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Chester County Press

U-CF School Board adds new member and approves preliminary budget

02/14/2017 10:30AM ● By J. Chambless

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

A new member joined the Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board at their Feb. 13 meeting, replacing Michael Rock, who resigned from the board over what he said was their insensitivity toward the concerns of minority families.

Thomas Day, one of three candidates under consideration, won by a vote of 6-2, and was formally sworn in by board president Victor Dupuis, taking his seat at the table for the meeting.

During public comment at the start of the meeting, the simmering issue of a substantial raise given recently to district superintendent John Sanville was addressed by Karen Finley, who works in the district's transportation department. Sanville's annual salary was raised to $255,000 last month because the board wanted to keep him from being hired away by a neighboring school district. He previously made $214,000 per year.

“I mean no disrespect to this board, or to Dr. Sanville, but I am disappointed by the extreme amount of money that has been given to Dr. Sanville's contract,” Finley told the board. “I find it disappointing that we sit in support staff meetings and are told that there is no money for us to have a 2.4 percent raise, which would make us equal with what the teachers get, and that it would take us four years to phase that in, at a tenth of a percent at a time. I understand that you value Dr. Sanville's expertise and experience, however this is very frustrating to us, as support people, when the amount of his raise is more than I earn in an entire year – along with 95 percent of the support staff. Dr. Sanville and I get along very well but this is very upsetting,” she concluded.

Rick Hostetler, the district's supervisor of buildings and grounds, outlined a major expense that the board will be voting on in two weeks. Replacing the HVAC units at the Patton Middle School will cost $2,378,700.

“This is part of the district's 10-year plan, and the original budgeted amount was $2.3 million,” Hostetler said. “We worked diligently to get this number down, and we feel it's a very fair price. This was the most efficient use of our money now, as well as for long-term savings. The units in place now are 18 or 19 years old, and they have a 15 to 20-year life span. We have gotten everything out of them.”

Sanville added, “If you talk to anybody who has spent time in the middle school, they will tell you that this needs to be done.”

The board will also vote in two weeks on the construction of a new storage building at Hillendale Elementary School, at a cost of $16,639. “This is also part of the long-range plan,” Hostetler said. “Over the past few years, we have eliminated two of three wooden storage facilities at the school, and the third is about to go, so we are in desperate need of some good, long-term storage. We have already been to the township for zoning approval. If this is approved by the board, we would work with the builder to get plans to submit for a building permit.”

The ongoing study of delaying school start times to better accommodate the natural sleep rhythms of students was addressed by assistant superintendent John Nolen, who is serving on the committee studying the issue. “We're looking at a 25-minute shift in the school day,” he said. “That would have middle and high school starting at about 8 a.m., and we feel we can get the elementaries to a 9:10 start and a 3:40 dismissal, which is about 15 minutes later on both ends. We do not have a recommendation yet -- we have a lot of things to look at -- but right now, this is moving forward as the favorite from the committee.

“The cost of the plan would be between $30,000 and $40,000,” Nolen continued. “To make the bus runs in the afternoon, we have to possibly add some bus driver time on the runs. It's not adding new staff or new equipment, but increasing some of the drivers' time. So it's not an inexpensive plan, but it's not as expensive as some of the other plans that were floated out there. Once we have more information, we're going to start visiting with PTOs, booster clubs and parents, and have a recommendation to the board in April,” Nolen said.

The board voted unanimously to approve a preliminary district budget for 2017-2018, with total appropriations of $85,610,587. The adoption of the final budget and the levying of real estate taxes will take place on June 19.

Board member Jeff Hellrung reported on recent state legislation issues affecting the district.

“The idea of eliminating property tax has come up in Pennsylvania before, but it seems to have more legs this year,” he told the board. “The general idea would be no more school property tax, and that would be shifted to an increase in income tax, and an increase in sales tax – both the percentage of sales tax and the number of things covered.

“This is the thinking – this is not a bill yet,” he continued. “But the reason I bring it up is that when it is introduced, it could move quickly. The main concerns on this are that the funding from the state would be more uncertain than it would be if we continued our property tax. It would perhaps be insufficient to sustain our programs over the long term. There would be a shift of about $2 billion in taxes that businesses now pay, because they pay us property tax. That would go away under this. Schools wouldn't tax individuals or businesses in terms of property tax.

“There's a concern about loss of local control,” Hellrung continued. “The legislature has not been the most reliable over the years in terms of funding education or funding some the mandates that they give local school boards. In general, people who are homeowners who have a small amount of personal income would be big winners. As far as I can tell, I personally would probably pay zero additional dollars in state income tax, and maybe no more than I pay now in sales tax. So retirees, as a general class, would be hugely benefited by this. The property tax on their homes would go away. Retirees and low-income property owners are the big winners. The big losers are the people who are the big earners. We're told that household income of roughly $130,00 might be the break-even. If your household income is more than that, you would pay more.”

Hellrung said his comments were only an introduction to the idea, and that further discussions will take place if the idea becomes legislation.

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To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email [email protected].