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Group battles Peebles Elementary closing

By Rick Wills Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

With the North Allegheny School Board poised to take public comment on whether to close Peebles Elementary School, opponents are galvanizing to prevent it. A group of parents and taxpayers calling themselves “Save NA Schools” are flooding the district‘s website, sending emails to the media, residents and school board members, and turning up at board meetings to protest any attempt to close Peebles.

They say a consultant‘s report recommending the closure ignores the fact that Bradford Woods Elementary needs $14 million of repairs, while Peebles does not.

Many group members are opposed to closing any schools.

“At the end of the day, what the board says does just not add up. Their actions with the school closings make no sense,” said Daneen Leya of McCandless, a mother of students in the district and a member of Save NA Schools.

Raymond Gualtieri, North Allegheny‘s superintendent, recommended closing Peebles to save $850,000. The district faces a $10 million deficit for the 2013-14 school year, he warned in November.

Yet a consultant‘s report says it would be more economical to close Bradford Woods. School board president Maureen Grosheider questions estimates in the report of the cost to repair Bradford Woods. The study is one of two commissioned by district. The second recommends closing Peebles.

“After the first study, the numbers for renovations just seemed excessive. The question became, ‘Are those numbers really real?‘ ” Grosheider said.

The board will hold the public hearing on Peebles on Jan. 30. A time and location have not been set. A board vote could come within 90 days of the hearing.

Ralph Pagone, one of two board members who voted last month against having a hearing, said the district is rushing the process.

“We are moving too fast. There are conflicting studies. The board did not like the first study and got a study that told them what they wanted to hear. They do not seem to be paying much attention to the public,” Pagone said.

The initial report from Architectural Innovation of Ross recommended closing Bradford Woods and keeping Peebles open. The board‘s majority favors a study by Jon Thomas of Thomas & Williamson construction consulting firm, also of Ross, which recommends closing Peebles.

James Construction Co. sued Thomas & Williamson and the school district over renovation work at North Allegheny in the late 1990s. James won damages of $524,087 from the district in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court.

“The fact that the district had a recommendation from 12 experts to close a school with $14 million in repairs and commissioned a ‘second opinion‘ from Jon Thomas is very suspect. Especially when you consider Mr. Thomas recommended closing a school with no repair costs and Judge (Timothy P.) O‘Reilly concluded he acted in ‘bad faith‘ the last time he served as a consultant for North Allegheny. This all begs the question: What was the real motivation in hiring Mr. Thomas?” said Tara Fisher, a parent of a Peebles student.

Jon Thomas could not be reached on Wednesday.

Pagone questioned the decision as well. “I am concerned with the outcome of that lawsuit. The findings were not good.”

Grosheider said Thomas has a record of success with the district.

“Mr. Thomas has done work for the district for many years, in many capacities. We have always had good results.”


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  1. Karen Snavely says:

    Peebles has already had its turn for renovations. Bradford Woods and Marshall Elementary is just next in line. This has been the board’s plan all along. Also many of the repairs needed at Bradford Woods would still need to be done in order to rent it out. So the repairs would be done no matter what.

    Save NA Schools has got to do a better job with what it posts on it’s blog. Parents from Peebles Elementary run this blog and have made statements to offend many parents at McKnight, Hosack and Bradford Woods. If they want to receive support from the entire NA community, then they need to come across as less attacking on the other schools.

    • Thank you for your comments, Karen. SaveNASchools stands by every post on this blog.

      The content posted this past week has come from two media outlets. Parents from Peebles do not run this blog. It was started by a Hosack parent in September 2012.

      SaveNASchools maintains that the district will grow and it does not have the ability to close any elementary school. If the district maintains that the district will decline and there is only a need for 6 schools, SaveNASchools believes a building with $14 million in repairs instead of one with $0 repairs warrants further consideration from the school board.

    • Karen Rosella says:

      I’m the parent of two children at Hosack. SaveNASchools has the support of parents from across the district. Parents from 5 of the 7 elementary schools spoke in favor of SaveNASchools position at the last board meeting.

