Tredyffrin Township . . . Community Matters
My friend, Ken Knickerbocker is the editor of Parkesburg Today which ”provides the people of Parkesburg news of events and happenings around town and across the Octorara region”. Ken does a remarkable job with his community’s online news and I enjoy reading about this small town in the midst of a more rural Chester Chounty than we know around here.
I had the pleasure to attend Parksburg Library’s Christmas Tour in and around Parksburg last year and hope to make it back this year — Saturday, December 7. Parksburg is a wonderful little borough; so close and yet so far away. But far away in a good way. Parksburg is the kind of small town where strangers smle at you, offer directions or push you out of the snow. Ken and his wife raised their wonderful family in historic Parksburg . Sharing the ’old house’ connection, Ken and I commiserate about the tribulations (and joys) associated with old house ownership!
As a regular reader of Parksburg Today, I am sharing an article written by Ken’s daughter Amanda Far-Knickerbocker that appears online today; an article related to healthcare in America. Amanda and her husband Peter (a Navy physician) have two children, a foster child and live in San Diego. Their daughter (Ken’s grandaughter) Charlotte is now a thriving 3-1/2 year old but entered life very differently — only weighing 1 lb. 1 oz. at birth! Born at Chester County Hospital, Charlotte spent much of her early months struggling just to survive, suffering a stroke and enduring heart surgery. As Charlotte’s mother, Amanda understands well the need for affordable healthcare and accessibility of insurance … I encourage you to read the following. As Amanda says, “Wishes are cheap – change is hard. Let’s do better America.”
Wishing for Deeper Understanding, A Better America”
By Amanda Farr-Knickerbocker
You know what would be awesome? If we could see each other as people.
If we could recognize that kids like Charlotte need to be able to access health insurance throughout their lives, regardless of their pre-existing conditions. If we could also see that many families are barely making it financially, and they just cannot see a way to make paying for health insurance work in their households.
If we could see the fathers across the country, sitting next to their sick children, and understand that they never expected this to happen. They never planned on their child being hit by that car, or being diagnosed with cancer, or attempting to commit suicide. They are the ones who are grateful for the mandate for coverage for things on which we do not plan.
If we could also see the mothers, sitting at the dining room table, a pile of bills surrounding her, unable to make the math work. If we could hear her frustration when she is told she isn’t enrolled in the proper plan, or her work hours are being cut because she has a shady employer, or her family makes just too much money for a subsidy, but not enough to cover all their expenses.
Maybe then something would change.
I wish we could see the nineteen year old who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer on his first winter break of college, or the mom of four children, on her way home from being diagnosed with Leukemia. I wish we could understand the horror parents face when their children reached their 1 million dollar lifetime max at 30 days of life.
I wish we could see the President as someone who struggles to create a nation that protects the underserved and uninsured. A man who wants a better America for his own dear daughters, even when we disagree with his vision.
I wish we could see Congress as people who are fighting for their ideals– even when those ideals don’t match our own, and even when their methods seem convoluted.
Wishes are cheap– change is hard. Let’s do better, America.
Amanda Farr-Knickerbocker is a former Parkesburg resident now living with her husband Peter, a Navy doctor, two children and a foster child in San Diego, California.
I attended last night’s School Board meeting and noted a common thread linking many of the resident’s comments. The words may have been slightly differently from residents Neal Colligan, Scott Dorsey, Peggy Layden, Michelle Berger and myself, but the message to the School Board was the same. We were all asking for transparency, public dialogue, open communication, etc. etc. between the Board, administration and the public.
In the first comment period, Neal Colligan asked the Board to detail the timeline and process for the TENIG and teacher contract negotiations. He referenced the ‘early bird’ contract negotiations that are underway and asked that the public have adequate time to review any proposed contract. The public understands that negotiations are private between the sides and we cannot be part of the process — however, once there is an agreement it would be appropriate that that there be adequate time for review. Disappointingly, the Board did not offer much in the way of a response, except to say that the discussions with TENIG are ongoing.
