If it’s broken, it’s time to fix it – School Finances

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”


TESD and TEEA — are there ANY grownups in the room? Grievances TOO?

I posted this on Community Matters.  I include it again here as I am able to include links to the files I reference.  http://www.schoolspending.info/

I did 3 teacher contracts and the PSEA was absent from the table in the final one. (6 years — numbers for the first 3 years, parameters about finances to establish the pay for the final 3 years — ratified based on trust).  There have been complaints on this blog and elsewhere that the board has given things away over the years, but perhaps now we can get to the root of it – labor peace comes at varying prices.   And it’s important to understand that all the power in this relationship belongs to the PSEA with the support of the courts.

You are correct that this grievance is simply a PSEA enforcement method.  We need to remember the earlier “successful”  TEEA grievance about “online learning” – a student-centered initiative quickly annihilated by the PSEA to “protect jobs.”  And prevent the transfer of work by “bargaining unit members” to others.  (pdf of the order available)   As the outcome, our students cannot take coursework online from another institution or source for credit – our teachers want the right to be paid to teach those online courses.    The decision is outlined in the pdf I have provided to Pattye.

Under the existing contract, our teachers have a 7 hour and 35 minute contract day,  including 30 minutes for lunch. The contract language is as follows:

“Except on the parent conference days, the Employee scheduled work

day shall be a continuous period of seven (7) hours and thirty-five (35) minutes

for secondary (5-12) Employees, which is 2,275 minutes per week. For elementary

Employees, the work day shall be scheduled within the parameters

identified in Section 4.10 and will be 2,275 minutes per week. Each Professional

Employee shall have a thirty (30) minute duty free lunch each day.”

As to union membership business, the district also subsidizes a good deal of the time that any union business takes place during work time:

The Employer agrees to allow the Bargaining Agent thirty (30) paid

days for union business during the contract year. The TEEA will reimburse the

Employer for the cost of substitutes for the total number of days over twelve

(12). If four (4) or more union members will be out for union business on the

same day, at least thirty (30) days notice to the Director of Personnel is required.

Additional district days may be used to assist the Employer with Employer/

Employee initiatives which may from time to time benefit the Employer

and its Employees. These days will be determined at the discretion of the Superintendent

of Schools or his/her designee after consulta-tion with the TEEA.

The Association president shall not receive any non-instructional duties

(Note from the hyphen in  “consulta-tion” above that these terms are typically annually carried over and never renegotiated….so the board does NOT use all their “weapons” in negotiation.  )

TE Teacher on this blog has explained that the elementary teachers (and middle school) have no part in this grievance happening now, because only the high school teachers had traditionally been scheduled to teach 5 periods per day.  In a 6-day cycle with an 8 period day, the high school teachers taught 30 out of 48 periods.

To avoid making cuts to the program while improving the efficiency of our tax dollars, the board changed the teaching schedule AT THE HIGH SCHOOL to 36 out of 48 periods.  The grievance is about “change in working conditions”…..which they claim needs to be negotiated.

As part of their negotiated “work day” of 7:35 minutes (30 minutes for lunch included), teachers also receive the following  time off from teaching:

4.091 Individual Preparation Period

A “preparation period” is defined as the time during the work day when a member of the Bargaining Unit shall be released from instruction or student contact and be free from other responsibilities, including meetings, except for teacher initiated meetings, in order that such time may be used for teacher-directed preparation for instruction. Each full time Bargaining Unit member shall receive an average of two hundred twenty-five minutes per week of preparation time within a range of two hundred to two hundred fifty minutes per week in any particular week and a minimum of one preparation period per day. Each preparation period shall consist of a minimum of 30-minute blocks of time at each level. Other released time beyond two hundred twenty-five minutes per week may be used at the District’s discretion for additional preparation time and/or non-teaching assignments (NTA).

Memory Check/ Reminder: Then Union President Debra C. claimed that the teachers were willing to give back their “end of school year days” at a savings to the district.  (In other words, they were willing to not work and not get paid).  They would not, however, put that in writing or negotiate it.

