Patriots Path Discussion Set for January 4

The first meeting of the Board of Supervisors on January 4, 2010 could be challenging; on the agenda will be the Patriots Path.  The township Planning Commission unanimously approved the draft plan and is recommending to the Board of Supervisors the inclusion of the Patriots Path in to the Comprehensive Plan. The path has been 7 years in the making and will connect 3 municipalities that share Revolutionary War history; East Whiteland, Malvern and Tredyffrin. The path would connect East Whiteland’s Battle of the Clouds Park, Malvern Borough’s Paoli Memorial Grounds and adjacent Paoli Battlefield, which was the site of the infamous Paoli Massacre, and Valley Forge National Historical Park

The Great Valley Association has formed a sub-committee to look at the pros and cons from the residents standpoint.  I myself live in the Great Valley in a pre-Revolutionary House and I can see both sides of the argument.  I have neighbors who are concerned about this path (and the potential of strangers) close to their properties.  But on the other hand, I think that the concept of the Chester Valley Trail system is wonderful.  The Radnor Trail originally met with much opposition and has turned out to be highly valued in that community; the hope is that the Patriots Path can enjoy that same degree of success in the Great Valley.  I know that the Sidewalks, Trails and Path Committee (STAP) have worked very hard on these plans and I want all the residents to full understand the benefits.  Involving the Great Valley residents in the process and implementation can only help with the success of the project.

To read further about the Patriots Path, please look at STAP’s link.

Town Hall Meeting for Mt. Pleasant Residents

I am pleased to report that the Mt. Pleasant community (Panhandle area of the township) is going to have its Town Hall meeting with township representatives.  This Saturday, residents will have an opportunity to voice their concerns and seek answers from members of Tredyffrin’s police, public works, code enforcement and Board of Supervisors. Zoning and land development issues in addition to college student rentals have been a source of ongoing concern for the Mt. Pleasant residents.  Students may have a right to live in Mt. Pleasant (assuming no zoning ordinances are being broken) but the residents also have rights.  The quality of life of the residents also needs to be protected.

Township Supervisors Judy DiFilippo and John DiBuonaventuro have met with some of the residents and this upcoming forum will allow for greater participation.  The Mt. Pleasant Action Committee Group has helped to organize the meeting and I have been invited to attend.  I am looking forward to the meeting and to hope to share favorable updates.  Last month I had several postings about the Mt. Pleasant community and their struggles, to read further, click here.

If you are unsure of where Mt. Pleasant is located, it is in the shadow of the St. Davids Golf Club.

Further Comments from Ray Clarke re Finance Committee Meeting

I have received further comments from Ray Clarke concerning the TESD Finance Committee Meeting last night which I’m glad to post.  Again, thank you Ray for keeping us in the loop!

Further Comments from Ray Clarke re TESD Finance Committee Meeting:

  • Much discussion of appealing assessments. Maybe they miss the point that the reason property owners are getting their assessments lowered is that “they are fed up and can’t take it any more”? 53% increase in school tax rate in the last 10 years – way above inflation.
  • In the last month, the 2010/11 “gap” increased from <$8 million to the current $9.2 million. A teacher benefit switch (next point) was one reason. The other was a realization of the impact of the teachers moving across (more longevity) and down (more credits) the salary matrix. (I may have switched Across and Down)
  • Big drivers of the current year benefit cost increase: Bad claims experience elsewhere in the group (that was lauded as such a great deal last year), and teachers switching from cheaper to more expensive plans. Note: Cost to TESD for a family plan $15,000, of which the employee pays $960.
  • There seemed to be little detail on ideas to close this year’s deficit – Overall the financial reporting is well-intentioned, but it sure is difficult to follow. The big problem, from what a business would be used to, is that there is no cycling of the budget by month, so it’s really hard to know how they are doing by looking at the reports. What’s presented depends on how much they decide to “encumber” (set aside for the remainder of the year). I’m sure that is driven by municipal accounting rules, but they could make it easier for us to know what’s going on!
  • Teachers did offer an early retirement deal: pay off senior teachers with $30,000 so that the schools can hire cheaper newer teachers. The admin thinks that would be a saving – but not in Year 1, I’d think, and at what cost to the program? Didn’t work for Circuit City, did it?
  • Eliminating FLES saves $378,000/year.
  • Example of flawed thinking: Claimed saving of $84,000 from closing the print shop, but this is just salary etc. savings, not net of the replacement cost for contracted printing!
  • Let’s not under-estimate the fights there will be over some proposed cuts – 7th and 8th grade program changes, athletic programs, club sports, ….
  • Another note: the request for exceptions to Act 1 to get the additional 3.7% increase is just that – a request, and based on very specific costs. May not be approved by the state (but I can’t imagine it won’t be)
  • And here’s something: if the exceptions are approved or denied, by March 19th the district has to submit a referendum question seeking voter approval, for inclusion on the primary ballot on May 18. So, an opportunity for debate!

In general, if citizens are interested, there is an opportunity to weigh in – will anyone take the trouble? You can help!

There’s much more to be understood with the Bond issue question – possibly financial engineering can provide some short term help?

The next Finance Committee meeting has the bond issue on the agenda (no time to discuss last night …..) and is set for 1/4/2010 (same as BOS), just before a special TESD board meeting to discuss the budget.


Thanks again Ray for your comments.  Mike (of Berwyn) you sent in a comment which I posted.  As another person who attended last night’s meeting, what is your take on the meeting?  Any further comments in regards to Ray’s assessment of last night?