At the August Board meeting it was announced that the RFP was going out shortly which would seek outsourcing bids for the TENIG contract. (Both the TENIG contract and the teachers contract expire June 30, 2014.) It would seem to make practical sense for the Board (and TENIG) to have the cost analysis for outsourcing to use as a starting point to negotiate a contract. How else would the District know what (if any) savings would occur through outsourcing without the ‘real’ numbers? And for the TENIG members, how would they know ‘what’ they needed ‘to give’ back in salary and/or benefits if there was no comparative numbers from the outside? Last night it was entirely unclear if the RFP was sent out yet there’s rumblings of an agreement between the District and TENIG. If there is an agreement, it will be curious to see what TENIG members gave up to keep their jobs. If you recall the last time, only the custodians were in the position of giving back whereas this time it is the all of TENIG that is at risk. Whatever happens with TENIG is certain to have an effect on the teacher contrac negotations.
My comments last night related to Community Matters and the school district’s apparent ‘blocking’ of the website from their computers. I read a prepared statement which included asking for the reinstitution of the District’s ‘Public Information Committee’ . I spoke of the need for open communication and transparency and asked the Board to respectfully remove the ‘block’ of my sebsite. At least some members of the school board were not aware of the situation until I brought it to their attention. Dr. Waters told the Board that he would look into the matter and report back. Improving communication between the administration, Board and the public should be something that we all want to achieve.
As follow-up, I sent the following email to the Board, Waters and Robin McConnell:
Dear TE School Board Members,This email is follow-up to my statement at last night’s school board meeting regarding the ‘blocking’ of Community Matters website from school district computers. It was my understanding from the Board’s response that none of you were aware of this situation until I brought it to your attention. For the record, I have had at least 15 people, including employees working in various District schools, support staff, substitute teachers and students to either call or send emails asking why they are receiving ’this site is blocked’ notifications when they attempt to access Community Matters. At the school board meeting, Dr. Waters stated that he would look into the matter and would check with Robin McConnell, who was not at the last night’s meeting. I respectfully asked last night that the ‘block’ be removed from my site and the access be restored. Can I expect that Board members will follow-up with the administration and correct this situation? The community is looking for transparency and open communication from our elected officials; thank you all for supporting that goal. Sincerely, Pattye Benson I hope that the situation is resolved quickly and that Community Matters is ‘unblocked’ in the school district. To the employees and students who contacted me in this regard, thank you — please let me know if the situation is resolved. During the second comment period, Neal Colligan once again addressed the Board, stating that they had not answered his earlier question about providing adequate public time to review and comment on any proposed union agreements. Again no response from the Board. Without a commitment from the Board on the process of public commentary in regards to any proposed union contracts, Colligan furthered his request. He stated there would be new leadership on the school board come January 1 and based on the outcome of the November election, that could mean either 2, 3 or possibly 4 new Board members. Colligan offered that it was not fair that new Board members would be saddled with the results of these ‘early bird’ contract negotiations and again suggested that there should be community input.
Recent history indicates that when there is public input, initial decisions of the Board can sometimes be changed — we saw this with the proposed outsourcing of the aides and paras and again with the tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School. When members of the community supports an issue, shows up at meetings and offers their opinion, it can make a difference. Transparency and open dicussion between the Board, administration and the public is critical.
There is a TE School District Finance Committee meting tonight at 7 PM. According to the agenda, the RFP for the TENIG contract will be discussed. The RFP is lengthy (over 100 pages) and details all requirements. The TENIG union includes the custodial workers, maintenance, security, kitchen staff and support staff.
After all the months of back and forth regarding the aides and paras and their employ in the District, I was curious as to how many actually returned for the 2013/14 school year. The week before the start of school, I sent the following email to Sue Tiede:
With the start of the 2013/14 school year only a few days off, I am following-up on the status of the returning aides and paras and have a few questions -
(1) How many aides/paras did not return for the 2013/14 school year?
(2) Of the total vacated positions, how many positions were filled with new employees?
