The Cheltenham Cross: Millage versus Student Enrollment



2015-01-17The 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:

DateWeb Link
2015-01-17Tax Rate Data from Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED)
2015-01-17School Enrollment Data from Pennsylvania Department of Education
2015-01-17PDF of Cheltenham Enrollment vs Millage 1998-2014

2015-01-13 Cedarbrook Decision Punted to the Experts: Regular Legislative Meeting Meeting in 3 Separate Recordings

Permalink2015-01-13Live Recording


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.

DateTrackWeb Link
2015-01-131Regular Legislative Meeting Meeting Part 1 of 3
2015-01-132Regular Legislative Meeting Meeting Part 2 of 3
2015-01-133Regular Legislative Meeting Meeting Part 3 of 3

2015-01-13Regular Legislative Meeting Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2015-01-13Revised Meeting Agenda
2015-01-13Dec 2014 Revenue 4
2015-01-13Dec 2014 Exp Summary 7
2015-01-13Extra Duty Extra Pay 1/13/15 with board member rel.

Construction Cost Inflation Accelerating

Permalink2014-08-05News Item


2015-01-10Construction Cost Inflation

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 !

DateWeb Link
2015-01-10Rider Levett Bucknall Report
2015-01-10WSJ Blog Item

2015-01-06 Facilities and Finance Committee Meetings in 4 Separate Recordings

Permalink2015-01-06Live Recording


(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)

DateTrackWeb Link
2015-01-061Facilities Committee Meeting Part 1 of 3
2015-01-062Facilities Committee Meeting Part 2 of 3
2015-01-063Facilities Committee Meeting Part 3 of 3
2015-01-064Facilities Committee Meeting

2015-01-06Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting Selected Documents

Note: the Finance Committee presentation was not available at press time.

DateWeb Link
2015-01-06Agenda Facilities 1 6 2015
2015-01-06Agenda Financial Affairs 1 6 15
2015-01-06Facilities Presentation

Cedarbrook/Elkins Park Construction Finance Options Infographic



2014-12-21Cedarbrook/Elkins Park Construction Option Notes

The financial briefing concerning the Cedarbrook/Elkins Park Construction Project groups the eight construction options (discussed below) organized as the following tax increase projections:

Finance ScenarioMillage Increase
Options 1 & 42.5 mills
Options 2 & 53.42 mills
Option 33.19 mills
Option 63.51 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

Permalink2014-12-15Live Recording


This meeting concerned construction options for Cedarbrook and Elkins Park Schools. The following eight options were laid out:

OptionDescriptionLow EstimateHigh Estimate
1Renovation of Cedarbrook Middle School + 20K ft²$46,188,057.75$48,902,846.55
2New Cedarbrook Middle School at Existing Site$67,181,921.45$70,995,914.80
3New Cedarbrook & Elkins Park School at existing Cedarbrook Site$108,631,398.50$114,876,278.20
4Elkins Park School Renovation + 10K ft².$37,618,248.55$39,732,065.35
5New Elkins Park School at Elkins Park site$49,682,609.25$52,623,666.10
6New Cedarbrook & Elkins Park School at New Site (300K ft².)$105,755,000.00$116,790,000.00
7New Cedarbrook Middle School at New Site (200K ft²)$72,797,500.00$81,835,000.00
8New 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.

DateTrackWeb Link
2014-12-151Facilities Committee Meeting Construction Finance Briefing
2014-12-152Facilities Committee Meeting Part 1 of 2
2014-12-153Facilities Committee Meeting Part 2 of 2

2014-12-15Facilities Committee Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2014-12-15Facilities Committee Cbk Options

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:

2014-12-09Source Documents and Notes

DateWeb Link
2014-12-09(1) Based on a monthly benefit of $1,451 which is the highest benefit listed in Page 20, Fast Facts & Figures About Social Security, 2014
2014-12-09(2) Based on US Census Bureau series: "Income of Households by State Ranked from Highest to Lowest Using 3-Year-Average Medians" for Pennsylvania $52768
2014-12-09(3) Based on statement from PA Department of Labor and Industry: "Your Weekly Benefit Rate should equal about one-half of your full-time weekly wage"
2014-12-092015-16 Tax Infographic PDF
2014-12-09PDF Chart: Montgomery County Township School Taxes as a percentage of Cheltenham's
2014-12-09Spreadsheet: Montgomery County Township School Taxes as a percentage of Cheltenham's
2014-12-09Spreadsheet GPG signature.

2014-12-09 Regular Legislative Meeting in 2 Separate Recordings

Permalink2014-12-09Live Recording

DateTrackWeb Link
2014-12-091Regular Legislative Meeting Part 1 of 2
2014-12-092Regular Legislative Meeting Part 2 of 2

2014-12-09Regular Legislative Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2014-12-09Meeting Agenda
2014-12-09Nov 2014 Revenue Summary
2014-12-09Nov 2014 Exp Summary
2014-12-092015-2016 Adacemic Calendar FINAL
2014-12-09Extra Duty-Mentors-Volunteers 12 9 14
2014-12-09Budget Transfers 12-2014

2014-12-02 Cedarbrook Project Facilities Meeting in 2 Separate Recordings

Permalink2014-12-02Live Recording

DateTrackWeb Link
2014-12-021Cedarbrook Project Facilities Meeting Part 1 of 2
2014-12-022Cedarbrook Project Facilities Meeting Part 2 of 2

