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North Allegheny Patch
Superintendent’s Call to Delay Closing of Peebles Elementary Draws Mixed Reaction From Board, Parents

Dr. Raymond Gualtieri is now recommending the school close at the end of the 2013-2014 school year.

By Richard Cook, Editor

[To read complete text,  click here]

Board member Thomas Schwartzmier said he was very happy with the delay in the Peebles closing.

“I’m glad that we reconsidered that, it’s something that I would have brought up at the vote had we not talked about it in advance,” he said.  “I think this will give everyone more time to react appropriately as we move forward.”

Board member Christopher Jacobs wondered about the sudden recommendation to add classrooms at McKnight Elementary.

“I felt the administration did their homework and was very confident in their recommendation,” he said. “Why wasn’t that (adding classrooms to McKnight) part of the initial recommendation? Are we less confident now than we were before?”

“I don’t know that we’re less confident but we heard over and over again from parents that parents were not confident with that,” Gualtieri responded. “The administration was confident that the 12 or so spare classrooms was enough, but we heard that over and over again from 330 people as we went through the various elementary schools and we tried to address that concern.”

Alison Fujito, a parent, told the board she couldn’t buy that argument.

“There’s just too much contradiction here for me to have a whole lot of confidence in your current recommendations,” she said. “I’m kinda shocked that these concerns that we’ve raised, 300 of us have raised, you keep calling them parental concerns, why aren’t they your concerns?”

Board member Ralph Pagone reiterated his opposition to closing Peebles at all.

“The last thing any district should do is close a school,” he said. “I still feel there are stones we haven’t unturned yet and I would ask that we continue to do that. “The thing that’s glaringly missing from this power point presentation to me is the $10-14-million dollars in cost that Bradford Woods elementary is going to need. I’d like to see that addressed. The building is going to continue to deteriorate.”

Board President Maureen Grosheider said, she too, wanted to make sure all options were explored when it comes to operating the district efficiently.

“I want to make sure we’ve done our job and our homework to make sure that we are as lean as we can be in as many appropriate places that we can be,” she said. “I would like to see money in the classroom, that’s where I think it belongs.”

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The California Department of Education has issued a best practices guide that outlines what steps should be taken prior to closing a school. Based on these standards, the district’s administration failed to perform adequate due diligence prior to making the recommendation to close Peebles Elementary.

1. Establish a District Advisory Committee-“it is a legislative intent, but not a mandate, for a district to have and use a District Advisory Committee (DAC) before decisions are made about school closure. But whether an intent or a mandate, the advice is good.”

  • “The job of the superintendent and board members is to evaluate facts, not gather them. And the process of gathering the facts must be as credible, transparent and non-political as possible.”
  • “At the very least, the DAC should be involved in the fact-finding necessary for an informal recommendation about school closure.”
  • “The DAC should be expanded to include a cross-section of community members who have an interest in and may be affected by school closures.”

The school board has not addressed a petition with 1,000+ taxpayer signatures requesting a district-wide community task force, despite numerous requests by community members and taxpayers over a 4-month period. The petition was submitted into the public record on January 30, 2013.

2. Evaluate the condition of each building- “one in good repair may be the best school facility in the district, in spite of its declining enrollment. It may be better to close an at-capacity but physically mediocre school;”

  • Have short term and long term renovation plans been determined and evaluated for each building?
  • What are the expected maintenance costs for each building?

Prior to recommending the closure of Peebles, the administration did not present the school board with a schedule for the projected maintenance costs for Bradford Woods, despite estimated repairs being anywhere from $8-14 million. Instead, at the Nov 28, 2012 school board meeting, Facilities Director Rob Gaertner said he was “deferring” the costs on the dated roof and HVAC system at Bradford Woods for five years. School Board Director Chris Jacobs asked Mr. Gaertner, “is that realistic?”

3. Determine the operating cost of each building- “operating costs may vary from school to school. Some schools use energy more efficiently, some schools need less maintenance, and some schools have minimal transportation costs.”

  • Has the administration determined the per-student operating cost at each building?

