Friday, October 26, 2012

Are Rules Made to be Broken?

October 15th Property and Finance Committee Meeting:

In attendance: Committee Chair Sean Carpenter and members Ed Coyle, Karen Miller, and Linda Raileanu. Also in attendance were Board President Vince Murphy, Maria Pimley, Maureen Snook, and Sue Tiernan. Heidi Adsett was absent, the 2nd consecutive P&F meeting that she has missed. 

It was a relatively short and uneventful meeting.  There have not been any significant changes in the 11/12 Actual, 12/13 Projected, or 13/14 Estimated financials.  The 11/12 year ended with expenses approximately $8M lower than budget, revenues nearly $2M higher than budget, and total fund balances (committed and non-committed) nearly $12M higher than budget.  The 12/13 expenses are currently projected at about $1M lower than budget and revenues about $500k higher.  Our projected 13/14 shortfall remains over $5M; while we have sufficient fund balance to cover that, we do not have enough to cover the significantly larger shortfalls currently projected for the 14/15, 15/16, and 16/17 years without spending cuts and/or increased revenues.

As the Business Office begins more detailed planning for the 13/14 year, Dr. Moore reviewed several factors used during that process:
  • Enrollment projections for the next 5 years remain relatively flat with 13/14 enrollment expected to be 11,649, 38 fewer students than the current year
    • enrollment projections drive building level budgets and staffing needs
    • the flat projections are primarily due to lower births in the district
    • over the last 10 years WCASD enrollment has increased by 97 students
    • the Share of Total Student Population Analysis shows the following:
      • over the last 10 years, total # of students residing in the WCASD borders have decreased 4.6%; within that, students attending district schools has increased almost 1% while students attending non-district schools (e.g., private, parochial) has decreased almost 17%
      • within the population of students attending non-district schools, Religious schools have experienced the largest decline in attendance, falling more than 26%; Alternative schooling (e.g., Glen Mills Day School) were next with a 19% drop, followed by Homeschooling (-12%) and Private (-10%)
      • non-district school categories that experienced increases in attendance included Charter Schools (up 51% from 431 students to 650), Chester County Intermediate Schools such as CAT Pickering and CAT Brandywine (up 191% from 11 to 32 students), and Special Education Schools (up 410% from 21 students to 107) 
  • Building Budgets are comprised of Per Pupil Allocations (PPA) as well as Fixed Activity Budgets for the Secondary Schools
    • the 13/14 PPA factor of $134.20 is the same as the 12/13 school year which was down from $150 in the 09/10 year, $142 in the 10/11, and $143.10 in the 11/12; the schools have been carefully monitoring their spending which has allowed the budgeted amounts to decrease
    • while the PPA factor is the same as the 12/13 year, the total PPA allocation for the 13/14 year of $2.4M is about $27k less due to the lower projected enrollment
    • the total Secondary School Fixed Activity Budget will be $555k, the same as the 12/13 year
    • Rustin will no longer be given a $10k Gate Receipts Supplement due to the installation of lights at the stadium and the resulting expected increase in the school's gate receipts.
Dr. Scanlon discussed the status of the decision whether to close an elementary school.  Twenty-five members from the Space Consolidation Task Force, which was formed during the 2nd Budget Task Force, have reconvened and will be collecting data through November.  This information will be presented to the P&F Committee and then the full Board at their November meetings and a final decision must be made in December.  The data to be collected includes # of students impacted, impact on class size, number of sections per grade level (e.g., how many 3rd grades a school will have), cash flow scenarios, and verification of the previously projected $1.3M/year operational savings from closing a school.  The committee will also be looking at the option of closing 2 schools and building a new one, as well as other possible cost savings measures if a school is not closed. 

Sean Carpenter stated that the predominant criteria for making this decision should be whether the closure of a school is in the best interest of the students of WCASD.  He did qualify, however, that this must include consideration of the fact that any endeavor that saves money will allow for the funding of other initiatives, thus contributing to the best interests of the students.  Ed Coyle pointed out that from a parent perspective, no one is going to be happy to see their school closed, and Maria Pimley questioned how they can truly define what is in the "best interest of the students" since many non-financial, subjective criteria impact this as well.  Maureen Snook stated that she felt this decision was being rushed, and that she thought the East Bradford renovations should be put on hold until a more extensive analysis could be performed.  My perception was that the majority of board members are not fully behind the notion of closing a school, however do feel it is necessary to go through this exercise.

