All T/E Schools Closed Starting Friday, March 13 Through at Least Thursday, March 26!

Tredyffrin/Easttown School DistrictI just received notification from the T/E School District with the following letter from Dr. Gusick, the District’s Superintendent — All T/E Schools are closed starting tomorrow Friday, March 13 through at least Thursday, March 26. In addition all school related activities are cancelled.

March 12, 2020

Dear T/E Staff and Families,

I am writing to share that all T/E schools will be closed and all school-related activities will be suspended beginning Friday, March 13 through at least Thursday, March 26.

This afternoon Governor Wolf announced that all schools in Montgomery County will be closed for two weeks and he discouraged non-essential travel within Montgomery County.  As you know, the communities of Montgomery County border the T/E School District. Approximately 25% of our teaching staff, in addition to many members of our support staff, reside in Montgomery County. To remain in keeping with the spirit of the Governor’s containment action, TESD employees who are residents of Montgomery County should not report to work. As a result, we will be unable to operate our schools with such a limited number of staff. It is now necessary for us to move to the Closing component of our response plan.

Because Chester County is not in the containment area in the Governor’s declaration, we are able to make our schools accessible to students and families on Friday, March 13.  Please feel welcome to visit your child’s school tomorrow during normal hours to gather anything you may need.  A Child’s Place has informed us that they will email families directly with specifics regarding their program’s operations.

Earlier today, I sent a framework for a distance learning rollout to TESD students.  Based on today’s information, we will revisit the timing of distance learning implementation and send a revised plan to staff and families tomorrow.  I will be participating in a virtual meeting with the Secretary of Education tomorrow morning, where I hope to learn more information.  The impact of this closing on the last day of school will also be shared in a later communication.

Today Governor Wolf also provided guidance for the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in response to COVID-19. In his address, he made further statewide recommendations to mitigate the spread of illness:

  • Suspending large gatherings, events, conferences of 250 individuals or more, and
  • Limiting travel to recreational activities like gyms, movie theaters and shopping malls

If you have concerns about yourself or a member of the TESD community being exposed to COVID-19, please contact your primary healthcare provider. Additionally, the CCHD now has a self-reporting online tool available on their webpage.  We have also created a District email account, HealthInfo@tesd.net, to share questions, comments, or concerns related to COVID-19 as it relates to the District. We will need some time as an administrative staff to sort through some of the major questions we expect many of you to have.

These are extraordinary times, and I make this decision after careful consideration of an array of alternatives.  I do believe this is the right decision for our District at this time, and I trust that the strength of our community will continue to shine brightly as we manage this crisis together.

Sincerely,

Dr. Richard Gusick
Superintendent of Schools

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Will Proposed Changes to T/E Policy 5401 Prevent Police Involvement For Kindergartners With Down Syndrome Who Point Their Finger? Here’s Hoping!

There is a T/E School District Policy Committee meeting tonight, Tuesday, March 3, 7 PM at the District Office, 940 West Valley Road, Suite 1700, Wayne. An important item on the agenda is follow-up discussion of Policy and Regulation 5401: Student Discipline.

The agenda for the Policy Committee meeting contains a proposed draft of Policy 5401. The focus of the Policy 5401 discussion at the last Policy Meeting of February 4 and public comments at the regular school board meeting of February 24 involved the consultation of law enforcement in the policy.

According to the meeting agenda notes for tonight, Policy 5401 “will be brought back to the Committee at the next meeting with proposed enhancements, including a definition of consultation, a consultation form, and a decision tree to reflect the protocol for assessment of threatening behaviors delineated in the Regulation.” The question will become, does the updated version of Policy 5401 achieve its goals?

Maggie and Mark Gaines and their kindergartner daughter Margot with Down Syndrome, is the family in the middle of the District’s policy governing student discipline and police consultation.  In a read of the proposed changes to Policy 5401, my interpretation is that the transient threat of the Gaines’ 6-year old would not require a consult with the police.

In part the proposed change to Policy 5401 reads, “ … Based upon the available information, the Threat Assessment Team will categorize a threat as transient or substantive. If the Threat Assessment Team determines the threat to be transient, they may consult with police for students in grades 9-12 …” It would appear that police consultation will no longer be part of the process for elementary and middle school students if the threat is viewed as “transient” (as was the case of Margo Gaines, the kindergartner with Down Syndrome).

