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).
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Comments
  1. Michelle Pope says:

    The bottom line is no one can be trusted now that so many true facts are unfolding. Politics and money drive this district instead of what is best for all of our children. What a shame!

    • Ash Marwah says:

      Welcome to NA, where spending has been out of control. Budget has gone from $76.8 Million in 98-99 to the proposed $138 Million now and we have a $120 Million debt to boot, for which we make a $12 Million payment annually. For $850,000 they want to close Peebles and they will. First Study recommendations did not meet the “politics”, that is why that study was rejected and now they are following the 2nd Study to close Peebles. Children are bused from Franklin Park and McCandless to fill up Bradford Woods Elementary (First Study recommended closing BWE) but the recommendations of the First Study were found unacceptable. Closing Schools is not the solution, controlling spending (salaries and benefits which have gone from $59.3 Million in 98-99 to over $100 Million now) is the answer.

    • steve spitz says:

      I moved into this district so that my children would have the opportunity to get a great education. I am concerned that if the district closes a elementary school that the increased class sizes will hinder the schools ability to educate my children properly. It seems like the district is being hasty to close a building and doing things underhanded to get this accomplished. With a budget that large, there have to be other budget items that could be reduced.

  2. Wendy Lukitsch says:

    Looking at the timeline of events, it appears the district was “shopping” for a recommendation. That’s why they went to Thomas for a second opinion. Motivation could have been several different things, including a recommendation for a school other than Bradford Woods. Doesn’t School Board Vice President Dan Hubert’s wife work at Bradford Woods?

  3. DSmith says:

    I’ve just finished reading the case. So Jon Thomas and Rob Gaertner “worked together” to defend themselves against James Construction? This explains a lot. Thomas and Gaertner are friends. Thomas reduced the repair costs and Gaertner defers them at the Nov 28th meeting. This is unbelievable.

    • Michael S. Munson - McCandless parent of 4 says:

      While I’m not for closing any building until it is proven that there really is excess capacity in the long range plan that puts students in proper classrooms with class sizes that will enable them to thrive as their upperclassmen before them – I was first surprised that Peebles was on the chopping block (Option 4 or 5 in the initial study).

      I was shocked to hear on Wednesday of the connection between the Phase 2 author and past work at NA which lead to a lawsuit that had a negative payout from NA.

      I can’t see how an administration that is trying to be ‘transparent’ would follow this path – the first study was very independent and the second very suspicious.

      I can’t see how the board can trust these findings as they keep their ‘option’ open (they really only left themselves 1 option after Wednesday – Close Peebles).

      Hopefully they will see the impropriety here and give pause before accepting the results of this report which seems to have been hand crafted to meet the administrations needs.

    • John Harrison II says:

      I noticed exactly the same thing. There is a relationship between Gaertner and Thomas. Probably forged by them defending the lawsuit together. District goes to Thomas for the recommendation (asking for anything other than Bradford Woods). Thomas reduces repair costs at Bradford Woods from $14 to $8 million. Then, magically, the millions of repairs are “deferred” by Gaertner and the administration recommends closing Peebles. What is happening to this district?

  4. amy nelson says:

    I am appalled and disheartened. I cannot understand why the school board is moving forward with even considering closing Peebles. This legal case is the final straw in a long series of fact-based arguments on why we should take a step back and form a community task-force to determine best approach.

  5. Jeff says:

    Was the December 2011 commissioning of Jon Thomas strategic? The only board members with knowledge of the lawsuit would have been those around in 2007. Didn’t three new members come on the board in December 2011?

  6. Jill B says:

    Why would the district get a second opinion from someone that cost them a lawsuit? What was the real motivation here? Something isn’t right.

    • Ash Marwah says:

      Under Open Records Law, you can ask for any information from the School District. I believe they have to answer within 5 days. Ms. Joy Ed (jed@northallegheny.org) is the Director of Communications for NASD.

  7. Lisa Jancarik says:

    The above comment that the district has been “shopping” for a recommendation is spot on. The “math error” in question is in the single figure upon which the “decreasing population” argument relies: projected population change for McCandless, which is too low in the report by a factor of 10. Honestly, I’ll make sure my kid gets a good education with or without NASD–ultimately, that’s my responsibility as her parent–but as a taxpayer, I’m infuriated by the games being played here.

  8. Tracy Spitz says:

    I graduated from Na and so did my husband. We are very concerned about this process!!!!!