SO — this is just tit for tat.  And the reason I am commenting here is because IN MY OPINION, the notion that the board should be willing to take a strike is misguided.  There is NOTHING to be achieved by that.  The teachers do not lose one dime of pay.  NOT ONE DIME.  The disruption to lives of students, families and employees (if the schools are closed, the other employees not protected by the teacher laws may in fact lose pay — bus drivers, custodians, secretaries, maintenance) is significant.  It’s why the website STOP TEACHER STRIKES is so focused on ending this process.  NO ONE is served by it — and it’s a nasty experience on all sides.   It’s a stretch to point it out here, but in some more militant districts in PA, teachers who have ignored the “work to contract” rules have experienced personal attacks.

As has been pointed out here before, the bulk of the negotiating team for the teachers comes from the high school.  One of the members is a step 16 PhD who would probably fall under the demotion scenario.  The PSEA sits back and threatens the district and taxpayers with every strategy under the sun, and files grievances with their staff lawyers that require time to defend and respond with “paid by the hour” solicitor time.  This community ran and supported teachers when faced with two budget cutting strategies — demotion and class size.  Why?  Because the only true struggle in this is about power.  And the PSEA has it all.  The teachers can say the district doesn’t care about them — and the PSEA reinforces that perspective with a focus on what the board ‘will do to them’ with benefits and pay — when in fact the board cannot do anything with either of those issues without a change to the contract.  This is not by any means a “us vs. them” mentality – except during negotiations when the PSEA playbook is in full force.

SO — it’s a shame that this all happens.  But I stand in the background sadly knowing that being “all in” even if it means a strike is absolutely hollow.  A strike not only serves no purpose — it’s just a disruption without a reward.  Teachers lose NO PAY.  And kids lose throughout — as typically the PSEA orders teachers after a strike or in contemplation of a strike to “work to the contract”.  While I’m not sure our teachers would ever do that, the process typically involves teachers refusing to do anything that is not written into their contract.  If they strike, teachers are ordered back to work in a short time period so that the district can complete a full legal school year. Teachers are  “annually compensated.”  Once they “work to the contract” they walk out of the building at the end of the 7:35 day.  They do no work at home.  They won’t write recommendations.  They won’t do anything not specifically articulated in the contract.  And folks – these are PROFESSIONALS….but they do things in negotiations that belie that.

Standing up to the teachers union is a waste of energy, as we have no power to enforce.  Look — we scheduled the high school teachers to teach more time in their work day, and we have exposed ourselves to a $3M grab.   Now here’s the irony:  the ruling that they are annually compensated pretty much flies in the face of the fact that they are grieving now for over $3M because they (high school teachers)  were asked to teach 20% more in a work week — during the time they were already contracted and paid to be there.

I apologize for this incredibly and even unfortunately long post.  I have one other comment to make:  the board’s statement that they are not at the table because of the threat of Unfair Labor practices is not false.  It’s not likely, but I was threatened with one during a negotiation because I had talked to a teacher about a detention my son with a broken ankle had gotten for getting out of his chair during class.  My sister is an attorney and we handled it privately.  It was never filed and I think the TEEA and I reached an amicable view of how we would proceed.  But side note:  I sent that child to private school the following year.  So it was not without cost to me.

This is not a pleasant time.  This is a war.  PSEA provides a negotiator, and the TESD has hired one.  I wish the board would remove the 3 administrators from the negotiations, as I believe it damages the “working together” our people need to do after this is over.  Like FTW, I wish the TEEA rank and file would understand the fact that they have all the power on the side of the union – and the district really is at the mercy of this process.

There is one clause in the teacher’s contract no one ever seems to remember:


Tredyffrin/Easttown Education Association and the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District agree that the continuation of the high professional and ethical standards that exist in the District is of utmost importance. They further agree that the maintenance of discipline and high academic standards is an important aspect of the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District. Therefore, both the District and the Association will strive for the perpetuation of these practices and standards.