From the beginning, the focus of Maggie and Mark Gaines has been on the actual process of Policy 5401 and the specifics as to “how” and “when” the District should  consult the police. Do the proposed changes to Policy 5401 satisfactorily meet that goal? I don’t think any of us want to see T/E School District making national (and international) headlines again over police involvement for a special needs kindergartner pointing her finger.

Below is a Facebook entry by Maggie Gaines regarding the Policy Committee meeting tonight; and is posted with her permission.

Please come out and support Mark Gaines and me as we push the school board to adopt new language to protect all our kids.

I’ve said this in the past, but will say it again. THIS is what Democracy looks like. We cannot allow our local elected officials to make policy that affects all of our children without input from the community and without keeping a watchful eye on how and what they put into these policies.

It truly is our collective responsibility to ensure they get it right. This is especially true for Policy 5401, which though its intentions were largely good, missed the mark, resulting in the school insisting they were required to call the police on my 6-year old kindergartner for pointing her finger at her special-ed teacher and saying, “I shoot you.”

I decided to go public with my daughter’s story because I recognized this was an issue not only affecting my daughter but many kids in our school district and in other districts in our area and around the country. I have put myself and my family out in the public sphere to make change. And now I’m asking you all to stand with me and to push for change, too.

Let’s make sure they fix this.

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Contested Primary on April 28: Five Candidates (3 D’s & 2 R’s) on Ballot for Sen. Andy Dinniman’s Seat in 19th Senate District

Democratic State Senator Andy Dinniman is not seeking re-election, announcing his retirement a couple of weeks ago. The Senator has represented Chester County’s 19th Senate District since 2006 and we learned that he has endorsed Don Vymazal (D), his governmental relations advisor to succeed him.

Following the news of Sen Dinniman’s retirement on February 7, and subsequent endorsement of Vymazal, two other democrats added their names to the list of candidates seeking the position  … Rep. Carolyn Comitta, former two-term West Chester mayor and currently serving state representative of the 156th District and Kyle Boyer, a first-term member of the T/E School Board and chair of its Policy Committee. Whereas Vymazal received the endorsement of Sen. Dinniman for his seat, Rep. Comitta (D-156) received the endorsement of Gov. Wolf for the position.

At the Chester County Democratic Committee held a couple of weeks ago, Don Vymazal garnered the most votes and received the party’s endorsement.  The endorsement process requires a 65% threshold and voting was as followed:

First Ballot:
Carolyn Comitta – 25%
Kyle Boyer – 27 %
Don Vymazal – 47%
(Rep. Comitta Eliminated)

Second Ballot:
Kyle Boyer – 36 %
Don Vymazal – 63 %

Final Ballot:
Kyle Boyer – 31%
Don Vymazal — 69%

Once Chester County Democratic Committee make their endorsements, often times the other candidates will drop out of the race before the primary election. But not this time; both Boyer and Rep. Comitta are staying in the race for Chester County’s 19th Senate District and will appear on the April 28 primary ballot.

It should be noted that  incumbent Rep. Comitta (D-156) did receive Chester County Democratic Committee’s endorsement for state representative. My assumption is that should Comitta win the primary election as her party’s choice in both the senatorial race and the state representative race, she would need to make a choice.  I am not completely certain about how the process works, but presumably Rep. Comitta cannot be listed as a candidate for both races in the November general election.

After nearly thirty years in public office, replacing Sen. Dinniman is no easy task.  And given the number of important issues facing Chester County – education, pipelines, environment and land development, etc. – where  Sen. Dinniman has been front and center for the community, the selection of his replacement is all the more important.

For instance, as minority chair of PA State Education Committee, Sen. Dinniman has led various initiatives to ensure quality education programs and reduce the cost of education. Although he has championed many causes during his tenure as an elected official, advocating for our children and their education has remained a high priority.

As most of us know, T/E School District has recently received massive national (and international) attention regarding its policy decision that involved the police in the recent threat assessment of a kindergartner with Down Syndrome.  As soon as the matter surfaced, Sen. Dinniman weighed in with a lengthy letter to the T/E School Board, questioning how the threat policy is being carried out. Although his statement is now widely shared, the reading of the letter by an audience member was not permitted at the last Policy Committee meeting. (Click here to read Sen. Dinniman’s letter).

T/E School Board director and chair of its Policy Committee Kyle Boyer is a candidate for Dinniman’s senate seat. Should the school district’s threat assessment policy and the police involvement in the handling of the 6-year old with Down Syndrome impact Boyer’s chances in the primary election? For the record, T/E School District Policy 5401 Student Discipline remains under review by the school board.

