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April 2019 School Board Meetings

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2019-04-20Live Recording

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20190420 Podmaster Notebook

Regular Monthly Meeting

The main discussion during public comments revolved around the 7th grade math placement criteria and tiered instruction in 5th and 6th grade. One parents complained that their children were not sufficiently challenged in math and that they were bored. The kids play games during math.

Another parent complained of disruption in the classrooms. His 3rd grader, "does not like school anymore because of the disruption in the classroom." This parent reported on a fight involving thirteen Wyncote students that occurred during recess. The parent stated that a solution needs to be found to manage certain violent students to provide for a classroom with no disruptions.

Finance Committee
2018-19 Present Year Budget Notes
  • End of year projections indicate an additional $782K budget deficit on top of the anticipated $1.67 Million deficit.
  • This brings the total deficit to $2,459,889.
  • This is despite having by far the highest school tax millage in Montgomery County.
  •  MONTCO School Tax Millage Rates for 2005/06 through 2018/19 shows that Cheltenham has by far the highest school tax rate.

  • It is anticipated that the $2.46 Million deficit will be covered by fund balance.
  • Most of the over-budget $782K spending is related to special education.
  • It was mentioned that the present fund balance is $14 Million.
  • The superintendent mentioned that at a meeting of Montgomery County superintendents there was much talk about efficiency with a fixed number of staff. One superintendent said that it is at a point in his district where they are "tripping over staff members."
2019-20 Next Year Budget Notes
  • As it presently stands, next year's budget has a deficit baked in: $3,800,721 in the red with expenditures at $121,989,575 with revenues of $118,188,854.
  • Expenses are being analyzed. In particular the current staffing structure is being studied to reduce headcount through attrition. It was mentioned that April 15th is the retirement deadline.
  • Overtime expenditures and substitute teacher expenditure will also be under the microscope.
  • The Superintendent mentioned that there is an attendance issue that creates a substitute teacher issue. It is not a substitute shortage…it is an attendance shortage. He gave the example that last Friday at Elkins Park the percentage of staff absence was so high that he did not know how we ran the school.
Facilities
High School Media Center Project

With the departure of the facilities director, the district has hired the firm Fidevia to manage some projects. One of those projects is the High School Media Center Project. The total project cost is $3,232,347. The previous cost reported in February was approximately $2.6 Million.

Fidevia is functioning as an "Owner's Representative." There was no word on the cost of Fidevia's services. The project is expected to be complete by mid-August.

Building Maintenance Issues around the District
  • High School Hot Water Feed line Leak
    • A large trash can in the middle of a hallway is collecting water from an overhead pipe leak.
    • The problem cannot be fixed now. The system has to be drained first. This will happen over the spring break.
  • Elkins Park School Cafeteria Air Conditioning
    • The Elkins Park School predates the invention of central air conditioning.
    • To provide some relief, a large air conditioning unit has been purchased for the Elkins park school cafeteria.
    • The cost is going to be roughly $10,000.
    • The Superintendent mentioned that the issue of no air conditioning has been raised in labor negotiations. He mentioned the financial condition of the district and how it is impossible to undertake a major construction project at this time. The superintendent pointed out that the district has constructed five buildings over the last ten years. The superintendent mentioned that a recent study of Elkins Park concluded that it has "the strongest bones," and is not in need of immediate renovation. The shelf life of Elkins Park was extended because of the quality of its construction. He concluded that the community cannot afford another multi-million dollar project. Some classrooms are hotter than others and the district is trying to remedy that.
  • Myers Elementary
    • The building automation system will be upgraded at a cost of approximately $22,000.
  • Preventative Maintenance Management Software
    • The district has been using the "School Dude" software package for managing maintenance of buildings.
    • During the Dr. Bavi era- School Dude was described as fully functional and being used to manage building maintenance.
    • Now School Dude is described as substandard with bad data being entered into the system producing poor results.
    • The transition from Facilities directors was blamed for the problems.
Facility Use Policy
  • The policy for outside groups to use district facilities is still in progress.
  • The district is working with a real estate consultant for market information to formulate a new rate schedule.
  • It was mentioned that some groups are using facilities for 7 days a week. This is too much. It does not allow athletic fields to rest. In future, black out days will be built into the schedule to provide this recovery time.
  • The revised policy should be released to committee in May.

April 2019April 2019 School Board Meeting MP3s

TrackWeb Link
1April 2019 School Board Meeting (Facilities) Part 1 of 4
2April 2019 School Board Meeting (Finance) Part 2 of 4
3April 2019 School Board Meeting (Monthly) Part 3 of 4
4April 2019 School Board Meeting (Monthly) Part 4 of 4

April 2019April 2019 Meetings Posted Documents

Web Link
Volunteers forApril 2019 revised.pdf (42 KB)
Revised Revenue (5).pdf (39 KB)
Summary.pdf (50 KB)
Budget Transfers (27).pdf (331 KB)
Agenda 4 9 19 EDEP final.pdf (37 KB)
P121.1 Other Student Travel 2.14.19 (01798566xAED82) (2).pdf (67 KB)
P136 Home Education Program 2.11.19 (01796427xAED82) (2) (1).pdf (45 KB)
P137 Home Schooling and EC Activities.pdf (64 KB)
P203 Communicable Diseases and Immunization 3 27 19 (01824533xAED82) (1).pdf (82 KB)
P203.1 Management of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) (2).pdf (168 KB)
P209 Health and Dental Examinations 12.28.18 (01770836xAED82) (2) (2).pdf (48 KB)
P214 Computing Grade Point Average and Determining Class Rank 3.15.19 (01817174xAED82) (3).pdf (43 KB)
P217 Graduation Requirements 1.24.19 (01785747xAED82) (1) (1).pdf (61 KB)
P224 Care of School Property 1 28 18 (01771321xAED82) (1) (1).pdf (51 KB)
P324-424-524 Personnel Files 3.28.19 (01824857xAED82) (2).pdf (97 KB)
P358-458-558 Required Certifications 3.18.19 (01818477xAED82) (3) (1).pdf (96 KB)
P362-462-562 Outside Employment and Outside Business Interests 3 27 19 (01824558xAED82).pdf (58 KB)
P918 Parent-Family Member Engagement 1 24 19 (01785723xAED82) (3) (1).pdf (124 KB)

