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20160611 Former Cheltenham Administrator "Sleeping On The Roof" at his new Charter School

Permalink2016-06-11Staff Update

 

Periodically, your podmaster hears near-hysteria at Cheltenham School Board meetings regarding the cost of charter school reimbursements to the district.

Dr. Michael Lowe, formerly an administrator with Cheltenham School district, has gone over to the charter school dark side by becoming the Supervisor of Instructional Development at the York Academy Charter School.

Sitting through school board meetings is boring for everyone. But at the end of his tenure at Cheltenham, I remember Dr Lowe as almost being in a persistent vegetative state at school board meetings.

Well it appears that he is now wide-awake at his new charter school.

According to a story last month on WPMT Fox 43 in York, Dr. Lowe, "made a deal with students. If they could read 2.5 million minutes, by the end of the year, he would sleep on the roof."

According to the video the students completed the challenge, and Dr. Lowe was raised to the roof by a fire truck and spent the night there.

DateWeb Link
2016-06-11Fox 43 Video of the Dr. Lowe Roof Challenge

2016-06-07 Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting in 2 Separate Recordings

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2016-06-07Live Recording

 
  • Facilities Committee Meeting Notes
    • Cedarbrook Construction Update
      • Demolition of interior spaces is moving forward.
      • This Monday, the work site switches over to contractor-provided security.
      • Trees in the construction areas have been removed.
      • The tennis courts are now a construction parking lot.
      • While many trees have been removed, over 100 trees are being protected.
      • The old teacher parking area will be the area for geothermal drilling which includes:
        • Installation of hundreds of pipes.
        • Piping depth is over 200 feet.
        • Pipes travel from this area to the boiler room back in the school.
        • There was some discussion about allowing summer school students study the geothermal work site. Some issues against this proposal centered on security and liability issues. It was mentioned that summer school theme is "Life on Mars" and that geothermal would be how such a life is sustained. Your podmaster thinks that the long history of nuclear power in space is more likely and wonders if Cedarbrook will need a radioisotope thermoelectric generator for the summer school program.
    • Cedarbrook Additional Architect Services Change Order
      • A change order to reduce the number of teaching stations down to 1 was proposed.
      • The actual construction cost changes over what was to be placed there is unknown.
      • The summary of the changes are:
        • Remove 3 classroom walls and install folding partitions.
        • Design new sliding marker board for all classrooms.
        • Changes to utilities that were part of the removed walls (HVAC, electrical, etc…).
      • The cost for the Architect Services related to this change order will be $18,000.
    • Elkins Park Project
      • The new boiler is installed.
      • They had to cut through walls to bring in the boiler sections.
      • The boiler passed its pressure test.
      • The new fire alarm system work is happening at night and is scheduled for completion by the end of August.
      • The work included new electrical service from the power pole.
  • Finance Committee Meeting Notes
    • 2016-17 Budget Notes
      • The reduced tax increase of 1.3% (from the maximum legal amount of 2.4%) has been approved. The reduction was accomplished by a transfer of $874,743 from the fund balance.
      • Cheltenham still has by far the highest school tax in Montgomery County.
      • Cheltenham has a history of making up for small tax increases at a later date with a vengeance.
      • There was some discussion of whether refusing the approximately 1/2 million dollars from the Federal Government would save more in not having to comply with unfunded mandates.
    • Fund Balance
      • The Fund balance total is $16,443,225.
      • The Pennsylvania limits the fund balance to 8% of the total budget.
      • Cheltenham keeps it's balance at 6% of the budget.
      • The fund balance is broken into categories: Unassigned, Assigned, Committed, Non-spendable and Restricted.
      • The Fund Balance breakdown for June 30, 2016 was as follows:
        • Unassigned: $7,440,885
        • Assigned: $2,700,000
        • Committed
          • Capital: $4,500,000
          • PSERS: $1,800,000
        • Non-Spendable
          • Inventory: $67,605
          • Prepaid: $859,992
    • RFP for Legal Services
      • Board President Bill England has requested that both legal and audit services be put out to bid.
      • The present plan is to extend the current contract through the summer.
      • An RFP for legal services will be issued in September.
    • PSERS "Spike"

2016-06-07Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2016-06-071Facilities Committee Meeting
2016-06-072Finance Committee Meeting

2016-06-07Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2016-06-07June 2016 Facilities Presentation
2016-06-07Link to Finance Committee Presentations that has not been updated since April.

2016-05-10 Regular Legislative Meeting

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2016-05-10Live Recording

 

This meeting is the annual retirement meeting, which took up the first hour and a half. In regular business, the board approved the proposed budget which transfers $874,473 from the fund balance to reduce the 2016-17 tax increase to 1.3% (0.5787 mills).

The solicitors report noted that the board held executive sessions on 5/5/16 and 5/10/16 concerning the Cheltenham Education Association contract bargaining. While the reduced tax increase is welcome news, a bad contract agreement would put the township deep into the red. It is hard to know what a "good" agreement would look like from the taxpayer perspective. Even in the extremely unlikely event that salary increases were held to 0%, the increases in PSERS costs will still push payroll costs much higher.

