Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Officials Still Working On Traffic Problems

There are very few "walking communities" left in Allegheny County. Mt. Lebanon -- with about 33,000 residents in 6 square miles -- certainly qualifies.

It has produced its share of studies on the subject of cars, people and their interactions on the roads. A 2004 Pedestrian Safety Initiative examined 42 intersections in the municipality, where improvements to certain high-traffic areas have been made in recent months.

The ward of Dan Miller, one of Mt. Lebanon's five commissioners, includes two particularly difficult areas -- Washington Road and the intersection of Cochran Road and Cedar Boulevard. A young girl was recently involved in a hit-and-run incident at the second site; she sustained minor injuries.


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St. Clair's New ED Includes Austin's Playroom

St. Clair Hospital's newly-expanded emergency department has state of the art medical equipment, as well as technology and processes to get patients to a doctor as quickly as possible.

But in addition to the ribbon cutting for the high tech facilities, there was also a ribbon cutting for Austin's Playroom, a comfortable environment for children who wait for loved ones receiving treatment.

The Austin's Playroom at St. Clair Hospital is a gift from the Mario Lemieux Foundation's Playroom Project Initiative and is the 13th Austin's Playroom in Western Pennsylvania. The Austin Playroom initiative, the idea of Nathalie Lemieux, seeks to improve the quality of a child's hospital experience.


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Local Lawmakers: It's Time To Cut Spending

"We've got to reduce our spending, especially if this trend continues on the same track or gets worse in the spring," said Pennsylvania Sen. John Pippy (R-Moon). "Our overall economy is down. Spending is down, buying is down. Sales tax is down, and with job losses our state revenues are down. This is the second year of the downturn in our economy.

"I commend the governor on the tough cuts he's made so far, but we need to look to further reductions because a tax increase isn't something I would consider. I would also oppose any increase in the state's fuel tax. We've weathered this better than many of the larger states in the union. And I am happy we pushed to maintain the rainy day fund, so that it has grown to $750 million. It helps, but we have to look further at duplications in programming and make those cuts too," Pippy said.

Pennsylvania Rep Matt Smith (D-Mt. Lebanon) said he opposes tax increases in this economy and advocates elimination of most if not all of the $200 million accumulated in the legislative surplus.

The "rainy day" and "legislative" surplus funds are not the same. The legislative surplus has an additional $200 million, and has accumulated over a 10 to-15-year period, Smith said.


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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Support Your Local Police Department

I received a letter in the mail the other day from the "United Police Society of Mt. Lebanon," requesting that I (as a Mt. Lebanon Resident -- the letter wasn't addressed to me personally!) contact my five Commissioners and express my thoughts about the state of the Mt. Lebanon Police Department. It's an interesting letter, especially for what it does not say, and for how it says what it does. The point of the letter seems to be that the residents of Mt. Lebanon are getting a lot of public safety bang for their taxpayer buck, and that suggestions that staffing or budgets should be cut (or both) are misguided. I assume that the "United Police Society of Mt. Lebanon" is not itself an authorized part of the Mt. Lebanon Police Department -- but I also assume that its interests and the interests of the Department are essentially identical. For my purposes, they are one and the same.

Here are the claims of the letter (typed as they appear in the letter), and some reactions.

"The Mt. Lebanon Police Department accounts for 17% of the annual municipal budget. Most municipalities' average 30-55% of their total budget."

Reaction: More detail is needed before these numbers mean anything. What are "most municipalities"? Let's consider suburban Mid-Atlantic municipalities with total populations between 25,000 and 50,000 people and low crime rates. Is Mt. Lebanon still low compared to its peer communities? What proportion of budgets in those types of communities (total municipal budget, and police budget) consists of salaries and wages? What proportion of *those* numbers consists of overtime? Again, how does Mt. Lebanon compare to its peers?

"According to Department of Justice recommendations based on call volume and population, we should be staffed by more than 60 officers."

Reaction: I wish that a source were cited for this claim, because my intuition resists the idea that the federal government is in the business of telling local municipalities how many police officers to hire. But I could be wrong; the only way to resolve the issue is to look at the document or report or whatever it is. I did some searching at the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The source that seemed closest to supporting this claim was this chart, but it can't be the right one. (In itself, the chart states that PA police departments employed 153 sworn officers per 100,000 residents as of 2004. Scale that back by 3 to get an average for a city of 30,000 or so and you get 50 officers, then remember that the PA data is skewed by including the cities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Remove those, and the average number of sworn officers goes down further.)

I'm even more suspicious of claims about staffing based on call volume, because I'd like to see statistics on how those calls break down. How many are crimes-in-progress? How many are child-is-missing? How many are cats-in-trees? My neighbor used to call the police to complain about leaves in my backyard blowing against the wall of her garage. Seriously. And the Police Department, following procedures, eventually knocked on my door to tell me, in sober, professional tones, how embarrassed they were to have to respond to this. Police Departments can't always know in advance what they are really responding to when a "leaves against garage" call comes in, but the number of "crimes in progress" or "burglary reported" or "child is missing" calls impresses me more than the raw number of total calls. Mt. Lebanon is not unknown territory; the Police Department doesn't operate entirely in the dark, either.

"We are currently allocated as a 44 officer police department. In addition to our regular patrol duties, these 44 officers are trained in and perform the duties of a police department consisting of well over 100 officers. A small sample of the special services that we provide includes: DARE officers, Child Safety Seat Installations, Citizen's Police Academy, K-9 patrols, Adopt-a-Business program, Bike Patrol, Motor Carrier Inspectors, Child ID cards, Home & Business Security Surveys, Fingerprinting Services, Driver's Education, Special Response Team, and many more."

Reaction: How did we go so quickly from 44 real officers to 100 hypothetical officers? The account of special training and programs, not all of which are of equal significance or value to the community, suggests that "100 officers" is the number that we would get if each of those special programs were staffed with full-time officers. Is that right? If it is, that's really odd; there is no reason to suppose that a municipality of our size would need any full-time officers to staff "Fingerprinting Services" or "Child Safety Seat Installations." For many months of the year, we have no need for "Bike Patrol." If it's not right, how did the "100 officers" number get computed? Overall, this claim gives the impression that the Mt. Lebanon Police Department is either supremely efficient (yay!) or is stretched so thin that public safety issues are going unaddressed (boo!). Perhaps they have just the right number of officers for the jobs that the Department is asked to do. I've lost track of the number of times that I've seen multiple police vehicles parked on Washington Road, dealing with a traffic stop involving a single vehicle. That may be wise protocol, but it suggests that there is no shortage of manpower.