March and February 2019 School Board Meetings

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2019-03-17Live Recording

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Facilities Director Resigns after Seven Months on the Job: Is the Finance Director Next ?

Last July, Mark Brooks took over as director of facilities after Dr. Bavi retired. Last month it was announced that Mr. Brooks would be leaving Cheltenham for the Radnor Township School District.

When a top manager leaves after a short period, questions naturally arise: Why are they leaving ? Did they see something bad ?

In this case, the rumor is that Mr. Brooks was waiting for the job in Radnor to open. When it did not, he came to Cheltenham. When the job he really wanted finally opened up, he jumped ship. This scenario has not been confirmed by your podmaster.

The other top manager— Business Manager Cara Michaels— has been sounding the alarm about the state of district finances, specifically:

  • Last Year's Budget (2017-18)
    • Last year's budget was expected to be closed with a $963K deficit, a budgetary hole to be plugged with a transfer from the fund balance: Last year actually ended with the need for an additional $2 million from the fund balance.
    • While last year revenues came in higher than expected, the expenditures were even higher.
    • Expenditure budget variance was $6,067,345 (audited). The top three factors were:
      • Salaries were over $971,492.
      • Professional services were over $1,693,452.
      • Other purchased services were over $1,943,719 (mainly transportation).
  • This Year's Budget (2018-19)
    • The finance director froze spending on Feb 15th.
    • The present projected deficit is estimated to be $421,229 at the end of year (after use of fund balance).
  • Next Year's Budget (2019-20)
    • Next Year's tax increase is pegged at 2.6% which is the adjusted Act 1 maximum level.
    • The teacher's union contract expires 6/30/2019

Your podmaster has heard the finance director repeatedly warning the board that if they do not negotiate a contract with the teacher's union that the district can afford, there will be dire consequences to the long term financial future of the district.

The question is: why would she stay on the job if the board caves on the contract negotiations ? Her job would turn into a deck chair rearranger…. Stöwer Titanic (colourized)

March and February 2019March and February 2019 School Board Meeting MP3s

TrackWeb Link
1March and February 2019 School Board Meeting Part 1 of 7
2March and February 2019 School Board Meeting Part 2 of 7
3March and February 2019 School Board Meeting Part 3 of 7
4March and February 2019 School Board Meeting Part 4 of 7
5March and February 2019 School Board Meeting Part 5 of 7
6March and February 2019 School Board Meeting Part 6 of 7
7March and February 2019 School Board Meeting Part 7 of 7

March and February 2019March and February 2019 Meetings Posted Documents

Web Link
Feb 2019 Revenue(1).pdf (35 KB)
Feb 2019 Exp Summary(3).pdf (47 KB)
Agenda 3 12 19 EDEP final.pdf (35 KB)
Volunteers for March 2019.pdf (36 KB)
2019-2020 Academic Calendar (1).pdf (137 KB)
Budget Transfers.pdf (526 KB)
February 2019 Financial Final
March 2019 Financial Affairs
CSD_ProjectionsPresentation2018Update

January 2019 Regular Legislative, Finance and Facilities Meetings

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2019-01-26Live Recording

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January 2019 Podmaster Notebook

The two major stories for the month of January concerned efforts by the district to increase revenue:

  1. Revised Pricing for the use of District Facilities.
  2. Ratification of an agreement (TIF) between Landmark Developers and the district to forgo some tax revenue in exchange their investment in the Elkins Estate, converting the now empty property into a hotel and conference center.
Revised Pricing for the use of District Facilities

Back in March of 2018, your Podmaster reported that the district was revising the policy governing third-party use of district facilities to ensure that the district fully recovers costs.

It was mentioned at that time that part of the policy change may include a prohibition on teachers and administrators ability to sponsor outside organizations since that it has been observed that some teachers are using facilities making money on a side business.

One other issue mentioned last march was that a long term agreement made decades ago with Arcadia University is priced at $1 per year which basically amounts to subsidizing Arcadia at the expense of Cheltenham taxpayers.

This issue flared up at this month's Facilities Committee meeting. For many times in the past your Podmaster has been the sole audience member of the Facilities Committee meeting. This month, the meeting was in the regular auditorium and the room was packed.

The revised board policy on outsider use of district property categorizes applicants into eight different groups:

  • Class 1: Scholastic Activities, Student Organizations and School District Sponsored Activities
  • Class 2: School PTO and Booster Groups
  • Class 3: Emergency Service Organizations and Voter Services
  • Class 4: Municipal Sponsored Recreation
  • Class 5: Non-Profit Continuing Education, Non-Profit Cultural Education, Scouting and Non-Profit Performance Groups
  • Class 6: Non- School-Related Non-Profit Community Groups and Activities
  • Class 7: Non-School Related Community For-Profit Organizations and Activities.
  • Class 8: All Others

While different user classes will be expected to pay at different rates, all classes will be affected by some of the proposed changes to the policy, including:

  • An updated hourly personnel rate that covers the district's costs.
  • A new rate for security personnel.
  • New restrictions on weapons, drones and motorized devices.
  • A requirement that stipulates an 80% Cheltenham resident participation rate in non-profit organization activities.
  • Audit of participation rosters to ensure compliance.

