Archive for December, 2012

“… the ‘take no prisoners’ attitude of Jon Thomas dashed all hope of developing an ameliorative relationship on this struggling project” —page 18 of the Court of Common Pleas Memorandum Order prepared by Judge O’Reilly.

At the December 19th school board meeting, it was revealed that the consultant who recommended closing Peebles cost the district a lawsuit for his prior work on the district’s elementary schools. The consultant is Jon Thomas of Thomas & Williamson. The case is James Construction v. North Allegheny and Thomas & Williamson. Below are some notable excerpts from the Memorandum Order prepared by Judge O’Reilly:  [click here for full text]

  • “James Construction, in its complaint, asserts that the delays in the project, which were not of its making, required it to speed up its work in order to complete the project, and as a result seeks damages from North Allegheny and Thomas & Williamson (T&W). It also seeks payment on several unpaid invoices, and further asserts a defamation claim against T&W. It also seeks the attorney’s fees and other exemplary damages under the PA Procurement Code.” (page 4)
  • “D&L was the predecessor project manager to T&W. North Allegheny hired T&W as the replacement project manager. Jon Thomas of T&W was acting as a “consultant” to North Allegheny. North Allegheny’s Project Facilities Manager, Rob Gaertner, was also involved.” (page 13)
  • “Assertions by the defense ignore the conditions and circumstances that prevailed on the project … One cannot turn a blind eye to [a memorandum], which Gaertner did not dispute-he just responded ‘Don’t mention it.'” (page 17)
  • “The termination of D&L, resistance by North Allegheny to even acknowledge delays, and the “take no prisoners” attitude of Jon Thomas dashed all hope of developing an ameliorative relationship on this struggling project. “(pages 18-19)
  • “My review and analysis of this involved case lead me to conclude that in addition to the funds due to James Construction for acceleration/compression, retention, and outstanding pay requests, counsel fees and expenses are due.” (page 25)
  • “After analysis, I also find that there was bad faith by North Allegheny as most vividly shown by the recognition of delay yet the refusal to do anything about it, other than to threaten the contractors with dismissal…I also find that while there is no libel by T&W, its unnecessary comments to Scabbo about James Construction are additional evidence of bad faith.” (pages 26- 27)

“…A divided North Allegheny school board voted Dec. 19 to hold a public hearing on a proposal to close Peebles Elementary School. Some board members said they are not comfortable enough yet with the data to actually vote to close the school in McCandless.

But holding the hearing keeps their options open, several members said…”

Pittsburgh Post Gazette: December 20, 2012

A divided North Allegheny School Board voted Wednesday to hold a public hearing on a proposal to close Peebles Elementary School in McCandless.  Scheduling the hearing does not mean that they will eventually vote to close the building, but allows them to keep their options open, board members said.

The hearing will be held Jan. 30. A vote to close the school cannot occur for 90 days after that.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/local/neighborhoods-north/north-allegheny-to-hold-public-hearing-on-proposal-to-close-peebles-667120/#ixzz2FdpP8HAP

North Allegheny Patch, December 20, 2012

In a meeting that lasted nearly five hours, the North Allegheny School board Wednesday night voted to schedule a public hearing on Jan. 30 on whether or not to close Peebles Elementary school.

Board members Ralph J. Pagone and Christopher M. Jacobs voted against the hearing.

More than 40 parents spoke against the proposal, and many of them asked again for the formation of a community task force to further study the issue. The board did not address that request.

Read more: http://northallegheny.patch.com/articles/north-allegheny-school-board-approves-public-hearing-on-proposed-school-closing

At the school board meeting last night, information came forward that the consultant who recommended closing Peebles Elementary was responsible for renovating several of the district’s elementary schools in the late 90’s and his work resulted in a lawsuit that cost the district half a million dollars. Below are the facts and information surrounding this situation:

  • In December 2011, a Phase 2 Demographics and Feasibility Study was commissioned by the district.  It hired construction management firm, Thomas and Williamson, to do the work. The December 5, 2012 Tiger News stated, “The Board was not comfortable with the demographic information or cost estimates” in the Phase 1 report so the Board “commissioned a second report to be done by a consulting firm with whom they were familiar from past projects.”
  • On August 22, 2012, Mr. Jon Thomas issued his Phase 2 Demographics and Feasibility Study.  Estimated repairs at Bradford Woods were reduced from $14 million to $8 million.  There were no estimated repairs listed for Peebles. Mr. Thomas recommended closing Peebles and concluded the population in McCandless would decline.  Mr. Thomas and Mr. Briem were the only experts listed in the report.  BWE Project Budget Summary.
  • In September 2012, a parent noted two issues in the Phase 2 report: (1) that the 2010 data used for population projections does not tie to the 2010 U.S. Census and, (2) that there is a mathematical error in the demographic section of the report which, when corrected, establishes that the population in McCandless will remain stable and not decline. Mr. Thomas acknowledged the mathematical error and that such conclusion be corrected, but could not provide an explanation for why the report understates the 2010 McCandless population by using data that doesn’t tie to the 2010 U.S. Census.  [Phase 2 Population projections] [SPC Municipal Profile 2010]
SaveNASchools believes that the district should NOT be relying on ANY advice from a consultant whose work caused the district legal issues in the past. Reliance on Mr. Thomas’s demographic information, enrollment projections, and other assumptions is NOT in the best interest of the district.
SaveNASchools believes that the district does NOT have the ability to close ANY elementary school without compromising its successful elementary education model.  Our recent posts illustrate that the remaining buildings will see an increase in class size, an increase in sections, and the need to operate non-classrooms as classrooms (displacing programs integral to the elementary curriculum).

