Ralph J. Pagone says opponents of the proposed closing of Peebles Elementary are “not getting their voices fairly heard.”

When the North Allegheny School Board on Dec. 19 scheduled a public hearing on Superintendent Raymond Gualtieri’s proposal to close Peebles Elementary School, board members Ralph J. Pagone and Christopher M. Jacobs voted “no.”

Scheduling such a hearing is the first step a school board is legally required to take before it can consider closing a school.

At the school board meeting Nov. 28, Gualtieri told the board that closing Peebles would save $850,000 annually for the district, which is facing a $5.7 million deficit. He also argued that the district’s enrollment continues to decline and that its elementary schools are not full and have room for Peebles students.

The community group Save NA Schools has been leading the opposition to closing Peebles, and Pagone has been listening.

The group repeatedly has asked the board to form a community task force which would provide additional ideas for addressing the district’s projected budget deficits prior to a decision on closing an elementary school. It’s not clear what, if any, power the task force would hold and who would be part of it. The board has not addressed that request.

“Why not take a step back and enlist the help of these taxpayers?” Pagone said. “They are intelligent people who have made compelling arguments. We are the stewards of their tax dollars, after all.”

After the board meeting Dec. 19, board member Beth Ludwig indicated she would vote against the formation of a community task force even though she was originally open to the idea.

“I would not want to subject any non-elected community members to the tone and intensity of the current debate,” she said. “Also, at this point, I would not know what the board would have a task force do.”

Pagone said he has a different opinion.

“ Save NA Schools is made up of well-educated people, and they are not getting their voice fairly heard,” he said.

He said he also questions the wisdom of ignoring the recommendation of one consultant who recommended closing Bradford Woods Elementary because of the need for extensive repairs. Instead, the board favors the findings of a second study by Jon Thomas of the Thomas & Williamson construction program management firm, which suggests the opposite.

Thomas & Williamson is the same firm which, along with the school district, was the target of a lawsuit by James Construction Co. over renovations at Hosack Elementary in the late 1990s. Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Timothy Patrick O’Reilly ruled against the district and awarded damages of $524,087.

“We had 12 experts who told us what some board members didn’t want to hear,” Pagone said. “So what did we do? We tossed out that study and got a second opinion from a firm which we had questionable dealings with in the past as a result of a prior construction project.”

Pagone said he agrees with members of the Save NA Schools group that enrollment in the district will rise.

“Allegheny County and Western Pennsylvania are experiencing an increase in population for the first time in decades, and people will want buy either new or existing homes in the North Allegheny School District,” he said.

Pagone said he does believe the board should take action to alleviate overcrowded classrooms, particularly at Hosack Elementary, by redistricting elementary students.

And if a majority of the board ultimately decides to close one of the district’s seven elementary schools, Pagone said he believes the wrong school has been targeted.

“If you want to close a building, why not close Bradford Woods Elementary, which the initial report tells us needs $14 million in renovations?” he said. “We don’t have that kind of money, and Peebles doesn’t need any renovations.

To read more on the administration’s arguments for closing Peebles Elementary, click here.

To read the counter-arguments from Save NA schools, click here.

Read more:  http://northallegheny.patch.com/articles/north-allegheny-board-member-challenges-colleagues-on-proposed-school-closing

  1. L. Crow says:

    Peebles does not require renovations. Bradford Woods requires nearly 14MM in improvements. What are the additional costs associated with remodeling other schools should Peebles be closed? Do they jointly exceed the 850K in projected (and questionable) savings found by closing Peebles? What about the classroom impact to hundreds of students/families that will be affected by “another” re-districting of Hosack, McKnight and Ingomar? There are several housing plans (Venango Trails for one) that are going to load the northern schools (Bradford Woods & Marshall) in the next 3-5 years. Suddenly those schools will be over-crowded and we’ll be back in this ugly mess once again. Closing Peebles right now is an insignificant and unnecessary step toward addressing the real fiscal issues at hand and approaching.