While I expected some push-back from Arcadia regarding the revised district facility policy, the group that filled the audience this month was a organization called, Lifeseeds. Lifeseeds runs a summer camp program that uses district facilities. The room was filled with adults and children with Lifeseeds summer camp tee shirts.

In other words, an out-of-the-blue spontaneous protest.

Lifeseeds is a Pennsylvania Limited Liability Company which is not listed as a non-profit on the IRS charity look up site. Under the new policy they will be a "Class 7" organization.

One issue mentioned was that the present rates for facilities use were set in 2010.

Members of the audience representing Lifeseeds complained that the proposals they sent into the district were "sitting on desks for four months." The Business Manager Cara Michaels denied this, stating that their proposals were responded to within 3 weeks.

A week later, at the Regular Legislative Meeting, the issue of Lifeseeds came up during public comments section. Superintendent Marseille complained that Lifeseeds was not negotiating in a straightforward manner. He characterized their approach as, "shifting proposals" and that, "what was submitted on Friday was changed on Monday at 5:11 PM."

Board Member Kate Thomson stated the following points:

  1. Our facility rental rates are fair…the market rate.
  2. Lifeseeds is a for-profit entity.
  3. For years Lifeseeds has been getting a significant discount— up to 50%. That is not fair to other renters.

Regarding Point 3 Thomson questioned, "Why this successive departure of policy ? No one knows. A for-profit entity has been for years receiving a significant discount. I don't appreciate getting a proposal the night before a meeting. The board is not delaying– A third version came to us last night. We are not going to be rushed into an agreement."

Superintendent Marseille stated: "I will not be bullied to make a decision. I don't play that game. Those tactics are unacceptable."

Your Podmaster thought that summer camp was all about fun. Live and learn….

Ratification of Elkins Estate TIF Agreement

In truly great news for the township, the board ratified the Elkins Estate TIF Agreement. As mentioned back in September, the estate will become a high-end hotel and event conference facility that includes a Conference/Wellness Center and Spa, a recording studio, a distillery, a restricted-use helipad. Several parts of the development will be open to the public including a community garden, a restaurant and a concert space with a band shell.

It is estimated that the increase in tax revenue over the 20 years of the agreement will approximately $1.76 million. It is also expected to create 120 permanent jobs.

Just as important as the positives that the development brings to the table, it prevents several negatives:

  • Sprawl Prevention: The developer will volunteer to sign a restrictive covenant to prohibit any future residential development to the property.
  • Building Decay Prevention: The property owner will agree to a preservation easement that will force them– or any subsequent owner– to preserve and maintain all buildings.
  • Crime Prevention: In exchange for the tax breaks, the developer agrees to be responsible for security and insurance in areas open to the public.

The cost of the agreement is front-loaded:

  • In Years 1-3: The district returns 100% of taxes paid.
  • In Years 4-10: The district returns all but $100K of taxes paid.
  • In Years 11-20: The amount the district returns is based on a sliding scale.

Board member Bill England voted against the TIF agreement, citing the length of the agreement: 20 years. He did not explain how an additional twenty years of having an empty one-of-a-kind property in danger of falling into disrepair is superior to preserving it and earning over $1.7 million. Fortunately all other board members voted in the affirmative.

Burglary at Elkins Park

Superintendent Marseille reported that there were two break-ins at the Elkins Park school. The first occurred on December 10th where the burglars made off with several items. The burglars broke in again the following week.

Cheltenham police increased patrols in the area. The burglars returned again, three weeks after the first incident. This time the township police where there waiting for them. The district had increased surveillance camera coverage, so that the capture of the burglars by Cheltenham police was covered on video.

It was reported that Cheltenham police reclaimed 98% of the stolen goods.

2019-01-26Regular Legislative, Finance and Facilities Meeting MP3s

TrackWeb Link
1January 2019 Board Meetings Part 1 of 6 (Facilities)
2January 2019 Board Meetings Part 2 of 6 (Facilities)
3January 2019 Board Meetings Part 3 of 6 (Finance)
4January 2019 Board Meetings Part 4 of 6 (Finance)
5January 2019 Board Meetings Part 5 of 6 (Regular)
6January 2019 Board Meetings Part 6 of 6 (Regular)

2019-01-26Regular Legislative, Finance and Facilities Meeting Selected Documents

Web Links
January 8 2019 Facilities Committee Presentation.pdf
P221 Dress and Appearance 11.29.18 (01755627xAED82) (1).pdf (75 KB)
P228 Student Government 12.26.18 (01770399xAED82).pdf (60 KB)
Superintendent Goals 2018-2019FINAL.pdf (99 KB)
Volunteers for January 2019.pdf (35 KB)
Budget Transfers (24).pdf (300 KB)
Dec 2018 Exp Summary.pdf (47 KB)
Dec 2018 Revenue.pdf (34 KB)
CSD TIF Resolution Final Draft 1-11-19 v2.pdf (78 KB)
P220 Student Expression 12.27.18 (01770574xAED82) (2).pdf (106 KB)
Agenda 1 15 19 EDEP Final (1).pdf (41 KB)
P205 Postgraduate Students 11.29.18 (01755624xAED82) (2) (2).pdf (10 KB)
P234 Pregnant Students 11.29.18 (01755630xAED82) (3).pdf (63 KB)
P138 English Language Development 12.16.18 (Previously Policy 252) (01765543xAED82).pdf (74 KB)

2018-12-31 December 2018 Meetings in 5 Separate Recordings

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2018-12-31Live Recording

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Final 2018 Podmaster Notebook

Last Year's 2017-18 Budget Ends Approximately $3 Million in the Red

Cheltenham School District budgets normally open with the drama and uncertainly of determining how much the district will squeeze the taxpayers for. Once the yearly taxpayer wallet lightening amount is understood, the budgets usually conclude with little drama to their final destination audit.