This economy is dreadful, and I’m not an economist, but I do not in any way think it is rebounding.  Houses are selling because the prices have gotten so low and mortgage rates are also so low.  For the first time in my memory, my school taxes will be well over 1% of my property’s value.   My family is not in an industry with any kind of pension, so we are tasked with trying to save money to be able to retire someday.  My teacher friends have heard me say this too many times:  To have a pension equal to 75% of your highest salary (free of Pennsylvania taxes) is something few people working can even understand.  Retiring with $100,000 salary means $75,000 a year for life in pension.   With estimated earnings today of 3% on an annuity (good luck finding even that), you would need to have saved $2.5 million dollars to generate that pension.   Any clue how much you would have to put away each year to do that!  So you can complain all you want about “not making big bucks” during your career,  but you are – it’s just that so much of what you make is being saved elsewhere by taxpayers on your behalf.   Two married teachers would have to save $5M to have the kind of pension income that a TYPICAL and average teacher will generate at the age of 55 – after 30 years of teaching.  Stay until 65 and you will have 100% pension  ).   That’s why things have to change for the next generation.  Federal pensions are nowhere near that kind of generous nowadays – but they didn’t have to bargain the change.

This is the deal we all have struck.  But it’s not something we can afford any longer.    I left the school board after 3 terms because I didn’t have the energy to deal with the demands of parents and teachers, along with taxpayers.  We had people wearing 80/20 shirts to meetings and complaining that AP courses should not be offered – as we were subsidizing college costs.  We had parents suggesting we should have one gifted elementary school so that their gifted children should be able to have the same level of attention that special education children had.   We had post-Columbine families that were convinced Conestoga was super-sized and threatening. We had a local landowner telling the world we were going to take his property from him (when in fact, we didn’t want it…the state required additional acreage for the high school).   I was extremely heartened by the final contract I did with the teachers because it reflected the truth that TE teachers care about TE – and we were able to fix some of the step issues and incorporate health care costs into our salary increases.  But after I left, so did the senior TEEA people – and in came the PSEA.   Every contract since then has been done by a PSEA negotiator at the center of the talks.

Good luck to us all.  If anyone has any questions for me, I’d be happy to answer them. I have a blog at https://schoolspending.wordpress.com/   that I stopped using when Pattye’s wonderful effort here at Community Matters became so useful and helpful.  I don’t like to clog up her conversations, but none of my answers are short or simple.   I don’t come to meetings because the current board quite honestly has heard enough from me.  I don’t blame them.

I said it before – good luck to us all.  This is NOT going to be fun.  And that makes me sad.  But we are not alone.  We see things here, but you only need to go on StopTeacherStrikes.org to see the magnitude of the negotiating problems.  And I’m not sure they even keep that up to date, because fighting the PSEA is rather futile.

Counting down to the final budget

I’m not going to say much on this anymore — the efforts of the school board are significant and I believe well researched.  I do not agree with the “one time” savings being used as part of the strategy (particularly the use of $300K from food service — as not only is that one time, that’s misrepresenting the “pay your way” nature of buying lunch).  Anyway, despite all the public scrutiny and hearings and discussion, there is still so much not available without a lot of RTK effort that I am going to rely on the people in charge.  Kind of unusual for me — but I spent so long on this board that it’s just too hard for me to attend meetings and have to wait my turn to ask questions….

The state looms on PSERS — and I hope the TESD gives us direction as to how to talk to our legislators about this problem.  Otherwise, what TESD is doing is no better than what the PSERS board did — wait and see what happens. Do your best but let the future take care of itself.  Sigh.  Good luck.  EIT / PIT/ Rate increase / negotiations for benefits….we’ve got a good district and insisting on staying inside 2.9% this year because of tough economic times is — in my opinion as an observer and one who has researched tax rates in other districts — short sighted.  But not wrong.

Tredyffrin Easttown TEEA may be offering some help

There have been posts on other sites that claim that the TEEA offered the TESD board $600,000 to help with this year’s budget problems.  Several posters have represented themselves as teachers — members of the union — and have verified that it is their understanding that TEEA offered $600,000 but that the board rejected the offer.  The”word” is that the board refused and requested that the Union reopen the contract.


