Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Does Your Voice Matter?

In response to my "Bad Move by the Commission" post below, a conversation is emerging that I want to put here in a new post. The commenters have used their names in the comments; I want to focus on the content.

One commenter writes:
I have lived in Mt. Lebanon for almost four years, having moved here from the Boston area. Each year, I dutifully submit my resume and application [for volunteer boards in Mt. Lebanon] on time. The only difference is that this year they actually sent me a ding letter. In previous years, I was told if there was any interest someone woudl [sic] contact me.Clearly this is all about who you know and your political party. In my town in Massachusetts I was an elected Town Meeting Member, was the Chair of the Personnel Committee, was appointed by the Board of Selectmen to our Vision Committee, and was a member of the economic development planning group. As an Independent in Mt. Lebanon,h owever, I am invisible.

A second commenter writes:
I've come to believe that in Mt. Lebanon, your opinion only counts if you grew up in the area. There are lots of new fresh ideas from people who didn't grow up in SW PA, but for some reason, those ideas aren't valued.

In many respects, my own experience as a non-native resident has been different. I don't feel invisible here; I don't feel that my ideas aren't valued. Lots of people disagree with me, but that doesn't mean that they don't listen, at least some of the time.

The fact that newcomers to Mt. Lebanon do feel invisible and value-less is a serious problem nonetheless. Mt. Lebanon cannot survive, let alone thrive, if any segment of the community feels unwelcome. And there are clearly segments of the community that do not feel welcome here. No matter how friendly and warm Mt. Lebanon claims to be, it is often not perceived as a friendly and warm place.

Specifically, I have talked to and heard from or about "unwelcome" individuals who are renters, and/or non-white, and/or non-English speaking, and/or non-straight, and/or non-Mt. Lebanon natives. That is, pretty much everyone who didn't grow up here and settle and raise a heterosexual family is in the Potentially Unwelcome category. Plenty of those people turn out to be happy and welcome, too. But welcome status is hardly a given.

Of course, over time, many of those Potentially Unwelcome people leave Mt. Lebanon. Doesn't that solve the problem? No - that's mean-spirited, and short-sighted. It is possible that the myth-making machine of Mt. Lebanon will continue to attract people anyway. This community does have strong schools, impressive community resources, and a tradition of neighborliness that's frayed at the edges, but still there. The net of happy newcomers over disillusioned newcomers might still favor a stable in-town population. It is also possible that the disillusioned will share the grim news with others, and the flow of newcomers will slow. Read online message boards about Mt. Lebanon; there are plenty of people who are happy to have moved here or to have returned. There are also plenty of people with regrets.

And regardless of the outcome of the inflow/outflow calculus, I simply don't like the idea of living in a community that excludes people. Mt. Lebanon does exclude people, and I don't like that, and I make my own peace with that conflict, like we all do. But that doesn't make it right.

Watch how these perspectives play out in the upcoming School Board election. That election is likely to be a referendum on the future of the community. Welcoming? Or exclusionary? In recent public meetings about Mt. Lebanon High School we've seen how the sides shape up. On one side is a large group of people who want to invest a giant sum of money to rebuild the high school and continue its tradition of excellence, who are willing to raise taxes -- perhaps considerably -- to accomplish that goal, and who see this as necessary to maintaining Mt. Lebanon's attractiveness to new families. On the other side is a large group of people who are reluctant to invest a giant sum of money without a clear demonstration that the educational content of the school program would be improved as a result, who can't imagine raising taxes in the current and forecast economic climate, and who believe that current residents will be forced out of their homes because they can no longer afford to live here.
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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Bad Move by the Mt. Lebanon Commission

It's rare that a Mt. Lebanon authority makes a decision that I think is clearly wrong or clearly harmful.

The Commission's recent decision to ignore its own process for appointing volunteers to municipal boards is one of those rare, truly wrong moves.

Joe posted a link to the The Almanac story that reports the gist of the matter: The Commission posted a deadline for volunteers to apply to municipal boards. Several people applied after the deadline had passed. The Commission agreed to consider those applications and appointed some of those applicants -- without reopening the process so that others, who might have applied late but did not, out of respect for the original deadline, would have a chance to jump into the pool.

