Tredyffrin Easttown School Board to Hold the Line at Act 1 Index . . . Taxes Will Not Increase More than 2.9%! What Will be Cut to Fund the Deficit?

I was not at the TESD meeting last night – I was at Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors Meeting. (See last post, ‘Control of Tredyffrin Township in the Hands of 4 . . . Residents Will Now Play by Their Rules!’)

I have received several emails, telephone calls and also comments for Community Matters in regards to the School Board meeting and the standing room only crowd. Last night the School Board Directors decided with a 6-3 vote to limit the district tax increase to the Act 1 index of 2.9%. For many taxpayers this represented a complete reversal of where the last few days appeared to be heading . . . especially with the lobbying efforts of TEES Union President Debra Ciamacca. The school district teachers (and some of the T/E parents) were hopeful that the School Board would vote in favor of applying for Act 1 exception which could conceivably have sent the district tax increase to nearly 7%.

With a proposed 2010-11 school budget indicating a deficit of $9.2 million, it is difficult to understand exactly where the administration and School Board members will propose cuts . . . remembering that program cuts can translate in to teacher furloughs. Ray Clark provided us with some of his observations on last night’s TESD meeting. His remarks can be found here. Ray points to the February 8 Finance Committee as the next step in the district budget timeline. In anticipation of another large audience, it is suggested that the School Board relocate the meeting to the school auditorium.

I am anxious to get the dialogue going about the school budget; what does last night’s meeting represent for the school district? How will the School Board and administration prioritize the program cutting that will be required to meet the remaining deficit? Will the teachers and parents have any influence on the decisions?

Between the School District meeting and the Board of Supervisors meeting, last night represented a night of decisions that could have a long-lasting effect on our community.  I look forward to hearing from you on both topics.

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45 Responses

  1. If ever there was a night to be two places at once…

    TTBOS LORK was shameful. TESD Board decision re ACT1 exemption was confusing…

    No REAL reason given for eliminating the OPTION to apply for the exemption. If the exemption was granted they had no obligation to use it if they developed a better plan. So why not apply??

    Mahoney came the closest to explaining taking the OPTION off the table with his comment that essentially said that if it was granted by the state that they would lack the self control to not use it… interesting..

    So, if the lack of self control isn’t the real reason, have those that voted against already committed to draining the $20M capital reserves of at least $6M, and also raising taxes the act 1 limit of 2.9% ? or no tax increase and drain the reserves the full $9M?

    Has some or all of the board seen some preliminary plan from the administration that magically shows how the education program can be adjusted in a way that maintains quality yet saves $9M ?

    Was this a show of power? Did the union, under the misdirection of Ciamacca push too hard the last week? did they push the wrong people? how many calls did the school board get when Ciamacca’s inflammatory (and misquoted) email was distributed? It certainly seemed that as recently as this past weekend that the board would vote in favor of applying for the exemption.

    Or was this a few board members (the majority) who lacked the political courage to take a position may be perceived by some residents as supporting a large tax increase, even though the reality was that they were only keeping there options open to solve a thus far unresolved $9M deficit??

    I do hope there was some rationale behind the action that wasn’t articulated… Kudos to Luke Pardue for calling the question why the board would eliminate an option without having identified a solution… No one on the board offered him any response to this question. I guess they don’t know why they did what they did.

  2. While I am glad to know that they are holding the line on taxes, I would really like to know the reasons. Was it because they have a plan; because they needed to show the Union who is boss; or, because they know they won’t be able to hold the spending down if they keep their options alive.

    To me, it does show that they are sensitive to the economic situation we are in and it does give them some cover with the cuts they need to push on the Union.

    Alas, I feel they took the political easy road. Rather than make hard decisions and have to explain them to the various constituencies, they can now point to the 2.9% limit.

  3. Lets rewind…
    The school district has not gone over the act 1 cap for the last 5 years. (in fact, they have stayed below)
    The rate of inflation and/or normal increase of cost of doing business has gone up (salary, benefits, health care, normal expense) beyond Act 1 cap.

    Regardless of the current economy, this was bound to happen. Unfortunately, the BOSD’s are in a pressure position to protect the residents interests by not raising taxes.

    Although each of them have stated that they will do everything to protect the educational program, it is now clear that their options are limited. After a vote not to leave act 1 exceptions on the table, the ONLY option is to reduce the Multi-million dollar shortfall by reduction of expense. There is no option left for increasing revenue past the Act 1 cap.

    I am completely disappointing in the following:
    1) After the presentation of the facts by Mr. McDonnell, their was no opportunity for community members to provide input prior to a vote. The opportunity to make statements at the beginning of the meeting would have been a blind assessment of the most current facts or recommendations.
    2) By voting against the exemptions, the option to change the mindset of the tax rate is gone. What happens when the suggestions by administration can only amount to elimination of programs? The board can no longer decide to raise taxes to protect the educational program. The burn of reserves will become the only option to maintain programs. Is it a rainy day right now? What if next year is worse economy and even more are out of work?
    3) If the BOSD’s would like to ensure that residents are well informed, why can they not put ALL the meetings on TV, not just the ones where it is too late (where votes take place). By the time board meetings are on TV it is too late. But if committee meetings are what lead up to Board meeting decisions and that’s where all the action is, put it on TV leading up to big meetings like this.

  4. CJ of the Main Line —
    I have requested a ‘live’ feed of the school board meetings (as well as finance meetings) from several of the current school board members. I am not satisfied that residents must see an edited version 2 weeks late. I know that Conestoga HS has a state-of-art studio and all the necessary equipment, so I am not sure why this can not be done. If the Board of Supervisors meetings can be live, unedited, why is that we can not expect the same from the school district?

    Also, I have asked for more school board information available on the website, including the full preliminary budget (line by line details) but that too has not provided a satisfactory response.

  5. You ask “what reason” and my response is: how about to put taxpayers first for once.

    2.9% is still a big increase — especially in this economy.

