The Board Has Been Busy, Here's The Latest

The Board Has Been Busy, Here's The Latest
Posted on 11/20/2022

Good afternoon!


Wanted to provide you a quick Quakertown Community School District update on Board actions and discussions. There have been several School Board committee meetings, a 2023-24 Budget Workshop, and a monthly meeting that have generated worthy tidbits of information that I would like to share.  


The Board’s Education Committee met several times over the past few weeks.  The Committee reviewed the 2023-24 QCHS Program of Studies in multiple meetings and approved it at the November 10th Board Meeting.  The major changes are the additions of several new “focused elective courses” in the CTE (Career & Technical Education) field, a new Advanced Placement Precalculus course - in lieu of PreCalculus (Honors), and the addition of a new history elective.  The CTE focused elective courses are part of this year’s Superintendent Goals for creating micro credentialing opportunities for students.  These courses are for two periods a day, all year long.  They include:

  •  Applied Horticulture and Horticulture Operations
  •  Catering and Food Service
  • Professional Cinematography and Film Production
  •  Digital Communications and Media
  •  Cooperative Education
  •  Public Safety
  •  Teacher Preparation Program

 Course descriptions of these “focused elective courses” begins on page 43 of the ‘23-’24 Program of Studies.


Also discussed at several Education Committee meetings over the past month and at the Budget Workshop were start times and the high school schedule for next year.  Our district Transportation Coordinator has modeled and projected the cost of a two-tier bus system for next school year.  The first tier would schedule all secondary students, 6th through 12th grade, to start their school day at around 8 am.  With our elementary schools, the start time remains the same. The three sending school districts to Upper Bucks County Technical School have worked together to have our students arriving about the same time. The additional funds to change to a two tier bus system will be included in the 2023-24 budget.


Also shared at the last Education Committee meeting were enrollment projections for the next five years and class sizes in all of our schools’ classrooms today.  The enrollment projections anticipate enrollment to continue to decline and then level off in a couple more years around 4,200 students.  We are currently at 4,765 students.  Since 2008, the year of the Great Recession, our community has seen a significant decline in births. Students born that year are now in 8th grade.  By the time 8th graders are seniors in high school we will have several hundred fewer students in the high school with lower class sizes and room to fully develop our “focused elective courses” into CTE certifying programs.  Providing opportunities for high school students to earn credentials for entering the workforce is one of our priorities. 


During enrollment projection discussions at Board meetings, it is frequently mentioned that with all of the housing construction going on, enrollment will eventually go up. As I have shared with you previously in a blog, that has not happened.  At its last meeting, the Board approved doing its part to help enrollment growth happen.   The School Board approved the sale of the 126-acre tract on West Pumping Station Road that it purchased seven years ago.  In 2015, the Board paid $1.73 million and has agreed to sell it for $7.8 million to D.R. Horton, a home building contractor.  It was purchased back then because enrollment projections had the district growing to 6,000 students. Selling the land is expected to be a two-year process.  When developed, we expect there to be at least 150 new homes built there.  


At the November 3rd Budget Workshop the Board did a deep dive into the fiscal health of the school district and to get themselves ready for budget discussions for ‘23-‘24 in the New Year.  The Board learned that the school district finances have gone from Good to Great!  Dawn Young, QCSD’s Business Administrator, reported the draft audit results for last fiscal year and our current financial posture.  If you recall, last year was the second year in our school district’s history that it did not have a tax increase.  Even without a tax increase the district saved $5.8 million in expenses.  The District had some savings (about 1.5 million, or 15% of the total variance) in personnel, mainly due to the impact of retirements during COVID.  The rest of the variance is due to additional revenue from COVID related federal grants and other financial measures. 


With the projected 126-acre sale and carrying forward the additional savings into fund balance, Quakertown will have more than $40 million or 33% of its budget in reserve.  The fund balance was only $15 million nine years ago. Why is this important and what does it do for us?  First, it is best practice for a public entity - municipalities and school districts, to have two months worth of annual operating costs in fund balance for emergencies. That is currently about $20 million for Quakertown.  Second, Wall Street routinely examines the financial health of school districts and awards bond ratings.  A higher bond rating allows districts to borrow at lower interest rates.  This helped us when QCSD sold bonds to renovate Neidig ES.  Third, a healthy fund balance allows the Board to use it for capital improvements and specific projects without borrowing money to do it.  For example, it could be used to re-do a school roof, pay for a baseball field, or partially to renovate an elementary school.  At the Budget Workshop the Board learned that to renovate Quakertown Elementary School would cost $30 million, an increase of 23% since the ‘20 appraisal.  Ostensibly, the ideal is not to plan for and hold on to this much of our taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars in the fund balance.


The last thing I would like to make you aware of is our hiring/vacant position status.  As you can see, we still have a critical shortage of support staff - (3) nurses, (25) aides, (11) food service workers, and (2) building maintenance leads.  We have used multiple strategies to advertise and promote the district to recruit and hire.  At the last board meeting, we presented a recruiting article that highlights the importance of their work and how rewarding it is.  At this time last year, we reopened the QESPA support staff contract because of our classroom aide shortage.  The salary adjustment for aides impacted practically every other support staff position.  In speaking with my colleagues across the county and the state, we are all in the same position.  


Thank you for reading!  Your feedback is invaluable to the Board and me.


Have a wonderful Thanksgiving Holiday!


Beat Pennridge!  


Bill Harner

Superintendent


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