By John Chambless
Several community members with high hopes for a barn on West Doe Run Road near Unionville High School came to the Feb. 10 work session of the Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board to ask for a favor.
“First, we need collaboration with the school district," said committee member Jackie Maas. "We want you to propel this proposal forward for discussion. We believe this would be a win-win for the district.” The group envisions a new branch of the Garage Youth Centers that have been successful in West Grove and Kennett Square. They are seeking a long-term, low-cost lease on the barn from the school district, which would bear no costs for the renovation or the running of the youth program.
Maas spoke to the board about the need for a youth center in the Unionville area. “Countless times, I have listened as groups of parents have bemoaned the fact that there's so little for our teens to do outside of school hours in this district," she said. "We are miles away from a movie theater, a bowling alley, batting cages, or any other facility that promotes safe fun. Our children are most fortunate, but we have not given them a place to do the number-one job of adolescents -- that is, separating from their parents and trying on who they might become as adults. Kids need a safe place, away from parents, to do this work.”
The barn, she said, has several points in its favor. “It is practically adjacent to both the middle school and high school, it offers a large space for a variety of uses, it has available land for parking, and it sits in an easily accessible location that has been described as the heart of our district," she said. "The district will incur no expense, but the students of this district will reap all of the benefits.”
Much of the groundwork has been done on the project, and the board saw architectural drawings of what the barn could look like when it is renovated. Currently, it is used for storage by the district's transportation department.
Patti Olenik of the Garage staff pointed out the long list of successes at the two non-profit centers, where students can come to do homework, get mentoring and tutoring, plan social events and volunteer projects, and socialize in a safe, supportive atmosphere. “It's a very inclusive place,” she said. “and there's a very neat culture there.” The two Garage locations, she said, serve about 400 students in an average week. The Unionville facility, if approved, would be a much-needed addition, she said.
Board president Victor Dupuis seemed supportive of the plan, but cautioned, “There are more structural, financial, engineering, and logistical challenges with the barn building than with your other locations. There are some big hills to climb.”
The board will be discussing whether to offer the Garage a long-term lease for the property as the initial step toward the group securing its own funding and beginning renovation work. The board's decision is expected soon.
Director of business and operations Robert Cochran reviewed the district's finances and said collections have been steady. “I am confident we will meet our budget for the year,” he said.
The Feb. 4 announcement of Gov. Corbett's budget was also reviewed. While many changes are still to be made in the budget figures, Cochran said that a proposed Ready to Learn Block Grant from the state, estimated at $178,205, “is the one we're most likely to actually get,” netting the district an additional $142,364 over the estimate in the district's preliminary budget. The overall favorable impact of Corbett's current budget proposal would be about $567,000, Cochran said, but too much is still unknown to make any solid predictions.
“My recommendation to the board at this time, because of the uncertainty of the budget figures, is that the proposed preliminary budget remain unchanged for next week's vote,” Cochran told the board.
Board member Keith Knauss said, “I recommend we keep the budget as-is, and save the arguing for when we do the proposed final budget in May and June.”
District superintendent John Sanville agreed, adding, “The numbers will be more real then.” The board will vote on the preliminary budget at their Feb. 18 regular meeting.
Dupuis told the audience that the board and administration would be meeting in executive session after the work session to discuss the language of a new contract for Sanville. The details, when approved, will be posted on the district website, Dupuis said. The contract calls for a salary of $210,000, increasing annually at the rate of the Act 1 Index; an increase in paid vacation days from 25 to 30 days; and dollar-for-dollar matching payments towards a retirement plan, not to exceed $700 per month. The contract will run for a four-year term, from Sept. 1, 2014 to Aug. 31, 2018.
In other business, the board discussed whether to approve a contract with David Voss Associates to formulate a communications plan for the district, particularly a process for relaying information in an emergency. The communications plan was a key request that came out of a public survey last year. The scaled-back plan being proposed for Voss targets five key areas that must be completed before the end of June. The $25,000 cost is less than the amount Voss put forward in his original plan, which was much more extensive.
Board member Kathleen Do voiced some reservations about giving the contract to Voss. “This needs to be a very detailed plan. I want a sense of what we're paying for before we pay for it,” she told the board.
Sanville and others responded that the district has worked with Voss about four years ago and found his work to be very satisfactory. The district gathered references, he said, and is confident that the communications plan will be comprehensive. The board will vote on approving or denying the Voss contract next week.
Sanville opened the meeting by thanking the district employees and families who have grappled with the winter weather and school closings recently. "I stopped by this morning to the transportation folks, and I also stopped by our maintenance garage to talk to those people, because we all know we've been suffering a winter like no other," Sanville said. "It is important to recognize the people that really make things happen in these situations. It's our bus drivers, and our maintenance and custodial folks who have been doing yeoman's work at all hours. ... We all know people without power. These are not easy times, and there's more to come," he added.
Storms are expected to disrupt school schedules again this week. If schools close because of the weather, the district will need to revise their calendar and add makeup days in the spring. As of Monday, there were snow make-up days scheduled June 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13, as well as May 20 and Feb. 17. "If we get another snow day, we'll be beyond our current calendar," Sanville said.
Future make-up days could be scheduled April 14 and 15, taken from the usual spring break. If necessary, further make-up days will be added from June 16 to 20.
If calendar changes are necessary, the board will vote at their Feb. 18 meeting to authorize the changes.