, maintenance of our schools and communities infrastructure, far beyond that of any contract service. TENIG offers the District workers who are members of the community, who have a stake in the community. ‘True Community’ one may say.

My vision of TENIG is one of servant leadership, employees who have a stake in the growth of our community, who are approachable, willing to make sacrifices as we have done, time and time again. Question is why then would you [the Board] want to turn the services overs to profiteers? Knowing that TENIG has always been responsible and yielding to the financial circumstances of the times. Are we to be the scapegoats to remedy the mistakes of previous Board decisions? TENIG is not at fault here. We have been here doing our job and wish to continue to do so.

Our custodians have conceded more than anyone, with the wavering of wage increases for 2 years, and taking a 10 percent wage cut. Secretaries work an unpaid lunch while sitting at their desks, often coming in early, clocking in at their scheduled tie, clocking out at quitting time, only to return back to work to finish their day; unpaid for the extra hours. Yielding to the workload that has evolved with the condensing of assigned duties. Yet, I seldom hear them complain, they are here for the kids, our teachers and community.

Our food service cooks, preparers, servers and cashiers provide quality lunches to our students and staff at affordable prices and in fact pay for their own operation and show a profit. Maintenance has answered every emergency in a timely fashion, once again to provide safety to our students and residents, even with the disruption of moving from our original facility, then to ESC, to scattered closets and storage spaces, and now to the old transportation garage. We did not allow the constant changes to break our commitment and spirit of service.

TENIG is here to serve its community; we offer outstanding in-house service, with responsibility to the children, parents, and taxpayers of Tredyffrin and Easttown Townships. You will not find this dedication in a for-profit contract service.

In retirement, as of this coming Friday, I will not be going anywhere. I intend to be a vital part of the negotiations with the Board and community along with new TENIG President Mary Minicozzi, Vice President John Brooks, Treasurer Gwen Durante and Secretary Jen Doyle. TENIG has an excellent leadership staff here that is sensitive to the needs and concerns of our District and is eager to share our ideas with those members of the School Board assigned to the negotiations.

A look at Enrollment, Projected Staffing, Real Estate Assessment Appeals and Economic Impact in T/E School District for 2013-14 Budget

I attended last night’s TESD Budget Workshop for the development of 2013-14 budget. Sue Tiede, Director of Personnel presented enrollment history and trends, projected staffing needs and changes for the District.

In the review of staffing changes from 2008 to 2013, it was interesting to note that full-time teachers during this period has decreased by 48 teachers, compared to an enrollment increase of 355 students during the same period. The total enrollment in 2008-09 was 6,132 increasing to 6,487 in 2012-13, which indicates a 5.8% increase or 355 students.

An enrollment history chart dating from 1975 to 2012, indicated that in 1975 the District enrollment at 6,497 students. From that point, 37 years ago, the District’s enrollment steadily decreased for 15 years to its lowest point in 1989 of 3,990 students. Starting in 1990, the District’s enrollment began to increase yearly to 6,487 students in 2012, which marked the highest enrollment since 1975, when there were 6,497 students. We know that there are currently 48 teachers fewer than in 2008, but the chart did not indicate what the staffing was in 1975, when the enrollment was within 10 students of where it is today.

The projected requirement for 2013-14 indicates additional staffing needs of 7.6 educators. Included in the 7.6 staffing number is the addition of one special education, one technology and three mental health specialists. The special education professional is for autistic support.

The District’s Business Manager Art McDonnell presented updates on property tax revenue lost from reassessments and economic impact on other local revenues (interest income, transfer tax, delinquent tax, and interim tax) and provided a revenue variance analysis and 2013-14 budget summary. In 2006-07, the annual property tax revenue lost to the District in reassessments was $256,561.

As presented by McDonnell, annually since 2006-07, residents and commercial property owners have continued to appeal their property taxes. The annual loss to the District in property tax revenue due to reassessments is as follows: 2006-07: $256,561; 2007-08: $244,236; 2008-09: $417,041; 2009-10: $975,994; 2010-11: $826,923; 2011-12: $595,072; and 2012-13: $411,051. However, these numbers do not paint the total picture. There is a cumulative loss as the new reassessment revenue loss is compounded each year. The accurate property tax revenue lost to the District from assessment appeals based on the cumulative effect is as follows: 2006-07: $256,561; 2007-08: $512,000; 2008-09: $44,126; 2009-10: $1,947,142; 2010-11: $2,847,464; 2011-12: $3,536,508; and 2012-13: $3,946,559. The District’s budget for 2012-13 is nearly $4 Million less due to property tax revenue lost from assessment appeals. And by the way, the $4 Million may go up as Vanguard’s assessment appeal remains an open issue; scheduled court date is April.