This is very interesting information and certainly represents in theory an overture from the Union that is worthy of further discussion and understanding.  As I posted elsewhere, it would be more helpful if the referenced offer that the board allegedly  turned down were posted on the TEEA site. It unfortunately has all the symptoms of one of those “if it sounds too goo to be true…”

I don’t want to ruin the party, so I’ll try to be brief in my theoretical analysis.  Because I do not have access to any details, I am going to have to ask some questions and make some assumptions based on the narrative about the TEEA offer:

1.PROPOSAL asserts:  Teachers offered to give back 3 days of pay, equating that to $1,200 per teacher.    My question:  Did they agree to work those three days or did they offer to work fewer days than contracted?  This year only?  Going forward?  Those are very different things and would have different implications in how they are implemented.

2. There was a court decision sometime in the 80s I believe that affected compensation — it’s the reason teachers don’t lose money in a strike. That decision basically affirmed that a teacher is a salaried invdividual — and their pay is based on a work year, not on days worked. If the work year is shortened, they still receive a full salary (which is why strikes have no economic impact on members of the teaching members of the bargaining unit)

3. Absent opening the contract to renegotiate days worked, this “give back” (if enforceable — which I doubt)  falls into this school year — so contributes savings this year but does nothing to influence next year’s budget. This is government accounting — all the savings would do is go into the “fund balance” and then that would be put towards next year’s budget — but not as revenue but as an interfund transfer.  Unless it was a change in the contract, it would exacerbate the increase in spending next year vs. this year.

This is the complexity of contracts and unions and deals that goes on all the time. After the unintended fiasco from Ms. Ciamacca’s email to teachers,  I am proud to hear that the TEEA has attempted to mitigate the difficulties. I would really like to understand the details before I stand up and cheer.  But in theory,  it is a good move. Unfortunately, as I understand school law (and I have been off the board for 10 years), the reality is that as an entity representing the teachers, TEEA cannot “give back” days or salary that are under contract. It is a wonderful gesture, but without knowing the details, I would have to conclude that it is only a gesture. To bind them, they would have to amend the contract that calls for 190 days this year and 191 next year. (I think — not sure of that specific detail)

Adamantt support for not reopening the contract saddens me.   Reopening the contract does not have to throw everything open — it’s about trust and honor. Neither side should say they will not reopen if they truly are interested in solving this problem. Living by the spirit of the law is as important as living by the letter of the law. Both parties could “reopen” for the specific purpose of adjusting compensation for days worked, or for adjusting days worked, or to reduce the annual wage numbers by the value of 3 days. I have suggested elsewhere that they reopen to negotiate a different health care plan that would be less expensive — or in fact offer this $1200 per teacher as an increase in co-pay towards health care benefits.  Reopening with an agreement in principle  does not have to open everything up.

I did a 6 year contract with TEEA as I finished my time on the board.  Carol Aichele and I were the negotiators for the school district.  Our solicitor had died in a hunting accident and we were without legal representation for the most part.  It was a person-to-person effort.  We worked with the TEEA leadership, who also did not bring any PSEA reps into the meetings.  We agreed on details for the first 3 years of the contract.  The final 3 years were left “open” as to compensation.  We agreed on parameters that we would live with, and the contract was approved and settled.  After the first 3 years, we looked at our matrix and made the adjustments to increments that we believed served both sides well –we added those three years and the contract was completed. It is about trust.  

Thoughts? I’d love to see the language of the offer on the TEEAcher.org website.  As has been referenced elsewhere that non-residents (teachers) may be denied a chance to speak at the board meeting, if we knew the background, there would be no danger that the community would be eager to speak about it.  Union President Deb Ciamacca knows that I am ready and willing to help.  We all are.

Abington School District update

Over on Community matters, there was some reference made to Abington’s budget process — somewhat with envy it seemed.  It’s always good to learn more about other districts — but perhaps a point of pride is in place for me about Tredyffrin Easttown School District.  I really want to separate the District from the decisions of the sitting school board.  I did my time on the board so I am not about to scrutinize their decisions individually, but let’s just say that there have been several things they have done over the past 5 years I would have opposed.  But I’m not on the board anymore — and when I was, I struggled to get the public at large interested in anything we did.  It’s constituency-driven politics — not squeaky wheel exactly, but certainly absent any scrutiny of their actions, sometimes the decisions are as “real world” driven as they should be. I have said before — I believe this economy will cause a “market correction” and salaries, benefits and bonuses — things like “retention bonuses” especially, will be a thing of the past.

