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Chester County Press

U-CF School Board gets ready for year by reviewing some long-term goals

08/09/2016 12:36PM ● By J. Chambless

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

With the start of the school year less than three weeks away, the Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board returned from their summer break on Aug. 8 with a lengthy meeting that laid out some long-range goals for the school district.

Rudy Reif, the assistant principal at Unionville High School, presented the recommendations of the Student Wellness Committee to the board. “I would look at this as one of the most valuable committees I've ever been on, from the standpoint of the really concrete things that were recommended,” Reif said. “Some things have already been put in place. The committee worked really well together.”

Topping the list of recommendations is the formation of a standing Board Wellness Committee and a Wellness Council, modeled on the district's Curriculum Council. To promote student wellness, the new groups would foster student social and emotional health, and encourage parent professional development with forums on managing social media, promoting healthy responses to stress and other topics of interest to the community.

There was also a recommendation to study in depth a student-led proposal to delay the school start time for high school students. Board member Jeff Hellrung and assistant superintendent Ken Batchelor are co-chairing the Delayed School Start Committee. Staff professional development would be a part of the wellness plan as well. The to-do list included a community read of the book “How to Raise an Adult,” as well as stronger outreach to parents and welcoming new parents, perhaps using alumni parents as mentors for newcomers.

District superintendent John Sanville told the board, “A week from tonight, this board will vote on this as a goal, to have a standing Wellness Committee. I would imagine that committee functioning as any other board standing committee functions, with a council -- a parent/stakeholder group that includes parents and teachers – that meets quarterly to discuss issues.”

The board will vote on approval of the new council and committee at their Aug. 15 regular meeting.

The board also heard about three options for refinancing the district's debt. John Frey of Public Financial Management told the board, “The good news is interest rates are low, and there's a great opportunity for the district to refinance a large portion of its outstanding debt – the debt that was used to finance this building, and the high school project. We've been monitoring this bond issue for quite some time, as it is eligible to be refinanced. It's not due until 2019, but as we get closer to that, interest rates have kept falling.”

The focus is on about $60 million worth of outstanding principal in bonds. “You're paying about a 5 percent interest rate,” Frey said. “The IRS allows you to, one time in the life of a new money bond issue, to lock in rates more than 90 days before the call date. In this case, we'd be about three years prior to the call date. We would put the money from the bonds into an escrow account, invest in U.S. treasuries for the next three years, and then pay off the bonds.”

The board members said they favored refinancing quickly. Bob Cochran, the district's director of business and operations, said, “We are are at a 62-year low for interest rates. This is prime opportunity. I would rather see us do this all now.”

Frey said that he expects to have the paperwork ready for a board vote at their Sept. 19 meeting. “If we're back here on Sept. 19, and we've got everything else done, I'll be able to sell bonds on the 20th,” he said.

In other business, Rick Hostetler, the supervisor of buildings and grounds, told the board, “We've been busy this summer, but the buildings are pretty close to being ready. We will be open and ready for students on Aug. 29.”

Hostetler put forward change orders for electrical work at Patton Middle School (a total of $23,861.14), and for renovations to the middle school auditorium (a total of $10, 690).

Sanville presented the administration's draft list of district goals to the board for discussion. The list “includes five continuing goals, two emerging goals, and five areas of focus for your consideration,” he said. “These goals were put together based on feedback from district leadership, then brainstorming sessions by the board at its retreat on July 15. There's been a lot of input from administrators. We came out with these dozen areas that seem like focus areas. … The administration is taking this seriously and making sure that we do it well.

“One real change is that, given our high level of achievement, we will change our goal of improving achievement levels to maintaining and/or improving our achievement levels. It's not unusual in some categories for us to have 100 percent proficient or advanced, and it's difficult to actually improve on that,” Sanville said.

The list of continuing goals also includes forming a Student Wellness Committee, continuing to roll out a technology plan that puts Chromebook devices into the hands of students at the middle school and ultimately the high school, determining whether the district wants to implement the International Baccalaureate or Capstone programs, and focusing on human resources within the district. The list of “emerging goals” includes the school start time initiative, and developing a strategic communications plan. The “areas of focus” include: Continuing ongoing support of resources and commitment to the STEM Initiative; following Standard Curriculum Cycle Review of the academic program; a comprehensive review of the K-2 academic program; the 10-year capital improvement plan; and developing a comprehensive plan.

Board member Gregg Lindner said, “I see things in the bottom five that should be made goals. I can't think of anything that's financially higher than the 10-year plan. It hits all the schools. It's our responsibility to make sure that all stakeholders are kept aware of where things are, based on the costs of everything associated with it. I would push for that to be a district goal, replacing another goal on the list.”

Board member Michael Rock commented, “I think five goals are too many. We ought to pick one or two a year and focus on improving them.” Rock was also concerned about the budgeting process. “We're now below what we said we'd have in the unassigned fund balance. We said we'd keep it around 5 percent, and now it's 3.8 percent. Seems to me that's not particularly prudent. Maybe with this refinancing of our bonds, we could take a chunk of that and put it into our unassigned fund balance.”

Sanville acknowledged the differences of opinion, saying, “Even within this dozen, there's variability as to what's most important to you. I can make adjustments to the goals, move some as they stand in draft form and take areas of focus and make them goals. “

Board member Jeff Hellrung, who was presiding over the meeting in the absence of board president Victor Dupuis, told Sanville, “I would endorse the student achievement and growth and wellness as the top two. With this new input, maybe you'll have some second thoughts or tweaks before the goals are presented to us next week.”

Sanville responded, “I'll make some revisions based on this conversation. I don't see drastic changes, except perhaps making the 10-year plan into a goal.”

The board will meet on Aug. 15 at 7 p.m. For updated information, visit www.ucfsd.org.

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email jchambless@chestercounty.com.


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