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Regular meeting of the Board of School Directors — Jan. 25, 2016


Jan. 25, 2016


Chris Rosenblum

SCASD Communications Director


SCASD Board of School Directors Approves Preliminary Budge

         On Monday, the State College Area School District Board of School Directors unanimously approved the 2016-2017 preliminary budget, including a 4.32 percent tax increase that reflects the referendum debt service schedule.
         At the start of the meeting, Superintendent Bob O’Donnell commended board members for their service in honor of national School Board Recognition Month.
         “They do this not for recognition or acclaim, but out of a collective dedication to public education, each lending their intellects and professional expertises to a vital role in the community,” O’Donnell said. “They routinely wrestle with complex issues and make pretty tough choices, and for that, they deserve our gratitude for their leadership and public service.”
         Each board member received a commendation for serving the district.
         By a 7-2 vote, the Board approved an amended contract for development services with Paul Olivett, who manages the district’s development office.
         Board members Laurel Zydney and Gretchen Brandt voted against the motion. Zydney said she wished more discussion about the district’s fundraising foundation had taken place before it was launched, and that the district didn’t follow its usual procedure for contracted services by issuing a Request for Proposal or RFP.
         O’Donnell replied that the district moved forward with the Education Foundation and Olivett’s hiring after many public meetings and consultations with board members and the district’s Citizens Advisory Committee for Finance, along with development professionals from Penn State and the community.
         “Everybody needs to know there is a long public record in how we got there,” he said.
         Board member Penni Fishbaine noted that the district issues RFPs for some services and does not for others, which district solicitor Scott Etters confirmed.

2016-2017 Preliminary Budget

         Before their vote, Business Administrator Randy Brown reminded board members that though their action Monday was required under the Act I Index timeline, they weren’t committed to a tax rate.

         “This does not tie the Board to a set tax increase,” he said, noting that changes could occur during the proposed final budget and final budget discussions.

         Board President Amber Concepcion said she would be willing to vote for the preliminary budget but wanted the district administration to explain later “the window in which we expect the Act 1 Index to be” in the next budget to better assess how many mills the Board may levy then.

         The Board’s vote met the Jan. 27 state deadline for adopting a preliminary budget.

         The budget includes a 4.32 percent real estate tax increase, which would mean the average district taxpayer with an assessed value of $71,985 would pay $130 more than during the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

         The increase combines the Act I Index of 2.4 percent — the maximum property tax allowed for the district — with Act I exceptions meant to satisfy the State High referendum debt service schedule. By law, the district must levy the full Act I Index before applying for exceptions.

         Principal payments for the $85 million referendum debt begin in 2016-2017, resulting in a $1.7 million increase in debt payments.

         Under the preliminary budget, the millage rate will increase to 43.473 — 1.799 more than in 2015-2016. The district projects $143,684,629 in revenue and $143,135,910 in expenses.

         The Board is expected to vote on applying for Act 1 referendum exceptions on Feb. 8, three days before the state deadline for doing so.

         The proposed 2016-2017 Final Budget will be presented to the Board on April 25. A vote is expected on May 9.

         A public hearing for the final budget is scheduled for June 6, and the Board expects to vote on adopting the budget on June 13.

State High Project update

         Director of Physical Plant Ed Poprik and Tim Jones from Massaro Construction Management Services presented the first monthly State High Project update to the Board.
         “We expect to be here frequently for three-plus years,” Poprik said.
         He told the Board that the project’s “Notice to Proceed” on Jan. 13 “officially started our project timeline ticking” at 1,275 days until completion.
         Phase 1, scheduled to last 687 days, will involved the construction of most of the traditional classroom space in the educational towers facing Westerly Parkway.
         Already, he said, contractors are installing fences around the South Building front parking lot, which is now a construction zone closed to traffic and pedestrians.
         In the coming weeks, Poprik said, demolition will begin on the South Building, on a wing with boarded-up windows. He also told board members that “the vast majority of the existing trees will have to removed” so that construction can proceed.Because of the size of the project and the confines of the site, he said, it would be impossible to construct the schools with the trees left standing.
         “You can’t build a building and reconfigure the parking lot and do the amount of work required for this project without clearing the site,” Poprik said.
         Among the trees are “class trees,” most of which were planted as part of first grade tree planting ceremonies. Some were donations from previously graduated classes.
         Of the 33 designated class trees:
  • six likely will remain safe.

  • five died previously and were not replaced.

  • five were removed recently for the North Building temporary parking.

  • 17 likely will be removed soon.

To compensate for the 27 trees that either no longer exist or will go soon, the district is planning a rededication ceremony to plant replacement trees. The plan is for the ceremony to coincide with the 2016 first grade tree planting ceremony in May, both of which probably will take place at Community Field to avoid conflicting with construction.

         Landscaping plans call for 260 new trees to be planted on the high school grounds:
  • 97 trees around the north campus grounds

  • 23 trees in south campus internal courtyards

  • 140 new trees on south campus ground

    The new trees will represent 33 species/cultivars with a variety of shapes, sizes, fall colors and landscape characteristics.

         In addition, more than 137 shrubs of various types will be planted on the school grounds. Steeper slope areas will sport low-maintenance groundcovers, and native, low-maintenance grasses will grow in stormwater basins.

Board member Dan Duffy asked whether “any identifying plaques associated with trees” will be saved.

         “Some of those do have plaques and some do not, and we will be saving those plaques from the ones that do,” Poprik said.
         Board member Laurel Zydney said she appreciated the district making that effort.

Poprik also explained anticipated “value engineering change orders” in the coming months that the project team hopes will lead to $1.5 million to $2 million in project savings.

         For clarification, Poprik reminded the Board that change orders that alter the scope of the project cannot be field-approved and must be brought to the Board for a vote. In contractor terms, he said, “scope” means “anything that adds or removes square footage of a project, or changes the intended use of the space.”
         Board member Scott Fozard asked whether that definition would apply, for example, to space intended for a broom closet that winds up being used for something else.
         Poprik said the need for Board approval kicks in if funds are expended to change the use of a space. He used the example of a classroom being switched from English instruction to math without further expense. In that case, the change order wouldn’t have to come to the Board.
         “If we’re going to add $2,000 to make a science lab, then yes,” he said.
         By the Board’s agreement, any change costing less than $19,400 can be field-approved during the project.
         “As I recall, this was very helpful with the elementary school projects,” Board Vice President Jim Leous said. “Things flowed. You weren’t holding it up until the next Board meeting.”
         Poprik reassured board members that they likely will not face many major change orders modifying the school’s fundamental design. He said he would encourage contractors to stick to the approved design and materials.
         “You as a Board have approved a set of drawings,” he said. “My and Tim’s goal moving forward is to build that building. At all cost, I avoid redesigning a building as it’s being built.”
         However, he said, change orders do come up, and when they do, the project team will bring appropriate ones to the Board with an administration recommendation for discussion.
         “There will be a process to move forward,” he said.
         One recommendation Monday was to eliminate a planned South Building rainwater harvesting system that would capture rainwater from the roof, store it in a tank and then use it for toilet flushing. Deleting the system, which isn’t required for the LEED Gold grant submission process, would save $152,300 — an example of “value engineering.”
         “The project will be LEED Gold with or without this system,” Poprik said, adding that the system would never pay for itself. Asked whether the water could be used for gardens or landscaping, he said that was a possibility.
         Board President Amber Concepcion asked if the system tank would reduce runoff, and Poprik replied that the site’s stormwater detention system was designed to function without the tank in mind.
         Poprik asked for a Board decision on the underground system at the Feb. 8 meeting in order to facilitate excavating plans.