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Cheltenham School District Court Activity Update

Permalink2017-02-18Update

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Your Podmaster has been observing Tax lien Case number 2015-15473 for some time now. This is the case of a 2014 School tax debt that is in collection. The debtor has the same name as a current school board member.

In the latest activity in this case, the collection firm of Portnoff Law Associates has filed "a Writ of Scire fracias to add the United States of America."

It is curious that for a school district that seems to have a written policy for everything, there appears to be no policy regarding school board members who owe property tax money to the school district, let alone those who have legal action against them.

In other court activity, while this web site normally monitors tax liens that the school district is filing against township residents, last December, The Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation Fund placed a $45459.26 lien against Cheltenham Township School district. This case is marked closed as of 2/7/2017.

It is sad to report that the following individuals and businesses have been hauled into court to pay their Cheltenham School Tax bill (Click on the "Continue without logging in" link to view the case.):

2017-02-18Cheltenham School District Tax Liens 7/24/2016-2/18/2017

Case Number/Web LinkDate Filed
School Tax Court Case Number: 2016-14996 7/25/2016
School Tax Court Case Number: 2016-14998 7/25/2016
School Tax Court Case Number: 2016-15000 7/25/2016
School Tax Court Case Number: 2016-15003 7/25/2016
School Tax Court Case Number: 2016-15248 7/28/2016
School Tax Court Case Number: 2016-15255 7/28/2016
School Tax Court Case Number: 2016-19838 8/9/2016
School Tax Court Case Number: 2016-20122 8/12/2016
School Tax Court Case Number: 2016-20462 8/19/2016
School Tax Court Case Number: 2016-20570 8/19/2016
School Tax Court Case Number: 2016-20799 8/25/2016
School Tax Court Case Number: 2016-20800 8/25/2016
School Tax Court Case Number: 2016-22363 9/8/2016
School Tax Court Case Number: 2016-23161 9/21/2016
School Tax Court Case Number: 2016-23172 9/21/2016
School Tax Court Case Number: 2016-24321 10/7/2016
School Tax Court Case Number: 2016-24656 10/12/2016
School Tax Court Case Number: 2016-27324 11/10/2016
School Tax Court Case Number: 2016-27326 11/10/2016
School Tax Court Case Number: 2016-27330 11/10/2016
School Tax Court Case Number: 2016-27475 11/14/2016
School Tax Court Case Number: 2016-28116 11/17/2016
School Tax Court Case Number: 2016-30205 12/23/2016
School Tax Court Case Number: 2017-01369 1/20/2017
School Tax Court Case Number: 2017-01778 1/25/2017
School Tax Court Case Number: 2017-03213 2/16/2017

2017-02-14 Regular Legislative Meeting in 1 Separate Recordings

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2017-02-14Live Recording

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At this meeting the board approved a resolution opposing the Property Tax Elimination Act.

One item of note is that School Board member Napoleon Nelson is considering a run for the position of Township Tax Collector. He had to recuse himself from voting on an item pertaining to that office.

2017-02-14Regular Legislative Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2017-02-141Regular Legislative Meeting Part 1 of 1

2017-02-14Regular Legislative Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2017-02-14Jan 2017 Rev.pdf (33 KB)
2017-02-14Jan 2017 Exp Summary.pdf (44 KB)
2017-02-14P123 Student Athletics 1st Read 02 14 2017 (01373863xAED82).pdf (47 KB)
2017-02-14P117 Homebound Education 1ST READ 02 14 2017 (01358508xAED82) (1).pdf (51 KB)
2017-02-14P225 Students and the Police New First Read 02 14 2017.pdf (63 KB)
2017-02-14P121 Field Trips new first read 02 14 2017 .pdf (44 KB)
2017-02-14P122 Extracurricular and Cocurricular Activities New 1st Read 02 14 2017(01334761xAED82) (2).pdf (96 KB)
2017-02-14EDEP Agenda 2 14 17 Final.pdf (28 KB)
2017-02-14Feb 2017 HM.pdf (29 KB)
2017-02-14Leadership Stipend List Feb 2017.pdf (18 KB)
2017-02-14Volunteers February 2017.docx (90 KB)
2017-02-14Budget Transfers (1).pdf (368 KB)

2017-02-06 Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting in 2 Separate Recordings

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2017-02-06Live Recording

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Facilities Committee Meeting

During the December 2016 Facilities Meeting Langan Environmental presented their report concerning elevator shaft contamination discovered at the Cedarbrook Construction Site.

