TEEA President Debra Ciamacca Speaks Out . . .

As I often have in the past, when someone makes a comment that I do not want to see buried on an old post, I put it on the frontpage. I received the following comment from Tredyffrin Easttown Educational Association President Debra Ciamacca. Per her request, I have removed the teacher email. In removing the post, I stated that I was forwarded this email from a T/E parent who had received it from a teacher.  I just contacted the T/E parent and they reconfirmed that the email they received from a teacher  did not contain any confidentiality statement on the email nor did it have a signature of the writer.

I believe that the TESD budget situation is an extremely important topic for all residents.  Equally important is that all sides be allowed the freedom to express their opinions. Below is Debra Ciamacca’s comment in its entirety.

First of all, let me say that you were not authorized to print an email from me to the teachers in this District. If you read the entire email, you will see that there is a Confidentiality agreement at the bottom.

I am asking you to remove this email from your blog immediately.

Secondly, to insinuate that teachers would hold grades over the heads of parents or children is so utterly defamatory I don’t know where to begin. Personally, as a former Marine Corps officer who served her country HONORABLY for five years, I would NEVER use grades to hurt children or parents. I have taught for TEN years in this school district as a teacher….and I do not appreciate having my reputation or the reputation of the other teachers in this district dragged through the mud.

As far as a “conflict of interest”….it is NOT a conflict of interest to stand up for the educational program and the children of this District.

Debra A. Ciamacca President,
Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association

Tredyffrin Easttown Teachers Email Campaign

Below is the email being distributed by Tredyffrin Easttown teachers in regards to Monday’s school board meeting.  Having made the decision to include this email on Community Matters, I offer my opinion.  Although I think it is extremely important for parents (taxpayers) to come to Monday night and offer opinion in the process, I do not support the tone of this email.  If I were a TESD parent, I would feel that I ‘better come out and support the teachers (programs) or else’ — what I mean is, I’d feel that my child’s school career (grades) could be resting on whether or not I supported the teachers. But we also should not lose sight of what this ‘exception’ could mean to the district stakeholders in the way of a tax increase.  I think we could be facing a tax increase of nearly 7% from TESD if the Act 1 exception is approved. 

A friend suggested that if the following letter had originated from a parent to other parents (rather than from the teachers) I probably would feel differently . . . I think she’s right. For me, I perceive this type of campaign as a ‘conflict of interest’ on the part of the teachers. I don’t want to see Monday night’s School Board meeting pitting T/E parents against  taxpayers without children in the district. 

_______________________________________________________ 

As a result of an email from Debra A. Ciamacca, I have removed the email campaign letter from my blog.  For the record, the email that was forwarded to me from a T/E parent, did not contain a signature of the writer nor was there any Confidentiality statement included on what I received.

_____________________________________________

First of all, let me say that you were not authorized to print an email from me to the teachers in this District. If you read the entire email, you will see that there is a Confidentiality agreement at the bottom.

I am asking you to remove this email from your blog immediately. . . .

Debra A. Ciamacca
President, Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association

TESD Teachers Organizing Email Campaign

In case you missed Ray Clarke’s comment on an earlier post,  he is reporting that an  email campaign is being organized by Tredyffrin Easttown teachers against any program reductions and in support of the Tredyffrin Easttown School District School Board’s Monday, January 25th vote on asking for exceptions. 

The deadline to receive an Act 1 exception is coming quickly.  An exception application must be filed by February if the TESD tax increase is to be higher than the 2.9% allowed by Act 1. I think that the exception can allow an increase as high as 6.9%.

Any school teachers want to weigh in?  Residents? School Board members?