    Too many people are out of work. Too many seniors are suffering shrinking retirement funds.

    Maybe instead of expending all their energy on working to be able to get a bigger tax increase, the TE teachers union could have worked for a way to help cut costs.

    Where and when does it end? Yes, education is vital but so is making sure we still have residents to pay for it.

    • Question: Do you know what options there are for the teachers to cut costs? Is the only option for them to lose their jobs and not be able to support their families…because that is what you are fighting against…people losing jobs. So we are going to sacrifice their jobs, ones that help provide our children with many special opportunites, raise our home value, etc.

      Teachers lose jobs, kids suffer.

      What about the massive admininstration that sits in their brand new building making 3x as much as most teachers and don’t have any direct impact on our children. Are they doing something to help out?

      Raising taxes 2.9% would affect us taxpayers by a few hundred dollars. A few hundred dollars a person to upkeep the quality of our schools…which in turn raises the value of our homes and our community. I used to work in the tax business, and TE school district families are near the bottom in taxes paid and near the top in the ability to pay them…so are we really doing our part.

      My point is…if things were different and the economy was booming would we open up and say to our teachers….lets give you more money and hire more teachers just because things are going well….no…we wouldn’t. So why should we expect them to do anything…why should they. Its the years of the board mishandling tax money and making major mistakes that is the real problem.

      • I suggest you submit a right to know request and read some of the material you are referencing. “Board mishandling tax money and making major mistakes” is kind of a global assault on a problem that has a lot of layers. The administrators don’t make 3x what the teachers make. In fact, the average admin salary is not even double the average teacher salary — and they have 12 month contracts and night meetings and no right to bargain collectively. The benefits of being better paid are in place to encourage people to become administrators (though hourly it’s very doubtful that they are better paid)– because teachers make plenty and get summers off . Why do you suppose many of the coaching and special positions in our schools are now held by people that don’t teach here — because they don’t want the extra work for the extra pay. Administrators have no supplemental options without avoiding work responsibilities.
        But that’s all moot anyway — the teachers could participate in this budget problem by renegotiating the benefit plan they enjoy — just take a bigger deductible and maybe a copay more than the low ones they have now. Spread the pain. It really doesn’t matter how much you think people can afford to pay in taxes. People live here. They have a pretty big investment here in their home. That’s sort of a big commitment. Teachers work here. They can change employers if this job is so underpaid. And it’s not about the 2.9% increase — it’s about the total amount due. On the average house, it’s almost $5,000 a year. I’m certainly not prepared to tell someone they can afford that and more. This IS a state problem. The state has a personal income tax — so everyone is taxed fairly. They simply don’t fund education and force local districts to rely on property taxes — which has nothing to do with one’s ability to write a check annually.

        • Teachers have summers off…I think in this day and age… is a lame excuse. Anyone that knows what it takes to be a teacher (my mother and sister are teachers) know that is a misleading statement. The school year ends almost at the end of June and teachers officially report back near the end of august. The district allows the teachers one maybe two days to get ready for the year which is unrealistic if they want them to do a good job. Most teachers are in the school from the middle of august on just to get everything ready and organized. Sure that’s still a nice break. I keep seeing comments about teachers working only 191 days. Well they worker harder and deal with more in one of those days than most do in a week. Not to mention the many hours they spend before school, after school, and at home which they aren’t getting paid for. If teachers only work for their contracted time, schools would be horrible, but because the overwhelming majority of teachers care so much about the students, they stay and work.

          Lets say a teacher makes $60,000. That divided by 191 is $314 a day. Divided that by 7.5 contracted hours is almost $42 an hour. The average elementary school teachers has 20 students in their class. So parents are basically paying the teachers $2 an hour to care for, teach, nurture, and mentor their child (that’s some pretty cheap daycare…oh not to mention they help our child become productive citizens) So…once again…tell me how our teacher’s can contribute? Are they fat cats sitting on a load of money? Are they overpaid? So we want to take money from them to fix the district’s money problem…makes a lot of sense to me.

          Also…do you know exactly what all those administrators you are referring to do in a day? From what I hear (now it may be incorrect) is not worth the pay.

          It does make a difference if the people in this wealthy area can afford to pay higher taxes. This is one of the most affluent areas in the state. Yes I know you will respond that taxpayers are losing jobs and they need to support their family…well guess what, all these cuts cause teachers to lose their jobs and have more difficulty support their families. Dont forget also that many of your teachers in this district are also taxpayers. Who is going to have a bigger impact on helping the board even out the budget. A few hundred dollars by the people in this district gets us closer to balancing and saves all of these necessary programs. the budget than a few hundred teachers having to lose pay or benefits that they have earned. How is our school district ranked in the state? We cut programs and teachers, you can say bye bye to the magical TE School District…as we will be on our way to average schools. This is a way to push down the values of your homes and this area.

          Finally…so teachers can change employers if they are so underpaid….hmm…in this economy can you change jobs if you feel underpaid or do you have to suck it up and work because its hard enough to keep a job these days. What makes you think that teachers arent sucking it up and working hard because they understand how valuable it is to have a job.

          I pay taxes and I know how much it is. you tell teachers to mget a new job if they feel underpaid…well you move to somewhere where they are better taxes if you have a problem with it…go to Upper Merion…the mall keeps property taxes way down!

          Lastly…just so you know…teachers in our district do not have any say in their benefit rates as they are part of a large consortium which is driving the rates up. If you followed the new bargaining agreement closely, the teachers in this district have given up a lot to keep costs down for the district. Same with PSERS, its out of their control. So..I think there are some things you need to look up too.

          Did you hear about the money offered up by the teachers’ union that was rejected by the board? From what I hear the rejection was followed up by asking teachers to renegotiate their contract which is unheard of. If the teachers’ offer rejection is true…why might that be? Is it because the district doesn’t wan teachers getting the positive pub? Is it because they want a scapegoat for the problems?

          Just something to chew on.

