UCF bond refi, food/transport restructuring could save $

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Taxpayers could see as much as $160,000 in net savings

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
EAST MARLBOROUGH — Sometimes, it’s a lot of small changes that add up.

While there were few earth-shattering matters on the docket for Monday night’s Unionville-Chadds Ford Board of Education work session, it appears a few smaller moves will be made to save the district — and taxpayers — a healthy chunk of change.

First, board members approved a preliminary resolution to refinance an older bond issue — which should net the district about $100,000 in savings over the next five years. While there was agreement about the financing, the lone question revolved around changing the underwriting firm for the new bond issue.

Previously, the bonds had been underwritten by RBC Capital Markets, a division of the Royal Bank of Canada, but Boenning & Scattergood, another underwriter, offered a lower charge — initially, some $5,000 lower than RBC’s initial offer. A second RBC offer brought it to within about $1,200 of Boenning & Scattergood’s, but still did not match the lower offer.

And while there was some concern about changing underwriters, a bigger worry came from the fact that former board member Ed Murray serves as a managing director for Boenning & Scattergood’s public finance division. While there would be no legal restriction from the district doing business with Murray, who left the board at the end of 2009, some offered concerns about the appearance of doing business with a former colleague, while others did not see it as an issue.

“I think we should be favorable to giving business to people in our district,” said Keith Knauss, who chairs the board’s finance committee.

“I initially didn’t care for the appearance of giving business to a former board member,” board member Jeff Leiser said, but noted that after looking closely at it, he had come around to the idea.

Both Victor Dupuis and Jeff Hellrung said they felt it was proper to go with the least expensive option, assuming their was no functional difference in the bids.

But board president Eileen Bushelow had issues with both working with Murray’s firm and making a change in what has been a working relationship with RBC over $1,200.

“You don’t fix what’s not broken,” she said. “And I am concerned with the appearance. I think to save $1,000, I don’t think it’s worth it.”

Second, another change, with virtually no board disagreement involves the ongoing restructuring of the transportation and food service departments, now that both are being managed by Marie Wickersham. Wickersham added the transportation department to her portfolio after the retirement of Gail Eichelberger at the beginning of this month.

Wickersham asked the board to approve staffing changes to reflect the needs of both departments, improving service and cutting costs. What had been two full-time positions in the transportation office will now be covered by a full-time person and two part-time people, one of whom would only work school days — and be shared with food service.

Although the district saved a net of about $83,000 in terms of salary and benefit by combining the management of the food and transportation funds, the net savings calculation for district taxpayers is more complicated, as food service is self-supporting and does not use taxpayer funds. The budget changes as presented, does slash $60,756 from the transportation budget — which comes from the general fund and taxpayers.

And while the net management cost of the food service drops from $137,790 to $82,312  (split now between transportation and food service budgets), Wickersham said food service needed to expand the duties and workdays of the cafeteria manager and boost the status of the high school lead cook to compensate for her having less hours for hands on management of food service.

But again, because the cost of food service is supported by lunch charges (and current federal mandates prevent lunches from costing less than they currently do), much of the savings comes from the transportation side, meaning the restructuring could have more impact for taxpayers than expected. Without the restructuring, but having Wickersham run both departments, would have meant a savings of $27,477 for transportation, which is paid for out of the general fund and taxpayers, but the new net savings for transportation and taxpayers with the changes is $60,756. The savings for food service — which would have been on the order of $55,478 — will now be a more modest $17,246.

In addition to the savings, the changes would also mean transportation staffing from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. — meaning that there will be someone there to answer parent inquiries after school, which has not always been the case, with the previous work schedule.

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3 Comments

  1. concerned_in_ucfsd says:

    Kickbacks & Conflicts???

  2. Observing says:

    I applaud the board for finding this cost savings. Being a School Board Director is a thankless job. For the record, there was a school tax decrease about six or seven years ago, when Ed Wandersee was President.

  3. Dr. B. W. Langer says:

    Have no fear, the Board will find a way to spend the savings which really should be passed back to the taxpayers. A tax decrease would be a first for the UCF school board.

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