Posts Tagged ‘lawsuit’

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.

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“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).

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.”