Posts Tagged ‘PDE’

Today’s Post Gazette- Pittsburgh North section includes several letters to the editor that further detail the issues surrounding the recommendation to close an elementary school: [To read the letters, click here:]

  • Over-crowding threatened if NA closes Peebles
    • “Why does North Allegheny know better than the Pennsylvania Department of Education? The state recommends a class size of 25 in the elementary grades.”
  • Savings ‘insignificant’ against impact on students
    • “Now the NA school board is considering closing a highly ranked elementary school, which will lead to significant redistricting.”
  • NA not following best practices
    • “This process includes forming a committee of a cross-section of residents to examine the condition of every school, per-pupil operating costs, transportation costs associated with each facility and a property appraisal of each school.”
  • Expenses first, close schools later
    • “Closing Peebles Elementary School, whose students flourish among the highest in the North Allegheny district, should be a last resort after all other possible solutions have been exhausted. This has not yet occurred to the satisfaction of the community.”
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  • The Administration’s recommendation to close an elementary school is based on 33 spare “classrooms” that exist at the elementary level. The 33 “classrooms” identified by the Administration include faculty lounges, learning support rooms, music rooms, GOAL rooms, and large group instructional spaces. These spaces were NOT designed to be used as classrooms. The district does NOT have enough excess capacity at the elementary school level to close a building unless buildings are operated close to their gross capacities requiring non-classrooms be used for direct instruction.
  • The Administration has focused on the fact that the small elementary schools have a gross capacity of 550 students. We’ve discussed in our earlier posts that buildings are not designed to run at gross capacity. For example, Franklin has a current enrollment of 515 students and the only spare classroom that exists is a faculty lounge. Franklin cannot reasonably accommodate 35 additional students.
  • The Administration has focused on buildings that are operating below capacity (Hosack) instead of buildings that are operating above capacity (Franklin). If students are moved from buildings operating above capacity to those that are operating below capacity, through minimal redistricting, the district can balance enrollment and operate all of the buildings efficiently.

If enrollment at the small elementary schools is considered in reference to the 450 student target capacity established by Pennsylvania Department of Education guidelines, then each school would be operating at approximately 89% of its target capacity if all buildings remain open. This is calculated by taking the balanced enrollment totals for each building from the Administration’s November 14th presentation  and dividing by the 450 student target capacity established by the state: [Click here to see the balanced enrollment slide.]

BWE = 400/450 = 89%

FES = 403/450 = 89.5%

HES = 408/450 = 91%

IES = 401/450 = 89%

PES = 397/450 = 88%


Under this scenario, Hosack would pick up 75 additional students and excess capacity issues would be resolved through limited redistricting.
All regular classrooms would be in use and spare classrooms would be available (instead of non-classrooms) for overflow or bubbles in enrollment.
With respect to the two larger elementary schools, enrollment at McKnight would be 782 students (instead of 837 if Peebles was closed) and enrollment at Marshall would be 774 (instead of 852 if Peebles was closed). These are more realistic capacities for our children.


We maintain that balancing enrollment, through limited redistricting, is the solution to the excess capacity issues that exist at the elementary school level. The district does NOT have enough excess capacity to close a building without compromising the education of our elementary school students.

“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.