          • I can hear your anger — but it’s misguided at this point. There was a fury over any possibility of raising taxes more than 2.9% — so the cuts MUST take place because the vote is over. I’m not sure where you see that $42 an hour is subsidized by parents — because parents don’t pay tuition. Taxpayers pay taxes.

            If you read through much of this blog, you will see lots of examples of why taxes are reasonable in this community — and few disagree. But the fact is that when times are tough in an economy, costs are cut. In a non-union enviroment, the boss dictates pay. I have a friend who teaches in Maryland — she says they are getting a 2% cut for next year. If you want to be paid based on your own worth, you cannot be a member of a collective bargaining unit. And if all teachers were good, no one would complain EVER that teachers make too much. It’s just that teachers are paid totally based on seniority and education credits. They only have to make it 3 years to get tenured — and then it is quite difficult to thin out the herd…
            Cuts of teachers in this economy will be hard — because it will be the least senior (and thus least costly) teachers — often ones who have the most enthusiasm for the job. But that is the rule their union sets. And teachers NEGOTIATE their benefits — the district is part of a consortium that they contract with to buy those benefits at a group rate….ironically the other districts often want the same benefits (which may have something to do with them spending a summer academy week in Hershey every year reviewing contract plans and strategies.) Our teachers have a $1,000 co-pay on their benefits for family coverage for the full year. The plan costs upwards of $15,000 I’m told.
            Some of the proposed cuts will not dramatically alter the program. The one in the middle school program simply goes back to teaching — not team teaching — and the district will no longer subsidize an additional planning period a day for every teacher (team planning time) — so the middle school teachers will have the same course load as other buildings. A proposed change is some enforced “down time” for the high school students — not such a bad thing in this 24/7 world where they take 6 or 7 classes, play sports, have jobs and with the Pinnacle system — get checked on by their parents before they get home (you can see their grades as earned). The idea that some of their ability to take electives should not be that unsettling in difficult economic times — as one kids elective is another kids major, so the assortment will be there — the student will have to prioritize.

            So we can debate forever what is fair — but the debate now must be about what cuts are made. I know all about PSERS, about benefits, about Act 1 and more. I am far from a major supporter of several things this school board has done. But under Pennsylvania law, what’s done is done — no taking back compensation, no reducing benefits, no cutting expensive teachers (or bad ones), no changing the length of a school day…limits are in place. If your famly are teachers, I’m sure you know that TE is a wonderful place to work, but not the most lucrative. There are higher paying jobs elsewhere — but that is true in every job on the planet. People working at a premier law firm make more than people working at a suburban spot. So the folks with the “great jobs” hold on to them — and places like TE try to pay fairly and make working here a pleasant experience. Teachers are valued. It’s just that you cannot complain about them losing jobs when that’s what is happening everywhere. This is a very bad economy. No one minded when the cost of their house doubled in 10 years, but it was all fake, and now we are paying a price. Keep asking questions. The talk informs us all.

  6. I am proud of the school board for taking a stand and keeping the tax increase below 2.9%. Their decision showed that they represent the taxpayers, who voted them into office. I’m glad they did not cave to pressure from the union. I don’t think the taxpayers in T/E need to be funding a level of education that rivals the private schools.

    • ChesterbrookParent – The TE education program should be designed and funded to underperform the private schools? Are you serious?

      There are plenty of lower performing schools in the area where the school tax burden would also be lower, and the property values lower too. Feel free to move to one that suits your balance of enough education and opportunity but not too much.

      PS – I am truly glad they didn’t cave to union pressure either, i just wished they would’ve articulated something closer to a solution before taking an option off of the table.

      • Well said. The consolation here is that our administrators are all great people — two have been high school principals in our district and are very familiar with and invested in the HS program. Others were highly regarded teachers as well — and have been principals at other levels. They will not make cuts without regard to maintaining quality. We just need to stop assuming that less is bad. The HS has an 8 period day 6 days a week. That’s 48 periods for 2000 kids. If you go to a 7 period day, that’s 42 periods for 2000 kids, saving 12,000 “seats” in a week — if teachers taught 6 periods a day for 6 days a week, with 25 people in each classroom, that saves about 13.5 teachers. The problem with cuts in staff, however, is that you will cut the least senior (and therefore least expensive) staff members so the savings will not be realized as fully as cutting a “median” teacher (which costs about 30-40% more per staff member). These arent’ real numbers by the way — but it’s how the math will get done to explain some of the cuts. Think back to high school — did you take more than 6 classes a day? Until the 9th grade moved to Conestoga, no one at Conestoga did either. It was an expensive program change that came during “good times” with much lower enrollment., but came from a community-wide strategic plan process. Keep the faith and keep up the learning and responding. The teachers need to remember we support them — we just cannot afford all of them anymore.

        • Yes. In high school I had 8 periods a day. 30 years ago.

          • Was lunch part of your day? Were study halls part of your day? Did you take 8 classes? Did you have a 6-day week?
            Things are different. I had 8 periods too — one was lunch, one was gym, one was study hall — and five classes. Math, History, Science, English and a foreign language. Took PSATs once and SATs once and went to an Ivy League school. APs were not part of our curriculum.
            IF you go to Conestoga and want any prayer of going to an Ivy League school (or “highly competitive program”), you have to take 6 majors and some electives — you must take every course at the highest level offered (Conestoga has about 30 AP courses), and there better be few if any Bs on your transcript — all early in your career. And if you can play a sport and be the captain, that won’t hurt….

  7. Can someone clarify whether, by applying for the exemption, the board would’ve obligating itself to enact the ACT 1 2.9% increase?

    Is there any mandatory minimum tax increase by simply making, or being granted, the exemption?

    • No — it would have left the options open to make a request for specific exceptions to the act 1 rate of 2.9%. Great Valley and West Chester made similar decisions in the last month — as will countless other districts.