"In order to focus on current crime trends, we provide specialized units to better serve the community. They include: Patrol, Crime Prevention, Traffic Services, Investigations, and Records & Alarms."

Reaction: This sounds like solid but standard organization and management, not anything special or specially adapted to current crime trends. (There are current crime trends in Mt. Lebanon?)

"In 2007: -- We handled over 30,000 calls for service. -- MLPD Officers made over 750 arrests and wrote over 4000 traffic citations. -- Through grants and enforcement we earned revenue of over $312,000.00"

Reaction: Good work! The 4000 traffic citations caught my eye, because I wonder how many of those were issued to Mt. Lebanon residents and how many were issued to other drivers.

Overall: With 44 full-time officers, Mt. Lebanon has about 1.5 officers per 1,000 residents. That ratio - number of full-time officers per 1,000 residents - is often a starting figure for calculating the "right" level of police personnel. Large, dense, diverse cities often have higher ratios (2.5 officers up to nearly 5.0 officers); smaller, less dense, more homogeneous, low crime jurisdictions often have lower ratios (close to 1.0). Other factors affect the number for any given place. (Among them is the number of supervisors in a department; on that particular point, my instinct is that Mt. Lebanon comes off relatively well. We don't seem to be top-heavy.)

Having surfed around the Web quite a bit, I couldn't find a standard formula good for all places, and I could find lots of surveys, often commissioned by larger cities, that concluded that no standard formula exists. This document, published by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, argues that "Ratios, such as officers-per-thousand population, are totally inappropriate as a basis for staffing decisions. . . . Defining patrol staffing allocation and deployment requirements is a complex endeavor which requires consideration of an extensive series of factors and a sizable body of reliable, current data." In the end, the 1.5 officers-per-1,000 residents ratio that we have seems neither high -- nor clearly low.

Let me clear that I am not criticizing the Mt. Lebanon Police Department. Mt. Lebanon is a small town. Many readers of this blog know (or are!) members of the public safety communities here, and they and I know that raw statistics often cannot convey the full measure of the services that our police officers and firefighters provide. Not every investigation yields a traffic ticket or an arrest. Some arrests and investigations dramatically understate the significance or difficulty of the issues involved. I mock my neighbor for complaining to the Police Department about my leaves, but in my years in Mt. Lebanon I have had occasion to call on the Police Department for serious work, and the response, professionalism, and service has been stellar. I have much to be grateful for.

I do believe, though, that if our public safety departments want to take their claims directly to the residents and taxpayers of the community, then they should be held to the same standards of performance, responsibility, accuracy, and accountability in presenting those claims that we should apply to other aspects of local government -- including the administration of the Municipality, the School District, the Parking Authority, Public Works, and so on and so forth. Actually, those standards should apply whether or not the case gets made directly, as it was in the letter that I received, or not, as it is during regular budgeting processes.

As any good lawyer knows, overstating your case ultimately undermines your credibility. If, on the one hand, the Police Department is arguing that it is rightly staffed and budgeted today, then it is difficult to assess that claim based on the data in the letter, though I have no reason to doubt the Department's sincerity. If, on the other hand, the Police Department is arguing that it is understaffed and overwhelmed and crime is at risk of spiraling out of control in Mt. Lebanon, then the letter simply hasn't shown that to be the case. More data and more detail are needed. And if that's the case, then the Commission should act accordingly.


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Meet and Greet Blog-Lebo

Stop by Aldo Coffee on Washington Road this coming Friday, January 2, between 10 am and 12 noon and say hello in person to the Blog-Lebo team. And buy a cup of coffee and a pastry while you're there.
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How's Business?

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that sales are mixed:

Going into this holiday season at Mt. Lebanon's Empire Music, owner Joe Ravita's anxiety meter was turned up to 11.

"From what you heard, it was supposed to be the end of the world," he said.

But Mr. Ravita was surprised and delighted to tally up his holiday sales and find that they had actually increased about 10 percent over last year. His 6-year-old store generally does about 20 percent of its annual business during the Christmas season, he said.

His guess for how Empire bucked a bad economy: offering knowledgeable customer service and building a loyal customer base through a vibrant schedule of lessons, such as a new "Rock School" program.

As shoppers packed mall parking lots yesterday in search of deep discounts, several local retailers said that they had not felt the pinch -- or the flat-out sucker punch -- that national retailers did. . . .

Rollier's hardware store in Mt. Lebanon, which sells everything from jackets to plumbing fixtures, felt some symptoms of the national downturn, said owner Doug Satterfield.

The store prides itself on a large selection of Christmas supplies and ornaments, sales of which were down about 20 percent from last year, he said.

But because most of the dropoff was in lights and outdoor decorations, Mr. Satterfield thinks that the economy wasn't the main factor.

"I think the weather, more than the economy, affected our sales," he said, noting the succession of cold and unpleasant December weekends.

For the first time ever, the store started discounting its Christmas merchandise before Dec. 25, he said, and will continue progressively discounting through the beginning of 2009.

Business in the store's other departments has been strong, he said, with the exception of some of the big-ticket items such as luxury bathroom vanities. "We didn't see the effects like the malls did," he said. "Our customer count wasn't down. I just didn't see people filling their buggies as much as last year."

A couple blocks down Washington Road, the stationery store More Than Words also saw a dropoff in retail sales during the holiday season but more than made up for it with an increase in custom orders, said owner Barb Johnson.

Even yesterday, as customers browsed 50 percent off holiday cards, Ms. Johnson was meeting with a newly engaged couple looking at wedding invitations.

"Everybody's retail sales are down, but there's obviously people who still want something special, and are willing to pay the price for that," she said.



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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Did You Know?

mtl magazine publishes a profile of the municipality for the benefit of prospective advertisers. The following is copied from the profile released for the coming year [read the whole thing here]. This advertising for the benefit of advertisers, so no "facts" are neutral. Do what Mt. Lebanon's schools should be teaching our children to do, and test your critical reading skills. Identify the hidden assumptions, missing data, implicit arguments and normative statements lurking in and about this summary.

Reader/Market Profile

Mt. Lebanon residents are among the most affluent, best-educated residents of the Pittsburgh region. They shop for fun and good value; they love to dine out; they travel; they enjoy cultural and educational events; they're concerned about health and fitness, and they plan for the future.

55 percent—more than half our residents—are under 42 years old, and 42.5 percent are in the advertisers' coveted 15-44 age range. Up to three people in each household read mtl magazine.

9,000 of Mt. Lebanon's 13,610 households are family households. More households have children under 18 than adults over 65.