In addition to the three democrats on the ballot for the contested 19th Senate District seat held by retiring Sen. Andy Dinniman are two republicans. Republicans Kevin Runey and Amber Little-Turner also filed petitions to run in the 19th district. Runey is in the healthcare industry and is a Supervisor in the London Grove Township. Little-Turner from Coatesville is a real estate investment professional.

With five candidates (three Ds and two Rs) vying for the seat of retiring Sen. Andy Dinniman, the contested primary race will be interesting.

In another local race, State Rep. Melissa Shusterman (D-157) is seeking reelection. Rep. Shusterman is running unopposed on her party’s ticket and has no counterpart on the Republican ballot for the April 28 primary election. In addition to Rep. Shusterman, the Chester County Democratic Committee also endorsed Tredyffrin Township resident Chrissy Houlahan, incumbent for the 6th Congressional District.

For further information on all the local candidates, please check their social media sites.

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With Major Headlines Across the Country — Should the TE School District Have Called the Police on a Special Needs Kindergartner?

The headlines about the kindergartner with Down Syndrome who was reported to the police for pointing a finger gun continue to roll in with no end in sight. There are countless articles in major newspapers, on network TV stations, Facebook groups, website and blogs on the issue all touting shock and disbelief that this has happened.

From the New York Daily News, Washington Post, Education Week, The Daily Mail (UK), ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, CNN and on and on, including the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer today, the story of the 6-year-old Valley Forge Elementary School student has garnered much attention.

I have remained troubled since attending the school district policy meeting on February 4 and listened to Maggie and Mark Gaines, the parents of the special needs kindergartner caught in the middle of the debate, and to others referencing behavior problems that went unreported to the police. From school district parents, it is unclear which student behaviors constitute a requirement to “consult” with  police – the inconsistencies were glaring.

I simply do not understand how a middle school child can suffer a concussion at the hands of another student and there is no investigation from the school district yet on the opposite end of the spectrum, there is a special needs kindergartner who is reported to the police for pointing her finger like a gun.  If perceived “threats” require police involvement, then my question is what does it take to get attention for serious physical assaults in the District?

Was contacting the police the appropriate handling of a special needs child with specific behavioral issues? Late this afternoon, an editorial written by Dr. Kim Doan, a professor in the Special Education Department at West Chester University appeared in the Daily Local and helps answer that question.

A special education educator for 23+ years and a parent, Dr. Doan attended the TESD policy meeting and suggests that the District’s student behavior policy is in violation of Federal legislation,

The Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA) requires schools to individualize the education of children with special needs and that includes in discipline. A district policy cannot supersede federal legislation. Applying a policy in a “one size fits all” manner is tantamount to the violation of IDEA.

In assessing the student behavior policy of TESD, Dr. Doan states the following:

A policy, legislation, or assessment tool can be well written and thoughtfully designed but if the adults involved are not trained or consistent, then error is inevitable. Common sense should take precedence over all written policy. Let’s not criminalize our kindergartners before they’ve even learned their ABCs and 123s. The next time a similar event arises, consider the child for who he/she is as a whole person and think about why this little one made the statement to the teacher. We must remember that behavior is communication.

But rather than updating the student behavior policy to address special needs children as suggested by Dr. Doan, the school board is digging in its heels. At the policy meeting, all but two school board directors  (Scott Dorsey and Todd Kantorczyk) in attendance support the current policy, which includes reporting a six-year-old with Down Syndrome to the police.

Calling the police for a little kindergartner with Down Syndrome has become a public relations nightmare for the school district —  adverse media attention is problematic.  And touting the high performance test scores of our school district is not going to work this time; the problem is not going away. As the entire country (and beyond!) looks at the situation in disbelief, the District doubles down on the policy.

To be clear, the Valley Forge Elementary School teacher and the principal were doing their jobs when they called the police. The Tredyffrin Police in turn were doing their job. The problem is the District policy – we all want our children to be safe at school but the current policy goes too far.

Where does the school district go from here … ?

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State Senator “Andy” Dinniman (D-Chester) Announces Retirement, Endorses His Aide Don Vymazal

Late today we learned that state senator for Pennsylvania’s 19th District, “Andy” Dinniman (D) has announced his retirement.

A tireless champion for Chester County and its residents for thirty years, Senator Dinniman is a one of a kind.  He is everyone’s Senator. If you’ve ever observed him walk down the street. Or cross a crowded restaurant on his way to a table. Or appear at a parade or fair or other public gathering. The congenial legislator can’t make it more than a few steps without someone stopping him for a greeting, a friendly word or a handshake.

