By John Chambless
In a last-minute addition to the agenda of the April 21 Unionville-Chadds Ford school board meeting, the board unanimously voted to accept the retirement of Chadds Ford Elementary School principal Mark Ransford.
The board members were somber as district superintendent John Sanville read a statement about the sudden announcement.
“During the first week of PSSA testing at Chadds Ford Elementary School, concerns about potential violations of testing procedures were reported to district administration," Sanville said. "We immediately contacted the Pennsylvania Department of Education and began an investigation. Thorough investigation by the district revealed the principal did violate testing protocol by allowing 12 students additional time to answer unanswered questions. Although the PSSA tests are not timed, students are not permitted to finish unanswered questions after the test booklets have been returned.
"No evidence was found, or even suggested, that the principal or any teacher ever coached or provided students with the correct answers," Sanville continued. "The investigation revealed violations in testing procedures for this year only. The evidence points to this as a one-time occurrence. Mr. Ransford has decided to retire. His decision is personal. At this point, the administration accepts his retirement.
“While we are disappointed by these events, we are proud that staff members acted swiftly and decisively to bring this to a conclusion," Sanville concluded.
Ransford was released on April 21, with the effective date of his retirement on July 1. He will be on administrative leave of absence until July 1, using already accrued sick time and vacation days. Filling in for him at the school will be John Nolen, the school district's director of curriculum and instruction, assisted by Steve Dissinger, the principal of Hillendale Elementary School.
At the end of the meeting, board member Eileen Bushelow announced that she would be stepping down from her position on the board on May 20. “This is just for personal reasons, nothing else,” she said, indicating that she felt no animosity toward the board. Bushelow is a former president of the board.
The meeting, which was held at Hillendale Elementary School, began with plenty of good news from Hillendale principal Steve Dissinger. He congratulated Carol Patton, a fifth-grade teacher at Hillendale, on her retirement after 36 years in the district, announced that the Hillendale team of runners had raised more than $3,000 for the recent Run For Our Sons fundraiser on April 5, and summarized the progress of the Math in Focus program that is being rolled out at the school.
“I've never heard so many positive conversations among teachers” about a new program, he told the audience, and showed examples of student work using the Math in Focus program. “It was a struggle in September and October, but wow, did it ever come around,” he said. “It's just an amazing program.”
Dissinger also congratulated fourth-grade Hillendale student Arnab Sircar, who placed among the top 15 elementary and middle-school students in the state in a recent geography bee in Harrisburg. And Nickolas Toochek, a fifth-grader at Hillendale, got an engraved silver medallion to recognize his selection by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards as one of the state's top two youth volunteers of 2014. Toochek is raising money to buy coats for children in need by running marathons on all seven continents.
There was a debate among the board members when it was time to vote on raising student participation fees in the district. The fees, paid by families whose children participate in sports, do not cover the whole cost of participation. In the past, the fees covered anywhere from 5 to 13 percent of the actual cost of the activity. The across-the-board increases approved by the board will now cover 10 to 15 percent of the cost of the activity.
Board member Kathleen Do asked for confirmation that there will be a cap of $500 per family, per year, for the fees, which assistant superintendent Ken Batchelor confirmed. There is also a $250 cap for individuals. Board member Gregg Lindner repeated his opposition to the increases, saying, “this is the wrong approach. It's a slippery slope to increase the fees, which I consider a tax on people who participate.”
Board member Michael Rock was more forceful in his opposition, saying, “I'm opposed to a tax on participation. I think it's an unmitigated disaster. … I'd be for it if it was based on ability to pay. But in school, kids learn to participate. To put any kind of a tax on that is, in my view, a big mistake.”
Do added, “I hope this doesn't set a precedent that we're going to be raising these fees every year. The fee we're seeing now, topping it at $100 – that's pretty high. I really hope we're not going to go above that in the forseeable future.”
Board member Keith Knauss said, “The taxpayers are already subsidizing this at 85 or 90 percent. It's an incredible bargain for parents.”
Voting in favor of raising the fees were Bushelow, Do, Jeff Hellrung, Knauss, and board president Victor Dupuis. Those voting against the hike were Carolyn Daniels, Rock, Steve Simonson and Lindner. The fee increase was approved, by five votes to four.
In facilities, the board approved a bid for custodial supplies for the coming year in the amount of $78,852.66, and a contract with Weatherproofing Technologies, Inc., to repair the roofing at Hillendale Elementary, at a cost of $592,967.98.
The board also approved the district's special education plan for July 1, 2014 to June 20, 2017, for submission to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.