86 percent of Mt. Lebanon residents own their own homes. The average value of a home is $227,311.

Homes range in price from $100,000 to more than $1 million.

82 percent of Mt. Lebanon residents have attended college. 42 percent hold graduate degrees.

The median family income is $98,042.

86 percent of residents work in professional, managerial, sales or office occupations.

Mt. Lebanon is increasingly diverse. Six percent of the population is other than white, with black, American Indian, Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Hawaiians and Pacific islanders represented.

People who move here like it. 65 percent of residents have lived in the same house for at least the past five years. On the other hand, we have a constant influx of newcomers—22 percent have moved to Mt. Lebanon from other areas of Pennsylvania or other states.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

"Santa" Returns Home In Time For Christmas

Santa is not only delivering gifts to the Hill family in Mt. Lebanon but he is the gift they've been waiting to come home for a year now. "My dad coming home, it was really … Having friends and family around is better than any material gift that I could ever receive. So, it wouldn't be the same without him here," Jennifer Hill said.

Her dad gives special meaning to this 20-year tradition of playing Santa because at 59-years-old Command Sgt. Maj. Jim Hill has now finished his second tour of duty in Iraq.


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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Suds At The Golf Course?

Officials in Mt. Lebanon say it's time to make the public golf course friendly for beer drinkers.

In approving the 2009 budget, Mt. Lebanon municipality will apply for a liquor license for a portion of the clubhouse, which would be converted into a concessionaire where municipal employees would sell beer and other Mt. Lebanon golf course swag. Most of the details have yet to be finalized, but commissioners set the direction for the concessionaire on Dec. 15. The plan is not without its critics.


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Traffic Woes Continue

Mt. Lebanon Commission has been toying with ideas to help traffic flow in both the business districts and in neighborhoods.

But the process is long and consensus is tough to achieve, said Commissioner Dan Miller. He has been working for some time on a traffic plan for the Mapleton/Marietta neighborhood. In fact, residents there began complaining to the municipality in February 2005 about cars speeding through and the need for something to be done.


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Victim Of Hit And Run Is Doing OK

Police in Mt. Lebanon say an elementary school student was not seriously injured after being hit by an auto as she walked near Cedar Boulevard and Cochran Road.

Mt. Lebanon Deputy Chief Gene Roach said police are treating the incident as a hit and run, but said it's possible the driver did not realize he struck the child.


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Friendship: It's In The Wrist Here Please

Several Peruvian families will have the opportunity to prosper in 2009 thanks to the efforts of fifth-grade pupils in the Mt. Lebanon School District.

The students, 357 in all, created multicolored friendship bracelets from yarn and then sold them at 50 cents each in an effort to raise about $150 to purchase a llama for a Peruvian family through an organization called Heifer International.


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Celebrate the Holiday

For those of us who celebrate Christmas, today is Christmas Eve. Whatever you celebrate -- Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice, Festivus, something else, or all or none of these -- I hope that you are able to stay close to friends and family this week, wherever you find yourself. We'll be here in town, happily. For all of the anxieties that beset Mt. Lebanon, in the end it is a remarkable community, and I and my family are fortunate that we tripped into moving here 10 years ago. We value our friends and neighbors and the spirit of a place that encourages all of us to get involved, even if we disagree, sometimes strongly, about its present and future. Warm wishes to all of you.

I'll be busy with other things for the next week or so, which means that I'll be stepping away from the keyboard for a bit. (To those of you who used to read Pittsblog, take notice! It's coming back.) Thanks for reading, thanks for writing, and I'll see and hear from you in the New Year.



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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Are We A Crunchy Suburb?

Is Mt. Lebanon a "crunchy suburb"? William Weston from Danville, KY thinks so.

Update: Mt. Lebanon blogger Erik Dahl offers his two cents on our "crunchiness".

Link: Aldo Coffee Co.
Link: Blue Horse Coffee
Link: Coffee Tree Roasters

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Future of Mt. Lebanon Schools

It is unfortunate that important education issues facing Mt. Lebanon and the Mt. Lebanon School District are bubbling to the public surface at precisely the moment when the attention of most citizens is turning to holiday celebrations.

So, it is all the more important that those of you who read this blog regularly forward this post to your friends and neighbors. The time has come to make some noise. Your School Board has made it clear that it is not interested in critical thinking about the wisest use of your tax dollars or the wisest path towards restoring the educational excellence that all residents of this Municipality should expect.

Here is a brief recap of the events so far:

Well over a year ago, the School Board began investigating options in connection with substantial renovation and/or replacement of the high school campus. As anyone with even a passing familiarity with the high school facility knows, it is in dire need of significant attention, if not necessarily outright replacement.

As the School Board review proceeded, it became clear quickly that even the cheapest comprehensive repair would cost in excess of $100 million, all costs included. That is not money that the School District has in the bank; that is money that would have to be borrowed.

Over the last three months, the international financial system has collapsed. Even before that series of events, it was far from clear that Mt. Lebanon could or should afford to borrow more than $100 million in the near future. The School District already has one of the highest debt levels in the state, and the taxpaying citizens of the Municipality already look at their annual school tax bills with absolute dread. The collapse of international financial markets has made some construction materials cheaper, and it has made borrowing money cheaper -- in some respects. In many other respects, borrowing is more expensive and more harrowing than it was before.

Enter School Director James Fraasch. Back in mid-November, he presented to his Board colleagues the results of his own independent research into the costs of the proposed high school renovation project, along with a proposal to delay the full-scale replacement of the building while simultaneously affordably addressing the most pressing repair issues -- the roof, and the heating system. The purpose of the proposal, which he later made public on his own weblog, was to stimulate Board and public discussion regarding the wisest use of public money in connection with the schools.

For his efforts, James Fraasch was publicly ridiculed by his Board colleagues. That's strike one.

One of those colleagues specifically noted that the financial figures that he used should have been vetted by District accountants and advisors before being released to the public.

At the recent School Board meeting, James Fraasch sought Board support to pursue precisely the action that his colleague criticized him for failing to undertake in the first place. As Bill Matthews notes in a comment to this post, James Fraasch's suggestion that professionals scrutinize his plan was ruled out of order, on procedural grounds. That's strike two.

What is strike three?

Over the last month, I have had conversation after conversation with friends and Mt. Lebanon neighbors about the high school renovation project and the School Board's attitude regarding James Fraasch's proposal. To a soul -- to a soul! -- every single person I have spoken to agrees that the time is right to reconsider the obviously substantial expense associated with the high school renovation project. To a soul, they are outraged that the School Board has reacted with narrow, closed minds to the proposal. The only people to have spoken up publicly in support of the Board are individuals who are personally affiliated with School Directors who have criticized James Fraasch.

