Archive for the ‘The Impact’ Category

The latest installment of the district’s propaganda for closing Peebles is titled “FAQ: The Recommendation to Close Peebles Elementary School.”  Here are the 5 points we find most interesting:

  1. “NASD could close a small elementary school and still have 9 spare classrooms to work with for flexibility in the remaining six schools.”  The administration listed 11 spare classrooms in their Nov 28, 2012 presentation to the school board, but now they only have 9.  To be clear, 9 spares across 6 schools means some buildings would only have 1 spare available to manage class size.
  2. “Class size would not be affected.” 

The administration is using averages to mask what is happening on a per building basis.  The administration’s Nov 28, 2012 slides clearly illustrate that:

(1) McKnight, Ingomar, and Bradford Woods would have seen an increase in class size across multiple grade levels, and

(2) there would be 17 classes with 29+ students and minimal ability to manage class size given only one spare in some schools.

  1. “Peebles has no ‘spare classrooms’ when the facility is analyzed under the guidelines of the redistricting model, which allows for 4 sections of grades K-2.”  This highlights one of the biggest issues related to the district’s new model; the small schools that remain would be required to run 4 sections of K-2, even though they were only designed to run 3 sections.  The reason why no “spare” exists at Peebles, and only 1 or 2 “spares” exist in the remaining buildings, is because Hosack, Bradford Woods, Franklin, Ingomar, and Peebles were NOT designed to operate as 4-round schools.   
  2. “Closing Peebles Elementary School will save NASD at least $1.25M each year for the next seven years.”  The administration listed a savings of $850,000 in its Nov 28, 2012 presentation to the school board.  We wish we could explain the $400,000 change, but as we’ve already seen, the data supporting this recommendation is not consistent and continues to be a moving target.
  3. “The District does not have a tenant for the Peebles building.”  It has been confirmed that LaRoche College is the potential tenant for Peebles Elementary.  Since an official legal document is not in place, the district can technically state it “does not have a tenant.”  The administration illustrated its fondness for semantics when it recently told the Tribune Review it had “no substitute costs” because its substitutes were hired through a contractor.  Given the administration’s cost savings calculation is contingent on $1M of “Potential Lease Revenue,” it’s clear that there is indeed a tenant for Peebles.

Saving the best for last: “Mr. Thomas donated his services free of charge to complete this work.”  So, Mr. Thomas, a consultant from a construction management firm, “donated all of his services” to complete the Phase 2 report and recommended closing a school with $0 repairs instead of one with $14 million in repairs.  Nothing more needs to be said.

SaveNASchools firmly believes that NO SCHOOL in the district should be closed and its mission is to illustrate

(1) the district’s position is incorrect, and

(2) the district’s process is incorrect.

1.  SaveNASchools believes the district DOES NOT have the ability to close a school without compromising its successful elementary education model. If Peebles is closed, the detrimental impact to the remaining buildings will include;

* an increase in class size (e.g. Ingomar would‘ve seen an increase of 7 students per class in 4th grade and 4 students per class in 5th grade)

* an increase in sections (e.g. Ingomar, Franklin, Hosack, and Bradford Woods would operate as four-round instead of three-round schools)

* use of non-classrooms as classrooms (e.g. large group instruction spaces at both Ingomar and Marshall would be used as spare classrooms; the space at Marshall requires accordion walls and the space at Ingomar has no windows)

2. SaveNASchools believes the district’s process for closing a school DOES NOT adhere to a best practices model. The California Department of Education, the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities, and the Council of Educational Facility Planners International encourages the following best practices for considering a school closure;

* form a district advisory committee before decisions are made about a school closure that includes a cross section of community members (the school board has not addressed a petition with 1,000+ signatures requesting a community task force)

* evaluate the condition, operating costs, transportation costs, and value of each building, which includes getting appraisals (the district has not performed a cost analysis per building nor has it gotten appraisals)

* ensure the process of gathering facts is as credible, transparent, and non-political as possible (the district has two reports-the first report recommends closing a school with $14 million in repairs and the second report recommends closing a school with $0 in repairs; the second report is from a consultant that was involved in a lawsuit with the district where a judge ruled he acted in “bad faith” and cost NA taxpayers over half a million dollars)

The district’s failure to adhere to a best practices model for closing a school DOES NOT mean that a school other than Peebles should be closed. It merely highlights the district’s failure to involve taxpayers, lack of due diligence and inconsistencies regarding the process for closing a school.