    • Karen Snavely says:

      I thought this committe was opposed to closing any elementary school. At one point you are showing all of the stats as to why keeping the ALL ekementary schools opened and now you are suggesting to close Bradford Woods. So what is the true agenda behind to SaveOur Schools?????
      Peebles is in a better location if the district decides to sell the property. There would be a greater demand for that space.
      Please make up your mind as to what this group is standing up against….Saving Peebles only or all schools.

      • Thank you for your comments, Karen. They are very relevant. SaveNASchools maintains that the district does not have the ability to close a school. The administration’s slides from November 28th show that the remaining buildings would see an increase in class size and an increase in sections if Peebles was closed.

        The district has stated the primary reason for closing a school is operational efficiency/cost savings. The district has also stated that the recommendation to close a school is based on a projected decline in student enrollment. The NA community is commenting on how closing a school with $0 repair costs versus closing a school with $14 million in repairs is not consistent with the position the administration has taken in regards to operational efficiency, cost savings, and a projected decline in student enrollment.

        Its important to note that Peebles is the only building up for closure. When the school board voted to schedule the public hearing, it committed to moving forward with the process for closing Peebles and the district’s ability to consider any other building was eliminated. The school board cannot vote to close Bradford Woods. In other words, the fight to keep Peebles open is a fight to keep all buildings open.

  2. Eileen Russell says:

    I could not agree more with Mr. Pagone!

  3. Lynn Malko says:

    It’s amazing that the other board members don’t see this the SAME way….UNLESS they have a biased view.

  4. Steve Bloomquist says:

    Last year, both Peebles and Bradford Woods were in the crosshairs for possible closure. Mysteriously, this year there has been no mention of Bradford Woods being closed, nor has there been any explanation as to how it escaped the ‘short list’. The Administration and Board have displayed selective hearing when questions about this arise… either ignoring the issue altogether, or pointing out disingenuous, intellectually insulting things like Peebles having “wood construction” instead of steel. (A ‘justification’ that, when I’ve run it past several contractors and even a few architects, has been met with laughter every time.) Yes, we paid hard-earned taxpayer dollars to compile reports with these sort of ‘findings’.

    Bradford Woods borough is 0.9 sqare miles and it is VERY unlikely that future development of homes will take place there, simply because it’s essentialy ‘full’.

    Marshall township, cited by the administration (via their commissioned studies) as the probable area for most future growth, has a lot of large estates. I doubt many of the multimillionaires with large tracts of land in Marshall are prepared to carve up their estates to develop new subdivisions on their grounds. Therefore the potential growth in that township is also limited more than it might seem on paper.

    As someone who attended NA schools from K-12, I no longer recognize the district I once championed. The hidden agendas and utter contempt for the community that owns it makes the district reek of cronyism and back-room dealings. That may be the norm in other parts of this county, but it never used to hold sway at NA. Peebles is just the kind of school that NA used to strive to create: fantastic teachers and staff, high-performing students, and an abundance of very satisfied taxpayer parents who are deeply involved with the school.

  5. Karen Rosella says:

    Even the administration is unsure about the enrollment projections. If they were convinced, they would be talking about closing and selling a building, not leasing one on a temporary basis.

    Thank you Mr. Pagone for speaking so openly on the subject.

  6. Anita King says:

    Ralph J. Pagone and Christopher M. Jacobs have my full respect…and rightfully so! I have sat through many board meetings and appreciated so their thoroughness and genuine concern for our children. I truly feel the rest of the North Allegheny School District Board of School Directors are missing the most important and crucial portion of this puzzle…the welfare of our children. They are the stepping stop of NA’s future. Instead of looking out for their well being, I feel as though they are being overlooked and stepped on. There seem to be too many hidden agendas getting in the way.

  7. Kim Stuart says:

    I am thoroughly disgusted. The more I read the more upset I get because the information that is readily available to the public and to the board does not support a valid argument for closing Peebles Elementary. First is why the board threw out a proposal that was created by “12 experts” to instead base their fact finding on a proposal that was crafted by someone who has already had shady dealings with the North Allegheny School District in the past… dealings that have COST the school district money.

    Peebles is in need of no renovations and yet why too is the board so eager to spend money on construction costs? One quote for rehabbing Bradford Woods School is $14 million while the other consultant says its more like $8 million. What too about the cost to retro fit these buildings to accommodate the closure of a school? A lot of money that the district claims they don’t have would be spent here. What construction firm would they be using? One recommended by Thompson?