The sitting board also knows that I believe that the taxpayers and district were not well served when I left the board and the members who continued and those who were new rejected any efforts or  input from me before they did the next teacher contract. I had personally negotiated the terms of the expiring contract, and had completely orchestrated the administrative compensation plan.  I believe their lack of interest in accepting feedback damaged the continuity of the process — as they made changes to things they had no history of.  I’m not saying they were not earnest in their efforts, but having reviewed the documents since my departure, there are a lot of gaps in the thinking. I believe would have helped in continuity.   The Union meets in Hershey every summer to develop a state-wide strategy for negotiating.  Board members rarely ask for advice — and don’t even talk to other boards in most cases.   Such a deal….it sounds like I think I was irreplaceable -and I absolutely do not.  My phrase then — no matter how big the boat, it doesn’t create a hole when you take it out of the ocean.  I believe that.  But I do think that history is critical in negotiations — and the negotiations that followed Carol Aichele ‘s and my departures were done with a new solicitor (our previous solicitor had died in an accident) and without benefit of background.  So I do think some of the personnel costs that are under attack cannot be adequately explained much less defended.  But they are what they are.  I would be happy to address any details that I am aware of.

Anyway — there were references to Abington and their commitment to keeping curricular issues and programs intact — a reference made to a quote that they only look to cut “stufff” — as well as the revelation that their Superintendent was selected Superintendent of the Year.  Congratulations to Dr. Amy Sichel, the ASD Superintendent and  winner of one of 10 awards for  National Tech-Savvy Superintendent Award.  

Here are details: eSchool News, a national monthly publication specializing in educational technology, notified Dr. Amy Sichel that she is a national winner in the 2010 Tech-Savvy Superintendent competition.  The Tech-Savvy Superintendent program honors K-12 educators who have displayed exemplary vision in the use of technology to further the goals of educating today’s students and equipping them with 21st century skills.  Six hundred applications were received by eSchool News, and only 10 winners from across the country were named.  The headline proclaiming her status as Superintendent of the Year may be a bit hyperbole — but the award is certainly wonderful for Dr. Sichel and brought with it grant money and more.

I bring up this particular district because even referencing it in our budget discussions seems incongruous with the issues at hane.  It is such an example of greener grass — as some posters elsewhere have included Inquirer information about how they go about their budget.  Last year, their millage actually “dropped.”  Actually, their millage for now is 27.09 mills, down from 27.29 the previous year.  That’s on property only.  One small point left out — Abington has an earned income tax of .5% — so you would need to look at their budgets, not their millage, to understand what their revenues were forecast to be.

 On SchoolDigger.com, TESD is ranked #6 in PA (NCES statistics)  Abington is ranked 128th.   TESD’s millage is 17.47.  Our CLR is .53 in Chester County and the Abington CLR in Montgomery County is .54 — so you can see my other tax calculations to figure it out:

On a house with a fair market value of $500,000 — the assessed value should be .54 of that number:  $270,000 (the same assessment as Lower Merion and Upper Merion on a similarly priced home)

The millage on that house would cost $7,314.30 plus .5% earned income tax.  Another house bargain discovered?  Remember that the 17.47 millage on a house valued at $500,000 in TESD has a tax bill of  $4629.55 .

Abington Info

Northern suburb of Philadelphia in Montgomery County

  • Includes Abington Township and Borough of Rockledge
  • 15.2 square miles, primarily residential
  • Total population: 56,444District Organization/Enrollment 2009-2010
Elementary schools (K-6) 3,774
Junior high school (7-8-9) 1,739
Senior high school (10-11-12) 1,923
Total enrollment 7,436

 Personnel 2009-2010
Professional staff positions: 633.3       Supporting staff positions: 420.9
Budget 2009-2010