  • 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.

“If we close an elementary school, change will be felt throughout the system,” said Dr. Brian Miller, Assistant Superintendent for K-12 education. “If you remove a small school from our system, the entire system will be affected.” [PG Article, October 25, 2012.]

The information included on the Administration’s November 28th slides (detailed in recent posts) provides the basis for the following conclusions:

  1. Under the new model, the remaining buildings will see an increase in class size across several grade levels (especially grades 3-5).
  2. Under the new model, the remaining buildings will see an increase in sections across several grade levels (the only way to hold class sizes below district guidelines is by regularly operating spare classrooms as regular classrooms).
  3. Under the new model, the use of spare classrooms as regular classrooms makes the remaining buildings dependent on non-classrooms as spare classrooms.
  4. The use of non-classrooms as spare classrooms would displace programs integral to the elementary curriculum that are currently operating in those spaces (e.g. learning support, music, GOAL).
  5. Increase in class size and increase in sections means the remaining buildings will be operating above their Pennsylvania Department of Education target capacity and dangerously close to gross capacity.

We believe that the 5 points listed above compromise the district’s ability to deliver the same level of excellence in education under the new model that it does now.

Further, the Administration’s slides illustrate that the new model cannot reasonably accommodate an increase in student enrollment. If the district grows, it could face spending more money than it saved from closing a building.

Today we conclude our series on class size and capacity issues at the remaining buildings by focusing on Marshall and Bradford Woods Elementary.

Please note that we will not be reviewing Hosack or Franklin.  Hosack already has class sizes of 30+ students (and thus will not see an increase in class size).  Franklin is already operating above its target capacity with a current enrollment of 515 students (and thus will not see an increase in capacity). For those interested, here for the slides on Hosack and Franklin.

That said, what would Marshall and Bradford Woods Elementary have looked like if Peebles was closed this year?  These slides are from the Administration’s November 28th presentation to the school board:  MES and BWE.

Marshall Elementary
  • Marshall would pick up 138 new students if Peebles was closed.
  • Its operating capacity would go from 79% to 95%.
  • 5th grade would have had to operate 5 sections (instead of 4) and use a spare room (which would have displaced programs operating in that room).
  • 4th grade would have had to operate 5 sections (instead of 4) and use a spare room (which would have displaced programs operating in that room).
  • 3rd grade would have had to operate 6 sections (instead of 5) and use a spare room (which would have displaced programs operating in that room).
  • 2nd grade would have had to operate 6 sections (instead of 5) and use a spare room (which would have displaced programs operating in that room).
  • 1st grade would have had to operate 7 sections (instead of 6) and use a spare room (which would have displaced programs operating in that room).
  • Kindergarten would have had to operate 5 sections (instead of 4).
  • With the 6 extra sections added under the new model, Marshall would have had to use its 4th Centrium (large group instruction space) and GOAL room as classrooms.  Only one spare classroom would have remained and it is used for the YMCA program.
  • If current enrollment goes up, Marshall would have to use its YMCA room as a classroom.  No other spare classrooms exist.  Marshall would face class sizes of 25+ for grades K-2 and 30+ for grades 3-5 if there is growth in the Marshall area (e.g. Venango Trails development with 400+ proposed single family homes.) 
Bradford Woods Elementary
  • Bradford Woods would pick up 36 new students if Peebles was closed.
  • Its operating capacity would go from 74% to 81%.
  • 5th grade would have increased by an average of 3 students per class (current class sizes are 24, 24, 26, but would have been 28, 28, 27).
  • 4th grade would have increased by an average of 2 students per class (current class sizes are 24, 25, 25, but would have been 27, 27, 27).
  • 3rd grade would have increased by an average of 3 students per class (current class sizes are 21, 21, 22, but would have been 24, 24, 24).
  • 2nd grade would have had to operate 4 sections (instead of 3) and use a spare classroom (which would have displaced programs operating in that classroom)
  • 1st grade would have remained the same.
  • Kindergarten would have increased by an average of 1.5 students 
  • If current enrollment goes up, Bradford Woods would have to use its GOAL room and Life Skills room as classrooms.