  8. I may be new to politics but I never imagined the ignorance that I have witnessed in the majority of bloggers on this site. $6 million in cuts = a lower quality of education = a decrease in property value, etc. You may have ‘saved’ $500 this year – but what will it cost you in years to come when the value of your home goes down? You cannot cut $6 million in expenses (employees, salaries, programs, etc.) and still expect to have the same product.

    It was stated in an earlier blog and I agree with you John Petersen –
    “School Board members are elected by the voters
    I/We are the voters
    School Board members work of us”
    And then Andrea’s take on it “Teachers work for the district. We are the boss of the District.”
    So John and Andrea – using your logic… the taxpayers voted in the board – the board is responsible for the $9 million deficit – the taxpayers by voting in the board are really to be held responsible for this deficit – so they/we should have to pay for it. I am willing to, are you?

    Two main drains on the budget will still be here next year even if the number of teachers is reduced: PSERS and the benefit increase – both of which the board, administrators, teachers, and union have no control over.

    PSERS is run by the state and the board has known for years that this day was coming. Instead of saving to hopefully be able to pay for the increases they didn’t raise taxes (to keep the taxpayers happy) and just crossed their fingers and hoped the state would give another stay of execution. That’s like having a child and hoping that they will get a scholarship instead of saving to pay for their college education. When the day comes you will end up having to borrow the money or go into debt.

    And as for the 28% in teacher benefits – this is because of the consortium our district is in with five other districts (which was a board/administrative decision years ago). Other districts that we are in this consortium with had benefits that went up astronomically, our district’s did not.

    These problems will still be here next year… your teacher and board bashing will not solve the problem. Instead of complaining maybe you could contribute to helping out the situation and offer up realistic suggestions. The only one I have heard from most people is for the teachers to renegotiate – would you – after reading all of the negative teacher comments on here? And how much would you ask each teacher to reduce their salary by? If you aren’t willing to incur a $500 increase in your taxes, why should a teacher agree to reduce their salary?

    But I have rambled entirely too long – come back with whatever you may – I’ll be writing directly to the board from now on… So for the rest of you out there that want to have a positive influence on this community I offer up the following suggestion:

    I urge all citizens with POSITIVE and CONSTRUCTIVE comments to write directly to the board. Slandering members of the board, the TEEA, teachers, etc. is against the school district’s policy on bullying. And as far as I am concerned there are a bunch of bullies blogging that don’t know the difference between relaying constructive comments to help the greater good of this community and downright being mean. I am embarassed by some of the comments here and the fact that they come from members of a community that I was once proud to be a part of. I know if I was a board member, after reading some of the comments made here and not knowing who they were from – I would not give much credit to anything anyone was saying.

    • New to TE Politics —
      Thank you for your comments. I am sure that the School Board would prefer to hear your comments directly and I would encourage you to do just that. I think that many of the people who have commented on Community Matters have done so in a supportive, thoughtful way. Many in the district are facing difficult financial challenges — several have written that are out-of-work, in jeopardy of losing their homes and many are living paycheck to paycheck (assuming that there is a paycheck). I’m sorry that you do not feel that Community Matters serves your purposes but I know for some it is way to better understand the budget crisis of the district. I am sure that I speak for many of the taxpayers – they support the teachers and the administration, their children love the schools — they simply do not have the money to pay any more taxes. Perhaps for you $500 is not meaningful but I fear that for some in this district, an extra $500 may mean the difference whether they can pay for their monthly medication or their health care insurance premium. I appreciate your position and I would not want you to feel that a visit to Community Matters is wasteful of your time.
      Pattye Benson

    • Wow — how articulate. Where were you when I was on the school board for 3 terms?
      I wonder why you only pick the parts you find offensive to comment on. I won’t go into long details again on the “facts of the case”– but I have been very supportive of the teachers, the board and the administration, when it is called for. I am aware of the relative tax rates in this community and I am troubled by a lot of this going on. I know the board and administration work hard, but not all of this was unpredictable. Your suggested $500 tax increase would be on a house with a market value of $500,000 (assessed value of $265,000) if the act 1 exceptions had been requested/approved (about 7%) If you have lived in your house for more than 10 years, it might be as much as four months mortgage payment to pay your school taxes, as that assessment is about the median assessment. (Here’s a test: multiply your assessment by 1.89 and see if that is more or less than what you believe your market value is. That’s what is triggering the number of reassessments / revenue reductions. Utterly predictable.)

      The fact that not raising taxes beyond 2.9% does not fix the future completely does not mitigate the fact that when faced with rising benefit costs, the UNION response was to exhort stakeholders who are consumers of their service to raise the taxes as much the law (short of referendum) would allow. (And there is no doubt in my mind that the board would have voted to keep those in play had the Union not taunted them with their “wear red” campaign.) It’s the teachers’ benefit plan. When the cost of our family plan goes up, we pay for it. Our employer contribution in a non-tenured job is at the rate of 50% of the single payer rate. The teacher plan has a co-pay of $1000 for a family rate for the year… about half that for a single payer contribution. And this is the first contract with a co-pay that I know of — it was a strike topic when I was doing contracts — not up for negotiation.

      I find the assumption you make that I am (others are )not talking to the people in positions to make these decisions is rather odd on your part –though you are the one assuming we are all just ignorant (your word) bloggers who don’t care about reality. My posts here have truly tried to inform people about the facts of the contracts and the bargaining options. Connecting my response to John and quoting me for it is so out of context I won’t dignify an explanation.

      “Slandering” board members, TEEA, teachers?
      SLANDER is a legal term: Oral communication of false statements injurious to a person’s reputation. I think you mean LIBEL (since this is a written blog) — but if you can produce the false statements, I’ll either explain them to you (and why I believe they are not false) or educate you on your misunderstanding. If something is indeed false, it would be worthy of debate rather than vague reference — don’t you agree?

      YOU WRITE about posters here : bunch of bullies blogging that don’t know the difference between relaying constructive comments to help the greater good of this community and downright being mean…. I know if I was a board member, after reading some of the comments made here and not knowing who they were from – I would not give much credit to anything anyone was saying.”

