Issues Still to Be Resolved Between School Board, Library

An ad-hoc committee was formed following a PSERS ruling on whether or not library employees are school employees.

Editor’s Note: This will be part one of two on some of the issues faced by the school district and Phoenixville Public Library.

Several months after the Public Schools Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) ruling that library employees are school district employees, issues are still surfacing.

The library’s board of trustees voted recently to hire legal counsel, and has up to $10,000 in the budget for that. A policy on how to select new trustees is also working its way through the school board, and there is a question of whether or not an issue with the library code will hinder the Phoenixville Public Library from being a part of the federated Chester County Library System.

Library Trustees Vote to Hire Legal Counsel

At the March regular school board meeting, Board President Paul Slaninka gave an update from the most recent library board of trustees meeting. Slaninka, along with Superintendent Dr. Alan Fegley and Treasurer Josh Gould, serve as the school district’s representatives on the board of trustees.

Slaninka told the school board that the library’s board will be hiring legal counsel to help work through some issues that have cropped up since the PSERS ruling in November.

“They have $10,000 budgeted for legal advice,” Slaninka said. “They are going to spend some of that money to find out what rights they have under the situation that we’re now currently working under.”

As of this writing, the board of trustees is still undergoing the process of hiring that legal counsel. Phoenixville Public Library Board of Trustees President Sue Meadows said in a phone interview that the move was made to get other opinions and see if they differ from those given by Ron Williams, the school district’s solicitor, at meeting.

“We felt that we needed to seek outside counsel,” Meadows said, noting that the board of trustees’ focus is solely on the library, while the district solicitor works for the school board.

Slaninka told the school board at its March budget meeting and at the regular board meeting that he will keep the school board in the loop regarding the legal counsel. He said he will ask for all communication with the lawyer as well as the costs involved.

Worries About the Library’s Status with the Chester County Library System

At a recent library board of trustees meeting, a move to approve the Chester County Library System Agreement caused concern.

That document gets voted on every three years as it is updated, Meadows said, and one of the provisions is that the library signing the agreement is working under the library code.

The library code, however, states that there can be no more than seven and no fewer than five members on a library’s board of trustees, Slaninka said at the school board meeting. Dating back to provisions in an 1895 agreement, the Phoenixville Public Library’s board of trustees has nine members.

In the past, the school district sent a liaison, Slaninka said, and that changed when Board Member Dr. Daniel Cushing noticed wording that stated that the school board president, treasurer and superintendent were to be on the board of trustees.

That all occurred in 2011, and the switch was made to have the three school district representatives on the board of trustees. Those three serve with six community members who were in the past appointed by the library board, with the name of the appointee sent to the school board for a final approval.

Meadows said if the system advisory council document is not approved, there’s a chance the library could be removed from the Chester County Library System. During a prior discussion on the matter at a board of trustees meeting, Slaninka voted against approving the document, and Fegley abstained, Slaninka explained to the school board.

Meadows said the issue will likely be up for another vote at the library board of trustees meeting in April. She said she hopes it will pass.

“Not being a part of [the county library system] would be enormous,” Meadows said. “I really truly hope for the community’s sake that it does not come to that.”

The library system provides some funding to Phoenixville Public Library and has many other benefits, including interlibrary loan, Meadows said.

Slaninka said at the school board’s meeting that he hopes to find out more information, and the question is whether or not to follow the school code or library code.

There will be a second part of this article posted on Phoenixville Patch. 

