is great valley school district about to slide down the slippery slope of reassessments?

42070887665_5a8d50b396_o

New development on Church Road in Malvern within the Great Valley School District

So..are they? Is the Great Valley School District about to slide down the slippery slope of reassessments?

I received a message overnight:

The Great Valley School District has decided to go after property owners that they think are under assessed……If you want to see the discussion at the School Board meeting where they decided to take this action here are the directions:

Click here and then on the June 4th meeting – go to the 1 hour 5 minute mark and listen to the discussion:  https://www.gvsd.org/site/Default.aspx?PageID=237

Targeting specific landowners and not going after everyone who may be under assessed is discriminatory , unfair but legal. They are going after those where they think they can get the most return for the appeal.

Here is the video:

Here is the list:

NINE of the properties are FARMS. THREE are RESIDENTIAL

This is very Lower Merion School District of them.  Sadly, every time Lower Merion School District has done this it has resulted in MASSIVE amounts of litigation.  I found a 2016 case that I think is of note because of   legal footnotes that I will share:

Here are the footnotes I think that is something that should be read:

2.   In a tax assessment case, the Board has the initial burden of presenting its assessment  records into evidence, which establish a prima facie case of the validity of the assessment.
Expressway 95 Business Center, LP v. Bucks County Board of Assessment, 921 A.2d 70, 76 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2007). The burden then shifts to the property owner to present sufficient evidence to
rebut the assessment’s validity. Id. “Where the taxpayer’s testimony is relevant, credible and un-rebutted, the court must give it due weight and cannot ignore it in determining a property’s fair market value. Where the taxing authority presents rebuttal evidence, the court must
determine the weight to be given all the evidence.” Koppel Steel Corporation v. Board of Assessment Appeals of Beaver County, 849 A.2d 303, 307 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2004) citing Deitch Company v. Board of Property Assessment, Appeals and Review of Allegheny County, 209 A.2d 397 (Pa. 1965).

3.   Article VIII, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution provides that “All taxes shall be uniform, upon the same class of subjects, within the territorial limits of the authority levying the tax, and shall be levied and collected under general laws.” Pa. Const. art. VIII, §1. This constitutional uniformity requirement is based on the general principle that “taxpayers should
pay no more or less than their proportionate share of government.” Downingtown Area School District v. Chester County Board of Assessment Appeals, 913 A.2d 194, 199 (Pa. 2006). To meet the uniformity requirement, “all property must be taxed uniformly, with the same ratio of the
assessed value to actual value applied throughout the taxing jurisdiction.” Clifton v. Allegheny County, 969 A.2d 1197, 1224 (Pa. 2009).

I did not ask a lawyer about this, I am not a lawyer, but I can read and I can research.  I was told there is more to the story by a friend and that this was a list of “mostly profitable commercial businesses.”  

But it’s not just commercial properties (which will get sick of tax increases and reassessments too, by the way).  There are NINE farms and THREE residences on this short list. As someone else said to me “I don’t doubt their motives. Especially since they have 9 Farms with lots of open space to Overtax so they can’t afford the tax, thereby having to sell, thereby giving an in for more higher density development to make even more in taxes.

I watched this play out again and again in Lower Merion Township.  What ends up happening is people are forced from where they call home because they can’t afford the school taxes.  We as residents and taxpayers who stay pay for that as well. And if a school district doesn’t get what they want, they next logically move to reassess ALL of us. That is what happens. They need money because this school district is close to bursting at the seams. Why are they bursting at the seams? Development.

So yes, is also my opinion that this is a direct result of too much development too fast within this particular school district from multiple municipalities. In addition the behemoth with the view of the eerie blue lagoon (A/K/A/ dead quarry) known as Atwater and all around there on 29 that is residential, there is development perched over highway and next to a quarry at the intersection of Phoenixville Pike and Charlestown Road from Southdown Homes called Pickering Crossing. And then there is the new Toll Brothers development starting to happen on Church Road called Great Valley Crossing. And the new development most of us just realized was going to happen on Swedesford Road from people called McKee Builders called Malvern Crossing. Linden Hall which just when you think they can’t add another row, they add another row of houses. Or Ryan Homes’ Malvern Walk on Planebrook.