Last month your podmaster showed from www.openpagov.org data that over half of Cheltenham teachers make more than $90,000. Using that $90,000 salary as a benchmark, the true cost of that teacher from the Year 2000 to the year 2020 (PSERs projections) are shown below:

True Cost of a $90,000 Teacher
Year PSERS RATE PSERS Cost Final Salary
2000-01 1.94% $1746 $91746
2001-02 1.09% $981 $90981
2002-03 1.15% $1035 $91035
2003-04 3.77% $3393 $93393
2004-05 4.23% $3807 $93807
2005-06 4.69% $4221 $94221
2006-07 6.46% $5814 $95814
2007-08 7.13% $6417 $96417
2008-09 4.76% $4284 $94284
2009-10 4.78% $4302 $94302
2010-11 5.64% $5076 $95076
2011-12 8.65% $7785 $97785
2012-13 12.36% $11124 $101124
2013-14 16.93% $15237 $105237
2014-15 21.40% $19260 $109260
2015-16 25.84% $23256 $113256
2015-16 25.84% $23256 $113256
2016-17 29.69% $26721 $116721
2017-18 30.62% $27558 $117558
2018-19 31.56% $28404 $118404
2019-20 32.23% $29007 $119007
2020-21 32.02% $28818 $118818
2021-22 31.90% $28710 $118710
2022-23 31.96% $28764 $118764
2023-24 31.90% $28710 $118710
2024-25 31.83% $28647 $118647

2016-05-10Regular Legislative Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2016-05-101Regular Legislative Meeting Part 1 of 1

2016-05-10Regular Legislative Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2016-05-10P143 District Issued Chromebooks 1st read 01232496xAED82
2016-05-10P210 - Use of Medications 1st Read 01234250xAED82
2016-05-10P219 Student Complaint Process 10 4 15 01090601xAED82 2ND READ
2016-05-10P258 GENDER EXPANSIVE AND TRANSGENDER STUDENTS 01164749xAED82 2ND READ
2016-05-10P304 404 504 Employee Resignations 3 12 16 01209325xAED82 2ND READ
2016-05-10P360 460 560 860 Student Adult Boundaries 1st Read 01201739xAED82
2016-05-10P510 Overtime 3 17 16 01201823xAED82 2ND READ
2016-05-10P826 Social Media 1st read 01225360-2xAED82
2016-05-10April 2016 Revenue
2016-05-10April 2016 Exp Summary
2016-05-10Draft Academic Calendar 2016-2017 - B 1
2016-05-10Volunteers May 2016
2016-05-10Budget Transfers

2016-05-03 Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting in 2 Separate Recordings

 20160503  Permalink 2016-05-03 Podmaster Notebook for Finance and Facilities Committee MeetingsLive Recording

  • Facilities Committee Meeting Notes:
    • Elkins Park Boiler project will ensure that there is a backup in the event of a boiler failure and that school will not have to close.
    • The district uses "School Dude" asset management software to track maintenance issues as well as handling communications alarms transmitted by the new equipment.
    • Regarding the Cedarbrook Project:
      • Construction Documents and Permits have been signed.
      • Demolition work started on 4/18.
      • Cedarbrook is a difficult demolition project because the structural steel is being reused.
      • The Cedarbrook sign was saved for display in the new building.
      • The tennis court will become a parking lot for construction vehicles.
      • Contractors do not want any student access to the site, including access to any athletic fields.
    • Cedarbrook Contingency plan is in place which allows the extension of 2 of the off-site leases.
  • Finance Committee Meeting Notes:
    • The 2016-17 proposed budget will plan for a 1.3% tax increase (0.5787 mills) which is a reduction of the original 2.4% ACT 1 Max increase. The reduction in the increase was made possible by a transfer of $874,743 from the fund balance.
    • There was no mention in the meeting of the status of teacher's union contract negotiations.
    • The budget will be adopted at the 5/10/16 legislative meeting.
    • There is a push among Bucks County municipalities to amend the Sterling Act which covers how much local resident tax money comes back from Philadelphia City Wage Tax payments.
    • A local resident commented that while the reduction in the tax increase was welcome news, he received no social security increase. He said that he could not refinance his home because of declining local property values. He commented on how the district cost structure should be examined. For example according to this resident there are 8 safety officers at the high school now while only 10 years ago there was only 1 officer.
    • A lengthy presentation was made regarding the food service contractor that resembled an infomercial. During this presentation it was mentioned that Frecon Farms in Boyertown PA will provide fresh produce as part of the new contract.
    • Interestingly, your podcaster found that Berks County assessors office lists Frecon Farms as having an assessed value of $242,400 for a total land area of 118 acres (See Berks County Property ID: 38538717000825). The farm is located in the Boyertown Area School District whose school tax rate is 23.96 Mills. With such a low assessment, this means that Frecon's 118 acres pay a yearly school tax of approximately $5808. This is what a typical house with postage stamp lawn pays in Cheltenham.
 

2016-05-03Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2016-05-031Facilities Committee Meeting
2016-05-032Finance Committee Meeting

2016-05-03Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2016-05-03Facilities Committee May 2016
2016-05-03Budget Update 040516

Cheltenham Teacher Salaries: 2013-14 WWW.OPENPAGOV.ORG Database

Permalink2016-04-15Analysis

 

2016-04-15Cheltenham Teacher Salaries: 2013-14 www.openpagov.org Database

The www.openpagov.org salary database is an indispensable tool to understand "where the money goes" in a school district. At one of the meetings, it was mentioned that over 40% of Cheltenham Teachers have a salary greater than $100,000.

This did not seem reasonable to your podmaster, so he downloaded the complete spreadsheet of the Cheltenham School District payroll on 3/28/2016 from www.openpagov.org.

Like any database, the data has to be processed. In the case of the www.openpagov.org database, there are multiple entries for each name and there are some minor discrepancies (e.g. sometimes a person is listed with a middle initial, and sometimes not…).

The year 2013-14 was particularly notable because there are 3 supervisors listed in the database.

However, because the percentage of teachers who make more than $100K is the target information, the database is useful. Included below is a modified spreadsheet of the data. While teacher names and salaries are public information, your podmaster has only included the first two letters of the teacher's last name.

For the chart below, the data was filtered as follows:

  • The salary associated with the highest number in the "Years in District" column was used.
  • The only individuals included had the word "Teacher" in the "Job Category","Position" or "Assignment" columns. This excludes guidance councilors or ESL instructors.

The bottom line: to my surprise it is true that over 40% of the 437 individuals listed as "Teacher" in the 2013-14 www.OpenPAGov.com database made greater than $100,000 per year, and 50% make over $90,000 per year.