  9. Teresa Boley says:

    This entire thing is shady. I’m not buying that the recommendation to close Peebles was an independent decision by the administration. This process was cooked from the start. The only question that remains is who is all involved.

    • Michelle Pope says:

      You are absolutely right! The district does not own Peebles and still owes $800,000 on building so there is no way they would be pushing for our school to be closed unless they already have made a deal with someone to rent or purchase the building. Shady back room deals are going on and someone is making out on this deal and it isn’t the tax payers.

  10. William Thomas says:

    I agree with the issues raised and believe the study and data provided by Mr. Thomas may be self serving and even flawed. There are ethical questions as well as fiduciary issues which must be answered prior to any movement ahead to close Peebles.

  11. Jamie Karlovits says:

    As a mom of a special needs kid, who watched the administration propose putting the Hearing Impaired into a receiving area (i.e. storage area) at Hosack, nothing about this process has felt right to me. To learn that the administration is relying on a recommendation from someone that caused us legal liability in the past is only further disturbing to me. As an NA grad, I’m appalled at this entire process!

  12. Bill lundgren says:

    By the schools actions, they have cost the tax payers hundreds of thousands of dollars. I hope whoever wrote the “smoking gun” was fired! For such a large district, why do they hire “experts” that don’t know what they’re doing?

    The School Board members need to retain legal counsel. Basing their agenda on facts that have been proven to be false, is blatant disregard for the school district and unethical.

  13. Ted Ricci says:

    This is an outrage. I would hope the school board would disregard the recommendations made by Mr. Thomas and base their decision on an unbiased and accurate report. The highest quality education for our children should be the boards primary concern and it is clear that closing an elementary school will compromise that quality. I would hope the board will take their time and explore other options.

  14. J. Smith says:

    It is becoming more and more obvious that something foul is afoot here. It appears that NASD and the school board are not being forthright to the community about its rational and underlying intention for selecting one elementary school in lieu of another for closure. This new revelation regarding the lawsuit and the questionable favorable second opinion to close Peebles reeks of the district shopping around for “analysis” that conforms to a preconceived outcome.

  15. Laurie Steele says:

    How do repairs get reduced from $14 million down to $8 million? That’s no small reduction.

  16. Lynn Malko says:

    Gualtieri told parents at an October Superintendent’s coffee that the district had a tenant for Peebles and that zoning wouldn’t be a problem. This information would have influenced the administration’s decision in determining which school to recommend. Miller made presentations to the school board on Oct 24, Nov 14, and Nov 28. Each of these was AFTER the administration knew they had a tenant for Peebles.

    • Elynor White says:

      I was thinking a similar thing. I wonder if the tenant was found before the “second opinion”.

    • Jamie Karlovits says:

      Gualtieri also stated at that coffee, that they have to close Peebles to show the community that they tried to do something to save money so the community will then pass a referendum to raise our taxes. So basically the school district is using the elementary school children as the scapegoat for their poor choices with our district’s finances. Instead of looking out for our children, they are looking out for themselves. In my opinion, they are not trying to find any other ways to save money. They have had this plan the whole time. It’s disgusting!

      • Ash Marwah says:

        Jamie, we should work on what you heard at the Superintendent’s Coffee in October. We should expand our base by saying that we will NOT SUPPORT the Referendum to RAISE OUR TAXES. The Suprintendent has obviously laid out the School District’s Plans during the October Coffee, on how to raise our taxes.

        Closing Peebles and Raising our Taxes are interconnected. Including people who will be against raising our taxes in the same fold will help a great deal.

        This will increase the number of people supporting the cause. The School Board will pay attention once there are more people involved rather than mostly parents of Peebles Elementary School.
        Note that School Board members typically get elected with over 2000 votes. We need to expand our base to get close to that 2000 number.

  17. Ash Marwah says:

    These comments at Suprintendent’s Coffee are unbelieveable. If they had already found a tenant for Peebles, did they tell T& W (Jon Thomas) to tailor their report to suggest closing Peebles.
    Reading the court case, I find it very disturbing that NA had to pay $110,000 of the legal costs of the Plaintiff, James Construction. That means that the Judge ruled that the actions of NA and their Consultant, T & W were in “bad faith” that the Defendent (NA) had to pay the Plaintiff’s legal bills.
    There is a comment by the Judge in this court case that is worth reiterating here: “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 realtionship on this struggling project”.
    Frankly, I am surprised that NA has hired Jon Thomas to do the 2nd Study for School Closing after this experience during the construction of Hosack. The 3 new members of School Board probably don’t know the details of this case but the other 6 Board Members surely knew what happened in the past with Jon Thomas.