 

35844692_1960052560674352_5644503426936078336_n

And those are just a few of the developments that are either still in planning, approved, and so on.  Look at the Route 30 Corridor Study for East Whiteland. Did they not suggest additional residential long Route 30 in there? Remember the Malvern Transit Oriented Development Study from a few years back in malvern Borough? (Also see with regard to Malvern’s T.O.D. CLICK HERE. and re-read this column form Henry Briggs. How much more development could Malvern Borough alone see?)

These developments are just targeting bodies. And all these municipalities are falling for the Emperor’s New Clothes of Zoning Overlay Districts.  These new developments aren’t specifically saying “senior living”, for example.  So all of these developments might bring really nice new families to the area, but they are also adding in a lot of kids to the school district. It’s bringing the city to the country, only I don’t think the country can really handle it.

And JUST like developers did and continue to do around Downingtown where they call EVERYTHING Chester Springs even when really, it’s not….everything in the Great Valley School District is being described as “Main Line”. It’s not the Main Line and well damn, a lot of us (myself included) came here in the first place because we wanted beauty and open space and wanted to escape the Main Line. As in the actual Main Line, not the fake developer speak of what they think the Main Line is, or should be, or where it is.

And with the fake Main Line of it all, we in Chester County are starting to experience real Main Line problems. Tax increases. Traffic congestion. Infill development. Shrinking open space…and oh yeah SCHOOL OVERCROWDING.

Cause and effect.

These reassessments are in my opinion only the beginning.  Hope everyone who lives in the Great Valley School District is ready for when we all become Great Valley East and Great Valley West.   Because given the pace of development, that is a potential reality.  Or Great Valley School District just becomes a monster district like West Chester Area School District. And if that happens, where do the new schools go? Whose land gets taken for that?

Maybe some don’t like my opinions on this.  Maybe some think I am being unfair to the Great Valley School District.  I am not. It’s just the reality of the situation. And it bears watching.

 

51 n bacton hill road, frazer pa

51 N Bacton Hill Rd

I don’t know what else to call this post other than the address.  If you go on Bacton Hill Road, we all pass it. It is after the walking/running trail breaks over the road and it is farther up on the right.  It’s a parcel of land owned by Great Valley School District. It’s up the road from where the Great Valley Community Organization calls home.

Anyway, recently I saw the GVCO organization had an application in front of East Whiteland Planning Commission:

Applications: 1. Sketch Plan: Great Valley Community Organization: A.) Sketch plan for a proposed 41,128 SF athletic programs building, with a potential phase 2 for an additional 21,866 SF of building area. Playing fields are also proposed. The property is located on N. Bacton Hill Road, is 7 acres in size and zoned Industrial. B.) Conditional Use: To disturb an area of steep slope to permit the installation of an access driveway, parking and stormwater facilities as outlined as a conditional use in Section 200-57.F(4)

 

I have absolutely NO as in ZERO issue with the Great Valley Community Organization. They do great things in Chester County. BUT that land they are talking of acquiring part of was part of a huge extraordinarily controversial land purchase by Great Valley School District a few years ago.  So extremely controversial it even made a Wikipedia page on the district. Here is a screen shot in case it disappears:

bacton Hill controversy

Here is the verbatim text from the Wikepedia page:

On September 15, 2008, the school board voted and unanimously approved the purchase of 49.4 acres (200,000 m2) of land for approximately $6.6 million.[6] Located at 51 Bacton Hill Road, Malvern, this “Bacton Hill Land Purchase” generated some controversy amongst the public for two reasons: (1) the purchase was not discussed with the public prior to the meeting during which it was first announced, voted, and passed, and (2) the purchase price based on two land appraisals was brought under scrutiny when it was discovered that the brother of the real estate agent who set the price was involved with forming both appraisals.