Meanwhile, in other but related conversations, twice yesterday I heard from people who reported the tenor of recent conversations involving families who considered moving to Mt. Lebanon but who have chosen not to move here. The once-vaunted reputation of Mt. Lebanon's school system is called into doubt by Upper St. Clair, which already built a new high school, and by reports of drug abuse among Mt. Lebanon high school students.

I don't care much about Upper St. Clair envy, but it bothers me to hear that people are choosing not to move to Mt. Lebanon because they think that the schools aren't worth it. Even among people who don't know about drug problems at the high school (they exist; what wealthy suburban high school doesn't have them?), the consensus among those I talk to is that Mt. Lebanon schools are doing a pretty good job of educating the pretty smart kids. Not the brilliant kids, and not the less than pretty smart kids. For the citizens of Lake Wobegon, where all the kids are above average, the Mt. Lebanon School District is doing just fine.

Houston, we have a problem.

Mt. Lebanon's schools were once the jewel of this town, the reason that families moved here, the reason that they stayed, the reason that property values went up and stayed up, the reason that neighbors and neighborhoods took root and flourished.

Mt. Lebanon's schools still should be all those things. The reality today is that our schools are struggling to do that. The battle over a new high school is an emblem of the problem.

Note that I write that the battle over the high school is an emblem of the problem. The high school facility is not the problem itself. The School District might, in time, find the public support that I believe is now lacking, and build a brand new building over the next couple of years. Problems with the School District and the schools would remain.

Try this exercise.

Suppose that the School District could really borrow $150 million over the next three years. What should it spend that money on? In my hypothetical -- and this is a complete hypothetical, intended only to provoke comment and discussion -- which of these two options is more likely to restore Mt. Lebanon's lustre as a destination for families, as a superior educational alternative to Upper St. Clair, as a vessel of rising real estate values, and as the suburban jewel in Southwestern PA's crown?

One possibility: Spend all of it on a brand new high school campus, with fantastic facilities for educational programs, extracurricular activities, and community functions.

A second possibility: Spend half of it on a modernized and safe high school campus, with facilities that are state of the art for decades worth of educational programming and adequate -- adequate, only -- for a meaningful but focused range of extracurricular activities. Spend the other half on a substantive commitment to excellence in teaching and learning, serving the full range of needs of Mt. Lebanon families. Spend the money on more and better teachers (and better pay for the junior faculty) in core academic areas -- languages, including English; history and the arts; natural science; and social sciences. Spend the money in all of the schools, not just the high school. Ensure fully adequate support for children across the range of ability and achievement, from services for special needs kids to support for kids who are not college-bound to real support for exceptionally talented kids.

Strike three, to me, would be choosing the first option.

Does the high school need a tremendous amount of work? Yes. Does it need to be replaced? In an ideal world, yes. Even in our actual non-ideal world, probably yes again. Does it need to be comprehensively and renovated right now, without recognizing that the real purpose of the School District should be to recover the educational mission that Mt. Lebanon once pursued? I'd like to hear the Board's views and the community's views on that question, without anyone's opinion -- presented civilly -- being ruled "out of order."

"Both" is not an option in my hypothetical universe. Choose one and only one option. What do you think?

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Episcopalians Unite in Mt. Lebanon

The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, which is to say, the official Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh recognized by the Episcopal Church of the United States, had a Special Convention earlier this month, and the event was held at St. Paul's in Mt. Lebanon. Interested in the details? Here is a great report.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh has been at the center of terrible conflict in the Episcopal Church, conflict that ultimately led to the founding of a new Anglican denomination in North America recently, the "Anglican Church in North America," led by former Diocese of Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan.


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Friday, December 19, 2008

More on the High School Project

School Director James Fraasch is doing a great job of keeping a critical eye on the high school renovation project and not backing down from his position despite response to public attacks from other Directors and their supporters. Over at his blog, he has some interesting comments on the Almanac's recent story covering school projects in both Mt. Lebanon and Upper St. Clair.

Here is a link to his post, which includes the text of the Almanac article.

From the post:

As this article points out, and as I have been saying for some time, we are in a different economic reality than the one that existed even a year ago. Two months ago the Audit/Finance Committee talked about how much additional debt this District could add before being forced to go to a referendum. There is a law on the books that says that a school district can have debt up to 225% of its 3-year average annual revenues before being forced to go to a referendum. Any debt that would force us over that 225% level would have to be approved by voters. What we learned at that Audit/Finance Committee meeting was that the "magic" number is roughly $116 million dollars in additional debt over the next year or two before we are forced to go to a referendum. The thinking behind the quote above comes from understanding that ANY high school proposal that requires the District to add over $116 million in new debt would likely fail in a referendum vote.

That is basically the final reason why I believe a fully LEED certified high school building is off the table in the near term. Understand that this isn't an either/or discussion. It isn't either do this proposal or build a new school. Those are not the only choices on the table. I am sure other Directors will make their thoughts known in January. Some of these ideas will include a complete renovation or perhaps a more phased construction approach that has yet to be fully discussed at a Board meeting.

There is a certain irony in this that I think is important to point out. There are many that have emailed the Board and said that the most important thing to keep in mind is that we need to hold our taxes in check so that we remain competitive with neighboring communities. There are also many that have emailed the Board and said the most important thing to keep in mind is that we need a new LEED certified school to maintain our reputation as a community that values education and that a tax increase to accomplish this is well worth the investment.

The reality of the situation is that the current economic environment seems to put these two groups of people on the same side.

Kudos to James for keeping the public spotlight on this important issue.


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Raja on the Mt. Lebanon Budget

Commissioner Raja posted a long review of the recent Mt. Lebanon budget process on his blog. Read the whole thing.

A taste:

My article “20/20” in the Mt. Lebanon Magazine (available online at a few months ago highlighted my thoughts on increasing revenue and reducing expenses with a focus on improving efficiencies by 20% (with the objective of keeping the service level the same) and providing a 20% tax cut to the residents.