The news of the Senator’s retirement is bittersweet.  While I extend my best wishes for his much earned retirement, please know that you will be missed. Thank you for your many years of service and for making Chester County first but now is the time for your family. Best wishes for a speedy recovery for your wife.

According to www.politicspa.com, Senator Dinniman has endorsed Don Vymazal, his longtime Director of Government Relations and Policy, stating “Don, who is well-known in Phoenixville, is the most qualified, experienced, knowledgeable, and well-respected person to lead the 19th Senatorial District.” Vymazal experience includes 16+ years with the PA State Senate.

Vymazal will face a primary challenge from Kyle Boyer, first term TE School Board director. On Thursday, February 13, the Chester County Democratic Party will hold its endorsement meeting.

Below is Senator Dinniman’s announcement of retirement:

“For nearly 30 years, as your Chester County Commissioner and State Senator, I have had the privilege of building a close relationship with the people of Chester County. Now, I have a responsibility to explain why I will not be seeking reelection.

This was a very tough decision, especially knowing just how many of you have faithfully and tirelessly supported my work over the years. However, as I sit at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center with my wife, Margo, who is now recovering from surgery, we both came to the sudden realization this was not the time to run again.

Anyone who seeks public office understands that it’s a family decision. Despite enduring a series of health challenges in recent years, Margo has always supported me. Over 51 years of marriage, she always said “yes” when I wanted to run. Even after a three-month stay at the hospital and Bryn Mawr Rehabilitation, she remained my biggest cheerleader, my most astute advisor, my rock. I remember times during her long hospitalization that I would go to Harrisburg, come home to walk and feed the dog, and then head back to the hospital to spend the night at her bedside. Margo and I have faced some long days and tough battles together, but that is what a real, loving relationship is about — and it only gets better with time.

Even after all of this, Margo again, out of steadfast love and devotion, agreed to support my plans to run in this year’s election. But now it is my turn to be there for her and lovingly support her as we focus on her recovery from a procedure that will allow her to again walk freely and live without constant pain for the first time in years.

Again, as I write this, sitting beside my wife and family, I cannot help but be overwhelmed by feelings of both gratitude and hope. I cannot help but reflect on my own career and marriage and the idea that “love is love.” I have been blessed to not only serve as your representative, but even more so, to share my life and all it’s ups and downs with a strong, supportive, and committed partner who I love. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

In closing, please know that I will continue to work hard for you until the very last day of my term. And Margo thanks all of you for the cards and well wishes.”

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TE Policy Committee Update: Public Wants Answers from School Board About Police Record for 6-Year-Old & State Senator Andy Dinniman Weighs In

I attended the District’s Policy Meeting last night. For nearly two hours of public comment, it was remarkable as parent after parent spoke out – all on the topic of Policy 5401 student discipline and the need for clarification. Many of the comments and discussion centered on which student behavioral situations constitute a requirement to “consult” with  police. As an audience member, it appears to be much confusion as to how Policy 5401 was intended to work vs the reality of what actually happens. In addition, concern for the handling (or mishandling) of special needs children and their specific behavioral issues.

It was troubling to learn from parents that the District appears more focused on students who make threats (including the 6-year-old Down Syndrome kindergartner) versus the students involved in physical altercations. Threats appear to escalate quickly to the police level yet on the flip side parents told stories about children who have been physically bulled and even beaten (yes, that word was used) without any police notification. These stories were difficult to hear – with one coming from a 12-year-old from Chesterbrook.

One of most poignant stories came from Tredyffrin Township supervisor Sharon Humble who reported that just yesterday her middle school son was bullied and pushed at school causing his head to hit the concrete. And although Mrs. Humble reported that her son was at home with a concussion, the District did not contact the police. This is crazy – how is that a kindergartner with Down Syndrome now has a police report but there’s no investigation into a significant physical alteration. I simply do not understand.

Throughout the two hours, CBS channel 3 was taping the meeting as was a T/E parent. Once the video from the parent is available, I will post. During the time that I was at the meeting, the members of the school board had little to say. But there was one remarkable moment between the Policy Chair Kyle Boyer and a District parent.

A parent attempts to read a letter from PA State Senator Andy Dinniman (D-19) regarding Policy 5401 which was sent to TE Superintendent Gusick and the school board prior to the meeting. Boyer interrupts the parent, saying “we’re not allowing you to read the letter” and refuses to allow her to continue. The parent then responds “Why, because you’re running against him?”  At which point, there were audible gasps from the audience.

