PSBA sues Citizen: Your Tax Dollars at Work

Permalink2018-07-22Story Update


Last August your podmaster reported that the Cheltenham Solicitor disavowed participation in a Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) lawsuit against an organization called Pennsylvanians for Union Reform (PFUR). The law suit was filed in Cumberland County last year on the 17th of July 2017.

The defendant, Pennsylvanians for Union Reform (PFUR) characterized the suit as retaliation against Right to Know requests filed with all Pennsylvania school districts asking for PSBA Data. In other words, a SLAPP suit.

PFUR has counter-sued in Federal Court alleging that the PSBA was retaliating against the "exercise of their First Amendment rights of free expression and to petition the government."

On June 19 2018, Federal Judge Jan E. DuBois of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled that:

  • PSBA's request to dismiss the counter-suit was denied.
  • PSBA's governing board "are not entitled to qualified immunity at this stage of the proceedings."
  • PFUR had referred to the state lawsuit against them as a "SLAPP" suit in their federal complaint. PSBA filed a "Motion to Strike" the SLAPP term as derogatory. The motion was denied.
  • PSBA will not be granted immunity against punitive damages.

In short, the PSBA struck out.

So if the PSBA loses in state and federal court— and are forced to pay punitive damages– what could be the repercussions here in Cheltenham ?

Cheltenham pays dues to PSBA. An increase to the PSBA dues because of the cost of the lawsuit is possible; however, according to PSBA's Form 990 for 2016, they have net assets in excess of $10 million. Even if most of these assets are real estate, there should be no reason that the members should have to pay the damages.

Is it possible that PSBA could charge its members a special assessment to pay for any awarded damages ? Probably not, since there is no prevision in the PSBA Bylaws for any such thing.

So in summary, PSBA sued a private Pennsylvania resident, Simon Campbell, and his associated organization, Pennsylvanians for Union Reform (PFUR), in state court because of the Right to Know Requests he filed in 2017. Campbell and PFUR counter-sued the PSBA in Federal Court alleging a first-amendment civil rights violation in what they are calling PSBA's SLAPP state suit. In the first inning, PSBA has struck out in Federal court and will be liable for punitive damages if the case goes against them.

Your Tax Payer Dollars at work….

2018-07-22Case Weblinks

DateWeb Link
2018-07-22Federal Opinion, CIVIL ACTION NO. 18-892 Campbell v. PSBA
2018-07-22PSBA Bylaws as of 10/20/2017
2018-07-22PSBA 1099 for 2016

2018-06-12 Regular Legislative Meeting

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2018-06-12Live Recording


Note: The opening 45 minutes of the meeting contained school district public relations material that was omitted from the recording.

Policy 605: District Initiated Reverse Tax Appeals

Back in April your podmaster reported on a proposed school district policy that would enable the district to target residents for tax increases through reverse tax appeals. The new policy would limit the properties considered for an appeal to those that would bring in Ten Thousand Dollars or more in annual taxes.

This new district policy is the result of a July 2017 Pennsylvania Supreme Court case: Valley Forge Towers Apartments LP v. Upper Merion Area School District. In this case, the court ruled that the the Uniformity Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution blocks school districts from selectively targeting commercial properties for tax increases through reverse tax assessment appeals. Besides the greater "bang for the buck" that commercial properties reassessments yield, a "soak the rich" commercial property approach is obviously motivated by politics: antagonizing a single commercial property owner is less costly in votes than antagonizing multiple residential owners.

Note that increases in the tax rate (millage) in Pennsylvania are limited by the Taxpayer Relief Act (Act 1). Increases in tax assessment, in the case of a county-wide reassessment, are limited by Title 53 which forces a reduction in a property tax rate to "be less than or equal to the percentage increase in the Statewide average weekly wage for the preceding year."

In the case of reverse tax appeals, there appear to be no such protections. Back in April we reported that the district is pursuing a reverse appeal against the Wawa on Limekiln Pike. It was stated that the the present Wawa assessment is based on the land value only. This business will have a substantial tax increase.

It was never explained where the arbitrary $10,000 threshold came from At the new 2018-19 school tax rate of 47.0539 mills, a Cheltenham property would have to be under-assessed by $212,522. As one law firm noted:

"a monetary threshold that disparately impacts a sub-classification of real property, such as large commercial properties, may be equally suspect under the Uniformity Clause."

During the meeting, the threshold was stated to be $2000;however, this was an "audio typo."

Policy 202: Non-Resident Students

A resident testified that the revised Policy 202, which regulates the eligibility of nonresident students for school district attendance, has created a loophole that is being widely abused.

The revised policy requires that if a resident has a unrelated school age child that they are supporting as if their own, the child may attend district schools provided the resident submits

"a sworn statement that s/he is supporting the child gratis, that s/he will assume all personal obligations for the child relative to school requirements, and that s/he intends to so keep and support the child continuously and not merely through the school term."