West Chester Area School District Superintendent is Suggesting 19 Staff Cuts to Help Budget Deficit

Tredyffrin Easttown School District taxpayers should not feel that they are alone with challenging school budget problems.  One of the purposes of looking at other districts (such as Great Valley and now West Chester) is to see if can learn anything new or examine other ways to handle similar problems. Dan Kristie is reporting in today’s Daily Local that West Chester Area School District Superintendent Jim Scanlon announced that he is recommending that the school board cut 19 district jobs.  The cuts will be carried out by attrition – when current staff members retire, their jobs will not be replaced.  Cutting of these 19 jobs (which include 3 assistant principal jobs) will save the district $1.4 million annually.  The suggested cuts were developed by the administration and the Community Budget Task Force, a group of more than 150 stakeholders who met last year to help the district identify cuts.  Here’s one West Chester Area taxpayer’s take on the announcement:

Attrition means forced retirement or risk termination for some folks. As a former Educator that is the one field that you never thought would be impacted by economic downturns but they are quietly finding that they have stood behind their union protection for far too long almost to the point of holding the very people whose children you educate are paying to keep you there hostage.

They are no more entitled to job security than anyone else. If you can do more with less people then by all means do more with less.

To those who will lose jobs in all of this…WELCOME TO THE REAL WORLD.

Mr. Scanlon . . . I know it’s tough to tell your people tough times call for tough decisions but then again that’s a part of your job too. “

Continuing to Discuss TSED Teacher Pension Plan

Following up on my last post about the Great Valley School District, I think that I am beginning to understand their resident involvement. One of the best parts of Community Matters is that readers bring new information to the discussion.  I received a comment from ‘Berwyn Reader’ that offered interesting insight on the Great Valley School District (GVSD) residents and their ability ‘to hold the line’ on school tax increases. A few years ago, Brian O’Neill of O’Neill Properties (Worthington project) asked GVSD to be a lender on his Worthington project.  In the end, GVSD choose not to lend money to O’Neill.  However, because of residents concerns, Great Valley Stakeholders was formed about 18 months ago and has become a sort of watchdog organization for the Great Valley residents.  The purpose of the Great Valley Stakeholders is to provide information to the public and School Board to ensure fiscal responsibility, transparency and better communication between school board and taxpayers. 

Here’s hoping that Community Matters will be able to provide similar information to taxpayers and Tredyffrin Easttown School District school board members.  Many of our residents who have provided commentary to this site on the school district topic have helped us better understand our own budgetary process.

Beyond the current 2010-11 school budget discussion, I remain concerned that many of our taxpayers do not understand the PSERS (Public School Employees Retirement System) teacher pension plan and how our taxes are going to be affected as a result.  I found an interesting statement from the Commonwealth Foundation on pensions. The Commonwealth Foundation is an independent, non-profit research and educational institute that develops and advances public policies based on the nation’s founding principles of limited government, economic freedom, and personal responsibility.

Public Pensions: Beginning in 2012-13, taxpayers will see a dramatic increase in their contributions to pension plans for state and school district employees. This scenario is due in large part to misguided policy decisions-including substantial increases in pension benefits in 2001 and 2002, and deferring increased payments following fund losses-as well as the recent downturn in the stock market. Pension contributions are estimated to rise by $1,360 per homeowner/household, resulting in higher property and state taxes. Additionally, local pension plans are facing major deficits. . .

 A few weeks ago a opinion article written by Thomas Gentzel, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer. This commentary titled, Change Pennsylvania Pension System or Prepare for Catastrophe should be a  must-read for all taxpayers!  Here’s the link:

http://www.philly.com/inquirer/opinion/80562927.html

Comments anyone?

Great Valley School Board Votes to Keep Tax Increase within Act 1 Index of 2.9% . . . But at What Price?

Great Valley School Board Votes to Keep Tax Increase within Act 1 Index of 2.9% . . . But at What Price?

 On January 13, I wrote about the ‘standing room only’ crowd at the Great Valley School District (GVSD) budget meeting. (Here’s the link for that post). This week the GVSD board held their regular business meeting with 300 residents in attendance; the major topic was the $3.2 million deficit in their proposed 2010-11 budget. With a projected budget of $78.3 million, the school board voted 6-2 to keep any increase in taxes within the state’s Act 1 index of 2.9%.