    • Eileen Russell says:

      Save NA Schools has representation from at least 5 of the 7 elementary schools. I say this, because I can think of parents from at least 5 schools off the top of my head who are actively working to keep all 7 NA elementary schools open. There may be also be parents from the other 2 schools, who I do not know, but are also involved. I am a Hosack parent. I know of no Hosack parents who have been offended by Save NA Schools.
      While I’m sure there have been comments made by some parents that have offended other parents, I am also certain that any comments made by this group have been supportive of keeping all 7 schools open.
      Save NA Schools is NOT advocating the closure of Bradford Woods Elementary. The assumption that the group is trying to turn the administration’s attention back to Bradford Woods for closure needs to be addressed, because it is divisive.
      My understanding of the questions from parents involved with Save NA Schools regarding Phase I vs. Phase II is this: When the consultant recommended closure of Bradford Woods last year, the decision not to follow that consultant’s recommendation was made very early in the school year. Dr. Gualtieri stood in our PFA meeting on Nov. 1, 2011 and stated that “No school would be closed until after a failed referendum.” He also said that “Closing a school does not save as much money as you would think. It would only save about $250,000.” No mention was made of any intention to lease out Bradford Woods if it had been closed.
      Fast forward to this year. Not only is Dr. Gualtieri now claiming that closing Peebles would save the district $850,000 per year, but repairs to Bradford Woods Elementary are now being pushed back. At the Nov. 28 school board meeting, Mr. Gaertner stated that roof and HVAC repairs will be pushed back in the 5 year plan.
      If the district is going to continue to insist that this is not being done because of budget concerns, but rather, because of capacity, then it only makes sense to ask how the consultant that they hired came up with Peebles as the school that needs to be closed.
      Regardless of any of those arguments, the parents involved in Save NA Schools have been able to show that the district cannot close ANY elementary school without overcrowding the remaining six schools. These parents have spent the last five months going through attendance numbers, redistricting scenarios, building designs, proposed changes in building layouts, etc. They have shown that all seven schools are necessary to provide a North Allegheny education, the education many of us moved here to provide for our children.

    • Laurie Nelson says:

      Just to follow up on this comment, I am a parent from Ingomar Elementary and there are many others at both Franklin and Ingomar that have backed up Save NA Schools because ultimately, it will effect all of us at all the elementary schools. At Ingomar we are already over crowded and the idea of 79 more students in make shift classroooms next year is all I need to hear to keep up the momentum to vote no at this upcoming hearing. We are arranging for a meeting of parents from other elementary schools on Monday. Jan. 21st, at Ingomar United Methodist Church at 7:30 pm. Perhaps you and some other parents from Bradford Woods would like to join us? We’d love to have you and the more parents from other schools the better.

  2. Eileen Russell says:

    I have significant concerns regarding the rejection of a study that was performed by Architectural Innovation and the embracing of the study done by Thomas and Williamson. Going back to a firm whose work caused a law suit with a half million dollar judgement against North Allegheny seems to be irresponsible. In turn, blatantly erroneous mathematical calculations were used in the Thomas and Williamson report to justify closing a school in the first place. This process is inherently flawed. Rushing to close a school in this manner will hurt our children, their education, and the reputation of North Allegheny School District.

  3. Inza duchi says:

    The bottom line is that there are too many unanswered questions… And the biggest one being ….why hasn’t the NA school board addressed the request from concerned tax payers and parents for a Community Task Force to help the NASD come up with additional ways of saving money?…. This request has been ignored again and again by the majority of the school board. We are the tax payers that contribute to the NA budget and we are the parents of these children! We have a right to be heard!

  4. Laurie Steele says:

    Ms. Snavely,

    I have to say that I have a lot of concern with your comments. I am a proud Hosack Parent who has attended every PFA, Superintendent Coffee, and Board Meeting since all of this started. Not one time has anyone from Save NA schools said anything about wanting to close ANY of the 7 Elementary Schools. SAVE NA SCHOOLS is just that a group that has been working very hard to get information out to the public to SAVE ALL 7 NA ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS. I am not sure where you are hearing this information.

    I say THANK YOU VERY MUCH for the parents who are running SAVE NA SCHOOLS! You are all doing an amazing job with keeping us all up to date on the newest information. I thank you for all you are doing and please continue to keep up the amazing job you are doing to help our children!



  5. Kim Stuart says:

    NO SCHOOLS SHOULD BE CLOSED. Hats off to Mr. Jacobs and Mr. Pagone for realizing that more needs to be done before a school is closed.
    The real issue that the board is failing to address is class sizes! They have become too large. Closing a school will not make the situation any better for anyone. Many of the board members had or have children that went through the school system at North Allegheny. I am curious were there 30+ kids in their children’s elementary classes for grades 3-5? Were there 25 or more kids in their children’s first and second grade classes? Better yet when is the last time a board member actually spent a day in an elemenatry school classroom with 30 kids in it? Hmmmmmm

  6. We are fighting to save every elementary school in the district. There are a lot of unanswered questions that the board has not addressed. The budget deficit didn’t happen in one year, and it’s not going to be solved in one year by closing a school, even if the building is leased to an outside source. So, why the rush?