The only operating costs the administration presented to the school board prior to making the recommendation to close Peebles Elementary were the operating costs for Peebles Elementary. This occured at the Oct 24, 2012 school board meeting.

4. Investigate the cost of transportation for each building- “part of the decision to close a school should be based upon what transportation costs will be saved, and what new transportation costs will be incurred, once a school is closed and its students redistributed.”

  • Have detailed transportation costs been determined for each building?

At the November 14, 2012 school board meeting, Transportation Director Roger Botti presented ONE redistricting scenario related to closing Bradford Woods that showed 1,000+ students would be moved. Two scenarios were presented for a Peebles/Hosack closure that showed  500-600 students would be moved.  No detailed calculations were provided, no redistricting maps were shown, and a right-to-know request for further data was denied.

5. Determine the value of each building –“if maximizing revenue from the sale or lease of surplus schools is part of the decision regarding which school to close, then a property appraisal and assessment of the interests in and proposed uses for each property are vital.”

  • Have appraisals been conducted for each building?
  • Has the value of a possible sale/lease of each building been determined for each building?

Appraisals have not been conducted for each building nor has the value of a possible sale/lease for each building been presented by the administration to the school board.

At this week’s school board meeting, Mr. Pagone and Mr. Jacobs continued to challenge colleagues over the proposed plan to close Peebles.  Mr. Pagone made a motion to indefinitely postpone the public hearing and it was seconded by Mr. Jacobs.  The only challenge to the motion was from Ms. Ludwig, which prompted a heated exchange.  You can watch a video of the exchange by linking to the article on the NA Patch website.

The administration has proposed closing Peebles Elementary, but the school board is still undecided on the issue. It is the 9 school board members who have the power to close a building. The administration does NOT have power to do anything other than make the recommendation.

SaveNASchools encourages all North Allegheny residents to get involved in the effort to SAVE ALL SEVEN elementary schools in the district.

Top Ten Ways To Get Involved

  1. Attend the January 30th Public Hearing at 7pm in the Carson Middle School Auditorium
  2. Register to speak by emailing school board secretary, Rose Mary Ryan rryan@northallegheny.org
  3. Sign up as at www.savenaschools.com to receive information and updates
  4. Forward the emails from SaveNASchools to friends and neighbors
  5. Like our Facebook page
  6. Write a letter to the editor at the Post Gazette or Tribune Review
  7. Contact school board members by mail or by phone
  8. Invite friends and neighbors to attend the Jan. 30th hearing with you
  9. Volunteer to distribute flyers about the Public Hearing in your neighborhood (email us!)
  10. Email savenaschools@gmail.com with other ideas.

School board members Ralph Pagone and Chris Jacobs voted “no” to scheduling a public hearing for the closure of Peebles. Thus, they already agree that proceeding with closing Peebles, given the current facts, is not in the best interest of the district.

The following three school board members are open-minded, friendly, and still undecided on the issue. If you want to write a letter or make a phone call to a school board member, we recommend focusing your efforts on these three members. As a taxpayer and citizen, it is your democratic right to lobby elected officials.  The contact information for all school board members is made public on the district’s website. It has been provided here for your convenience.

  • Libby Blackburn 1015 Woodland Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15237 412-364-0314
  • Joseph Greenberg, Ph.D. 1000 Woodland Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15237 412-635-9520
  • Thomas C. Schwartzmier 2538 Cole Road, Wexford, PA 15090 724-935-4964

Additional members of the school board include:

  • Maureen M. Grosheider, President 103 Quail Hollow Lane, Wexford, PA 15090 724-935-2134
  • Daniel E. Hubert, Vice President 200 Wally Nue Court, Wexford, PA 15090 724-935-1355
  • Linda Bishop 1180 Woodland Road, Baden, PA 15005 724-772-2371
  • Beth A. Ludwig 231 Edelweiss Drive, Wexford, PA 15090 724-933-0234
  • *Christopher M. Jacobs 3966 N. Monet Court, Allison Park, PA 15101 412-487-1479
  • *Ralph J. Pagone 8761 Casa Grande Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15237 412-635-7155 (work)
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