Unfortunately, last year's Budget refused to go gently into the good audit night. Rather than the budget being out of balance by slightly less than one million dollars (requiring a $936,000 from reserves to square things up) the budget is actually in the red by three million dollars and "…will require the use of an additional $2M in fund balance".

What Happened ? This Happened:

In the aftermath of the May 2017 Fight in Cheltenham High School, which led to the injury of seven teachers and three safety officers and four student arrests, there was a community meeting which lasted late into the night. Your podmaster was there and recorded the audio (available HERE). Unfortunately, the audio does not record the deer-in-the-headlights expressions of the school board members.

Whenever any governmental entity gets into trouble, the solution is usually throw money at the problem. In this case the thrown money purchased the following staffing increases:

  • Eight Instruction/Curriculum Staff
  • Three Administrative Staff

Note that your podmaster reported in August 2017, one of the administrative staff positions was filled by the spouse of a school board director.

It is interesting that at the first Finance meeting (6/6/2017) after the high school melee, your podmaster reported that the administration proposed replacing the planned limited tax increase of 1.7% with the maximum allowed by law: 2.5%. Later this plan was rescinded to limit the increase to 1.9%.

Perhaps the district knew at the time that the 2.5% increase was what was needed to balance the budget (with the additional money to be thrown at high school violence), but the optics were bad. In your podmaster's opinion, jacking up taxes so soon after the CHS YouTube fiasco would certainly suggest to some that that the physical violence in the high school was being converted into financial violence against Cheltenham Taxpayers.

Ending 2017-18 in the red– after all the cameras have gone away– lets the deer get past the headlights.

Special Board Meeting

The board held a reorganization meeting to elect Julie Haywood as President and Joel Fishbein as Vice President.

Back in December of 2011, your podmaster released his first Cheltenham School Podcast recording. At that time, the school board members were:

  • Tina Viletto – Board President
  • Marc Lieberson – Board Vice President
  • Paula Barvin
  • Jim Butt
  • Stephanie Gray
  • Julie Haywood
  • Napoleon Nelson
  • David Rackow
  • Mary Russell

Julie Haywood is the only surviving member of the 12/2011 crew this website started with. She is married to Senator Art Haywood. It will be interesting in the coming year to find out if taxpayers can receive some "compassion" too.

2018-12-31December 2018 Meeting MP3 Recordings

DateTrackWeb Link
2018-12-311December 2018 Meetings Part 1 of 5 (Reorganization)
2018-12-312December 2018 Meetings Part 2 of 5 (Facilities)
2018-12-313December 2018 Meetings Part 3 of 5 (Finance)
2018-12-314December 2018 Meetings Part 4 of 5 (Finance)
2018-12-315December 2018 Meetings Part 5 of 5 (Legislative)

2018-12-31December 2018 Meetings Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2018-12-31Financial Affairs12.4.18.pdf
2018-12-31Policy 805.pdf (23 KB)
2018-12-31P205 Postgraduate Students 11.29.18 (01755624xAED82) (1).pdf (10 KB)
2018-12-31P234 Pregnant Students 11.29.18 (01755630xAED82).pdf (63 KB)
2018-12-31Budget Transfers (23).pdf (36 KB)
2018-12-31Nov 2018 Exp Summary.pdf (47 KB)
2018-12-31Nov 2018 Revenue.pdf (34 KB)
2018-12-31December Stipend List.pdf (21 KB)
2018-12-31EDEP 12 11 18 agenda final.pdf (37 KB)
2018-12-31Microsoft Word - Mentor for 2018 December 11, 2018.docx.pdf (32 KB)
2018-12-31Volunteers for December 2018.pdf (33 KB)
2018-12-31Policy 705.pdf (15 KB)

2018-11-20 Regular Legislative Meeting

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2018-11-20Live Recording

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20181120 Podmaster Notebook

  • 2019-2020 School Tax Increase: The board passed the "opt out" resolution which locks the 2019-2020 school tax increase to 2.6% or below.
  • Policy 006 Changes: Legislative meetings will change from a 7:45PM start time to 7:00PM.
  • It was mentioned that the recently passed Act 158 of 2018 reduces the "reliance" on Keystone Exams for graduation requirements. One observer has stated: “We’re watering down the standards…. And what I fear will occur is that the poorer school districts — those with the least resources — will revert back to relying on lower standards for their students so that they can hit higher graduation numbers.”
  • The recently passed Act 159 allows traffic tickets to be issued using school bus stop sign cameras against motorists that blow through the stop signal.

