By Steven Hoffman
After more than six months of work, the Avon Grove School Board unanimously approved an $81,638,691 final budget for the 2014-15 school year at the June 12 school board meeting.
Overall, taxes are increasing by 2.8 percent, with the tax rate standing at 27.499 mills for the 2014-15 school year. For the homeowner with the median assessed property value in Avon Grove of $168,820, the tax bill will increase by $126.
Board member William Sites, who serves on the district's Finance and Budget Committee, said that while the budget requires a tax increase, the spending plan meets the district's objectives of pursuing initiatives that will increase academic performance and of making other upgrades to facilities that will ensure the safety of students and staff.
District superintendent Dr. Christopher Marchese called the 2014-15 budget a reinvestment in the Avon Grove School District.
While Avon Grove and many other districts across Pennsylvania have already finalized their budgets for the next school year, an important piece of the budgetary picture remains unclear: funding for public schools has not yet been finalized at the state level.
In his Pa. Legislative Committee report, Avon Grove School Board member Charles Beatty III said that state budget has a signficant revenue shortfall so some of the education funding in the proposed budget may be in jeopardy and could impact how much the district receives. Beatty urged residents to contact their legislators to let them know that schools need to be funded at an appropriate level.
Marchese also announced some of the changes that are being made to the district's administrative team for the 2014-15 school year.
Dr. Michael Snopkowski is moving from principal of Fred S. Engle Middle School to director of secondary teaching and learning, one of the new district-wide positions that was created to boost academic performance.
Michael Berardi, currently an assistant principal at Avon Grove High School, will become the new principal of Fred S. Engle Middle School.
Dr. Louis Chance is moving from supervisor of special education to director of pupil services. Holly Pettine has been hired as the new supervisor of special education.
Dr. Gary Mattei was named the Director of Technology, which is a new position.
Dr. Kalia Reynolds was named the director of elementary teaching and learning, also a new position.
Natalie Ortega-Moran was named the assistant principal at Avon Grove High School.
Marchese expressed his enthusiasm for the new additions to the administrative team.
The school board approved a Capital Project Fund Budget in the amount of $1,192,087 for necessary repairs and upgrades.
Board member Donald Needham said during his Facilities Report that district officials are looking at setting up a meeting with officials from Penn Township and New London Township to discuss the possibility of connecting to the public sewer system.
School board president Brian Gaerity offered the community an update regarding contract negotiations with both the professional and support staff. Gaerity said that negotiations on both contracts continue, with bargaining sessions scheduled for each within the next few weeks.
“The board remains optimistic and is committed to bargaining in good faith to ensure a fair and equitable agreement is reached that balances the needs of both employee groups and the taxpayers of the Avon Grove community,” Gaerity said. A bargaining session with the professional staff was to take place on June 16, with a meeting with the support staff scheduled for June 23.
Gaerity also addressed the school board's recent decision to enter into an agreement with the Chester County Intermediate Unit (CCIU) for custodial services that effectively eliminated more than two dozen custodial positions. Gaerity said that the board's negotiating team informed the support staff association that it would be evaluating another option on Feb. 24. At a later bargaining session, on March 31, the board presented a comprehensive proposal from the CCIU to the association leadership. “The proposal's cover letter stated that the board was willing to engage in discussions with the association, and that if the association wished to offer a competitive bid, they were to do so by April 30, 2014,” Gaerity stated.
“From March 31 through May 20—almost three weeks past the deadline to submit a counter-bid—there were no attempts by the association to contact the board,” Gaerity continued. “No questions, no requests for information. Not even an indication that they were interested in making a counteroffer.”
On May 8, the board voted to enter into an agreement with the CCIU to provide custodial services. On May 20, Gaerity said, the board met with the support staff and they indicated they were interested in offering a competitive bid but offered no details.
“On May 22, the Association was provided with the CCIU proposal and we again met with the union to continue discussions on a contract for the remaining support staff members,” Gaerity said. “While the union representatives indicated they wanted to keep the custodial jobs, they presented no counter-bid. To this day, we have not received a counter-bid for the custodial positions from the union and it's long past time to receive one.”
Gaerity said that he hopes the custodial staff members will keep an open mind and consider accepting jobs with Service Master, the company that will now oversee custodial services in the district.
He added that as negotiations with the remaining support staff continue, the board recently provided a counterproposal to the Association's initial proposal.
Gaerity explained, “The board believes we have made an attractive counterproposal to the remaining members of the support staff by offering a one-year extension to the current agreement. The proposal offers a salary increase equal to 1.9 percent. No other changes in terms are proposed as part of this extension.”
“We look forward to the Association's response to our counterproposal and our continued work with them to reach a successor agreement as soon as possible.”
The school board voted to cancel meetings that had been tentatively scheduled for June 26 and July 10 and will meet again on Aug. 14 at 7:30 p.m. at the Avon Grove Intermediate School.