The following documents are communications that have been released by the school district regarding the Upper Perkiomen Middle School construction project. We will keep this page updated as new communications are distributed by district staff. Thank you for taking the time to review the documents below!
- Why PlanCon Now?
- PlanCon Approval Update
- Superintendent Letter to Parents - June 2016
- Principal Letter to Community - December 2016
- Construction Press Release - January 2017
- Concerned Citizens Presentation Response - January 26, 2017
- Interview with Middle School Instructors on STEM Education - February 10, 2017
- Community Flyer - July 2017
Why PlanCon now?
On May 11, 2016, The Upper Perkiomen School Board of Directors will hold a special meeting to consider the approval of PlanCon A, which are documents associated with the construction of a new school for students in grades 6, 7, and 8. At this point, you may be asking: What is PlanCon?; Why is the School Board in a rush to approve PlanCon A?; and Why has the public not been informed of this construction project until now?
Prior to explaining the rationale, urgency and impact of PlanCon on the educational experience of the students, it is critical that members of the community be provided with an understanding of what PlanCon is. The Pennsylvania Department of Education defines PlanCon as:
“When a school district undertakes a major school construction project and seeks reimbursement from the Commonwealth, a process known as PlanCon is initiated. PlanCon, an acronym for Planning and Construction Workbook, is a set of forms and procedures used to
apply for Commonwealth reimbursement. The forms are designed to: (1) document a local school district's planning process; (2) provide justification for a project to the public; (3) ascertain compliance with state laws, regulations and standards; and (4) establish the level of state participation in the cost of the project.” (www.pde.org)
In essence, PlanCon is the process by which districts can seek partial reimbursement for construction projects. This year, if funds are released by the state, Upper Perkiomen School District will receive approximately $593,201 in reimbursement for previously submitted PlanCon construction projects.
Our current school board would like to ensure eligibility for reimbursement for future construction projects within the district by considering a motion to initiate PlanCon at a special meeting on Wednesday, May 11, 2016. This strategic move comes with a sense of urgency due to a moratorium issued by the state government. This moratorium requires any district PlanCon applications to be submitted prior to May 15, 2016. Following this deadline, the state will not be accepting PlanCon applications for at least 18 months. This deadline came to our attention last week and requires a quick turnaround by the school board.
Upon the completion of a district feasibility study in January, the school board appointed a facilities committee, a subcommittee of the board, to investigate options to alleviate space issues at Marlborough Elementary and Upper Perkiomen Middle School. Currently under consideration are additions at Marlborough and the Middle School or the construction of a new building. There are four new building configurations being discussed. They are a K-1 Building, a 5-6 Building, a 7-8 Building and a 6-8 Building. While the school board has yet to make a determination on the final course of action, they felt it prudent to consider the submission of a PlanCon A application for a potential project in a timeframe that makes it eligible for reimbursement. The School Board believes the limited cost to create this document would protect the interest of the taxpayers if in fact construction occurs. Due to the inability of the district to submit multiple PlanCon applications, and being required to identify the grade span for the construction project; the board has determined that the best course of action is for the board to consider the submission of a new Middle School that serves students in grades 6, 7, and 8. There will much more public discussion on this matter prior to any construction decisions occurring. The first such discussion will occur at the School Board Workshop on June 23rd. Construction will be the sole topic of conversation and you are encouraged to attend the workshop and voice your opinion. By submitting PlanCon A documents, the district is not bound to complete any construction project. It merely allows for possible reimbursement if a project were to proceed.
To view board deliberations on the topic, I encourage you to watch the May 5, 2016 School Board Meeting video posted on the school district website, https://youtu.be/t7pxsvyewJU.
PlanCon Approval Update
On May 11, 2016, The Upper Perkiomen School Board of Directors held a special meeting to consider the approval of PlanCon A, the documents associated with the construction of a new school. The motion to approve PlanCon A for a new middle school was affirmed by a 7-1 vote.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education defines PlanCon as: “When a school district undertakes a major school construction project and seeks reimbursement from the Commonwealth, a process known as PlanCon is initiated. PlanCon, an acronym for Planning and Construction Workbook, is a set of forms and procedures used to apply for Commonwealth reimbursement. The forms are designed to: (1) document a local school district's planning process; (2) provide justification for a project to the public; (3) ascertain compliance with state laws, regulations and standards; and (4) establish the level of state participation in the cost of the project.” (www.pde.org)
As noted in prior the correspondence, on April 28, 2016, Act 25 was passed instituting a moratorium on PlanCon. The final day for submission of new applications was May 13, 2016 which is why the school board expedited the application for PlanCon. The moratorium will be in place for 18 months.