Central to the controversy was the lack of public awareness, but also that the school board’s reason for the purchase was stated, “it is prudent to acquire real estate for the District’s potential future use.”[7] The number of students educated by the district has not significantly increased, so many objected that there is no foreseeable “future use” and that the purchase was made in haste.

The two independent appraisals of the land’s price were brought into question as well because of the high price. After the purchase was completed, the board released a statement about the land acquisition, saying, “the per acre cost may seem high (at $135,000). But the purchase price is lower than two appraisals conducted on the site.”[8]

Fueling the controversy, a member of the public requested the two appraisals be released under Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Laws. It was discovered that the two appraisals were both conducted by the same appraisal company, not two independent entities. Further, the appraisal company was owned by the brother of the real estate agent who first approached and ultimately sold the land to the district. Concerned over apparent misconduct, the appraisals and sale were eventually referred to the U.S. Attorney by this same member of the public. This information was presented to the Board during public comments at the School Board Meeting on March 16, 2009.[9] Several questions were asked concerning who was involved in the deal, and who knew what when. The Board did not respond during the meeting, but the District’s lawyer attached a recorded statement to the public video of the meeting, stating, “the board considered these statements after the meeting, and while certain of them were factually accurate, the presentation was incomplete.”[9]

The land is still held by the School District, and no confirmation or denial has officially been given. However, significant fallout appears to have occurred. Two weeks after the March 16 meeting, on April 1, Superintendent Rita Jones announced she intended to retire during the upcoming summer.[10] In addition, all 4 board members who are up for re-election in the November 2009 election announced they would not seek re-election.[11] Further, because Jack McDowell stepped down in April due to illness,[12] only 4 of the 9 board members who were involved in the land deal were still on the board as of December.

 

Apparently this land purchase was a huge issue. It appeared in a bunch of newspapers:

 

This issue apparently tore the area apart at the time. The former school superintendent in Great Valley had the reputation of ruling with an iron fist,  a veritable Queen Victoria. (Read an article placed in the Philadelphia Inquirer circa 1998.)   And she was no stranger to controversy (see her Main Line priced salary circa 2007):

A new contract at top dollar in Great Valley In a split vote, the school board OKd a $210,000 contract for its superintendent. 

POSTED: September 19, 2007

Despite pleas from dozens of Great Valley School District residents saying that Superintendent Rita Jones was paid too much and has not produced a top-quality academic program, a lame-duck school board voted by a narrow margin Monday to extend her contract for four more years.

About 150 people attended the meeting. The board vote was 5-4. Residents opposed to Jones’ new contract said that a 2006-07 salary listing they obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of Education shows she was the seventh highest paid in the state during the last school year.

Jones’ current contract ends next year; the new one runs to August 2012. She is making about $204,000 this school year and will get just over $210,000 next August, with 3 percent increases in each subsequent year.

Jones, 58, who just started her 14th year in the 4,000-student district, is the longest-serving superintendent in Chester County.

Voting for the contract were board president Susanne Carr, Kevin McTear, Elizabeth McGarrigle, Katherine Pettiss and Melanie Scott. Voting no were vice president Nicholas Vastardis, Salwa Raven, Ralph Tang and Eugene Kozik….

Steven Kantrowitz said that Great Valley was a small district “with a very, very, very high superintendent’s contract.” To loud applause, he said: “It’s time, I submit to you, for a change.”

Jones and the board sat at the front of the room, listening impassively.

 

Then this:

Superintendent, group leader share their views on issues at Great Valley The way the school board went about extending the contract of Rita Jones raised questions.

POSTED: November 18, 2007

The rift became very public on Sept. 17 when the Great Valley school board, by a 5-4 vote, extended Superintendent Rita Jones’ contract four years, despite a contingent of residents at the meeting who spoke out against Jones.

Many district residents were incensed that the only notice of the vote on Jones’ extension was a posting on the district Web site on Sept. 14. About 20 residents formed Great Valley Stakeholders, a group organized with the goal of changing the direction of the school board.

