Year in Review Part IV: stormy start before skies finally calm to end 2011

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Elections bring change to school board, new legislative districts rankle some, new road projects discussed

By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com

The new 7th Congressional District now includes most of the greater Unionville area, beyond East and West Marlborough and appears likely headed to litigation in 2012.

Although a year-long political play revealed a final dramatic act and once again the specter of budget unknowns hampered the school district budget process, a stormy year came to a calm and peaceful end in 2011, both meteorologically and from a news standpoint.

After another successful Unionville Fair opened the quarter — this one featuring a rodeo for the first time, government and schools news moved to the fore.

East Marlborough unveiled its new solar panels — built over the parking lot at the municipal building. The new project cost the township nothing and was done in partnership with local company Tangent Energy Solutions.

Supervisors in Birmingham were forced to take a closer look at Meetinghouse Road — where erosion had been a constant headache for the township. Supervisors questioned whether continual repairs made sense and if a more permanent solution could be found.

Questions about a proposed study of the school district’s elementary school configuration were put to rest when the Board of Education voted Oct. 17 not to pursue the study after multiple parents expressed concerns about moving away from the neighborhood schooling plan.

The Board of Education formally said good bye to long-time member Corrine Sweeney, who was retiring after serving on the board for 18 years.

Pocopson officials were disappointed to learn that property donated to the township by Toll Brothers along the Brandywine Creek was largely wetlands and would be very difficult to use for township recreational purposes.

Late in October, questions began to be raised about an executive session of the school board back in March where, apparently, the board discussed various elementary school configurations as well as the potential closure of Chadds Ford Elementary School. While a number of residents questioned whether the meeting violated the state’s Sunshine Act, board members and district officials argued that it impacted personnel and labor negotiations.

Shortly thereafter, the candidates met again for a candidate forum — and this one provided more in the way of fireworks than the May session. Candidates swapped barbs over former Superintendent of Schools’ Sharon Parker’s decision to retire and motives for doing so, various cuts of educational programs and questioned the propriety of discussing school closures in private, rather than public session.

In a less contentious moment, the greater Unionville community came together to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Longwood Fire Company at month’s end. Also, Pocopson Elementary School celebrated its Blue Ribbon award with students forming a giant blue ribbon on the hillside in front of the school.

Election day brought change in some quarters, continuity in others. In terms of the school board, only incumbents Frank Murphy and Elieen Bushelow were returned to office while Kathy Do, Gregg Lindner and Victor DuPuis were elected to join the board. In Pocopson, Ricki Stumpo was elected supervisor to replaced the retiring Lauressa McNemar.

The Brandywine Conservancy announced the hiring of a new executive director, Virginia Logan, to replace the retiring James Duff.

The new state legislative districts were announced and there were a handful of changes in the Unionville area: Newlin moved out of the 19th state senate district, where it had been represented by Sen. Andrew Dinniman and into the 9th District of Sen. Dominic Pileggi, who represents most of the Unionville area. Pocopson was shifted from State Rep. Steve Barrar’s 160th District to State Rep. Chris Ross’ 158th District. Officials in Pocopson, who forged a close working relationship with Barrar expressed disappointment in losing him as their state rep.

The school district announced its standardized state test scores and again, Unionville-Chadds Ford did well, with 93.3% of students scoring proficient or advanced on the tests.

In Birmingham, supervisors head a proposal to convert the mansion at Radley Run into an inn, while in Pocopson supervisors worked out a compromise with the owners of the Lenape Village shops over concerns about too much paving and the removal of a hedgerow along Denton Hollow Road.

The Board of Education opened December with a reorganization meeting, electing Eileen Bushelow as president and Jeff Leiser as Vice President of the board.

Elsewhere, supervisors wrangled over how much to contribute to local fire companies, citing concerns over whether Po-Mar-Lin Fire Company would have the resources to continue serving the community over the long term. While the board voted 3-2 to increase the contribution, the numbers were still lower than some board members argued for.

The revised design for a roundabout at Rt. 52 and Unionville-Lenape and Wawaset roads.

Pocopson’s board of supervisors revealed revised plans for a roundabout at Rt. 52, Lenape-Unionville Road and Wawaset Road. If the proposed design is approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), construction could start in 2013.

Meanwhile, the Board of Education got a first look at numbers for the 2012-13 budget — and again, local revenue from real estate is down, in part because of reduced assessments and in part because of the lack of real estate sales in the area. It was estimated that the district would need to slash about $700,000 out of the proposed budget to meet the state’s Act I of 1.7%. The board decided to apply for an exception to the limit, based on pension costs, but the board appeared divided about how much of that exception should be used. Those discussions are expected to take center state in January.

Most of the Unionville area found itself in a new U.S. Congressional district — with only East Marlborough and West Marlborough entirely staying in U.S. Rep. Joe Pitt’s 16th District. Along with Pocopson, which moves from Jim Gerlach’s 6th District, most of the Unionville area moves into the 7th District of U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan. Pennsbury gets split between the 16th and 7th, in a district cited as the fifth-most “gerrymandered” district in the United States.

Pocopson announced that it be able to keep local tax rates flat and also that it was able to add to its open space, buying the development rights of four parcels, meaning nearly 25% of the township’s land will be preserved as open space.

In Birmingham, after the November closure of Bull Durham’s, it was announced in December that a new PJ Whelihans would open at the location in 2012.

In the final week of the school year, various schools in the district worked on various charity  drives to collect goods for the needy. The high school collected more than 4,000 items for the Kennett Food Cupboard, restocking what has been a sorely tested community resource.

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