Applying for an exception to Act 1, would have allowed the school district to raise taxes as high as 4.7%. Some of the school board members argued that by keeping the tax increase to the 2.9% rate may force the administration in to making some drastic cuts in programs and/or personnel. (However, in the end by a margin of 6-2, the school board votes in favor of using the Act 1 index).  There were many residents in the audience who wanted to hold the line on tax increases to the 2.9% or less; some expecting 0% tax increase.  There did not seem to be an explanation as to how the budget deficit would be handled; no clear cut answer as to what programs (or people) might find themselves on the cutting block. Because the school board decided not to seek exception to Act 1, a preliminary budget approval is not required until April.  The school board will continue the discussion at the finance committee meeting in early February.

Does this news from our neighbors have any effect on us taxpayers in the Tredyffrin Easttown School District?  The taxpayers of GVSD have taken a stand (and it appears that the new school board members agreed) to do whatever was necessary to balance the budget, just not raise taxes beyond the 2.9% threshold.  Do you agree with their decision?  Would you rather see TESD hold the line at all costs — rather than increase taxes above the 2.9% Act 1 index?  This decision is going to require GVSD to make major cuts in program/personnel . . . how are the school board members going to make that decision?  With the large program cuts required in the Great Valley School District, I certainly would not want to be the person making up the list of programs/personnel for the cutting block!

Fire Company ePetition Administrator Speaks Out

I am hoping that this will be the last entry on the firefighter’s ePetition.  Last week, I posted TTRC Chair CT Alexander’s Letter to the Editor in which he stated that he signed the firefighter’s ePetition.  Research on the ePetition showed that his name was not on the list which caused a major debate about whether or not Mr. Alexanders’ name was simply removed.  Only one person who could answer those accusations – Laurie Elliot, the firefighter’s ePetition administrator.  It only seems fair that I post her response on the subject – a Letter to the Editor which is in this week’s Main Line Suburban Life.

Included in her statement, Laurie includes a link to the ePetition if anyone wants to check the signatures.  Laurie created the ePetition as a vehicle for residents (like herself) to show their support of the fire companies and to encourage the supervisors to reinstate the fire companies budget cut.

On the same subject, it has been a month since the unveiling of the cardboard check at the December 21 Board of Supervisor Meeting.  To bring you up-to-date on the promised contributions, yesterday I emailed Supervisors Lamina, Kampf and Olson for an update on money collected.  My latest information is that the supervisors have collected $8,950. I am hopeful that more money has been turned over to the Berwyn Fire Company for distribution, but as of today I have no further updates.  On the $5K in matching funds from the Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee, Mr. Alexander’s last correspondence indicated that just about all that money has been delivered to the fire company.  In my last phone call from Supervisor Olson, he stated that the $23,200 total would be delivered to the fire company by March 31st. 

This is all about making sure that the volunteer firefighters receive their promised money — nothing more, no political agenda on my part.  Since the township’s 2010 budget was passed with the fire department cut, I take it seriously to make sure that these volunteers receive the total contribution as promised by Supervisors Kampf, Lamina and Olson.

Fire companies need support

To the Editor:

This is in response to a letter in last week’s paper by Tredyffrin Republican Party chair John C.T. Alexander. In it he claims to have signed the “Internet petition in favor of reinstatement of the Berwyn Fire Company’s budget cut from the [Tredyffrin] township’s 2010 budget.”

As the administrator of that e-petition, I monitored it during its 10-day online life and closed it on Dec. 21 when I presented a copy of it to the Board of Supervisors at their meeting that evening. The petition and all those who signed it can still be viewed at tredto.epetitions.net.

In total, 534 people found their way to the Web site and signed the petition. But John C.T. Alexander’s name is not among them.

Further, it is difficult to understand why Mr. Alexander would claim he signed it. His very public position that the long-term needs of our volunteer fire companies can be met through ad-hoc private donations misses the whole point of the petition and clings to a Band-Aid approach.