The majority's justification is that their goal is to identify the best candidates regardless of timing and that this sort of this happens in the business world. According to The Almanac, "Raja said in the private sector his aim is to place the best possible candidate for a job and not necessarily stick to a formal 'deadline' where no additional applicants will be accepted."

With all due respect to Raja and the majority of the Board, that justification is flat wrong. There are certainly times when running the Municipality more like a business is a good idea. This is not one of those times. Government authorities are held to different standards than businesses are when it comes to things like process, fairness, transparency, and accountability. If the Commission sets a public deadline for participating, then the Commission has a duty to stick with that deadline. Disregarding its own process in this case was unfair. It was transparent only in the technical sense that everyone at the meeting could see that the Commission was acting unfairly. The decisions on these appointments having been made and voted on, there is no going back.

When the commissioners who voted "yes" on these appointments are next up for re-election, consider holding them accountable.

Kudos to Commissioners Dan Miller and John Daley for objecting to what happened in this case.
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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Keeping The Peace In Mt. Lebanon

NOTE: This editorial was from last week's Almanac, but was only recently posted to their web site:

Did the Mt. Lebanon commissioners put the cart before the horse?

In creating a balanced budget, township officials added $30,000 in the revenue column from projected alcohol and food sales at a yet-to-be realigned clubhouse at the municipal golf course. Public resistance to the plan, though, may leave a funding gap in the township’s bank account.

Read more here....

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Commissioners Split Along Party Lines

Democrats and Republicans on Mt. Lebanon's board of commissioners split along party lines March 23, disagreeing over appointments to various volunteer boards and authorities.

Democrats said Republicans were playing politics with the appointments by accepting a list of last-minute names of partisan allies. Democrat Dan Miller walked out of an executive session March 23 to express his disappointment with the process, saying Republicans violated the spirit if not the rule by rejecting some volunteers who applied early in favor of late applicants.

NOTE: The location of 1st Ward Commissioner Raja's business is incorrectly stated in the article. His company is located in Scott Township, not Mt. Lebanon.

Link: www.thealmanac.net/ALM/Story/03-25-ML-board-B

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Emily Miller, Pittsburgh Female Athlete Of The Week

Miller scored a game-high 21 points, including 15 in the second half, as Mt. Lebanon topped Cardinal O'Hara in the PIAA Class AAA championship game at Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center on Friday.

"The game was just incredible," Miller said. "Cardinal O'Hara was a good team with five Division-I players, so it meant a lot to beat them in the state playoffs.

"I really like playing with these girls, and I'm glad I could end my high school career with them."

The Blue Devils finished the season 31-0, was the only unbeaten team in the state this season and the first WPIAL girls team to accomplish the feat since Mt. Alvernia in 1983.

Link: www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/highschool/s_617638.html

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School Board Candidate Websites

We've been adding candidate websites to the Links column on the right. If we've missed any, of course let us know so that they can be added.

The "slate" approach to campaigning, especially campaigning for school board, is an interesting development. The School Board is nominally non-partisan, meaning that there isn't really a "Democrat" or "Republican" take on educating our children and managing the schools. We all know that in practice there are Democratic candidates and Republican candidates running against each other. Party politics is part of Mt. Lebanon's genetic code.

Note the newest addition to the website lineup, a slate comprised of incumbents Dan Remely and Alan Silhol and newcomers Electa Boyle and Dale Ostergaard. (Full disclosure: I've known Dale and the extended Ostergaard family for many years, primarily through Scouting. I think that Dale would bring a lot of integrity and leadership skill to the Board.) Remely, Silhol, Boyle and Ostergaard are the "R Team." Get it? R Team? (Before you think to yourself -- "I pity the fool!" -- remember : R Team, not A Team.) And R stands for ... "Responsible, Responsive, Respectful, Reasonable." If R happens to remind you of anything else, well, hmmm, that's just ... coincidence?