McDonnell presented the economic impact on other local revenues (interest income, transfer tax, delinquent tax and interim tax). Although we all know that the interest income rates at the banks is nearly nonexistent these days, it is certainly evident when reviewing the District’s financials. In 2006-07, the District earned about $3 Million in interest income versus $109K in 2011-12. However, there was some encouraging news – the District’s interest income for 2012-13 is projected to nearly double from last year, $200K. The transfer tax revenue is also indicating projected growth, from approx. $1.7 Million last year to projected $1.8 Million for 2012-13. Looking at the total revenues from interest income, transfer tax, delinquent tax and interim tax, the District is projecting $3,227,647 for 2012-13, down from last year’s $3,981,314 – indicating an approx. $750K loss in revenue. However, when you look at interest income, transfer tax, delinquent tax and interim tax in 2006-07, the total revenues to the District was $7,542,466 – approximately $4.3 million more dollars than projected for 2012.13.

McDonnell was able to provide some possible good news. Under Governor Corbett’s 2013-14 proposed budget, the state subsidy revenue for TESD is basic education funding increase of $92,016 and special education funding decrease of $11,024 – providing a net increase of $80,992 in state subsidy revenue. This is cautionary news as Corbett’s budget is the preliminary stage.

The impact items included in the District’s 2013-14 budget: $200K for administrator salary increases, $250K for District safety enhancements and $125K for support staff for network upgrade. Open budget impact items under consideration including the outsourcing of TENIG staff and outsourcing of aides and paraeducators. The President of TENIG, Dave Fillippo, read a statement in regards to outsourcing, which will be presented in a separate post.

Where’s the Fairness? T/E Administrators Receive Bonuses But Outsourcing Remains Possibility for TENIG Employees

Laura Whittaker, President of T/E teachers union (TEEA) delivered a status update and message of support at Monday’s school board meeting for members of TENIG (Tredyffrin Easttown Non-Instructional Group) based on the District’s possible outsourcing. (TENIG members include the custodians, maintenance workers, kitchen staff and secretaries.) Whittaker disclosed that members of TENIG’s bargaining union have received notice of their potential layoffs from the District.

The School Board is required to give TENIG a written notice of their intention to issue an RFP to seek outsourcing bids at least 120-days in advance. If you recall, when faced with a similar situation in the previous year, TENIG came back to the Board with a ‘give-back’ arrangement — employees took a 10% pay cut and waived their contracted raises for this year. In addition to saving the District considerable money, TENIG’s offer ultimately saved their jobs from outsourcing.

I do find it curious that the TEEA president is the one offering the public updates on TENIG and the District’s possible outsourcing rather than the School Board providing this information. Why?

I have heard outsourcing savings to the District estimated at $1 Million – $1.5 Million but I am not sure where these numbers come from — to my knowledge, past outsourcing bids were never released to the public. Without the details of the bids, how does one substantiate the accuracy of possible cost-saving benefits.

If the Board only looks at the bottom line, perhaps there is cost-savings. However, there are other issues to consider. As the President of TEEA, Laura Whittaker so aptly stated last night, “T/E is not about numbers and budgets. It is the people who make this District what it is.” Many of the TENIG members are local residents with a personal connection to the District – many graduated from Conestoga and/or have children in T/E schools. Can outsourcing provide the same level of productivity and quality of job performance as the current employees? I am of the opinion that privatizing these services will not mean “better labor,” but will negatively affect the lives of long-time employees and their families.

I worry that safety of the children may be compromised by outsourcing. Who is responsible for the background checks – will custodial companies that come cheap more likely to compromise safety? Background checks are expensive and a cost factor to private companies – can the District be certain that an outsourced company will actually do background checks on employees. If the District’s custodial services are privatized to save some money, what’s the old adage, ‘you get what you pay for’ is going to apply. Privatizing may mean less reliable employees in the schools, at a greater cost, over whom the District will have no direct control.

As the Board once again looks at outsourcing of TENIG jobs to save the District money, I am reminded how quickly, they approved (7-2) administrator raises last month. If you recall, the administrator bonuses were buried in a consent agenda at the January 28 School Board meeting. No public discussion was permitted until after the consent agenda vote was taken.

What about fairness? I am aware that the District administrators had not received raises in 3 years, but I still find it curious that not one word was mentioned about the District’s economic situation, prior to the approval of the consent agenda in January (giving bonuses to the administrators). Please understand that I am not comparing the work of District administrators to that of TENIG workers, but … I am struggling with the issue of fairness. The highest paid in the District, the administrators, are rewarded with bonuses (without any discussion) yet the lowest paid TENIG employees, who took a 10% pay cut and waived their raises to save the District money, are facing potential layoffs. Again, I ask, where’s the fairness in this picture?


