Control of Tredyffrin Township in the Hands of 4 . . . Residents Will Now Play by Their Rules!

I preface the following post by saying that there are very few times in my life that I have been left speechless but tonight was one of them.  For me, tonight’s Board of Supervisor Meeting represented community injustice of the worse kind.  If there was ever a subject for Community Matters, this is it!

Tonight I attended Tredyffrin Township’s Board of Supervisor Meeting. Over the last few days, there had been scuttlebutt that Supervisor Paul Olson would once again bring up St. Davids Golf Club and the sidewalks. Although the agenda for tonight’s meeting did not include St. Davids Golf Club, my understanding was that Supervisor Olson intended to make a motion to return the $25,000 escrow to the country club. As part of St. Davids contractual land development agreement with the township, the country club was to build sidewalks. Since July 2008, the country club has been in default for failure to build the sidewalks.

If you recall, at the December 1 Board of Supervisor Meeting I questioned the supervisors concerning the $50,000 cash offer from St. Davids Golf Club which appeared in the pages of the BAWG report. This ‘offer’ (of which there was no written evidence) became widely discussed on Community Matters and in the Main Line Suburban and Daily Local newspapers. There was an outcry from many in the community about this ‘offer’ from St. Davids and the message its acceptance would say to contractors and builders doing business in Tredyffrin Township.

Tonight under the category of ‘new’ supervisor matters, Supervisor Olson made a motion which Supervisor Lamina seconded to ‘return the $25,000 escrow money’ to St. Davids Golf Club. Supervisor Lamina started to call for a vote as Supervisor Kichline asked to offer her opinion. Supervisor Lamina cut off Supervisor Kichline and went to the audience for comment.

Bob Whalen, chair of the Planning Commission spoke and explained that the sidewalks were part of the contractual agreement with St. Davids GC for their land development project. Representatives from the country club had returned to the Planning Commission asking for forgiveness on the sidewalks but the Planning Commission fearing that precedent would be set, voted against the club. Mr. Whalen explained that there are at least six other projects in the township with escrow money that has not been returned because of unfinished projects. Allowing escrow money to return to St. Davids GC will now allow the other contractors to be off the hook, for completing those projects. He adamantly opposed the motion. Next I asked the supervisors if St. Davids GC had come to the Township and asked for their $25,000 escrow money to be returned. Although Supervisor Olson said that he had ‘talked to some people at St. Davids’, the other supervisors confirmed that there was nothing written from St. Davids, in other words the country club never asked for the return of their escrow money!

Other audience members spoke passionately that you cannot make a motion on a matter that was not on the agenda . . . that procedurally you must advertise the matter to the public . . . that you cannot just give a country club a ‘gift’ of $80,000 (the estimated cost to build the sidewalks). Several audience members suggested that Supervisor Olson orchestrated the motion to coincide with the fact that many members of the public would be at the TESD meeting and unable to attend the Supervisor meeting. Remember St. Davids Golf Club was not on the agenda so it was believed that very few residents would attend (making it that much easier to push the motion through). It was obvious that Supervisor Olson had notified local St. Davids residents so they came prepared with written statements that agreed with his motion. Rather than full disclosure to the public by advertising the St. Davids sidewalks discussion, Supervisor Olson (+ Kampf, Lamina and Richter) preferred to tell only a select few residents. 

Following resident comments, Supervisor Kichline, an attorney and an ex-member of the Zoning Board spoke passionately about procedural law and the inappropriateness of the proposed motion, stating further discussion was needed with the township solicitor. Supervisor DiBuonaventuro likewise argued against the motion, suggesting for many reasons why the Board of Supervisors should not pass the motion. Township Manager Gleason added, when asked, that the passing of this motion would set precedent for all future township projects.

Hearing the comments from the residents and objections from Supervisors Kichline and DiBuonaventuro, Supervisor Lamina called for a vote – Supervisors Donohue, DiBuonaventuro, Kichline voted against the motion, and Supervisors Olson, Lamina, Kampf and Richter voted for the motion. The motion carried 4-3 in favor.