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I'll Have What They're Having

From this afternoon's Post-Gazette, the status quo is news:
Quaker Valley School Board approved the proposed 2009-10 budget yesterday. The proposed final budget of $36,647,117 retains the district's tax rate at 19.75 mills.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

County Will Appeal Ruling On Sex Offenders

Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato this afternoon said the county will appeal a federal court ruling that struck down an ordinance banning sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of a child care facility, recreational facility, community center, public park or school.

U.S. District Judge Gary L. Lancaster said the ordinance, which was introduced and unanimously approved by County Council in October 2007, undermined state law. The ordinance, which was initially sponsored by County Councilman Vince Gastgeb, R-Bethel Park, was challenged last year by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of six sex offenders.

Link: www.postgazette.com/pg/09083/957951-100.stm

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Kurt Angle Action Figure

I thought I'd take a break from superintendents, traffic calming and new high schools to post this link about the only Mt. Lebanon alumnus (I think!) that has his own action figure.

Mike and I both receive emails via Google Alerts for articles/postings with Mt. Lebanon or Mt. Lebanon in them. The latest alert was this posting about Kurt Angle (MLHS '87) which talks about his career at MLHS, Clarion and then the WWE. If you're a fan or friend of Kurt's, you might want to get one of these!

Link: smystery.my24hours.net/2009/03/24/wwe-deluxe-aggression-series-1-kurt-angle-action-figure.html (article)

Link: www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000GPRDBS (doll)

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Mt. Lebanon To Install Neighborhood Traffic Controls

Some Mt. Lebanon roads will be a bit quieter this summer. Commissioners voted, 5-0, last night to authorize the installation of traffic-calming devices in the notoriously busy corridor of Mapleton Avenue and surrounding streets. Drivers often use these residential roads to avoid the traffic lights along Cochran Road and Route 19, known as Washington Road in that area.

For weeks, residents have spoken at meetings in support of traffic calming. Resident Elizabeth Rangel said last night that homeowners often park on the street instead of their driveways in the daytime to discourage drivers from tearing through the neighborhood. Nonetheless, she said, she has twice had her driver's side mirror sheared off.

Other options studied earlier this winter included street closings at certain times of the day, but ultimately, it was decided that the installation of asphalt speed humps, concrete rumble strips and traffic markings would be sufficient.

The construction company of Peter J. Caruso and Sons, which submitted a bid of $11,110, was awarded the contract.

Link: www.post-gazette.com/pg/09083/957884-100.stm

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Lebo Girls Capture State Title, Finish Perfect Season

The Mt. Lebanon girls' basketball team is absolutely perfect. The Blue Devils capped off an undefeated season with a 67-58 victory against Cardinal O'Hara of Philadelphia in the PIAA Class AAAA championship tonight at Penn State.

Mt. Lebanon made history with the win. The Blue Devils finished 31-0 and became only the second girls' team from the WPIAL to finish a season undefeated. The other was Mount Alvernia in 1983.

Link: www.post-gazette.com/pg/09079/957231-49.stm

Link: www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/breaking/s_617177.html

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Pirates, Penguins and Steelers Organist Dies

Former Mt. Lebanon resident and St. Bernard Church organist Vince Lascheid died overnight. He was the long-time organist for the Pittsburgh Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium and PNC Park and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Mellon Arena. Mr. Lascheid also played organ at Steelers games at Three Rivers Stadium.

Visitation for Mr. Lascheid, 85, will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Laughlin Memorial Chapel, 222 Washington Road, Mt. Lebanon.

His family requests donations to the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, 300 East Swissvale Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15218. The Pirates are planning a special tribute to Mr. Lascheid, possibly during the home opener April 13, according to the funeral home.

Link: www.postgazette.com/pg/09079/957106-100.stm

Link: www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/pirates/s_617062.html?source=rss&feed=14


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Hearing Today For Teen Accused Of Hammer Attack

A Pittsburgh-area teenager is expected to learn today if he'll stand trial as an adult or a juvenile on charges he attacked his ex-girlfriend with a claw hammer.

Mount Lebanon police said 17-year-old Robertino DeAngelis attacked Sarah DeIuliis on Oct. 31, 2007 and then jumped in front of a light-rail passenger train and was critically injured.