Members of the group helped spread the word of a write-in campaign for David Barratt, 45, to unseat the current board president, Susanne Carr (who voted in favor of Jones’ extension), who was running for reelection in Region I….

Using Tredyffrin-Easttown and Radnor School Districts for comparison, Chambers contends that spending per student is too high in Great Valley, and hasn’t resulted in a concurrent increase in test scores.

“We’re not saying the district is horrible; it’s a good district, but when you look at what we’re spending per student, we’re not getting what other districts are getting,” said Chambers, 56, father of two Great Valley High School grads….

The school board and Jones

All of Chambers’ claims stem from his central complaint that the board works too closely with Jones and the district, rather than in the oversight role school boards are intended for by law.

“The concern we have is not focused strictly on Rita Jones,” he said. “Our concern is more that the school board is not doing its job, that they’re not holding the superintendent accountable, not establishing meaningful goals. That they’re essentially allowing the superintendent to run the school board as well as the schools.”

So then you skip forward to 2009 when this land deal occurs. And after the land deal there seems to be a mass exodus from the school board and even Superintendent Rita Jones announces retirement? (Here is an article about her replacement Alan Lonoconus. Now since he has retired it is Regina C. Speaker Palubinsky, Ed.D.)

Again to quote Wikipedia:

Two weeks after the March 16 meeting, on April 1, Superintendent Rita Jones announced she intended to retire during the upcoming summer.[10] In addition, all 4 board members who are up for re-election in the November 2009 election announced they would not seek re-election.[11] Further, because Jack McDowell stepped down in April due to illness,[12] only 4 of the 9 board members who were involved in the land deal were still on the board as of December.

I will note at this point that a lot of the articles that WERE online about these school district issues back then (including school board minutes) have disappeared off the Internet from their original sources. The GVSD has a couple of recent years of  archived video  recorded minutes but I have not checked them out because they use a non-supported plug-in.

In May of 2009, The Daily Local ran an article about seven candidates running for Great Valley School Board seats. At the end of May 2009, Main Line Media News ran an article about a Great Valley School Board member stepping down. That even garnered a mention in a Charlestown Township newsletter back then.

So flash forward to now and the school district is now selling this land? And supposedly at the same price per acre as they bought it? Really? Is that true? And this site is close to the old lethal Foote Mineral Site? Mind you Bacton Hill Road is no stranger to industrial stuff. See what I found on a Google cache.

EPA Region 3 RCRA Corrective Action Statement of Basis for James Spring Wire Co PAD002331635

Bacton Hill is such a weird configuration of quasi industrial and industrial sites along with warehouses and such.

If  the school district land is what is being sold or is under consideration for selling to that Great Valley Community Organization, I think there should be like two phases of environmental impact audits, right? And if the Great Valley School District isn’t interested in further testing, in my humble opinion the Great Valley Community Organization should pay for testing.

People have said there is some kind of report detailing past issues with railroads and chemicals and a pipeline company and clean outs across the road? Is any of this true?  I am just concerned because well, you have to admit there are quite a few environmental hot spots around there.

Sorry I have a thing about places that might leave people potentially glowing in the dark (figuratively speaking) .

So anyway, I posed my questions to the Great Valley School District and others and these are the documents I got out of the conversations:

RBRsoilanaylysis

BreslinRidyardFaderoanalysis

Bacton_Hill_Phase_I_Study_2008

bacton hill 2

Look sorry to stir the pot, but if the Great Valley School District is going to sell this land to the Great Valley Community Organization, fine. BUT if there are going to be a lot of kids and so on around and active on this property would it hurt for the Great Valley School District to do some additional testing?

(A) A bunch of years have passed and what they have is old data and

(B) the whole land purchase was so steeped in issues and controversy why not make a clean break of it?

Instead of (C) telling me and others “The school board did not deem any additional testing necessary after the follow up investigation and testing on the site”?

We know so much more now how to be better stewards of the land and testing in a lot of cases is faster and improved so why not do it? Why not do things right this time?

I am sorry but this is why people no matter where they live have issues with school districts. Everything is done like they are secret societies with their own language and secret handshakes yet we the taxpayers pay for it all?