The resident stated that this new policy "invites abuse" and that the change in policy was not sufficiently publicized.

School Recess Time Cutback Issue

Back in February, we noted that the superintendent mentioned that Cheltenham has the shortest work day in Montgomery County while failing to mention the cause– the union contract that the school board negotiated in 2016.

In September of 2017, we reported that the new contract stipulates that the "professional employee workday in grades K-4 shall be seven hours and fifteen minutes with a forty-five minute lunch period. A minimum of fifteen minutes will be for non-instructional activities." The contract also limits the "employee work year" to 190 days maximum.

So with contract limiting each teacher to seven hours per day available for "instructional activities," recess was axed.

Another frustrated parent testified with research, facts and figures demonstrating the benefits of recess. How long will the frustration continue until the moving van shows up ?

2018-06-12Regular Legislative Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2018-06-121Regular Legislative Meeting Part 1 of 1

2018-06-12Regular Legislative Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2018-06-12Budget Transfers.pdf (18 KB)
2018-06-12P206 Student Records 4.29.18 (01615651xAED82).pdf (60 KB)
2018-06-12P261 Student Surveys 3.15.18 (01590471xAED82) (2) (1).pdf (46 KB)
2018-06-12P605 Tax Levy 9.25.17 (01500150xAED82) (2) (1).pdf (43 KB)
2018-06-12P605 Tax Levy Regulations 06.12.2018
2018-06-12Policy 250.pdf (28 KB)
2018-06-12May 2018 Revenue.pdf (34 KB)
2018-06-12May 2018 Exp Summary.pdf (52 KB)
2018-06-12EDEP Agenda 6 12 18 final.pdf (28 KB)
2018-06-12Volunteers - June 2018 v2.pdf (56 KB)

2018-06-05 Finance and Facilities Committee Meetings

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2018-06-05Live Recording

Facilities Committee Meeting
Final Cost of Cedarbrook Project

Back in March of 2016 the total Cedarbrook Project construction bid for all contractors was presented to the public as $47,783,708 at the 3/1/2016 Facilities Committee Meeting. At the 6/5/2018 Facilities Committee meeting, the final project cost was presented: $51,317,874. This is over $3.5 Million above the 3/1/2016 public announcement.

Some of the factors that pushed the final cost over the 2016 bid were described as:

  • OCIP insurance was estimated at $193,500 but the actual was $1,053,710.
  • Cost of change orders was $998,328.

It was stated that the method of covering the cost difference between the estimate and actual will be to use money in the bond fund. If this funding is exhausted, then the remainder of the money will come from the next bond issuance. The capital reserve will not be used.

It is interesting that the "Total Project Cost" estimate of $51,291,516 presented in the October 2015 Act 34 hearing was closer to the final 6/5/2018 cost of $51,317,874 than the $47,783,708 "Total Project Cost" that was reported in 2016. I reported in 2015 that the project will have the following impact on taxes (calculated at the 2015 millage rate):

Act 34 Est. Total Millage Impact of Cedarbrook Project
$12,850,000 G.O. Bonds on Table I 0.14 mills
$17,400,000 G.O. Bonds on Table II 0.34 mills
$21,250,000 G.O. Bonds on Table III 0.83 mills
Indirect Costs 0.07 mills
Total Millage Impact 1.38 mill

Cedarbrook Project Construction Update
  • The Cedarbrook Project is coming to a conclusion. It was reported that the final construction job meeting has been completed and no more meetings are scheduled. The overall percent complete was reported as 96%.
  • Milestones completed since the last update:
    • All exterior signs and lighting has been completed.
    • The Furniture is delivered.
    • Window shades 90% completed.
    • Choir room 100% completed.
    • Media center 100% completed.
    • All stairwells tiled.
    • Stage curtains all completed. Auditorium seating completed.
    • In the gym: floor, lighting and HVAC are 100% complete. Bleachers will be completed Thursday.
    • STEM Classroom 100% completed.
    • Cafeteria/kitchen all equipment installed and ready for inspection.
    • Green roof: 80% completed. Planting and inspection needed.
    • Sidewalk/curbing completed. Basketball court sod completed.
    • Asphalt work is the main outstanding item. It was started on 6/5/2018 and needs 4 rain-free days to complete. Presently 25% done.
  • Inspections: Passed the state elevator, emergency lighting, sprinkler system and final electrical inspections. The county health, county soil erosion and fire suppression inspections have not yet occurred. There are 13 building inspectors on site.
  • There are 1620 punch list items outstanding that the various contractors must address before closing the job.
Finance Committee Meeting
2018-19 Budget

At the next regular board meeting the budget for next year will be approved. The budget includes a 2.4% tax increase as well as a withdraw of $1.67 Million from the fund balance. Without the fund balance withdraw, the tax increase would have been 4.42%, based on the district's estimate for the value of a tax mill.