The fire companies not only needed their 2010 funding restored, but they need a comprehensive, long-term solution that provides support for their operating and capital expenditures in the future. And not until such a plan is in place can the community “move on” as some are suggesting.

Sincerely,

Laurie Elliott, Wayne

House Majority Policy Committee is Bringing Harrisburg to Tredyffrin . . . State Rep Paul Drucker to Co-Chair Redistricting Reform Hearing on January 28

I spoke with State Rep Paul Drucker this morning concerning State House Bill 2005.  Rep Drucker introduced this legislation which would reform the legislative redistricting process in Pennsylvania.  The proposed bill would change the redistricting process by reducing the opportunity for “gerrymandering”; ensuring compact and contiguous legislative and congressional districts; and provide for competitive elections throughout the state.

What is “gerrymandering”? Gerrymandering is the process of diving a region in which people vote in a way that gives one political group and unfair advantage. According to the League of Women Voters, Pennsylvania is the second-most gerrymandered state in the union.

State Rep Drucker’s legislation would establish a nine-person committee made up of the top eight legislative leaders from the House and Senate and one chairman appointed by Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Under the bill, the chairman would have to be a registered voter in Pennsylvania for at least two years, would not hold federal, state, or local office and would not have held a position within a political party in the previous 10 years.

State Rep Paul Drucker will host a House Majority Policy Committee public hearing on Thursday, January 28 at 2 PM at the Tredyffrin Township Building to discuss redistricting reform in Pennsylvania. Policy Committee Chairman Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster will co-chair the hearing with Rep Drucker.  The public is not only encouraged to attend but also to offer comments.

Judy DiFilippo Makes Her Decision Official — She Will Run for State Representative

It is now official.  Many of us knew that when Judy DiFilippo decided not to seek re-election to Tredyffrin Township’s Board of Supervisors, she had already begun to consider a run for the State House.  Now it is official — Judy is in the race for State Representative from the 157th district.  Stay tuned as the Primary campaign season begins to unfold; I think it’s going to be an interesting ride!

Below is the official press release announcing Judy’s bid for the state house which appears in today’s Main Line Suburban Life newspaper.

    DiFilippo sets sights on state house

Published: Wednesday, January 20, 2010

By Blair Meadowcroft

Shortly after stepping down from her position on the Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, a position held for the past 20 years, Judy DiFilippo has announced her candidacy for state representative in the 157th Legislative District. DiFilippo decided to run in the Republican primary for state representative after being asked, and so far the response to her candidacy has been positive.

“There is a lot of support out there, which is nice,” said DiFilippo. “The experience so far has been very good.”

With a background rich in diversity, DiFilippo feels her various experiences have prepared her for the position of state representative. “It’s important to have someone who understands local government because some of the decisions they make up in Harrisburg really impact local government and school districts,” said DiFilippo. “My experience is at the township level as well as the county level through working with the Planning Commission. I have also worked with various supervisors in municipalities from the smallest township to the larger ones.”

A life-long volunteer, the list of organizations and committees that DiFilippo has given her time to, as well as the various positions she has held, is endless. Perhaps one of the experiences on DiFilippo’s résumé that will best prepare her for this new position was her time spent working for former 157th District State Rep. Carole Rubley for more than two years starting in 2003. “Through that experience I have been able to establish a relationship with some of the other state legislators, which will prove useful,” said DiFilippo.

 Although just at the beginning of her campaign, DiFilippo continues to make phone calls, a task she began before the holidays. Additionally she is beginning to put her committee together. If elected, she plans to address the “really tough issues” in Harrisburg.

According to DiFilippo, based on talking to people, most of the concerns being expressed revolve around the economy and health care as well as local issues with traffic. “I can take these concerns to Harrisburg and try to find ways to resolve some of them,” said DiFilippo. “So far people are very willing to listen to me as well as share their concerns with me, which I appreciate. I need them to understand that I am willing to take those concerns to Harrisburg to work on ways to address them.”

With the support and encouragement of her family, friends, neighbors and colleagues in the 157th District, DiFilippo said she is excited at the prospect of continuing her public service at the state level.

