UCF board is on the clock with various fiscal issues

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2015-16 budget, bond refinance and renovation plan face time crunch

By Karen Cresta, Correspondent, The Times

BudgetEAST MARLBOROUGH – The Unionville-Chadds Ford (UCF) Board of Education work session on Monday night took over three hours of time to cover many time-sensitive issues.

One of the issues was to approve the preliminary budget for 2015-2016 school- year in the amount of $80,901,704.  Robert Cochran, Director of Business and Operations, presented the preliminary budget and timeline to the board during the work session.  The motion to approve the proposal resulted all in favor.

The preliminary budget suggests a tax rate of 27.52 in Chester County and 23.34 in Delaware County. Accordingly, this would be a weighted average increase of 4.29 percent.

This is not the final budget but the beginning of the process to develop the final numbers. The adoption of the preliminary budget is expected to take place on Feb. 17. The proposed budget will be presented to the board in April and hearings will take place for one to three days in early May. The adoption of the final budget and levying of real estate taxes is scheduled for June 15.

John Frey of Public Financial Management, Inc. (PFM) spoke to the board about refinancing two bonds to save the district approximately $800,000. He stressed that time is of the essence to do so now based on low interest rates.  He informed the board that the process needs to start now to lock in low rates for next month.  The board gave the nod for Frey and his finance team to work with Cochran so the rates could be locked in mid to late February.

The savings could be utilized immediately by putting it in the debt service reserve for the fiscal year and possibly fund the ten-year facilities improvement plan and avoid borrowing.  The ten-year facilities plan just completed its first year of school building improvements.

Rick Hostetler, Supervisor of Buildings and Grounds, presented the projected work for the summer of 2015 with projected expenditures of $2,500,000 to $3,000,000 based on the ten-year plan.  Timing is of the essence for some major improvements to the school buildings that include relocating the entry way of Charles F. Patton Middle School (CFPMS) so that visitors would enter into the Administration offices much like at Unionville High School.  The work would begin this summer but the scope of this project would take longer.

In addition, replacement of original lockers at the middle school is projected. Another project includes replacing the carpet in the classrooms at Hillendale and possible alternatives for the cafeteria and gym carpet as well as additional window, lighting and ceiling replacement.

Board concurrence will be needed once projects are prioritized and itemized and timing of the improvements in the summer to avoid interruption in students’ school day.

The draft of the school calendar for 2015-2016 was proposed and “time off” for the students was disputed.  A full week for spring break was listed but Victor Dupuis, Board President, pointed out that the week needed to be moved up by one week – to coincide with previous years from the ten-year template of it being the week prior to Easter Sunday.

It was apparent that no one on the advisory committee, including board members, caught this error.  The three half days prior to spring break would also have to be moved up one week on the proposed calendar.

John Sanville, Superintendent of UCF, apologized for the embarrassing oversight.

Dupuis also stated that he will not be in favor of the first four weeks of school being four-day weeks and further discussions will be needed before final approval.

“It bugs me that we get four straight weeks of four-day weeks.  I just feel like that is a momentum killer,” Dupuis retorted.

The changes to the calendar will be made and the Board will review the input from the public and the advisory committee recommendations and vote on the final calendar at the regular meeting.

A discussion item involving background clearances and the timeframes they remain active for volunteers was reviewed.  According to Act 153, the state now requires all current employees and volunteers to update their three clearances, every three years.  Prior to the state law, the school district required the clearances for every seven years.  All clearances will need to be completed by Dec. 2015.

In addition to Act 153, all employees who work with children will be required by the state, according to Act 168, to get clearance from their current employer verifying no sexual misconduct occurred.  This form will be required before hiring new employees and employers will have 20 days to return the form.  In that timeframe, the hire cannot be left alone with children.

Board members voiced concerns about the clerical burden to track the forms and if Act 153 would hinder individuals from volunteering based on inconvenience and cost for each form.

“The intent of the law is good. It does put a tremendous burden on the district,” Sanville added.

In addition to the time sensitive issues presented to the Board, there were also two presentations.  The first was presented by Sanville and Robert Sage on the benefits of developing a strategic plan for the district.  According to Sage, a plan would help the district assess what needs to be different for the future and what the main goals of progress are needed for the district to tackle.

“Getting to the top is not easy and staying there is even harder,” Sage stated.

Sanville informed the board and public that looking at the district in a long term fashion is important.  All of the top ten best high schools have district-level strategic plans.  The last plan for UCF was dated 2007-2008.

The board plans to obtain feedback on whether to move forward with a comprehensive strategic plan and to begin building the plan at a scheduled 24- hour retreat.

The second presentation of the night was the social worker referral report.  UCF social workers, Jen Fulton and Linda Brodeur-Cangi, reviewed the total number of district referrals.  They explained the different reasons students may come to them for help.  Some reasons include anxiety, mental health issues or depression.  In turn, they track the referrals on a dashboard to keep track of numbers and trends.

During the policy section of the Board’s agenda, the board agreed to review the district policy No. 214 on class rank and grade point average (GPA).  They agreed to gain more research after Amy Caputo expressed her concerns during the residents’ comments portion of the meeting. Caputo wanted a review on how student rankings are reported or not reported to colleges and universities and how it affects school admission.

The UCF Board of Education will hold its regular meeting at the middle school next Tuesday (Monday is the Martin Luther King holiday), Jan. 20, at 7:30 p.m.

All board documents and scheduled meetings can be referenced at www.ucfsd.org.

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One Comment

  1. Mike McGann says:

    This is a test of the revised commenting system. This is only a test and not a phone call at 4:30 a.m. Thank you. That is all.

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