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2015-02-03 Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting in 2 Separate Recordings
The Finance Committee has settled on a 1.9% tax
increase for the 2015-16 budget. See our earlier
published infographic to view the impact of
this increase on incomes and competitiveness.
The Cheltenham Cross: Millage versus Student Enrollment
One of the concerns of the board members that have now delayed the rebuilding of Cedarbrook is that new options must be evaluated to accommodate the needs of the future. Yet according to the district's own demographic study the high end projection of students in the 2023-24 school year is 5026: still below the year 1999 when district enrollment was 5108.
In short, the existing square footage accommodated more students in 1999 than are projected for 2023-24.
Undoubtedly, one relationship that will hold is the "Cheltenham Cross" of tax millage versus enrollment as shown below:
2015-01-13 Cedarbrook Decision Punted to the Experts: Regular Legislative Meeting Meeting in 3 Separate Recordings
Based on last week's Facilities Committee Meeting, It was expected that the following motion was going to be voted on tonight:
|The Administration & Facilities Co-Chair Committee is recommending Option 1,to rebuild Cedarbrook Middle School with a new 20,000 sq.ft. addition.|
That simple motion was canceled. Direct action on issuing contracts to start the rebuilding of Cedarbrook Middle School was not voted on in this meeting. The following resolution was substituted in place of the earlier text:
|The Facilities Committee recommends that the administration be authorized to finalize the district-wide facility study and– conditioned upon the results of that study— prepare for Plancon justification for the rebuilding of the Cedarbrook Middle School.|
While this motion ends with the phrase "prepare for Plancon justification for the rebuilding of the Cedarbrook Middle School" that outcome is subordinate to ("conditioned upon") a district-wide facility study.
Facilities Chair Bill England stated,
"One of the reasons we are sitting here after months is having too many things floating around out there. We've gone from just a couple proposals to way too many proposals to looking at the sale of this building (ed note: the administration building). What's been lost in all of that is the pressing need to be able to make progress on a commitment that we made before that school was evacuated, and am going to continue to say that I support seeing this program through and it is not about going back through 8 different options and going back through all that again. I mean we've done that. We can roll the tape and see that was discussed here."
Yet a few moments earlier, Board member Stacy Hawkins asked the following:
"I do want to start off with a question that is a point of clarification that this feasibility study is in fact going to undertake a study of all of the options that were on the table prior to the proposed vote on a single option. And that the study will not weight any of those options more than any other in considering which is the recommended option."To which Dr. Bavi answered that yes, the study would consider all the options.
All this is rather confusing to your podmaster who was wondering if these two board members were attending the same meeting. Our listeners can "roll the tape" and see that the single decision to rebuild Cedarbrook is now back to where it was in December. Regardless, the new motion passed 5 to 4 in a rare contested board vote.
If that were not enough, a motion was made to amend the resolution with the statement, "and other district buildings as deemed appropriate and justified by the study." which, it appears to your podmaster, would open the construction can of worms wide open and further move a decision which is the responsibility of elected board members into the hands of an unelected architectural firm. Fortunately, this amendment failed in a 4 to 5 vote.
Even so, it seems that the architectural firm who performs the study will be driving the agenda. So it is rather confusing to this listener that there were no questions regarding potential conflict of interest with this firm, namely:
- Is the architectural firm that performs the study barred from bidding on work that will be the result of the study ?
- If not barred– and since "professional services" run as a percentage of 25% of the cost of the job– what assurance do we have that the study won't be skewed to the most expensive option ?
School district policies 818 and 818AR do not address conflicts of interest issues with providers of contracted services. Hopefully it will all be resolved before the present temporary facility leases expire.
Construction Cost Inflation Accelerating
The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Rider Levett Bucknall, a property and construction consulting firm, released a new report showing that building costs are rising at the fastest rate in six years. According to the Journal: "The firm–which tracks the costs of new commercial, residential and other buildings– said its index of construction costs in the U.S. increased 1.66% between July 1 and Oct. 1, the largest three month increase since early 2008."
Good thing a decision has been made on Cedarbrook !
2015-01-06 Facilities and Finance Committee Meetings in 4 Separate Recordings
(quote)The Administration & Facilities Co-Chair Committee is recommending Option 1,to rebuild Cedarbrook Middle School with a new 20,000 sq. ft. addition.(unquote)
Note: the Finance Committee presentation was not available at press time.
Cedarbrook/Elkins Park Construction Finance Options Infographic
|Finance Scenario||Millage Increase|
|Options 1 & 4||2.5 mills|
|Options 2 & 5||3.42 mills|
|Option 3||3.19 mills|
|Option 6||3.51 mills|
We have calculated the impact of these increases in the following infographic:
2014-12-15 Facilities Committee Meeting Construction Finance Briefing Meeting in 3 Separate Recordings
This meeting concerned construction options for Cedarbrook and Elkins Park Schools. The following eight options were laid out:
|Option||Description||Low Estimate||High Estimate|
|1||Renovation of Cedarbrook Middle School + 20K ft²||$46,188,057.75||$48,902,846.55|
|2||New Cedarbrook Middle School at Existing Site||$67,181,921.45||$70,995,914.80|
|3||New Cedarbrook & Elkins Park School at existing Cedarbrook Site||$108,631,398.50||$114,876,278.20|
|4||Elkins Park School Renovation + 10K ft².||$37,618,248.55||$39,732,065.35|
|5||New Elkins Park School at Elkins Park site||$49,682,609.25||$52,623,666.10|
|6||New Cedarbrook & Elkins Park School at New Site (300K ft².)||$105,755,000.00||$116,790,000.00|
|7||New Cedarbrook Middle School at New Site (200K ft²)||$72,797,500.00||$81,835,000.00|
|8||New Elkins Park School at New Site (100K ft²)||$34,355,000.00||$36,380,000.00|
The first recording is an excerpt from Part 1 of the Facilities recording where the tax increases for some of these options were laid out.
