Posts Tagged ‘class size’

The administration has recommended that the board take a vote on May 22nd regarding the closure of Peebles Elementary.

Based on the information presented at the March 20th board meeting, if class sizes are capped at 29 students for intermediate grades and 24 students for primary grades, the district will NOT have enough spare classrooms if Peebles is closed. This means the district will be wed to higher class sizes both now and in the future.

To read more, please click here.

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SaveNASchools has ordered yard signs that will be available this week for distribution. If you preordered a yard sign, you will be contacted this week with further details.  If you did not pre-order a yard sign, you can email savenaschools@gmail.com  to purchase one from the remaining stock.

yard sign pic

The administration has recommended adding 5 classrooms (four regular and one special education classroom) to McKnight Elementary to address the issue of class size. However, the “new recommendation” does not provide enough spare classrooms to keep class sizes below the district’s guidelines.

Here’s why…

  • If Peebles is closed and 5 classrooms (four regular and one special education classroom) are added to McKnight, only 14 spare classrooms would remain across the district. This is taken from the administration’s presentation on March 20th which shows three spare classrooms at both McKnight and Ingomar and two spare classrooms at each of the four remaining buildings.
  • To keep class sizes below district guidelines, the administration said it would need to add 10-14 elementary sections next year.  This assumes a class size cap of 29 students for intermediate grades and 24 students for primary grades.  If third grade is treated as an intermediate grade, the district would need to add 10 elementary sections.  If third grade is treated as a primary grade (like it is at Pine Richland), the district would need to add 14 elementary sections.
  • Thus, the district would have to utilize all 14 of the spare classrooms available under the new recommendation in order to restore class size to 2009 levels (when the district offered 158 classes to 3,500 students).  This means no spare classrooms would remain if a building is closed.

As previously noted, elementary enrollment has increased over the last several years. The district has allowed class size to go above district guidelines, thereby creating “empty classrooms,” by only offering 145 sections to our 3,560 elementary students.

If a building is closed, the district will be wed to higher class sizes both now and in the future. Given there are several new housing developments across the district, which are projected to add hundreds of elementary students to the system, the “new recommendation” has the same class size issues as the original recommendation.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Peebles backers speak to North Allegheny school board

By Sandy Trozzo

Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Members of the Save NA Schools group are confident they got their message — don’t close Peebles Elementary School — across to the North Allegheny school board during a seven-hour public hearing that didn’t adjourn until 2:20 a.m. last Thursday. But superintendent Raymond Gualtieri’s statement following testimony suggested the group still may face an uphill battle.

Board members will vote in May on an administration proposal to close the school, which is in McCandless.

“We feel the hearing could not have gone any better. We had over 100 speakers advocating on behalf of keeping Peebles elementary open, and not one speaker came forward advocating for the closing of the building,” said Tara Fisher, one of the leaders of the citizens’ group, Save NA Schools. “I think we’ve given them a lot to think about. We made a lot of educated, well-thought-out arguments.”

Speakers during the Jan. 30 public hearing were from all seven elementary schools, although most represented Peebles and Hosack.

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TribLive Logo

Study of North Allegheny’s Peebles Elementary scrutinized

Several parents hold up graphs showing an increase in enrollment in the North Allegheny School District during a public hearing about the possibility of closing Peebles Elementary School at Carson Middles School on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013. Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Staff Reporter Rick Wills

North Allegheny School District residents opposed to closing Peebles Elementary School are questioning why an engineer conducted a recent study of the school for free.

Alan Lilienthal, a Peebles parent, wondered whether it is appropriate for the district to have accepted a free study.

“I also wonder why anyone would work for free, unless there was something to gain down the road,” said Lilienthal, of McCandless.

But Jon Thomas, of Thomas & Williamson Program Management of Ross, said the district asked him to do a demographic and feasibility study.

“They came to me and said, ‘Can you help out?’ I said, ‘I’d be honored to help out,’ ” said Thomas.

Read more: http://triblive.com/neighborhoods/alleghenyneighborhoods/alleghenyneighborhoodsmore/3401119-74/peebles-closing-district?printerfriendly=true#ixzz2KBQsIYOw

Next week, the administration will be proposing cuts to elementary school programs in an attempt to “divide and conquer” the movement against closing an elementary school building. The district will outline options that suggest elementary parents must choose between smaller class sizes and programs integral to the elementary curriculum.

SaveNASchools has suggested outsourcing transportation, staggering bus schedules, and advertising on the district’s website to address the current budget gap. These ideas are being considered and adopted by other school districts. Quaker Valley and Penn Hills have chosen to outsource transportation, while North Hills is considering staggering bus schedules and establishing a community task force.

On October 24, 2012, SaveNASchools presented a petition to the school board with 1,000+ signatures requesting that the district form a community task force to help brainstorm a variety of options for closing the budget gap without compromising the district’s reputation for excellence in education. It suggested the task force be comprised of representatives from each of the district’s 12 schools, along with teachers, administrators, and other residents.

SaveNASchools has always advocated that the district not compromise its successful elementary education model. The group has noted that, if a building is closed, “the use of spare classrooms as regular classrooms would displace programs critical to the elementary curriculum, such as music, GOAL and ESAP.”  These programs are integral to the elementary curriculum and should NOT be cut.

The district’s position that parents must choose between closing a school or cutting elementary programs only illustrates that the administration continues to lack a long-term, strategic plan with respect to the budget gap. It’s this lack of foresight that has contributed to the district falling behind in security measures, technology, and establishing an appropriate reserve to pay state mandated pension costs.

SaveNASchools believes that a district-wide community task force, which would explore all options for cutting costs and raising revenues in these challenging economic times, will allow taxpayers to be part of key decisions. A community group can provide the district with more ideas and channel the community support the district needs regarding certain proposals.

SaveNASchools encourages the board and administration to invite residents to the table instead of pitting them against one another and dismantling the very things that have made this district great. This is a time for the community to unite and advocate as one for the future of the North Allegheny School District.

What are North Allegheny’s class size guidelines and how will things change under the new model?

North Allegheny has class size guidelines of 25 students for primary grades (K-2) and 30 students for intermediate grades (3-5). The administration has noted that class size guidelines are NOT maximums.

Guidelines vs. actuals

–Demographics and Feasibility Update- October 2012

The administration has demonstrated that it is willing to let class sizes go above 30 students by accepting 4th grade classes of 31 and 32 students at Hosack this year. Hosack also has two 3rd grade classes with 30 students each.

It’s important to note that other school districts, like Pine-Richland, treat 3rd grade as a primary grade (instead of an intermediate grade) and thus maintain smaller class sizes. The school board has acknowledged that 3rd grade is a formative year and that the district has tried to hold 3rd grade classes closer to 25 students/class like other primary grades.

Per the Nov 28, 2012 school board minutes:

11.28.12 quotes- final

–NASD Official School Board Minutes- November 28, 2012

However, under the new model, the “number of available seats” is calculated based on 30 students in every 3rd grade class.  At McKnight, every 3rd grade class would have had 29 students in it and several 3rd grade classes across the district would have been at 27+ students. In fact, if Peebles had closed this year, the average 3rd grade class would have been 26.8 students at North Allegheny.

As you can see from the chart, the average 3rd grade class size at Pine-Richland is 21 students, the average 3rd grade class size at Mt. Lebanon is 21 students, and the average 3rd grade class size at Hampton is 24 students.

Bottom line: If Peebles is closed, 3rd grade classes at North Allegheny would be 5-6 students higher than the average 3rd grade class size in other districts.

Class Size other schools AVG as of 1.31.13-page-001

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.

“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.

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.