In the comments on the last post on Community Matters, I provided an image from the public Facebook page of Sen Dinniman. The Senator was informed of the handling of the kindergartner with Down Syndrome; and states he has contacted the District and will post the letter shortly.  The letter was subsequently released on his Facebook page and a copy is at the end of this post.

To clarify, according to the Chester County Democratic Committee website, www.chescodems.org  first term T/E school board director Kyle Boyer is opposing incumbent  Senator Andy Dinniman, (who has served in the state senate since 2006). The two democrats will face off for the Pennsylvania Senate, District 19 seat.

In closing, it is my understanding that a draft of changes to Policy 5401 was presented by the Policy Committee (after I left) although a copy was not part of the meeting agenda. No final decision and the matter will continue to be discussed at a future Policy Committee meeting. It was a uncomfortable and troubling meeting without a clear path forward.

Senator Dinniman delivers a powerful message to TE School District in his letter below — please read.

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TE School District Policy 5401 “Student Discipline” Results in Police Record for Kindergartner With Down Syndrome — School Board, How is This Possible?

I learned of a troubling situation from the January 21 meeting of TESD Policy Committee. Although I was not in attendance at the meeting, I reviewed the video of the meeting and would encourage all reading this post to do likewise (click here for video).

According to Maggie and Mark Gaines, their 6-year-old kindergarten daughter (who has Down Syndrome) now has a record with the Tredyffrin Township Police Department.  The following is from the statement read by Mrs. Gaines at the Police Committee meeting:

Our daughter Margot is a kindergartner at Valley Forge Elementary School. And she now has a record with the Tredyffrin police department, because the district alleged she had made a threat to her teacher.

On November 19, Margot, who has Down syndrome and often struggles transitioning between activities, was asked by her teacher to do something she did not want to do. At one point in her refusal, she pointed her finger at her teacher and said, “I shoot you.”

I imagine the utterance was not unlike the instances when I’ve told her it’s time for bed and she says, “I hate bed. I hate mommy.” As most parents can attest, I have learned not to take offense. For I know that a short time later she is usually cuddled up to me, while we read bedtime stories and exchange kisses and cuddles before saying good-night.

At any rate, the teacher claimed this response was a “threat” and brought Margot to the principal, who talked to my daughter and quickly determined that she neither understood what she was saying nor meant any harm to her teacher or any of her classmates.

The principal then followed district policy and convened a “threat assessment” team. The threat assessment team met and determined Margot had made a “transient” threat, which is simply an expression of anger or frustration with no intent to harm anyone. The threat assessment team recommended no disciplinary action. Also, there was no recommendation from the principal, Margot’s teachers nor any other members of Margot’s IEP team to address the “problem” behavior in her IEP since it appeared to be an “isolated” event.

I think most people would agree that this is where the issue should have ended. And yet it did not.

Mrs. Gaines received a call from the principal after the assessment team met to notify that the District policy required a call to the police regarding the incident. As any parent would do, she “disagreed and argued it was absurd to involve the police for an episode involving a kindergartner who pointed her finger, not in malice, but in protest to a request to change classrooms.”

The Gaines do not believe that the District Policy 5401 “Student Discipline” requires the police to be called for a transient threat. However, the school district alleges that 6-year-old Margot with Down Syndrome made a threat to her teacher and therefore under Policy 5401 required police involvement.

Compounding the situation, we learn from Mrs. Gaines statement  that their kindergartner’s information was entered into the Tredyffrin Township police database and that it “would not be deleted or expunged after any reasonable time period”. When Mrs. Gaines asked the police officer who could have access to the information, the response was that it was publicly available.

I want to be clear  — nothing is as important as protecting our children and everyone wants our schools to be safe. But surely there must be a better solution than to create a police file on a special needs kindergartner. I do not want to believe that the District intended this outcome from its Policy 5401.

A statement by former school board director and chair of the policy committee Kate Murphy was read at the January 21 meeting and provided the following remarks,

Good evening Policy Committee Members,

When we revised Policy 5401, and reviewed the accompanying Administrative Regulation, we didn’t discuss a situation like this. Many of our changes and revisions were driven by events that occurred in our middle schools or high school, not in our elementary schools.

It wasn’t my intent to notify the police, or create a “record” with local law enforcement when an elementary-aged child made what our trained threat assessment team determined to be a “transient threat.”

