Posts Tagged ‘Jon Thomas’

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

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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.

TribLive Logo

Group battles Peebles Elementary closing

By Rick Wills Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

With the North Allegheny School Board poised to take public comment on whether to close Peebles Elementary School, opponents are galvanizing to prevent it. A group of parents and taxpayers calling themselves “Save NA Schools” are flooding the district‘s website, sending emails to the media, residents and school board members, and turning up at board meetings to protest any attempt to close Peebles.

They say a consultant‘s report recommending the closure ignores the fact that Bradford Woods Elementary needs $14 million of repairs, while Peebles does not.

Many group members are opposed to closing any schools.

“At the end of the day, what the board says does just not add up. Their actions with the school closings make no sense,” said Daneen Leya of McCandless, a mother of students in the district and a member of Save NA Schools.

Raymond Gualtieri, North Allegheny‘s superintendent, recommended closing Peebles to save $850,000. The district faces a $10 million deficit for the 2013-14 school year, he warned in November.

Yet a consultant‘s report says it would be more economical to close Bradford Woods. School board president Maureen Grosheider questions estimates in the report of the cost to repair Bradford Woods. The study is one of two commissioned by district. The second recommends closing Peebles.

“After the first study, the numbers for renovations just seemed excessive. The question became, ‘Are those numbers really real?‘ ” Grosheider said.

The board will hold the public hearing on Peebles on Jan. 30. A time and location have not been set. A board vote could come within 90 days of the hearing.

Ralph Pagone, one of two board members who voted last month against having a hearing, said the district is rushing the process.

“We are moving too fast. There are conflicting studies. The board did not like the first study and got a study that told them what they wanted to hear. They do not seem to be paying much attention to the public,” Pagone said.

The initial report from Architectural Innovation of Ross recommended closing Bradford Woods and keeping Peebles open. The board‘s majority favors a study by Jon Thomas of Thomas & Williamson construction consulting firm, also of Ross, which recommends closing Peebles.

James Construction Co. sued Thomas & Williamson and the school district over renovation work at North Allegheny in the late 1990s. James won damages of $524,087 from the district in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court.

“The fact that the district had a recommendation from 12 experts to close a school with $14 million in repairs and commissioned a ‘second opinion‘ from Jon Thomas is very suspect. Especially when you consider Mr. Thomas recommended closing a school with no repair costs and Judge (Timothy P.) O‘Reilly concluded he acted in ‘bad faith‘ the last time he served as a consultant for North Allegheny. This all begs the question: What was the real motivation in hiring Mr. Thomas?” said Tara Fisher, a parent of a Peebles student.

Jon Thomas could not be reached on Wednesday.

Pagone questioned the decision as well. “I am concerned with the outcome of that lawsuit. The findings were not good.”

Grosheider said Thomas has a record of success with the district.

“Mr. Thomas has done work for the district for many years, in many capacities. We have always had good results.”

 

Read more: http://triblive.com/neighborhoods/alleghenyneighborhoods/alleghenyneighborhoodsmore/3233983-74/board-district-peebles?printerfriendly=true#ixzz2HZI4Q2ZP

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

“The District claimed that it had no substitute teachers because the substitutes were hired through an identified contractor.” —Pennsylvania Department of Open Records.

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On August 9th, 2012 the Pittsburgh Tribune Review submitted a request, pursuant to the Right-to-Know Law, seeking records related to North Allegheny’s teachers and substitute teachers. [The RTKL is “designed to promote access to official government information in order to prohibit secrets, scrutinize the actions of public officials and make public officials accountable for their actions.”]

On October 10, 2012, the district claimed that the request from the Trib “improperly sought information rather than records, was insufficiently specific, and that certain records do not exist.” The district also “claimed that it had no substitute teachers because the substitutes were hired through an identified contractor.”

On October 15, 2012 the Tribune Review appealed to the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records. After a full review of the appeal,  North Allegheny was required to release the information it initially refused.  Taxpayer dollars were spent fighting what the state determined was “a valid request for records.” The facts of the case are outlined in detail in the Final Determination document issued by the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records on December 3, 2012.  The full text is available here.

The administration’s actions in this case illustrate the same poor fiscal stewardship the district demonstrated in commissioning Jon Thomas, a consultant whose prior work on the district’s elementary schools resulted in a lawsuit that cost NA taxpayers half a million dollars, to give a “second opinion” on the matter of closing an elementary school.

