Posts Tagged ‘petition’

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.

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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.

Letter to the Editor, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, January 15, 2013

In September, North Allegheny School District parents attended school board meetings to express concern over a proposal to close Peebles Elementary. Board President Maureen Grosheider scolded residents, saying only a threat of school closure made parents pay attention.

The board was presented with 1,000-plus signatures asking for a task force to allow residents to help tackle the district‘s $10 million projected 2013-14 deficit prior to closing a school ($850,000 savings). Espe Elementary closed in 1999 — only after the district received input from a 36-member community group.

Parents delivered a 30-page analysis to the board outlining reasons against a school closure. Did Ms. Grosheider listen? During the presentation, she refused to open her copy of the report.

Now Grosheider and her hand-picked New York superintendent, Raymond Gualtieri, have a choice: Do they listen to the hundreds of parents attending meetings? Or does only their opinion matter?

In the face of community opposition, a comprehensive study and evidence of flawed data, Grosheider seems determined to close Peebles. Why? Maybe because her school in Bradford Woods is in need of renovation ($8 million to $14 million) and only a year ago was targeted for closure. It appears that a plan to save her own school by closing another is under way.

John Harrison II

McCandless

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.”

The board meets for its next public session on Oct. 24.

By Richard Cook,  NA Patch

The North Allegheny School Board tomorrow is expected to release updated demographic data that could potentially impact recommendations to close one of the district’s elementary schools. The board meets Wednesday, Oct. 24 at 7:00 p.m. at its Central Administrative offices Hillvue Lane.

At a meeting with school board President Maureen Grosheider at Hosack Elementary School on Oct. 2, parents expressed concerns about the increasing class sizes at several of the elementary schools, and a consultant’s recommendation to close Peebles Elementary.  “I’m not sure the board is ready to decide about closing a building,” Grosheider said. “We need more information from the administration on how we would redistribute the students. Where are the pockets of growth and non-growth. The administration has to look at this from a practical point of view, before any decisions are made.”

Diane Collery, a parent with a group Save NA Schools, said more than 1,000 signatures had been collected on a petition requesting a district-wide community task force be established to be involved in any decisions regarding potential school closings and student reapportionment.

Tara Fisher, another parent with the Save NA Schools group, said that in addition to an answer from the board about the formation of a task force, she also hoped the board would reveal the following:

  • Administration work regarding the recommendation to close Peeble Elementary
  • Building capacities
  • Enrollment trends
  • Current educational programs “Modeling” criteria for different scenarios (e.g. closing an elementary school)
  • Communications
  • Next steps

School Board member Linda Bishop acknowledged at the Sept. 19 school board meeting that the district is facing an $8 million deficit, and the prime culprits include state-mandated pension contributions. “Our contribution went up $2.3 million this year and will go up another $3 million next year,” she said. “By 2015, unless the state legislature does something, we will be looking at $20 million in pension contributions each year.” Bishop also said the district is limited in its ability to raise taxes because of a state limit that ties tax increases to the cost of living. “We could propose a larger increase, but that would have to go to a voter referendum,” she said. “70-75-percent of the people who live in the North Allegheny district don’t have children in school. Convincing them of the need to raise their property taxes is a difficult proposition.”

http://northallegheny.patch.com/articles/north-allegheny-school-board-to-reveal-updated-data-which-could-impact-potential-school-closings

Parents demand formation of a community task force to tackle both issues

By Richard Cook, NA Patch
September 26, 2012

For the second time this month, the North Allegheny School board got an earful from elementary school parents who say they are frustrated by increasing class sizes and fearful the board will close at least one elementary school.

At the most recent meeting Sept. 19, more than a half-dozen parents waited nearly two hours to address the board at the end of its regular agenda.

“My daughter goes to Hosack Elementary. Her class has 32 students,” Bill Lungren told the board.

“I had a chance to visit her classroom the other week, and I noticed there was hardly any room to move around,” Lungren said. “The desks were practically stacked on top of each other. Were these rooms designed by the original architect to handle this many students?”

School board member Linda Bishop said the district has increased class sizes to help balance its current budget.

“We’re now at the point where some very difficult decisions are going to have to be made, and one of those already this year was to float some of the class sizes,” Bishop said. “We didn’t furlough any teachers. We simply didn’t replace some teachers who retired.”

Kevin Mahler, who said he was speaking on behalf of a group of concerned parents, said he believes class size will inevitably impact the quality of education for the children of North Allegheny.

“As the cliché says, perception is reality, and there is an overwhelming perception that people like smaller class sizes, especially parents when they are choosing a school district,” he said.

Mahler said he wants the district to clearly define a policy and set limits for class sizes, particularly in the elementary schools.

“North Hills has a clear maximum (class size) of 23 students in K-2 and 25 students in grades 3-5. We often get compared in my neighborhood because you can live across the street from each other and be in either North Allegheny or North Hills (districts). That’s not a selling point anymore.”

Amanda Hartle, communications coordinator for the North Hills School Districtclarified that in grades K-1, that district’s maximum class size is 20 students per class with a single teacher, or 23 students with a teacher and a teaching assistant. In grades 2-3, the maximum is 23 students per class with a single teacher, and 25 students with a teacher and teaching assistant.

In grades 4-6 at North Hills, the maximum is 25 students per class with a single teacher, or 27 with a teacher and a teaching assistant.

Many North Allegheny parents also expressed the desire for the board to form a community task force to discuss solutions to larger classes as well as the recommendation last month from consulting firm Thomas & Williamson that Peebles Elementary be closed to equalize elementary enrollment.

“Let’s work to find lasting solutions and not Band-Aids to our budgetary problems,” said Chris Disque, a North Allegheny parent.

Before the board can vote to close a school, it must hold at least one public hearing, advertised at least 15 days in advance. The board cannot vote for at least three months after the hearing.

Board President Maureen Grosheider said the board will have new demographic data at its next meeting that could potentially impact recommendations about any potential school closings. That meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 24.

http://northallegheny.patch.com/articles/north-allegheny-parents-express-frustration-over-increased-elementary-school-class-sizes

Sign the On-line Petition

Posted: September 7, 2012 in Take Action
Tags: ,
NA Residents For Neighborhood Schools

The residents of the North Allegheny School District believe that a strong and high performing school district is critical to the success of our children and grandchildren. It is also an important part of our local quality of life and contributes to the value of our homes. Recent discussions by the North Allegheny School Board including a suggested closure of Peebles Elementary School threatens to undermine these benefits. The inevitable increase in elementary school class size throughout the district, elimination of neighborhood facilities, and unnecessary construction created by this shift will cause unneeded disruption and unnecessary expense for all residents.

While we recognize that North Allegheny School District, like most school districts in Pennsylvania, are under significant financial constraints, we believe that other, less radical reforms within the district can achieve the necessary cost savings. Further, we reject any idea that district residents must choose between school closures / higher class sizes or a property tax increase.

We request that the North Allegheny School Board, school PTAs, and the teacher’s union appoint a committee of local residents including parents, financial professionals, teachers, and local leaders to find more appropriate solutions to district’s challenges. This committee should present its findings by January 31, 2013. Further, we request that the district disregard any construction or consolidation recommendations from firms with a potential financial interest in potential facility rehabilitation or construction.

Save Peebles: NA Residents For Neighborhood Schools