The Social Security Cost of Living Adjustment for 2018 has been announced as 2.0%. See our 2018-19 Tax Infographic for more details.

Fund Balance

In 2018-19 the board committed $6 Million for capital projects and $1.67 million to keep the tax increase below the Act 1 index. The unassigned amount is reported as $7,024,494.

It was also reported that the total district debt is over $180 million. This amount is expected to substantially increase with future construction projects.

2018-06-05Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2018-06-051Facilities Committee Meeting
2018-06-052Finance Committee Meeting

2018-06-05Finance and Facilities Committee Meetings Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2018-06-05Financial Affairs June 2018

2018-05-01 Finance and Facilities Committee Meetings in 4 Separate Recordings

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2018-05-01Live Recording

Financial Committee Meeting
2018-19 Proposed Final Budget

The board is sticking to the original game plan of both increasing taxes by 2.4% and withdrawing $1.67 Million from the fund balance. The school tax millage will increase to 47.0539 mills from the present 45.9511 mills. Depending on the house assessment value, the new millage translates to the following 2018-19 monthly payments:

Assessment Yearly School Tax Bill Monthly School Tax Payment
$100,000 $4,705 $392
$150,000 $7,058 $588
$200,000 $9,410 $784
$250,000 $11,763 $980
$300,000 $14,116 $1176
$350,000 $16,468 $1372
$400,000 $18,821 $1568
$450,000 $21,174 $1764
$500,000 $23,526 $1960
$550,000 $25,879 $2156

We can calculate a hypothetical "worst-case" 2018-19 tax increase (which would not use the fund balance) by using the "value of a mill" for Cheltenham School District which was given at $1,804,686. Using this figure, your podmaster calculates that the worst-case 2018-19 tax increase would be an additional 0.9293 mills (i.e. $1677271/$1804686) for a total worst-case increase of 4.42% over last year's millage.

The hypothetical "worst-case" 4.42% school tax increase broken into a monthly payment would be:

Assessment Hypothetical Yearly School Tax Bill Hypothetical Monthly Payment
$100,000 $4,798 $399
$150,000 $7,197 $599
$200,000 $9,596 $799
$250,000 $11,995 $999
$300,000 $14,394 $1199
$350,000 $16,794 $1399
$400,000 $19,193 $1599
$450,000 $21,592 $1799
$500,000 $23,991 $1999
$550,000 $26,390 $2199

The district use of fund balance to keep the operating budget afloat is not portrayed as anything to worry about– despite the fact that there are current and future capital projects that are depending on use of portions of the fund balance. The draw down does not affect the district credit rating.

The presentation covered some of the budgetary cost drivers. The biggest percentage increase is for benefits. From 2012-13 to 2016-17 the budgeted amount for benefits has increased from $18.8 to $29.05 million (54.5%). The increase in benefits has been blamed primarily on the state pension system (PSERS). It was mentioned that there are a significant number of retired teachers in the community that do not want to hear about PSERS. The politicians who created this PSERS mess are long forgotten.

The other major cost driver cited was debt service which has increased almost 50% since 2009-10 with the principal balance increasing by over $100 million.

Facilities Committee Meeting
Cedarbrook Construction Update
  • The Cedarbrook rebuild is winding down.
  • The project is at 94% completion.
  • This is last month of this project.
  • There are five different permits that must be obtained before being awarded a certificate of occupancy. Presently only one permit has been obtained.
  • Regarding the issue with the HVAC units that were damaged during the winter: Liberty Mutual has denied the claims for damage.
  • The broken sewer pipe repair has been completed. The cause of the problem is in dispute. The total repair cost was $93,700. Liberty Mutual agreed last week to pay district for the cost. The insurance company wants the township to sign a release to the district for future claims. The township refused and the matter is under discussion.
  • The district has purchased 2000 boxes and supplies for teachers to pack for moving back.

2018-05-01Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2018-05-011Facilities Committee Meeting Part 1 of 2
2018-05-012Facilities Committee Meeting Part 2 of 2
2018-05-013Finance Committee Meeting Part 1 of 2
2018-05-014Finance Committee Meeting Part 2 of 2

2018-05-01Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2018-05-01Financial Affairs Presentation May 2018

Cheltenham School Tax Infographic for 2018-19


Our annual School Tax Infographic

Every year Social Security recipients receive a cost of living adjustment (COLA). The compounded increase of Social Security COLA from 2006 to 2018 is 26.9% while Cheltenham School Tax has increased 53.7% over the same interval.

