By John Chambless
The Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board crossed some big items off their to-do list on June 17 - including passing a final budget and approving a teachers' contract - but, with a field of six qualified candidates seeking to fill a board seat, there was no winner selected.
The seat vacated by Frank Murphy's resignation from the board is being sought by six residents, who came to the meeting on Monday night to hear the decision of the other board members. To be selected to fill the term - which runs until Dec. 2 - a candidate must get at least five votes from current board members. In the first round of nominations, candidates Leticia Flores De Wilde, Dell Joshi and Carol Biederman were named. Voting on those three resulted in a 3-3 tie between Joshi and Biederman. A second round of voting resulted in four votes for Biederman and three for Joshi, but neither one got the necessary five votes. The decision will now have to be made at the board's July 15 meeting.
School district superintendent John Sanville thanked the candidates. "I apologize to our six candidates, and I thank you for your patience as we move forward," he said.
All the board members encouraged the candidates to stay involved in the school board whether they win a seat or not, and thanked them for their interest. The other candidates are Lorraine Ramunno, John Murphy and Skip Barthold. All six people are still in the running for the position.
After months of deliberation, the final district budget for 2013-14 was approved. The Chester County millage rate will be 25.73 (a 2.18 percent increase from last year), and the Delaware County millage will be 21.71 (a 1.26 percent increase). The weighted average millage increase will be 2.01 percent.
Under this proposal, the impact on the average homeowner will be $149.37 in Chester County and $69.69 in Delaware County.
The budget passed, but board member Keith Knauss voted against it, and read from a prepared statement before the vote was taken. "Tonight, we're voting on a budget that estimates it will spend $72.5 million and collect tax revenues of $72.4 million," he said. "Also, we estimate that we'll have to spend our bank account down by $115,000 in conjunction with raising taxes about 2 percent. ... We won't really know how much we'll spend and collect until the fiscal year ends, over a year from now."
Knauss said the board's bank account has grown over the past several years, and "in 2012-13, the most recent projection says we'll add another $500,000 to our bank account. Over the last four years, we have added $4.5 million more our bank account than we've planned to do. That's an average of over $500 for each household in the district. It would be nice for us to return all, or at least some, of that surplus back to the taxpayers. ...
"We repeatedly and consciously slightly overestimate expenditures, slightly understimate revenues and overtax our residents," Knauss said. "We budget conservatively, which is normally a good practice, but not when we're trying to constrain the district's bank account. ... I'll be back again in 12 months to remind the board about how much we've added to our bank account with money that really is better left with our taxpayers."
Next, the board approved the Homestead and Farmstead Exclusion, which will return about $223.79 for each home in the school district.
The board also approved the collective bargaining agreement with the Unionville-Chadds Ford Education Association. The agreement with the teachers union, effective on July 1, represents a projected increase in district expenses of 2.19 percent per year over the next two years.
The new contract makes no changes to the salary structure for teachers. A teacher starting with the district with a bachelor's degree will earn $48,520 per year, while a top scale teacher with more than 16 years of experience, a master's degree and more than 60 graduate school credits will earn $102,741.
Under the agreement, all teachers in the district will get a one-time bonus of $900 the first year of the contract. In the second year, all top-of-scale teachers will get a one-time bonus of $1,100, while the rest will get raises in year two based on the number of graduate credits they've completed and their years in the district. The contract also includes more time for teaching by replacing two student half-days with two full days.
Knauss and board member Jeff Hellrung voted against the contract, with Knauss commenting that, "It's not a terrible agreement, but it's not good enough."
There was lengthy discussion of the Raptor Visitor Security System that has been proposed for all of the district's schools and the administrative office.
Under the system, visitors would provide their driver's licenses at the main entrance. Their information will be checked against a sex-offender database, and the system then prints a badge with a photo of the visitor as well as the date and their destination in the school building. The system takes about 30 seconds to process each visitor badge. It would cost $11,200 for all six buildings, along with a $480 annual renewal for each site.
Board members raised questions about delays in processing large groups of visitors who might come to the school for an event, and questioned why the system will only screen for sex offenders and would do nothing to screen for weapons or for other types of criminal offenses.
Rick Hostetler, the supervisor of buildings and grounds, said that the Raptor system could be upgraded to search for any criminal record, but "we weren't sure we wanted to go there" and scrutinize every visitor for offenses that might have nothing to do with school security.
The concensus among the board members was that the Raptor system was an efficient means of printing specific visitor passes, but was not as effective as a security system.
Hostetler added, "This would enhance our security system. It is not a cure-all, and we recognize that. But it's taking us a good step up."
The board voted to delay a decision on the Raptor system until they could get more information and input from families in the district. A decision must be made at the board's July 15 meeting to give the district time to install the system if it is approved.
At the beginning of the meeting, the board recognized retiring teachers and employees Randi Bushner, Lynn Fitzgibbon, Dominick Guiseppe, Donna Kiernan and Lois Wolfe, and thanked them for their years of service to the district.