Unionville board opts for $1.1 M in cuts

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Board votes 6-3 not to boost tax hike, some staff positions likely to be cut for 2011-12 school year

By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com

Although the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District approved $1.1 million in cuts to the 2011-12 budget, the impact to the district's four elementry schools, including Pocopson Elementary, is expected to be minimal.

EAST MARLBOROUGH — The Unionville Chadds Ford Board of Education voted Monday night formally to slash $1.1 million in spending — trimming everywhere from social worker hours, furlough days for administrators and a pay freeze for support staff — and keep the district’s tax increase to .99% in Chester County.

The board split 6-3 on the budget, with the three dissenters Holly Manzone, Eileen Bushelow and Jeff Leiser arguing that in light of Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed $1.1 million in cuts in state aid, the district should take the maximum tax increase and share the burden between the students, staff and community. Member Jeff Hellrung, who previously said he supported going to 1.4%, opted to vote with the majority.

Still, despite the cuts and some fundamental disagreement between board members — it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Superintendent of Schools Sharon Parker suggested that there might be some reason for optimism on reversal or defeat of some of Gov. Corbett’s proposed cuts, which would allow restoration — at the board’s discretion — of some of the cuts, as much as $884,000 of the proposed $1.1 million. That, however, won’t be known until the state adopts its budget, expected to be after the June 20th deadline for the district to formally adopt its spending plan.

But even if the restoration of some state funding doesn’t come to pass, Parker said she felt that Unionville would be able maintain the level of eduction quality the district has become known for — and that looking at the plight of neighboring districts, many of whom are facing far deeper cuts to programs in light of the Corbett budget proposal — the “gut-wrenching decimation of programs, district by district” — the Unionville district is in relatively good shape.

Parker and Robert Cochran, the district’s director of business and operations, walked the board through the proposed cuts — although Parker cautioned that some of the cuts might be reworked, depending on retirements or other changes, although there would be no changes to the final, bottom-line numbers.

While there will be various trims — everything from building allocations to health care — there will be personnel reductions, she said.

Although there had been discussion of reducing the total number of social workers in the district from three to two, instead the three have agreed to reduce their hours and work four-day workweeks — which equals roughly the loss of half a position, rather than a whole position. Another $265,974 is expected to come from reductions in staff among para-professionals, although the specific positions to be eliminated have not been determined, in the hope of making them as attrition-driven as possible.

The teaching staff will also trimmed, with one .6 temporary position cut from the K-5 instruction, a two-year transition to take German out of the middle school (current 7th graders taking German 1A will be allowed to take German 1B at Patton Middle School in the 2011-12 school year, but after that, all German will be taught at Unionville High School). The cuts at Unionville High School include the reduction of a .6 physical education teachers, a .5 family and consumer science position and .6 position in technology, specifically a teacher of basic Windows PC use.

Parker cautioned that while the budget numbers were set in stone — where the cuts happen are not and will be reviewed as the situation changes, either in terms of state funding restoration or staff retirements.

Although the entire board approved keeping the tax increase to .99% in Chester County in February, opinions changed after Gov. Corbett revealed his budget proposal in March.

Manzone blasted the governor, saying his proposals represented “a shift in which certain education expenses are being shifted from the state to local school districts.” While acknowledging that taxes in the district are high, she noted that they have always been and most people understood that they were the price of the exceptional education program — a program that enhanced property values.

Paul Price countered by citing figures saying that taxes had increased a total of 61.12% since the 2000-2001 school year, an average yearly increase of more than 6%, without a corresponding increase in enrollment.

“At some point, we have to say ‘enough is enough,’ “ Price said.

Leiser argued that the difference in taxes amounted to less than a dollar a week for the average taxpayer — a small price to ask when so many district employees have accepted pay freezes, reduced hours or even potential job losses.

“I can’t look everyone in the eye (the district employees in the room) without asking our residents to pay $1 per week,” he said.

But, board vice president Frank Murphy said those dollars add up.

“I’ve said it many times, my job isn’t to run the cheapest possible school district, just the most cost-efficient one,” Murphy said. “For a couple of years, let’s tighten our belts. That’s what everyone else is doing.

“It’s not that we don’t care. If we didn’t care about education, we’d be asking for a 0% increase, or be saying ‘let’s cut 10%’ But we’re not.”

Board president Timotha Trigg echoed that sentiment.

“I have three children in the district,” she said. “If I thought this would hurt education, I wouldn’t support it.”

The cuts would keep the district under the state Act 1 limit of 1.4% — although the increase rate of $4.61% in Delaware County is a little misleading, as after rebalancing the increase is only .87% in terms of the actual tax rates. The Chester County rate is planned to go from 24.26 to 24.50, while the Delaware County rebalanced rate is going from 21.6029 to 21.79.

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