Cheltenham Teacher Salaries: 2013-14
Salary Range Number of Teachers Percent of Total
$10000 to $20000 1 0.2%
$20000 to $30000 2 0.5%
$30000 to $40000 5 0.5%
$40000 to $50000 48 11.0%
$50000 to $60000 30 7.1%
$60000 to $70000 31 7.1%
$70000 to $80000 54 12.4%
$80000 to $90000 47 10.8%
$90000 to $100000 33 7.6%
$100000 to $110000 185 42.3%
$110000 to $120000 1 0.2%
TOTAL 437 100%
DateWeb Link
2016-04-15Cheltenham Teacher Salaries 2013-14 Chart
2016-04-15Cheltenham Teacher Salaries 2013-14 Spreadsheet with Truncated Names

2016-04-12 Regular Legislative Meeting in 3 Separate Recordings

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2016-04-12Live Recording

 

The main issues discussed at this meeting were:

  • Approval of the upcoming school calendar was delayed to help resolve the issue of the upcoming holidays.
  • An abbreviated version of the KCBA district facilities study was presented.
  • House Bill 1296 will allow the district to invest in repurchase agreements, commercial paper and negotiable CDs. Remember this in 2019….
  • The Superintendents remedial training program continues:
    • A trip to San Diego for the Superintendent and four others to visit the "High Tech High" has been paid for by $10,000 grant from the Avalon Foundation.
    • Another trip on June 7-9 to the PLC Solution Tree Summit in Las Vegas will cost $15,022 and be paid for by the taxpayers.
    • There were 3 other conferences or trips listed on the agenda at a total cost of $7274.

2016-04-12Regular Legislative Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2016-04-121Regular Legislative Meeting Part 1 of 3
2016-04-122Regular Legislative Meeting Part 2 of 3
2016-04-123Regular Legislative Meeting Part 3 of 3

2016-04-12Regular Legislative Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2016-04-12March 2016 Revenue
2016-04-12March 2016 Exp Summary
2016-04-12P258 Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students (01164749xAED82) (1)
2016-04-122016-17 Calendar
2016-04-12P001Name and Classification 2nd Read
2016-04-12P510 Overtime 3 17 16 (01201823xAED82)
2016-04-12Agenda 4 12 16 EDEP Final
2016-04-12Draft Academic Calendar 2016-2017 - C (2)
2016-04-12April 2016 - Volunteers v2
2016-04-12Budget Transfers (4)

2016-04-05 Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting

Permalink2016-04-05Live Recording

 
Facilities Committee: Master Plan for Cheltenham School District

KCBA Architects presented the commissioned master plan for the school district. The plan mainly concerns the future options for district buildings that will have to be renovated or replaced. These buildings include:

  • Elkins Park School
  • Cheltenham High School
  • District Administration Building

The first part of the presentation was of laundry list of the problems of each building:

  • Elkins Park Problems
    • Building was constructed in 1954 with a 1991 addition.
    • The boiler, electrical system and piping are all at the end of life.
    • Masonry is in poor condition with evidence of water infiltration.
    • The roofing is substandard with evidence that the latest repair is failing.
    • There is no insulation in the crawl space which is open to outside air. This area has to be heated to keep the pipes from bursting.
  • Cheltenham High Problems
    • CHS was built in 1958 and renovated in 2000.
    • CHS is in better condition then Elkins Park.
    • There are some problems with masonry.
    • Paving is in poor condition.
    • The roof needs to be replaced. Water is ponding on the the roof.
    • The Gym Floor is from the '50s.
    • The pool has many problems: it leaks. Locker rooms are not accessible.
  • Administration Building Problems
    • The admin building was constructed in 1951.
    • All windows are single pane glass.
    • There are problems with the masonry/water infiltration.

One of the interesting facts to keep in mind during discussions of the dire conditions of district property is the age of the houses where the people who will pay for the new school buildings live. Quoting from Page 44 of the 2005 Cheltenham Township Plan, "The majority of housing in Cheltenham, approximately 39 percent, was built between 1940 and 1959. The second largest percentage, 31 percent, was built in 1939 or earlier. Of the current total housing stock, 7 percent has been built within the last twenty years…."

Age of Housing for Cheltenham Township Taxpayers

The School District Master Plan laid out the following options for repair or replacement of the three buildings:

  • Elkins Park and the District Administration Building
Option Cost Description
EP-A $46,003,000 Renovation of Entire School. Described as "Take what you have. Fix it the best we can."
EP-B $47,333,000 Replace EP with a new building. Renovate a portion of the old EP for use a District Offices.
EP-C1 $48,861,000 Build a new EP school on the track area. Build a new administration building as part of the process.
EP-C2 $38,538,000 Same as option C1 without constructing a new admin building.
  • Cheltenham High School
Option Cost Description
CHS-A $67,576,000 Renovate the High School. Includes rebuilding the locker rooms. Relocate a new pool in front. Rebuilt auditorium.
CHS-B $65,820,000 Renovate the High School but the pool would be moved to the rear and would have a smaller addition.
CHS-C $111,644,000 Build a new High School

Your podmaster double-checked the figures presented, because it seems strange that building a new Elkins Park School (option EP-C2) is $7,465,000 cheaper than renovating the existing one (option EP-A) while building a new high school (option CHS-C) is $45,824,000 more expensive than renovating the existing one (option CHS-B).

In addition, it was estimated that $8,658,770 will have to be spent to renovate the athletic complex. This will include rebuilding the stadium with a turf field, new tennis courts and baseball fields.

The other part of the study was a workforce analysis of how district buildings are being maintained. The main finding was that Cheltenham does not use contracted services for maintenance, while other districts do. During the discussion it was revealed that there are no new service contracts for the new hi-tech boilers in the new elementary schools. Presently, they are being serviced under the manufacturer warranty. It was stated that current district employees are not trained to maintain the new boilers.

Finance Committee: Tax Increase Reduced.

