Posts Tagged ‘community task force’

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.

Advertisements
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

Pittsburgh Post Gazette: December 20, 2012

A divided North Allegheny School Board voted Wednesday to hold a public hearing on a proposal to close Peebles Elementary School in McCandless.  Scheduling the hearing does not mean that they will eventually vote to close the building, but allows them to keep their options open, board members said.

The hearing will be held Jan. 30. A vote to close the school cannot occur for 90 days after that.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/local/neighborhoods-north/north-allegheny-to-hold-public-hearing-on-proposal-to-close-peebles-667120/#ixzz2FdpP8HAP

North Allegheny Patch, December 20, 2012

In a meeting that lasted nearly five hours, the North Allegheny School board Wednesday night voted to schedule a public hearing on Jan. 30 on whether or not to close Peebles Elementary school.

Board members Ralph J. Pagone and Christopher M. Jacobs voted against the hearing.

More than 40 parents spoke against the proposal, and many of them asked again for the formation of a community task force to further study the issue. The board did not address that request.

Read more: http://northallegheny.patch.com/articles/north-allegheny-school-board-approves-public-hearing-on-proposed-school-closing

The consultant who recommended closing Peebles Elementary cost the district half a million dollars for prior work on the district’s elementary schools. This information, brought forward at the school board meeting last evening, raises a long list of questions for both the Board and the Administration. Most importantly: Why did the district commission a consultant that cost the district half a million dollars to give a “second opinion” on a recommendation that came from 12 experts? What was the motivation behind hiring this consultant? And, are these the  practices and procedures that ensure the best use of taxpayer’s dollars?  Lawsuit- Full Text; North Allegheny Appeal- Full Text

The board voted 7-2 to schedule a public hearing last evening, which is the first step in the process for closing a school. Nearly 50 members of the North Allegheny community took to the microphone to express their concern, doubt, and disappointment at the process both the Board and the Administration are proceeding with for closing a school. A majority of the speakers noted that a petition with over 1,000 signatures requesting a community task force continues to be ignored by the Board. Residents from across the district, including several retirees, urged the Board to slow down the process and allow more time for due diligence to be achieved.

Parents from 5 of the 7 elementary schools explained that this movement is not about saving A school, it is about saving ALL seven. Larger class sizes, more sections per building, and students in non-classrooms were all sited as factors that will compromise the district’s successful elementary education model.

Today’s Post Gazette includes several letters to the editor that further detail the issues surrounding this recommendation and the lack of solid, empirical evidence, upon which the current recommendation is based. [To read the letters, click here.]

With mounds of evidence on their side, residents from across the district will now prepare for a public hearing on January 30th. As Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

A HUGE thank you to everyone that attended the school board meeting last evening. We had a great turnout and representation from 6 of the 7 elementary schools. This movement is about being opposed to closing ANY elementary school in the district because of the impact it would have on the remaining six buildings. Dr. Miller confirmed last night that, no matter which school is closed, it will be felt across the district.

It was extremely encouraging to see several board members step forward and ask the administration for more specific information on how this proposal would impact our elementary school children. We also saw, for the first time, financial estimates tied to this recommendation. The cost of maintaining a small elementary school is below $300k/year (utilities and maintenance) and we heard that it would only save the district about 5 staff members (a principal, secretary, nurse, and a couple specials teachers).Given the district’s operating budget is roughly $126 million per year, if the cost savings from closing a small elementary school are $1.26 million or less, this proposal is best described as “one that will have direct impact on teachers and students across all elementary schools while saving the district 1 percent or less in its annual budget.” This is a VERY powerful point moving forward.Despite that we did not receive a decision on the community task force last evening, and that we were told we won’t receive a decision until after the November board meeting, everyone should feel very encouraged about the information and discussions that took place at the board meeting last night and our position moving forward. Thank you again for your support and lets keep the momentum rolling!