2018-04-14Cheltenham School Tax Infographic 2018-19 Links

DateWeb Link
2018-04-14PDF Version of the Cheltenham School Tax Infographic for 2018-19
2018-04-14March 2018 CSD Financial Committee Meeting (captured on 3/17/2018)
2018-04-14Social Security Fast Facts 2017
2018-04-14Social Security press release 10-2017-1
2018-04-14Property Tax Relief
2018-04-14Act 1 Index 2006-2018
2018-04-14CSD Historic Tax Increase Data
2018-04-14Social Security COLA data
2018-04-14Statement: Your Weekly Benefit Rate should equal about one-half of your full-time weekly wage
2018-04-14Photos from Harrisburg, PA 2013 Property Tax Independance Act Event

2018-04-10 Regular Legislative Meeting

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2018-04-10Live Recording

Public Comments Section

The issue of the cutback to school recess is still percolating. A group of parents have formed a recess committee to investigate the factors that led to the cutback. They are compiling information which will be presented to the board as a report. Some questions raised were:

  • What specific provisions of the teachers contract caused the recess cutback ?
  • If the contract is the cause of the problem then why did the cutback to recess occur after 1 year of the contract taking effect rather than immediately ?
  • Why did the teachers contract result in different recess times with different grades ?
  • Why in comparison to other MONTCO school contracts show less recess with the same stipulated length of workday ?
Superintendents Report
  • The March nor'easters caused 2 additional school closures that will have to be made up. The tentative days are May 15 and June 21.
Cedarbrook Update
  • Overall construction is 91% complete.
  • The completion date is holding at 5/31/2018.
  • The soil stockpile is 70% removed.
  • The broken sewer line has been fixed.
Liaison Committee

The following items were the subject of the 3/19/2018 meeting:

  • Information regarding high school security:
    • Entrance doors are locked and alarmed at 7:30 AM.
    • All visitors must report to the front.
    • All alarms are reported in the admin office display.
    • There is an application pending for a grant to provide a school resource officer for "one building in the district".
    • There is presently only one police officer who is assigned to the entire district.
  • Upcoming road projects
    • A small bridge on Church Road will be replaced by state in 2019.
    • This will impact school bus routes.
  • Bids for the sale of the township sewer system
    • Only one bid was received (from Aqua).
    • The township is planning on a meeting with Aqua then a community meeting.

2018-04-10Regular Legislative Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2018-04-101Regular Legislative Meeting Part 1 of 1

2018-04-10Regular Legislative Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2018-04-10Budget Transfers (17).pdf (144 KB)
2018-04-10March 2018 Exp Summary.pdf (49 KB)
2018-04-10March 2018 Rev.pdf (34 KB)

2018-04-03 Facilities and Finance Committee Meetings

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2018-04-03Live Recording

Facilities Committee Meeting
Cedarbrook Summary

The Cedarbrook Project is now 91% complete. The substantial completion date is 5/31/2018.

Cedarbrook Project Costs
  • The Board began looking at the variance of the actual Cedarbrook costs versus the budget allowance. Overall the variance was portrayed as "$4 Million over a $50 Million Budget."
  • Two years and one month ago, the school board approved bids for the Cedarbrook construction project for a total of $43,603,800.
  • The current total construction costs were presented as:
    • Estimated Final Cost: $51,672,254
    • Budgeted Cost: $37,589,694.60
    • Cost To Date: $46,267,854.37
  • In addition to the construction costs, the costs to house the students at the temporary locations were presented as
    • Initial Estimate: $1,955,621
    • Cost To Date: $3,494,000
    • There will also be costs to restore "damage" to leased facilities. For example at the Saint Joe's campus the district glued carpet on asbestos tile. Now the district is on the hook to remove both the carpet and the asbestos.
  • There is also potential litigation cost: The case Diplomat Construction and Demolition Inc vs Boro Developers Inc includes the school district as a co-defendant. The plaintiff is suing the school district for "unjust enrichment" for an amount to be determined at trial. The amount in dispute in this litigation is less than ½ million Dollars.
Cedarbrook HVAC System Damage
  • Thirteen new Carrier rooftop HVAC units were installed on the roof of Cedarbrook.
  • It was recently discovered that the units may have been damaged by water condensation over the winter that was caused by temporary heating units inside the building.
  • Frey Lutz Corporation was the HVAC contractor. This contractor was not allowed to turn on the HVAC units because of construction activities raising dust which would damage unit.
  • An outside contractor was hired to clean the units and protect them from further damage. Another contractor will verify that the electronic controls are OK.
  • The manufacturer, Carrier, evaluated the units and stated that 8 of the units require new motors. This work is required to preserve the warranty.
  • Three of the units have been started. The motors will be changed at a later date.
  • The insurance company was notified. Presently, work on the units is suspended until the insurance company determines who is responsible for the cost.
Turner Construction Cedarbrook Update
  • Turner Construction presented a Cedarbrook project update.
  • Based on prime contractor billings the project is 92% complete.
  • Based on the latest schedule update the project is 91% complete.
  • There were 40 workers on the site per day in past 2 months.
  • One hundred percent of the building exterior is substantially complete.
  • The sanitary sewer problem was solved– completed today.
  • The HVAC problem should not impact the schedule. Carrier recommends replacement of motors– but still can be run.
  • Risk and Variables to Completion
    • Adequate manpower
    • Above ceiling deficiencies: 290 open punch list items (39%).
    • Soil stockpile exportation (weather dependent).
    • Start up of HVAC Permanent units (3 already started. Going to continue starting them. to all 13 units) temporary heating to be removed this Friday.
    • Site work progress (weather dependent) 4/29 is date site work start.
Finance Committee Meeting
Tax Levy Policy AR 605 (reverse appeals)
  • Back in September we reported on the a July 2017 Pennsylvania Supreme Court case: Valley Forge Towers Apartments LP v. Upper Merion Area School District. In this case, the court ruled that the the Uniformity Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution blocks school districts from selectively targeting commercial properties for tax increases through reverse tax assessment appeals.
  • In response the district has drafted Tax Levy Policy AR 605 which was described as requiring the Business Manager to locate and recommend properties where potential tax revenue increase exceeds $10,000.
  • It was not explained where the $10,000 threshold came from. Your podmaster wonders whether a $10,000 threshold– in his opinion being blatantly applicable to mainly commercial properties– would not be interpreted as a "backdoor" method of implementing a discriminatory commercial property-centered reverse appeal policy by some future court challenge.
  • Of course, if such a court challenge prevailed– and the district was forced to implement reverse appeal policies that would rile their political base– the district could always "blame the courts" for the increased tax bills in the same fashion that they blame Harrisburg and charter schools for all their ills.
  • It was mentioned that the district tax consultant looked for residential properties whose reverse appeal would yield over $10K and none were found.
  • During the discussion there was mention that the district is pursuing a reverse appeal against Wawa. According to the business manager, the present Wawa assessment is based on the land value only, and not the complex that Wawa built at the site. So to reward Wawa for building a business in the township, the district will be taking them to court with a reverse appeal.
  • It was also mentioned that there is a possibility that Cheltenham Mall will be taken to court to raise their assessment to account for the renovations the mall recently made. So the reward for renovating a major business in the township is an increased school tax bill.
2018-19 Budget Update
  • The 2018-19 tax increase of 2.4% is still on the table.
  • The 2.4% tax increase is not enough to balance the budget: they will withdraw $1.6 Million of the fund balance to make up the difference.
  • The main cause of the budget gap is the CEA contract salary "spikes" for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 years.