  7. Kim Aggazio says:

    Intersting that they question the numbers in the first report:
    “After the first study, the numbers for renovations just seemed excessive. The question became, ‘Are those numbers really real?‘ ” Grosheider said.

    But ignore inconsistencies with facts and figures when presented with a 32 page report from the community ‘that refuted each and every point made by the administration using the administration’s very own facts and figures from the past 4 months. The report illustrates that current enrollment accounts for 90% of the available seats under the new model and leaves a cushion of only 4 students per grade in each building before class sizes exceed district guidelines. It also documents a 13-year history of the administration underestimating actual enrollment by an average of 350+ students. Finally, it notes that the data used for population projections in the consultant’s report does not tie to the 2010 U.S. census and a mathematical error contained in the conclusion section of the demographic study changes the projected forecast for the town of McCandless from a “decline” to “stability.”‘

    I have to ask, does the second report’s number seem real?

  8. Jamie Karlovits says:

    I am a Peebles parent, a Bradford Woods Aunt and have friends with children in every elementary school in the district. I am opposed to closing any elementary school. This entire process has been very shady. When you have a study that says an elementary school needs $14 million in renovations, then less than a year later another one says it needs $7 million in renovations, and then at the November 28 board meeting, Mr Gaertner (Dir of Facilities) states that they will not be fixing the roof or HVAC system at Bradford Woods for the 2013-14 school year it looks shady. This is the same roof that at Dr Gualtieri told us at his coffees was leaking and need garbage cans to collect the water. This is the same HVAC system that he told us is being held together with duct tape. How can he tell us it is that bad then have his Director of Facilities says they are going to hold off for at least another year to repair these items? But they did say at the November 28 board meeting, they would like to put in indoor batting cages at NAI and a new pool score board at NASH. So the students at Bradford Woods will continue to go to a school that has a leaky roof and a HVAC that could completely break at any moment? When I heard all of this first hand (I attend the coffees and board meetings), my first thought was “what is going on here…this is so shady!”

    It’s not about attacking another elementary school…it’s about doing the right thing for all the students of this district. The Administration is hiding something. It is a disgrace that our district, my alma mater, is involved in such shady actions! After all, it is supposed to be looking out for the best interest of its students.

  9. Teresa Boley says:

    This whole thing is being rushed with no concern for a community task force or for further study. What I have found funny is that this all started back in August with Peebles having “too many spare classrooms” and months later we find out the school is going to be rented out. I can’t wait to see what’s around the bend. What else is the board and the administration hiding? Several members of the board are not representing us at all. And after reading the superintendent’s stellar performance at previous school districts, they didn’t do their “due diligence” either.

  10. Kelly DiBiasi says:

    As a parent from Franklin Elementary, I do not want to see any of the schools closed. I have attended all of the school board meetings for the last few months and also spoke at a school board meeting over the summer regarding the large class sizes at Franklin in the 5th grade. I am very concerned about the data that has been provided by the school district regarding enrollment. I don’t believe that the enrollment will decrease with all of the development occurring, especially in the Franklin Park area. The closing of this school WILL affect all of the remaining elementary schools. Class sizes will be impacted by this change. Class size “guidelines” are only that, guidelines. I don’t think class sizes over 30 are going to go away. This closing is being rushed and the best thing we all can do is to ask the school board to slow down!

  11. Ellen Allen says:

    I’m a McKnight parent. If you read the posts on this site, you will see that Save NA Shools was not responsible for the negative comments about McKnight. In fact, this group has the support of several parents from McKnight. Let’s not lose sight of the main objective. This isn’t about one school or another, this is Save NA Schools. Not just Peebles or Bradford Woods. We are fighting for the integrity of our school district. “A house divided against itself cannot stand!”

  12. Jeff Allshouse says:

    I’m a McKnight parent who supports the mission of this group and opposes the closing of any school based on the information available to date. This is an issue that impacts every resident of the district and we must all stick together to ensure that our elected representatives make a decision that represents our views and best interests.

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