What would McKnight Elementary have looked like if Peebles was closed this year?  This slide is from the Administration’s November 28th presentation to the school board:  MCK Scenario #1  

  • McKnight would pick up 57 new students if Peebles was closed.
  • Its operating capacity would go from 88% to 95%.
  • 5th grade would have had to operate 6 sections (instead of 5) and use a spare room (which would have displaced the ESL program).
  • 4th grade would have increased by 2 students per class (current class sizes are 27, 27, 28, 28, 28, but would have been 29, 29, 30, 30, 30).
  • 3rd grade classes would have increased by 3 students per class (current class sizes are 26, 26, 26, 26, 26, but would have all been 29 students).
  • 2nd grade would have had to operate 6 sections (instead of 5) and use a spare room (which would have displaced programs operating in that room).
  • 1st grade would have increased to 25 students in EVERY CLASS (which is the district class size guideline for grades K-2).
  • Kindergarten would pick up 6 new kids and no new sections.
  • With the extra sections added under the new model (grades 2 and 5), 2 spare “classrooms” would remain (Student Assistance Room and Faculty Lounge).
  • If current enrollment goes up, McKnight would have to use its Student Assistance Room and Faculty Lounge as classrooms.

Using Pennsylvania Department of Education guidelines, McKnight has an 875 student gross capacity.  As discussed in yesterday’s post, buildings are not designed to run at gross capacity.  If Peebles is closed, McKnight would have an enrollment of 851 students and be just 24 students shy of operating at its gross capacity.

To learn more about the impact of operating at gross capacity, go to the Building Utilization Video on the North Allegheny School District web site.  Let the video load and listen to the consultant’s comments at minute 42.  He states that it’s unrealistic to operate buildings at gross capacity and that the district does not have the ability to close an elementary school unless it abandons Pennsylvania Department of Education guidelines and uses its own guidelines instead.

See page 19 (Attachment #6) of the SaveNASchools Community Report for Pennsylvania Department of Education gross capacity guidelines at each school.  Reference the far left column titled “PDE Capacity per Most Recent PlanCon Submission” to locate the 875 student gross capacity for McKnight.

If Peebles had been closed this year, how would the other buildings have been impacted?  We will be highlighting class size and other issues at the remaining buildings in our posts this week.  Today’s focus is on Ingomar Elementary. [Click IES- final (scenario #1) for more detail. The slide is from the Administration’s November 28th presentation to the school board.]

  • Ingomar would pick up 79 new students if Peebles was closed.
  • Its operating capacity would go from 75% to 90%.
  • 5th grade classes would have increased by 4 students per class (current class sizes are 23, 23, and 23, but would have been 27, 27, 27).
  • 4th grade classes would have increased by an average of 7 students per class (current class sizes are 21, 22, and 23, but would have been 29, 29, and 28).
  • 3rd grade would have had to operate 4 sections (instead of 3) and use a spare classroom (which would have displaced programs operating in that room).
  • 2nd grade would have had to operate 4 sections (instead of 3) and use a spare classroom (which would have displaced programs operating in that room).
  • 1st grade classes would have increased by an average of 2 students per class (current class sizes are 21, 21, 22, but would have been 24, 24, 24).
  • Kindergarten would have had 13 new kids and operated an extra section.
  • With the extra sections added under the new model 2 spare “classrooms” would remain (the Music room and GOAL room).
  • If current enrollment goes up, Ingomar would have to use its Music room and GOAL room as classrooms. 

This is the perfect illustration of operating at target capacity v. gross capacity.  It’s important to understand that buildings are designed to run at their target capacity and NOT gross capacity.  Pennsylvania Department of Education guidelines establish a 450 student target capacity and a 550 student gross capacity for Ingomar Elementary.

Current enrollment at Ingomar is 406 students.  If Peebles is closed, the enrollment at Ingomar Elementary would be 485 students.  Thus, Ingomar would be operating above its 450 student target capacity.  To reach its 550 student gross capacity, it would utilize additional rooms (Music and GOAL) to accommodate 65 more students (550-485).  This is why it’s not realistic to operate a building at gross capacity.