Langan outlined two options to handle the problem:

  1. Excavation and Off-site Disposal of the Site
  2. Capping the Site and Deed Notice/Environmental Covenant
  3. Option 1: Excavation and Off-site Disposal of the Site
    • This solution would require that utilities in the area to be stabilized and the contaminated soil would be removed and transported to a disposal site. This option would add delays to the reopening of Cedarbrook and cost over $500K.
  4. Option 2: Capping the Site and Deed Notice/Environmental Covenant Capping the Site and Deed Notice/Environmental Covenant
    • This option would "cap" the contaminated material under the new school building and by additional clean topsoil. This option would not result in any delay in Cedarbrook reopening and the cost would be minimal– $10K to $45K.

The board subsequently chose Option 2 for both cost and schedule reasons.

Unfortunately, the construction contractor working on the Cedarbrook project, Boro Construction, refused to sign off on Option 2. Some reasons were:

  • Boro does not have insurance to cover environmental issues.
  • Boro does not have the environmental expertise to handle this issue.
  • Workers would require extensive training and safety equipment.

So Option 1 will be required. Boro will hire a sub-contractor who will do the cleanup work. All the environmental-related liability will be the responsibility of this sub-contractor. The bids for this Option 1 solution came in at $340,625. It will result in a 2 week delay to the Cedarbrook reopening: to mid-November 2018.

Finance Committee Meeting

The majority of the Finance committee meeting was devoted to a presentation giving the district's opinion of HB/SB 76, The Property Tax Independence Act. The district's presentation is Here. Needless to say, our opinion is different:

realreformmb-003.png realreformmb-002.jpg realreform76-001.jpg

2017-02-06Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2017-02-061Facilities Committee Meeting
2017-02-062Finance Committee Meeting

2017-02-06Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2017-02-06Facilities FEBRUARY 2017
2017-02-06Financial Affairs Committee Meeting February 2017

2017-01-10 Regular Legislative Meeting

   Permalink2017-01-10Live Recording

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2017-01-10Regular Legislative Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2017-01-101Regular Legislative Meeting Part 1 of 1

2017-01-10Regular Legislative Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2017-01-10Agenda
2017-01-10Dec 2016 Exp Summary.pdf (44 KB)
2017-01-10Dec 2016 Rev.pdf (32 KB)
2017-01-10P225 Students and the Police First Read 12 13 2016.pdf (53 KB)
2017-01-10P121 Field Trips second first read 12 13 16 .pdf (59 KB)
2017-01-10P122 Extracurricular and Cocurricular Activities 2nd First Read 12 13 16 .pdf (93 KB)
2017-01-10January Stipened List.pdf (18 KB)
2017-01-10EDEP Agenda 1 10 17 Final.pdf (18 KB)
2017-01-10Volunteers January 2017.pdf (33 KB)
2017-01-10Budget Transfers .pdf (162 KB)

2017-01-03 Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting in 4 Separate Recordings

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2017-01-03Live Recording

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Facilities Committee Meeting

Because of a last minute outbreak of cognitive slippage among the board members, this meeting ran later than normal. And as usual the most important points presented at the end. In this case, the most important point was the Five Year Facility Improvement Plan.