DeAngelis has been on house arrest pending Friday's hearing so he could have surgery and other treatment for his injuries. DeIuliis has recovered from her injuries.

Link: www.wpxi.com/news/18547155/detail.html

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Commissioner John Daley Launches Web Site

2nd Ward Commissioner John Daley is now online with a new web site. Like 5th Ward Commissioner Dan Miller, Commissioner Daley's site is "unofficial" and can be viewed at www.commissionerjohndaley.com. Kudos to John for becoming the latest elected official to join us on the Web!

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Boys Basketball Dream Season Ends

The storybook season of the Mt. Lebanon boys basketball team came to a crashing end on Wednesday night.

Playing in the PIAA Class AAAA semifinals at Big Spring High School, the Blue Devils fell, 79-58, to the Penn Wood Patriots in a game that wasn't as close as the score might indicate.

"If you check (maxpreps.com), Penn Wood is the No. 1 team in the state," Mt. Lebanon coach Joey David said. "Tonight you saw why. They're a very good team that exploited all of our weaknesses."

Link: www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/highschool/s_616778.html

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Water Company Flushing Hydrants

Pennsylvania American Water has begun flushing its hydrants located in Mt. Lebanon. The company will be flushing hydrants through April 17.

The process is aimed at ensuring that the water company's customers receive the highest quality and dependable water service.

This six-week project will be conducted Monday through Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. to minimize disruptions of customer water service.

Link: www.thealmanac.net/ALM/Story/03-18-Ml-flush-lines

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On CNN on Pittsburgh ... Delayed

CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 may not run the Pittsburgh piece tonight. Apparently something called "AIG" is causing a heap of trouble, so the news will be about that. Maybe the Pittsburgh piece will air later in the week.

Life is so uncertain.
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Fixing the Dormont Pool

Mt. Lebanon's neighbors to the north have raised $50,000 towards the repair of the classic Dormont Pool.

At their third annual St. Patrick’s Day Dance fundraiser, Friends of Dormont Pool presented officials from Dormont Borough with a check for $50,000 to help keep one of the oldest and largest pools in Western Pennsylvania running. The note on the check read, “Saving Dormont Pool, one dollar at a time.”

Friends of Dormont Pool formed in 2006 when a group of Dormont residents came together to raise money for structural repairs to the pool, including new decking and flooring, renovating the bathhouse, and structural work. Through a door-to-door campaign, the group raised $20,000, and helped the borough with grant-writing to raise $575,000 for the needed repairs.

[Via Pop City]

Friends of the Dormont Pool is online here.
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Rumble Strips Are Coming

Just a little traffic note for all of us that travel Gilkeson Road. PennDOT will be adding center line rumble strips this week to Gilkeson Road between Washington Road and Cedar Boulevard. They will also be adding them to various roads around the south hills this week as well. A full list of the roads that will be worked on can be found here.

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Girls Basketball: Lebo Advances To Championship Game

In its biggest game of the season to date, the team best known for its stingy defense wasted little time in showing it's capable of providing some offensive fireworks, too.

Scoring the first 10 points of the game, WPIAL champion Mt. Lebanon jumped on District 1 runner-up Cheltenham early and rolled to a 59-45 victory in a PIAA Class AAAA girls' basketball semifinal at Shippensburg University.

The win advances the Blue Devils (30-0) to Friday's 6 p.m. championship game against District 12 champion Cardinal O'Hara (27-2) at Penn State University's Bryce Jordan Center at 6 p.m.

Link: www.post-gazette.com/pg/09077/956418-13.stm

Link: www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/s_616626.html

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mt. Lebanon Resident on CNN

That Mt. Lebanon resident would be me. I was interviewed today for a CNN Anderson Cooper 360 segment on the reinvention of Pittsburgh. I was told that the segment will likely run tomorrow night, Wednesday, March 18.

I tried my best to make Pittsburgh sound like a happening place. The blue skies this afternoon helped a lot.

Welcome, Spring!
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Porch Season is Coming

It is gorgeous outside today, and Spring's pending arrival offers the return of a favorite warm-weather ritual: sitting on our front porch and chatting with passing neighbors.