    Class sizes are large in many of the elementary schools. I just can’t see how closing a school is going to alleviate these problems when new families with young kids keep moving into the district. It would make more sense to keep all elementary buildings open and redistrict students so we have room to be flexible and accommodate the growth that is happening in our Townships.

    Why does the board pay for and then dismiss the study by 12 professionals and instead pay for a study done by a consultant that cost the district over $500,000? Why is a board unwilling to take the “free” help a community task force made up of professionals from many different relevant fields who also are tax payers?

    Beth Ludwig is quoted as saying, “I would not want to subject any non-elected community members to the tone and intensity of the current debate.”
    There is an old saying that goes “if you can’t take the heat, then stay out of the kitchen!” Beth Ludwig was voted into office by taxpayers like myself. She is to be representing me. I am a member of the “community” and I can take the heat. I have had enough of sitting on the sidelines thinking that elected officials are working in our best interest. I have read too much and most importantly I have listened. The facts don’t support the closure of Peebles Elementary.

  8. Joyce werner redshaw says:

    Finally someone with integrity that has the guts to do the right thing. It is difficult to stand up to your peers when you are outnumbered. Mr. Pagone will come out of all of this with respect no matter what the final outcome is. Thank you Ralph!!

    • Stephanie Messer says:

      Taxpayers are smart enough to figure out what’s going on here. A proposal to close a school with $14 million in repairs would save the district several million that it does not have to spend. To suggest keeping a building open with $14 million in repairs because that is where the “growth” will occur contradicts the district’s position that student enrollment is projected to decline. Thus, any “growth” would be minimal and easily adjusted through redistricting.

      • Steve Bloomquist says:

        Here’s a little dose of reality from the 2010 US Census:

        Population age 18 and under (selected because these are potential NA students)

        Bradford Woods : 251
        Marshall township: 2060
        Franklin Park : 3950
        McCandless : 5910

        If you add BW, Marshall, and Franklin Park you get 6261 combined, just 351 more than McCandless alone.

  9. Laurie Steele says:

    Ralph J. Pagone and Christopher M. Jacobs, I applaud you for taking a stand to hear what the community is saying! Thank you for not only hearing our voices, but actually listening to them. There is a big difference between hearing and listening. Thank you for listening!

  10. Heather Cipriani says:

    Over twenty-five kids in a classroom is not acceptable in North Allegheny School District elementary schools. Neighboring and comparable districts have lower class sizes, why is it that the administration feels that we can afford to overcrowd our classrooms? Elementary schools lay the foundation for a lifetime of learning. Our youngest children’s future should not be compromised because the school district is facing a deficit. This problem isn’t unique to North Allegheny. School districts across the state are faced with the same budgetary issues. Poor planning and overspending have only added to the problem.

    Despite desperate pleas from parents, nothing has been done to address the overcrowded problem this year. A prime example of how the board and administration have not been listening.

    • Angela Bloomquist, Ed.D. says:

      If class sizes over 30 really won’t impact achievement, then why not wait and see the results of elementary group achievement testing from this year? The district will have all of the data (and presumably already has the expertise in our established team of NA professional educational administrators) to compare the overall achievement results of classrooms that presently have 30 + students to the overall achievement results of classrooms with 25 students or less (matched by grade and gender). They could also compare the current scores of students in the larger classroom to their individual performances from last year’s testing. Rather than simply tell us and ask us to believe there will be no impact, SHOW us and end the argument for good. Why not be data driven, especially when there is no extra expense involved.

  11. Jill Dugan says:

    I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Pagone on each point he makes. Especially since he and Mr. Jacobs seem to be the only board members who realize that, as he says, “[They] are the stewards of [our] tax dollars, after all”. Closing Peebles makes absolutely no sense, and I question why none of the other board members seem to realize this.
    Closing any elementary school is a huge decision, and should not be rushed through in less than a year. Especially when the data which they have chosen to use is from a questionable source. This needs to be thought through more, and with input from a community taskforce involving people who will actually be affected by all this.