The process the district took to get to this point were:
Enrollment Study completion – March 2015
Feasibility Study acceptance – February 2016
Facilities Committee meetings – March 8, 2016, March 29, 2016 and May 4, 2016
Additionally, the board studied the borrowing structure and recognized that a bond was due in 2017 which would allow the district to borrow new funds for construction with little to no increase to the tax payers.
On June 23rd, the board will hold a workshop session focused on potential new construction projects. Currently, they are considering one of the following construction options: additions to Marlborough and Upper Perkiomen Middle School, a new K-1 Building, a new 5-6 Building, a new 7-8 Building or a new 6-8 Building. We encourage all community members to voice their opinions and join us at the workshop meeting. If you are unable to attend the meeting, the video of it will be posted on the district website under school board, meeting date/agendas. By submitting PlanCon A documents, the district is not bound to complete any construction project. It merely allows for possible reimbursement if a project were to proceed.
Good Afternoon Parents and Guardians,
As June ends and July begins, we are hopeful your summer is off to a great start and you are enjoying the recent beautiful weather. Last Thursday, the school board met to discuss many issues that impact the children in our district. Three of the topics included school construction, the 2016-2017 budget and a revised school calendar.
Attached to this email, you will find the final item on the list, a revised school calendar. Please note that two in-service days have been moved to the end of the school year. School will now be in session on Friday, February 17, 2017 and Wednesday, May 10, 2017 and students will finish two days early. The final day of school for the 2016-2017 school year will be June 13, 2017.
After much deliberation, the school board approved a 2.5% millage increase which equates to a median tax increase of $114.65 in Montgomery County and $90.27 in Berks County. As you can imagine, this decision was not taken lightly by the school board who spent significant time deliberating to reach a consensus on what tax increase would occur.
Finally, the workshop discussion centered on construction options. The facilities committee thoroughly presented the options being considered, which were: an addition at Marlborough Elementary and Upper Perkiomen Middle School, a K-1 Building, a 5-6 Intermediate School, a 7-8 Building or a new 6-8 middle school. They also discussed the financing options available. There was a nice size audience of staff members, parents, and community members who also participated in the discussion. After the presentation and dialogue, a majority of the board favored moving forward with a new middle school and decided to pursue the next step in the process, which required the identification of an architect. The board choose to explore a contract with Breslin Ridyard Fadero Architects, who already completed the Feasibility Study and PlanCon part A and B to date, with the goal of approval at the August School Board Meeting.
The district is at the beginning stages of a very exciting project and will be requesting public input as we progress through this process.
Please visit the Upper Perkiomen School District website to view the video of the meeting, https://youtu.be/enWneGRtF0E.
Dr. Alexis McGloin
Superintendent of Schools
Upper Perkiomen School District
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 18, 2017
Dr. Alexis McGloin
Upper Perkiomen School District
Proposed Upper Perkiomen Middle School
Capital projects, and specifically the building of a new school is a topic that school boards and district administration have to face when there is residential development within the community. Two years ago, the Upper Perkiomen School Board began evaluating the enrollment trends due to noticeable growth in the Upper Perkiomen Valley. Based on the results of the enrollment study, the school board sanctioned a feasibility study to assess the conditions of all facilities within the district. The studies concluded that current space issues would be further compounded due to the expectation of future growth in enrollment. The board formed a subcommittee to investigate possible solutions to accommodate the expected growth. The construction of new middle school has been contemplated for the last 15 years. The current board members have weighed the construction options associated with the middle school building through the lenses of students, staff, and community members. They have taken the responsibility seriously and determined that investing millions of dollars into a building that has undergone five previous renovations is neither fiscally prudent nor educationally sound.
From a financial perspective, the district projects a total 8.62% tax increase over four years. With our successful attainment of a favorable interest rate in the first borrowing, that figure has already decreased. We are hopeful, as we move through this process, that we can find further ways to diminish the effect on property owners.
From an educational standpoint, a new school is in the best interest of our middle level students. A new facility will support the implementation of “teams” which has been long regarded as the true essence of middle-level education. In addition to the establishment of teams, the proposed facility affords our students a new auditorium, lab science, a state of the art technology education classroom, and a family and consumer science room with clear sightlines
of children working. The benefit of this new facility is not limited to middle level learners. The school’s new location establishes a campus like environment which allows for collaboration among high school and middle school learners, student access to advanced coursework, student mentorship and tutoring, and greater opportunity for professional staff at the secondary level to develop transition experiences to assist middle school students to transition to high school. The opportunities are limitless. The return on investment would greatly benefit the district. For more information about the middle school construction project, please visit the Upper Perkiomen School District construction page.