Note: There is a scheduled School Board Budget Workshop I Meeting for Monday, March 4, 7:30 PM. I hope that the Board will be more forthcoming in regards to the outsourcing potential and what cost-savings can be expected. I would also like to hear from TENIG President Dave Fillipo on behalf of the TENIG employees in regards to the possible layoffs.

Confirmed: Former Police Chief Andy Chambers is TESD Safety Consultant and other notes from Finance Committee Meeting

As follow-up to last week’s announcement by TESD Superintendent Dan Waters to hire former police chief Andy Chambers as a security consultant, I attended the District’s Finance Committee last night. The meeting started with Waters making a statement addressing the criticism of Chamber’s hiring. A couple of things I learned from his remarks — Waters stated that he had no knowledge of the issues surrounding Chamber’s departure from Tredyffrin Township police department a year ago. Waters also wanted to set the record straight that he did not ‘hire’ Chambers. He made the recommendation to the School Board; the decision required their approval.

I found it incredulous that Waters could claim to have this close association with Chambers yet know nothing of the controversy surrounding the former police chief. Tredyffrin’s supervisors suspended Chambers for allowing his son to drive a police vehicle that was involved in an accident and his failure to report the incident. An anonymous tip notified the members of the Board of Supervisors. Although Chambers was allowed to retire, he left the township under a dark cloud of controversy.

Following Waters statement, I sought further clarification from the school board. Unlike Waters and Chambers, T/E school directors do live in our community and could not claim to have not known the circumstances behind the police chief departure. Board president Kevin Buraks, read from Community Matters, quoting my words, “…The focus needs to be our children and keeping them safe, not the additional drama and controversy that a consulting contract with Chambers may present.”

Although I spoke of concern for the hiring of Chambers (given the circumstances), Buraks claimed that the police chief’s suspension has nothing to do with the safety of the kids and therefore has no bearing on his serving as a safety consultant for the District. Buraks said that the decision to hire Chambers was based on the recommendation from Waters and was a unanimous decision. I found Buraks complete disregard of former police chief Chamber’s actions (which caused his departure from the police department) incredulous.

I asked if Police Supt Andy Giaimo was aware of the District’s decision to hire Chambers before announcing to the public and the answer was yes. According to Waters, Chambers was hired at $125/hr. under contracted services and therefore there was no contract or RFP (request for proposal) apparently required. There was no further discussion of Chambers’ qualifications, other than restating that … he knows our community and the schools.

I believe that the public has the right to participate in issues and be privy to what elected officials are doing by seeing discussions and debates in the open with all the facts clearly stated. In the case of hiring former police chief Andy Chambers as a safety consultant for TESD, that opportunity did not exist. I understand the need to act quickly in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy, but I believe it is also vital to the community, that all options be adequately vetted and to have a voice in decisions. The school board directors, like the members of the Board of Supervisors, are in their elected positions to be the voices of the people.

Following the Andy Chambers discussion, the Finance Committee moved to their regularly scheduled agenda and discussion of the 2013-14 budget. It is interesting that the discussion of outsourcing the custodial staff was minimal. In the last couple of years, the TENIG union was often seen as the target for revenue savings but there was no date set for initiating a RFP for these services. Reading between the lines, I think the TENIG staff and the aides and paraeducators who were on the chopping block for possible outsourcing may be safe for another year. A new expense item in the budget is the District’s security enhancements – the costs of the protective 3M film for the school buildings is not yet known but the District has allocated $250K in the budget for upgrading the security. Some of the enhancements are already underway, including additional cameras and a buzzer system.

The 2013-14 projection model summary with Act 1 index revenue indicates projected revenue of $110,769,734 and projected expenditures of $113,567,247, which gives a projected budget deficit of ($2,797,513). Applying the Act 1 tax increase of 1.7%, $1,500,000 and the revised deficit is ($1,297,513). The District has applied for Act 1 exceptions but there was not a recommendation at last night’s meeting whether or not they will be used. The court date for Vanguard’s property reassessment appeals is April and, depending on the results, may have a significant impact on the District’s revenue numbers.

Another potential yearly source of revenue for the District is from tax-exempt properties that may no longer be tax exempt. Chester County is reviewing and identifying TESD tax-exempt properties – once the District receives the report, these properties will be sent a letter and questionnaire to confirm tax-exempt property use. If a property’s use is no longer tax exempt, there is potential for revenue for the District.

