Over on Community matters, some posters are concerned that these proposed budget cuts in TESD (they are happening almost everywhere, I promise) are going to damage the value of the school system — one poster said she would warn people not to move here. I have answered in that exchange, but the comments would be far too lenghty for a blog comment — so I’m including my thoughts here as a Post.
I’m posting my research here –don’t want to dominate the CM comments. There is a link to this blog on Communnity Matters – so folks can read here if they choose. I’m not set up to be a “back and forth” commenting site — so feel free to read it here as background and continue the discussion there. I actually tried to shorten this to post it there — but it’s still too long..so here goes:
Point of Information: This recession has cost the US 8.4 million jobs. Only 1.5 million might return this year…
To Tredyffrin Easttown Parents
Please don’t worry about the quality and consistency of TE Schools. This is a global economic problem, and it certainly is not limited to our district. There should be some level of comfort knowing that TE has a history of high performance, and the leadership in our administration is seasoned, stable and dedicated. Dr. Waters, TE’s Superintendent has been in our district for more than 20 years, coming initially as the Principal at Conestoga. He is in his 10th year as Superintendent. TE is ranked as the 6th district in the state (the top 3 have less than 200 students; 4 and 5 have 2000 students) Source – NCES Dept of Education – summarized online at SchoolDigger.com Presumably the talent that brought us this district is NOT abandoning a quest for excellence. They were here in lean times and have been part of growth. They know what works. Great teachers produce great results.
But lest you think TE is struggling to stay “afloat” as one blogger opined:
Some facts about neighboring districts:
- Radnor – in a contract year with teachers – Dr. Grobman is in her second year as superintendent, coming from Philadelphia. She received her PhD just prior to coming to Radnor. Previous superintendents – 2 interim sandwiched around one 5-year contract (Cooper) that resulted in a resignation after 3rd year. Multiple principal and administrative turnovers during Cooper’s departure. Radnor is ranked as #12 in the state.
The Inquirer reported this about Radnor at the time of Dr. Cooper’s sudden resignation:
Teachers’ contract negotiations last summer and fall were acrimonious, with a threatened strike, and some teachers, including the union’s leadership, said the superintendent’s attitude toward them during and after the talks was partly responsible for strained relations…..Since June, eight administrators either have left or will soon be leaving, and in recent months several residents, saying they thought morale was low among the staff, asked the school board to launch an investigation to determine the cause of the exodus.
- Lower Merion –also in a contract year with teachers. Dr. McKinley is in his second year as superintendent. Previous Supt. Savedoff served one five-year contract – extraordinary renovation projects. Left under a cloud of political attacks. McKinley comes from running the Delco IU for two years, and previously was Supt at Cheltenham and held various positions in Philadelphia. Lower Merion is ranked as #13 in the state.
- Great Valley –the board there has also declined to apply for Act 1 exceptions – so will live with the 2.9% cap on taxes. 16 year superintendent Rita Jones retired in 2009 despite being renewed for Aug 2008-Aug 2012. Her replacement is Alan J. Lonoconus, who came to GV from Shikellamy School District (where his contract was to run through 2010). Prior to that he was a Superintendent in Southern Columbia Area SD. Great Valley is ranked as #15 in the state. (Shikellamy district is ranked #420 in the state) Great Valley Stakeholders just took a majority of seats in the most recent election.
- Downingtown – Dr. Mussoline began as the new superintendent this school year, replacing one-term 3-year Superintendent Sandra Griffin (previously at Lower Merion). He comes to the district from Wilson School District in Berks County, a district with 6,000 students and ranked #57 in the state, where he had signed a 5-year contract in 2006. Downingtown has approx 12,000 students and is ranked 28th in the state. They have declined to approve requests for Act 1 exceptions.
- West Chester has also declined requests for Act 1 exceptions, and their Superintendent, Dr. Scanlon replaced retiring Alan Elko (after 8 years in the district) this past spring 2009. Prior to this position, he was Superintendent at Brandywine in Delaware “for over 2 years” and spent 7 years as Superintendent in Quakertown Community School District, as district of 5,400 students ranked 75 in PA. Their website says that officials estimate that to avoid an Act 1 taxpayer referendum, the district must cut more than $6 million from its projected 2010-11 expenses. West Chester also has an earned income tax. Officials voted on Jan 25 to decline the request for Act 1 exceptions. West Chester has approximately 12,000 students and is currently ranked 46 in PA.
- Unionville Chaddsford has just renewed their superintendent Sharon Parker for a second 4-year term – amidst public conflict over her compensation. Ranked #11 in the state, UCFSD went to referendum last year to ask for approval for a major renovation of their high school. The voters turned it down and the administration remains adamant that the plan needs to go forward. Their budget has significant issues but since they cover two counties, I could not find any information about whether they have agreed to Act 1 limit.
- Phoenixville SD continues their search for a new Superintendent. Ironically, their school board president is TESD’s retired teacher and former Union president…they have an interim Superintendent who is the 3rd person in that seat since July 2008. The turnover at the administrative level has hit most buildings and demonstrates how difficult it is to hold onto staff during tough times –so many districts are hiring administration (or trying to) With 6 schools and approx. 3,300 students, Phoenixville is ranked 64th in PA.
So – life is not easy anywhere. I could go on to other neighboring districts – but I think the point is that schools are facing and looking for ways to respond to economic pressures. Citizen Journalists such as Community…Matters, Save Ardmore Coalition and the Great Valley Stakeholders sites are shining light on details that typically were taken for granted or ignored…because life was progressing and nothing was broken. Times were fine and pressure to avoid strikes kept teacher contracts flowing. With these new blogging analysts,however, there are lots of concerns and questions. It’s similar to buying a new car once every 10 years — you are shocked at how the prices have changed! Now – we find that the financial system is broken – so it needs fixing. The reason that many scrutinizing the system are parents of kids who have already or even long ago graduated from our district is that those same people – presumably 10+-year residents – have also seen the “value” of their homes double, but unless you are moving away, that is meaningless. They spent what they could — and now the market wants them to spend more. Taxes are based on assessed values. Newer residents are paying these higher prices and so their taxes represent a smaller (and no doubt escrowed) percentage of their house purchase price, which comes with high expectations.
It could be a stand-off if you don’t trust and support the process to address the obvious dissonance in the message. Hopefully reading and discussing and learning will set an example for our kids and for our community — we are going to thoughtfully consider these problems — not just throw money at them. Parents can talk about moving, or even independent schools — but those choices are not about solving problems.
In all likelihood, these times will cause a market “correction” in salaries, benefits and the “race to the top” that drives and mesmerizes so many programs. It is not a coincidence that the highest correlation to success in schools is parent involvement. 2/3 of the adults in this community have college degrees. Ray Clarke makes the point about slowing down the pressure to offer more and more might actually benefit kids. As long as the state continues to add mandates to the educational testing pile — more and more curricular time is going to be spent teaching to the test — which in many cases is built on standards lobbied for by special interests. (For instance: History standards are 1/3 world, 1/3 US and 1/3 Pennsylvania….??) We can talk about that later.
Don’t let this budget process discourage you — and don’t let the final passage be your last interest in the be a the system. Schools are going to need more volunteers — won’t be all those paid aides making copies and cutting forms and doing mailers.
But this budget is just a start. It’s going to be harder going forward because of the state retirement system. But THAT is a story for another day. PSERS. Check it out. Click on the link for a copy of the presentation slide show that starts to outline the problem under “Hot News”