Year in Review Pt. III: Quakes, Hurricanes, a deal and a super new Super

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Quarter’s news includes an earthquake, floods, the hiring of a new schools chief and settling the teacher

By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com

Severe weather continued in the third quarter of 2011 with a hurricane and tropical storm dumping huge amounts of water on the Unionville area less than 10 days apart. In the middle? An earthquake.

Summer brought sultry heat and the usual exodus to the Jersey Shore and other beach locales, but newsmakers still found ways to set aside the sunscreen and grabbed headlines in third quarter of 2011 — and then the area was shaken by an Earthquake and discovered who would lead the school district and finally saw an end to the long teachers’ contract talks.

Although the 2011-12 budget was in the rear view mirror by July for the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District, news came early in the month that most of the $1.1 million in state funding thought lost — $827,000 — was restored. What wasn’t restored, though, were any of the jobs slashed by the district earlier in the year, the cuts to support personnel, social workers and some teaching slots were maintained.

At the same time, the talks for a new contract between the school district and its teachers appeared to reach a nadir, with the district again cutting its offer, after a July 1 heath care enrollment deadline passed, stalling what had appeared to be slow and steady progress to a new deal.

And if that weren’t enough, the district hosted a public session to discuss what the public wanted to see in terms of a new schools superintendent — Sharon Parker announced her intent to retire before the start of the 2011-12 school year. Dr. Joseph O’Brien, Executive Director of the Chester County Intermediate Unit hosted the session, which focused on the specific qualities parents and taxpayers wanted to see in the next superintendent.

The framework of a deal to resolve the dispute between the school district and East Marlborough township over the height of the new auditorium at Unionville High School was worked out in early July, but thanks to scheduling issues, the final deal would not be approved by the township Zoning Hearing Board until September.

After nearly a year of negotiations, the Birmingham Township Board of Supervisors worked out a deal on the Leonhard Landscaping issue. The business had been operating on the Birmingham property for 25 years; however, recent debate focused on the Leonhard’s selling firewood and early-morning use of heavy machinery on the property, prompting complaints from neighbors. The new agreement restricted firewood sales.

Birmingham also announced plans to celebrate the township’s 325th Anniversary in August. Whether would ultimately delay the event, though.

Neighboring Pocopson scheduled its annual deer hunt — aimed to cull an overgrown herd of deer which have been plaguing various areas of the township. Pocopson also looked at options to put conservation easements on the township’s parklands to prevent future boards of supervisors from selling off the property to developers.

In August, the school board signaled an interest in stepped up opposition to some property reassessments — reassessments have hit the district hard in recent years, reducing the value of real estate in the district and cutting revenue. The school district announced higher school lunch prices in reaction to new federal guidelines. The district also talking about using some of the returned state funding to buy new school buses — the fleet was found to be older than typical, especially have purchase of new buses had been deferred as a cost-saving move in previous years.

Mid-August saw an end of the Superintendent search. Dr. John Sanville, who had been director of Secondary Education for the district, was named to replace the retiring Sharon Parker in September.

Board and community support for Sanville was immediate, following his hiring.

“How do I feel about the future of the school district?” asked member Corrine Sweeney. “Never better.”

Praise for his three-year contract, which runs through 2014, wasn’t quite as universal, however.

Paul Price, while making it clear he felt Sanville was an excellent choice, took issue with the terms of his contract.

“I’m very enthused (about Sanville),” Price said. “He will make a fine leader. But I have issue with the contract terms.”

Elsewhere, the West Chester Public Library asked for more fiscal support from Birmingham — citing cuts in state aid to the library.

Local residents were shaken up by an earthquake on Aug. 23. Residents across Unionville felt a fairly strong earthquake, Tuesday afternoon, said to be the result of a 5.8 on the Richter Scale quake in northern Virginia that led to evacuations of various buildings in the national capital.

There were no immediate reports of damage in the Unionville area, but the shaking lasted as long as 20 seconds and reportedly was felt as far north as New York City.

After weeks of a cold freeze in contract talks between the school district and teachers, a seeming thaw began mid-month — as parents and other community members pressured both sides to find common ground and compromise. A series of marathon talks led to a new contract deal just as the school year began.

News of that deal came just as Hurricane Irene bore down on the area. The storm caused flooding and power outages across the Unionville area, canceling the first day of school. Some areas were left without power for days as local utility companies struggled to cope with downed trees and other wind-related damage in the area. Just a little more than a week later, Tropical Storm Lee would bring a new round of flooding and school closures.

The new auditorium at Unionville High School opened a busy September in Unionville — with what would prove to be a controversial 9/11 program. Some members of the community objected to what they termed to be an anti-war message in the music presented — specifically the Armed Man presentation.

Elsewhere in September, Pocopson announced plans to rework its comprehensive plan, working with Chester County. Local officials also expressed concerns about the number of false alarms in the township. The township also enjoyed perfect weather and record crowds for its annual Founders Day event.

Late in September, local residents were forced to cope with new traffic patterns as Rt. 926 temporally closed at Rt. 52 — as part of the rebuilding of the intersection in anticipation of the new route for 52 between there and US 1. Various parts of the roadway would be closed until the entire intersection reopened — and the new Rt. 52 reopened later in the fall.

Pocopson Elementary School was named a Blue Ribbon school by the federal Department of Education in 2011.

More exciting news for the school district: For the second time in three years, a Unionville-Chadds Ford School District school was honored as one of the nation’s elite schools. Pocopson Elementary School named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education, one of just 304 public and private schools in the United States — and one of just 14 honored in Pennsylvania.

Less positive were complaints about the hiring process for the new varsity baseball coach at Unionville High School. A number of parents complained about the hiring process and suggested that parents had been shut out of it. Mike Magee was hired to replace T.J. Ostrishko, but parents complained that the Baseball Booster Club was never contacted for input.

Birmingham officials warned local motorists to take care on Route 926 after an incident involving a township police cruiser on Sept. 13. The cruiser crested a hill, and discovered a school bus had stopped traffic and left the cruiser no where to go, so it swerved and struck a rock on the side of the road. Township officials expressed concern about the placement of the bus stop — as a potential safety hazard.

After almost a year of wrangling, Pocopson finally accepted dedication of the roadways in Riverside. The township previously rejected the dedication because of issues with the roads and landscaping on the Toll Brothers development.

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