Posts Tagged ‘capacity’

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Push continues to keep North Allegheny’s Peebles school open

Residents of North Allegheny School District’s largest municipality continued to plead with the school board April 17 to keep all elementary schools open and to reduce class sizes.

The board is scheduled to vote in May on a proposal to close Peebles Elementary School in McCandless because of excess capacity in the elementary buildings. If the closing is approved, district administrators have said they are willing to delay the move until 2014-15.

But McCandless parents say excess capacity exists only because class sizes have increased this year after some retiring teachers were not replaced.

To read more,  click here.
North Allegheny board upgrades school technology, security

The North Allegheny School Board Wednesday approved wiring upgrades and security measures for its buildings.

Eight board members voted to finance $4 million in technology improvements through a low-interest loan from PNC Bank. Projects include replacing the network infrastructure equipment and upgraded data wiring for all seven elementary schools and installing wireless coverage in each district building.

To read more, click here.

North Allegheny’s Peebles site-closing plan still debated

January 24, 2013
By Sandy Trozzo, Post Gazette

North Allegheny administrators see closing Peebles Elementary School as inevitable in a district with stable enrollment and excess classrooms in an era when public schools are facing serious financial difficulties.

On the other hand, members of a citizens group fighting the proposed closure see a future with overcrowded schools and higher class sizes. And they dispute the administration’s enrollment projections.

In the middle of both sides is the school board — a majority of whom live in McCandless where Peebles is located.

The school board will hold a public hearing Wednesday on the proposed school closing, which would occur next year. The board cannot vote on the recommendation until at least three months after the hearing.

The background

The process began two years ago when Architectural Innovations, which was contracted to perform a comprehensive analysis of all 12 buildings, recommended closing Bradford Woods Elementary, contending that the school needs $14 million in renovations, and Peebles. The report said there would be sufficient capacity in the remaining five schools to house all elementary students.

But administrators and board members were skeptical of the firm’s numbers and recommendations, and commissioned a second study — this one by Thomas and Williamson, a construction management firm that previously did work for North Allegheny, but was involved with a lawsuit that led to a $500,000 judgment against the district.

Thomas and Williamson reduced the estimate of repairs at Bradford Woods to $8.3 million, and recommended closing Peebles instead. Administrators agreed, making the recommendation in November.

This isn’t the first time a consultant recommended closing Peebles, the district’s oldest elementary school. It also was recommended in 1997.

“When Espe closed, the recommendation was to close Espe and Peebles, and, 15 years later, nothing has changed,” superintendent Raymond Gualtieri said. “We still have the same number of excess classrooms.”

But Laurel Schreiber and Tara Fisher, leaders in the Save NA Schools group, said that 1997 recommendation also included expanding McKnight Elementary to hold 1,500 students, and possibly adding onto Hosack Elementary. Both schools are also in McCandless.

“It is not a parallel set of facts,” Mrs. Fisher said.

Enrollment and capacity

Projecting enrollment is not an exact science.

This year, enrollment was up 89 students districtwide and the 8,215 students enrolled on the third day exceeded the projections in last year’s demographics and feasibility study.

Mr. Gualtieri said enrollment is stable, noting that 314 new students enrolled last year, while 317 withdrew. “We had a wash of move-ins and move-outs,” he said. “That’s been happening for years.”

But Mrs. Fisher said the administration has underestimated enrollment for the past 13 years. The citizens group took the district’s five-year enrollment projections in 1999, 2006, 2007 and 2008, and compared them with third-day enrollment figures. Each time, enrollment was higher than the district had projected five years earlier.

Administrators chose Peebles over Bradford Woods for closure in part because the most growth is expected in the northern half of the district as those municipalities, particularly Franklin Park and Marshall, expand with public utilities.

Brian Miller, assistant superintendent for K-12 education, said that, for every 10 babies born in Franklin Park, 12 kindergarteners show up in school. In other areas, 10 babies are born, but only eight children are still living in the district by kindergarten.

The citizens group contends that enrollment also will increase in McCandless as the older homes of empty-nesters are sold to young families.

Because enrollment is stable, the district has excess classrooms at the elementary level, administrators say. Closing a small elementary school such as Peebles will allow them to better distribute students and lower class sizes.

Save NA Schools disputes that on its website, outlining a scenario of what the district would look like if Peebles had closed this year. The number of sections would have increased, and class size would hover around the maximum in nearly every section, Mrs. Fisher said.

Fiscal realities

Closing a small elementary school and redistributing students allows the district “the ability to be more operationally efficient,” Mr. Miller said.

And that is important as the state cuts education subsidies and increases unfunded mandates, charter school tuition eats a large portion of the district’s budget and retirement costs increase by double-digit percentages every year.

North Allegheny is facing a $5.7 million deficit for 2013-14. During the past two years, the district reduced 90 positions through an early retirement incentive program, initiated activity fees for students, increased parking fees, accepted advertising on its website and in facilities, and is seeking sponsors for naming rights.

But the district needs to continue to search for ways to maximize efficiency, administrators say. The district has estimated an annual savings of $850,000 by closing Peebles. More savings will be realized if the facility can be rented, they say.

“In challenging fiscal times, that’s the way that you need to run an organization. That’s the way a family needs to run their household. That’s the way a private enterprise needs to run their company,” Mr. Miller said.

Mrs. Fisher said the savings does not justify the turmoil in which closing Peebles will leave students.

“Where is the priority for the district? This is a proposal that will save less than 1 percent of the district’s operating budget, but the impact will affect every student and every teacher at the elementary school level,” she said.

Sandy Trozzo, freelance writer:

First Published January 24, 2013 5:14 am

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Where they stand: North Allegheny officials, parents

January 24, 2013

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A public hearing on a proposal to close Peebles Elementary School will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Carson Middle School Auditorium, 600 Hillvue Lane, McCandless. Here are the positions of school officials and the parents’ organization:


• School buildings are under-utilized. There are the same number of spare classrooms as in 1997 when a community task force recommended closing Espe and Peebles schools.

• Closing a small elementary school will better equalize class sizes throughout the remaining schools.

• Projections show the district’s enrollment remaining stable.

• On the Web:

Save NA Schools

• If Peebles is closed, the remaining six schools will see an increase in class size and an increase in sections, which eliminates the spare classrooms and makes it harder to manage class sizes. Seventeen classes would have 29 students or more.

• Other school districts have lower class sizes, especially in third grade. North Allegheny’s guidelines call for 30 students or fewer in grades three through five. The average third-grade class is 21 students in Pine-Richland, 21 in Mt. Lebanon and 24 in Hampton.

• The administration has underestimated projections for 13 years. Board members have questioned projections both from the administration and in the Phase 1 report.

• On the Web:

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.
  • 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.
Community group questions North Allegheny enrollment projections

“If an elementary school building is closed, current enrollment would account for 90 percent of the total available seats in the remaining buildings,” said Tara Fisher, 36, of McCandless, a member of Save NA Schools. “It limits the district’s ability to keep class sizes below district guidelines.”

The report concludes that the district has a history of underestimating enrollment and that an enrollment increase could end up costing the district more money in the long run if a school is closed. The report also concludes that the district cannot guarantee the same level of education if a school is closed.