2018-11-20Regular Legislative Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2018-11-201Regular Legislative Meeting

2018-11-20Regular Legislative Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2018-11-20P006 Meetings 9.30.18 (01720677xAED82) (1).pdf (119 KB)
2018-11-20P808 Food Services 9.20.18 (01714449xAED82).pdf (85 KB)
2018-11-20P828 District-Wide Safety 8.29.18 (01699494xAED82) w_edits.pdf (86 KB)
2018-11-20Policy 705.pdf (15 KB)
2018-11-20Policy 805.pdf (23 KB)
2018-11-20Oct 2018 Exp Summary.pdf (47 KB)
2018-11-20Oct 2018 Revenue.pdf (34 KB)
2018-11-20Volunteers 11-2018.pdf (46 KB)
2018-11-20Budget Transfers (21).pdf (767 KB)
2018-11-20Stipend Positions November.pdf (30 KB)

2018-11-13 Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting in 2 Separate Recordings

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2018-11-13Live Recording

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Finance Committee Meeting

This meeting was mostly a repeat of last month's meeting main themes. One additional item of interest was that despite a change to the state pension system that places newly hired employees in a hybrid defined contribution plan, the per-employee PSERS (state retirement plan) cost (34.79% of salary) will be mulcted from the taxpayers for these new employees despite the fact they are not participating in the old pension plan.

The reason for the lack of relief to taxpayers was given as the state retirement system unfunded liability of $44.6 Billion.

There was some discussion of the proposed 2.6% tax increase for next year (see previous post ). Raising taxes above 2.6% would require a voter referendum. The administration recommended limiting any tax increase to the 2.6% index and adopting an "opt out" resolution at the next regular meeting.

2018-11-13Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2018-11-131Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting Part 1 of 2
2018-11-132Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting Part 2 of 2

2018-11-13Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting Selected Documents

Note: Only last month's meeting presentations were available at publish time.

DateWeb Link
2018-10-02Finance 10.02.18
2018-10-02October Facilities Committee Presentation

2017 Cheltenham vs Abington Teacher Salaries

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2018-10-09Live Recording

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The Pennsylvania Department of Education has released the 2017-18 Staff Report which contains the names and salaries of teachers throughout the commonwealth. Your podmaster has extracted the teacher salary records for Cheltenham School District (but has removed the names) for the purpose of examining the salary distribution of teachers. The 2017-18 Cheltenham Teacher Salary spreadsheet is available at this link.

The 2017-18 Cheltenham Teacher Salary spreadsheet was created by filtering out all employees except those that are full-time with "teacher" in their job description.

The data shows that Cheltenham Teachers are crowded at the high end of the pay scale with over 50% of Cheltenham teachers making $100,000 or more. Over 40% of Cheltenham teachers make more than $110,000.

Chart showing over 50% of Cheltenham teachers make $100,000 or more and over 40% of Cheltenham teachers make more than $110,000.

Do other school districts have such a lopsided salary structure ? To answer that question your podmaster has extracted the teacher salary records for next door Abington School District (but again has removed the names). The 2017-18 Abington Teacher Salary spreadsheet is available at this link.

Abington School District has a much more even distribution of teacher salaries. Less than 23% of Abington teachers make $100,000 or more (compared with over 50% of Cheltenham Teachers making this much):

Less than 23% of Abington teachers make $100,000 or more compared with over 50% of Cheltenham Teachers.

Other comparisons are depressing. For example when comparing Abington versus Cheltenham High School state test scores versus local taxes rates:

CHELTENHAM ABINGTON

2018-10-09Regular Legislative Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2018-10-091Regular Legislative Meeting Part 1 of 1
2018-10-092Regular Legislative Meeting Part 2 of 1

2018-10-09Regular Legislative Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2018-10-09P828 District-Wide Safety 8.29.18 (01699494xAED82).pdf (81 KB)
2018-10-09P006 Meetings 9.30.18 (01720677xAED82)w_edits.pdf (99 KB)
2018-10-09P808 Food Services 9.20.18 (01714449xAED82).pdf (92 KB)
2018-10-092018-19 Budget Transfers.pdf (22 KB)
2018-10-09Sept 2018 Exp Summary.pdf (47 KB)
2018-10-09Sept 2018 Revenue.pdf (33 KB)
2018-10-09Volunteers - October 2018.pdf (49 KB)
2018-10-092018-2019 Tenure List.pdf (33 KB)
2018-10-09Agenda 10 09 18 EDEP final.pdf (55 KB)
2018-10-09Mentors 2018-2019.pdf (16 KB)
2018-10-09Stipend List 2018 - 2019 Oct.pdf (27 KB)
2018-10-09P202 Eligibility of Nonresident Students 9.30.18.pdf (74 KB)

2018-10-02 Finance and Facilities Committee Meetings

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2018-10-02Live Recording

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Pre-Meeting Notes

At the next regular legislative meeting, the board will propose to change the normal monthly meeting start time from 7:45PM to 7:00PM.

Finance Committee
Next Year (2019-2020) Proposed School Tax Increase

In Pennsylvania, Act 1 is the law that governs property tax increases. Every year the Pennsylvania Department of Education publishes the maximum property tax increase percentage that is allowed without the approval of a voter referendum.

This allowable property tax increase is known as the *"Act 1 Index."* For 2019-2020, the statewide Act 1 index is 2.3%.

It turns out that there is provision in Pennsylvania's Act 1 that provides for a "adjusted" index for school districts that are economically disadvantaged. There is a formula called the "market value/personal income aid ratio (MV/PI AR)" that is calculated for each district. If the calculation exceeds the magic number of "0.4000," the district is eligible to slap on an upward adjustment to the basic Act 1 index.

In other words, the state allows economically disadvantaged districts to cripple themselves further with higher taxes. Thank you very much.