Knowing now how this policy is enforced, please ask if this is your intent. Does it make sense to notify local law enforcement every time an elementary-aged student makes a non-substantive threat out of anger or frustration?

If this isn’t your intent, please clarify the language in Policy 5401, and ask the administration to do the same in their accompanying regulation.

Thank you

Thank you Kate for providing historic background on Policy 5401 — much appreciated.

Folks, watch the video of the January 21 meeting and the associated public comments and I think you will agree that review and clarification is needed for District Policy 5401 “Student Discipline”!

There is a school board Policy Meeting tomorrow, Tuesday, February 4 at 7 PM at the Administration Building.  According to the meeting agenda, there will be follow-up on Policy 5401 Student Discipline. I plan to attend the meeting in hopes that the school board clarifies Policy 5401 and takes the appropriate action.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

T/E Preliminary Budget Calls for 2.6% Tax Increase Question: What Happened to the $4 Million Surplus from October?

At its last meeting on January 6, the TESD school board voted 8-1 to authorize the Administration to display a 2020-2021 preliminary budget proposal that includes a property tax increase of 2.6%.  The proposed property tax increase of 2.6% is the Act 1 index. For the record, this will mark the 16th straight year of tax increases in TE School District.

At the January meeting, the public learned that the school district needs the tax increase to help close the projected $7 million operating deficit.  I am baffled … in a blog post dated October 10, 2019,  (you might want to review the post and the 54 comments) I wrote the following:

How is it possible that in June, the TESD Business Manager claimed a projected deficit of $1.5 million for the 2018-19 year and then based on that, the taxpayers received a 3.91% tax increase for 2019-20?  Then fast forward less than four months later and this same Business Manager tells the school board at the Finance Committee meeting this week that not only did the District not have a deficit for the 2018-19 year but instead it magically had a $4 million surplus — A $5.5 Million discrepancy! How is this possible?

The same business manager who magically found the multi-million dollar surplus in October now says the school district has a projected $7 million operating deficit.  It is no wonder that I have received emails from residents asking what happened to the $4 million surplus. In an effort to understand how those extra millions were accounted for in the preliminary budget proposal (which is on the agenda for adoption at tomorrow’s school board meeting), I searched for it on the school district website.

Today, I learned from Keith Knauss, former long-serving school board director at Unionville Chaddsford School District and regular contributor to Community Matters, that if you want to see a copy of the proposed budget proposal you must drive to the District’s administration building on North Valley Road.

I reread the press release from the January 6 meeting – it clearly states that the school board voted to authorize the Administration to display the budget.  Sorry, but forcing residents to drive to the administration building to view the budget is not my idea of transparency.  However, as I learned from Keith, it gets more ridiculous.

Rather than drive to the administration building to view the proposed preliminary budget, Keith filed a right-to-know request with the District’s Open Records Officer Art McDonnell (yes, also the Business Manager). Rather than provide a copy of the proposed preliminary budget (a public document) McDonnell denies the request! On what grounds, I cannot imagine.

Today Keith sent the following email to our school board members and shared a copy with me:

School Directors,

You may want to ask your business manager and Open Records Officer Mr. McDonnell why he is making it inconvenient to see the proposed preliminary budget passed by unanimous vote on January 6th.  A school board concerned with public review and comment would have had the budget available with the 1/6 agenda.  An acceptable alternative would have had the budget available on the district’s website the next day.  The questionable alternative chosen by Mr. McDonnell was to require the public to inspect the document at the district offices.  Why make it hard to see the budget?

Rather than visiting the district offices to see the budget, I chose to send a Right to Know request to the Open Records Officer Mr. McDonnell seeking the budget.  He could have easily sent a pdf copy of the budget as this is the standard format required by PDE for all budget documents.  Instead, my request was denied.  I have appealed that denial to the Office of Open Records.  This is an unfortunate outcome.  First, the denial paints the district as opaque rather than transparent. Second, the appeal requires time on my part and legal fees on your part.

I’ve attached a copy of the appeal.

Regards,

Keith Knauss

Reread the last couple of sentences of Keith’s email to the school board, “…the denial paints the district as opaque rather than transparent. Second, the appeal requires time on my part and legal fees on your part.”

Yet again, you have to ask yourselves “who” is running the TE School District? The District (read taxpayers) will now incur additional legal fees due to the actions of McDonnell over a simple right-to-know request. The budget proposal is public information! However, it’s not McDonnell’s money – so why should he care. Had McDonnell included the budget proposal on the District’s website immediately following the January 6 meeting, all of this nonsense, time and expense would have been avoided.