Budget Item Total Federal Funds
included in total
State Funds
included in total
Local Funds
included in total
Salary Items $ 71,946,518  $   472,927 $  10,703,364 $  60,770,227
Employee Benefits $ 23,368,932   $  155,230 $  4,921,407 $  18,292,295
Non-Salary Items $ 31,731,955   $    69,352 $  4,490,799 $  27,171,804
ARRA Stimulus Reserve $ 1,533,308 $ 1,533,308 $  0 $  0
Total Budget $128,580,713    $2,230,817 $20,115,570 $106,234,326

Taxes 2009-2010

Real Estate Tax:

  • The 2009-2010 tax rate is set at 27.09 mills. This means that for every $1,000 of assessed property value, $27.09 in school taxes is levied. The millage rate reflects a decrease of .7% when compared to the millage rate for the 2008-2009 school year.Earned Income Tax:
  • The 2009-2010 tax rate is set at 0.5%

Items in our budget over which we have little or no control:

  • Cyber and charter schools
  • Additional enrollment
  • Dramatic increases in fuel and utility costs
  • Increasing retirement/pension costs
  • Increasing medical insurance costs
  • Unfunded and underfunded mandated programs including special education classes and other programs and costs
  • Low level of state funding for education and decreasing federal funds
  • Increasing costs of textbooks, instructional materials, supplies and ever-increasing importance and costs of instructional technology

Future Plans of Graduates (Class of 2009):

  • Higher Education: 88%
  • Employment: 11%
  • Armed Forces: 1%

Once I am able to review their year to year budget, I will advise you whether cutting “stuff” really reduced their expenditure budget as some have claimed…anecdotally.  But please read their “things over which we have little or no control” as it’s pretty much true for every district in Pennsylvania.

Preparation time for teachers

From the current collective bargaining agreement with the TEEA

A “preparation period” is defined as the time during the work day when a member of the Bargaining Unit shall be released from instruction or student contact and be free from other responsibilities, including meetings, except for teacher initiated meetings, in order that such time may be used for teacher-directed preparation for instruction.

Each full time Bargaining Unit member shall receive an average of two hundred twenty-five minutes per week of preparation time within a range of two hundred to two hundred fifty minutes per week in any particular week and a minimum of one preparation period per day. Each preparation period shall consist of a minimum of 30-minute blocks of time at each level. Other released time beyond two hundred twenty-five minutes per week may be used at the District’s discretion for additional preparation time and/or non-teaching assignments (NTA).


Tredyffrin/Easttown Education Association and the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District agree that the continuation of the high professional and ethical standards that exist in the District is of utmost importance. They further agree that the maintenance of discipline and high academic standards is an important aspect of the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District. Therefore, both the District and the Association will strive for the perpetuation of these practices and standards.


How do you cut a budget anyway?

Make sure you have something left after the cut

Not to worry — I am not on the bandwagon to abandon cuts– but I am in the corner of those who need to understand just exactly what our school system costs us — and to make sure that cutting doesn’t end up with the proverbial “throw out the baby with the bathwater” issue. 

I have now uploaded the CLR data on the companion website to this blog schoolspending.info  Here’s the summary but go there if you want to see the data that generates it.
The cost of a house includes the mortgage, taxes and insurance.  Well, I’ll let the market declare the mortgage and insurance — and presume that you do your research on those two independent of school districts.  The taxes, however, are something that the buyer can consider.  To be able to consider a district’s relative costs, here is the MODEL:
The house sells for $500,000.   I don’t care where you buy it — but based on your own savings and income, you have a mortgage you can afford.  Now — given the CLR for PA counties, set annually by the State Tax Equalization Board (this takes type of property, sales, location, etc into the mix to create a single percentage of 100 that represents the percent of fair market value that equals your assessment.) 
Given the CLR (see previous posting), this $500,000 house would assess as follows:
54.0  Montgomery County   $270,000
53.0  Chester County  $265,000
61.3  Delaware County $306,500
9.7   Bucks County $48,500
Using the property tax millage for school districts with these assessed values on our $500,000 purchase house, your property-based school taxes would be as follows:
T-E  $4,629.55
Great Valley  $4,828.30
Radnor  $5,979.82
Lower Merion  $5,786.24
West Chester  $4,730.25 plus .5 earned income tax
Unionville- CF  $6,248.70
Central Bucks  $5,567.80 plus .5 earned income tax
Council Rock  $5,236.06 plus .5 earned income tax
Upper Merion  $4,114.80
So — homeowners — this is how people decide to move here.  What to you think influences the choice? 
Here’s a site designed for real estate searches — but it rates school districts.  http://www.schooldigger.com/ 
Before we “cut” a budget, let’s be sure we know what we want, what we are willing to pay for, and what we are expecting to charge when we sell our homes.  The School Board has voted to limit next year’s budget to Act 1 limits — which means it can only go up a maximum of 2.9%.  That will mean cuts — maybe some big ones.  I think we need to watch the process and understand the decisions.  Questions?  Feel free to ask. 