  12. Cristo Maffei says:

    Respectfully, I would like to interject an observation to Ms. Ludwig’s comment in regard to the formation of a task force. She mentioned that she would not want to “subject any non-elected community members to the tone and intensity of the current debate” and “I would not know what the board would have a task force do.”

    It is my opinion that if the board acknowledged the community members’ suggestion for a task force prior to the last school board meeting there could have been dialog between both sides. This could have resulted in a decision TOGETHER for whether or not it is necessary to form a task force, what that task force could accomplish and the most appropriate members. As Mr. Pagone mentioned, “they [Save NA Schools] are not getting their voice fairly heard.”

    Perhaps it is this consistent disregard for the communities suggestions and passion that has created the guise of uncomfortable “tone and intensity”?

    • Steve Bloomquist says:

      The funny thing is, there is a precedent. Back when NA closed Espe elementary the board apparently had enough respect for the district’s taxpayers to allow just such a task force to get involved.

    • heathercipriani says:

      You are exactly right, Cristo!

  13. Heather Seidel says:

    Thank you, Mr. Pagone for speaking up for our children’s best interest! 30+ students to a classroom is what is already a reality in several of our district’s elementary classrooms. How would closing ANY school not lead to more of an increase in class size? We are setting our children up to fail if we close a school.

  14. Jo Paytas says:

    Thank you Mr. Pagone for speaking up for what is fair and just. You truly understand what it means to be a steward for the taxpayers. And to both Mr. Pagone and Mr. Jacobs for standing up against the hidden agendas and voting “NO”.

  15. Cecilia Staniec says:

    My thanks to Mr. Pagone for remaining open-minded throughout this process. I applaud both he and Mr. Jacobs for their determination to do the right thing for our children and our community.

    I’ve done tremendous amounts of research on school closings. I’ve read everything relating specifically to NA for the last twenty years….studies, news articles, meeting minutes, lawsuits. For the life of me, I still don’t understand why closing Peebles is right.

    I am disappointed in the reaction, or lack thereof, by the Administration and School Board to our questions and concerns. I am saddened that school board members who fought the same battle in the late ’90’s to keep schools open and keep small class sizes are now ok with closing our school and increasing our class sizes. I am appalled that repeated requests for community involvement have been ignored by Admin and Board.

    I am a taxpayer. I am a voter. I am an involved community member. But most importantly, I am a mother. And when I moved to PA in 2007, my husband and I chose NA because we felt it was the best for our three children. Sadly, if this school closure goes through, NA’s “best” may be a thing of the past……

  16. Jeff Allshouse says:

    Thank you Mr. Pagone and Mr. Jacobs!!

    To the remaining board members, I ask, “If you had the opportunity to invest your personal money in this project, would you do it, based only on the information publicly presented to-date?” I would hope that you would say “yes” because that is what you are asking us to do.

    We ALL agree that something needs to be done to address the budget issues! Many of us though disagree with what is being proposed and believe that more effective solutions exist and we want to help resolve this COMMUNITY issue.

    The data that presently exists is insufficient to close ANY school. When you have 2 studies conducted in a 1 year period that recommend closing a school in distinctly different regions of the district, you have a significant difference that needs to be identified and validated prior to taking any steps to close a school. This could be done through a community task force or by having the hearings to evaluate both proposals. This would give the board the most options.

    This is a community issue and the community members should be, and want to be involved in solving it. Thank you Mr. Pagone and Mr. Jacobs for realizing this.

  17. Gwyn Nickens says:

    It is refreshing to know that someone has remained open minded and willing to hear the voices of the community. Thanks to Mr. Pagone for also recognizing that the district is made up of well educated people and that the board should be acting as stewards of our tax dollars.

    It is a shame that anyone would cower away from having a task force. A task force would actually reduce the tone and intensity of the debate. It would act as the vehicle for the voices that are going unheard. It is when people are left without a voice that resentment and antipathy begin to climb.

  18. Jamie Kilgore says:

    Thank you to Mr. Pagone and Mr. Jacobs.

    NA is facing a 5.7 million dollar deficit. How is this being addressed? Closing Peebles does not save the district 5.7 million dollars. The ‘saving’ is nowhere close to this #. How is this deficit as a whole not being addressed by the Administration and the Board.