“I am willing to commit to this position full-time,” said DiFilippo. “I want to bring my knowledge of the community and local government to Harrisburg and work on the issues that we all care about – the economy, jobs and quality-of-life issues like the environment, education, health care, rising energy costs and traffic.” DiFilippo’s plans for the upcoming months are to continue to meet with the voters in the 157th District.

 “I look forward to meeting with the voters to discuss our common concerns and to earn their support for my election,” said DiFilippo.

Does Your Teenager Text While Driving – Must Read Article by Conestoga Student Reporter

In the lastest edition of Conestoga High School’s The Spoke, I read a very scary article by student reporter Brittany Roker on text-messaging while driving.  Statistically, I’m fairly sure that teenage drivers have the highest percentage of traffic accidents.  Taking that in to consideration, can you imagine that 74% of the Conestoga High School interviewed admit that they always or occasionally text-message while they are behind the wheel! 

Parents, please talk to your children about this issue . . . their safety (and ours) is at risk.  Thank you Brittany for enlightening many of us on this topic.

CHS The Spoke
12 January 2010 Issue

By Brittany Roker, Staff Reporter

      Braking the habit: students text behind the wheel

That familiar sound and the constant vibrations can signal disaster for drivers. Although senior Holly Mainiero comes to a stop at a traffic light before feverishly snatching her cell phone, she does not put the brakes on texting. Mainiero is not alone in her habits.

According to a recent Spoke survey, 91 percent of licensed seniors think that texting behind the wheel is unsafe, yet 74 percent report that they always or occasionally text while driving. While only 19 percent of the seniors surveyed said that they know someone who has been in an accident due to texting on the roads, Eric Bolton, a public affairs officer with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said that new research conducted by the organization has shown that collisions frequently happen because of inattentive driving. “It was amazing to see people doing all kinds of distracting tasks while they were driving and what was happening—a lot of near misses and crashes, people driving up on sidewalks,” Bolton said.

This study, conducted about three years ago, occurred when the NHTSA partnered with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, Bolton said. The organizations found that, for every six seconds of drive time, a driver who sends or receives a text message has his eyes off of the road for 4.6 of the six seconds. Research by the NHTSA is one of many sources of information provided by the government about cell phone usage in the driver’s seat. According to the United States Department of Transportation, nearly 6,000 U.S. citizens died last year because they used a cellular device while driving. Statistics such as these influenced 19 states to ban texting while driving. Pennsylvania is one of the 31 remaining states that has not already made texting while driving illegal. Although a statewide ban is currently nonexistent, several cities, including Philadelphia, have succeeded in making the act illegal.

On Dec. 1, Philadelphia police began enforcing a ban on cell phone usage while driving. The ban prohibits drivers from talking or texting on mobile phones in the city, although drivers can use hands-free devices instead. A violation carries a $75 fine that can increase to as much as $300 if it is not paid.

A statewide ban on texting while driving was sent to the House on Nov. 10. In addition to prohibiting texting while driving, the bill also forbids 16 to 18-year-old drivers from using cell phones in any way while driving. If the bill, officially titled House Bill 2070, is passed, violators will have to pay a fine ranging from $50 to $100. Currently, the bill is being reviewed by committees in the House and will eventually be voted on by state representatives. If accepted by the House, the bill will go to the state Senate and then to Gov. Ed Rendell for approval.

Eric Bolton, of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said that the administration is supportive of states cracking down on the dangerous habit. “I think that the administration would like to see the states take a strong stance on all kinds of distracted driving, including texting while driving,” Bolton said. Bolton said that the administration, which conducts research about vehicle safety and reports its results to the public, found that texting while driving causes cognitive impairment because the act uses the driver’s mind, taking his attention off of the road.