Blogging — Don’t let Vitriol substitute for opinion

I’ve been posting on Community….Matters in an effort to share school board information with the multitudes who are seeking it.  Pattye Benson is doing a fabulous job moderating discussions — but I occasionally will continue here because much of what I share is rather tedious.  I think the discussion in the community is well served there.

If you want to comment here,   I’ll say up front that I won’t approve any post from anyone who wants to spend energy talking about who should be fired and who doesn’t deserve to be elected.  I had a particularly difficult time early in my first term on the school board. A resident stayed after a meeting and approached me one night and told me he didn’t agree with me and would make it his personal mission to see that I wasn’t re-elected.  I asked him for his card, as I told him I was sure my family would join his group — since volunteering and enduring a campaign  to be on  a school board is one of the more thankless jobs one can imagine holding.  Even the Supervisors earn $3,000 a year.  School board members earn the longing for anonymity — as it’s so easy to take shots at them — much easier than actually taking the time to understand the issues.

The job of school board director is VERY HARD and the answers are absolutely NEVER black and white.  Everyone went to school during a portion of their life.  Everyone is a stakeholder in property values and educational programs.  So everyone cares.  And money is PERSONAL . Earning it and Spending it.   People moving into TESD  come with great expectations and pay top dollar.  People who have lived here forever are done with the school system and in many cases could not afford to buy the house they live in today. (the odd reality to the finances  is that it takes about 30 years of paying taxes here per child to pay for a K-12 education in TE — in today’s dollars – so you are never done paying if you were ever a user.) So — how do you fund the schools?  Multiple tax study commissions have ruled against any tax based on income, so property taxes are it.  In a time when foreclosures are a real issue, taking more from the homeowner is hard to justify, but deciding to put an artificial ceiling on expenditures in a contract-based environment will take a huge effort.  Anonymous posting to blogs certainly makes taking shots easy — (though attribution doesn’t seem to clean it up either). 

I think blogs offer a genuine opportunity to  make a strong contribution if they encourage and promote an honest and productive dialogue.  Pattye Benson has worked very hard to encourage dialogue and I commend her on her regular updates and comment approvals.  I believe questions and opinions are worthy of sharing, whatever they are. 

I stand by the headline here though –when viotriol substitutes as opinion, the context and the value of the exchange only alienates open conversation.   I don’t deny anyone’s right to express an opinion, but I don’t want to open a forum for vitriol.  Hence “Mean Spirits. 

This blog was not meant to be JUST about TESD school spending. This is such a crazy budget time in Pennsylvania that it’s a very large question everywhere.  I started the blog as a former school board member who knows a great deal more about the process than is typically discussed/revealed during the budget process.  It’s tedious.   I will comment on TESD when it’s germane to the topic, but please visit Community…Matters (link in blog roll) if you want to continue the discussion on the TE 2010 budget.  You can come here for an explanation of  facts (that I often introduce there — and try to give background here) — and my companion website schoolspending.info for numbers .

  I’m not around every day to approve comments, so this cannot be the “back and forth” that goes on in Community…Matters.  It is a valuable site — and I encourage you to stick with it and enjoy the exchange.  If you have any questions, please ask me.  I believe we are all better served when we not only have information and opinions, but when we understand the issues.

FLES redux in TESD

I want to formally alter my comments about FLES and the fact that nothing has changed since its introduction except the retirement of Drs. Foot, Slobojan and Folts.  In fact, something has changed, and it’s my error not to know it. 

