2019-20 Cheltenham School Tax Counterpoint Slides (updated)



For Eight Years your Podmaster has been irradiated with school district budget slide presentations. This year, we present our 2019-20 Cheltenham School Tax Counterpoint to those slides. Click on the icon below to view the PDF.

2019-20 Cheltenham School Tax Counterpoint Slides

2019-06-082019-20 Cheltenham School Tax Counterpoint Slides

DateWeb Link
2019-06-082019-20 Cheltenham School Tax Infographic

May and June 2019 School Board Meetings

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2019-06-08Live Recording


20190608 Podmaster Notebook

Current Year Budget: End of Year Projections

The total end of year projection is for a deficit of over $2.8 Million: Total expenditures projected to be $120.2 Million. The Budget was $117 Million.

The deficit was offset by an additional $1.3 Million in revenues.

Real estate transfer taxes are averaging $76,000 per month. This is presented as a "healthy" real estate market (not as Cheltenham residents getting out of Dodge).

The largest categories that were over budget were special education and transportation.

The finance director stated that there is only one month left in this year, and there should be no more surprises.

Next Year (2019-20) Budget: 2.6% Tax Increase Still On Track

Next year's budget has a $2.8 Million deficit baked in, despite a tax increase of 2.6% (An additional $122.34 per $100,000 assessed). This tax increase will raise a projected $2.2 Million.

The budget hole will be plugged with yet another transfer from the fund balance. At the end of the year, the fund balance will be below $9 Million. It was stated that the only reason the district has not suffered a bond rating downgrade is that no major construction projects are planned for the next four years.

There will be a decrease of 6 positions through attrition. This will save over $1 Million.

June 2019June 2019 School Board Meeting MP3s

TrackWeb Link
1May/June 2019 School Board Meeting Part 1 of 6
2May/June 2019 School Board Meeting Part 2 of 6
3May/June 2019 School Board Meeting Part 3 of 6
4May/June 2019 School Board Meeting Part 4 of 6
5May/June 2019 School Board Meeting Part 5 of 6
6May/June 2019 School Board Meeting Part 6 of 6

June 2019June 2019 Meetings Posted Documents

Web Link
Financial Affairs June 2019
Financial Affairs May 2019
P120.pdf (29 KB)
P121.1 Other Student Travel 5.2.19.pdf (147 KB)
P136 Home Education Program 5.2.19 (01796427xAED82).pdf (45 KB)
P137 Home Schooling and EC Activities.pdf (64 KB)
P203 Communicable Diseases and Immunization 3 27 19 (01824533xAED82) (1) (4).pdf (81 KB)
P203.1 Management of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) (2).pdf (168 KB)
P223 Smoking and Tobacco Use 2.10.19 (01795662xAED82) (1) (2) (1) (1).pdf (58 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)
P814 - 2015.pdf (49 KB)
P817.pdf (42 KB)
Volunteers for May 2019.pdf (51 KB)
Revenue.pdf (33 KB)
Summary.pdf (50 KB)
Budget Transfers.pdf (574 KB)
Agenda 5 14 19 EDEP final.pdf (33 KB)

April 2019 School Board Meetings

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2019-04-20Live Recording


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.
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

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

January 2019 Regular Legislative, Finance and Facilities Meetings

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2019-01-26Live Recording


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)