You have to wonder why McDonnell is limiting the number of people who will see the proposed budget proposal.  Many of our residents have full time jobs, so how many were actually available to go to the District’s Administration building? Was  McDonnell concerned that some of us might go looking for the $4 million surplus that the District had three months ago!

Transparency needs to be more than a feel-good buzzword.  The government has an obligation to share information with citizens. On the eve of the school board meeting to approve the preliminary budget (and tax increase), the meeting agenda is now on the District’s website.

Paging through the 122 page meeting agenda, I found a summary of the proposed preliminary budget, now indicating a deficit of $7,729,580. With a 2.6% tax increase (as allowed by Act I), the deficit is $4,689,619. To be clear, the public does not have a copy of the detailed proposed budget, only a summary!

My question remains – what happened to the $4 million surplus that the District had three months ago!  Where did it go Mr. Business Manager?

Residents want open and transparent government from our school board. The reason for that is simple: Our government is intended to be, as President Abraham Lincoln put it more than 150 years ago, “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

T/E School Board  – please help us!Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

$1.5 Million Designated for Tredyffrin’s Wilson Farm Park Updating – Who’s making the Decisions and Where’s the Input from the Township Park & Rec Board?

In the last few days, I have received emails, texts and phone calls from concerned township residents regarding the plans underway for the Wilson Farm Park Master Plan.  It turns out that the more I learned about the situation, the more troubled I have become – hence the need for today’s post.

For many residents in Tredyffrin Township, the opening of the award-winning Wilson Farm Park in 2004 was a very special time.  Located in Chesterbrook,  the 90-acre recreational facility quickly became the jewel of the township, offering sports fields,  picnic areas, pavilion, putting green, amphitheater, tot lot, etc.  The Fourth of July fireworks, Community Day and the Summer Concert Series are all held at Wilson Farm Park and enjoy tremendous support from the community.

Last fall township supervisors approved a $7M municipal bond initiative. With a three year window to use the funds, the bond money was to go to a variety of needs, including township building improvements, road and street repairs and our community parks.  With the aging infrastructure of Wilson Farm Park showing a need for general maintenance and updating it was good news that $1.5 million of the bond money was earmarked for township parks.

Over several supervisor meetings, discussion evolved about the use of the bond money, including Wilson Farm Park. I noted in a review of the November and December supervisor meetings, that a subcommittee (Jack Trimmer, Troy Logan and Meg Hamilton) of the Parks & Rec Board was approved to work on the bond funding usage for the parks. Understanding that the Parks & Rec Board is integral in determining how the $1.5 million would be spent in the township parks, their voices would be critical in the process.

At the November 18 meeting, the supervisors approve a proposal for Simone Collins Landscape Architects for $21,750 for the Wilson Farm Park Master Plan. There was no mention in supervisor meeting minutes about a request for proposal (RFP) so the specific scope of work is unclear. However, it is noted that Simone Collins is well respected and is who designed the original plans for Wilson Farm Park in 2003/4.

Fast forward and the next thing we know there is an Open House this past Monday, Jan 13 in Keene Hall, 7 PM to discuss the Wilson Farm Park Master Plan. Posted earlier on the same day on the township website is a ‘Wilson Farm Park Master Plan Survey’.  Several residents whom contacted me complained about the lack of notification of the meeting and therefore poor attendance.

At the meeting, Simone Collins delivers a complete presentation for the Wilson Farm Park Master Plan. As detailed in the PowerPoint, the team includes Simone Collins personnel as well as Spotts, Stevens & McCoy engineers. The Simone Collins plan includes many needed updates and routine maintenance in addition to some “new” features including the transformation of the putting green into four pickleball courts.

All of this brings me to the point of this post – many questions and few answers.

Where is the input from the township’s Parks & Rec Board on the Wilson Farm Park Master Plan, specifically the subcommittee that was established to work with the consultant?

This appears to be a much-evolved master plan for Wilson Farm Park, when exactly did this work begin? In addition, since the members of the township’s Park & Recreation Board have not had a seat at the table, who exactly is leading the charge for the township?

It was my understanding that the $1.5 million was to be spent on updating existing park infrastructure so where did the idea to transform the putting green in to four pickleball courts come from?  Not saying that pickleball courts are not a good idea; but if the Parks & Rec Board did not recommend it and the community has not yet weighed in, where did the idea come from? Not to mention, that the chosen location of the “new pickleball courts” is right next to the folks who live in Newport townhouses. It is no surprise that a number of the residents living next to Wilson Farm Park are very upset about the proposed plan and have contacted me!