Unfortunately, Cheltenham is now considered to be one of these economically disadvantaged districts. So for next year's 2019-2020 Budget, the school district can now increase taxes to 2.6% without a voter referendum.

For a 2.6% increase, the Cheltenham School tax bill per $100,000 assessment will change as follows:

Present 2018-2019 Tax per $100K Next Year 2019-2020 Tax per $100K
$4705.39 $4827.73

In previous budget roll outs, there was usually some discussion regarding the use of the fund balance to offset tax increases. This year, the supervisor stated that even with a 2.6% tax increase, it will be a struggle to close the budget gap.

There were several main factors discussed that will make balancing next year's budget a challenge:

  • County Assessment

    There is a possibility that the overall assessment calculated by Montgomery County will be decreased. This effectively decreases the amount chargeable on each property.

  • Assessment Appeals

    There are a large number of assessment appeals being filed. They appear to come in clusters. It was speculated that this may be the result of Law Firms advertisements targeting whole neighborhoods at one time.

    A board member noted that most of the properties appealing assessments are individual homes. For the District to challenge all of the appeals would be cost prohibitive.

  • Top-Heavy Salary Structure

    There was much discussion of the present CEA teacher's contract which expires next year. The Supervisor said that the last contract led to salaries that were the sixth highest paid in the commonwealth. If a similar contract is signed next year, Cheltenham Teacher's salaries will be pushed up to the 4th highest.

    Whether or not these salaries are justified by recent academic results was not discussed.

    The issue appears to be the top-heavy nature of the present staff mix. It was mentioned that the majority of the teachers are in the Top Salary tier, earning in the neighborhood of $110 thousand per year. The supervisor mentioned that while the top-heavy salary structure means that "the distribution of wealth is not equitable." He said that this is why the district loses young talent.

    In summary the supervisor stated, "We cannot afford a contract that is even close to the last one."

  • Continuing PSERS Spike

    The state teachers pension fund (PSERS) is funded by 3 separate sources:

    • Employee Contributions: (averaging 7.5% of salary, 10.5% Maximum)
    • Employer Contributions: (set yearly in the announced Employer Contribution Rate)
    • State Reimbursement: The state reimburses "no less than half" the cost of the Employer Contributions each year.

    The employer contribution rate has skyrocketed from 1.09% in 2001-02 to 33.43% in 2018-19 while over the same period the employee contribution rate has remained relatively static.

    The employer contribution rate continues to ratchet up— the projected PSERS rate for 2019-20 is 34.79% – an increase of 1.36%.

    While the district is powerless to force an increase in PSERS cost sharing– by increasing the employee contribution rate– it can bargain for a better contract that effectively shares the PSERS burden by changing the present salary structure.

  • Debt Service

    It was mentioned that the annual debt service is over $10 million. This amount is expected to remain stable until new projects start.

    If a project is started for the Elkins Park school then "something will have to give." That something would be a move to drastically cut expenses. Clarifying what was meant by drastic, the administration used the "F-word": Furlough.

    For every construction project that the district has undertaken, it also undertakes a bureaucratic process with the state known as PlanCon. PlanCon is a set of hoops that districts must jump through to receive reimbursement from Pennsylvania for school construction.

    With every Cheltenham school project, the school board complains that, for all the expense and tedium of completing the PlanCon process, the reimbursement from State is paltry. Because the state cannot help with projects, the amount that the district must borrow is pushed higher.

    It appears that the board has not yet figured out that PSERS is the creature that ate PlanCon.

Facilities Committee
Benchmarking Presentation

The new facilities director gave a presentation regarding the districts facilities budget and performance metrics.

Some notable points presented:

  • Utility cost is $1.56 per square foot. This is the highest in the county; however, this figure has been impacted by Cedarbrook Project and is expected to come down.
  • There is a high number of maintenance employees per student in Cheltenham versus other districts. The main reason is the district's union contracts versus other districts use that use contracted labor.

2018-10-02Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2018-10-021Facilities Committee Meeting
2018-10-022Finance Committee Meeting

2018-10-02Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2018-10-02October Facilities Committee Presentation
2018-10-02Finance 10.02.18

Cheltenham School District Legal News

Permalink2018-09-15Update

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Cheltenham School District Legal News
High School Student Sues School District and Football Coach

According to court documents, back in March of this year, a Cheltenham High student sued both the school district and a football coach. The allegation is that the coach struck the student in the head and face last June. The student is suing for monetary damages.

The district responded to the allegations in a court filing dated over a year later on 7/26/2018.

Tyler Campus Reverse Appeals

Back in June your podmaster reported that the district would be filing reverse tax appeals against properties that would bring in Ten Thousand Dollars or more in annual taxes. In August, the district exercised this new policy against the new owners of the former Temple Tyler Campus.

According to county records, the Tyler Campus was sold in March of 2017. The new owner appealed the tax assessment on the property and won a substantial decrease. Now the district and township are appealing that reassessment.

On confusing aspect of the township and school district's petition is the claim that pieces of property were each identically assessed for $649,200:

Parcel ID Old Assessment ? New Assessment Web Link
310022396001 $649,200 (?) $50,900 Case 201158776
310022393049 $649,200 (?) $113,000 Case 201158778
Cheltenham Elementary Storm water Runoff Lawsuit

A local resident is suing the school district alleging that the renovation of the Cheltenham Elementary fields in 2012-13 caused storm water to be diverted onto their property causing repeated basement flooding and damage.

The lawsuit is asking for over $75,000 to cover drainage systems, mold remediation and a water insulation system.