The millage tax cut of that passed by the Commission was only 1.6% (178K out of $10.575M). The economic conditions of today have had a clear impact on the potential savings. Just as an example, I want to hypothesize how this could have been 20%.
• The net savings from my recommendations (including Commissioner DeIuliis suggestions) with increases in revenue, reductions in expenses and with restoration of key services that were cut was $574.240.
• Increased costs faced by the Municipality were $1,412,700 (based upon the increases in fringe benefits primarily due to employee health insurance ($308,200), increase in pension costs (129,000), increases in refuse collection ($480,500), fuel ($105,000), utilities ($140,000), MRTSA ($94,000) and salt ($56,000) along with a need to increase the undesignated fund balance ($100,000)).
• In my recommendations, in many areas I had chosen to make reductions in the 2009 budget if they were notably increased over actual amounts for 2006 and 2007 (and 2008 year-to-date where appropriate) and maintained a reasonable and justifiable increase in 2009. By being more stringent on the 2009 budget (ex: keeping it more in line with prior year actual amounts), additional savings of $129,587 could have been generated.
The total of all the above items is $2.117 Million which could have provided marginally over a 20% reduction in millage. The economy has had an impact of all sectors including Mt. Lebanon and while we need to adjust to current economic factors, the hypothesis is just to show how a 20% millage tax savings could have been possible.


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Web Designer Wanted

This is a purely personal request:

I'm looking for a web design volunteer to help shape a new media project for Pittsburgh. [This is not related to Blog-Lebo.] Payment in credit only, not money, so this is a gig for someone who wants to join a small team of people with a vision -- or for someone who has skills and wants to show them off. Interested? Know someone who is? Email me at michael.j.madison [at]
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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Budget Restores Programs, Lowers Millage

It didn't take long for Mt. Lebanon commissioners to adopt the manager's $45.79 million proposed budget for 2009, but then, the vote had been preceded by almost two months of debate.

In the end, the restoration of popular community programs and the intention to issue a bond next year resulted in a real estate millage decrease, from 4.97 in 2008, to 4.89.

"Not only have we restored the cuts, but there's a small tax refund, too," said Commissioner Raja.


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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mt. Lebanon Prepared To Cut Taxes

Mt. Lebanon Commissioners seemingly have done the impossible--restored nearly every proposed cut in the 2009 budget and end the budget discussion with a surplus and tax cut.

But the celebration will be short-lived. In January 2009, the board will reopen the budget specifically to tackle a bond issue for 2009.

In the proposed budget developed by Mt. Lebanon Manager Steve Feller, a $7.1 million bond was recommended, then rejected by commissioners.


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St. Clair Hospital Opens New Emergency Department

St. Clair Hospital unveiled its new $13.5 million emergency department Wednesday, along with plans to change the way it admits and treats its ER patients. Construction on the project began in October 2007, and includes a $500,000 grant from the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, a state initiative. In addition, $487,000 from the federal Omnibus Appropriations Bill was applied to the project.

The hospital, based in the Pittsburgh suburb of Mt. Lebanon, says it typically has the busiest emergency room in southwestern Pennsylvania, with more than 50,000 patient visits annually. So it is introducing a new health care model based on the so-called Toyota Process, to streamline the admissions and registration processes, with the goal of reducing overcrowding and patients' wait times, the hospital said in a statement.

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School Plans Under Review

With the U.S. economy facing the worst downturn since the Great Depression according to J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., residents in Mt. Lebanon and Upper St. Clair have some thinking to do before investing nearly a quarter billion in three aging school buildings.

Mt. Lebanon High School and both Upper St. Clair's middle schools are in need of major renovations, say school board members in the respective communities.

A narrow majority of Mt. Lebanon School Board members say postponing $80 million to $150 million in construction at the high school is folly, while a strong majority of board members in Upper St. Clair say they aren't ready to put the brakes on a $60 million to $65 million overhaul of Fort Couch and Boyce middle schools.


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Raja's Take On The Budget

1st Ward Commissioner has posted his own thoughts and comments about the 2009 budget on his personal web site in a posting called "Small Tax Cut & Key Services Restored in 2009 Approved Budget".

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

New 10,000-Square-Foot KinderCare Opens Jan. 5

The latest development of Pittsburgh based Crossgates, Inc. is in its final stages at 1610 N. Highland Rd. in Mt. Lebanon. "The topography posed design problems and the neighbors had concerns about height and visibility," says Gregg Schwotzer of Crossgates, Inc. "What we accomplished with the new KinderCare Learning Center is a perfect fit. The design is one story and the site is easily accessible for parents but since it is above the highway, it is secluded from typical retail so the children are very safe."



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Tragedy Averted in Mt. Lebanon

Commissioner Dan Miller posted the following entry on his blog earlier this evening. I am reposting it here with his permission:

Tonight was like any other Tuesday night. It was my turn to pick my son up from daycare and the two of us drove down Cochran Road past Mt. Lebanon Auto to turn on to Cedar on our way home. Traffic was heavy but driving was a bit more treacherous because of how dark it was as well as the light precipitation that was falling.

As we turned the corner onto Cedar I saw a woman on the cell phone in the middle of the road blocking one lane of traffic. I turned to the sidewalk corner and saw what looked to be a young girl laying down. She was surrounded by what appeared to be her two younger siblings. I pulled over into the medical office parking lot. It was just me and my son but I was concerned so I pulled the car up as close to her as I safely could, turned on the DVD in the car, and jumped out.

The girl looked to be about 10 years old. She still had her school backpack still on one shoulder. There were a couple other adults who stopped over to help.

The young lady was conscious and kept telling me that a car hit struck her right leg and ankle. She had tears in her eyes but was very brave. She told me her name and I asked her where her mom was and if she knew her phone number. Someone let me borrow their cell phone and I called the mother who lived at the corner of Cochran and Bower Hill.

A doctor from the medical office came outside and I updated him on the information that I was aware of and the condition of the child. Thankfully he checked her out and comforted her.

Within moments the Mt. Lebanon Police arrived and secured the area, and thankfully our full time Mt. Lebanon Fire Department was right behind them complete with medical gear and training.

Of course my son was patiently waiting for me in the car so I could not stay. I tried to reassure the young girl that she was going to be alright and that the police and fire were there to help her. I checked out of the scene and told the police that I would be available for follow up if necessary. Unfortunately I did not see the car that struck her.

This occurred 15 minutes ago. I wanted to write it down while it was still fresh.

I am angry to think that that we have someone who drives our streets, hits a young girl, and then takes off.

I am confident that our police department will do everything they can to find that… person. I have no doubt in that. (Keep in mind that I am not speaking for the police or fire officially on their investigation and I am sure there are more facts they have uncovered.)

As a volunteer firefighter the actions I took were part of my job, but as a resident of Mt. Lebanon I am very proud that all those people stopped to help.

As a Commissioner I am concerned. I have been spending months working on the traffic problem in the 5th Ward and while I feel I have made some progress- it is still not enough.

I am resolved to improve this situation.