Malvern Resident Ray Clarke Provides Updates on Tredyffrin Easttown School Board’s Finance Committee

Fortunately for us, Malvern resident Ray Clarke not only attended last night’s Finance Committee meeting of the School Board, he also took copious notes.  With his email that accompanied the following notes from the meeting, Ray also referenced the attendance at the meeting.  Unfortunately, Ray reports that only about 4-5 residents and 3 teachers attended!  How is this possible — are we all so focused on the township budget that we don’t have time to be concerned about the school district budget?  Far more of our tax dollars are spent on the school budget than on the township budget.  If we can fill Keene Hall with residents for the township budget, why not the same attendance for the schoold district budget discussion?  I know that the township budget contains a number of emotional issues (including the proposed cut to the fire company, libraries and nonprofits) but our wallets are going to take a far larger cut with the proposed school district tax bill, if we don’t get involved and offer some oversight.

Please take the time to review all of Ray’s notes and comments.  We all owe him a debt of gratitude for not only taking the time to attend but to write up his notes!

Ray Clarke’s meeting minutes from December 14 TESD Finance Committee meeting:

  • The projected 2010/11 budget deficit, assuming no changes to programs, is now $9.2 million
  • This is driven by increases vs the current year of: $3 MM (+6%) in compensation, $3.7mm (+24%) in benefits, $0.8MM (+15%) in professional services and $0.7MM (+8%) in other purchased services.  Projected revenues are more or less flat
  • Teacher compensation is driven by a contractual matrix based on credits and  -wait for it – LONGEVITY
  • If this preliminary budget in approved in January, the district can go to the State to request the ability to increase taxes by another 3.7% on top of the Act 1 maximum of 2.9%.
  • The resulting 6.6% increase, $292 per median household, would raise $5.5MM of the needed $9.2MM, leaving $3.7MM to be found
  • Administration has identified $2.5MM of reductions, of which many could be equally as contentious as a 5% reduction in Township support for firefighters (eg: reduce funding for High School Clubs; reduce art, music, etc in Grades 7, 8; ..…)
  • The teachers have refused to open their collective bargaining agreement.
  • Unquantified, but possibly meaningful additional expense reduction items include self-insuring for medical benefits, a 7 period day at CHS and reductions in non-teaching staff.
  • The gap rises to TWENTY FIVE MILLION DOLLARS three years out, in 2012-2013.  Driven by the ongoing 6% annual compensation increase plus (net) benefits that increase from the current $14MM to $27.5MM, largely due to the state teacher’s pension plan funding needs.
  • $25 million on the back of current real estate taxes of $81 million, would be a 30% PROPERTY TAX INCREASE.

 There could be options to draw down some of the $30 million fund balance to offset this, and this apparently ties in to the proposed bond issuance, but I couldn’t follow the explanation.  The bond issue item was dropped from the agenda.  Note that there is $13 million in the General Fund for “Designated Future PSERS Rate Stabilization”, but the administration said that they do not want to use that.  (But what is it for, then?)

 When asked directly if they would be interested in reclaiming their share of the >$2.7 million EIT paid by Tredyffrin residents to other municipalities, the $2 million that would be paid by non-residents (with a1% EIT), and of the equivalent amounts from Eastown, the board members were completely dismissive.  Only when pushed, did the administration offer that TESD can indeed start the process by telling the Township by November of the preceding year that it wants to implement an EIT.  (No good for 2010/11, of course).

 The hoary old arguments were raised: the TSC (which loaded the deck, but admitted that it would have a different conclusion in different times), the 2007 public vote (on a completely different question), the variability of earned income (based on personal anecdote), etc.

 There’s definitely a sentiment to approve a preliminary budget that gives TESD taxing flexibility up to the 6.6% increase.  In theory, residents can then weigh in on their preferences between tax increases and program cuts, and I believe that the administration at least is working hard to be transparent and to facilitate that.  The final budget and tax rates will be set in June.

 A final point, the Board claimed the ~6% annual compensation increases (and benefits packages) were negotiated based on assumptions that the revenues would cover the increases, but those assumptions were not explained.  Presumably a combination of development that increased the tax base (in our pretty much built-out township?) and tax rate increases?


Thank you Ray!

Historic Winter of 1777 — Experience a Soldier’s Story

For those that know me, you know that I am passionate about remembering Tredyffrin’s history and  the preservation of our historic properties.  Tredyffrin residents are fortunate to live in such a historic place and I encourage you and your families to take advantage of a very special experience this upcoming weekend.  Members of the 6th Pennsylvania Regiment re-enactment group, local authors, park rangers and others will commemorate the Continental Army’s historic winter of 1777 march-in to its Valley Forge encampment site on Saturday, December 19, 6-8 PM at the Valley Forge National Historic Park. The park rangers and volunteers will be dressed in period-costume and will ceremoniously march attendees from the Visitor Center one-quarter mile to the Muhlenberg Brigade area. There, around reconstructed huts on the ground where the original 6th Pennsylvania Regiment stayed 232 years ago, regimental re-enactors will share stories of soldier life during the encampment. At the Visitor Center, artist Michael Ticcino of Audubon and Schuylkill River Heritage Area co-authors Kurt Zwikl and Laura Catalano will sign books. Ticcino’s coffee-table book, “Valley Forge: Traditional Land, Contemporary Vision,” is a collection of beautiful photographic imagery of the park. Zwikl and Catalano penned “Along the Schuylkill River” to document the river’s history, moniker as the “River of Revolutions” and boundary along the Valley Forge encampment site.

At the Visitor Center a George Washington interpreter will interact with guests and the Colonial Revelers will perform period holiday songs. Refreshments will be served and the Encampment Store will be open for holiday shopping. The event is free and open to the public.   Hope that you will plan to attend and share some local history!