The consultant who recommended closing Peebles Elementary cost the district half a million dollars for prior work on the district’s elementary schools. This information, brought forward at the school board meeting last evening, raises a long list of questions for both the Board and the Administration. Most importantly: Why did the district commission a consultant that cost the district half a million dollars to give a “second opinion” on a recommendation that came from 12 experts? What was the motivation behind hiring this consultant? And, are these the  practices and procedures that ensure the best use of taxpayer’s dollars?  Lawsuit- Full Text; North Allegheny Appeal- Full Text

The board voted 7-2 to schedule a public hearing last evening, which is the first step in the process for closing a school. Nearly 50 members of the North Allegheny community took to the microphone to express their concern, doubt, and disappointment at the process both the Board and the Administration are proceeding with for closing a school. A majority of the speakers noted that a petition with over 1,000 signatures requesting a community task force continues to be ignored by the Board. Residents from across the district, including several retirees, urged the Board to slow down the process and allow more time for due diligence to be achieved.

Parents from 5 of the 7 elementary schools explained that this movement is not about saving A school, it is about saving ALL seven. Larger class sizes, more sections per building, and students in non-classrooms were all sited as factors that will compromise the district’s successful elementary education model.

Today’s Post Gazette includes several letters to the editor that further detail the issues surrounding this recommendation and the lack of solid, empirical evidence, upon which the current recommendation is based. [To read the letters, click here.]

With mounds of evidence on their side, residents from across the district will now prepare for a public hearing on January 30th. As Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

At tonight’s meeting, school board members will vote YES or NO to schedule a public hearing related to the closure of Peebles Elementary. A public hearing is the first step in the process for closing the school. The administration will also present the proposed preliminary budget. Please attend this very important meeting TONIGHT at 7pm in the Carson Middle School Auditorium, 200 Hillvue Lane.

  • The Administration’s recommendation to close an elementary school is based on 33 spare “classrooms” that exist at the elementary level. The 33 “classrooms” identified by the Administration include faculty lounges, learning support rooms, music rooms, GOAL rooms, and large group instructional spaces. These spaces were NOT designed to be used as classrooms. The district does NOT have enough excess capacity at the elementary school level to close a building unless buildings are operated close to their gross capacities requiring non-classrooms be used for direct instruction.
  • The Administration has focused on the fact that the small elementary schools have a gross capacity of 550 students. We’ve discussed in our earlier posts that buildings are not designed to run at gross capacity. For example, Franklin has a current enrollment of 515 students and the only spare classroom that exists is a faculty lounge. Franklin cannot reasonably accommodate 35 additional students.
  • The Administration has focused on buildings that are operating below capacity (Hosack) instead of buildings that are operating above capacity (Franklin). If students are moved from buildings operating above capacity to those that are operating below capacity, through minimal redistricting, the district can balance enrollment and operate all of the buildings efficiently.

If enrollment at the small elementary schools is considered in reference to the 450 student target capacity established by Pennsylvania Department of Education guidelines, then each school would be operating at approximately 89% of its target capacity if all buildings remain open. This is calculated by taking the balanced enrollment totals for each building from the Administration’s November 14th presentation  and dividing by the 450 student target capacity established by the state: [Click here to see the balanced enrollment slide.]

BWE = 400/450 = 89%

FES = 403/450 = 89.5%

HES = 408/450 = 91%

IES = 401/450 = 89%

PES = 397/450 = 88%


Under this scenario, Hosack would pick up 75 additional students and excess capacity issues would be resolved through limited redistricting.
All regular classrooms would be in use and spare classrooms would be available (instead of non-classrooms) for overflow or bubbles in enrollment.
With respect to the two larger elementary schools, enrollment at McKnight would be 782 students (instead of 837 if Peebles was closed) and enrollment at Marshall would be 774 (instead of 852 if Peebles was closed). These are more realistic capacities for our children.


We maintain that balancing enrollment, through limited redistricting, is the solution to the excess capacity issues that exist at the elementary school level. The district does NOT have enough excess capacity to close a building without compromising the education of our elementary school students.