Shortly afterward, he posted this update:

I checked in with the Police Watch Commander. The young girl was sent to the hospital. There is a concern that there might be a broken bone in the lower right leg. Thankfully, other than that she was reported to be in good health and handling it well.

The police had a partial description of the car and driver. They also said that there is a good chance that the driver did not notice that he struck the girl. That would of course be a positive, although it does raise the question of whether or not there are safety issues at that intersection if a driver can strike a 10 year old and not notice.


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Monday, December 15, 2008

Commissioners Approve Police Chief Hiring

Mt. Lebanon commissioners tonight approved the hiring of Coleman J. McDonough as chief of police. A Pittsburgh native who most recently served as law enforcement coordinator for the U.S. attorney's office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, he also served as deputy commissioner for the Pennsylvania State Police from 2006 to 2008.

Thomas Ogden, Mt. Lebanon's chief of police for 10 years until his retirement in September, is currently director of security at Carnegie Mellon University.


Link: Governor Rendell Appoints 22-Year State Police Veteran to Deputy Commissioner Post (from 2006 with picture)

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

New Lebo Recycling Rules

I've had questions and comments from time to time about recycling in Mt. Lebanon, most of them wondering about the restrictions and exclusions from curbside recycling. Wonder no longer (I hope). The following note appears in the current MTL magazine:

Cardboard, phone books, junk mail, magazines and newspapers will all be picked up as part of curbside recycling beginning next month.

The South Hills Area Council of Governments (SHACOG), of which Mt. Lebanon is a member, has awarded a new trash pickup contract to Waste Management, Inc., which will take effect in January. Under the terms of the contract, recycling will be handled by Green Star, an automated Neville Island facility that is equipped to handle single stream recycling. This means all of your recycling can be co-mingled in one container.


Under the new contract, the municipality pays a fl at fee to the hauler, instead of a price per ton. Mt. Lebanon will pay $1.4 million a year for trash pickup and $288,000 a year for pickup of recyclables. This breaks down to about $138.84 annually per household for the two services.


Beginning in January, the following materials will be collected by the recycling contractor: brown and green glass; aluminum, steel and bi-metal cans; plastics marked with numbers 1 through 7; copier paper, paperback books, colored paper, fi le folders, hardback books (minus the hard covers); mail inserts, business cards, shredded paper, catalogs, telephone books, poster board, greeting cards, newsprint, magazines and corrugated cardboard. Material can be placed into the recycling bins as-is, with the exception of corrugated cardboard boxes, which must be flattened and can be no more than three feet wide or long.

Recycling will be collected every other week. Inserted into this month’s issue is the trash and recycling collection schedule for 2009. Copies of the schedule are also available on weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the Mt. Lebanon Customer Service Center, located in the lobby of the Mt. Lebanon Municipal Building, 710 Washington Road.


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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Rep. Smith Returns Pay Increase

State Rep. Matt Smith, D-Allegheny, said he will return his legislative cost-of-living increase to the state's General Fund in light of the budget crisis facing Pennsylvania and the economic crisis facing its residents.

Smith on Dec. 3 said he would also continue pushing his proposal to cut the state legislature's budget by 20 percent in the new session.

"Given the dire budget circumstances our state is facing, with a more than $600 billion shortfall already in less than half a year's worth of collections, I simply cannot accept a cost-of-living adjustment," Smith said. "I'm returning my new cost-of-living increase to the General Fund, as are several of my House Democratic colleagues and our caucus' leadership."



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Revised Budget Would Restore Funding For Some Programs

By 11 p.m., after five hours of a private session and public budget workshop debate, the five Mt. Lebanon commissioners could agree on one thing: They'd given it a pretty fair shot.

The task at hand: balance a proposed 2009 budget that would include the restoration of popular community programs but at the same time avoid cuts that might compromise safety or services.

In the end, a certain amount of hedging was involved. In one of the most tumultuous financial years in recent memory, who could predict such factors as fuel prices dropping or revenues from start-up golf course ventures?

UPDATE: 5th Ward Commissioner Dan Miller has posted his thoughts on the 2009 budget on his web site.


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Year-Round Used Book Store Opens At Library

The "glogg" was largely ignored, but everything else was pretty popular at the grand opening of Mt. Lebanon Public Library's used-book store.

Although few drank the glogg -- a nonalcoholic version of a Swedish beverage resembling mulled wine -- crowds of patrons snacked on cookies and other drinks last Thursday while viewing the bright displays of new, holiday-themed books.

"We've wanted to do this for many years," said Cynthia Richey, library director. "I think my friends and I talked about a permanent used-book shop ... in 1995-96, and this is finally becoming a reality."


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Mt. Lebanon, Steel Valley Pick Presidents

New school board officers were elected throughout the area last week, with many of the votes taking just a few minutes and involving little discussion.

But in the Steel Valley and Mt. Lebanon school districts, some unusual discussion and comments preceeded the votes.

In Mt. Lebanon, school Director Sue Rose read a statement in support of Alan Silhol, who was elected the new board president. But the statement was also highly critical of outgoing president Mark Hart.


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Students Push Board To Renovate High School

Danielle Smit and Maggie Blehar, both 17, said they were looking out for future generations of Mt. Lebanon students when they appealed to the school board Monday to continue with its plans to either significantly renovate the current high school or build a new one.

"We don't want anyone else to have to go through what we've had to go through," Danielle said. The high school senior said a leaking roof means that every time it rains the books in her locker get wet.



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Initial Report Fails To Pinpoint Savings

Mt. Lebanon's commissioners were disappointed last week when the initial findings of a $65,000 efficiency study didn't include any suggestions for savings that could be immediately incorporated into the 2009 budget.

"There were a lot of hopes there would be a smoking gun," said Commissioner Dan Miller. "They'd say, 'Change this and you'll save $30,000, $40,000.' "


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Mt. Lebanon Officials Say New School Can't Wait

Mt. Lebanon school officials have rebutted one board member's proposal to delay major renovations at the high school, saying conditions there require immediate action.

Last week, board member James Fraasch used his Web site to propose making only essential repairs and updates for $10 million to $15 million, setting aside money from a tax hike to pay for a new school in 2019 or 2020.

But Superintendent John Allison and board members Elaine Cappucci and Dan Remely said Fraasch's proposal needed further vetting before he made it public.


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Monday, December 08, 2008

MLHS Ranked As One Of The Best

The U.S. News & World Report has released a list of what it considers the best public high schools in America, putting some local high schools into silver and bronze categories.

