The Phoenixville Area School District administration recommended budgeting $240,000 for temporary trailers at the East Pikeland and Schuylkill Elementary sites at a budget meeting Tuesday.
The item was ultimately moved to the “yellow light” list, or out of the budget to be reconsidered later during the budget season. Board members and administrators, however, had a lengthy discussion about the possible need for modular classrooms at the two locations.
According to Stan Johnson, executive director of operations, the $240,000 in costs would be for installation costs, walkways, foundations, utility connections and one year of rent for four trailers. There may be two at Schuylkill Elementary and two at East Pikeland Elementary, but that’s still being determined, Johnson said.
Superintendent Dr. Alan Fegley said delays in the East Pikeland Elementary School expansion have contributed to the possible need for trailers. The longer the project is delayed, the greater the need for trailers, Fegley explained.
“If I don’t have that building really going forward in the next couple months, I’ll pull the trigger and start having this work done,” Fegley said.
During construction of the potential addition at East Pikeland Elementary, the district planned for students to stay in the existing building, so trailers would not be needed even if construction had to occur during the school year.
“There’s no intent to put children in the trailers while the construction is underway,” Johnson said.
The potential for the project to be delayed into the 2013-2014 school year, along with potential enrollment increases in the district, prompted the administration to recommend inclusion of the line item in the 2012-2013 budget, Fegley said. The contract could be a multi-year deal if the East Pikeland project doesn’t get off the ground.
“It could be short if we get the building or it could as long as we’ve had the trailers outside the middle school,” Fegley said.
Board Vice President Jan Potts asked if the trailers currently at the middle school could be reused. Johnson said the district is considering that option, but those trailers do not have restrooms that would be needed for elementary school students, so they'd have to be modified. The district currently has a “perpetual lease” for the modular classrooms at the middle school.
If modular classrooms are needed at either elementary, the plans to place them on the site will likely have to go to the townships for approval.
“They could go on playgrounds or parts of playgrounds,” Johnson said, as well as blacktop areas.
Board members had several questions about the need for trailers and the need for including them in the 2012-2013 budget. Fegley said that right now, it looks like the district could make it through that school year. A computer lab at East Pikeland will be turned into classroom space and at Schuylkill Elementary, areas can be condensed.
“What we really need them for is the following school year,” Fegley said.
However, he said an additional first grade will likely be recommended at Schuylkill Elementary for next school year, and he said he is concerned that condensing spaces could affect education in the district’s elementary schools.
“Packing the classrooms the way we’re starting to pack the classrooms is starting to affect instruction,” Fegley said.
Therefore, Fegley said he’d rather have the trailers ready to go for the 2012-2013 school year. He agreed that even if the East Pikeland Elementary project were approved today, construction would still take a year to a year and a half. In addition, the enrollment at Schuylkill is growing.
“If that trend continues, I really need something for 2012-2013, even if I have the construction going,” Fegley said.
Even if the district can hold off until the following school year, the infrastructure for the modular classrooms would still have to be in place during the 2012-2013 school year. After the first year, which includes installation costs, that total budget line item would go down to just the rental fee.
Board Treasurer Josh Gould said that if the trailers may not be needed for the 2012-2013 budget, he’d rather leave them out. In the future, he said instead of raising taxes the district could use its reserves. Fegley cautioned against using reserves for the trailer cost. Board Member Kevin Pattinson asked if the $826,000 could be used.
“There’s many millions of dollars worth of things that we could use that $800,000 for,” Gould said. “This is one of them."
Board Member Betsy Ruch said the way she understood it, no matter what happens with the East Pikeland project, trailers will still be needed at Schuylkill. Fegley said that enrollment is likely to grow at Schuylkill.
“Until we start doing some redistricting, Schuylkill is going to continue to grow and I have some concerns about how that’s growing,” Fegley said.
Board members debated on whether or not to leave the $240,000 in the working budget for the upcoming school year. The suggestion was made to move it to the “yellow light” list of possible changes to the budget, and so it wouldn’t be included in calculating the potential tax increase.
“As we go through this process, it’ll force us to make decisions to cut other things out, essentially, so I’d rather not have a number this big in there,” Board Member Dr. Dan Cushing said.
On the other hand, Board Member David Ziev said he’d rather have it kept in the working budget so the board will keep chipping away at other expenses.
The consensus was to move it to the list of “yellow light” items and re-evaluate the cost when more information on enrollment is available.
The district made a number of reductions amounting to $362,715 between the February budget meeting and Tuesday’s meeting and also added in $217,493 in revenue for an increase in state retirement funding.
The potential tax increase stands at 2.34 percent. The median home assessment in Phoenixville is $133,540, meaning half the homes are above that number and half below. For a homeowner at the median assessment, the increase would amount to $95 extra for the 2012-2013 school year.