    It has been heard over and over about the funding of PSERS (the teacher’s retirement plan), and how the district’s fiduciary responsibility is going to continue to grow exponentially over the next several years. Closing a school does not solve this problem. If closing a school is the district’s answer to solving the budget deficit this year…. what are they going to do next year, and the year after, and the year after that? If closing a school is their answer – in a few years there will be no schools left to close.

    Elementary education is the foundation of a child’s future. North Allegheny School District Administration and Board need to remind themselves of this fact. Riding the coat tails of the High Schools achievements is not enough anymore.

    30+ children in a class is not effective learning. It is also not safe. One teacher should not be responsible for the learning and now the safety of 30+ children. The people that are being affected are the children sitting in these classrooms every day.

    This Administration and Board has spent inordinate amounts of money on not just 1, but 2 studies. Why is this? Is it due to the fact the conclusion of the 1st one was not to their liking?

    Schools across our state are facing similar budget deficits and issues. These districts are not closing schools. Where is the evidence from the Administration that this is the only solution? Where are the findings that other options have been reviewed, and this is the only feasible one? Where is the rest of this money coming from? How much money is in the general fund? Is the rest of the budget being made up with these dollars?

    There is a very big picture here that needs to be looked at. How did the Administration and the Board get this district into such a hole to begin with? There are a lot of questions that have not been answered by this Administration and this Board.

  19. Jill Baran says:

    It’s refreshing to see that Mr. Pagone and Mr. Jacobs are willing to differ from their peers and see things as they truly are, not through a “biased” lens. I can’t help but think there must be some hidden agenda here – I’ve been to every school board meeting on this topic thus far, it just doesn’t add up. I mean, if the board is really adamant about closing a school, it seems to make more sense to look further at the one that needs “$14 million in renovations” versus the school that needs no repairs? All these wasted hours to continue to explore ONE option … what about all the other options???

    It’s frustrating that the elected board continues to disregard the thought of a Task Force …. a community voice, to assist in finding the best solution — we’re all in this together, no? What I find particularly disturbing is Ms. Ludwig’s comment about voting no to a Task Force …. “I would not want to subject any non-elected community members to the tone and intensity of the current debate,” she said. “Also, at this point, I would not know what the board would have a task force do.” Aren’t we all on the same team here …. don’t we all want to keep the NA reputation for quality education?? Why are they making it seem like it’s community vs. school board?? We moved here 1 1/2 years ago because of the school district, I couldn’t be more disheartened and disgraced by these recent events.

  20. Kerri Buschmeyer says:

    Thank you Mr. Pagone and Mr. Jacobs for standing up for what you believe in and for being the only ones on the board to address many of the concerns that have been spoken by the community. It is frustrating to attend these board meetings and feel that those speaking out are never addressed and the questions posed are never answered by so many of the members of the school board.

    It is also frustrating to continually ask for a community task force to help find answers to the district’s budget issues, and to be ignored time and time again. I cannot help but think there is some hidden agenda that would cause the administration and the school board to push this decision through on such a short time frame, and with such discrepancy in the information presented. The “facts” told by the administration continue to change at every meeting.

    I would love to know what other options have been considered and what has been done to examine and identify other options.

  21. Doug Karlovits says:

    It appears that many of our school board members are more concerned about the $850,000 in possible savings that could be generated by leasing Peebles to La Roche College than providing acceptable classroom sizes that are necessary to facilitate a quality education.

  22. Kathi Evans says:

    Thank you Mr. Pagone and Mr. Jacobs for your support and the common sense you have shown in this matter. As Mr. Pagone stated at the last meeting I too can’t beleive this issue was even up for a vote. Even if this made any sense at all, the time frame of the closure does not allow for any child care arrangements to be made for the next school year OR any time for the students to integrate into the new schools before the start of the 2013-2014 school year…recommended time is over a 6 month period, not the 3 wks Gulitarei has suggested. The administation has completely ignored the dep’t of education guidelines for class sizes…. yet the board assures us all that NA will remain “excellent”….this does not sound like excellent to me!!

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