By John Chambless
The Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board looked at the first phase of an ambitious 10-year plan for renovations to the district's schools at their March 10 work session.
Rick Hostetler, the district's supervisor of buildings and grounds, laid out the work to be done this summer and in the near future, presenting a list of some 60 jobs that will be tackled in the next decade. “This is all work that needs to happen,” Hostetler told the board. “Everything on this list is necessary.”
This summer, in addition to routine maintenance, crews will begin installing new windows and upgrading the fire alarm system at Hillendale Elementary School, replacing the first-floor lighting at Patton Middle School and upgrading the seating in the Patton auditorium, among other jobs. Hostetler detailed the reasons for the work, noting that the fire alarm at Hillendale may date to the days when the building was a museum, and that the wooden windows have stopped functioning well and are leaking. The seating in the Patton auditorium is not padded and dates to when the school was built.
The first phase of the long-range plan will cost about $1.5 million, Hostetler said. The amount is planned for in the current budget.
The board reviewed several options to pay for the long-range plan, with the most popular choice being a phased approach in which money would be borrowed to accomplish each three-year phase before the next phase is begun. Board member Keith Knauss said he favored a phased-in plan, even spread over 20 to 25 years. “Today's taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for something that won't even be built for eight or nine years,” he said.
The impact of the first phase would be felt in the 2015-16 school budget.
Hostetler also told the board that a shortened summer schedule will again be used in the district. Last summer, he said, the reduction in hours for air conditioning and paying workers resulted in a savings to the district of about $27,000.
The subject of sports participation fees was addresed by Robert Cochran, the director of business and operations, who explained how the fees work. For example, the actual cost for an eighth grader to participate in baseball is $259.45. Students currently pay a fee of $25 toward that cost, with the rest of the cost being picked up by taxpayers. By increasing that fee to $50 per student, the district will increase revenue to $4,000 for all seventh and eighth grade baseball players. That money goes into a general fund that is used to pay for all sports activities. Similar increases in participation fees are planned for several sports next season.
Fees have not been raised since the 2011-2012 school year. Board member Knauss said, “I feel these fees are a bargain, and I'd feel comfortable if we went with the figures we have here.”
Board member Gregg Lindner, who was chairing the meeting, disagreed, saying that the schools “are not a rec association,” and adding that he's concerned that raising fees will keep students away from sports. School superintendent John Sanville said that participation in sports has remained constant across the district.
Board member Jeff Hellrung said, “I think asking students to pick up 10 to 15 percent of the cost of a sport is reasonable. I think what the administration is proposing is reasonable, and hopefully we can go with it.”
The issue of hiring support staff from temp agencies was discussed by the board and administration, specifically hiring a company called the SOS Group to supply custodial staff. The district's pilot program to see if there is a cost savings from hiring workers who do not have to be included in the district's benefits plan will expire in June. To date, there are only three workers hired as part of the pilot program, raising concerns among several board members that the sample was too small to determine a savings.
During the public comment period at the beginning of the meeting, two people stood up to address the board about temp agency hiring.
Resident Trish Einstein said, “If we begin to contract out positions, my fear is the deleterious effects on our stellar district will not be immediately apparent. By the time we can quantify a decline, it will be too late. At that point, the support staff infrastructure will already have been dismantled. Our custodians are really our first line of defense in any crisis. They know our buildings, they know the exits, they know how to lock them down.”
Don Carlino of East Marlborough Township also addressed the board, urging them to “consider the personal touch our support staff has with our students. In looking at the contract online, I wonder how much money we'll actually save. Dollars are important, but I think it's important to consider the personal impact that the support staff, the custodians and the like, have with our students.”
In other business, Hellrung announced that the board had been part of a meeting with Sanville about residency requirements on the morning of March 10, and that, “I have 100 percent confidence that everything is being done diligently, according to state regulations, regarding residency requirements.”
The board has come under fire for a controversy in which a family that reportedly lives outside of the district is sending children to district schools. Board member Holly Manzone resigned over the issue, but privacy laws have prevented Sanville from releasing information about the family's case.
“In my comments at the time, I said I wanted an independent investigation,” Hellrung said. “We have contracted for that service through the Chester County Intermediate Unit. We will get a thorough investigation on that, with recommendations.”
The board and administration had a lengthy discussion of a late bus service that would bring students home from after-school activities. Such a service was a very popular idea with parents in a recent survey, but implementing the plan has proven difficult. Ken Batchelor, the assistant to the superintendent, told the board that simply hiring an outside bus company to run the bus hasn't worked out because the company wanted the district to plan the route and collect money from passengers. He suggested there may be a way for the district to plan the bus service, but board member Eileen Bushelow said she was concerned that “if a company whose business is to run buses doesn't want anything to do with it, maybe it's too much for the district to handle on our own.”
Sanville said the administration will come up with a plan for the possible bus operation and present it to the board for consideration in May or June.