However, under the new model, the administration has abandoned Pennsylvania Department of Education guidelines and established a 510 student target capacity (instead of 450) for Ingomar.

Bottom Line:  Under the new model, the administration is targeting 104 more students at Ingomar than what it has now (510-406) by abandoning Pennsylvania Department of Education guidelines and using its own district guidelines instead.

To learn more about the impact of operating at gross capacity, go to the Building Utilization Video on the North Allegheny School District web site.  Let the video load and listen to the consultant’s comments at minute 42.  He states that it’s unrealistic to operate buildings at gross capacity and that the district does not have the ability to close an elementary school unless it abandons Pennsylvania Department of Education guidelines and uses its own guidelines instead.

See page 19 of the SaveNASchools Community Report  for Pennsylvania Department of Education target capacity and gross capacity guidelines for each school.

SaveNASchools is a group that advocates keeping all 7 of the district’s elementary schools open based on the following 5 points…

  1. We believe that the district’s elementary buildings should not operate above Pennsylvania Department of Education capacity guidelines.  The district does not have the ability to close an elementary school unless it accepts higher capacities than those established by the state.
  2. We believe that operating the remaining elementary buildings at capacities that depend on spare classrooms and increase class size will compromise the district’s ability to deliver excellence in education.  The new model will be dependent on spare classrooms the very first day, which have been identified as faculty lounges, learning support rooms and music rooms.  The remaining buildings will experience an increase in class size with respect to grades 3-5, except for Hosack (which already has classes of 30+ students) and Franklin (which is currently operating above capacity).
  3. We believe that 3rd grade should have a class size guideline of 25 students instead of 30 (similar to other districts).  The new model is based on 30 students for each 3rd grade class and operating six schools instead of seven does not provide the district with enough capacity to accept 25 students per class now or in the future.
  4. We believe that the decision to close a school could ultimately cost the district more money than it would save because the new model cannot reasonably accommodate future growth.  The 5-year enrollment projections prepared by the Administration have consistently understated actual enrollment for the past 13 years.
  5. We believe that the decision to close a school should be based upon solid, empirical evidence that such decision is in the best interest of the district as a whole.  The report that recommended closing Peebles Elementary used population data that does not tie to the 2010 U.S. Census and included a mathematical error that concludes there will be a decline in McCandless, when, in fact, the population is projected to remain stable.

On November 28th, the Administration recommended closing Peebles Elementary and estimated that the district would save $850,000 per year (contingent on a $1million/year lease).  That same night, it requested $856,000 to purchase new buses for next year. 

SaveNASchools recommends deferring the purchase of new buses for one year and appointing a community task force to provide additional thoughts and ideas for addressing the district’s projected deficits before moving forward with a process as drastic and irreversible as closing a school. 

1) If an elementary school is closed, the remaining buildings will have to accommodate more classes than what they were designed for; this will have a direct impact on classroom space and programs integral to the elementary curriculum.

a. The remaining buildings will have to use spare rooms as regular classrooms. For example, buildings designed to run three sections of 1st and 2nd grade would be required to run four sections under the new model (e.g. Bradford Woods, Franklin, Hosack, and Ingomar). As a result, each building will lose two of its spare rooms.
b. The loss of spare rooms means the administration has identified “other spares” to be used as classrooms. For example, at Marshall Elementary, the 4th Centrium, GOAL room, and YMCA room have been identified as spare classrooms. At McKnight elementary, the ESL room, Student Assistance Room, and faculty lounge have been identified as spare classrooms. In other buildings, spare classrooms include learning support rooms, orchestra rooms, and faculty lounges.