2018-04-03Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2018-04-031Facilities Committee Meeting Part 1 of 2
2018-04-032Facilities Committee Meeting Part 2 of 2
2018-04-033Finance Committee Meeting

2018-04-03Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2018-04-03April 2018 Financial Services Presentation

2018-03-13 Regular Legislative Meeting

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2018-03-13Live Recording


2018-03-13Regular Legislative Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2018-03-131Regular Legislative Meeting Part 1 of 1

2018-03-13Regular Legislative Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2018-03-13Budget Transfers (16).pdf (261 KB)
2018-03-13Feb 2018 Rev.pdf (52 KB)
2018-03-13Feb 2018 Exp Summary.pdf (49 KB)
2018-03-13Volunteers _ March 2018.pdf (16 KB)
2018-03-13EDEP Agenda 3 13 18 Final.pdf (32 KB)

2018-03-06 Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting in 2 Separate Recordings

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2018-03-06Live Recording

Finance Committee Meeting: Proposed 2018-18 Tax Increase

The lead item for the March 6th committee meetings is the announcement of the Proposed 2018-18 Tax Increase of 2.4%:

With the median Cheltenham Township home assessment at $144,290, the 2018-19 increase (to 47.0539 mills) would result in a yearly tax bill of $6789.41 which equals a $565.78 monthly payment.

In addition to the tax increase, the district will transferring approximately $1.7 million from the fund balance: Once again with Act 1, the state has protected us against a much greater tax increase.

The reason for the increase was laid squarely on the CEA (teacher's) contract and rate increases for PSERS, the teachers state pension agency. It was summarized that the contract mandated salary increase alone amounted to $1.5 million while the proposed tax increase will yield $1.9 Million.

There were some positive factors: health insurance did not go up this year and the recently signed transportation contract, along with the reopening of Cedarbrook, will provide significant savings.

There were also additional administrative staff hired last year to address "climate and culture";however, the cost of this staff was $181 thousand as contrasted with the $1.5 Million increase in teacher salaries.

It was also mentioned that cuts in staff to control costs have not yet been explored. The proposed budget freezes additional staff unless it is cost neutral.

The school superintendent stated that Cheltenham has the 6th highest salaries in the State of Pennsylvania. The local tax base can't afford this burden.

The finance director underscored that with the anticipated debt service costs for Elkins Park and the High School projects, the new teachers contract must control costs.