Conestoga highway safety teacher Michael Cangi finds the laws that state representatives are considering impractical. He said that he believes the connection between Americans and their cell phones is too strong for a law regulating driver behavior to be passed. “The phone is connected to them as much as your glasses are to your face. You simply can’t go without them,” Cangi said. Cangi said that the solution to teen texting while driving is through education. He said he thinks that law enforcement officers and educators must inform young drivers so that they may better understand the risks and make smarter choices.

Junior Callie Clifton said that she never texts while she drives. She said that families are the key to stopping teens from texting behind the wheel. “I believe that, in order to prevent texting while driving, parents need to raise their kids in an environment where it is not encouraged,” Clifton said. “Parents should teach their kids about the dangers of texting while driving and explain to them that texting can wait until you get out of the car.” Clifton may be a young driver, but her opinions are similar to those of adult lawmakers and researchers. She said she thinks that many of her peers are unaware of the consequences of their actions. “I think the problem with today’s teens is that they think they’re too good at texting and at driving, so they assume nothing bad will happen if they mix the two,” Clifton said. “I think teens don’t realize how easy it is to look away from the road for one second and lose control of their car.”

Brittany Roker can be reached at broker@stoganews.com. Printed originally on p. 3 of The Spoke’s Jan. 12, 2010 issue.

Philadelphia’s ‘Retire-for-a-Day’ Pension Perk!

How’s This for a Government Loophole? 

Talk about perks of government . . . I can not believe this loophole in Philadelphia’s local government. Ever heard of Philadelphia’s DROP program – that is the Deferred Retirement Option Program. DROP is a pension program that does not distinguish between Philadelphia city workers and elected officials. This means that there is nothing legally wrong with Philadelphia City Council members enrolling in the retirement program.

Elected officials who are in DROP benefit more than regular city employees because they can be re-elected. When a city worker retires, he or she does not return. But when a city council member wins re-election, he or she can count this as officially retiring from the City. If enrolled in DROP an elected official can collect a bonus payment (worth four years of pension payments) and then return to work. Now the councilperson will earn a salary and still get monthly pension checks as if they were retired. Allowing elected officials to retire for-a-day, collect a big pension check, and get “re-hired” for another term belies common sense!

In 2008, Councilwoman Joan Krajewski did just that. This 75-yr. old took her $297,466 DROP payment, and was re-elected to her current term. Now others are considering the same move. Philadelphia’s City Council has 17 legislative seats and 7 may come up in the 2011 elections. Six of those councilpersons are enrolled in DROP. But guess what . . . based on Ms. Krajewski’s experience, I would bet some of those people are going to resign for a day, take their lump-sum payout and then be back on the job. One of the people who is currently ‘weighing her options’ is 78-yr. old City Council president Anna Verna She has not decided if she will seek re-election (but is keeping her options open!). Councilwoman Verna is set to get a $572,679 DROP payment!

The DROP program lets workers set up a retirement date up to four years in advance. At that point, their pension benefit is frozen and they start accruing pension payments in an interest-bearing account. Workers then receive those payments in a lump sum when they retire, and start collecting their annual pension. For disclosure purposes, if a councilperson retires, takes the lump-sum, and is re-elected, they cannot apply for DROP again, their pension benefits do not increase and they cannot starting their annual pension until they permanently leave office. (This would be the case for Councilwoman Krajewski, she received her DROP payment in 2008). But that is a small caveat – the elected official would have already made a bundle at that point!

What do you think of this Philadelphia government pension perk? Do we see any correlation between the DROP pension program in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS) teacher’s pension program?

Chowhound Website Unfair to Paoli’s Carangi Bakery — a Touch of South Philly in our Backyard

The Paoli small business community is thrilled to welcome Carangi Bakery in to the neighborhood.  The Paoli Business & Professional Association has used Carangi’s for the last couple of monthly for our noontime meetings.  As a board member of PBPA, I have to tell you their sandwiches and stromboli were great, but the cannoli’s . . well, let’s just say that they are unbelievable!