2014-12-02Cedarbrook Project Facilities Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2014-12-02Agenda Facilities 12 2 14
2014-12-02December 2014 Facility

2014-12-02 Board Reorganization/Facilities and Financial Meetings in 3 Separate Recordings

Permalink2014-12-02Live Recording

DateTrackWeb Link
2014-12-021Board Reorganization Meeting
2014-12-022Financial Meeting
2014-12-023Facilities Meeting

2014-12-02Board Reorganization/Facilities/Financial Meetings Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2014-12-02Agenda Financial Affairs 12 2 14
2014-12-02Financing for Current Projects

2014-11-11 Regular Legislative Meeting Meeting in 2 Separate Recordings

Permalink2014-11-11Live Recording

DateTrackWeb Link
2014-11-111Regular Legislative Meeting Meeting Part 1 of 2
2014-11-112Regular Legislative Meeting Meeting Part 2 of 2

2014-11-11Regular Legislative Meeting Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2014-11-11Oct 2014 Exp Summary
2014-11-11Oct 2014 Revenue Summary
2014-11-11907 Visitors 11 11 14 ADOPTED
2014-11-11806 Child-Student Abuse 11 11 14 ADOPTED second read
2014-11-11121.1P Student Trips Outside the US 11 11 14 First Read
2014-11-11Extra Duty Extra Pay mentors-leadership-volunteers 11 11 14
2014-11-11Budget Transfers 11 11 14

2014-10-28 Budget Workshop Meeting in 2 Separate Recordings

Permalink2014-10-28Live Recording


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: montco-school-tax-millage-Service-Neutral2014-15-web.png(click for enlarged version)

The spreadsheet that generated the chart is available here.[SIG] The data was directly imported into OpenOffice™ from the Montgomery County web site.

DateTrackWeb Link
2014-10-281Budget Workshop Meeting Part 1 of 2
2014-10-282Budget Workshop Meeting Part 2 of 2

2014-10-28Budget Workshop Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2014-10-282015-2016 Budget Process Overview – 10/7/2014
2014-10-282014 Montgomery County School Tax Rates Spreadsheet
2014-10-28Spreadsheet GPG Signature

2014-10-14 Regular Legislative Meeting in 2 Separate Recordings

Permalink2014-10-14Live Recording

DateTrackWeb Link
2014-10-142Regular Legislative Meeting Part 1 of 2
2014-10-141Regular Legislative Meeting Part 2 of 2

2014-10-14Regular Legislative Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2014-10-14Sept 2014 Revenue Summary
2014-10-14Sept 2014 Exp Summary
2014-10-14P907 Visitors 10 14 14 First Read
2014-10-14P806 Child-Student Abuse 10 14 14 redlined First Read
2014-10-14Extra Duty Extra Pay mentor-stipends-tenure 10 2014

2014-10-07 Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting in 3 Separate Recordings

Permalink2014-10-07Live Recording


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:

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.

DateTrackWeb Link
2014-10-071Finance Committee Meeting Part 1 of 2
2014-10-072Finance Committee Meeting Part 2 of 2
2014-10-073Facilities Committee Meeting

2014-10-07Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2014-10-07OpenPAGov.org Tax Collected per Student data from 2012
2014-10-07OpenPAGov.org Cheltenham Student Enrollment vs. Tax Rate.
2014-10-07facilities committeeoctober_2014

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:

278ChattahoocheeJohns CreekGA3.897
1831Chavez Learning AcademiesSan FernandoCA1.347
672Cherokee TrailAuroraCO
685Cherry CreekGreenwood VillageCO2.646
2009Cherry Hill EastCherry HillNJ1.150
1881Cherry Hill WestCherry HillNJ1.285
2122ChesapeakeBaltimore CountyMD1.022
862Cheyenne MountainColorado SpringsCO2.369

Since Cheltenham was ranked 1119 in the 2013 listing, it is hard to believe that CHS dropped off the list because of performance. Stay Tuned.

2014-09-13Washington Post High School Challenge Links

YearWeb Link
2014USA Rankings
2013USA Rankings
2014Northeast Region Rankings
2013Northeast Region Rankings
2013Last Year's Cheltenham Listing

2014-09-09 Regular Legislative Meeting in 2 Separate Recordings

Permalink2014-09-09Live Recording

DateTrackWeb Link
2014-09-091Regular Legislative Meeting Part 1 of 2
2014-09-092Regular Legislative Meeting Part 2 of 2

2014-09-09Regular Legislative Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2014-09-09Regular Agenda
2014-09-09Agenda with Secret Files
2014-09-09Expense Summary 9 9 14
2014-09-09Revenue summary 9 2014
2014-09-09Extra Duty-Extra Pay and Horizontal Move 9-9-14

2014-09-02 Special Board/Facilities and Business Affairs Meetings in 4 Separate Recordings

Permalink2014-09-02Live Recording


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.

DateTrackWeb Link
2014-09-021Special Board Meeting
2014-09-022Facilities Meeting Part 1 of 2
2014-09-023Facilities Meeting Part 2 of 2
2014-09-024Business Affairs Meeting

2014-09-02Special Board and Facilities and Business Affairs Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2014-09-02Special Meeting Agenda
2014-09-022014-2017 Capital Project Financing – 9/2/2014
2014-09-02Food Service Update – 9/2/2014
2014-09-02Agenda Facilities 9/2/14
2014-09-02Agenda Business Affairs 9/2/14
2014-09-09September 2014 Facility