Tonight was a rude awakening for me . . . I learned that in Tredyffrin Township it is OK for 4 individuals (Olson, Lamina, Kampf and Richter) to make up the rules as they go along. At one point, when Supervisor Kichline offered that in Tredyffrin Township, the Planning Commission actually had the ‘last say’ on the land development process rather than the Board of Supervisors – Supervisor Lamina declared that he thinks that the Board of Supervisors will take back their control. I discovered tonight that the government procedures do not apply if you are Supervisors Olson, Lamina, Kampf and Richter.

This is a sad reality . . . but if you are the ‘Block of 4’ (Olson, Lamina, Kampf, Richter), you rule the township. Your other fellow supervisors do not matter, the public does not matter, the Planning Commissioners do not matter, the township solicitor does not matter, and the township manager does not matter. These 4 will get to make the rules (or break the rules) as they see fit.

What does tonight’s actions say for the future of our township? What does it say for the residents or all the many volunteers who serve on our township boards and committees? If tonight is any evidence, transparency of our local government, full disclosure of information, public communication . . . all gone.

Please Let’s Not Put the Children in the Middle!

Based on the 2 following comments, I am asking the School Board, the administration and the teacher’s union (TEES) to please not put our school children in the middle of this school budget tug-of-war.  I am hopeful these comments do not represent the majority of our teachers.  We are agreed that this is a difficult time for taxpayers and teachers alike, but it should not be classroom discussion with our children.

Ray Clarke, on January 25th, 2010 at 2:43 pm Said

” . . . As of today, the teachers are already talking to the students about program cuts – reduced electives, etc. As far as I know, nothing has been decided, so this seems rather a scare tactic.

Parent, on January 25th, 2010 at 4:48 pm Said

” . . . It may very well be true that the email campaign originated on the teacher’s home email accounts on their own time, i won’t argue that point. But be very sure that there is discussion in the schools about this topic. If fact it is occurring fairly regularly in some classrooms by some teachers directed toward the students… Yes, some teachers have used the classroom as a forum to have kids encourage their parents to attend the meetings, others have taken to making their UNION case toward 6th, 7th & 8th graders!!!

So, to the T/E Teacher who authored the previous post, save your indignation, or direct it toward your coworkers who are crossing the line by bringing this into the classroom on a regular basis. It is clear that not all of your coworkers share your level of judgement or uphold their professional responsibilities as well as you.

Agenda and Fact Sheet for January 25 TESD Meeting

Here is the Agenda for tonight’s TESD School Board Meeting. I warn you that it is 74 pages but it might be useful for your review before tonight’s meeting. Several residents have called or emailed to say that they will attend;  I hope that many of you will take meeting notes to share on Community Matters.  Continuing this important dialogue tomorrow will be important. 

I put together some basic information for myself about the budget that I thought I would share.  I am not quite sure about the difference in #2 and #3 approach, should the School Board decide tonight to apply for an Act 1 exception.  Perhaps one of our resident experts could explain.  If any of this information below is incorrect, also please let me know.

Fact Sheet for January 25 TESD Meeting:

Proposed Budget Revenues: $101.9 million
Proposed Budget Expenses: $111.5 million
Proposed Budget Deficit:           $9.2 million

Major contributing factor to $9.2 million budget deficit: $5 million increase in employee fringe benefits (example, Blue Cross health care benefits increased by 28%)

Additional contributing factors to budget deficit: decrease in real estate transfer tax, decrease of interest income

Preliminary budget will be discussed and voted on at January 25 TESD Board Meeting; final budget and tax rate will be voted on at June TESD Board Meeting

At January 25 TESD Board Meeting, School Board must vote to take one of these 3 options:
(1) Pass a resolution certifying tax rate will be at or below Act 1 index of 2.9%
(2) Apply for exceptions to Act 1 index (would allow district to raise taxes above the 2.9% without voter referendum)
(3) Authorize the administration to start process to seek voter referendum in May to increase taxes above the 2.9% Act 1 index

TESD tax increase with Act 1 exception can be has great as 6.7%.