Like most new businesses, there are growing pains and learning curves.  Although Carangi Bakery has had their Philadelphia location for years, the Paoli location is new — I think they opened this location in early fall.  One of my friends raved about the bread and pies she had for Thanksgiving, so I know that they were opened by that point.  But like all new businesses, sometimes things may not go as you planned or as you wished.  Case in point, apparently Christmas Eve the store was a bit chaotic and customers did not leave as satisfied as the owners would have preferred.  One dissatisfied customer decided in the last week to leave a very negative comment on the Chowhound website concerning their Christmas Eve experience.  Although I think the comment was unnessarily personal and more negative than required, people are entitled to their opinion. But the problem is when the bakery owner tried to leave an apology comment on the Chowhound website it was immediately deleted.  John Petersen visits the bakery regularly and he tried to leave a positive comment on the Chowhound website and that too was removed. 

I am not sure what the deal is with the administrator of the Chowhound website, but I figure the best way to counter balance the one negative comment is to make a personal appeal on Community Matters for Carangi Bakery.  My suggestion to all the readers . . . is go visit Carangi Bakery and take a touch of South Philly home with you! (And don’t forget the cannolis.) 

Carangi Bakery is located on Lancaster Avenue in the old 4 Seasons store.  A link to their website is: http://www.carangibakery.com/

Let’s make this new business feel really welcome . . . and be sure to tell the owner you read about them on Community Matters.

A Community Matters Reader with Specific TESD Budget Questions . . . Can We Help with Answers?

One of our Community Matters readers, ‘Full of Questions’ sent in a comment which contained specific questions that we may be able to answer for him/her.  As I often do, if there is a comment that I think needs frontpage attention, I post it here so that everyone sees it. Read through the questions and respond if you think you can help — please label your responses to match the numbered questions.

Full of Questions writes . . .

I have enjoyed reading the posts on this site.  Unfortunately I still have so many questions that are unanswered and I have no idea where to get the answers.  Maybe someone out there can help me to understand this whole situation better…

1.  Why – when we are in a budget crisis – are we buying office space and renovating new buildings?  How much have these new acquisitions cost us, the taxpayers, in the past two years?  Has this contributed to the $9 mil we now need to find somewhere?

2. Someone mentioned that administrators get a stipend to pay for the healthcare plan of their choice.  If an admin does not use this do they get to pocket this money?  I am asking since I know of at least 3 administrators that have teachers that work in the district.  Do they just get to get a free ride on their spouses plan and then still get to pocket their stipend?  In essence we would be paying them twice for their healthplan.

3.  Why have the number of administrators at the educational offices increased over the past 4 years?  It appears that there used to be ~10 admin at the ESC but now there are ~15.  Why do we need this additional staffing?  It seems that as prinicpals have been promoted new positions have been created at the educational offices for them (ie. Donavan, Dinkins, Gusick)

4.  Looking at the posted link for teacher salaries I can also see admin salaries.  Building on the previous point – the admin salaries make up ~$3.5 mil of the budget.  That number does not include whatever stipend they get for healthcare.  That number does not include the money we are paying for them to go back to school and earn their doctorates.  Again – why do we need to have this many admin each costing us well over ~100,000-$200,000/year?

5.  What are these on-line classes they are talking about offering at the high school?  I would have liked more information about this instead of reading about it in a blog…  How much are these going to cost us?  Or are they using it as a way to outsource teaching for a cheaper cost?

It has been several times that everything is out in the open – but I truly find that hard to believe when it seems something new pops up each time I read this blog or minutes to one of the committee or board meetings.   If anyone can answer any of these questions I would really appreciate it.  I am trying not to place blame, although it is hard not to given the circumstances.  I just feel that I do not have all of the facts.  Is the teachers union to blame for trying to get a good contract for their teachers?  Is the board to blame for accepting a contract that they could not support financially given the other financial obligations (ie. new buildings, admin, etc.)?  Are the administrators to blame for not giving the board all of the information they need to make an educated decision?

