Avon Grove Taxpayers for Responsible Spending

                                                             www.AvonGroveTaxpayers.org


        Citizens, Parents, and Schools working together to bring Avon Grove into the 21st Century!

November 21, 2015


Board Meeting Updates

Large Community Presence
Administration Asks for 30 Cell Phones
Full-Day Kindergarten Costs and Impact


The school board met multiple times last week with a large community presence at all the meetings. Some of the highlights include:

  • The administration requested 30 additional cell phones for school staff members.
  • The $3 million unbudgeted start-up costs for Full-Day Kindergarten may be partially offset by funding from the Charter School. The "rainy day fund" will be used to make-up the difference.
  • The impact of FDK on facilities has not been fully studied yet, although a decision must be made very soon to begin construction of modular classrooms at Penn London Elementary.


Strong Community Presence

There was a significantly larger community presence for these meetings compared to most School Board events. A diverse group of approximately 40 residents were in attendance Tuesday night, with a smaller number on Thursday. Many asked very thoughtful questions, made comments, and had a meaningful dialog with Board President Brian Gaerity. Retiring board member Bill Sites praised the quality of the comments and suggestions to the entire board, and thanked the community for their involvement.

Request for 30 More Cell Phones

Superintendent Marchese proposed that 30 additional cell phones be provided to select maintenance and administration personnel. The administration currently provides cell phones to 10 employees. Although no specific cost figures were provided, it was suggested that this could potentially save money by allowing an hourly person to reboot Internet-linked equipment remotely instead of being paid to come in after hours. Superintendent Marchese stated that Avon Grove is the only district that has refused to provide him a cell phone since he become an administrator in 1999.

This request generated a strong audience backlash against what many seemed to feel was an inappropriate expense. Ultimately the Finance Committee asked that the Administration document the anticipated savings that would help offset the cost before the board would consider it further.

Full Day Kindergarten (FDK)

The majority of the community members present at the meetings seemed very interested in FDK. There was lot of dialog between the audience and Board President Brian Gaerity. Some highlights:

  • The board is struggling to determine if modular classrooms will be required. Timing for this decision is getting tight because of the long time needed to obtain permits, engineering, fabrication, site development, and installation of modular classrooms. Despite many still-undefined issues, the board seemed intent on moving forward quickly. Previously presented plans call for a decision on modular classrooms by December 1.

  • Despite multiple questions from several citizens, Board President Brian Gaerity refused to address the impact of increased enrollment due to FDK on overall school capacity and new construction. He indicated that facilities questions will be addressed early next year and that the board will consider the impact on facilities internally before voting for FDK. However, many observers felt that a decision to implement FDK would eliminate any flexibility in facility planning and force a decision to build a new school. This position is supported by a facilities study commissioned by the Board earlier this year and a presentation by Superintendent Marchese stating "Likelihood that enrollment in the system will increase with the addition of a Full Day Kindergarten program and subsequently as each annual cohort moves upwards through the system. It is apparent that each building will be presented with specific and unique capacity challenges."

  • The board is assuming that a large portion of the cost of FDK will be offset by recouping tuition paid to the Avon Grove Charter School (AGCS) and the Cyber School. Two scenarios were presented that assume that 288 - 336 students currently living in the AGSD will transfer from AGCS and Cyber School into AGSD, bringing $275,197 - $707,648 back to AGSD. Without this credit, the unbudgeted $3 million cost of the new FDK program has no funding source. Board President Brian Gaerity indicated that funding could be taken from the rainy day fund.

  • The impact of FDK on the Avon Grove Charter School was discussed. FDK is expected to bring students from the Charter School back into AGSD, but the impact of this on AGCS has not been fully considered. Funding moves with the student; if a student who lives in the AGSD district enrolls in AGCS, the Charter School gets 65% of the funding for that child, and the AGSD gets 35% to provide busing and other services. The AGCS does not depend solely on students from the AGSD because many of their students come from other districts nearby. Board member Pat Walker, whose children attended AGCS, requested an in-depth review of the anticipated impact of FDK on AGCS. A request was made that this assessment be shared with the public.

  • The administration is in the process of surveying the community to determine what the likely enrollment would be for a new FDK program launched in 2016/2017. The survey is not designed to measure community support for this new initiative. Instead it is will be used to determine the likely number of kindergarten students in FDK.


Administrator Compensation Study Proposal

A proposal was made to hire consultants to study compensation for the administrators. The discussion was led by a representative of the proposed consultant firm. If the Board approves, the consultants will define job titles and responsibilities for each of the existing 24 administrator positions. They will then survey select school districts to develop a list of compensation for similar jobs in other districts. This data would then be used to develop a salary range for each position.

The expectation is that some existing salaries will be above comparable jobs in similar districts (and be grandfathered in) and others will be below the range. Any actual salary changes would be subject to approval by the board. The final report would not be made public because they don't want the administrators themselves to see the report.

Based on comments made at the meeting, the consultant and Superintendent seemed to feel that salary targets should match the median for similar jobs in other districts.

Pat Walker asked if total salary costs would remain essentially unchanged after all the adjustments were made to bring local salaries into line with comparable districts. The answer to this was "not necessarily". There were quite a few audience questions on this topic.

The study was approved by the Board on Thursday.

Waste Water Treatment Plant

The district currently owns and operates a waste water treatment plant. There are concerns about dealing with potential new regulations that would make operating the treatment plant more costly and complex, so they are exploring selling it an operating company.

This is a complex issue that has been discussed many times by the board.

Other Issues

The current budget includes deficit spending; total spending exceeds income by approximately $3 million. Brian Gaerity stated that approximately half of this is due to the teacher's pension costs. The other half is discretionary spending by the board. A citizen questioned how long the rainy day fund will last, and what the impact on taxes will be once the fund is exhausted. Business Manager Dan Carsley took a written copy of the question and will presumably reply to that citizen. In the Finance meeting Charles Beatty questioned the use of reserve funds to cover deficit spending, planned capital improvement and unbudgeted programs such as FDK. Adding up known variables he showed that the reserve fund could be entirely consumed in a few years.

The district's finances were audited and approved. The audit report can be found
here.

The Bell Schedule was discussed. It was asked if they had considered how the bell schedule might cause congestion during class changes and lunches. Apparently, this had not been considered, although the consensus seemed to be that there would be fewer class transitions and therefore less congestion.