      I’m pretty sure you don’t need to worry about the board getting their news from blogs. Reading here would provide them with a glimpse of some of the vocal positions people are taking. The board knows who I am. Indeed some people do post on a blog anonymously (what’s your name?) to vent and to explore/ debate their thoughts. I think most readers are capable of knowing the difference when they read posts. Free speech. Public comment at a board meeting is somewhat tedious — and I would certainly encourage people to write directly to SCHOOLBOARD@tesd.net

      You presume that when comments are negative, they do not qualify as not “CONSTRUCTIVE.” Your conclusion that the board needs POSITIVE and CONSTRUCTIVE comments is certainly only one part of the equation. Why change and need suggestions if nothing is wrong. HOW did we get here is certainly part of the story.

      It is very disheartening to board members to have people that are single-issue constituents. But we all have busy lives and have entrusted the running of our schools to them. That doesn’t mean that we abdicate our role as citizens. We all made our choice to live / work here. The Union represents the teachers – the board represents the taxpayers and students. Should we all just hope they know what we are thinking? They need support when they make tough decisions – and if they want to represent the public correctly, the public needs to learn the facts and express their thoughts. With the choice to live/work here comes responsibility. Presumably people accept a job at TESD or buy a house in this district based on some knowledge they rely on. When that balance is disrupted, it takes some work to get back to normal. I believe that the position the Union took on this issue made them part of the problem. They taunted the board. I believe the state’s Act 1 rules are part of the problem. I believe public pressure might have caused a premature vote on the exceptions. But it is what it is. If you are going to make cuts — and absent any offer from the TEEA to share in the benefit problem, they will make cuts. We have a very qualified administrative staff – all but a few are experienced classroom teachers who came from our district to their roles. I trust that they will make the cuts in a prudent way – but it absolutely will affect the program. Does that mean it will hurt it? Absolutely not. Dropping FLES was because given the growing state testing requirements on content in the elementary program, there is not enough curricular time to do it right. The resources will either be cut or redeployed.

      Way more than I need or want to say in response to your post – but I really believe that we can all shout loudly — but if no one listens, why bother? And when people do take some time and effort to post thoughtfully, it is destructive to characterize them as “ignorant bloggers”….

      Whew.

    • I’m not nearly as informed or as eloquent as Andrea, but I can at least offer the following comments about the blog and the TESD situation.

      The impact of blogs on community engagement has been studied scientifically, and it has been found that engagement electronically leads to higher active involvement. I don’t have the citation for that (sorry, but it was recently reported!), but my own observations support the conclusion. Blogs like Community Matters present information, news and wide-ranging points of view that serve to educate and stimulate the thinking of all. I’m hugely grateful to Pattye for the investment of all the time it takes to run this forum.

      Perhaps we overstate the importance of the teacher email and its publication here in determining the Board vote. (There is an argument that the Finance Committee voted to approve the request for exceptions only so that the budget could be publicized with enough time to allow the full board to vote). However, it is surely a good thing that taxpayers are aware of the measures that their employees were taking to assure that their compensation increases and employment levels were secure.

      I think that the reason that many of the commentators have such a problem with the large increase in total teacher compensation is that it is out of all relation to their own experience, which is more likely to be a compensation decrease. It seems to be just not fair, and most people just don’t like inequity and try to do something about it. That’s why the many Board comments about shared responsibility resonated with many last night.

      The situation illustrates why unions can be such a drag on an economy. It’s not that the rights of groups of workers should not be advocated and protected – they certainly should be – but that you end up with long term, legally intricate, rigid contracts that rob the system of flexibility. Wouldn’t now be a great time for some ground-breaking work by all parties to come up with a deal that more fairly and flexibly reflected the citizens’ ability to pay?

      Moving to the relationship between tax increases and house values – prices are set by supply and demand. Supply in T/E is increasing slowly if at all. Demand is determined by the relative attractiveness of jobs, commutes, schools, neighbors, housing stock, etc. First, if all neighboring school districts are taking similar cost control actions, then the relative attractiveness of schools is unaffected. Second, if property taxes increase, the number of people able to afford the payments on a given house will go down, reducing demand, thence prices. A capitalized 6.63% tax increase would be worth 1% of a house with an 80% down, 30 year, 5% mortgage.

      And third, worth its own paragraph, to echo a critical point that Andrea makes: reduced spending does not necessarily equate to reduced quality of education. See her comments for illustrations.

      The Board has set the stage for an important discussion to really test the mettle of the administration to make that spending/quality trade-off. I’m sure that a combination of some tax increase, operating efficiencies, external purchase reductions, program cuts and fund balance use will give us a budget this year, even if the unions don’t contribute anything. Next year, though, the contracted compensation increases rachet up another notch, and I suspect that things deferred this year will need attention. Now is the time to set in motion the process for an EIT to claim that money flowing out of/not in to the townships and their school district.

      FWIW.

    • I think it’s time to open the discussion on whether it’s ever
      appropriate to CUT educational programs. Yes, CUT. This seems to be a taboo topic bringing into play many emotional arguments such as:

      You’re hurting my child!
      Let’s put the children first!
      Our home values will go down!
      We should be adding programs; not cutting them!

      Let’s take each argument in turn.

      You’re hurting my child – The elimination of certain course or the increase in class size could have some minor negative effect on the average child’s education. However, TESD doesn’t have a monopoly on education. If a parent feels a child deserves a better education there are options such as another school district, a private school, on-line courses, private tutoring and parent led tutoring. Thus, with parent intervention the negative impact of program cuts, if any, can be reversed.

      Let’s put the children first – This argument assumes that the money spent for a child’s education is more important than expenditures benefiting an adult. At an extreme it assumes that retirement savings, health care expenses, mortgage payments and medical expenses are less
      important than another extracurricular activity or another elective course. This is a fallacious argument and should be quickly dismissed.