Specifics on Pennsylvania $161 Million Budget Cuts Announced

In December, Governor Rendell vowed to cut an additional $170 million from Pennsylvania’s state budget in order to make up for lower-than-anticipated tax revenues. It looks like the specifics of those cuts have now been finalized. Here is a press release with the specific cuts but I am confused. I thought that the recent approval of the tables games was to help the budget situation? And here I thought that the state was going to help us with the teacher’s pension contribution increase?  How is that going to be possible?

   Pennsylvania Budget Cuts Another $161 Million

Pennsylvania’s budget took another hit, as the state released details of a $161 million round of cuts, which Gov. Ed Rendell ordered last month. Each department was instructed to cut another one percent from its current budget and while some trimmed each program equally, other departments eliminated programs to make the cut.

The Department of Community and Economic Development shed almost $11 million, cutting in whole the $200,000 previously allotted for the Super Computer Center, $1.23 million for infrastructure technical assistance and $1 million for minority business development. Funding for agile manufacturing, powdered metals and digital & robotic technology, together less than $1 million, was also cut.

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources lost $1 million even as its forest land fetched bids above $5,000 per acre today from natural gas drillers looking to tap into the Marcellus Shale. Cuts to the Department of Environmental Protection totaled $3.8 million and were an even one percent across all programs.

Education funding fell by $27.8 million, eliminating the $1.9 million mobile science education program, $400,000 of higher education assistance, and $2 million for community education councils.

In health services, a $2.6 million biotechnology research program was stripped of its funding. Children’s Hospital lost its $200,000 share from the Department of Emergency Management while the Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh had its $431,000 health appropriation cut to $215,000. Health care clinics that were due to receive $3 million from the Department of Public Welfare were cut from the budget, as were acute care hospitals, slated for $4.7 million in funding.

Several programs under the executive branch were eliminated, including safe neighborhoods, violence reduction, and $1.25 million for agricultural research, promotion, education and exports. Food marketing and research and the farm school nutrition initiatives were also axed.

Another $1 million was cut from the governor’s grants to the arts. Museums took another hit during this round.  Museums took another hit during this round. General museum assistance grants were slashed by a third and specific funding for the Carnegie Museum of National History and the Carnegie Science Center was cut in half from $113,000 each to $57,000.

 The Department of Labor and Industry cut is New Choices/New Options program, a $1.5 million initiative to retrain and place individuals looking for new careers.

Should TESD Follow Downingtown School Board ‘s Lead and Urge Teacher Pension Reform?

One of our neighbors, the Downingtown School Board recently approved a resolution that calls for the state to change Pennsylvania Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS). Driving their decision is the predicted dramatic increase in PSERS contribution from school districts. Looking ahead to the upcoming years, the teacher’s pension increase will greatly affect the school district’s budget and then the taxpayers.

According to one of the Downingtown School Board members, their PSERS contribution is going from a little over 4% to about 31% in 2012! School Board member Robert Yorcyk, who introduced the resolution to the other board members explained, “Considering that salary and benefits make up about 70 percent of the budget, the increase to 31 percent would represent about 15 percent of the budget or half of what we have left to support education.”  The Downingtown School District pays about $4 million in teacher pension contributions – that number will rise to $7 million in 2011 and by 2014-15 retirement contributions are expected to hit $36 million! The school district estimates that in just 5 years, PSERS contributions will increase nine-fold.

If I understand the PSERS plan correctly, employees and employers alike contribute and that money is then invested, . . . the pension payout is guaranteed (regardless of the market economics). The real problem is that due to the volatility of the market, school districts are being forced to pay larger pension contributions because the pension investments have not kept pace with what is guaranteed in the payouts of the pensions.

The state House of Representatives is reviewing changes in the PSER bill. The new plan would actually put a cap on the school district contributions. If the pension payout required additional funds, the bill would require the state to be responsible for the difference. The Downingtown School Board signed their recent resolution to urge the state to lessen the burden on taxpayers and the school district (understanding that the teacher benefits will remain the same).

Should the Tredyffrin Easttown School District take a similar stand? Should our school board members be encouraged to follow Downingtown’s lead?