Note: Ray Clarke and Neal Colligan also attended the Finance Committee meeting; I would welcome their comments on the financial details of the 2013-14 budget from last night,

TESD 2013/14 budget discussions underway; including outsourcing of services

Ray Clarke attended last night’s TESD Finance Committee meeting and provided his notes from the meeting.

Reading over Ray’s notes, it appears that members of TENIG (Tredyffrin Easttown Non-Instructional Group) are once again going to find themselves front and center for the 2013/14 budget discussion. In prior years, it often looked like the TENIG custodians were the target in the school district’s budget woes. Privatization through outsourcing was seen by some as a way to preserve the classroom and its programming, but at what cost?

Outsourcing services that historically have been in-house functions with long-time employees is a major shift in institutional culture. How does the possible cost savings of outsourcing compare to the quality of job performance and productivity? How does one measure the safety factor that comes with the connection that current custodians have developed with the schools and the students? It is difficult to measure the ‘safety’ intangible to in-house custodial services, plus many of the employees live in T/E and their families are part of the community.

For the 2012/13 school year, the custodial workers offered a 10% reduction in their salaries and they did not take the 4.5% increase, which were contained in their existing contracts. In real dollars, the cost savings to the District was $197K in salary reduction, plus the additional percentage contractual savings for a total savings of approximately $285K. By giving back, TENIG’s custodial workers helped the 2012/13 budget and the additional bonus of saving local jobs.

Beyond the custodial workers, it looks like all of TENIG will be under the microscope for possible outsourcing in the 2013/14 budget. The plan is for separate RFPs for each of the various TENIG job functions – security, kitchen, clerical, etc. in addition to the custodial workers. The possible outsourcing of TENIG workers is still in the early stages of the budget process,

The following are Ray Clarke’s notes, along with his thoughts from the Finance Committee Meeting, 12/10/12:

The main topic of Monday’s Finance Committee meeting was the 2013/14 budget, in preparation for the January 7th Board vote on whether to apply for Exceptions.

The basic discussion framework is the projection model we’ve seen before, based off an estimate for the actual current year results. Since this 2012/13 estimate drives every out-year, its accuracy is critical – yet the numbers do not inspire confidence.

Total 2012/13 expenses are estimated at $107.8 million, $2.5 million less than the budget. The difference is driven by $1.5 million lower benefits cost (estimated by our benefits consultant), $0.4 million from the new TEEA contract plans, and $0.5 million net salary savings from “breakage” offset by 3 additional FTEs. So the year’s imbalance turns from negative to positive, which is the good news.

However, expenses are still $6.1 million (6%) higher than the year just completed. No-one at the meeting was able to provide a breakdown of this increase. I think that the PSERS increase is about $2 million of the number. Where’s the other $4 million going?

One clue might be that the total healthcare and benefits expense for the following year is projected in the model to be flat (0% increase), based again on the consultant advice. Could it be that this year’s expense is overstated in the model? I don’t think this can explain the whole $4 million, though.

So, it’s hard to put much faith in the projected 2013/14 imbalance of $2.8 million as a basis for discussion of next year’s tax rates. Moreover, this number also includes the one time TEEA bonus ($1.1 million?), which should not be built into the tax base.

It hardly seems worth spending much time on the model for the years beyond 2013/14, except to note that refinements in the current version include:

  • Total healthcare costs increasing at 9% per year (previously 10%, 15%)
  • Special Education costs split from “other”, and projected to grow at 7-10%, vs 2-3% for other
  • PSERS expense will increase by $1.4 million next year, then $1.1 million, then $1.2 million, and then level off.
  • An additional 6.2 teachers are projected to be needed next year to meet enrollment growth

A number of “budget impact items” were listed but not quantified. On the saving side, these include outsourcing not only TENIG functions, but also aides and para-educators. Each TENIG job function would be bid separately in an RFP which would, for example, allow discretion to select a supplier that met standards for benefits. I didn’t catch how the educational staff “out-sourcing” would work, but I gathered that it would allow the district to avoid the PSERS expense. On the increase side, the topic of adjustments (in base salary or one time) for non-contract employees is on the table.

Bottom line: we are clearly going into the next budget cycle with a smaller problem than in previous years (no contracted near double digit compensation increases). At the same time, though, we seem to have been lulled into being much less prepared and thence likely to vote for an Exception application with information even more imperfect than it needs to be. (Yes, Exceptions don’t have to be levied if approved ……) .

Separately, at the beginning of the meeting, Chair Fadem asked for the financials to be presented as more of a “vanilla” summary. Not sure that’s the direction the district should be going in.

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