Facilities Committee Meeting
Cedarbrook Update
  • The project is 88% completed overall with the completion date estimated to be mid-May.
  • The issue regarding a township owned broken sewer pipe on the construction site continues. Materials have been ordered. Heavy equipment is in place. Work has started. There is no word from the district insurance carrier regarding their investigation into the matter.
  • Regarding the cobalt contaminated soil stockpile: 452 truck loads of soil have been removed (40%).
  • Work on the gym has progressed: roof equipment is arriving. The gym partition wall is completed.
  • 1st floor wall tiles 90% completed
  • 2nd floor classroom floor tiles 80% completed. Drop ceilings completed and inspected.
  • Auditorium seating is completed. Carpet is being installed.
  • Cafeteria ceiling completed.
Use of Facilities Policy
  • Many outside organizations want to use the school district facilities.
  • The district is revising the policy governing outside use of facilities to ensure that they recover costs.
  • 10000 activities generate an average profit of $65K to $92K. A revised policy could potentially increase this to $200K per year.
  • One recommendation is that teachers and administrators should NOT be permitted to sponsor outside organizations. It was mentioned that teachers are using facilities making money on a side business.
  • It was mentioned that a long term agreement with Arcadia University is priced at $1 per year. This agreement was made decades ago and needs to be renegotiated.
  • Another problem arises from the use of a single township resident to front request from an outside organization that makes a profit from the facility.
  • It was mentioned that at a past liaison meeting the township requested that the district not charge them for using school facilities. The phrase was "we shouldn't be charging each other fees." The solicitor said that the board should remember this the next time the township charges for a permit fee.

2018-03-06Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2018-03-061Facilities Committee Meeting
2018-03-062Finance Committee Meeting

2018-02-13 Regular Legislative Meeting

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2018-02-13Live Recording

New Transportation Contract

The new transportation contract that will save the district millions of dollars and improve the quality of transportation was approved. The deal was negotiated by Business Manager Cara Michaels and Supervisor of Transportation Jim Custer.

Regular Meeting Public Comments Section

As usual with the monthly meeting, the surprises come at the end of the meeting during the public comments period. In this case the surprise was the comments of a father of a Cedarbrook student. The father stated that his daughter was sexually assaulted at Cedarbrook. The perpetrator was a fellow Cedarbrook student and was "expelled" from the school.

According to the Father, the "expulsion" of the perpetrator was actually a one year suspension. Next year the victim and perpetrator will be attending Cheltenham High School. He stated that his daughter will have to deal with the perpetrator on a daily basis. He asked the question: If sexual assault is not an "expulsionary" event, what is ?

The father found out that in Cheltenham, the word "expel" does not automatically mean a permanent banishment from the school. School Policy 233 calls a suspension that exceeds 10 days an "expulsion."

In other words, bad English.

A true permanent expulsion requires action by the School Board and a hearing.

Previous Public Comments Response

During a response to previous public comments made at last months meeting (regarding the cutback of recess time), the superintendent mentioned that Cheltenham has the shortest work day in Montgomery County. He did not mention the cause– the union contract that the school board negotiated in 2016.

Opposition to SB 2

The district approved a resolution opposing a proposed educational savings account voucher program (SB 2). You can read the districts resolution at this link. For an alternative point of view, see this link.

While the district opposes vouchers, some district employees have voted with their feet. Several years ago, Cheltenham supervisor Dr. Darlene Davis left the district to head the Widener Partnership Charter School. Dr. Michael Lowe, formerly an administrator with Cheltenham School district, also crossed over to the charter school "dark side" by becoming the Supervisor of Instructional Development at the York Academy Charter School.

2018-02-13Regular Legislative Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2018-02-131Regular Legislative Meeting Part 1 of 1

2018-02-13Regular Legislative Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2018-02-13#810-2 Use of Recording Devices on Buses.pdf (19 KB)
2018-02-13P202 Nonresident Students 1 29 18 (01518148xAED82).pdf (127 KB)
2018-02-13P701 Facilities Planning 1 29 18 (01518216xAED82).pdf (122 KB)
2018-02-13P704 Maintenance as of 01 09 2018(01513728xAED82).pdf (114 KB)
2018-02-13P705 Safety 1 29 18 (01463921xAED82).pdf (11 KB)
2018-02-13P810 Transportation 1 30 18 (01560184xAED82) (2).pdf (140 KB)
2018-02-13P823 Energy Management 1 29 18 (01497967xAED82).pdf (112 KB)
2018-02-13R704 Maintenance 10.29.17 (01519094xAED82) (1).pdf (21 KB)
2018-02-13Volunteers February 2018.pdf (28 KB)
2018-02-13Budget Transfers (15).pdf (130 KB)
2018-02-13Revenue.pdf (31 KB)
2018-02-13Summary.pdf (46 KB)
2018-02-13EDEP Agenda 2 13 18 final.pdf (26 KB)
2018-02-13Myers stipend list Jan 2018.pdf (15 KB)
2018-02-13Feb 2018 HM (2).pdf (54 KB)

