Avon Grove Taxpayers for Responsible Spending

                                                             www.AvonGroveTaxpayers.org


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

October 24, 2016


Meeting Highlights

​​FIG Meeting 8/9

The Avon Grove School Administration has assembled a team called the Facilities Input Group (FIG) to review detailed information related to the existing school facilities and options to improve or replace them.  The team will make a recommendation to the School Board based on their findings in September 2017.   The recommendation will not be binding to the School Board.

Additional information about the Facilities Input Group is available
here

For this meeting, the FIG was given a tour of Penn London Elementary (PLE).  The minutes from this meeting are available
here.

Board Retreat 8/11

Financial forecast model - The School Board and Administration discussed the development of a financial projection for the school budget.  Business Manager Carsley presented a rough format for the board to consider without any current data.  The details were difficult to see and the material presented is not publicly available.  The Administration indicated that a first look with actual data will be provided in December 2016.

No minutes are available from this meeting nor is any information about the financial projection available for the public to consider.

School Board Meeting 8/25

Since this is the first meeting of the new school year there was a large agenda including various resignations, appointments, contract renewals and approvals for a variety of annual expenditures.  A detailed agenda and minutes for this meeting are available
here.

Committee of the Whole 9/08

There was a presentation by Tom Alexander updating the board on the communications team he is leading.  It describes an extremely ambitious plan to improve communications both internally and externally to virtually any group that could have an interest in the school disctrict.  The communications will involve the use of email distribution, surveys, expanded use of automated school messenger, brochures, newsletters, press releases, information sheets, videos, hosting AGSD community forums, participation in community meetings and the development of a communications organizational chart. Training will be developed and provided to staff so they can communicate more effectively with friends, neighbors and community members. Progress will be measured by benchmarking and surveys.   To develop these ideas the district retains an external Communications Consultant.

The presentation is available
here.

There was also an update on Facilities which was primarily an update of the Facilities Input Group meetings.


The agenda and minutes are available here

Facilities Committee / FIG Meeting 9/13

Penn DOT project - As one of a number of potential stakeholders, the school district has been asked to contribute $150 - 270K towards the cost of a traffic study to be developed by PennDOT on the intersection of Baltimore Pike and Rt 796 adjacent to the Red Rose Inn.  The Superintendent and Business Manager indicated that the funds will prevent the Administration from having to spend a larger amount of money later on a new traffic study if a new High School is constructed on the nearby Sunnyside property.

PECO Natural Gas - The CCIU presented a potential project to supply natural gas to Avon Grove Intermediate School (AGIS) and PLE schools which are currently heated with oil.  The nearest supply point is a significant distance away.  PECO will extend the supply to the buildings at no cost if Avon Grove School District (AGSD) agrees to commit to using gas for 10 years.  The cost to AGSD is approximately $153K to make the necessary modifications inside the buildings and boilers to accommodate the change.  The project has a payback of less than 3 years at current pricing.

The Facilities Input Group toured AGIS during this meeting. The minutes from this meeting are available 
here.​

Finance Committee Meeting 9/20

The only committee member attending this meeting was Patrick Walker.  Brian Gaerity and Charles Beatty were not present.

The Business Manager indicated that the base Act 1 index for next year is 2.5%.  This base rate is adjusted for each school district based on a number of factors specific to the school district.  It is anticipated that the adjusted index for AGSD will be approximately 3.3%.  This is the maximum that taxes could be raised without allowing the community to vote on a referendum unless the district applied for and was granted an exception.  Since 2013, taxes have been increased every year to just below the Act 1 index.

The Business Manager also presented a list of tax appeals by businesses and residents within the AGSD that will reduce the tax revenue collected by the school district if they are granted.  The appeals must be processed by the court system before taking effect.  Of particular interest is a pending appeal by Dansko valued at $2.2 million that would have a significant impact on revenue if approved.

The Administration presented an idea to launch a Gold Card Program as a way to better connect with the people in the community.  The Gold Card will enable residents of the AGSD who are 62 years of age and older to attend school events such as plays and athletic events free of charge (some events such as fundraisers are excluded).  Additional information is available via these links to the 
Application and FAQ

The PECO Natural Gas proposal covered earlier was presented to the Finance Committee for consideration where it was recommended that it be presented to the full board for a vote.  The details are described
here.


School Board Meeting 9/22

The agenda for this meeting is available
here.

The meeting began with a presentation by Ms. Kristen Bishop, Head of School and CEO of the Avon Grove Charter School (AGCS).  The demographics show that 45.7% of AGCS students reside in the Avon Grove School District.  The remainder comes to AGCS from other school districts.

The AGCS kindergarten enrollment shows that 125 of the 175 students enrolled at AGCS live in the Avon Grove School District.  These 125 students were selected from 163 applications from AGSD residing families.  The new FDK program approved for launch next year in the main school system depends heavily on reducing this AGCS enrollment in 2017-18 to offset the projected cost of the program. 

The presentation is available
here.

There were a number of questions from the Board members following the presentation.  The nature and tone of the questions made it clear that a number of the Board members questioned the value of AGCS as well as its quality of the education, use of resources, and financial standing.  Even the integrity of the school’s leadership was questioned when Herman Engel asked if AGCS was intentionally trying to over identify Special Education students since they are allotted significantly higher revenue.  The answers provided seemed to address all the concerns and Ms. Bishop emphasized that AGCS strives for complete transparency.  The organization and available resources mean that AGCS is able to do more with less funding and that AGCS supplements money from the school district  with their own fundraising efforts.  She also mentioned that they will be hosting a meeting requested by “a local taxpayer organization” to explain the charter school funding process.  This meeting will be open to the public and details will be shared when more information is available.

The rest of the meeting consisted of updates from the various committees and routine business.  There was a motion to authorize payment of $18,000 to Shearon Environmental Design Co., Inc.  in settlement of contract claims for synthetic turf infill.  No further explanation was offered.  The PECO natural gas proposal discussed earlier was approved.

The Board also signaled its intent to retain Dr. M. Christopher Marchese as District Superintendent for an additional term of 3 to 5 years.  Dr. Marchese has already indicated in writing his desire to be reappointed.


Committee of the Whole 10/13

An update was provided on the progress of launching full day kindergarten in 2017.  Extensive communications efforts are being developed to attract new students to the program.  A single page flyer will be provided to childcare facilities and realtors along with other printed communications, electronic messaging and a new website section on FDK in the Penn London Elementary School section of the current website.  The FDK team meets weekly with an external communications consultant and the Chester County Intermediate Unit has been assisting with marketing.  The presentation is available
here but many of the details are not included because the links in the presentation go to private documents that were only shown in the live presenation.


Finance Committee Meeting 10/18

The committee reviewed the anticipated budget timeline for the development of the 2017-18 budget. The various departments within the AGSD organization are developing their input to the budget process which is due back 10/24.  A first look is expected on 12/17.  A proposed preliminary budget must be issued by 1/26.  The expense side of the budget will be reviewed in February, followed by revenue in March and capital projects in April along with a proposed final budget.  Final approval will be in June.  It was also mentioned that the first look at the comprehensive 5 year financial projection would be available in January.  The Business Manager is also recommending that the district adopt the opt out resolution to not exceed the Act 1 index of 3.3% tax increase for 2017-18

The lease for the modular classrooms at Fred S. Engle Middle School is up for renewal and the Business Manager recommended approving a 3 year lease to retain them.  Pat Walker asked if this timing considered the activities of the Facilities Input Group who is expected to provide a recommendation to the board on potential changes to facilities that could impact the use of modular classrooms.  It sounded like it was considered.


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