Five Year Facility Improvement Plan

Back in April of last year, the firm KCBA Architects presented their district facilities study to the board. They presented a matrix of major construction items as follows:

Name Description Total Project Cost Estimate
Elkins Park Option A Total renovation of existing building with a small addition (no work at administration building) $46,003,000
Elkins Park Option B Construction of a new Elkins Park School (on current school site) and renovation of a portion of the existing building to serve as a district administration building $47,333,000
Elkins Park Option C1 Construction of a new building housing a new Elkins Park School and new district administration office on current school site $48,861,000
Elkins Park Option C2 Construction of a new building housing a new Elkins Park School on current school site $38,538,000
Cheltenham HS Option A Renovation of the entire school to various degrees; construction of a new pool and locker room complex along the driveway leading to the stadium $67,576,000
Cheltenham HS Option B Renovation of the entire school to various degrees; construction of a new pool and locker room complex to the north of the existing pool $65,820,000
Cheltenham HS Option C New high school constructed south of the existing building along Rices Mill Road $111,644,000
Cheltenham HS Athletic Complex Renovation of the athletic complex at CHS including new track, synthetic fields , site amenities, and stormwater management system $8,658,770

So back to today's meeting: a "Five Year Facility Plan" was presented that presumably grew out of the KCBA study; however, the KCBA options that have been chosen that make up the plan were never revealed.

The total for the plan is over $83 million:

Type of Improvement Amount
Health/Safety/Code/Lavatory $3,036,000
Energy Management/HVAC $17,010,000
Capital Improvements $11,679,000
Security/Fire Alarm $765,000
Athletic Fields $1,189,200
Elkins Park School $50,000,000
Total $83,679,200

The Director of Facilities, Dr. Bavi, as well as the superintendent mentioned several times that this five year plan cost was reduced from the original cost of $151 Million. They did not state which of the KCBA options made up the $151 Million. Presumably the $151 million option included the construction of a new high school– the debt service for which would be a neutron bomb to the township's economy.

The second part of the meeting concerned the financing of the $83.7 million plan. The payout installments were listed as follows:

Year Amount
2017-2018 $14,262,000
2018-2019 $26,610,000
2019-2020 $34,387,000
2020-2021 $4,630,200
2021-2022 $3,790,000
Total $83,679,200

It was mentioned that presently approximately 10% of the budget is consumed by servicing the debt. By 2019-20, that figure will rise to 13%. In 2020 the annual debt payment would be $14.6 Million.

There are currently $10 Million in capital reserves with a committed/assigned fund balance of $9 Million. The maintenance of a "strong fund balance", at a level of 6% to 8% of budget, keeps the districts bond rating strong.

Presently Cheltenham School District debt carries a A– S&P rating. This allows the district to issue debt without the cost of bond insurance. However it was mentioned that the last time the district was downgraded, it was because the State of Pennsylvania was downgraded.

If Pennsylvania is downgraded again, the district's rating automatically goes down. So the district may be forced to buy bond insurance no matter how much money is tied up in the fund balance.

Cedarbrook Construction Update

The environmental contamination remediation effort is stalled because the contractor will not put in fill to cover the contaminated area until he is given assurance that his employees will not be affected.

Four Month Lease Gap at Ivy Hill

Because of Cedarbrook construction delays, there is a need to extend leases for the facilities at the current satellite locations. The new target date for the completion of the Cedarbrook project is January 2018.

Extension of the Ivy Hill lease has proven to be a problem: the landlord wants a minimum 1 year extension where the district only needs 4 months.

The district then looked at other properties and found nothing suitable available for short-term lease.

So the next option is to place the Ivy Hill students in other schools in the district.

The solutions looked at were:

  • One or more of the Elementary schools.
  • The High School.
  • Elkins Park Modulars.

The elementary schools do not have enough room to accommodate the Ivy Hill students. The High School could accommodate a second 8Th Grade class and the Elkins Park Modulars can accommodate the rest.

Cyber Option for Cheltenham

With the problem of finding places for Cedarbrook students at Ivy Hill, as well as the task of finding places for Elkins Park students when that construction starts, one would think that it would be helpful to offer parents a cyber option for educating students.

Even a small percentage of parents choosing a Cyber Option would help ease the burden of finding places for kids.

Back in March of 2013, The Cheltenham School Board approved a contract with a company called VLN Partners, LLP to provide an official school district "cyber option" for online instruction. No mention of this VLN Partners effort– or any type of cyber option– has been seen again at board meetings.

