The Cheltenham school board on Tuesday night swore in its newly elected members, chose new board leaders and announced its decision not to seek exceptions from the state to allow tax increases for the next fiscal year beyond the regular Act 1 ceiling.
David Cohen, Joel Fishbein, both from Elkins Park, and Jean McWilliams, from Laverock, took their seats as the new members of the nine-member board. The three maintain the board’s composition as entirely Democratic.
First-term board member Bill England was elected board president and Stephanie Gray vice president, both unanimously and without opposition. Gray has been on the board for the past 16 years. They replace the outgoing board president, Napoleon Nelson, and the outgoing vice president, Julie Haywood, both of whom won second terms in the November election but decided not to seek an additional board leadership term. Nelson served a single one-year term as president and Haywood served two terms as vice president.
The board disposed of some early budget planning for the 2016-17 fiscal year by voting not to seek exceptions to the PA Act 1 Index for property tax increases. That will mean that the highest tax increase possible for next year will be the 2016-17 index of 2.4 percent. Board President England told Citizens’ Call that the district’s finance director is preparing budget scenarios for the administration and board to consider and that it is his hope that any tax increase for the coming year will be minimal.
“We are very much aware of where our taxes are in comparison to other communities,” said England. According to county data, Cheltenham’s school property tax is the highest in Montgomery County, as is its total property tax, including township and county tax rates, in addition to school taxes.
As board president, England said he will offer goals to the board for this year “to make certain that board priorities address the most pressing education issues facing the district. With a new superintendent taking the reins of leadership, he said the district’s immediate focus is taking stock of “what we do know, what we can measure and how we plan to improve learning in all of our schools for all of our students.”
The district officially accepted the resignation of Education Director Dwight Nolt at the meeting, which leaves a key vacancy in its drive to bolster student achievement, along with the district’s current search for a supervisor of curriculum/instruction and assessment for K-12 data analysis and instructional technology; a supervisor of counseling, holistic supports and K-12 testing; and a supervisor for special education support.