      Our home values will go down – There is no doubt that a decrease in student achievement will decrease home values. However, there is an interplay between student achievement and taxes. It’s also true that a decrease in taxes will increase home values. Therefore, a cut in programs doesn’t necessarily result in a decrease in home values. The accompanying tax decrease (or smaller increase) may actually increase home values. If our concern is with home values, the trick is to make sure the investment is worth the return. I’m betting there are several expensive programs at TE that are not worth the money. For a quantitative analysis concerning academic achievement and taxes done in Montgomery County see: CAPITALIZATION OF THE QUALITY OF LOCAL PUBLIC SCHOOLS: WHAT DO HOME BUYERS VALUE? http://www.philadelphiafed.org/research-and-data/publications/working-papers/2006/wp06-15.pdf

      We should be adding programs; not cutting them – If cutting is bad then (unless TESD is at the optimum educational point) adding programs is best for the community. A model for adding programs and personnel, as another poster pointed out, is Lower Merion. They trumpet their low student to teacher ratio. Their course offering is vast. The student academic achievement is excellent (as is TE’s) However, they spend on average 60% more per student than TE. ($15.8K vs. $25.3K) I don’t think we’d hear much support for copying Lower Merion’s educational model by raising our taxes 60%. The beauty of PA’s decentralized school system is that each individual community gets to debate and decide their optimum mix of taxes and education. There is no right answer. We’re having that debate now and may decide that cutting programs and taxes in this economic environment is best for the community.

  9. Thank you, Ray and Andrea. I agree that this blog is an excellent way for community members to voice their concerns. We all support the teachers – but it is frustrating to see the union not being willing to share some of the pain of this budget situation. I could be wrong, but I’m not worried about my property value or my child’s education in T/E. I trust that the administration will make the right cost-cutting decisions and that my child will continue to receive an excellent education. There are always ways to improve efficiency while still providing a good program. Maybe it is time to get rid of schedules/programs that aren’t working and replace them with new, more efficient options. I’m surprised that “New to T/E Politics” had nothing to say about the union’s scare tactics.

  10. This lost steam today I see — no comments since this morning. Let’s not lose this train of thought though.

    I appreciate Ray’s comments and those of others who are asking to consider the program. I’m not eloquent Ray – you mean long-winded. I gave up my job on the school board because so much politics had entered the process – it wasn’t about the kids anymore. It was about the noise. I’m only back involved this year (tried last year but took too many personal hits for questioning the budget) because I see this as a major crossroads. Ray has made an important statement that I think we need to put some serious energy toward — that an EIT is something this community MUST address, and not with a “no more taxes” mentality from the masses.

    Taxes are essentially revenue neutral — you can see from this process that the board looks at revenue and expenditures absent any tax increase, and then has to consider how to raise the single source of taxes to meet proposed expenditures. There is a critical need to identify another source of revenues so that people are not forced to rely on the value of their home as the primary way to identify their “ability to pay.”

    The decision to stick with the Act 1 limit (and they have taxed below that before) is an arbitrary one in that it will still leave a deficit of $6.85 million to address. Make no mistake about it — staff and program cuts will barely make a dent in the gap between expenditures and revenues. Given the requirement that any cuts in staff MUST come from the least senior (read: least expensive) teachers, meeting that gap cannot come from program/staff cuts alone. Hypothetically, 50 teachers (and it’s not going to be close to that) would generate less than $4M. Class size and reducing the number of classes a student may take will produces savings, but they are the same ones since teacher cuts overlap with that idea – you can only cut teachers who don’t have someone to teach. The expenditure side only has so much to give, so the revenue component is going to be a continuing issue.

    There is a fund balance reserve and the board can and no doubt will use it to mitigate this problem, but that will not fix the problem. Revenues HAVE to increase to cover the costs of doing business. Regardless of the notion of teacher salaries rising too quickly, TE does not overpay the teachers and collective bargaining will not produce massive savings in compensation any time in the near future. That is why I have asked that the TEEA consider a re-opener to take on more of the health care increase by changing the health care plan. That would be an immediate step towards expenditure savings and on an individual basis would NOT have to have any dramatic affect on each member of the bargaining unit. But money is personal – and each of us protects what we have rather aggressively.

    The fund balance which has been designated for helping with the PSERS spike will be dwindling, so we are just borrowing from a future plan. (Note: I would not have paid off the 2004 bond that the district did in the past few months with “extra money” given the change in economic information…but I didn’t get a vote). We all need to be part of a strategic VISION before we rely on a strategic plan. When I was on the board, I never authorized any budget that used fund balance for any purpose other than a one-time non-recurring expenditure, or as the budgeted figure for “contingency.” That means you raised taxes if you raised expenditures – and kept them in balance. This Act 1 law has created a false economy – you cannot raise taxes to cover your expenditures, but in case you will need to raise them in the future (and don’t’ want to go to a referendum in a specific year) beyond the limit, you raise them a little here and there to “add to your base.” It makes the revenue/expenditure discussion a game of sorts. And the community HAS to start to be part of the rules committee. We know what we want – we have to figure out a) if we can afford that and b) how we want to pay for it.

    For the coming year, I think it is likely they will have to consider “pay to play” for kids – which means fees to be part of a sports team or music/drama group or club. Raising “parking fees” for the few folks who are eligible to drive (senior class only – with cars) might raise $20,000. There is no cost savings in switching out the title of a class (from AP to regular) because a teacher will stand at the front of the classroom, whatever the subject taught. So folks – we are looking at a public school program that is going to have several “private school” features – i.e. you will have to pay for things that enhance your experiences. It will be a multi-tier system. The parents who want more for their kids will have to fund it. (Crowd groan – but not all kids can pay, so of course we have to have some way to keep things available to all – we do – it’s called public school).