Several members of the public spoke out against the closure of a school, one of whom was former Board Director Terri Clark.  Mrs. Clark stated that the district had closed elementary schools in the past, and that invariably they ended up needing the space down the road.  She also pointed out that research shows that smaller elementary schools with 325-350 pupils are optimal, and so she would not want to see us creating significantly larger schools to accommodate this plan.  It is interesting to note that currently only East Bradford falls within this 325-350 optimal enrollment with 339 students, and this is only due to its headcount being down (after the last redistricting in 2006 it had 439 students).  Additionally, in prior discussions on this topic the administration had stated that it was comfortable with headcount up to about 600, which Starkweather currently exceeds and Hillsdale is nearly at with September enrollment of 596.  No matter what the outcome, the district will still need to go through a redistricting effort since some schools are nearly at full capacity while others are significantly under.  This will occur in either 2015 or 2016 depending on the outcome of the school closure discussion, and student populations will need to be pushed from the southeast part of the district up toward the northwest.     

The last item on the agenda was a presentation on the status of the Penn Wood and Westtown-Thornbury renovations by Facilities Director Kevin Campbell.  The Penn Wood renovations have not been going smoothly.  The first phase was completed just prior to the opening of school and only with the help of district employees who donated their time.  The second phase is currently 2 months behind schedule, and Mr. Campbell has been meeting with the contractors to ensure that Phase 3 will be completed prior to the opening of school next year.  The project is still within budget and the district is seeking damages from the contractor.

Westtown-Thornbury's renovations, on the other hand, have been progressing very smoothly and there was no issue with completing Phase 1 prior to the start of school.  Phase 2 is progressing easily as well and is expected to complete on or ahead of schedule which will allow some movement into the new spaces over winter break.  Included in Phase 3 is the renovation of the kitchen, and the district is currently working with the contractors  to allow this portion of work to start early due to the magnitude of work to be performed.  It sounded as though this could impact the school's ability to serve lunches while school is in session, although this was not said outright so don't quote me.  Both Westtown-Thornbury and Penn Wood's renovations are expected to be completed in August of 2013, in time for the start of the 13-14 school year.

Other interesting tidbits....
Usually at the end of the committee meetings, the Committee Chair will ask if there are any other questions or comments.  However, after the last agenda item at this meeting, Sean Carpenter moved to adjourn.  He said it was due to an Executive Meeting scheduled to occur following the P&F, however none of the board members moved out of the room too quickly following the adjournment.  Dot Krikorian did chime in and asked if there was any update on negotiations since the 2 sides had recently met yet there had not been a press release from the board as had been occurring until this point.  Mr. Carpenter deferred to Mr. Murphy, who stated that there was no update but that some form of communication would be forthcoming (which we can assume was the statement read at the 10/22 Board Meeting where we also learned that the 2 sides will not meet again until 11/29).

I had a question that I wanted to ask as well, but did not get a chance.  Policy KBCC Board Meeting News Coverage deals with the Board’s interactions with the media.  The last paragraph of the policy states that “When individual Board members receive requests from news media representatives for information about Board opinions, members shall refer the information-seekers to the Board President who shall be public spokesperson for the Board except as he/she delegates this responsibility to others.”  When I had previously inquired regarding Mrs. Adsett’s interview with Fox News following the September Board Meeting, Mr. Murphy stated, “Regarding the Fox news report and Ms. Adsett speaking on behalf of the school board, she was not my choice to speak for the board. I didn’t know she was speaking until I saw her being interviewed while I was walking into the board meeting”.  Clearly the Board President had not delegated this responsibility to Mrs. Adsett, nor did she decline the interview and refer the Fox news reporter to Mr. Murphy.  Since I did not get to ask this question at the meeting, I emailed Mr. Murphy and Dr. Scanlon.  While I have corresponded with Dr. Scanlon on the subject, I never received a response from Mr. Murphy and don’t expect to.  Really, what could he say?  There is no doubt that the policy was broken, it’s pretty straightforward.  So what is one to do about a School Board Director who does not follow the rules she has been entrusted to enforce?  What indeed….

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