New school board faces challenges early

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By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
Ah…the peace of the holiday season.

After months of, shall we say, intensity here in Unionville, we now on this final weekend of November find ourselves stuffed with turkey, good will and for some, a need for a nice, quiet nap. Others, like yours truly, have to start the preparations for getting out the holiday lights and sorting through the holiday gift lists.

It is a time to pause from the back and forth of political discourse, at least for most of us.

Time and the holiday season, though, won’t wait for the new members of the school board. On Thursday, Kathleen Do, Gregg Lindner and Victor DuPuis will be sworn in and a new board president elected. Although Thursday’s meeting is little more than ceremonial, this new board has little time to settle in and feel its way.

They’ll need to come up with a preliminary proposed budget, state-speak for “this is sort of what we kind of think the budget will look like, but we have almost no numbers, so we’re almost guessing” by Christmas, which means it will have to happen on Dec. 12. It’s possible that the board will also make a decision at that point whether or not to seek exemptions to the Act 1 limits regulating maximum tax percentage hikes.

Odds are, they’ll seek those exemptions although the numbers will probably drive whether they get used. If they get approved — the state Department of Education is said to be changing its previous laissez-faire attitude when it comes to exception applications, so it is possible that they won’t — how much the board goes for above 1.7% will be something of a tightrope.

Too much above and non-parents will again come out of the woodwork, but too little coupled with additional cuts to educational programs will have many of the parents who supported the newly elected members angry and frustrated.

My guess, politically, is that the board would need to end up somewhere in the low 2% range, like 2.3%, but without a better sense of funding numbers, that may have no basis in reality. Obviously, if funding, tax revenue and other changes allow for the tax rate to be capped at 1.7% without layoffs or other hits to program, that’s the smart number. But based on the preliminary figures in terms of tax revenue and the odds that further trims in state aid are likely, that seems improbable at this point.

The key here is to be able to strike a middle road between the spending excess of boards going back a few years ago and the seeming disapproval with an overreaction in the last two years in the opposite direction. Can this board find the middle road — so clearly missed for a number of years?

I think we may know a lot before January.

* * *

With Thursday’s reorganization, the board will need to elect a new president to replace Timotha Trigg, whose term on the board ends with the swearing in of the new members.

At this point, you can assume it won’t be one of the new members. Holly Manzone is said to have no interest and while Jeff Hellrung is said to be interested, there doesn’t appear to be the votes for that. From what I hear, it comes down to Jeff Leiser and Eileen Bushelow — with Bushelow seeming the most likely.

* * *

One last note of the election: as many of you know, the wrong results were reported by a couple of local newspapers. The correct results have been published here. I’ve gotten a surprisingly large number of “Hey — we love your site, but you got the results wrong” emails, which I then had to explain. I’m sure that this needless confusion had to be frustrating for the candidates who actually won and painful for those who actually lost.

Worse, seems to be the lack of corrections. Mistakes happen, they certainly happen here, and we do our best to fix them as soon as possible.

I guess things have changed since my newspaper days…but I’ve seen folks let go for less.

* * *

The entire Unionville community is mourning the loss of Josh Friedman, a junior at Unionville High School, who lost his fight to a long-term illness. He was well-known for his participation in Best Buddies and in the school’s theater program.

We offer our condolences to the family — there is no sadder moment. Clearly, from the stories and accounts I heard over the last few days, Josh had a real positive impact on the school and the community and will be missed by many, many people.

* * *

Congratulations to Lele and Brad Galor on the opening of the Galer Estate Winery. It’s exciting how we’re really seeing a Sonoma on the Brandywine vibe developing in the area with so many wonderful wineries now in southern Chester County.

If you have some time, please run over and see the Galers — it will be worth your time.

***

A bit of internal news: we’ve named Dave Conard as our sports editor. Dave will be covering sports for all three of our editions of the Times and more as we roll out additional sites in the spring.

He’s a gifted writer and photographer and his work has already been gracing our pages. Now, we should be in a better position to cover school and recreation sports, something we know readers want to see more of on these pages.

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