Locally, the list includes the following high schools:

Silver -- Allegheny County: Fox Chapel Area, Hampton, Mt. Lebanon, North Allegheny, Pine-Richland, Pittsburgh Allderdice, Upper St. Clair.


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Friday, December 05, 2008

Civil (and Civic) Disobedience

This blog isn't "all School Board, all the time," but this week it certainly seems that way.

Almost lost in the hubbub comes the news that Alan Silhol was elected this week to serve as the new President of the Board. Congrats to him! I think.

He, along with the rest of the members of the School Board, received the following letter this week. I've deleted the identities of the authors, who are Mt. Lebanon residents, but in every other respect there is nothing confidential or private about the text. It was forwarded to me by a current member of the Board who, like many (I assume, judging from recent traffic statistics), has been reading this week's posts with interest. I am posting it here for the single reason that it highlights the kind of ugliness, vituperation, narrow-mindedness, and unreason that should have absolutely no place in Mt. Lebanon -- at any level, let alone in communications with neighbors who serve the town as School Directors, Commissioners, or other board volunteers. Does anyone still think that Mt. Lebanon is a shining beacon of civic mindedness? We have our high points, to be sure. But we have the same lows that you see everywhere else, and this is one of them.

Before you read further, sit down and prepare yourself for some nasty language. The italics are my comments.

To the Mt. Lebanon School Board:

In any endeavor of community life, discussion and exchange of ideas is a beneficial and worthwhile effort.

Unfortunately, this is not one of those endeavors.

Thus, we consider useful and advantageous the continuing School Board discussions on and investigation into the question of whether to build a new high school or do extensive renovations on the present one. Full investigation will produce a valuable and genuine answer to the problem and continued commitment to top-quality education.

We believe, however, that "full investigation" does not include investigation by anyone who disagrees with us.

We also consider deleterious anything less than one of the two solutions being sought. Patchwork would be not only undesirable and unacceptable, it would be irresponsible and reprehensible. And patchwork – indeed, not even well-thought-out patchwork – is what is being advocated by School Director James Fraasch.

Deleterious? Undesirable? Unacceptable? Irresponsible? Reprehensible? Go ahead and disagree with the proposal. But this is over the top. Put down the thesaurus (or learn how to use it wisely) and step away from the keyboard. You might hurt someone.

Mr. Fraasch advocates a $10 million to $15 million plunge into the depths of dubious cost-benefit recklessness, apparently preferring to take the easy way out instead of facing up to the responsibilities he accepted when he was elected to the board. His window-dressing contentions that Mt. Lebanon taxpayers can’t afford a significant tax increase to pay for continued excellence in education are dubious. He would spend $10 million to $15 million now, then step back and watch as other systems fail in an old building which has served its purpose but is now beyond senior citizen status.

The only thing that Director Fraasch has done is seriously question the assumptions of the renovation/reconstruction project so far, which are based on the premise that the taxpayers of Mt. Lebanon can, in fact, afford a $100-$150 million (or more) capital project. Fail to face up "to the responsibilities he accepted when he was elected to the board"? What craziness is this? If I sense for a second that my elected representatives are not carefully scrutinizing their operating assumptions regarding how my tax money is being spent, then I'll vote in a heartbeat to toss them out of office -- thanks but no thanks for your "work" -- and hope that every one of my friends and neighbors joins me.

Other School Directors have been hard at work on the renovation/reconstruction project. All of us appreciate that. At last Summer's First Friday events, several of the Directors were there to talk about the project, and I, along with many other people, welcomed the opportunity to talk about it. But there is absolutely no reason for any member of the Board to go along just to get along, especially if, in his judgment, the work so far comes to a mistaken conclusion. For your reference, below I include a clip from the devastating presentation of Richard Feynman to the commission investing the Challenger disaster. Feynman's elegant deconstruction of the cause of that tragedy showed that it was a classic case of getting along to go along. This was not rocket science, understandable only by a Nobel laureate. Anyone paying attention in high school physics should have seen the problem. The Challenger disaster dwarfs our high school project at every level of significance. Is James Fraasch a Feynman? No. But this isn't rocket science. Given the financial stakes, why dismiss his position out of hand?

Just what will convince Mr. Fraasch that full replacement or extensive and all-encompassing renovations are needed? Will it be the collapse of a ceiling on a room full of students? Will it be the destructive and interruptive failure of a swimming pool that is more than 50 years old? Or will it be, finally, the eventual and inevitable realization that construction delayed is construction that will cost future generations even more than present calculations?

This is a straw man argument. Criticize the proposal for what it says. Don't criticize it for what it does not say. The proposal has to do with what lies within our means; it does not deny that the facility needs major work.

His further argument, that 75 percent of Mt. Lebanon residents have no children in school and thus should not bear increased school district taxes, is disingenuous. Even accepting that figure, one must recognize it is not unique to Mt. Lebanon. And one must also recognize that better community property – a new high school, for instance – increases the value of each property owner’s land and home.

On that point the proposal is quite accurate. Mt. Lebanon has a significantly higher proportion of fixed and middle income residents than surrounding communities do. Our demographics are not the demographics of Upper St. Clair. Sure, a new high school might increase my property value -- but higher taxes would reduce it. Have you talked recently to young families trying to decide whether to buy a house here? I have. Yesterday, in fact. You know what they say? They're scared to death by the tax increase that they assume is coming with a major high school construction project.

Finally, one must recognize, most of all, that the important thing about debt – public or private – is revenue/debt ratio. A family with a large income can carry more debt than a low-income family. Similarly, a school district such as Mt. Lebanon can afford to carry much more debt than other districts with lower revenue.

This is the nuttiest point of all, but maybe (given my self-identified liberal leanings), its soak-the-rich attitude regarding taxation isn't such a bad thing. Just so long as I'm not one of the rich ones. This statement is the most pernicious and misleading thing in the letter, the assumption that Mt. Lebanon is just chock full of wealthy families who are more than happy to pay whatever it takes to keep-up-with-Upper-St.-Clair. For every wealthy family in town, there is a middle-income family. Would you like to meet some of them? The people who live in modest houses, struggle but still proudly pay Mt. Lebanon taxes, and prize the fact that they have access to the schools and community resources that the town and its citizens have created? I would be happy to introduce you to them; they're my neighbors, and in all likelihood, they are yours.