The board has decided to transfer $874,473 from the fund balance to reduce the 2016-17 tax increase to 1.3% (0.5787 mills) from the original 2.4% Act 1 increase. This transfer from the fund balance is not expected to impact the district's AA- bond rating.

There was some discussion regarding why a transfer from the fund balance is warranted at this time. Whether or not those discussion points are true– or if the decrease is just a one-time election year gift– if it stops one tax lien it is worth it.

2016-04-05Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2016-04-051Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting Part 1 of 3
2016-04-052Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting Part 2 of 3
2016-04-053Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting Part 3 of 3

2016-04-05Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting Selected Documents

None of the meeting presentations have been posted at press time.

20160312 Cheltenham School District Court Activity

We search the Montgomery County Court records periodically for current cases involving the school district. Most of these cases are tax liens; however, case number 2016-03576, lists the district as a defendant in a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Last Summer we reported on tax lien case number 2015-15473 that lists a defendant with the same name as a current school board member. This case is still listed in the Montgomery County Court system as "Open."

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.):

 
Web Link Case Number Commenced Case Type Caption Plaintiff Judgement Lis Pendens Status
Web Link 2015-32181 12/15/2015 Municipal Lien Govt CHELTENHAM TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT Yes No 1 - OPEN
Web Link 2015-32563 12/21/2015 Municipal Lien Govt CHELTENHAM TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT Yes No 1 - OPEN
Web Link 2015-32575 12/21/2015 Municipal Lien Govt CHELTENHAM TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT Yes No 1 - OPEN
Web Link 2015-32608 12/21/2015 Municipal Lien Govt CHELTENHAM TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT Yes No 1 - OPEN
Web Link 2015-32646 12/22/2015 Municipal Lien Govt CHELTENHAM TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT Yes No 1 - OPEN
Web Link 2015-32647 12/22/2015 Municipal Lien Govt CHELTENHAM TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT Yes No 1 - OPEN
Web Link 2015-33173 12/31/2015 Municipal Lien Govt CHELTENHAM TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT Yes No 1 - OPEN
Web Link 2015-33177 12/31/2015 Municipal Lien Govt CHELTENHAM TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT Yes No 1 - OPEN
Web Link 2016-01235 1/20/2016 Municipal Lien Govt CHELTENHAM TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT Yes No 1 - OPEN
Web Link 2016-02457 2/4/2016 Municipal Lien Govt CHELTENHAM TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT Yes No 1 - OPEN
Web Link 2016-02464 2/4/2016 Municipal Lien Govt CHELTENHAM TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT Yes No 1 - OPEN
Web Link 2016-02469 2/4/2016 Municipal Lien Govt CHELTENHAM TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT Yes No 1 - OPEN
Web Link 2016-03102 2/18/2016 Municipal Lien Govt CHELTENHAM TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT Yes No 1 - OPEN
Web Link 2016-03104 2/18/2016 Municipal Lien Govt CHELTENHAM TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT Yes No 1 - OPEN
Web Link 2016-03567 2/24/2016 Municipal Lien Govt CHELTENHAM TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT Yes No 1 - OPEN
Web Link 2016-03666 2/25/2016 Municipal Lien Govt CHELTENHAM TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT Yes No 1 - OPEN
Web Link 2016-03898 2/29/2016 Municipal Lien Govt CHELTENHAM TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT Yes No 1 - OPEN
Web Link 2016-04719 3/11/2016 Municipal Lien Govt CHELTENHAM TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT Yes No 1 - OPEN

2016-03-08 Regular Legislative Meeting in 2 Separate Recordings

Permalink2016-03-08Live Recording

 
20160308 Meeting Notes
  • Bids for Cedarbrook were approved for a total construction cost of $43,603,800.
  • Appointment of top-level administrators
    • Assistant Superintendent Tamara Thomas Smith at a salary of $175,000.
    • Supervisor of Counseling-Holistic Support Raymond Realdine at a $100,000 salary
    • Supervisor of Instructional Technology Brandon Lutz at a $105,000 salary.
  • Out of State Conferences: The board approved sending 6 individuals to a Mathematics Conference in San Francisco for a total cost of $13,777.

2016-03-08Regular Legislative Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2016-03-081Regular Legislative Meeting Part 1 of 2
2016-03-082Regular Legislative Meeting Part 2 of 2

2016-03-08Regular Legislative Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2016-03-08Agenda
2016-03-08Revenue
2016-03-08Summary (1)
2016-03-08P001 Name and Classification First Read
2016-03-08P348.1 448.1 548.1 Harassment Second Read 03 08 2016
2016-03-08P359 459 559 Nondiscrimination in Employment 02 09 2016 Second Read (1)
2016-03-08P510 Overtime First Read 03 08 2016
2016-03-08Policy 248.1 Harassment Second Read 03 08 2016
2016-03-08P303 403 503 Employment of Admin etc.FIRST READ 03 08 2016
2016-03-08P303 403 503 Employment of Admin etc.FIRST READ 03 08 2016.2
2016-03-08Agenda 3 08 16 EDEP Final (1)
2016-03-08Volunteer Clearances -February -March 2016
2016-03-08Budget Transfers (3)

2016-03-01 Facilities and Finance Committee Meetings

Permalink2016-03-01Live Recording

 