Erin Marie March 29, 2012 at 02:55 AM
This is so confusing, and frankly I have no idea what is going on. Are all the libraries in PA subordinates to school districts? Is Phoenixville the only one set up like this? Just curious. But I'm pleading with anyone reading this who has any say in the matter -- don't screw up the Phoenixville library! Especially the inter-library loan. The online catalog, the ease of reserving & picking up books, the email notifications...Phoenixville & the Chester County Libraries are *amazing* and is a glowing gem in the town. Please don't screw it up.
Richard A Breuer March 29, 2012 at 04:34 PM
Erin is absolutely right. If the library board is too large, amend the bylaws and make it smaller.
Holly March 30, 2012 at 04:34 PM
Absolutely! If there's even a small risk that we could be removed from the Chester County library system, fix it now. Make the board smaller.
Charles March 31, 2012 at 12:24 AM
Here's what I don't get. The library is not sure of their funding and they may no longer qualify for Chester County support, yet they are still Hell bent on a renovation that is basically moving the deck chairs around on the Titanic.Who's been paid off here? What is the deal? A Foundation is only as good as it's ethical integrity and it looks like they have sold their soul -- anyone that has their heart in that library would save the ship, avoid the iceberg of a renovation and BTW - where is the captain in all of this? Get rid of the board president, she should leave under incompetence and that would lessen the amount of board members right there!
Nemo Wine April 01, 2012 at 07:49 AM
sacrifice two for the good of the order -- it is a no brainer and probably has no impact.
Gilligan April 01, 2012 at 01:55 PM
Erin Marie and others. Follow the money trail. The library gets half a million from the school district, but wants zero direction in how to spend it. They are a non-profit so they spend how they see fit. Phoenixville library is one of the few in the state, if not the country, that gets funding from their school district. PASD is only obligated to cough up $2k, not $500k, per the Carnegie agreement. Funny how nobody ever noticed the school superintendant, school board president and treasurer must be on the library board?? Without them, the library has had free reign to run things how they want. Now, the vote will swing the other way against them. Inside info says the library will be self funded within 5 years. The library is scared to death of this and is desperately trying to stop it. "They want their $500k and they want it now and they don't want nobody telling us nothing about where and how to spend it." Here is their quandary. If they keep 9 members on the library board, they keep their majority vote, but lose their county system. If they keep 7 members, they lose pasd funding, but keep the county system. So it's nice to entertain pre-k kids at the library. It's nice to entertain senior citizens at the library. But it's not nice to entertain them on the school district's (taxpayer's) dime. Sorry the funding will slowly fade away over 5 years. The library has had a nice run with free taxpayer $ over the last 100 years, but it's about over. That's life.
Charles April 01, 2012 at 03:48 PM
I'm surprised no one has raised an objection to the library having 10K set aside for legal fees! From where? Its operating budget, foundation, donations -- either way, before they spend one more penny fighting PASD, I'd like to know to date in the last say 5 years, how much has the library spent on legal fees and where did the money come from an where did it go?
Erin Marie April 01, 2012 at 06:32 PM
Thanks, Gilligan - what you said makes sense. I never understood the relationship with the school + Chester County + the library. It seems unnecessarily convoluted. So what you're saying is if they stay within PASD they will have a big lovely building with their books but their link to the Chester County libraries will be severed...but if they get out from under the PASD they'll still be linked to the Chester County system but will have to figure out a way to fund their building/operation alone. Right? Would they get funding from the county? How is the Chester County system funded? Are those the 2 main options, when it's all boiled down? Just trying to understand. I am bothered at the thought that the library might go down the tubes here in a few years. :-(
imwatchingyou April 01, 2012 at 08:43 PM
This is why the District should not be funding the library to the tune of $508,000. There is no transparecy with this Board. If the Board didn't know that employees were part of PSERS and now they operate with to ( two ) many Board members, how would the taxpayers know what is going on? There seems like there are to many shenanigans going on and the left hand (district) doesn't know what the right hand (library board ) is doing. Does the right to know law come into effect here? Why does the Director of the library collect the same salary when it cut hours and one day a week to be open? There are certain SB members who would rather keep their stanglehold on the taxpayers than give up the golden goose of funding. The big question is why does the library always hold their fundraisers in Montgomery County when we have the Phx Country Club, The Foundry (taxpayer $), Kimberton CC and Franklin Commons which Im sure would love to host their events?
Gilligan April 02, 2012 at 04:19 PM
Marie. Not sure where funding would come from and I don't think the library does either. The borough is broke and I doubt Schuylkill or East Pikeland township want to support it. Since the library is a non-profit, the right to know laws don't apply to them. Surprise!! Listen to the school board meetings. Paul said the library has never turned over documents to him since 2008. Why would they start now? They can spend $10k on lawyers because it's not their money and they don't have to account for it anyways.
ne April 02, 2012 at 05:10 PM
These comments are confusing me even more. The library does a great job and helps a lot of people. I know I've seen their budget posted and they would have to be audited every year. I don't think they can hide anything or they would risk losing their non-profit status. Am I wrong about this? I'm curious as to how much PASD has spent on legal fees for the Library? The one thing they can be proud of and they are trying to get rid of it. All of the money, school district or library, is tax money. They are taking our dollars to fight each other. How much has the School District paid their lawyers to try to dissolve something that helps so many? My guess is more than $10k.... Please don't mess with the library. It is one of the few places in town that I feel my tax dollars are well spent.
Charles April 02, 2012 at 11:32 PM
Hey Gilligan, it looks like ne doesn't understand that board members don't really make a good library -- librarians and the people that run your programs and help you check out your books make good libraries. It's time board members start realizing there is a good reason for term limits, so that old blood that has old scores to settle - and can't see that the library in and of itself is more important than they are. PASD needs to stick to the term limits and vote these crybaby - "I need a lawyer so I can spend XYZ tax dollars and donations" - for what - to move furniture around without one inch of extra space as a result. Come on PASD, vote these board members off the island and pick a new cast. Let the library be the survivor, not the board members that have been weighing it down year after year, because of bad management and advice. There's all kinds of ways to hide where the library money really goes...but sooner or later, with a GOOD accountant and REAL audit it will come out -- Foundation, Friends,,,,non-profit blah, blah, blah....
Josh Gould April 03, 2012 at 01:07 AM
I am on both the school board and the library board. I cannot speak for either board, this is just my perspective. I would like to clarify a few things. The school board has been going through a process of discussing options and weighing alternatives. That is our responsibility, to discuss options and make informed decisions. Only two decisions have been made so far: one was to require that library employees and volunteers obtain clearances, the same as all other school district employees and volunteers. The second was that the library should remain as part of the school district, not be divested. The library board is also responsible for making informed decisions, and so when the library board has legal questions that have not been answer by the school district solicitor they need to get their own legal advice. Neither side is taking any legal action against the other, nor to my knowledge has either side threatened to do so. Both boards are trying to clarify the relationship between the library and the school district. It is a complex relationship which deserves serious consideration and discussion. With regard to transparency, all meetings were advertised public meetings, all discussions at board meetings and workshops were televised and reported in the Patch and elsewhere. I hope that helps to clarify the current discussions.
Erin Marie April 03, 2012 at 01:37 PM
Posting for Josh -- I'm not into the politics or guts of how this is all handled -- I'm just a regular person who uses the library all the time -- at least weekly -- and I just want someone "in charge" to know that if the library (specifically inter-library loan!) is screwed up it will really stink and we'll have to go elsewhere. But we love the Phoenixville library and the librarians we regularly see...so please don't mess it up. Thanks. :)
Josh Gould April 04, 2012 at 01:12 AM
Erin Marie - thanks for your post and for your interest! I agree with you, it would be terrible if the library were messed up. I believe the issues with regard to the county library system will be resolved so that the inter-library loan and other benefits from the county system will stay in place.


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