TESD Student now Parent Offers His Perspective

This is an interesting perspective from a TESD parent who was also once a student in the district.  I don’t know that anyone has commented from this particular angle. 

TE Dad speaks directly to the quality of teachers in the district.  He makes a point of how the system will protect those teachers of seniority, and perhaps that may be viewed as the flaw by some.  On one hand, younger teachers with their enthusiasm (but lack of experience) could be the ones that are best able to engage and excite the students whereas the older, more senior teacher may not be able to reach those same students.  On the other hand, a seasoned teacher can offer experience and advice for students (as well as parents) that can be invaluable. 

Maybe we can get confirmation from TEEA members on this one . . . how will teacher seniority affect the process?  Will teacher seniority make any difference if there are program cuts? What about TE Dad’s suggestion of performance reviews for teachers? Comments anyone?

From TE Dad . . .

What a terrible email from Ms. Ciamacca . . . both of them. She isn’t helping ANYONE. It certainly doesn’t help the teacher’s position. Wow, potentially alienating the parents who are the teacher advocates . . . dumb plan. Maybe the 70 – 80% of TESD taxpayers who don’t have kids in the district will fight for higher taxes in order to save TESD teacher jobs? I hope her tone is much different tonight otherwise she will deepen the division she has already aggravated.

In my experience, as a TE student many years ago, and as a TE parent now, there are many, many, excellent teachers in the district. Some of these terrific teachers also lack meaningful seniority. In fact some teachers are truly a bargain with what they deliver to the kids daily and what they are paid relative to their more senior coworkers.

Conversely, there are teachers in the district now, some with significant seniority who are poor performers, some were poor performers from day 1. Not a lot of them, but not an insignificant number either. The other teachers know who these teachers are, most of the parents probably know them too, especially if they taught your children at any time… These are the teachers most protected and are the ones who most benefit from the misrepresentation of the union.

The union, by protecting poor performing teachers from performance review and reduction isn’t representing the interests of the many, many good teachers very well, and certainly isn’t representing the interests of a junior, high performing teacher AT ALL. Frankly, the union is more concerned with protecting the jobs of senior teachers than the quality of the educational program, and that is by design.

Which teachers out there reading this blog and worried about their jobs would not be willing to be subject to performance review if reductions become necessity?? The likely answer: the poor performers with seniority . . . they are hurting us all . . .

TESD School Budget Marks a Milestone For Community Matters

I started Community Matters approximately 2 months ago in hopes of presenting important local issues that would engage the community. It was always my goal to deliver information in as balanced and honest a manner as possible, all the while understanding that some topics had the potential of creating a firestorm of debate.

As more and more people have found Community Matters, the daily average of visitors has continued to rise. Since late November, total visitors have now reached 25,000 people. Yesterday marked a milestone for viewership, I am reporting 1,350 visitors, the highest one-day total to date. The Tredyffrin Easttown School District (TESD) 2010-11 budget was the major ‘topic of interest’ with nearly 60 comments left by community visitors.

Reading the online comments, whether from concerned residents, school district teachers, T/E parents, you realize a collective theme; the severe economic downturn is affecting many in this community. Delivered with passion and commitment, visitors provided personal insight; many stakeholders feeling they cannot afford a  6-7% tax increase and suggesting the administration must come up with significant spending cuts. Teachers passionately responded that they fear the quality of the education in the district is in jeopardy unless the standard of programming is maintained. Some residents suggested that their personal financial issues should not be construed as caring less for the teachers, but rather they simply cannot afford aadditional taxes. Overwhelmingly this community supports their teachers and the school district, but there is no escaping the economic realities and the financial struggles facing many in this community.

Attend the School Board meeting tonight (Conestoga High School, 7:30 PM) – help to make a difference in the outcome by participating in the process.