(3) Were the vacated positions filled with part-time employees?
(4) Did the District fill the vacated positions through outsourcing?
(5) If the District outsourced the vacated positions, which company was used?
Thank in advance for this information.
In response to my email, I received the following email from Sue. I look forward to hearng the update at the Finance meeting tonight.
We are finalizing our hiring process at this time and have received several resignations as late as yesterday afternoon. At the September Finance Committee Meeting we plan to summarize our staffing for the 2013-14 school year. Our hiring process for aides has remained unchanged. As always, we plan to fill each vacancy with qualified candidates.
At the August school board meeting, the public learned at the District has entered into contract discussions with the teachers. We were told that there was agreement on both sides not to discuss the negotiation. Neither the ‘agreement’ not its specifics was made public. Resident Neal Colligan contacted the District with a right-to-know request — hoping to find out more about the agreement and the bargaining framework for the teacher negotiations. Neal sent me the following for Community Matters:
I wanted to let you know that I filed a Right to Know (RTK) request with the School District on August 27, 2013, specifically:
I would like a copy of any and all agreements related to the Early Bird TEEA contract negotiations particularly related to the “ground rules” for the Early Bird talks. I understand that this will not include any employer or employee contract offers, that is and should remain confidential.
Again, thanks to Ray Clarke and his reporting on the T/ESB Board meeting. I could tell he was trying to accurately portray the Board’s announcement of the Early Bird negotiations and the specific phrases he used led me to believe they may have been part of a written document.
Rather than grant or deny this request, I received a 30 day delay based on: Legal review required to determine whether record is a public record. This was quite an odd response. Possibly my follow-up communication to the Open Records officer will help make my thinking on their response more clear:
Thank you for your timely response to my request. You’ve indicated that the document(s) that I requested do indeed exist which is a great start and not something that I had known for sure. As they do exist, I am even more anxious to see them in the public domain. While I understand the potential need for legal review “to determine whether record is a public record”; I do have an opinion as to the timing of that review which you have indicated will take 30 days (September 27, 2013). Certainly documents of this nature were constructed with legal review/input; meaning that the inside or outside legal team is already familiar with the nature and content of the documents. The delay here is only to determine if the documents in question are of public record. As they do not contain any actual negotiating points between the parties, I would think the determination of “public record” would be a quick call. To be fair, I am not an attorney so I do not offer this as a legal opinion but only one of common sense. 30 days seems awfully long for this review.
This contract which is being negotiated under a gag order is of paramount importance to the members of our community…it is the largest publicly funded workforce in our townships. Results of this contract will have a profound impact on taxing policy for years. The Board has stated its intention “To keep the public informed of the progress as it moves forward”. My request is simply to inform the public of the parameters involved in the formation of the “process that has been agreed to by the Board and each union” (both quotes form the 8/26/13 ActionLine posted on your website). Please consider expediting my request. In recent years, this Board’s actions related to (lack of) transparency have been brought into question several times on critical issues important to our citizens. The Board’s rhetoric is one of openness but there is an opinion among many taxpayers that this Board is not as open in communicating with the community as they have promised. Let’s turn the page on the past and start a process of inclusion with the citizens who are interested in these issues of local importance.
To date, I’ve received no follow-up communication from the District. A review of the District policy concerning Public Access to School District Records does allow for a maximum delay of up to 30 days for information requests. That’s what I was given but it doesn’t seem necessary in this case for the reasons I’ve cited above. I’ve also written to the members of the Board seeking their assistance in expediting this request.
Maybe your readers would have interest in this and you have my permission to print this if you see fit.
For the record, the District’s Business Manager Art McDonnell is the Open Records Officer — McDonnell is the one that responds to resident’s right-to-know requests. As follow-up, I note that Neal has contacted members of the school board in an attempt to expedite the right-to-know request. I am assuming that Board members have not responded to him.