2018-09-12 Regular Legislative Meeting in 2 Separate Recordings

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2018-09-12Live Recording

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2018-09-12Regular Legislative Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2018-09-121Regular Legislative Meeting Part 1 of 2
2018-09-122Regular Legislative Meeting Part 2 of 2

2018-09-12Regular Legislative Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2018-09-12P202 Eligibility of Nonresident Students 8.29.18 (01659706xAED82).pdf (76 KB)
2018-09-12P816 Acceptable Use of Technology 6.27.18 (01659664xAED82) (1).pdf (101 KB)
2018-09-12Policy 816A.pdf (35 KB)
2018-09-12Aug 2018 Expense Summary.pdf (42 KB)
2018-09-12Aug 2018 Revenue.pdf (32 KB)
2018-09-12Volunteers September 2018.pdf (35 KB)

2018-09-04 Finance and Facilities Committee Meetings in 3 Separate Recordings

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2018-09-04Live Recording

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Finance Committee Meeting
Landmark Developers Elkins Estate Proposal

The Finance Committee Meeting was taken up with a presentation by Amee Farrell representing Landmark Developers. Landmark proposes to acquire the Elkins Estate for $6.5 million and spend an additional $18 million to redevelop the property. The developer is looking to finalize the purchase by the end of November. The estimated completion time of the project is 2021.

The estate will become a hotel and event conference facility. Some of the features of the development include:

  • Elstowe Manor to contain 96 hotel rooms
  • Chelten House to contain 14 hotel rooms
  • Five Guest Cottages
  • Conference/Wellness Center and Spa
  • Recording Studio
  • A distillery
  • A restricted-use helipad
  • Two Artist in Residence Apartments
  • Community Garden/Grazing Pasture open to the public
  • A Restaurant which will be open to the public
  • Grounds with a Band shell to be open to the public

In addition to the physical benefits of the development, there will be other benefits:

  • The property will return to the township tax rolls for the first time in many decades.
  • The developer will enter into a restrictive covenant to prohibit any future residential development.
  • A preservation easement will be executed to preserve and maintain all buildings.
  • There will be a formal access agreement with the township and school district to guarantee the designated areas open to the public.
  • Landmark will be responsible for security and insurance on areas open to the public.

Regarding taxation– Landmark, the township and school district are negotiating a Tax increment financing (TIF) agreement. This would provide for a agreed-upon assessment that would be lower than an otherwise "free market" assessment.

The basis of Landmark's Elkins Estate assessment is the purchase price: $6.5 million. After the rehabilitation of the estate, the assessment will go up. The TIF agreement provides Landmark with a tax liability framework so that the banks financing the project will know it is viable. During the meeting it was mentioned that the most likely assessment that would be agreed upon would be an assessment between $13 and $14 million.

Should the township or school district get too greedy during TIF negotiations, the resulting high assessment on Elkins would cause the deal to get canceled.

Fortunately, there appears to be little chance of that happening. Both the township and the district appear to be extremely enthusiastic about the deal. Township Tax Collector Napoleon Nelson was present at tonight's meeting and spoke of the great opportunity the deal affords the township.

Unlike Philadelphia's Ten Year Tax Abatement program, the Landmark Elkins Estate deal should have no negative tax consequences for residents as the property will become taxable on the day the deal is sealed. The ten year tax abatements have caused many problems, not the least of which are "shock and awe" tax increases caused by tax abatement-generated property inflation.

While bringing the Elkins Estate back as a tax paying property is great news, the effect of the best-case $14 million assessment on the school district budget should be placed in perspective: the annual tax revenue would be about $659 thousand (at the current millage of 47.0539). The school district 2018-19 school district budget is $117 million.

The bottom line is: another lousy teachers contract can wipe out the positive financial impact of the Elkins Estate Project without breaking a shortened-recess period sweat.

Facilities Committee Meeting

Since the completion of the Cedarbrook project, the Facilities Ccommittee Meetings have quieted down. The main items discussed were:

Saint Joseph Parish School
  • This location was the former Cedarbrook East location
  • The carpet was damaged when hosting the students, so the district has to replace carpet
  • Replacing the carpet caused damage to the underlying asbestos tile, so the district is on the hook for removal (estimate between $95K to $110k).
  • In addition to the carpet damage, the school buses damaged the parking lot which will cost approximately $170K to repair.
High School Library Project
  • The library was closed in October of last year because of mold problem.
  • The library renovation project is gearing up.
  • If contractors can work among students during the school year, the project can be done sooner at a lower cost.
Administration Building Sidewalk Project
  • The township has flagged sidewalks around the administration building for replacement.
  • Originally, the entire sidewalk was going to be replaced.
  • Now, only those marked by the township as deficient will be replaced to save money.
Elementary School Projects

Various projects are occurring at the elementary schools. Wyncote has outstanding punch list items from its renovation 3 years ago that is tying up $2.3 million in escrow. These items will soon be completed.

2018-09-04Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2018-09-041Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting Part 1 of 2
2018-09-042Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting Part 2 of 2
2018-09-043Facilities Committee Meeting

2018-09-04Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2018-09-04Facilities Committee Agenda 090418
2018-09-04Financial Affairs Agenda 090418

Cheltenham Tax Lien Explosion

Permalink2018-08-12Court Activity Update

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A tax lien is the first step in losing ones property for failure to pay taxes. With the highest school taxes in Montgomery county, Cheltenham property owners are highly vulnerable to school-tax-induced homelessness.

Periodically, your podmaster retrieves the open tax lien cases that the district has filed against township residents and businesses that are listed on the Montgomery County Court system website. This year there has been an explosion of tax liens compared to the number we reported last year.