    This is too much detail and I will stop here. The bottom line is that the district MUST have a study that will examine how to raise revenue. We’ve had them before and consistently produced no recommendation for income taxing. Maybe things have changed. We need everyone to understand the assessment numbers and the cost of doing business so that we consider how to reduce our reliance on the uncertainties of real estate. (Personal bias is that property values more than support higher tax levels, but this economic downturn has made affording your house difficult, so additional costs on the homeowner are just not sustainable until that changes). We have an extraordinary district that achieves excellence. Our demographics (2/3+ adults in this community are college-educated) predispose us to that sort of achievement. People who buy your house are typically looking at the local schools to make that choice. Ironically, our school taxes are NOT higher than any neighboring district except Upper Merion. So we have some room to explore what the market will bear. Ray – I think I asked you earlier to look at the LMSD teacher contract to get a sense of their compensation – but I am okay with our district standing on our own numbers and suggesting that the people who choose to work in TE do so knowingly. The same must be said of the people who live here.

    Thanks again to Pattye for this forum. I do believe that (even for us long-winded people) sharing opinions and information is valuable whatever way we do it.
    Maybe it’s time for NING – a group where we can “chat” back and forth and not look for comments throughout multiple posts on the same subjects? I’m getting dizzy!

  11. Are we done talking about this? Seems like there is much more to discuss. Now that the township plans to overlap with this meeting, are people still concerned?

  12. Pattye
    I guess I’ll come here and post every day until a new “lead article” involves the school district — because this topic — the one about $9M — seems to be losing ground to the Block of 4…. Ray and Andea seemed to say quite a bit that no one has replied — that worries me. Maybe we are a Wawa nad McDonalds world — where the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

    • Sarah – don’t worry, there will be plenty more discussion! Next week we’ll get a chance to weigh in on the TESD communications strategy at the Public Information Committee. Then of course on the 8th I expect some documents will be handed out and we’ll get a sense of initial positions. So even if people go to whatever John is planning for the BOS meeting, TESD data will be available to chew on. In the meantime, the postings on the various township meeting ordinances provide useful background for the Info Committee meeting. Who knows, the small lull may even provide an opportunity for the “union of No” to proffer some ideas that address the impact of accelerating compensation increases.

  13. Thanks Ray. I’m glad to hear it.
    Have you ever done a right to know request? I think I’m going to try to do one for the benefit plan. ?

  14. […] than 2.9%! What Will be Cut to Fund the Deficit? Posted on January 26, 2010 by Pattye Benson at Tredyffrin Township … Community Matters I was not at the TESD meeting last night – I was at Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors Meeting. […]

  15. Well, this was a surprise! To see my post, ‘Tredyffrin Easttown School Board to Hold the Line at Act 1 Index . . .’ be picked up by a West Chester Area School District website, Ctizens for Excellence in Public Schools was very rewarding. Thank you.

    • Way cool Pattye..

      I finally saw the meeting on Comcast Channel 14. The biggest revalation for me was the fact that Union President Debra Ciamacca mis-quoted Edmund Burke!! Thanks to Rich Brake for clarifying that! I wonder what that says about the quality of some of our teachers???

      In any case, I actually understood the point that Buraks, Motel and Cruikshank made. Motel however, has been on the board for a while. He helped make a lot of this mess. I do believe that options have to be kept open. And perhaps the best point was made by Debbie in that home values do well around here due to the schools. That said, I do believe that perhaps, if we cut too deep, we could be cutting our nose to spite our face. I actually would accept a tax increase in excess of the Act 1 cap as long as it did not go to salaries and benefits. Feb. 8 is going to be a very interesting meeting. Unfortunately, I cannot be in two places at the same time. I will be at BOS meeting to have a chat with Block of 4 minus 1. ;)

      Ultimately, with the fund balance where it is, I think the vote came out correctly. Cruikshank and Buraks get passes thjis time. Motel however, that dude needs to go. He really is a big part of the problem. Some of that was resolved with the departure of Wood and Davis. Perhaps Mahoney remembers who he works for…… I liked what I heard from Rich Brake. Unfortuantely, he needs support as his viewpoints are in the minority.

      Keep up the good work Ray!!

      What I really want to see is some tough policies on the attempted actions of Ciamacca. In my opinion, she should be fired. Her brand of hatred, and quite frankly, sheer stupidity, are grounds to be fired.

  16. John,

    Your propensity to shoot to kill with your criticisms is over the top. In the course of the last month or so, you’ve called for 4 out of 7 supervisors to resign, and all but the newbies on the School Board.

    While in some cases, I agree with your assessment, let’s be realistic…..Who steps down in the face of wrongdoing when it’s in the eye of the beholder? No one, John. They have to be legally extracted. And that involves a long process…..

    Ms. Ciamacca certainly responded defensively to community concerns about an increase in the school tax. It’s even likely that the tone of her blast to Pattye and commenters on her blog ( and I assume directly to SB members) hurt the teachers’ cause by helping to turn some on the Board against seeking approval for an Act 1 exception.

    I understand that even the day before the meeting on 1/25, the majority of the Board was in favor of applying for exception — just to give the them some leeway in dealing with the $9.25 million deficit.

    So perhaps Deb’s union members are upset with her right now, but it’s not your place to call for her head.

    Her brand of hatred “…are grounds to be fired.” ??? Give the woman a break!

    She is a highly regarded faculty member who made a big mistake in the heat of the moment . It would seem she has already paid a price for her nasty remarks. And unfortunately for the District’s teachers, the “fun” is only beginning…..

  17. Kate
    Well said. I tried to focus on that topic earlier — that Deb C. is not in our jurisdiction — but John kept asking if the fact that the board works for us would sink in.
    I do not think there is any question that the teacher email generated the act 1 vote — and I hope desperately that the energy put behind demanding the limit to 2.9% stays interested while we work on how this can possibly happen. If they use the fund balance, they will only exacerbate the problem longer term — they don’t negotiate a new contract for two years and it’s not salary — it’s benefits — that are at the core. I posted elsewhere that even at 2.9% we have about $6.5 million to make in cuts. It’s just not going to happen without some major program changes — and while John credits Debbie B with reminding folks about the value locally, it’s moot now. John — you say you “actually could accept a tax increase…” but that’s why your one-dimensional rant earlier is so inflammatory — because now it doesn’t matter if you could accept it — it’s not an option. So be prepared to consider what your face will look like without a nose, because absent any delay of this problem (putting fund balance toward the deficit and not addressing the issue), these cuts will be deep.