Look I appreciate the Great Valley School District sending me documents and answering questions but does anyone want to relive 2008 with the Great Valley School District?  If the answer is “no”, how about some updated testing? Just to make sure that the amazing Great Valley Community Organization isn’t inheriting issues with this land that no one knows about? So many people have skeedaddled from the Great Valley School District since this land purchase happened on Bacton Hill Road, so why not better safe than sorry? After all even the current superintendent would have heard about this controversy considering she came from neighboring Phoenixville School District?

And again, if the Great Valley School District doesn’t want to do the testing, the Great Valley Community Organization should strongly consider it.

Thanks for stopping by.

 

life today and our children

  

This photo (which has been shown publicly on NBC10 ) started making the rounds on social media locally almost two days before the Great Valley School  District released the following statement:

(NOTE: This is the text of email  sent out last evening by GVSD and parents are all starting to chatter about how it happened two days ago and GVSD is just sending this out:)

(Below is text of district email)


“This School Messenger is to inform you of an incident that occurred on our campus yesterday. I want to make sure you have accurate information and dispel any rumors you may have heard about the incident.

There was an altercation between two male students in our high school. A single punch was thrown and one of those students was seriously hurt. The student was taken to the hospital by ambulance and was in serious condition. Today, the student’s  condition has improved and he was receptive to a visit by Mr. Flick, our high school principal. Our prayers are with the student and his family.

The health and safety of our students and staff is our top priority. The proper procedures and protocol were followed as outlined by School Board Policy 218. To dispel some rumors that have emerged, this was not a gang related situation nor was it a group beating of an individual. 

We ask your support in the following ways:

•    Talk frequently with your children about what they are hearing and seeing on the news, at school or on social media. 

•    Discuss with them the seriousness of spreading rumors or false information.

•    Encourage them to report any suspicious activity to a trusted adult at school, or to you. You may call your school administration directly.  

In the true spirit of Great Valley, students and faculty raised $450 today for the family of the student.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to call my office or Mr. Flick at the High School. Thank you for your support and assistance in keeping our campus safe for everyone.”
Respectfully,

Dr. Alan J. Lonoconus
Superintendent of Schools
Great Valley School District



Ok. Deep breath.

This poor boy is 16. I am told that he and his family are new to this country? Is this how we, born of the land of the free, welcome new immigrants to our shores? Whose American Dream is this?

I find extraordinarily troublesome that Great Valley went around in circles and didn’t address this within hours of the incident happening. This is something that you need to as a district get out in front of . That gives the appearance of trying to deny this incident even happened for two days and this boy no matter how it happened could have died couldn’t he have?

On other Facebook pages there are parents talking about this quite a bit. Apparently this fight landed this boy into a coma and although he seems to be awake he’s on an oxygen tank and they’re waiting to see if there is brain damage and how would you like to be the mother? Sitting by your child’s bedside new to this country, and wondering what was going to happen?

Here is what NBC10 reported:

Chester County Teen Falls Into Coma After Punch in the Face Over Headphones

By Vince Lattanzio

….Selvin Cartagena was with a cousin and friend inside Great Valley High School around 8:30 a.m. Wednesday when the 17-year-old and his buddy got into an argument over headphones, the teen’s family said. The headphones, which belong to the friend, were supposedly damaged causing the argument.
Cartagena’s mother said the argument escalated to violence with her son being punched in the face. The boy fell unconscious after the assault and could not be waked. He was taken to Paoli Hospital and placed on a ventilator.

The teen, who arrived in the U.S. from Guatemala last year and speaks little English, remained in the coma until Thursday afternoon when he was able to open his eyes and talk some. It’s not clear if he suffered permanent brain damage.



I am hoping that a group like Latino Luncheon which meets in West Chester monthly will start a Go Fund Me page or something to raise funds for the family. This counts as a traumatic brain injury and as I have a friend who’s daughter is still recovering from one, I know that it takes a lot of therapy and a lot of doctors which equals a lot of money.