The following table contains hyperlinks to currently listed open tax lien cases with the school district as the plaintiff.

2018-08-12Open Tax Liens filed by Cheltenham School District

Tax Case #Tax Case #Tax Case #Tax Case #Tax Case #
2017-19675 2017-19678 2017-19679 2017-19683 2017-20371
2017-20389 2017-20463 2017-21683 2017-22371 2017-23118
2017-23139 2017-23146 2017-23455 2017-23546 2017-25955
2017-25972 2017-26236 2017-28965 2017-28966 2017-29211
2017-29214 2017-29225 2017-29227 2017-29229 2017-29248
2017-29252 2018-00427 2018-00602 2018-00603 2018-00757
2018-02257 2018-02926 2018-03198 2018-03602 2018-03606
2018-03853 2018-03878 2018-03883 2018-05048 2018-05054
2018-05736 2018-05974 2018-06013 2018-06423 2018-06463
2018-06468 2018-06519 2018-07284 2018-08333 2018-08399
2018-08401 2018-08952 2018-10872 2018-12687 2018-12689
2018-12691 2018-12692 2018-12695 2018-12708 2018-12709
2018-12711 2018-12855 2018-13586 2018-13589 2018-13662
2018-13691 2018-13692 2018-13694 2018-13695 2018-13707
2018-13710 2018-13712 2018-13713 2018-13717 2018-13721
2018-13722 2018-13946 2018-13949 2018-13953 2018-13955
2018-13958 2018-13959 2018-13960 2018-13962 2018-14008
2018-14503 2018-14506 2018-14590 2018-14715 2018-14723
2018-14727 2018-14736 2018-15310 2018-15311 2018-15313
2018-15315 2018-15615 2018-15866 2018-15964 2018-15969
2018-16040 2018-16060 2018-16148 2018-16149 2018-16168
2018-16213 2018-16217 2018-16229 2018-16231 2018-16279
2018-16306 2018-16637 2018-16638 2018-16639 2018-16640
2018-16642 2018-16643 2018-16645 2018-16653 2018-16888
2018-16890 2018-16893 2018-16895 2018-16896 2018-16900
2018-16902 2018-17234 2018-17236 2018-17299 2018-17303
2018-17305 2018-17336 2018-17340 2018-17342 2018-17759
2018-17761 2018-17967 2018-18124 2018-18453 2018-18556
2018-18802 2018-18804 2018-18850 2018-18856 2018-18957
2018-19033 2018-19109 2018-19945 2018-20044

2018-08-07 Facilities and Finance Committee Meetings

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2018-08-07Live Recording

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Facilities Committee Meeting

The new facilities director Mr. Brooks ran this meeting. Unlike recent meetings which concentrated on "large" projects that are underway, this meeting was an overview of smaller projects across the district.

  • Elementary School Projects
    • Myers: Repairs are being made to the playground including tree removal and installation of new playground mulch.
    • Elkins Park: There is no air conditioning in the cafeteria. To reduce the heat, surplus fans from the old Glenside Elementary school have been installed in the cafeteria.
    • Cheltenham Elementary: The HVAC chiller tower is undergoing repairs.
  • Cedarbrook Project:
    • The certificate of occupancy was granted on 7/20/18.
    • There are two start up issues:
      • Exterior storage building will have to have sprinklers retrofitted. No cost for this project was mentioned.
      • Bus routing on property has proven to be poorly designed. Buses cannot pass each other with existing route. Modified routing requires removal of 12 feet of divider curbing.
    • There was a firefighter tour from the Lamont and Ogontz fire companies.
    • Punchlist completion is continuing.
    • One board member was disappointed that the Cedarbrook traffic system was designed incorrectly. The architect did not consider the turns radius required for school Buses.
    • One member of the public asked: Why don't the architects pay for their mistake ?
  • Cheltenham High School
    • There is a problem with multiple false fire alarms because of the malfunctioning 20 year old system.
    • High School Library Asbestos Project Status:
      • Sargent Enterprises has completed the abatement activity.
      • Furniture has been cleaned and redeployed.
      • books have been recycled.
      • Excess bookshelves have been broken down for raw stock for use in PDL class.
      • Air monitoring is continuing.
  • Administration Building.
    • Sidewalks around the building will have to be replaced. KCBA estimates a $100K cost.
Finance Committee Meeting
  • Bond Refinancing
    • Mr Brad Remig of PFM Financial Advisers gave a presentation to board members regarding a proposal to refinance select school district bonds.
    • The refinancing would yield an estimated savings of $400K in interest.
    • As is usually the case the charts and financial data were not available to the public.
    • The bond series to be refinanced is the series "A" 2013 bonds which are callable 6 month from now.
    • Savings net of the costs of the refinance.
    • Some existing refinance resolutions have not gone through as the market has not made it worth while.
    • The finance director recommended that a authorization resolution be voted on at the next meeting even though the transaction cannot take place until October.
  • Food service update
    • The state awarded $5000 grants for breakfast at Myers and Cheltenham Elementary.
    • A creepy surveillance touch has been added to breakfast: a thumb print scan to get through food lines.
    • No mention on safeguards against biometric identity theft.
    • The financial director had mentioned that parents can opt out of thumb scan if they object.
  • Transportation Update
    • The district is deploying 40 new propane buses.
    • Because propane is new, there is no basis yet to compare costs with diesel.

2018-08-07Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2018-08-071Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting Part 1 of 2
2018-08-072Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting Part 2 of 2
 
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