James Fraasch is willing do what much of Mt. Lebanon does only in private, to think about what is in the best interests of all of Mt. Lebanon, not just one athletic team, or one municipal service, or one profession, one neighborhood, or one child. Ranting about that effort and calling the proposal "reprehensible" turns our world upside down. We're supposed to be selfish in private and generous in public. (Actually, we're supposed to be generous all the time, but we usually concede that it's OK to be selfish in our own lives.) Decrying his failure to protect what a few rich souls deem unassailable is the antithesis of the mythical Mt. Lebanon community spirit. Attacking him personally, using the tone and the language displayed in this letter, is a form of assault. No one will be prosecuted or sued over it, but in a metaphorical sense that omission is a shame.

We urge the School Board to reject Mr. Fraasch’s patchwork fantasy and get on with the realistic work of providing a first-rate education in a first-rate facility.

The text of the letter ends there.

In a sense I regret spending so much time here and in the comments defending the proposition that public debate should be civil and respectful, because doing so takes time and energy away from talking about the merits of the alternatives, including but not limited to James Fraasch's proposal.

But it is important to defend what has been called "the public sphere" against threats to its integrity, and to try to understand where those threats come from so that they can be deflected in the future.

Here, I think that the threat is based on fear.

The letter above is full of anger, and I suspect but cannot prove that its anger stems from from anxiety that James Fraasch may actually be right: Mt. Lebanon *cannot* afford a massive borrowing right now. I'll speculate a little bit: The anger reflects a specific fear, that our sense of municipal prestige is at risk if we are not able to spend money as freely as we have in the past. If you look at the high school project primarily in terms of your property value, then a new building is a status symbol, not a temple for education. There is no simple solution to this problem, except to point out again and again that the issue before us is the substance of our educational program and value for our investment. Mt. Lebanon does not need the best of everything.

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Budget May Restore Some Programs

Mt. Lebanon commissioners say they hope to approve the 2009 operating budget of roughly $45.7 million Dec. 15, but there is still a great deal of tinkering ahead.

At a public meeting Monday, Municipal Manager Stephen Feller presented the commission with a wish list of funding restorations to the budget, as indicated by response from the general public.

Included on the budget adjustments schedule were popular community programs such as the summer concert series, $17,270, and First Fridays, $16,190, as well as Teen Center, $13,900, and Historical Society, $5,000.


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Trouble in Pleasantville

Today's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review carries a story about School Director James Fraasch and his proposal to restructure and postpone the anticipated Mt. Lebanon High School renovation project.

The story is here.

Some people will say that this story doesn't belong in the Trib; the Trib, they say, likes to pick on Mt. Lebanon any time that the paper gets a whiff of controversy here.

Wrong. Mt. Lebanon is doing a fine job of generating its own controversy. The Trib is simply there to document it. According to the Trib, when asked for her comment on Director Fraasch's proposal, School Director Jo Posti said:

"I have many questions about the assumptions on which Mr. Fraasch bases his proposal and look forward to having them answered so I can better evaluate its merits," said board member Josephine Posti. Her immediate reaction to delaying the project, though, was to consider it "irresponsible and impractical."

One school director calling another one -- even indirectly -- irresponsible and impractical?

In the words of the late, great Slim Pickens, in Mel Brooks' classic Blazing Saddles, "What in the wide, wide world of sports is a-goin' on here?"

Even if the other School Directors don't agree with the merits of James Fraasch's proposal, and even if they have questions about it, there is a well-mannered way to express civil disagreement. "Irresponsible and impractical" isn't it.

I'm beginning to think that the members of Mt. Lebanon's School Board just don't get along. Great. We are looking down the barrel of the biggest economic crisis in nearly a century; the taxpayers of Mt. Lebanon are about to be asked to sign off on a $100-$150 million investment (or not -- give James Fraasch's proposal your full attention, please!) and the inevitable, unavoidable accompanying tax increase; and we have name-calling in the newspaper when someone says "maybe that's not such a good idea."

Said Michael Douglas in The American President: "We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them."

Two points on the merits:

One -- The high school building needs to be repaired. That train has not even boarded, let alone left the station. There is no need to rush to judgment. Sure, we could try to borrow a vast amount of money today, build a new school, and worry about the payments later. The United States tried that tactic recently. It didn't work out so well.

Two -- More important than the quality of the building, and much more important than whether the quality of the building has the same shiny tone that you see in the new Upper St. Clair high school, is the quality of the educational program. I don't want to hear about test scores and state educational standards. I want to hear from teachers that they are encouraged to challenge students; I want to hear from students that they are being challenged; I want to hear from alumni that when they got to college -- even the best colleges -- they were as prepared as anyone for the rigors of the next level.

I don't care if people choose to live in Upper St. Clair because they'd rather send their kids to school in a new building. If that's what they value, I'll help them move.

I care a lot if people choose to live in Upper St. Clair (or choose to send their kids to private schools) because the education there is better than the education in Mt. Lebanon.

And one point for the volunteer politicians, who, as I've written here before, usually deserve our thanks and praise for the thankless jobs that they do.

If you can't get along in private, at least get along in public.

To help present and future Directors manage their differences, here is a ready-made quotation that can be cut and pasted and dropped into conversations with constituents, reporters, and colleagues. It is useful and applicable regardless of the issue, regardless of its merits, and regardless of who is speaking and listening:

"Everyone on the School Board shares the twin goals of ensuring the best possible education for our children and managing the finances of the school district in a responsible and fair way. I appreciate the hard work and initiative of my colleague and look forward to constructive discussion of this and all other proposals. These are challenging economic times, and no thoughtful option should be categorically off the table. Our constituents demand that, and we're obliged to listen to them."

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Lebo Library Announces New Homework Help Service

From the Mt. Lebanon Public Library's blog:

Mt. Lebanon Public Library, together with four other local libraries, is pleased to announce that as of December 1, 2008, families with young children, and adults seeking to support their studies or improve their math or grammar skills, will all have experts waiting to help on the Library’s website from Shaler Public Library, Sewickley Public Library and Northern Tier Regional Library in northern Allegheny County and South Park Township Public Library in the south join Mt. Lebanon Public Library in offering this exceptional tutoring opportunity.


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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Lebo Police Want You To Lock It Up

As the result of a string of 52 thefts from unlocked cars this year, the Mt. Lebanon Police Department has launched a public safety awareness campaign to remind drivers that leaving their cars unlocked--even for a few minutes, even in their own driveways--can result in the theft of wallets, purses, iPods, computers and sunglasses.

UPDATE: I cannot honestly believe that I read this in the Post-Gazette article today:
The release said police who spot parked cars with open windows or unlocked doors will leave a courtesy reminder inside of the car asking the driver to lock up in the future. The police will then lock the doors to keep the contents of the car safe.

Are you kidding me? Have we become so lackadaisical that we need the police to lock our cars for us??!?



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