U-CF School Board approves proposed preliminary budget
● By J. Chambless
It's a long way until final approval in June, but the Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board took a first step at a 2015-16 district budget at their Jan. 12 work session. The board unanimously approved a proposed preliminary budget that suggests a tax rate of 27.52 in Chester County and 23.34 in Delaware County, for a weighted average increase of 4.29 percent.
Robert Cochran, the director of business and operations, told the board up front that those figures will change. "Those numbers are a kind of worst-case scenario," he said. The district puts in for exception dollars from the state, but doesn't necessarily plan to use them in the final budget. The proposed preliminary budget numbers are just a place holder in case exception dollars are needed. Last year, the tax increase ended up being 2.6 percent, well below the number proposed at the beginning of the budget process.
On Monday night, the board approved a budget with total appropriations of $80,901,704 for the 2015-16 school year. The preliminary budget is expected to be adopted on Feb. 17, and adoption of the final budget and levying of real estate taxes are expected on June 15.
Along the way, there wll be a presentation of the proposed budget on April 13, public budget hearings on May 4, 5 and 6, approval of the proposed final general fund budget in May, and final budget adoption in June.
Beginning a three-hour meeting that covered a wide range of topics, the board heard from member Robert Sage about developing a strategic plan for the district that would update a plan that was adopted back in 2008. "We want to build on the district's success, but keep innovating," Sage said. "One of the important things we do as a board is set the future direction for the district."
The strategic plan will be developed and refined in the coming six to 12 months, Sage said, with input from the administration, teachers, taxpayers and others.
School board president Victor Dupuis said that when the board meets for a retreat on Jan. 24, they will begin working on the strategic plan. "Don't take this too lightly," he told the board.
Rick Hostetler, the district's supervisor of buildings and grounds, outlined the ten-year plan that began last summer, chiefly with renovations at Patton Middle School and Hillendale Elementary School. Projects completed so far have cost $1.2 million, he said. Work slated for the summer of 2015 includes renovations to the Patton adminsitration area, health classrooms and band rooms, lighting and ceiling replacement at Hillendale, partial carpet replacement at Hillendale, window replacement at Hillendale, partial locker replacements at Patton and other work, projected to cost $2.5 million to $3 million. The board will see specific bids and proposals in the coming months, Hostetler said.
The board and administration discussed a policy regarding outside use of school facilities, particularly the wording that would allow some non-profit groups to rent facilities such as the high school auditorium for reduced rates. Disagreements about the criteria for each kind of group, however, ended with the board tabling the policy for further review.
The board heard from a representative of Public Financial Management, Inc., about a bond refinancing opportunity. The district holds about $20 million in bonds that could be refinanced at a lower rate, saving the district about $800,000 over the life of the bond issue. The board gave its approval to pursue refinancing of the bond, setting a process in motion that must be completed by June 1. Cochran said he would recommend taking the savings as a lump sum and putting it into the capital reserve fund to finance repairs to Hillendale and other buildings in the coming years.
During public comment, Amy Caputo from Pennsbury Township addressed a policy that is being considered by the board that involves class ranking. Her son is a senior at Unionville High School who has applied to several top schools. Although he has a high grade-point average, he is not in the top decile at the school. "That fact may hurt his prospects at some of the top schools he'd like to attend," Caputo said.
She read from a recent report that said more than half of all high schools in the nation no longer report student rankings because the practice penalizes excellent students who fall just outside the top 10 percent of the class, leaving them out of consideration by elite colleges. "The stakes are high," Caputo said. "Decile ranking affects not only college admission, but also eligibility for scholarships and merit aid."
The district's class rank policy, no. 214, specifies a grade point average of 4.3 (97 to 100 percent) for an A-plus grade. The average reflects added weight given to credits earned in advance placement and honors courses. A 4.0 equates to 93 to 96 percent, for an A grade.
The board is looking at all the district's policies and has reviewed policy 214 without making changes. District superintendent John Sanville said he recommended approving the policy, "but it's worth having a conversation," he told the board and Mrs. Caputo. "I'd like to sit down with you. I've done some research on what schools across the nation do in regard to class ranking. Let's reach out to colleges and make an informed decision. It we're hurting our kids, then we'll make a change."
The policy will be up for a vote in March or April. As of now, 2015 seniors will have their grades announced. Sanville said changing the policy is possible, "but it's going to be a tall order for the class of 2016." After discussion, the policy was pulled for further consideration and public input.
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.