We have friends in the neighborhood who do the same thing, because they can. They have porches. Porch-sitting is a great thing, especially in the late afternoon and early evening in the summer, when it's a little damp outside and the fading sunlight casts a warm glow over the street.

A lot of Mt. Lebanon houses have no front porches. Side porches, yes, but many side porches have been enclosed over the years and turned over to TV sets and sofas. A porch is a public space, a space for socializing with whoever happens to walk past. Even an open side porch is a more private and less neighborly space than a front porch. Patios in the backyard are the most private of all. Mt. Lebanon has lots of patios and backyard decks.

Many Mt. Lebanon residents love the town's sidewalks and take ample advantage of them. There are walkers and runners and strollers on sidewalks everywhere. We do not seem to be a town of porch-sitters, on the whole, and that gives a certain cast to just how social and sociable our neighborhoods can be . Many of the oldest Mt. Lebanon homes have porches -- the farm houses, the Craftsman bungalows, and some of the earliest of the 1920s homes. But something happened in the late 1920s and 1930s; homes from that era, and more recent homes, seem to be largely porch-free. I walk by a lot of homes on those great sidewalks, and all I see are stone and brick and doors and windows. No people.

This Spring and Summer, count the porch-sitters. And talk to them, of course.

[Via Kottke.org, which included a pointer to this social history of the porch]
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Monday, March 16, 2009

Mt. Lebanon in a Good Position for the Future?

From Time magazine's 10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now

2. Recycling the Suburbs

The American suburb as we know it is dying. The implosion began with the housing bust, which started in and has hit hardest the once vibrant neighborhoods outside the urban core. Shopping malls and big-box retail stores, the commercial anchors of the suburbs, are going dark — an estimated 148,000 stores closed last year, the most since 2001. But the shift is deeper than the economic downturn. Thanks to changing demographics, including a steady decline in the percentage of households with kids and a growing preference for urban amenities among Americans young and old, the suburban dream of the big house with the big lawn is vanishing. The Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech predicts that by 2025 there will be a surplus of 22 million large-lot homes (on one-sixth of an acre [675 sq m] or more) in the U.S. ...

Not every suburb will make it. The fringes of a suburb like Riverside in Southern California, where housing prices have fallen more than 20% since the bust began, could be too diffuse to thrive in a future where density is no longer taboo. It'll be the older inner suburbs like Tysons Corner, Va., that will have the mass transit, public space and economic gravity to thrive postrecession. Though creative cities will grow more attractive for empty-nest -retirees and young graduates alike, we won't all be moving to New York. Many Americans will still prefer the space of the suburbs — including the parking spaces. "People want to balance the privacy of the suburbs with more public and social areas," says Dunham-Jones. But the result will be a U.S. that is more sustainable — environmentally and economically.

Good news for Mt. Lebanon?
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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Strong Finish Lifts Lebo In Quarterfinals

Once Evan Pierce's teammates supplied him with confidence, the Mt. Lebanon junior supplied them with points.

Pierce — held scoreless in the first half — scored 15 points in the final nine minutes to lead Mt. Lebanon to a come-from-behind victory over Erie Cathedral Prep, 51-41, in the quarterfinals of the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs. Mt. Lebanon ended the game with a 14-1 run.

Link: www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/s_616188.html

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

School Chief Changes Cost $650,000

While most school districts average one superintendent every six years, Mt. Lebanon has had four in that span at a cost of more than more than $650,000 to taxpayers.

"It costs some bucks, and from the taxpayers' standpoint, it's not a good thing," said Jake Haulk, president of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy and a resident of Mt. Lebanon for 28 years.

The school board voted this week to pay Nebraska head-hunting firm McPherson & Jacobson $13,500 plus expenses for a search to replace Superintendent John R. Allison. He is quitting his $156,000-a-year job at the end of June to head Wichita Public Schools in Kansas.

Link: www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/s_616076.html

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Unbeaten Mt. Lebanon Girls Weather Storm

Mt. Lebanon's players felt a sense of urgency, but coach Dori Oldaker wasn't getting rattled. The Blue Devils' unbeaten season in high school girls basketball was being challenged in the waning minutes of a PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinal Friday night at Central Cambria.