    • And like you, I don’t advocate cutting our nose off to spite our face. I have one son left in the system – so I have skin in the game on this in addition to being a taxpayer. And yes, I do believe that if you have kids in the system now, you have more skin in the game that those who do not.

      This whole notion that the Ciamacca affair is not in our jurisdiction is plain nonsense. As a former school board member, I have to say I am not shocked by your viewpoint. I suspect that was part of the problem and why things are the way they are. Bottom line – the school board has not effectively negotiated with the teacher union. What’s worse is that your own linked-in profiles states that YOU were one of the labor negotiators…

      So in that regard, given where we are and given what you did – I have take your comments as somewhat self-serving and with a grain of salt.

      By the way folks, you can read Andreas profile here:

      http://www.linkedin.com/pub/andrea-felkins/6/207/aa5

      Here’s a priceless quote…

      “I did labor negotiations with our local teacher’s union, resulting in major salary schedule modifications that resulted in long-term labor peace and union satisfaction (and significant expense control)”

      No doubt why there was long term peace and union satisfaction. You gave them everything they wanted…

      • John
        Those of you who not only come LATE to the party, but just arrive to complain about what is served, who is invited, and what they paid the caterer would do well to do more than google name research….but since this contract was done two contracts ago, I’ll not take the time nor effort to educate you. Facts would only get in your way. You know what you think — why confuse it with actual knowledge.
        What I did in negotiations was very successful and didn’t look anything like today’s contract….the PSEA was not permitted at the table. But then again…what do you care.

  18. Kate…

    I have a kid in the system. It is totally my place to call for her head… If anything, based on my last post, I cut the two D’s that voted to go beyond the Act 1 index a break. The person I did not cut a break to was Pete Motel – an R.

    Are you sure your a Democratic Committee Person??? You seem awfully conflicted… No wonder the TTDC is in the shape that it is in… Sorry Kate…but you left yourself wide open on that.

    I’m simply one citizen who is voicing his opinion in this forum. If you disagree, fine. But please…don’t lace your critique with missives that somehow, my questions and opinions are over the line.

    As to Ciamacca… she used email addresses that were meant for official communication between parents and teachers as to education – not union rhetoric.

    I think you would be better served focusing your comments elsewhere. But if you must point them my way, I’ll be happy to respond.

    The deal is Kate, I am one of the few that will say what I say and how I say it. People like Lamina and Kampf feed off of and are empowered by those with a more passive attitude – like yours.

    We really are on the same side here…

    • Not that information again would matter, but Ms. Ciamacca sent the email to teachers. It was her recipients that chose to cut, paste or forward. And I think the results speak for themselves.

      • Respondeat Superior…..

        • I believe the original email contained the confidentiality clause, which while hardly enforceable does limit the liability of the sender…which is what I think they were created to do.
          And Ciamacca is an employee that was elected by a group that has union protections — she is not an elected official.
          So anyone receiving the email from a teacher can take action against whoever you think is responsible — but get your checkbook out if you think anything you are referencing is anything but a way to pay a lawyer for a long and unproductive “wrongful termination” suit.
          And for the record — this community reelected most of the sitting school board AFTER they had executed Dr. Waters contract with clauses that I never knew of until I did an RTK request and read the contract.

          • <<
            this community reelected most of the sitting school board AFTER they had executed Dr. Waters contract with clauses that I never knew of until I did an RTK request and read the contract.
            <<

            Most didn't know about it. When did that contract get finalized?

          • And by the way, I simply say she should be terminated. I am realistic enough to know that will likely, not happen. My basic point is that it is well within my rights to express my opinion.

            Thanks for the dialogue.

  19. John,

    I’m on the same side as someone who trashes my politics and me personally, and accuses me of encouraging bad behavior with my “passivity”.

    And I should should focus my comments elsewhere?

    My response to all of that is – well, Pattye wouldn’t print it.

    I say again, it is not your call to demand that Deb Ciamacca resign. She is an elected union rep. – and a teacher in good standing. No one is arguing that she acted inappropriately.

    As the parent of three CHS graduates, I spent many years “in the system.” And as a taxpayer, i am no less entitled than you to speak on this issue.

    I speak as a former teacher when I express the view that it is absolutely vital that the quality of a T/E education be protected. Given the School Board’s vote last Monday, this will be a real challenge. I hope that a combination of Act 1 revenue, judicious cuts and a draw down of the fund balance will result in a budget that preserves programs.

    But Andrea is correct, John. Your rants fueled a flurry of anti-union, anti-tax comments. And those comments may have affected the outcome of last Monday night’s vote. Words matter.

    Re D vs R politics, you are the one who’s been all over the map. I’m right where I’ve always been – left of center, grounded in progressive values. No conflicts. Still devoted to getting good Democratic candidates elected.

    You say: “I’m simply one citizen who is voicing his opinion in this forum”? I say so am I.

    In your view, you’re a truth teller and should not be accused of crossing the line? I say there is a point beyond which civil dialogue descends into something else.

    It’s clear we don’t see eye to eye on where that point lies…….

    The funny thing is, I know you to be a very decent guy, so it must be your alter ego writing on this blog……

    • Kate…

      About the only thing you have said that I take exception to is the notion is that it is not my call to ask a particular teacher and/or union president to resign.

      Think about the battles you are picking here….Swap out the name Ciamacca for Lamina, Kampf, Olson or Richter – and all of a sudden, your OK with what I am doing.

      Same church…different pew….

      I think we can leave it there…

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