Of course, if the district's cyber offering did not match up to the competition (for example, see here or here or here or here etc…) it might lead to students leaving the "Cheltenham reservation". So it is not a surprise that nothing ever came of the VLN Partners effort.

Finance Committee Meeting
2017-18 Budget

The projected 2017-18 budget is presently in deficit to the tune of $2.9 Million; however it is highly preliminary and there are many factors to be worked out.

The maximum tax increase for this year is 2.5%. This translates to to an increase of 1.1274 mills to bring the rate up to 46.2217 Mills. For the Median assessment, ($144,290), this translates to a yearly tax bill of $6669.33.

Because of the structure of the teachers contract settlement, salary costs are increasing 5.1% over 2016-17. The PSERS rate (which is based on salaries) is increasing from 30% to 32.57%. In other words, if the district is paying a teacher $130,000 in salary and PSERS in 2016-17, the district will pay $139,331 in 2017-18.

2017-01-03Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2017-01-031Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting Part 1 of 4
2017-01-032Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting Part 2 of 4
2017-01-033Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting Part 3 of 4
2017-01-034Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting Part 4 of 4

2017-01-03Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2017-01-03Facilities Presentation January 2017
2017-01-03Facilities Presentation Capital Projects Jan 2017
2017-01-03Financial Affairs Presentation Jan 2017

Release of 2015-16 State Building Level Academic Scores (BLAS)

Release of 2015-16 State Building Level Academic Scores (BLAS) Permalink2016-12-17Update

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The state released the 2015-16 Building Level Academic Scores (BLAS) for all Cheltenham District schools. Last year only the high school received a BLAS score.

On the good news side, the high school has staged an impressive recovery from 66.5 in 2014-15 to 77.2 in 2015-16.

On the not-so-good-news side, apparently the continuing construction at Cedarbrook is taking a toll on performance: The BLAS for 2013-14 was an impressive 91.3 which has dropped to 65.8 in 2015-16.

While it can be understood that conditions at Cedarbrook can explain the drop in performance, the drop at Glenside Elementary (a new building) seems to throw doubt on the implication that new buildings equal higher test scores. Glenside Elementary scored an impressive 90.9 in 2013-14 while dropping down to 77.5 in 2015-16.

2016-12-17Building Level Academic Score 2012-2016

2012-132013-142014-152015-16

2016-12-13 Regular Legislative Meeting

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2016-12-13Live Recording

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  • Employment Termination of Teacher Stacie Stoops
    • Last month's meeting was dominated by allegations that Teacher Stacie Stoops made racially disparaging comments in the classroom.
    • Many parents were in the audience last month.
    • On November 20Th, the district suspended Stoops.
    • The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that, "The teacher was discussing the election and the impact of a Trump presidency on the Black Lives Matter movement when she allegedly told students 'to stop bitching about being black'"
    • The solicitor's report mentioned that the Stoops dismissal will be contested by the teachers association. The case now goes to an independent arbitrator who has the final call.
    • At this meeting the board approved,"…. a detailed written statement of charges to Stacie Stoops….".
    • According to the the OpenPAGov.org database, Stacie Stoops is a secondary teacher in mathematics at the High School. She has a Master's degree and her salary was $81697.
    • During the public comment period Senator Art Haywood (husband of board member Julie Haywood) appeared before the board. The senator questioned the school district solicitor Mr. Roos as follows:


Sen. Haywood: "The main thing that brings me here is a comment I think I heard on TV regarding an employee who was dismissed and then is seeking arbitration." (To Mr. Roos). "Did you say anything about the incident that gave rise to the dismissal and arbitration ?"
Mr. Roos: "No."
Sen. Haywood: "Is this the same teacher who was allegedly making racial disparaging statements in the classroom ?"
Mr. Roos: "Yes. You are correct"
Sen. Haywood: "Now is the president of the teachers association– Is that Jack Kelly ?"
Mr. Roos: "Yes."
Sen. Haywood: "Has Jack Kelly been the president of the organization as far as you know…was he the president in the 2004 time-frame ?"
Mr. Roos: "I don't recall. I know there was a period of time when Mr. Kelly took a leave of absence."
Sen. Haywood:" A long time ago I was the leader of one of the black parent groups here. We asked to meet with the teachers union— I think it was a Jack Kelly— who said he didn't want to talk to us about the achievement gap. You wouldn't have any recollection of that ?"
Mr. Roos: "I'm afraid I do not.
Sen. Haywood:"Well….Are you aware of any legislation of another state, another locality, that would increase the capacity of the school district to discourage these kinds of arbitration ?"
Mr. Roos: "Not anything specific. Pennsylvania has historically had pretty strong protections in place— especially for teachers with tenure. But I know Pennsylvania laws are more robust than other states as far as protecting teachers rights."
Sen. Haywood: "If we could change the law, we could significantly change the dynamic."
Mr. Roos: "Yes there are changes that we could make…to the school code that could give the school board a little more authority in terms of termination of professional employees."
Sen. Haywood:"OK. So I would like to receive that information so that we can put together a legislative solution."
Mr. Roos: "Sure."
Sen. Haywood: "Thank You."

  • Questions regarding the Cedarbrook Environmental Issues
    • A member of the public, Christina Jorge Schwarz, questioned the board regarding the environmental contamination at the Cedarbrook construction site.
    • She identified herself as an environmental consultant from Glenside, and also mentioned that she is a former employee of Lagan— the company that is performing the study at Cedarbrook.
    • The board was voting on the second option for dealing with the problem: Capping the Site and Deed Notice with Environmental Covenant.
    • She mentioned that the contaminant, PAH, is a probable human carcinogen.
    • While there are savings with the capping option, there are other possible hidden costs such as insurance increases.
    • No report regarding the site has been issued yet by Lagan.
    • She requested that the vote be tabled until the report is received.
    • The Superintendent replied that the district has all the data supporting the decision.
    • Lagan Engineer Shaun David mentioned that PAH is not an indoor air concern, and that there would be long-term monitoring.
    • Facilities Director Dr. Bavi stated that insurance would not cover any of the cleanup cost.
 

2016-12-13Regular Legislative Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2016-12-131Regular Legislative Meeting

2016-12-13Regular Legislative Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2016-12-13Nov 2016 Exp Summary.pdf (42 KB)
2016-12-13Nov 2016 Revenue.pdf (32 KB)
2016-12-13P112 Guidance and Counseling Second Read 12 13 2016.pdf (49 KB)
2016-12-13P121 Field Trips second first read 12 13 16 .pdf (59 KB)
2016-12-13P122 Extracurricular and Cocurricular Activities 2nd First Read 12 13 16 .pdf (90 KB)
2016-12-13P127 Assessment of Ed. Program Second Read 12 13 2016.pdf (51 KB)
2016-12-13P225 Students and the Police First Read 12 13 2016.pdf (49 KB)
2016-12-13EDEP Agenda 12 13 16 Final.pdf (19 KB)
2016-12-132016-2017 Stipend List December 2016 (1).pdf (17 KB)
2016-12-13Volunteers December 2016.pdf (28 KB)
2016-12-13Budget Transfers (7).pdf (182 KB)

2016-12-06 Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting in 4 Separate Recordings