2016-03-01Podmaster Notebook for Facilities and Finance Committee Meetings

  • Facilities Committee Meeting Notes
    • Construction bids for Cedarbrook are in— The total is $47,783,708 for all contractors.
    • This includes the athletic fields and building.
    • This is 2.3% less than the original estimate of $48.9 million.
    • One of the largest decreases was in the area of "soft costs" which went from approximate $5.7 million to $3.125 million.
  • Finance Committee Meeting Notes:
    • We were presented with two different sets of revenue projections in: 1)Projected Borrowing Base and Capacity and 2) Fiscal Forecast for Revenues and Expenditures.
    • The Projected Borrowing Base and Capacity projections for 2015 through 2021 assumed assumed a 2% year over year revenue growth (which implies the same growth for tax rates.)
    • Flat percentage revenue does not comport with with the wild swings in tax increases of the recent past.
    • The Fiscal Forecast for Revenues and Expenditures covering up to 2020-21 is as follows:
YEAR Revenues YOY Revenue Change Expenditures YOY Expenditure Change Surplus/Deficit
2012-13 $96,887,848   $94,911,783   $1,976,065
2013-14 $99,680,989 2.88% $98,787,235 4.08% $893,754
2014-15 $105,171,192 5.51% $101,571,333 2.82% $3,599,859
2015-16 $103,887,864 -1.22% $103,887,864 2.28% $0
2016-17 $107,443,307 3.42% $107,443,307 3.42% $0
2017-18 $111,765,948 4.02% $113,741,201 5.86% -$1,975,253
2018-19 $115,389,569 3.24% $117,486,243 3.29% -$2,096,674
2019-20 $118,863,900 3.01% $120,773,527 2.80% -$1,909,627
2020-21 $122,043,214 2.67% $123,002,561 1.85% -$959,347
  • The projections are driven by some of the following factors:
    • Expenditures are outgrowing revenues.
    • Health care cost increases are projected at over 8% per year.
    • The Obamacare "Cadillac Tax" has not been factored into the projections. According to the Tax Foundation the "Cadillac Tax" is a "40 percent levy on the value of a health insurance plan that exceeds a statutory limit."
    • It is hoped that the completion of the Cheltenham Mall and Wawa projects will bring in additional revenue.
    • The Employer contribution rate for the state retirement plan,PSERS, has increased from 4.78% of a covered employee's salary in 2009-10 to 30.03% in 2016-17.
    • This PSERS rate is expected to "level off" at 30.94%.
    • Unfortunately, the PSERS rate is based on a fiscal year market rate of return. There is no guarantee that with the recent market crashes the PSERS rate cannot go even higher.
    • The county assessment is the value of all property in the township It has slowly declined from $1.88 Billion in 2013-14 to $1.86 Billion in 2016-17.

2016-03-01Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2016-03-011Facilities Committee Meeting
2016-03-012Finance Committee Meeting

2016-02-09 Regular Legislative Meeting in 2 Separate Recordings

Permalink2016-02-09Live Recording

 

20160209 Posmaster Notebook for Regular Legislative Meeting

Most items that were approved at this meeting were covered in previous posts; however, one small disclosure by Solicitor Roos does merit discussion. Mr. Roos mentioned that there was a "dust up" at the Manheim School District in Lancaster county regarding district compliance with the Sunshine Act. He mentioned that the Lancaster County district attorney had issued a warning letter to the Manheim School Board.

Since your podmaster depends on the Sunshine Act to enable him to provide you these recordings, I thought it would be wise to look into the matter.

It turns out that Manheim Township "dust up" should be familiar to Cheltenham taxpayers– Manheim is having its own Natalie Thomas Moment. In other words:

  • A new superintendent is subject to a costly secret investigation.
  • An even more costly buyout is implemented to get rid of the superintendent.
  • Local residents were upset that the entire superintendent investigation and buyout was conducted behind closed doors by the Manheim School Board. According to Lancaster Online, "The board held nine executive sessions between May and December 2015 without explanation beyond “personnel.” Two other executive sessions were held without any explanation."
  • A "Leaked Audio" tape acquired by Lancaster Online detailed how Manheim School Board President Bill Murry, "arranged a series of one-on-one telephone conversations with members late last week in a deliberate attempt to avoid public scrutiny and circumvent the open-meetings law." The school board president is quoted as saying, "If we don’t deliberate, the meeting isn’t subject to Sunshine. OK? That’s the point."
  • The Lancaster County District Attorney's Office opens an investigation into Sunshine Act violations by the Manheim Township School Board. It later decides not to prosecute "because it found 'no indication of an intent' to violate the law."
  • Formal petitions signed by 638 residents, as well as an online petition with 1,029 signatures, were delivered to Manheim School District calling for the resignation of the school board president.

Here at the Cheltenham Township Podcast we take pride in our selection of "Leaked Audio." You can find our latest offering below:

2016-02-09Regular Legislative Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2016-02-091Regular Legislative Meeting Part 1 of 2
2016-02-092Regular Legislative Meeting Part 2 of 2

2016-02-09Regular Legislative Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2016-02-09Budget Revenue
2016-02-09Budget Summary
2016-02-09Policy 248.1 Harassment 1 29 16 First Read
2016-02-09P348.1 448.1 548.1 Harassment 1 29 16 First Read
2016-02-09P359 459 559 Nondiscrimination in Employment 02 09 2016 First Read
2016-02-09P103 EQUAL OPPORTUNITY PROGRAMS 02 09 2016 Second Read
2016-02-09P357 457 557 Complaints 1 29 16 Second Reading
2016-02-09Budget Transfers.pdf 2-2016

School Tax Infographic for 2016-17

Permalink2016-02-06Update

 

2016-02-06School Tax Infographic for 2016-17

As usual whenever there is a tax increase, the district will mention the monthly or yearly increase without putting the tax burden in context– particularly with the most vulnerable members of the community.