2015-16 Cheltenham School Tax Infographic
Whenever a tax increase is proposed at a Cheltenham meeting, it is usually described as a 3 figure amount on the median home assessment. The new Finance Director, Cara Michaels, has at least listed the higher yearly tax amount on that median home in her recent financial reports.
Fortunately, it appears that the service neutral tax increase of 4.3% is off the table. The two remaining options are:
- Act 1 Max Index (1.9% Tax Increase)
- Budget Neutral (0% Tax Increase)
While using the model of the median home, there is never a discussion of the effective Cheltenham School tax rate on the median income. Moreover, there has never been any discussion of the impact of Cheltenham taxes on seniors living on fixed incomes or other vulnerable groups.
Introducing our First Annual Cheltenham School Tax Infographic:
The chart comparing the Cheltenham Tax with the other Montgomery County school taxes has been updated with the Act 1 Max Index increase:
2014-12-09 Regular Legislative Meeting in 2 Separate Recordings
2014-12-02 Cedarbrook Project Facilities Meeting in 2 Separate Recordings
2014-12-02 Board Reorganization/Facilities and Financial Meetings in 3 Separate Recordings
2014-11-11 Regular Legislative Meeting Meeting in 2 Separate Recordings
2014-10-28 Budget Workshop Meeting in 2 Separate Recordings
This meeting presents important information regarding the preliminary 2014-15 budget. The presentation is organized with three separate scenarios:
- Service Neutral (4.3% tax increase)
- Act 1 Index (1.9% tax increase)
- Budget Neutral (0% tax increase)
The "Service Neutral" increase would peg the School Tax millage to 45.5636. This would further push Cheltenham roughly 14% above the closest MONTCO district millage rate as shown in the following chart: (click for enlarged version)
2014-10-14 Regular Legislative Meeting in 2 Separate Recordings
2014-10-07 Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting in 3 Separate Recordings
The podmaster recommends Part 2 of the Finance Committee Meeting recording where David Cohen , a local activist, presents a concept called PROSPER. The concept is to create a municipal authority to assess property owners a fee to pay for school district debt. PROSPER is a committee that was started in late 2013 by Mr. Cohen and the former business manager of the school district Matt Malinowski.
Since a municipal authority can tax all residents, the idea is to spread the school tax burden onto a broader base to provide relief to homeowners. The municipal authority will only collect on school debt, the money would not be used for general operations. All tax exempt properties in the township would pay this new public school debt "fee" including:
- Catholic Schools
- Volunteer Fire Companies
- All Churches
- All Synagogues
- Non-Profit Senior Care Facilities
Why is such an extreme measure being proposed ? According to Mr. Cohen, Cheltenham has the 12th highest tax burden in the state. This tax burden is not the product of wild growth in the number of students– the OpenPAGov.org database shows that over the 10 year period from 2002-12, student enrollment has declined by 9% while taxes have increased 26.8%. Reflecting this, the data also shows that in terms of taxes collected per student, Cheltenham has the 6th highest tax burden in Pennsylvania.
Moreover, it was suggested that the Municipal Authority could be used as a gimmick to circumvent the already weak taxpayer protections provided by Pennsylvania's Act 1. There is a good explanation of the Act 1 limits in Part 1 of the Finance Committee Meeting.
Was Cheltenham Dropped from Washington Post High School Challenge ?
Every year at the September meeting, the big Washington Post High School Challenge banner that sits behind the board members is updated for the current year. This year, it did not happen. I checked the Washington Post website and found out why: Cheltenham is no longer listed. The table below lists the national 2014 Challenge schools in alphabetical order:
|1831||Chavez Learning Academies||San Fernando||CA||1.347|
|685||Cherry Creek||Greenwood Village||CO||2.646|
|2009||Cherry Hill East||Cherry Hill||NJ||1.150|
|1881||Cherry Hill West||Cherry Hill||NJ||1.285|
|862||Cheyenne Mountain||Colorado Springs||CO||2.369|
2014-09-09 Regular Legislative Meeting in 2 Separate Recordings
2014-09-02 Special Board/Facilities and Business Affairs Meetings in 4 Separate Recordings
The podmaster recommends the Business Affairs recording. There is a discussion of "the Capital Reserve Fund" which now holds over $5 million. At least one board member did not know we had a "Capital Reserve Fund." Certainly the revelation of $5 million squirreled away after taxes were recently increased might cause some resentment. The real issue that should cause resentment is that the district does not publish a capital budget. The lack of a capital budget means that uses of the tens of millions being raised by bond issues is not being reported properly to the taxpayers.