Year in Review 2011, Part I: stormy times dominate headlines

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February opened with the release of Schick’s fact-finding report and suggested settlement of the ongoing teachers’ talks. While the school board voted unanimously to accept the deal, the teachers rejected it, citing the use of “half-steps” for seniority, not used anywhere else in the state, and issues with the health care plan. The board asked the teachers to reconsider, but the union rejected the deal and second time and talks continued.

The fourth annual Polar Plunge had hundreds of local residents braving the cold and 35-degree water for a good cause.

The board of education, meanwhile, opted not to use any of the Act 1 exceptions it had been granted, and decided to keep the tax increase under the 1.36% cap in Chester County (5.06% in Delaware County). Later budget state funding budget cuts — and an even later restoration — made that a decision that proved controversial and lingered throughout the year and into the fall elections. Initially, the board would set a .99% in Chester County and 4.61% in Delaware County.

In what would become a trend, the board opted not to move forward with looking at outsourcing food service for the district, citing the strong financial performance and quality of the operation.

The fourth annual “Polar Plunge” saw dozens of local residents splash into a frigid Brandywine Creek, raising more than $12,000 — including then-Superintendent of Schools Sharon Parker, who came dressed as “Flotene D’Bree.”

February also marked the start of the 2011 election season, with three local candidates seeking county-wide office: Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh of Pennsbury filed for re-election, while Dan Tyman of Pocopson, a Democrat, filed for Registrer of Wills and Birmingham’s Fredda Maddox filed to run for Court of Common Pleas.

Local state Senator Dominic Pileggi (R-9) — the Senate Majority Leader — found himself in a a bit of a public relations nightmare when it was revealed that the Pittsburgh Steelers paid for the senator to attend the Super Bowl. After the fact, Pileggi said it was always his intention to repay the cost of the trip.

The Unionville High School Used Book Sale was another big success, with the high school gym packed with people looking for bargains on books.

Elsewhere, parents at Hillendale Elementary School expressed concerns about class size at the school with some fourth-grade classes as big as 28. Inequality of sizes across the district would led to a look at potential elementary school reconfiguration later in the year and series of controversies.

Meanwhile, school board candidates began to step forward: incumbents Frank Murphy, Eileen Bushelow and Timotha Trigg announced they would seek reelection, while Sharon Jones filed to replace Paul Price who opted not to run again. In Region A, Victor DuPuis and Rob MacPherson filed to replace retiring Corrine Sweeney.

In addition to the Brandywine, torrential rains flooded Rt. 1 in March, 2011.

March brought storms of both the financial and weather sort. Heavy rains caused serious flooding throughout the area and yet another school closure.

Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget threatened to slash about $1 million in state funding from the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District, forcing officials to look for cuts to a budget already hit by loss of local revenue. Although much of the funds ended up being restored — about $850,000 — the cuts would lead to both higher tax increases and layoffs. Later in the month, school administration officials would offer some $1.7 million in potential cuts, to give the board options on closing the budget gap.

Mid-month, a report from a consultant suggested that the Board of Education should put bus service out to bid for privatization, which the board opted to do later in the year — yet another contentious issue within the school district.

Pileggi would get a potential — and as it turns out, temporary — opponent for his 9th District state Senate seat when former State Rep. Tom Houghton of London Grove announced he would run against the Senate Majority Leader in 2012. After an up-and-down year of fundraising for Houghton, redistricting pushed Houghton out of Pileggi’s district. As of right now, it’s unclear whether Houghton plans a primary fight against incumbent Democratic state Senator Andy Dinniman or whether he will seek to regain his State House seat from State Rep. John Lawrence (R-13) in 2012.

The month and the year’s first quarter ended with the formal end of the long-running dispute over the proposed Pennsbury Village development, with the township Board of Supervisors signing off on a stipulation that ended more than a decade of litigation over the townhouse development slated for US-1.

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