Upper Perkiomen Community Members,
This past weekend, the Concerned Citizens group held a town hall meeting to discuss the information the school district has been releasing regarding the middle school construction project. During this meeting, Keith Knauss, former school board member in the Unionville-Chaddsford School District, presented findings on the 2016 Upper Perkiomen Audit Report. District representatives were not invited to the meeting. Upper Perkiomen School District believes it is important to contribute to the conversation arising from the presentation.
2016 Audit Report
Procedure and Protocol
Several individuals have asked Upper Perkiomen school board members and administrators how Mr. Knauss was given a copy of the audit before the school board or superintendent received a copy. While Mr. Knauss did file a right to know request with the district, he was informed the district would provide a copy to him after the board formally reviewed and accepted the audit in February. This is normal school district protocol.
As required by law, the audit was filed with the prothonotary (the court) and EMMA, which is the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board. Upper Perkiomen district administrators assume he obtained the information from one of those two sources, as they are public domain.
Even though the report was finalized on December 20, 2016, the UPSD Business Office did not receive a copy of the audit until the holiday break in December. The school board has traditionally reviewed and accepted the audit in February or March. Last year, it was received earlier and thus it was accepted in January.
During the past two years, Gorman and Associates presented the audit report in person to the school board at a workshop session, allowing the board to ask questions and obtain clarifications. The audit was then accepted at the following board meeting. This year, the audit report was to be distributed to all board members before the presentation at a mid-January meeting. The Superintendent was scheduled to receive a copy around the same time. The district did not veer from that practice this year, which is why the board and superintendent did not have a copy.
2016 Audit Report Findings
For the first time in our documented history, the audit had material weaknesses. These findings are attributed to a change in our financial software. Two years ago, the district made the decision to convert the financial system to a new program which replaced the outdated one we had been using since 1986. It was no surprise that the conversion to a new financial package after using the same program for 30 years was bumpy given the conversion needs on top of day-to-day responsibilities. Since these obstacles -- and not a system failure -- are what contributed to both material weaknesses, they will not have an impact on the district bond rating.
A public meeting will be held to review the finding of the audit. At this meeting, the school board and district administration will discuss what new protocols have been and will be put in place to eliminate weaknesses in our financial system moving forward. As a result of our work to improve our infrastructure, we expect a stronger audit report in 2017.
After acceptance of the audit report, the business office will recommend a transfer of funds to the capital reserve account. This is the typical process at Upper Perkiomen School District when there is carryover funds. The money that is transferred is used for capital expenditures such as technology, upkeep of facilities (roofs, boilers, curbs, etc.) and any other large one-time expenses.
The school board is always transparent with the audit report by publically discussing findings or recommendations and formally accepting the report at a school board meeting.
The district acknowledges that the STEB ratio is difficult to comprehend. Every year during the budget process, STEB ratio and its impact on taxes is discussed in detail. In an effort to educate new attendees at school board meetings, the district solicitor, Ken Roos, presented on the topic in January. Immediately following the presentation, Upper Perkiomen School District sent out correspondence that included the PowerPoint presentation. While it is understandable that community members who are not familiar with the budget process do not understand STEB ratio, our school board has a working understanding of the equalization process as it factors into their decision making.
History of STEB
During the 2008-2009 school year, the administration and school board determined that there was a need to make the tax burden equal across the counties. This was done because there was large inequity when the 2008 percentage of market value was certified in both counties by the STEB Board. In fact, the difference between the counties was 17%. Out of the four property tax increase choices that are available according to law, the STEB ratio was chosen because it caused the least difference in taxes between the two counties at the time.
For the above reasons, the district does not speak solely in millage. District personnel report increases in both millage and percentages during the budget presentations. An in-depth review of STEB calculations and tax impact is provided during revenue discussions. Further, the figures depicted in all budget documents that are on view for public display include the percent increase due to millage and the addition of STEB by percentage.
Effect of STEB
The STEB changes from year to year, ranging from a 0.01% increase in 2013-2014 to a 7.5% increase in 2012-2013. The latter ratio of 7.5% is a large outlier with the next closest ratio being 1.1%. This year, there is no change in STEB which means a 0% increase due to the STEB ratio. In the future, it is possible that the STEB could increase which will result in a decrease in taxes if the millage stays the same.
It is also important to note that the district did not increase the millage rate for four years in a row. During that time, the only increase occurred during the 2012-2013 school year when the STEB ratio was 7.5%. Otherwise, the district saw a negligible increase in taxes in those years.