I don’t understand why the agreement setting the negotiation ground rules between the District and the teachers union is not considered a public document. The negotiating ground rules were established and apparently both sides agreed — so why shouldn’t the public know the rules. We all want the negotiation situation to be productive but the community deserves transparency. The negotiating parties should provide the bargaining framework for the taxpayers.
This time of the year has me focused on two special events – the Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust’s 9th Annual Historic House Tour on Saturday, September 28 (Noon – 5 PM) and the 5th Annual Paoli Blues Fest a week later on Saturday, October 5 (Noon – 6 PM). As Trust president and chair of the annual house tour and co-chair of the Paoli Blues Fest, I believe that the house tour and the blues festival and street fair represent ‘community’ at its best.
The 2013 house tour … Every year a new selection of amazing historic properties surprise and delight even the most devoted tour goers! The 9th Annual Historic House Tour features nine historic properties in Tredyffrin and Easttown townships, including private homes, a restored ‘party’ barn and a historic church. There’s nothing better than the beautiful historic places that memorialize that history in our community – history really does matter! Old houses tell wonderful stories and the properties on this year’s house tour will not disappoint. Visitors are invited inside for a glimpse of what it is like to live, work and worship in these unique historic structures that span three centuries, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. A special thank you to the homeowners of these wonderful historic properties for allowing the public a glimpse inside.
If you love history and architecture, you will not want to miss this year’s tour. Tickets are $35 and are now available online at www.tredyffrinhistory.org using your credit card. Or click here for the 9th Annual House Tour Ticket Flyer for ording tickets using a personal credit card. Additional information on the tour available on the second page.
Beyond the homeowners, is the generous support of individuals, businesses and corporate sponsorships. Without their support the annual house tour would not be possible. If you are interested in supporting the house tour, click here for the,9th Annual Historic House Tour – Sponsor Information. The Trust is still accepting sponsorship for the 2013 tour. If you have questions about the house tour, sponsorships or would like to volunteer, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org . Hope to see you on this year’s tour!9TH ANNUAL HISTORIC HOUSE TOUR SPONSORS
ARCADIA LAND COMPANY
GOLDEN VALLEY FARMS COFFEE ROASTERS
HECKENDORN SHILES ARCHITECTS
PAUL & ANDREA OLSON
MURPH & LOIS WYSOCKI
ANN LEDGER ARCHITECT
AXIOM ASSET MANAGEMENT
DUPORTAIL HOUSE, INC.
JAMES GARRISON, AIA
TOM HOGAN & VICTORIA SILBEY
STATE REPRESENTATIVE WARREN KAMPF
GLENNA LASALLE KEENE
MICHAEL & MICHELLE KICHLINE
DR. & MRS. GERALD M. LONG
PETE & BONNIE MOTEL
RICH O’HALLORAN AND ATTORNEYS AT DINSMORE
POST HASTE HANDYMAN
BRAD TIFFANY – KISTLER TIFFANY BENEFITS
I was unable to attend the monthly TE school board meeting last night. But fortunately Ray Clarke was at the meeting and supplied the following notes:
Buraks read a statement to the effect that the Board has entered into discussions with both TENIG and the TEEA to explore the opportunity for “Early Bird” contracts. All parties have agreed to a “gag order” in order to “give the best odds of reaching agreement” (or words to that effect). The public will be kept informed as the process evolves. In response to my question (and after consulting with the solicitor (!)) Buraks stated that the Board representatives for TENIG are Brake, Bruce, Fadem, for TEEA are Cruickshank, Graham, Motel. There was no information provided as to new TEEA leadership.
The other item of note was the Priority Discussion on the Act 93 salary adjustments. Waters gave a lot of detail in an oral report that reiterated the general agreement from January, but of course, the only thing we had to follow was the table in the Agenda materials that kindly calculated 1% of each individual’s salary for the arithmetically challenged! Of course, we could go look up somewhere the 2012/13 salaries, but why not just put them in the table to help the Board and community get some perspective?
The Board reiterated its opposition to the Keystone exams. As a survivor of the UK’s “11 Plus” which determined our future at 10 years old, I’m not well qualified to comment on that!
