Pottsgrove Aggressive In Promoting, Defending HS Plan

Pottsgrove Aggressive In Promoting, Defending HS Plans

The exterior facade of the proposed new gymasium at Pottsgrove High School

POTTSTOWN PA – Like any good marketer, the Pottsgrove School District has become pro-active in promoting the benefits of its proposed $30+ million renovation of Pottsgrove High School, 1345 Kauffman Rd., and aggressive in defending its financing plans for it.

District Superintendent Shellie Feola distributed an e-mail Monday night (Feb. 10, 2014) to parents and community residents with information that extolled the virtues of the improvements, explained why they were deemed necessary, what they were estimated to cost, and how portions would be completed over more than two years.

Her graphics-laden 49-page package of documents can be found on the district website, here. The timing of Feola’s e-mail coincides with a presentation on the renovations scheduled to be made tonight (Tuesday, Feb. 11) to the district Board of School Directors beginning at 7:30 p.m. in Pottsgrove Middle School on North Hanover Street. The meeting is open to the public.

While the district focuses on all the good it believes the high school project could do, it also is taking direct aim at what it perceives to be criticism of how it wants to pay for the work.

Feola and district Business Administrator David Nester took the unusual step last week (Feb. 2) of publicly responding via e-mail to reporting by Evan Brandt of The (Pottstown PA) Mercury, which they claimed “doesn’t take into consideration the basic tenants of sound, long-term financial planning for the health of a large organization like a school district.”

Brandt’s story, titled “Borrowing method adds $900K to cost of Pottsgrove High School project,” reported that school board members, during their Jan. 28 meeting, chose to finance the construction with an option that capitalizes interest (in effect, it includes the interest expense of the loan in the amount borrowed). The choice “will end up costing taxpayers almost $1 million more in interest, officials acknowledged,” Brandt’s article stated.

The “less expensive option would require the district to draw down … $500,000 it has set aside in a capital reserve fund,” it added.

Directors authorized financial consultants The PFM Group to assemble a contract for initial borrowing of about $16 million for Feb. 25, supplemented by later additional loans. Board President Justin Valentine made it clear, however, that he considered the current estimated cost of the project as too high. “By no means are we looking to go up to $35 million” for improvements, Valentine said, as though speaking for his colleagues to the audience. “We expect it to be much less. We’ve got to draw the line somewhere.”

The Feola-Nester e-mail did not refer to Brandt by name, nor did it challenge his accuracy. Instead, it expanded on why the district believes capitalizing the interest represents “a financially sound decision that protects the fiscal health of the district, and maintains a safe learning environment for our students.”

Since being promoted to superintendent, Feola has not been shy about stepping up district efforts to report its own news in a favorable light unfiltered by the media. The e-mail “response” is only the latest tool employed by Pottsgrove to reach targeted audiences.

Last February (2013) she launched a bi-weekly, e-mail delivered, mostly pre-written newsletter called “Board Notes” that reports on actions at school board meetings within an hour of their adjournment. She named Technology Director Michael Wagman to the additional post of Communications Director, and he has since issued press releases almost weekly. The district opened Facebook and Twitter accounts, and relies on them regularly.

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