To correct this oversight we present our 2016-17 tax Infographic below:

DateWeb Link
2016-02-06School Tax Infographic for 2016-17

2016-02-02 Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting in 3 Separate Recordings

Permalink2016-02-02Live Recording

 

2016-02-02Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting MP3s

Podmaster Notebook for Finance/Facilities Meetings
  • Finance Meeting
    • Budget Update: The district is caught in a squeeze of increasing costs and decreasing revenue.
      • The county assessment (the value of properties in Cheltenham) is declining.
      • Costs are increasing: the PSERS rate per employee in 2016-17 will be over 30%. Medical costs are also increasing (7.8%) as well as the costs associated with the remedial training program for staff.
      • The Superintendent stated that he would be willing to spend out of the fund balance to hire additional staff and to fund his remedial training program. Some discussion points and issues with this proposal are:
        1. The bond rating is affected by the fund balance. A bad rating increases the costs of future projects such as an Elkins Park rebuild.
        2. There are hidden costs to the Cedarbrook project (i.e. payments required to the landlords of the leased space for damages incurred to the buildings) that will have to be covered.
        3. There is no guarantee that the Superintendant's programs will reverse the declining test scores. The potential legacy of spending on operations out of the fund balance are increased debt payments, schools that cannot be brought up to current standards and higher taxes with nothing of value gained.
      • There was a discussion regarding a township meeting that concerning a pilot program for non-profits to pay user fees to the township in lieu of taxes.
        1. A member of the audience gave an example of The John Jay Institute which is purchasing a property in Elkins Park.
        2. The question was: How can the school district get a piece of the user fee ?
        3. Board Member Gray pointed out: "The issue has always been that we do not provide any services. And we have not had much of a leg to stand on."
        4. Your podmaster zoned out of the meeting at this point: he was remembering a conversation he had with a member of a local volunteer fire company member regarding an earlier proposal to make all non-profits (including volunteer fire companies) pay some school tax. There was an urgent inquiry as to what component of the solar system the member who made the proposal was living on.
    • Banking and Audit Services to be put out to bid: The district will be seeking competitive bids (RFP) for banking and auditing functions.
      • Presently PSDLAF provides banking services for the district. PSDLAF is a trust that uses PNC Bank to do the actual transactions. The last time bids were solicited for banking services was 2009.
      • The banking services contract will be for a long term (2016-2021) because of the costs and administrative issues with changing banks.
      • Presently Maillie, LLP is the district auditor. The last time bids were sought for auditing services was in 2011 for a 3 year term.
      • The RFP for auditing services will be for audits of 2015 through 2019.
    • Expansion of Competitive Bidding: Bill England asked if competitive bids could be sought for the districts legal services. Some of the issues around this discussion were:
      • Bids should only be sought after the union contract negotiations have been completed (although your podmaster is under the impression that a separate law firm is conducting the contract negotiations).
      • Research might need to be conducted to find out what other districts do.
  • Facilities Meeting
    • Elkins Park Mechanical and Electrical Project: The project concerns a new boiler, an electrical disconnect system and a fire alarm system.
      • The total cost of the boiler project is $1.042 Million.
      • The boiler being replaced is 63 years old.
      • Because of the condition of the boiler, staff has to monitor its operation around the clock.
      • Since it is anticipated that Elkins Park will be either rebuilt or even torn down, there was a question whether replacing the boiler was wise. Dr. Bavi stated that the new boiler system will be used in either a rebuilt school or a brand new one.
      • The fire alarm system issue is: spare parts for the present system are no longer available. If the fire alarm is not repaired, staff will have to implement a round-the-clock fire watch.
DateTrackWeb Link
2016-02-021Finance Committee Meeting Part 1 of 2
2016-02-022Finance Committee Meeting Part 2 of 2
2016-02-023Facilities Committee Meeting

2016-02-02Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2016-02-02Agenda Financial Affairs 08 04 15
2016-02-02Facilities Committee Agenda 08 04 15

2016-01-12 Regular Legislative Meeting Agenda Notes

Permalink2016-01-12Agenda Notes

 

2016-01-12Regular Legislative Meeting Agenda Notes

Unfortunately due to a scheduling conflict the 1/12/2016 meeting was not recorded. The most notable items on the agenda:

  • Leadership Stipend Positions: Section 11A, Item 10 on the agenda, "recommends the approval of professional personnel per the attachment for leadership positions for the 2015-2016 school year, at the rates listed"; however, there is no attachment on the agenda. We have emailed the district to obtain a copy.
  • Conference-based Remedial Training: The school district is pursuing remedial training of staff through conferences. Presumably this is an effort to boost the latest test results. In Section 11B,Item 1, the following out-of-state conferences were listed:
Conference City URL People Total Cost
PLC Solution Tree Summit Phoenix, AZ link 4 $8340.5
Leading for Excellence Conference Phoenix, AZ link 3 $5028.12
Powerschool University Orlando, FL link 3 $11583.8
TOTAL for OUT-OF-STATE Conferences     10 $24952.42
  • In-house Remedial Training: In addition to sending staff to conferences, the district has signed a contract with A Fishman Consulting, LLC for a maximum amount of $19,000 to "continue the professional development workshops with staff."
  • Assessment Appeal Activity:Section 11B, Item 7 approved funds to hire a law firm to fight the real estate tax appeal of 2727 Cheltenham Avenue. A quick Google shows this to be a Walgreens. Item 8 of the same section approved funds to hire an appraiser in connection to the real estate tax appeal of Yorktown Plaza.

2016-01-12Regular Legislative Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2016-01-12Dec 2015 Revenue
2016-01-12Dec 2015 Exp Summary
2016-01-12Agenda 1 12 16 EDEP Final
2016-01-12Volunteer Clearances -January 2016(2)
2016-01-12Budget Transfers