Our Budgeting Process
While the district respects Mr. Knauss’s opinion, our actions are bound by state requirements which we are mandated to follow. Upper Perkiomen School District has only taken exceptions over the Act 1 index
once in the seven-year span the STEB ratio has been used. To compare the Upper Perkiomen School District to Lower Merion School District would be like comparing apples and oranges. Upper Perkiomen School District has the lowest per pupil expenditure in Montgomery County while Lower Merion School District spends the most per pupil in the county, about six to seven thousand dollars more per student than UPSD.
The Budget Process
There are many pieces of the budget that Upper Perkiomen School District cannot adjust. Examples of static and recurring expenditures include, but are not limited to, the cost to run facilities, salaries, benefits and special education costs. Many expenditures are dictated by federal and state laws as well as employee contracts and agreements. District administrators have flexibility with approximately 12% of the budget and examine spending practices over the past three years in order to build a proposed budget. Based on current needs and past expenditures, a required budgeted amount for each line item is calculated.
Each building in the school district is allotted a per-pupil expenditure that varies based on the grade level of the student. Any money beyond what has been allocated needs to be justified. Staffing recommendations are based on projections from current enrollment and past trends.
The Upper Perkiomen School District’s budget philosophy has been to ensure adequate money is available to cover expected as well as some unexpected needs. As a result of this prudent planning as well as practicing restraint in spending throughout the year, the district has frequently shown a surplus at the end of the school year. We allocate these funds to cover capital expenditures such as technology, equipment and facility upkeep—roofs, boilers, etc.
Approximately one third of the school districts in Montgomery County do not prepare five-year projections. Most of the districts that create five-year projections have reported they have found only marginal value in this process given the changes that can occur from year to year. The longer out the projection, the more limited in value it is.
At this time, our financial models show that four years of gradual increases in the millage rate will allow us to pay for the new middle school over the length of the financing. After the 2021-2022 fiscal year, Upper Perkiomen School District does not expect any additional increases related to the construction of the new school. As usual, the district and board will work diligently to avoid additional yearly increases related to operational expenses.
We anticipate that we will continue to maintain one of the lowest millage rates in Montgomery County, even with a millage increase of 8.62% due to construction over four years
An Interview with Middle School Instructors on STEM Education
One of the many reasons the school district has decided to build a new middle school centers on STEM education: science, technology, engineering and math. We spoke to two of our middle school instructors. Mr. Christian Fowkes and Mr. Phillip Grigonis, about STEM education, its importance and how the proper facilities are essential to providing it.
Q: Why is STEM education so important?
Christian Fowkes: According to U.S. Department of Commerce, STEM occupations are growing at a rate of 17%, versus just 9.8% for other occupations. Our students – and our nation – need quality STEM education to keep pace. Even beyond those occupations, STEM activities provide hands-on and minds-on lessons for the student. Making math and science both fun and interesting helps the student to do much more than just learn.
Phillip Grigonis: STEM subjects areas require our children to think at a highly analytical level. This level of thought leads to the growth of a nation and the economy within it. Jobs relating to STEM areas produce higher individual income levels. STEM education is not just a growing movement in the United States. Many governments around the world realize that these areas are vital to a nation’s growth in the 21st century.
Q: What are the priorities in terms of STEM education at the middle school level to prepare our students for high school and beyond?
Christian Fowkes: STEM education teaches problem-solving skills, and kids gain confidence as they work through problems. According to US News & World Report, research shows that by the time students reach fourth grade, a third of boys and girls have lost an interest in science. By eighth grade, almost 50 percent have lost interest or deemed it irrelevant to their education or future plans -- the STEM pipeline has narrowed to half! That means millions of students have tuned out or lack the confidence to believe they can do science.
Phillip Grigonis: The main focus at the middle school level is trying to get the students to “gain interest” in these areas and also to create “positive memories” of their encounters with these subject areas. In technology and engineering classes, it is important to give students exposure to problem solving that pushes them to be independent problem solvers. It’s also important to give students the time to develop their dexterity with tools and materials through building and designing activities. In science, it is important for students to develop inquisitive behaviors about the natural world and the universe. In math, students should be able to apply reasoning for decision making, and be capable of seeing relationships between math and other real-world applications.
Q: How has the curriculum changed over the last 5-10 years to address the redoubled focus on STEM?
Christian Fowkes: We’ve increased collaboration between math, science, and engineering educators to tailor content to more closely relate to student interests. STEM has also allowed us to focus on skills in addition to facts.
