When we decided to run for re-election as Region 2 school board members, we knew there were differences of opinion about school district issues but we never anticipated the lengths that would be taken by our opponents and supported by some current school board members to misinform the public about school district operations and the facilities project. Are they misinformed? Have they decided that the facts don’t favor their positions? Only they know why they’ve chosen that path. Our mission in this election, in stark contrast, is to give prospective voters the facts they need to make an informed election decision on May 21.
These are the facts about Avon Grove School District student performance and spending:
• AGSD has the lowest administrative costs per student of all 12 districts in Chester County
• AGSD has the second lowest direct education spending per student of all 12 districts in Chester
• AGSD is one of only 3 districts in Chester county to spend below the average on its educational and administration expenses and achieve above the average on state test scores for elementary and high school secondary school students
We’re not a rich district or operating with a large business base. We need to do more with less. We believe these results confirm we’re accomplishing exactly that. We believe these results reflect a district that’s managing its money wisely and delivering quality education outcomes.
Clearly the biggest topic in front of the district is how to manage our future facilities needs. It’s been stated by our opponents that they have a plan to expand and renovate the current high school for one-third the cost of the current facilities project. Do they know that option was evaluated in July 2017 and dismissed as too costly and too disruptive to the education environment? We’re curious what solution they’ve uncovered that 20 months of rigorous analysis performed by members of the community, board and administration and led by an independent third-party expert in the business of building and renovating schools nationally failed to uncover?
These are the facts that demonstrate why the renovation and expansion is a bad financial decision:
• Renovation and expansion of the high school building would cost an estimated $80 million
• To match building capacity, an expansion of the middle school is also required at an estimated cost of $46 million
• A future expansion of AGI would be also be needed at an estimated cost of $6 million
• All three expansions would be occupied renovations with massive disruption to the student learning environment
• The State Road campus would end up with less parking than it has today
• The State Road campus would end up with less sports and activity fields than it has today
• The renovated/expanded high school would be at 85-90% of capacity from the day it reopens when our enrollment is going up.
o Kindergarten enrollment in 2018/19 is up 24% from 2015/16 and projected to be up over 30% in 2019/20
• The total cost for these outcomes is estimated at $132 million!
• The third-party expert concluded and the facilities input group agreed that spending this kind of money with these impacts made no sense when compared to building a new school building on property the district already owned
Does this option sound like a wise financial decision? These facts speak for themselves so it’s not hard to see why all 9 school board members voted in April 2018 to build a new high school and renovate the existing one in to a middle school. If renovation was a viable option, wouldn’t that have been discussed?
The Avon Grove High School is an entire class size over crowded (about 450 students) and the band aids of modular class rooms that have been used for 20 years are no longer safe, financially viable nor educationally effective. At the curriculum committee meeting on May 7, 2019, Dr. Mike Snopkowski, AGSD’s Director of Teaching & Learning Grades 7-12, reported to the board that in the 2018/19 school year at the high school, the district was able to fill only 48% of all student requests for existing Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) courses.
To be clear, 1360 student requests for STEM classes in 2018-19 could not be fulfilled! The single biggest hurdle to expanded educational offerings is lack of appropriate space needed to align with 21st century learning standards. The facilities project isn’t about a new building. It’s about creating a lasting, generational solution to facilities that will educate our children for how the world will be in the future.
It’s time to stop the cycle of penny-wise, pound-foolish and short-sighted decision making that has been at the core of this district’s facilities decisions for 20 years. We believe these facts speak for themselves and support our record of educational achievement and financial discipline these past 4 years.
This election could be about many things but to us it’s about character, leadership and experience. The combination of our time on the board, the results we’ve achieved, our experiences as parents and our breadth of knowledge and depth of understanding gained from over 50 combined years of work experience form the basis for our humble request for your vote.
The school board should not be a political role. It’s a shame that the education of our greatest resource, our children, has become so divisive and politicized. We believe there is no better cause for a community to rally around than the future well-being and education of its children. We further believe this can be accomplished with financial discipline so an investment made wisely today returns dividends to the entire community for years to come as our children grow up to become our care givers, our customers, our neighbors and most importantly our future.
Jeff Billig and Tracy Lisi