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Chester County Press

Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board discusses strategic plan

02/19/2015 09:38AM ● By J. Chambless
It was an evening largely devoted to planning a future course as the Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board met on Feb. 17.
Board member Kathleen Do introduced a vote on the school district's comprehensive plan, an 81-page document which provides, she said, "a profile of our district and our core foundation. It's about how we make sure students do what they're supposed to do, and how we go above  and beyond in Unionville-Chadds Ford." 
The plan was approved unanimously and Do thanked the 19-member committee that put it together. The approved comprehensive plan will hopefully dovetail with a proposed strategic plan which is being spearheaded by board member Robert Sage. 
The strategic plan was the focus of a lengthy discussion at the meeting. Sage sees the strategic plan as a roadmap for the entire district's future, but admitted that getting a grip on its scope could be difficult. "We can reduce the scope of the plan to focus on fewer topics," he said. "It's up to this board and the administration to decide where to draw the boundaries on this process so we can accomplish the most possible."
Board member Joe Rock said that, in his experience with strategic plans, "If we go down this road, we'll have to hire someone to do it. It will eat up a big chunk of time, and we will have to commit to the time and expense. This ain't easy," he added. "I've seen strategic plans work well, and I've seen them work badly."
Board member Gregg Lindner said, "I think Bob has done a good job of showing us we have to start small. If we're going to do this, we're going to have to understand the costs."
Breaking the strategic plan into smaller parts would allow people who are passionate about individual areas to step forward, according to board president Victor Dupuis. "We need to reach a point where we have a champion of each area, and a board commitment to real change," he said. "Until that point, it's kind of hard to say, 'go.'"
Ken Batchelor, the assistant to the superintendent, said that he had been part of previous strategic plans, "and they do require a lot of time and energy," he said. "But in most cases, nothing is going to impact us like a couple of parents simply coming in and suggesting we pursue something. I'm not so sure we need a strategic plan. We already do so much communicating as it is." 
Superintendent John Sanville said, "In all good organizations, there's a common goal. Let's understand what's most important to us, and let's focus our energies there."
The board agreed that focusing on the strategic plan could be a goal at a retreat they will be holding in the coming months, and Dupuis said he would be in charge of setting up that event. 
Board member Keith Knauss said that he was involved in a strategic plan in the early 2000s, "and we came up with a great list of great things we wanted to do, but it was way too much and we didn't have enough money, so the report kind of went on a shelf. That's not what we want. I'd love to keep it small, but move this district forward. Small and focused is my intent."
The board voted unanimously to approve a preliminary general fund budget for 2015-2016 in the amount of $80,901,704, as well as the submission of the retirement contribution exception of $577,214 and the special education exception for $863,551. Knauss said the budget figures "will change drastically by the time it's really approved in June, and we'll be talking about this ad nauseum."
The exceptions, he said, "may or may not be used, but we'll apply for them anyway."
Pennsylvania Gov. Wolf will announce his budget on March 3, which will directly affect school districts statewide.
There was some good financial news when it came to a bond refinancing opportunity that was approved by the board. The district will realize a savings of $1,085,000, funds which can be applied to the 10-year capital plan. The board will review options for the money at next month's meeting. The accounting team that put together the refinancing commended the district for its AA1 long-term bond credit rating, which makes the bonds very attractive to buyers, who flocked to the deal when it was announced.
There was also discussion of Policy 803, which covers the school calendar. The state requires 180 days of schooling per year, but Unionville-Chadds Ford requires 182, which Sanville said has led to "an urban legend that we require more days than anywhere else," but that surrounding districts require anything from 180 days (Coatesville) to Downingtown (186 days), and West Chester (182 days). The school day is actually 15 minutes shorter than that of surrounding districts, Sanville said. The policy was reviewed at the request of the calendar committee, but the board agreed that the 182-day requirement is not unreasonable. 
Board member Joe Rock mentioned the idea of going to year-round school, in which the same number of class days are spread out throughout the year, with several longer breaks. Sanville emphasized, "That is not my recommendation, just to be clear." The district's calendar will remain as approved at last month's meeting.
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To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, e-mail [email protected].