2016-01-05 Finance and Facilities Committee Meetings in 3 Separate Recordings

Permalink2016-01-05Live Recording

 
20160105 Facilities and Finance Committee Highlights
  • Finance Meeting Notes:
    • Governor Wolf finally released tax money (which was still collected during the budget standoff) to the school districts. Cheltenham received $5.9 Million on the day of the meeting.
    • The state contributes 20% of Cheltenham's budget.
    • For the 2016-17 projected budget, there is a deficit of $1.8 Million.
    • Expenses for 2016-17 are projected at $107.4 Million.
    • The PSERS rate has increased from 25.84% to 30.03% and is a major piece of the budget hole.
    • Other expense increases are in the area of professional development and special education.
    • The Cheltenham Township Finance Officer Mr. Burns stated that business privilege tax revenue is most likely to go down since the Pathmark has closed and Lincoln Financial is leaving the township.
    • The deadline for the budget is May 31, 2016.
    • The CEA contract expires June 30, 2016.
  • Facilities Meeting Notes:
    • Highlights from Dr. Bavi's Presentation:
      • It has been over a year since Cedarbrook has been closed.
      • Cedarbrook exterior walls were found to have been improperly insulated from the beginning: The insulation shielded only the bottom portion of the walls. This cost an incalculable amount in wasted energy.
      • There has been issues of illegal dumping at Cedarbrook.
      • There have also been issues of vandalism and theft, in particular copper flashing has been stolen twice.
      • In addition to the private security company patrolling the site, and beefed up patrols by Township Police, Dr. Bavi himself makes periodic random inspections.
      • The total cost of the Cedarbrook asbestos removal project was $507K.
    • Turner Construction Briefing on Cedarbrook "90%" Estimate:
      • There was no PowerPoint of this presentation and presumably none will be available to the public.
      • The cost estimate breakdown (+/- 5%) presented at the meeting is as follows:
Item Estimated Cost
Construction Bids $46.9 Million
Soft Costs $5.7 Million
Renovation of Fields w/ Irrigation work $1.4 Million
Financing Cost $0.8 Million
TOTAL $54.8 Million

2016-01-05Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2016-01-051Facilities Committee Meeting Part 1 of 2
2016-01-052Facilities Committee Meeting Part 2 of 2
2016-01-053Finance Committee Meeting

2016-01-05Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting Selected Documents

Note that the last time minutes were posted for the Facilities Committee and Finance Committee was October of 2014.

DateWeb Link
2016-01-05Jan 2016 Finance Committee Presentation
2016-01-05Jan 2016 Facilities Committee Presentation

Holidays can be a sad time for Cheltenham Families and Businesses

Permalink2015-12-21Update

 

2015-12-21Cheltenham School District Tax Liens

The Holidays can be a stressful time for normal folks. It is especially stressful if you are hauled into court to pay your school tax bill. The following table lists the current pending tax liens for the Cheltenham School District (Click on the "Continue without logging in" link to view the case.):

Pending Tax Liens for Cheltenham School District: 10/10/2015-12/21/2015
Case NumberCase Number
Case 201023617 Case 201026920
Case 201027938 Case 201028188
Case 201028192 Case 201028376
Case 201028379 Case 201028694
Case 201029140 Case 201030451
Case 201030546 Case 201031388
Case 201031981 Case 201031982
Case 201032054  

2015-12-08 Regular Legislative Meeting: 2016-17 Tax Increase Limited

Permalink2015-12-08Live Recording

 

The board adopted the resolution that they will not apply for any waivers to increase 2016-17 taxes over the Act 1 index limit of 2.4%. Your podmaster can't help but wonder whether or not the recent release of abysmal High School test scores had something to do with this action....

DateTrackWeb Link
2015-12-081Regular Legislative Meeting Part 1 of 1

2015-12-08Regular Legislative Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2015-12-08Nov 2015 Revenue
2015-12-08Nov 2015 Exp Summary
2015-12-08Volunteer Clearances - December 2015 (1)
2015-12-08Agenda 12 08 15 EDEP Final (3)
2015-12-08Volunteer Clearances - December 2015
2015-12-0815-16 Budget Transfers

2015-12-01 Facilities and Finance Committee Meetings in 2 Separate Recordings

Permalink2015-12-01Live Recording

 

Your podmaster recommends the Financial Affairs meeting where a menu of financial good and bad news was on offer.

On the good news side, the administration recommended to the board that any tax increase for 2016-17 be kept below the Act 1 index limit of 2.4%. A 2.4% increase equates to 1.068 mills pushing the budget to over $106 million. Of course, unless a wave of other school districts in our area apply for waivers to increase above the Act 1 Index, Cheltenham will still have the highest school tax rate in Montgomery County.

On the bad news side, The preliminary 2015 audit presentation detailed the impact of a recent change in accounting practices (GASB 68) designed to bring government bookkeeping in line with the private sector. Specifically, the state has forced local school districts to carry their share of the state's pension liability on their books.

The result of the change is that $140 Million of the state pension debt has been assigned to Cheltenham's balance sheet. The district has dived deep into the red with a 2015 deficit of $99 million. To give an idea of the change it should be noted that a surplus of nearly $38 million was reported in 2014. The finance director indicated that there is no real impact on operations caused by this change.

The real question is: what is the effect of GASB 68 at the local level when a state declares bankruptcy ? Do state creditors hold the locality directly responsible for the assigned portion of their debt if the state cannot pay ?

The question is timely in that the US Supreme Court agreed this week to hear the Puerto Rico debt restructuring case.

While Puerto Rico is not a state, whatever decision is made in the case will surely affect heavily indebted states like Pennsylvania.

The Governor of Puerto Rico, Alejandro Garcia Padilla, has stated that the $72 billion public debt is unpayable and needs restructuring. His restructuring plan calls for further consolidation of public schools, with some 135 closures already implemented.

So will Puerto Rico local governments be forced to pay for their share of state-assigned debt ? If so and if Pennsylvania goes bankrupt, Cheltenham may find that the $99 million deficit we were told "not to worry about" is real and will force the closure of some of our newly-built schools.

DateTrackWeb Link
2015-12-011Facilities Committee Meeting
2015-12-012Finance Committee Meeting

20151127 Montgomery County High School Comparison: Cheltenham HS in the Cellar

Permalink2014-08-05update

 

The value delivered by our public High Schools can be thought of as the ratio of the measured test performance of that school and the taxes that it takes to attain that performance.

I combined the recently released 2015-14 state test results (available in raw format at this link) with the Montgomery County tax rate table (available at this link) to determine how Cheltenham compares in terms of value with the other districts in Montgomery County. The full spreadsheet is available below.