The District’s collective bargaining agreements with TENIG (custodians, support staff and kitchen workers) and TEEA (the teachers union) expire on June 30, 2014. In addition, the District’s arrangement with the aides and paras for the 2013/14 school year also expires in June. Unless I’m missing something, it appears that the entire workforce of the TE School District is ‘under discussion’ with the exception of the administration. I am glad to see that school board members (Cruickshank, Graham, Motel) are sitting at the negotiation table this time around with the teachers union. (If you recall, this was not the case the last time).
I hope that the Board President Buraks is sincere about the School Board keeping the public informed during the the process as Ray notes suggested. It was the lack of transparency during the last teachers contract negotiations that troubled many of us — I re-read an old CM post on this topic from April 2012, ‘Seeking Transparency in TESD Teacher Contract Negotiations’ which had a follow-up post on May 17, 2012, ‘TE Teachers Turn on Transparency Lights in Contract Negotiations’ . In re-reading these posts and the many comments, what was striking was the need for regular updates to the public by the Board. The lack of information and/or misinformation during the contract negotiations aggravated an already difficult situation. In the CM post of May 17, 2012, I wrote,
” … making the teacher contract negotiation process transparent for the public would help the community understand how our children will be taught and how our tax dollars will be invested. The relationship between teachers and school administrators is an important element in what shapes this school district. There is no better way to understand this relationship than to observe the contract negotiation process. …”
I remain hopeful that the contract negotiations between the District and TEEA (and TENIG) will be open, honest and as transparent as possible. To clarify — representing the teachers union, is TEEA president Dr. Bob DeSipio, Conestoga HS science teacher. TENIG president is Mary Minicozzi.
Tonight’s Facilities Committee meeting, and the discussion on the Valley Forge Elementary School tennis courts, could best be described as a ‘shared vision’. That is, a shared vision between the VFES neighbors and the TE School Board.
The primary focus of the meeting was the VFES tennis courts – their usage and maintenance. Since the last Facilities Committee meeting in June, VFES neighbor Michele Berger had spoken with a number of neighbors, tennis pros, and court maintenance companies and offered her findings to the audience, Facilities Committee and school administration. If you recall, the Facilities Committee decided at their last meeting in June to continue the Tredyffrin Township user fee rate of $30/hr. for one court and $60/hr. for two courts for private lessons and tennis camps.
Although residents enjoyed the use of the VFES tennis courts free of charge this summer, usage fees were expected to begin in September with the start of school. Tonight the Facilities Committee chair Pete Motel offered a brief history on the tennis courts and then listened to community member’s questions and concerns, offering clarity where appropriate. VFES neighbor Don Detweiler has maintained the VFES tennis courts for years and offered the opinion that the courts surface and nets have at least 5 more years of use before costly repairs are required.
Board members and community members listened to different viewpoints and discussed potential solutions to long-term maintenance issues … a two-way dialogue with a shared direction.
A satisfying and amiable solution to the tennis court usage was reached; I can report that there will be no charge for residents to use the VFES tennis courts. The School District will collect user fees from those individuals using the courts ‘for profit’ — such as tennis lessons or tennis camp at a rate of $30/hr per court. With the start of school, the tennis courts will be locked during the school day. The tennis courts will be available for resident’s use after school, weekends and on non-school days. However, it was agreed that the school district’s Safety Committee will review this policy to possibly permit court usage during the school day.
The Facilities Committee meeting represented community conversation and a shared vision. Pete Motel involved the people in the decisions that affected them – the VFES neighbors. Michele Berger agreed to serve as the liaison between the Facilities Committee and the VFES neighbors. Common ground was found and it was a pleasure to witness; thanks to all involved!==================================================================================
On a personal note, for those wondering about me and the status of Community Matters, I am OK and so is CM. I have struggled with some health and personal issues during the last couple of months but I think that the fog has finally begun to lift. I appreciate your emails and your concern – Wasn’t it Emerson that said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”