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Chester County Press

Avon Grove School District finalizes budget

06/12/2017 02:00PM ● By Steven Hoffman

The Avon Grove School District finalized the budget for the 2017-2018 school year, adopting the $93.6 million spending plan by a vote of 8 to 0 at the June 8 meeting.

The tax rate will be increasing by 2.5 percent, from 29.040 mills to 29.7700 mills, to balance the budget. For the average homeowner in the district, with a home at the median assessed value of $169,000, that translates into a tax increase of $123.

Superintendent Dr. Christopher Marchese said at a meeting in April that the budget for 2017-2018 continues the school district's efforts to reinvest in the schools to balance some of the cuts that were made to programs between 2009 and 2013. The reinvestment has focused on technology, curriculum and instruction, and personnel—all areas that impact student achievement in the classrooms.

The budget supports the district's goals that were established in the strategic plan, and includes funding for a full-day kindergarten program that will start in the fall.

Overall, spending is increasing by about $2.3 million over the current year. State-mandated increases in PSERS retirement costs, occupational education tuition costs for students that attend the Chester County Intermediate Unit classes, and expenditures associated with the full-day kindergarten program had the biggest impact on the budget. School districts across Pennsylvania have been dealing with rapidly increasing retirement costs. For the 2017-2018 school year, Avon Grove's PSERS costs are increasing by another $1 million. In the last ten years, Avon Grove's PSERS costs have gone from $1.9 million a year in 2007 to $10.5 million for the 2017-2018 school year. That's a 500 percent increase.

“The increases in the PSERS costs alone necessitate the need to seek increases in revenue,” said school board president Bonnie Wolff in a statement that was posted on the district's website. “The mandated costs imposed on us by the Department of Education are completely beyond the control of the Avon Grove School Board. We have purposefully sought efficiencies in our operating costs in an effort to direct resources to our academic program for the sole benefit of our students.”

School board vice president Brian Gaerity talked about the importance of providing a high-quality education for students.

“I want to thank the taxpayers for their support of high-quality of education,” Gaerity said, explaining that the community has prioritized delivering a high-quality education to students. He added that several studies have illustrated that Avon Grove provides a good return on investment by producing high academic achievement at a lower per-pupil cost.

In other business at the June 8 meeting, the school board approved a new five-year contract for business manager Daniel Carsley. The new contract extends from July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2022. As part of the agreement, Carsley receives a new title: He is now the director of business administration and chief financial officer.

High school principal Scott DeShong recognized the sports teams and athletes who were standouts during the spring semester.

DeShong also made a presentation about the Avon Grove High School 2017 graduate profile. With the graduation ceremony just a few days away, DeShong provided some statistics about what students are choosing to do after they graduate from Avon Grove. Approximately 91 percent of the students are heading off to pursue some form of post-secondary education, with nine percent choosing to enter the workforce. Of those choosing post-secondary education, 78 percent are going to a four-year institution, while 22 percent are seeking a two-year associate's degree or heading off to a trade school.

Science is the most popular area of concentration for students heading to college, DeShong said, followed by business, liberal arts, and engineering.

The 456 members of Avon Grove's Class of 2017 were able to earn more than $4.3 million in scholarships for higher education, DeShong said, which marked another significant increase over the previous year.

The school board approved start times for the 2017-2018 school year. The student day in the elementary schools will run from 8:25 a.m. To 3:15 p.m. And the student day for secondary schools will be 7:30 a.m. To 2:25 p.m. at the Fred S. Engle Middle School, and 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Avon Grove High School.

Several parents of special needs students expressed their serious concerns that the therapists that had been working with their children will no longer be helping them because the school district had decided to contract with a different company for those services. The parents talked about how the relationships formed between special needs students and their therapists are critically important, and months of progress could be lost as a result of the change. The therapists provide both occupational and physical therapy to the students.

In response to those concerns, the school board requested that the item be pulled from the agenda for an explanation about the change to a new company.

A 45-minute discussion followed, with several school district officials carefully explaining some of the ways in which the current company had been unresponsive to requests for additional supports.

Marchese said that they've been looking at how services to students could be improved for more than a year, and they determined through their analysis that there was a better program that would provide supports that aren't available through the current provider.

The superintendent added that he completely understands the concerns of the parents, but the district's professionals came to the conclusion that students would be best served through a new program. He lauded the efforts of the individual therapists who work with the Avon Grove, and said that it's possible that some of the therapists could work with the new provider. Marchese said that the ultimate goal is to not just continue to meet the IEP goals, but to exceed them, and the district's professionals are confident that this will be a change that produces positive results.

“This company works with many school districts in the region,” Marchese said. “There is an opportunity for a variety of support programs to be included.”

District officials made it clear that they made numerous attempts to get the current provider to offer the support programs that they wanted, including data that would illustrate the progress that students are making.

The school board, wanting to be responsive to the concerns that were raised by parents, asked Marchese and the administration to go back to the company currently providing the services to seek, once again, the supports that they want. If that effort doesn't produce positive results, the district administration may come back to the board looking for approval to hire a new company to provide the services.

The Avon Grove School Board will not hold a meeting in July so the next meeting will take place on Thursday, Aug. 24 at 7 p.m. at the Avon Grove Intermediate School Audion.