Anyway — I spent some time on the PDE website — specifically about Annual Yearly progress for the PSSAs.  One thing has seriously changed since FLES was introduced — and that is the testing of elementary aged kids on content knowledge by the State.  I had no idea that Pennsylvania has undertaken PSSA testing for SCIENCE in the 4th grade.   I don’t know about you, but I think science until 7th grade was rock collections, bug collections, and enviromental knowledge. 


 All Students    # scored  473

%  Advanced   68.7

% Proficient   27.5

% Basic   3.2

% Below Basic  0.6

  • Below Basic – seldom demonstrates grade-level appropriate concepts/skills for a particular subject/task.
  • Basic – at times demonstrates some grade-level appropriate concepts/skills for a particular subject/task.
  • Proficient – routinely demonstrates a variety of grade-level appropriate concepts/skills for a particular subject/task.
  • Advanced – consistently demonstrates an in-depth understanding of the grade-level appropriate concepts/skills and uses sophisticated strategies to solve a task

NICE DESCRIPTION OF A 9-YEAR old…what??? And they get this in Reading, Math and Writing too through their K-4 experience.  Again in 5th grade for some subjects, and 8th and 11th grade to evaluate the districts’ Annual Yearly Progress.  We better be comfortable with the tests, because we are absolutely going to have to teach to it.  Does ANYONE remember anything that age except “Iowa” achievement tests?  (and air raids?)

You can go to the state’s website to see the results and the tests that our kids take…HERE

You should also visit the TE District’s website and read about the elementary curriculum.  FLES still shows because it has not officially been cancelled, but reading the curricular objectives, and knowing that the state of PA has learning outcomes mandated by testing….I’m glad I have my college degree and my kids are done.  I thought high school was stressful…actually — high school IS stressful.  Now I guess I’m learning just how much more we have forced downwards to the elementary program.   Just my opinion — but it’s clear there is no time for instruction in a foreign language that would result in meaningful learning because there is simply not enough time.


PSEA goal of avoiding “excise tax” on benefits almost succeeds

The PSEA website has been encouraging members to write their congressmen to protect their health care plans from the excise tax promises in Obamacare on “cadillac” plans (yes — this is the same idea that John McCain put forth and was profoundly damaged by).   Nationally, a deal has been cut — read for the details…

 the excise tax was one of the bigger ones. Union leaders were able to soften the tax’s impact a bit: It won’t take effect until 2013; it will affect plans that cost more than $24,000 per family or $8,900 for individuals, up slightly from the levels in the Senate bill; those levels will be adjusted annually for inflation and adjusted additionally for plans that are expensive because they cover inherently expensive groups, and they won’t include the cost of dental or vision plans after 2015; plans worked out through collective bargaining will be exempt from the tax altogether until 2018; and by then, unions in collective bargaining agreements would be able to buy insurance through a new exchange system the legislation would set up, instead of going through employers. (In the years in between, unions could try to renegotiate their contracts to get higher wages instead of so-called Cadillac healthcare plans.) The changes mean the tax won’t raise as much money to offset the costs of the bill — the tax would raise $90 billion over 10 years, instead of $150 billion as the Senate bill had it.

By the way — just two years ago… June 2008

Providing tax credits of $2,500 to individuals and $5,000 to families as an incentive to buy health coverage.

This provision is not unlike the proposal first made by President Bush at last year’s State of the Union Address. The President called for ending the longstanding tax exemption consumers get on any health insurance benefits paid for by their employer. The President would replace that with a standard $7,500 deduction for individuals and a $15,000 deduction for families.

McCain would also end the employer tax exemption—meaning that if an employer spends the average $12,000 a year on family health insurance, the worker would now have a tax bill on the portion of the $12,000 of benefits paid for by the employer.

Like Bush, McCain would offer a personal tax offset, but he would do the new offset a bit differently than Bush.

McCain would give each single person a $2,500 tax credit and a $5,000 tax credit for a family who had health insurance. A tax credit means that when taxpayers calculate their taxes, instead of taking a deduction, as Bush would do, under McCain’s plan they would subtract the tax credit ($5,000 for a family) from their final tax bill (and they would likely be able to take advantage of the credit during the course of the year to pay their monthly premiums).