2) If all intended classrooms are filled to district guidelines, there are 3,960 seats under the new model and there will be limited ability to keep class sizes below district guidelines based on current enrollment.

a. The 3,960 seat capacity assumes all small elementary buildings are loaded with 540 students (e.g. Bradford Woods, Franklin, Hosack, and Ingomar). To put this in perspective, Franklin has a current enrollment of 515 students and they are currently using a faculty lounge as a classroom. If the district lowers its target to 510 students per building, they will only have 3,720 seats, which is close to current enrollment.
b. The district’s current elementary enrollment is 3,548 students, which represents 90 percent of the new capacity (3,548 current enrollment/3,960 new capacity). This will make it difficult to keep class sizes below district guidelines. For example, there are currently 638 students in third grade and there are 22 third grade classes under the new model. Assuming a perfectly equal distribution of students across buildings, there would be 29 students in every third grade class (638 students/22 sections of third grade). Without a perfectly equal distribution across buildings, several third grade classes could exceed the district guideline of 30 students per classroom.

3) If current enrollment goes up, the district would not have the ability to reasonably accommodate extra students and would face spending more money than it saved from closing a school.

a. To date, the financial benefit of closing a school has been estimated at 1% or less of the district’s annual operating budget. The district’s annual budget is approximately $126 million and cost savings are estimated at $500,000-$1.5 million.
b. The district’s ability to close a school is based on a decline in student enrollment. Given Allegheny County is experiencing positive migration, and there are new housing starts in the townships of Marshall, McCandless, and Franklin, the decision to close a school based on a model that can’t accommodate future growth could be fiscally irresponsible because the district would encounter future costs to accommodate additional students.

4) Based on the 1997 Bozzomo model- a model that uses a target capacity of 450 students (instead of 540) for each small elementary school- the remaining buildings would operate at 89% of target capacity if all buildings remain open and the district “balances enrollment” by moving students from overcrowded buildings into those that are less crowded.

a. The new model “creates capacity” by adding 90 students to each small elementary school without adding any classrooms or additional space. The new elementary education model increases the target capacity of the small elementary buildings from 450 to 540 students by using spare classrooms as regular classrooms and accepting North Allegheny School District (NASD) guidelines of 30 students in grades 3 through 5 (instead of 25 students).’
b. If enrollment at the elementary schools is considered in reference to a 450 target capacity (instead of 540), then the schools would be operating at 89% of target capacity if all buildings remain open. This is calculated by taking the balanced enrollment totals for each building (based on Mr. Botti’s November 14th presentation) and dividing by a 450 target capacity: BWE = 400/450 = 88.89%, FES = 403/450 = 89.56%, HES = 408/450 = 90.67%, IES = 401/450 = 89.11%, PES = 397/450 = 88.22%.
c. If the district keeps all elementary buildings open, only 264 students would be redistricted (instead of the estimated 503-1031 students if a building is closed).

5) Over the past few months, elementary parents have suggested other options for addressing the district’s projected budget deficits. These ideas include outsourcing transportation, advertising on the district’s website, and reducing the “other” expense items listed in the district’s budget.

***Members of the community are encouraged to attend the school board meeting on November 28th at 7pm in the Carson Middle School Auditorium and become part of the ongoing discussions surrounding this recommendation.***

MESSAGE FOR THE NA COMMUNITY:

The proposal to close Peebles Elementary is about a new model for elementary education across the district that will increase class sizes in EVERY elementary school. It is a district-wide issue and we need to gain district-wide support.

More specifically, closing Peebles is part of a plan to maximize utilization of the elementary buildings by increasing class sizes. Out of the 145 elementary sections, 7 are currently above 30. The board can redistrict to correct this problem and create equity across the schools. Closing Peebles will allow them to increase class sizes in EVERY elementary school to their new “target capacity” after the redistricting.

This is about 30 students becoming the norm for grades 3-5 instead of the exception. The exception (7 out of 145 sections) is fixed by redistricting. Closing one of the seven elementary schools means going to a new model of 30 students in all intermediate grades (3rd-5th) across the district.

We need to argue that larger class sizes make it more difficult for teachers to effectively teach curriculum and gives them less time with each student. This is extremely detrimental at the elementary school level where kids are just being introduced to the educational model and structure. In addition, adding just one or two kids to a classroom can greatly increase the classroom complexity for the teacher given each kid has a different ability to learn, different social/emotional background, and different set of needs.

We need to ADVOCATE REDISTRICTING to create more equity across all elementary schools and better utilization of “excess capacity” in some buildings, but to LEAVE PEEBLES OPEN so that class sizes don’t swell beyond a reasonable level after the redistricting.