  18. Kim DiMarco says:

    The past months have been quite enlightening. As a parent, I expected so much more from our Administration and frankly, the Board. After all, we are North Allegheny.

    Let’s begin with the data. To date we have been provided with 2 reports containing drastically different data points & resulting conclusions-$14 million, $8 million, then it was reduced to 0 by Rob Gardner. This was after Dr. G stated at every meeting last year, how concerned he was for Bradford Woods because” they had a leaky roof and a HVAC system that was ducked taped”.

    When you couple that discrepancy with the gross error in population figures, you have to ask yourself, can I still rely on this recommendation.

    Then we have the issue of class & whether or not closets can be made inhabitable. No one has been able to adequately explain how we can close a school and not increase class size.

    It is unacceptable that the board would go back to the very man that cost the taxpayer’s thousands of dollars. The amount of time and money that has been wasted to get the answer they want is unacceptable. It’s time for a change. We need a innovative and trustworthy Administration and Board. One that can truly take us from good to great.

    • Kim says:

      You are right, not only do we expect so much more but we DESERVE so much more! It is incomprehensible to me that one bid comes in 7 million dollars less than another. Very much seems they got what they were “shopping” for.

  19. Karen Rosella says:

    What a mess! That lawsuit was a complete and embarrassing mess. As the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, we can expect more of the same.

  20. Cecilia Staniec says:

    A simplistic look at some facts……
    D&L was hired as the project manager for the late 90’s elementary school work. NASD claims that D&L fell behind in the work schedule and fired them. At the same time that D&L was fired, Jon Thomas left D&L and opened his own project mgmt. firm. He was immediately hired by NASD to complete the elementary project.

    I don’t know about you, but if I had issues with a construction mgmt. firm and fired them, the last thing I would do is hire back two of the managers, even if they started a new mgmt. company.

    Also confusing……the NASD fired D&L mainly because they were behind schedule. Thomas himself was quoted in a February 3, 1999 Post-Gazette article saying, “They may have been a couple of days behind on some things, but they were essentially on schedule”.

    http://old.post-gazette.com/businessnews/19990203dl2.asp

    And we ultimately lost $500k+ as a result of this project.

    As most logical people would (!), we go back to the firm that COST US $500K+ and ask them to provide the Phase II Study. Phase II’s recommendations were accepted despite valid questions from the community and proven incorrect data. And Phase I was seemingly forgotten.

    Clearly something doesn’t add up.

  21. Gina Capizzi says:

    It is very upsetting that the board members have no interest or value in the communities opinion. If they did value it and truly wanted to keep their options open they would have never voted yes to move forward with the hearing to close Peebles. Sounds like all of this is just a formality. The law suit information makes me believe more and more that there is a hidden agenda. They wonder why there’s anamosity..

  22. Steve says:

    I would like to see what the basis for the decline in McCandless is in the report. This is still a highly desirable area due to location, schools and affordable housing. If I’m on the school board I question this conclusion immediately. Additionally the same report recommends closing a recently renovated school, payed for with our school taxes, in order to keep open a school still needing a complete renovation. I can guarantee you when this happens the final renovation cost will be 50-100% higher than what the initial estimate is.

  23. John H. says:

    This is very disburbing. We moved to McCandless Township from out-of-state 2010 soley based on the high quality reputation of education, teachers and school administrators at NASD. We believe that McCandless and NASD is one of the best kept secrets of all of Allegheny County.
    We truely hope that the school board will listen to the people who pay school taxes and commission an unbiased study with an unbiased report. Sounds like the school board needs to listen to the longtime residents who pay property taxes and school taxes in McCandless Township.

  24. Jill Mason says:

    I am an NA parent with children in high school and middle school. A school board member addressed the large group of concerned citizens present at the December 19th board meeting, saying that “you people are not the only ones in this district”. To me, that comment sums up the crux of the issue; the board majority seems to disregard concerns from the community as just emotional rants from elementary parents afraid of change. What the NA community has called for is a fair, balanced, methodical and transparent approach to the drastic decision to close a school. That is something that ALL taxpayers in the district deserve from the board.

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