2018-02-06 Finance and Facilities Committee Meetings

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2018-02-06Live Recording

Facilities Committee Meeting
Cedarbrook Construction Update
  • Overall the project is 88% complete. Still holding to a May 2018 completion date.
  • Kitchen equipment being received and installed including the walk in freezer
  • IT Wiring: 100% of wiring is completed.
  • Terrazzo floor: cafeteria 100% completed. Kitchen floor tiles completed.
  • Student lockers have arrived on site and are being installed.
  • Auditorium ceiling is completed.
  • Removal of soil stockpile is 30% completed.
  • Main generator is being installed
Damaged Sewer Line
  • During the Cedarbrook Project, a leak developed in a township-owned underground sewer line.
  • Liberty Mutual insurance is investigating the broken sewer pipe issue on the Cedarbrook construction site.
  • There are multiple pipes in the area.
  • One investigation topic is to determine the role geothermal drilling played in damaging the pipe ?
  • The township has run its video camera through the pipe.
  • Liberty Mutual has requested a copy of any pipe inspection video that was taken before it started leaking.
  • The district is looking to hire a contractor to replace the pipe with a new 8 inch cast iron pipe.
  • The cost to hire the contractor will be $93,350.
  • It was reported that the township said would not pay for the repair.
  • During the construction, there will be a bypass system in operation so that there is no interruption of service to nearby houses.
  • There are attorneys involved, so both the district and the township will incur extra cost over the cost of the repair.
Cheltenham High School Library Renovation/Elkins Park Roof Repair
  • The Cheltenham High School Library was closed because of mold and other environmental problems.
  • A consultant is currently performing a hazardous material survey at the library.
  • The next step is to hire an architect to design the project to renovate the library and eliminate the environmental problems. The work will include:
    • A new HVAC system
    • New duct work
    • New lighting
    • A new lower roof system at Cheltenham High School
    • Renovate an existing office area
  • Also included is roof work on the Elkins Park School.
  • There were 5 bids on the job the winning bid came in at $125,000
Finance Committee Meeting
Transportation Contract
  • School Bus costs were exacerbated by the break up of Cedarbrook into satellite campuses.
  • The added expenses pushed Cheltenham to the top in terms of per pupil transportation cost.
  • The transportation contract expires this year the district decided not to renew and to put the contract out to bid.
  • This new contract will be for a 5 year term and will have a series of new requirements:
    • All school buses must have 4 HD digital video cameras with audio capability. The cameras will monitor both students and drivers.
    • All full sized buses to be propane powered
    • There will be no additional charge for normally scheduled early dismissals.
    • The contract will provide for the following training / meetings:
      • Regularly scheduled safety meetings
      • A minimum of 4 general drivers meetings each year
  • Three companies bid on the contract:
  Cheltenham Trans Student Transportation of America First Student
5 YEAR TOTAL $20,545,200 $26,332,419 $26,014,662
  • The winning bid was the incumbent carrier, Cheltenham Trans, at $20,545,200.
  • The new contract represents minimum $894,780 savings in the first year.
  • The new contract includes a rate freeze for years 2021-2023.
  • One additional expense under the new contract is caused by the district taking over the routing and scheduling. Previously the contractor was doing it.
  • It was mentioned that Cheltenham Trans serves only 3 districts– so they can't afford to lose their largest contract.
2018-19 State Budget Highlights

The state Basic Education Funding increase of 1.7% will translate to $113,115 for Cheltenham School District. Likewise the special education increase translates to $46,196.

2018-02-06Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2018-02-061Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting Part 1 of 2
2018-02-062Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting Part 2 of 2

2018-02-06Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2018-02-06Financial Affairs Committee Presentation 02.06.18

2018-01-09 Regular Legislative Meeting

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2018-01-09Live Recording


As usual, the most newsworthy event of the regular meeting occurred at the end with the public comments portion.

School Board Member "Official" Facebook Post Stirs Controversy

A controversy over a Christian prayer vigil took over the comments section of this meeting . The vigil was to take place on January 13 on the sidewalk in front of district schools, not within the schools themselves.

What made this event controversial was that a school board director was using the official district Facebook page to help organize a religious event. The name of the school board director was not disclosed at the meeting.

Later during the Presidents report it was noted that the school board disavows the postings regarding the event and that the school board member that caused the ruckus was disciplined. "We are deeply sorry that one of our members caused this division."

One parent who was involved in planning the event said it was canceled because of, "hateful vile twisting of the truth" that erupted on Facebook. While another person identifying themselves as non-Christian said the event organizers statement that everyone was welcome to participate in the event was "disingenuous." Another said that, "some don't believe and some don't pray."

There was mention that a $30,000 recent donation from local churches might be be "purchasing influence."

In recognizing that the main issue was that a school board director used the official district Facebook account rather than their personal account, one audience member said that the problem was that the "school board member doesn't understand their responsibilities."

Cedarbrook New Staff

Another sign that split-up of Cedarbrook into satellite sites is taking a toll: there is heavy turnover of staff with 7 new Cedarbrook teachers hired.

