By Steven Hoffman
The Avon Grove School Board unanimously approved a proposed final budget for the 2014-15 school year at its May 8 meeting. The $82,015,459 budget will require a tax increase of 2.8 percent.
Avon Grove superintendent Dr. Christopher Marchese called the spending a “reinvestment in Avon Grove” because it includes funding for a number of initiatives that are designed to meet the district's goals to increase student-achievement, operate with efficiency and effectiveness, and address capital asset needs.
“The administration and school board have worked collaboratively to identify critical needs and implement best practices to address those needs,” said Marchese. “We believe that we have achieved an appropriate balance of revenues and expenses that will ensure Avon Grove is a great place for learning.”
The initiatives that are being included in next year's spending plan are diverse and wide-ranging.
The district is revamping its administrative structure and the budget includes funding for four new district-level director or administrative positions. The district is also adding 1.5 full-time-equivalent teaching positions at the elementary level for specialized programs such as English Language Learners or special education, as well as four other support positions.
The budget also includes funds to reinstate the district's curriculum review cycle, expand professional development opportunities for staff, and to provide upgrades for technology hardware and software. These initiatives are intended to improve the education that is delivered in the classroom.
The district is also implementing a five-year plan to prioritize capital projects. The plan is designed to maintain the district's buildings and improve safety and security of facilities—a major concern for some in the community.
Marchese said that the safety upgrades include installation of electronically controlled access systems, additional security cameras at the high school and middle school, and the fencing in of modular classrooms. These security upgrades will take place during the summer.
The district is expanding its working relationship with the Chester County Intermediate Unit, which will include a new model for facilities management and custodial services. Custodial operations will be performed by an independent service provider, which is expected to reduce the district's annual expenditures considerably. Several school board members said that the decision to expand the services that are contracted out was a difficult one, but it was the best decision, long-term, for the district and its taxpayers.
This is Marchese's first budgeting process as superintendent of Avon Grove. He said that after he started on Nov. 1, he started the process of meeting with administrators and educators to determine what they viewed as important needs for the district. The district's administration gave consideration to those suggestions and then made decisions about which of those needs could be addressed in the next budget.
“We evaluated each one critically and carefully,” Marchese said.
Salaries, benefits, and the district's contributions to the Public School Employees Retirement System are items that are impacting the budget the most.
If the final budget is approved as is, the millage rate would increase from 26.750 mills to 27.499 mills. A homeowner with the median assessed property value in Avon Grove of $168,820 would see an increase of $126 in his or her tax bill.
Overall, the proposed final budget is about 1.2 million less than the preliminary budget that the district was considering in January.
“Much work has been done in the last four months to refine the budget from its original form,” said school board president Brian Gaerity. “We've worked hard to reduce costs, redirect resources, and ensure that critical areas, such as security, leadership, technology, and curriculum development were addressed.”
The budget is available for review by the public for a period of 30 days. It is available in the District Office as well as on Avon Grove's website. The school board is expected to adopt the final budget at its meeting on June 12.