I think you can safely say that there are a lot of parents out there in the school district who are upset that this was kept from them for two days, then there are the other parents who were upset because they’ve been aware of this along with their children for two days and no action was taken immediately by the district publicly. And then (sadly) there are the parents who said what did eveyone expect from Great Valley School District. I totally understand that it might take a bit to get a proper statement out, but this should have been at least acknowledged to the families of the district more quickly.

Have they offered counseling at the high school? Can you imagine how upsetting this was for any teenager that witnessed it?


So the early media reports and parents say East Whiteland Police are investigating and so on? What does the Chester county District Attorney’s Office have to say about this? See that’s the other thing, there is another child involved – the one who I would say probably accidentally caused this. Unless it is proven that this other child has a history of fighting in school this is a horrible accident and how do we deal with that as a society?

If this was just a horrible accident, then I think we have to look to the mental health of the boy who threw  the punch. I would guess the child is horribly upset and he might be 16 but that  is still a child, so do you treat him like an adult or do you treat him like the kid that is? And how do you treat him? Do you get him into therapy and anger management or do you just lock kids up who do these things and throw away the key?  


I think you have to consider therapy and anger management and compassion all the way around. As a stepparent I can tell you I honestly would struggle with this if this happened to my child on either side of the incident. But as an adult I don’t want the lives of two kids ruined before they have lived their lives do you? 


Undoubtedly this is an isolated incident unless there are histories of fights going on in the high school that no one is aware of.  But that doesn’t mean as a community we shouldn’t discuss this and be proactive so it doesn’t happen again.

I am not a law-enforcement or educational professional so they will have to decide this. But I caution people that the court of public opinion is very important here. And have the responsibility as adults to show our kids the best paths in life possible. After all something like this could spark a stupid and  an ill advised  response from friends of these teens and their families so let’s come together and be proactive as a community, not reactive. Cool and thoughtful heads must prevail. 

So in my humble opinion that means you have to show them there are solutions to things in life other than using your fists or a weapon. And games and materialistic items shouldn’t have such a value that they translate into threatening human life. I don’t know how else to describe it. 

Violence only begets violence and somewhere along the way we have to hit the pause button as a society. And we also have to pay more attention, perhaps better attention to our kids. Being a teen or tween in today’s world is not easy. Emotions run high hormonally to begin with, setting any other influences aside.

I have been thinking about tweens and teens a lot recently. It wasn’t prompted by this incident it was prompted by the untimely death of a young woman who had battled depression and addiction issues. This girl had a family who was totally behind her recovery and supportive and yet the unthinkable happened. Then earlier this year there was the suicide  of the boy named Cayman.

It’s not easy being a kid today. I’m not saying it was all easy and no problems with any of us were growing up, but it seems today it’s a lot more intense for lack of a better description.

I see a lot of programs out there for very little kids to teach them not to bully and how to get along and how to talk to people, but once the kids hit tween and teen years I don’t hear about these things as much.  

Look I have a teenager I know it is like banging your head against the wall some days. They aren’t necessarily communicative and they think they know everything. But they don’t know everything and neither do we.  But we are all on this bus called life together, and I think we all need to make more of an effort to figure it out. 

And I think we need to do a little more than the school district (Great Valley) has done thus far. Like it or not I think there need to be more programs in the schools, and sponsored by school districts, churches, YMCAS and so on.  

Call them teen summits or whatever you want, but the organizations that have the ability to put these programs together with mental health professionals, law-enforcement, and someone need to get on the ball around here. And parents and kids should be required to go.  We need to facilitate more community conversations on this. We need to make sure that our kids have safe places to go to discuss problems. Maybe local PTAs and school booster associations could turn the focus to something like this. To me it has more value than pom-poms and  school spirit buttons.

From fist fights to cyber bullying to depression, additction, abuse, we need to talk about it and deal with it. TOGETHER.

If any go fund me or similar pages pop-up to help this boy and his family with his upcoming medical costs please feel free to leave the link in a comment below this post.

Thanks for stopping by and stay cool today it’s hot out there.