Appointment of new School Board Member

With the election of Napoleon Nelson as district tax collector, a new School Board Member was appointed. The new member is Kate Thompson.

2018-01-09Regular Legislative Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2018-01-091Regular Legislative Meeting Part 1 of 1

2018-01-09Regular Legislative Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2018-01-09Revenue.pdf (31 KB)
2018-01-09Summary.pdf (45 KB)
2018-01-09Volunteers for CSD – January 2018.pdf (19 KB)
2018-01-09Budget Transfers.pdf (118 KB)
2018-01-09P202 Nonresident Students Repeat First Read 11 21 2017(01518148xAED82) (2).pdf (126 KB)
2018-01-09P701 Facilities Planning New First Read 12 12 2017 (01518216xAED82).pdf (123 KB)
2018-01-09P704 Maintenance New First Read 12 12 2017(01513728xAED82).pdf (114 KB)
2018-01-09P823 Energy Management First Read 11 21 2017 (01497967xAED82) (1).pdf (111 KB)
2018-01-09EDEP Agenda 1 9 18 Final (1).pdf (28 KB)

2018-01-02 Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting in 2 Separate Recordings

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2018-01-02Live Recording

Facilities Committee Meeting Notes
Cedarbrook Construction Update

In summary: 84% of the project is completed. A new schedule is being worked on and will be released at the next meeting.

The details on progress since last meeting:

  • Sidewalk forming has been completed. Contractor is now waiting for suitable weather for pouring concrete.
  • The metal wall panels on exterior of gym are being installed.
  • The main entrance curbing has been completed.
  • Auditorium– contractors have started working on ceiling. Wiring for the lighting has been completed.
  • Ground floor terrazzo tiling is in progress. The first and second floors are completed.
  • Kitchen: Floor tile installation is in progress. Kitchen equipment is being installed.
  • Gymnasium: The gym divider is being installed. Painting is completed.

The building is presently heated by temporary heating units. The school permanent heaters will not be used during the construction.

Broken Sewer Pipe

A proposed plan of solution to the broken sewer pipe was completed on Dec 20. The plan was sent to the township for approval. The broken sewer pipe is now the major risk factor that could delay the completion of the project; however, there is no risk that this problem would delay the opening of the school.

Gilbert Architect Contract Extension

The contract for the Cedarbrook architect will end on 1/19/18. The board will vote on a proposal to extend the contract to 8/31/2018. The cost of the extension will be $173,360. This brings the total cost of this contract to $1,876,955. The facilities director noted that there was much work to do after completion date for the architect and that this extension is on a "pay as you go" basis at an approximate $24K monthly rate.

Turner Construction Management Contract Extension

The contract for the Cedarbrook construction manager, Turner, is also being extended– to July 31, 2018. This is at a monthly rate of $35,840. The question was asked: "How is working relationship between Turner and the prime contractor ?" The facility directors answer was "the same." Meaning that the relationship is not good, and that they "are not happy with each other."

Cedarbrook Soil Stockpile

A Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection certified dump site for the Cobalt contaminated soil has been found in nearby Ambler. A change order to have the contractor truck this soil to the site was proposed to the board that would have 8 dump trucks making 6 trips daily for 24 days to remove the soil to the Ambler site. The change order cost will be $74,152.

Cheltenham HS Library Mold/Asbestos Testing and Inspection

The board will vote on a bid from 1Source Environmental for Mold/Asbestos testing and inspection at the Cheltenham High School Library. The bid was $21350.

Finance Committee Meeting Notes
Budget Process 2018-19
  • The maximum Act 1 Index tax increase for 2018-19 is 2.4%. Increases above this amount must either be approved at a voter referendum or be applied for exception by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
  • September 1st is the PDE waiver application deadline.
  • In the past exceptions have been applied for PSERs increases.
  • The fund balance as of June 30 2017 was $17,721,180 of which $8,684,728 was unassigned.
Budget 2017-18 Snapshot
  • YTD revenues are at 79% of budget
  • YTD expenditures are at 46.6% of budget
  • We are at 50% of the fiscal year

2018-01-02Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2018-01-021Facilities Committee Meeting
2018-01-022Finance Committee Meeting

2018-01-02Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2018-01-02Financial Affairs Committee Meeting January 2018
2018-01-02Facilities_Presentation_January_2018 updated

2016-17 State Building Level Academic Scores (BLAS): A 5 Year Comparison

Permalink2017-12-17Test Scores


Ever wonder at what the highest school tax rate in Montgomery County buys you ? Well, the state released the 2016-17 Building Level Academic Scores (BLAS) for all Cheltenham District schools. This will be the last year of the Pennsylvania School Performance Profile which grades schools on a 0-100 scale. The table below compares the last 5 years of BLAS scores for the Cheltenham Schools.

2017-12-172012-17 State Building Level Academic Scores (BLAS)

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