It appears that this is a “cart before the horse” situation – the township now has a new Wilson Farm Park Master Plan proposal without any input from the members of the Parks & Rec Board and without the results of the citizen survey.  According to the Simone Collins timeline contained in the presentation, the Wilson Farm Park survey is to be available until approximately Feb. 29 yet it lists the date of March 1 as “Plan Complete”. It is important that the community is involved in the process of spending funds for park development/improvement, but is that really happening here.

According to the Legislative Code of Tredyffrin Township, § 138-5  Powers and duties of the Park and Recreation Board, “The Township Park and Recreation Board shall have general supervision of all Township parks, and all maintenance thereof, including replacements of property and equipment therein. ..”  so why are they not involved in this process?

How is it possible that the township can spend $1.5M in the township parks without input from the Parks & Recreation Board?  If memory serves me correctly, the $1.5M bond money was earmarked for “parks” and not just for Wilson Farm Park. There are 12 parks in Tredyffrin Township, yet there is no mention of money going anywhere but to Wilson Farm Park. Is Simone Collins working on the other parks too?  Or is the complete $1.5M going to Wilson Farm Park?

On the Board of Supervisor agenda for Tuesday, Jan 21 is a “motion to approve proposal from Simone Collins for Wilson Farm Park Master Plan”.  Is this “proposal” the PowerPoint presentation that Simone Collins presented on Monday, Jan 13? Are the supervisors approving a plan without input from Parks & Rec members? In addition, what about results from the citizen survey which does not end until Feb. 29, how does that factor into the “proposal”?

If the township has three years to use the $7M bond money, why is there a rush to push through $1.5M spending on Wilson Farm Park Master Plan. Wouldn’t it make more sense to slow the process, involve the Park & Rec Board, review the results of the Wilson Farm Park Citizen Survey, hold a public forum for community discussion and THEN take the next step on approving a Wilson Farm Park Master Plan.

It is important that the community is involved in the process of spending funds for park development/improvement. Our voices matter and it is imperative that government be transparent and honest with the public, especially when taxpayer dollars are involved.

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Do You Live in Tredyffrin Township and Struggle with Stormwater Issues? Plan to Attend: Public Forum of the Resident Stormwater Task Force on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 7 PM

If you are a Tredyffrin Township resident dealing with stormwater issues (and aren’t we all?), please plan to attend the first public form of the Stormwater Task Force on Tuesday, January 7,  7 PM at Tredyffrin Township building. Tredyffrin supervisors authorized the citizens’ Stormwater Advisory Task Force to assist the township in characterizing stormwater problems and recommending solutions. At the meeting on Tuesday, the Task Force will provide some background to stormwater in the township and lay out its goals and approach and ask for resident input.

The Task Force is primarily collecting data about stormwater problems through an on-line survey. Residents can go to: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/TredyffrinStormwater to enter information into the comprehensive Township wide database. If you have general questions, you can email the Task Force at: stormwatertaskforce@gmail.com.

Given that many of our neighborhoods regularly deal with major stormwater issues, a citizen-led township Stormwater Task Force is needed and much-appreciated. Nobody knows a community better than its residents.

A recent example is the proposed parking lot on Irish Road which is part of the Conestoga High School expansion project.  The parking lot plan requires the removal of many trees from its wooded lot.  We know that rainwater does not percolate into impervious surfaces but runs off instead. Impervious surface is the primary contributor to stormwater runoff and is a major contributor to flooding.

Residents in the high school area (particularly Irish Road, Lizbeth Lane and Oak Lane) have suffered with major stormwater and flooding issues for years – if you know the area, many homes in the neighborhood sit downhill from the proposed high school expansion project and parking lot. Such a large land development project, which includes the removal of many trees, is certain to impact a community already impacted by stormwater runoff problems and stormwater issues.

Residents township wide are experiencing severe stormwater issues – from Glenhardie, Deepdale and Strafford Park areas to the Pennsylvania Turnpike neighbors in the Great Valley and anyone in the township living close to the Trout and Valley Creek watersheds. If you are experiencing stormwater issues, you are encouraged to attend the meeting on Tuesday and make your concerns known.  Neighbors cannot afford further damage and possible devaluation of property as a result of severe runoff issues.

Let’s work together with the citizens’ Stormwater Task Force to help mitigate and prevent flooding and erosion of our properties!

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