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See related post:  NA refuses to release substitute costs; Loses on appeal

“… the ‘take no prisoners’ attitude of Jon Thomas dashed all hope of developing an ameliorative relationship on this struggling project” —page 18 of the Court of Common Pleas Memorandum Order prepared by Judge O’Reilly.

At the December 19th school board meeting, it was revealed that the consultant who recommended closing Peebles cost the district a lawsuit for his prior work on the district’s elementary schools. The consultant is Jon Thomas of Thomas & Williamson. The case is James Construction v. North Allegheny and Thomas & Williamson. Below are some notable excerpts from the Memorandum Order prepared by Judge O’Reilly:  [click here for full text]

  • “James Construction, in its complaint, asserts that the delays in the project, which were not of its making, required it to speed up its work in order to complete the project, and as a result seeks damages from North Allegheny and Thomas & Williamson (T&W). It also seeks payment on several unpaid invoices, and further asserts a defamation claim against T&W. It also seeks the attorney’s fees and other exemplary damages under the PA Procurement Code.” (page 4)
  • “D&L was the predecessor project manager to T&W. North Allegheny hired T&W as the replacement project manager. Jon Thomas of T&W was acting as a “consultant” to North Allegheny. North Allegheny’s Project Facilities Manager, Rob Gaertner, was also involved.” (page 13)
  • “Assertions by the defense ignore the conditions and circumstances that prevailed on the project … One cannot turn a blind eye to [a memorandum], which Gaertner did not dispute-he just responded ‘Don’t mention it.'” (page 17)
  • “The termination of D&L, resistance by North Allegheny to even acknowledge delays, and the “take no prisoners” attitude of Jon Thomas dashed all hope of developing an ameliorative relationship on this struggling project. “(pages 18-19)
  • “My review and analysis of this involved case lead me to conclude that in addition to the funds due to James Construction for acceleration/compression, retention, and outstanding pay requests, counsel fees and expenses are due.” (page 25)
  • “After analysis, I also find that there was bad faith by North Allegheny as most vividly shown by the recognition of delay yet the refusal to do anything about it, other than to threaten the contractors with dismissal…I also find that while there is no libel by T&W, its unnecessary comments to Scabbo about James Construction are additional evidence of bad faith.” (pages 26- 27)

At the school board meeting last night, information came forward that the consultant who recommended closing Peebles Elementary was responsible for renovating several of the district’s elementary schools in the late 90’s and his work resulted in a lawsuit that cost the district half a million dollars. Below are the facts and information surrounding this situation:

  • In December 2011, a Phase 2 Demographics and Feasibility Study was commissioned by the district.  It hired construction management firm, Thomas and Williamson, to do the work. The December 5, 2012 Tiger News stated, “The Board was not comfortable with the demographic information or cost estimates” in the Phase 1 report so the Board “commissioned a second report to be done by a consulting firm with whom they were familiar from past projects.”
  • On August 22, 2012, Mr. Jon Thomas issued his Phase 2 Demographics and Feasibility Study.  Estimated repairs at Bradford Woods were reduced from $14 million to $8 million.  There were no estimated repairs listed for Peebles. Mr. Thomas recommended closing Peebles and concluded the population in McCandless would decline.  Mr. Thomas and Mr. Briem were the only experts listed in the report.  BWE Project Budget Summary.
  • In September 2012, a parent noted two issues in the Phase 2 report: (1) that the 2010 data used for population projections does not tie to the 2010 U.S. Census and, (2) that there is a mathematical error in the demographic section of the report which, when corrected, establishes that the population in McCandless will remain stable and not decline. Mr. Thomas acknowledged the mathematical error and that such conclusion be corrected, but could not provide an explanation for why the report understates the 2010 McCandless population by using data that doesn’t tie to the 2010 U.S. Census.  [Phase 2 Population projections] [SPC Municipal Profile 2010]
SaveNASchools believes that the district should NOT be relying on ANY advice from a consultant whose work caused the district legal issues in the past. Reliance on Mr. Thomas’s demographic information, enrollment projections, and other assumptions is NOT in the best interest of the district.
SaveNASchools believes that the district does NOT have the ability to close ANY elementary school without compromising its successful elementary education model.  Our recent posts illustrate that the remaining buildings will see an increase in class size, an increase in sections, and the need to operate non-classrooms as classrooms (displacing programs integral to the elementary curriculum).