In terms of value, Cheltenham High School is at the bottom of the barrel. In terms of the percentage difference between Cheltenham High School's test scores and the township's tax rate Cheltenham is deep in the cellar with no relief in sight:

Montgomery County Tax Rate Table: Cheltenham Value Compared To Other Municipalities.
Municipality High School 2015 School Tax Mills 2013-14 High School Academic score School Tax Mills PERCENT BELOW Cheltenham Rate Academic Score PERCENT ABOVE Cheltenham Score
Municipality High School 2015 School Tax Mills 2013-14 High School Academic score School Tax Mills PERCENT BELOW Cheltenham Rate Academic Score PERCENT ABOVE Cheltenham Score
Ambler Wissahickon SHS 18.261 101.8 58.98% 53.08%
Lower Gwynedd Wissahickon SHS 18.261 101.8 58.98% 53.08%
Whitpain Wissahickon SHS 18.261 101.8 58.98% 53.08%
Narberth Harriton SHS 26.2321 98.8 41.07% 48.57%
Lower Merion Harriton SHS 26.2321 98.8 41.07% 48.57%
Collegeville Perkiomen Valley HS 30.87 98.6 30.65% 48.27%
Schwenksville Perkiomen Valley HS 30.87 98.6 30.65% 48.27%
Trappe Perkiomen Valley HS 30.87 98.6 30.65% 48.27%
Lower Frederick Perkiomen Valley HS 30.87 98.6 30.65% 48.27%
Skippack Perkiomen Valley HS 30.87 98.6 30.65% 48.27%
Lansdale North Penn SHS 23.6223 97.6 46.93% 46.77%
North Wales North Penn SHS 23.6223 97.6 46.93% 46.77%
Hatfield North Penn SHS 23.6223 97.6 46.93% 46.77%
Montgomery North Penn SHS 23.6223 97.6 46.93% 46.77%
Towamencin North Penn SHS 23.6223 97.6 46.93% 46.77%
Upper Gwynedd North Penn SHS 23.6223 97.6 46.93% 46.77%
Lower Providence Methacton HS 27.9 95 37.33% 42.86%
Worcester Methacton HS 27.9 95 37.33% 42.86%
Bridgeport Upper Merion HS 18.96 93.9 57.41% 41.20%
West Conshohocken Upper Merion HS 18.96 93.9 57.41% 41.20%
Upper Merion Upper Merion HS 18.96 93.9 57.41% 41.20%
Conshohocken Plymouth-Whitemarsh SHS 20.5125 90.5 53.92% 36.09%
Plymouth Plymouth-Whitemarsh SHS 20.5125 90.5 53.92% 36.09%
Whitemarsh Plymouth-Whitemarsh SHS 20.5125 90.5 53.92% 36.09%
Pottstown Pottsgrove SHS 39.2522 90 11.82% 35.34%
Lower Pottsgrove Pottsgrove SHS 37.7158 90 15.28% 35.34%
Upper Pottsgrove Pottsgrove SHS 37.7158 90 15.28% 35.34%
West Pottsgrove Pottsgrove SHS 37.7158 90 15.28% 35.34%
Rockledge Abington SHS 29.89 89.6 32.85% 34.74%
Abington Abington SHS 29.89 89.6 32.85% 34.74%
East Greenville Upper Perkiomen HS 23.0622 85.7 48.19% 28.87%
Green Lane Upper Perkiomen HS 23.0622 85.7 48.19% 28.87%
Pennsburg Upper Perkiomen HS 23.0622 85.7 48.19% 28.87%
Red Hill Upper Perkiomen HS 23.0622 85.7 48.19% 28.87%
Marlborough Upper Perkiomen HS 23.0622 85.7 48.19% 28.87%
Upper Hanover Upper Perkiomen HS 23.0622 85.7 48.19% 28.87%
Upper Dublin Upper Dublin HS 31.4099 84.9 29.44% 27.67%
Horsham Hatboro-Horsham SHS 26.848 76.4 39.69% 14.89%
Norristown Norristown Area HS 33.179 71.5 25.47% 7.52%
East Norriton Norristown Area HS 33.179 71.5 25.47% 7.52%
West Norriton Norristown Area HS 33.179 71.5 25.47% 7.52%
Cheltenham Cheltenham HS 44.5156 66.5 0.00% 0.00%

2015-11-27Background Data

DateWeb Link
2015-11-272015-14 High School Value Index Spreadsheet
2015-11-272015-14 Percent Comparison Cheltenham HS vs Montgomery County High Schools

2015-11-10 School Performance Profile 2014-2015: Cheltenham High School Gets a "D"

Permalink2015-11-10Live Recording

 

The main news from this month's meeting concerned the recently released state test results for Cheltenham High School: a score of 66.5. This is the latest low point in a long term decline:

Cheltenham High: School Performance Profile 2015 to 2012

Given Cheltenham has the highest Montgomery County school tax rate, One resident summarized the present situation as "paying for good performance and not getting it."

During the public comments period,"Citizen"Art Haywood stated the following: "I am here because of the scores that were put on display-- the school profile report. The profile is abysmal and unacceptable…"

"The high school has been in a downward trajectory for a number of years. This is not the first year, although this is the lowest…"

"We need new leadership at the high school. The leadership at the high school has not been successful…. That's my request: that you look closely at immediate and fundamental change at the high school. Because we are losing kids and we are losing value in Cheltenham Township."

DateTrackWeb Link
2015-11-101Regular Legislative Meeting Part 1 of 2
2015-11-102Regular Legislative Meeting Part 2 of 2

2015-11-10Regular Legislative Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2015-11-10Oct 2015 Revenue
2015-11-10Oct 2015 Expense Summary
2015-11-10Superintendent Goals 2015-2016 11-10-15
2015-11-10P103 EQUAL OPPORTUNITY PROGRAMS 11 6 15 First Read
2015-11-10P357 457 557 Complaints 10 5 15 First Read
2015-11-10November 2015 Volunteers Sheet1
2015-11-10Agenda 11 10 15 EDEP Final
2015-11-10November 2015 Volunteers Sheet1
2015-11-10Budget Transfer 20151110
 
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