Phillip Grigonis: Typically the curriculum has changed to provide students with more hands-on related activities that better allow students to convert book knowledge to practical knowledge. Learning through multiple senses (hearing, touching, seeing, and smelling) allows the students to retain knowledge better. Having more hands-on related activities is more expensive because this entails purchasing new equipment and more materials for the students to interact with.
Q: How have the curriculum and teaching methods changed the facility needs?
Christian Fowkes: STEM education has compelled us to rethink how we deliver education. It requires integrated technology in classrooms and labs, the flexibility to move the physical space to fit the content, flipping the classroom—school at work and homework at school, blending in-person and online experiences, and more small group work so that students can learn from each other.
Phillip Grigonis: Technology and engineering is a subject area typically taught by individuals certified in technology education. The classroom typically provided to these teachers is the same classroom that was previously used for industrial arts. While technology and engineering teachers still use the industrial art environment for hands-on building related activities, technology and engineering labs today need clean areas for 21st century technology related activities like computer-aided design (CAD), robotics, computer programing, 3-D printing, and lessons on technology.
Q: How are we managing to meet these needs in the current middle school facility?
Christian Fowkes: We aren’t. STEM is not being done in our science classrooms because the facilities do not meet the needs of the program. At this time I teach science in a classroom, but don’t teach in “science classroom.” Due to the current layout of my classroom I am unable to move tables to allow for kinesthetic activities or set up for hands-on labs. There is no preparation space for the limited labs I am able to perform. In essence, my course has become more of a “history of natural science” class than a “life and environmental science” class.
Phillip Grigonis: At the Upper Perkiomen Middle School, we are meeting these needs by putting temporary “Band-Aids” in place everywhere. The room for technology and engineering was designed in the 1970s and needs a complete renovation. There are too many things to list about how and why this room needs to change. The ITTEA (International Technology and
Engineering Educators Association) has published the “Facilities Planning Guide” for STEM Labs. This should be referenced and compared to the current lab that the students are learning in.
Q: What things are adequate?
Christian Fowkes: The addition of the one-to-one Chromebook initiative has enabled us to incorporate more online experiences for students.
Q: What things are deficient?
Christian Fowkes: We struggle with providing the necessary physical space to incorporate some key aspects of STEM. Lab space consists of the top of a student’s desk or table. Due to the confines of the small classrooms, desk/table configurations are limited. We don’t even have the basic, legally required, safety equipment to do simple labs – things such as an eye-wash station, decontamination shower or fume hood. So we can’t do them. Additionally, with rooms for subjects being located far from each other, typically on the other side of the building, collaboration between different subjects is limited. We have an inability to implement STEM curriculum properly.
Q: How will the new middle school help us meet the demands of STEM education?
Christian Fowkes: It will provide the missing elements that I mentioned above from integrated technology to space for smaller groups.
Q: How will we compare to other schools -- lacking, equal or better?
Christian Fowkes: A new facility will allow us to be better than or equal to those districts that have upgraded science labs, classrooms and campuses in last five years.
Phillip Grigonis: A new middle school will allow us to design an environment that can give students more modern learning opportunities. In addition to a building, we would need to budget for continually supporting a STEM initiative within the classroom, including equipment purchases, training and disposable materials. Digital technology changes at rapid rate; some equipment may be outdated within 5-10 years.
With the architectural limitations of a new building, our technology and engineering program would be equal to other schools, not better. Room size, for example, in the proposed technology and engineering lab of the new proposed middle school is smaller than the current lab and the Pennsylvania State recommendations. We’ll have to watch class sizes to make sure there is no safety concern. In addition, it looks like adding another technology education teacher is not feasible. Some districts in Montgomery County have two technology education teachers. We only have one.
Christian Fowkes has been teaching science at our Middle School since 2008. Currently, he is a 7th grade science teacher. Christian was presented the “Exemplary Teacher of Middle School Science Award” from the Montgomery County Science Teachers Association in 2007 for his work with the Environmental Science Club while at Pottstown Middle School. He received his Bachelor’s Degree from the Pennsylvania State University in Agricultural and Environmental Science and his Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Kutztown University. Christian holds teaching certifications in mid-level citizenship, agriculture, general science, and environmental science as well as a principal certification.
Philip Grigonis is in his second school year as the Technology Education Teacher at our Middle School. He spent a year teaching Technology Education in the West Chester Area School District prior to joining Upper Perk. Phil received his Bachelor’s Degree from Shippensburg University in Business Administration and his Master’s Degree in Education from Millersville University. He holds teaching certifications in business education and technology education.