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2016-12-06Live Recording

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  • Special Board Meeting Notes
    • It was announced that a settlement has been reached with the Cheltenham Educator's Association.
    • A fact finder from the state was involved in the negotiations. The district and union accepted the fact finder's report as a basis of a settlement.
    • There was no fact-finder's report posted on the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board website as of 12/10. The school district did not disclose terms in its joint statement with the union.
    • So, it is not known what type of increases township taxpayers will be on the hook for.
  • Finance Committee Meeting Notes
    • Review of FY 2015-16
      • 2015-16 ended with a surplus of $1,244,001 over budget.
      • The surplus was due to excess revenues coming in, not in any great success in cost control.
      • One of the cost drivers mentioned were "High cost special education students."
      • At the beginning of 2015-16, the fund balance was $16.4 Million.
    • Snapshot of 2017-18 Budget
      • The discussion of the recent CTA contract indicated that it would not exceed the 2017-18 budgeted amount.
      • So far for 2016-17, expenses have run to $44,766,590 which is 41.67% of budget while 74.89% of revenues are in at $80,468,003.
      • The county certified assessment value of all Cheltenham property was reported as $1,860,790,880.
      • The recently approved opt-out tax increase will yield a maximum of $2,013,865 at the limit of 2.5%.
    • Tax Collector Compensation
      • At the beginning of the meeting I recognized the Cheltenham Township tax collector in the audience. Between the two committee meetings he was having a heated discussion with the district finance chief Cara Michaels.
      • Board President Bill England stated that the elected Cheltenham Township tax collector "came here to complain about what he is getting paid…" by the district for school tax collection.
      • He mentioned that the board would look into what competitor tax collectors get paid in surrounding communities.
  • Facilities Committee Meeting Notes
    • Cedarbrook Elevator Shaft Contamination Issues.
      • The main point of interest for this meeting was the presentation by Langan Environmental Regarding Elevator Shaft Contamination discovered at the Cedarbrook Construction Site.
      • The main contaminant is "PAH" which does not seem to migrate.
      • Groundwater impacts of the contamination are still being assessed.
      • Langan outlined two options to handle the problem:
        1. Excavation and Offsite Disposal of the Site
        2. Capping the Site and Deed Notice/Environmental Covenant
      • Option 1: Excavation and Offsite Disposal of the Site
        • This solution would require that utilities in the area to be stabilized and the contaminated soil would be removed and transported to a disposal site.
        • It would take several month's time to complete with resulting delays to the Cedarbrook project.
        • The estimated cost would be over $540K.
      • Option 2: Capping the Site and Deed Notice/Environmental Covenant
        • This option would "cap" the contaminated material under the new school building and by additional clean topsoil.
        • It would require that the property deed be modified to include notice that contamination is present on the property.
        • There would be only a 1 week delay in the Cedarbrook construction.
        • There would be long-term monitoring and maintenance required of the "capped" area.
        • In areas where the new Cedarbrook building does not serve as a cap, a "soil cap" will be created with additional top soil and trees.
        • Annual reports would have to be filed with the state.
        • The immediate cost is a fraction of the previous option $10K to $45K.
      • The board took a straw vote to select which option they prefer: Option 2 won the vote unanimously.
    • Cedarbrook Construction Update
      • The geothermal project has completed drilling 205 of 210 wells. The next phase of this task is piping.
    • Cheltenham High School Modular Classroom and Lavatory Renovations
      • This meeting item was to approve an architect to begin work on the project.
      • This project took at least one board member by surprise, since there was no discussion of it at the last Facilities Committee meeting.
      • The project itself is to modify three classrooms and an office area, renovation of 3 lavatories and renovation of the modular building.
      • There was only one bid on this project: KCBA at $137,950.
      • The project itself is estimated to cost between $3-$3.5 Million.
    • Cheltenham High School Gymnasium Renovation
      • This meeting item was to allow the Facilities Department to solicit architect bids for Cheltenham High School gymnasium renovation.
      • This project involves the renovation the entire gymnasium area: New bleachers, New flooring system, New sound system, New roof system, New HVAC/electrical.
      • The superintendent mentioned several times that there are "over 200 leaks" over the gym floor. One wonders: how do you count each individual leak ? Do they get barcoded and entered into School Dude ?
 

2016-12-06Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2016-12-061Facilities Committee Meeting Part 1 of 3
2016-12-062Facilities Committee Meeting Part 2 of 3
2016-12-063Facilities Committee Meeting Part 3 of 3
2016-12-064Finance Committee Meeting

2016-12-06Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2016-12-06 J. Kelly Teacher Contract Statement
2016-12-06Financial Affairs Dec 2016
2016-12-06Facilities Committee Report Dec 2016
2016-12-06Cedarbrook Rebuild Update Dec 2016
 
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