"There was a ton of time. As a coach, you can't get rattled," Oldaker said.

As it turns out, Mt. Lebanon's record remained unblemished after it fought back from a five-point deficit to beat State College, 49-45, and advance to the state semifinals against either Cheltenham or Downtowntown West.

Link: www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/highschool/s_616057.html

Link: www.post-gazette.com/pg/09073/955646-361.stm

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Garage Sale Right Now!

There is a garage sale happening RIGHT NOW -- Saturday morning, March 14 -- at my neighbor's house: 61 Woodhaven in Mt. Lebanon, just off of Washington Road, near Spalding Circle.

Please come and buy stuff!

And I'm sending some Negative Mojo to the mean-spirited Mt. Lebanon resident who called the Mt. Lebanon police this morning to complain about the "Garage Sale" sign that we put up in the traffic island at the intersection of Washington and Woodhaven. Technically, yes, the sign was on municipal property. But as the police officer said, apologetically, when he came by to ask us to take it down, the anti-sign ordinance doesn't get enforced unless someone calls the department to complain.

So, yes, there is someone driving around Mt. Lebanon this bright Saturday morning with nothing better to do than call the police and complain about "sign blight" and buyers-from-outside-Mt.-Lebanon damaging his or her precious high-property-value-municipality. As if there aren't garage sales galore happening in Lebo between now and the summer. As if your neighbors don't have every legitimate reason to advertise their sales to folks driving up and down Washington Road, whether or not they live in town.

Speaking only for myself, I *like* garage sale signs all around. It shows that the neighborhood isn't populated by people who aren't filled with self-importance. It shows that the neighborhood is filled with real people who want to sell their stuff.

To the complainers: Please, find something better and productive to do with your time.

To the vast majority of generous folks out there: Come by 61 Woodhaven this morning and say hello.
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Friday, March 13, 2009

The Hidden Costs of a New Mt. Lebanon High School

I suspect that many Mt. Lebanon residents skipped right over this story in the recent Almanac:

USC finds bank to remarket bonds

It doesn't have anything to do with Mt. Lebanon, and even for USC, the topic is interest rates swaps and bond insurance for the bonds that paid for the new USC recreation center.

Bond insurance? That's where Mt. Lebanon taxpayers should start paying attention. I've been educated on this topic by my Pittsblog and Pitt colleague Chris Briem (check out his blog at Null Space), and I parked a note about it in a post last month. The basics are these: Any municipal entity that floats a bond may need to buy bond insurance. Bond insurance, like any kind of insurance, covers the risk that the issuer will default on the bond. For those entities, no insurance, no borrowing. Some financial institutions will underwrite a muni bond without insurance (for especially creditworthy issuers that borrow frequently, and for especially risky issuers). Historically, however, for creditworthy borrowers (Mt. Lebanon, for example) insurance premiums have been a minor issue. The insurance is available, the insurance inexpensive, and the insurance is useful in marketing the bonds.


As my friend Chris B. has been writing for some time, bond insurers are financial institutions (they take premiums and invest them, just like most insurance companies do), and as financial institutions they've been performing pretty poorly. Even creditworthy bond issuers are having trouble borrowing money -- because their carriers are in trouble. Bond insurers have been hoping for a federal bailout, but so far, their pleas have been rejected.

Down in Upper St. Clair, The Almanac reports on bonds used to finance the new recreation center:
The original insurer of the bonds, Financial Security Assurance (FSA), was downgraded by Moody's and is on "negative credit watch." If FSA is downgraded below Aa3, the Bank of New York won't be able to continue as remarketing agent.

The Bank of New York proposal will remarket the bonds at SIFMA, plus 10-20 basis points, with FSA insurance and PNC as the liquidity provider. Township Finance Director August Stache said that had the Bank of New York not agreed to remarket the bonds, the only remaining option would have been to get a one-year note to buy time to find a permanent solution for the bond financing problem.

What does this mean for Mt. Lebanon and the high school renovation proposal? Whether the School Board wants to borrow $150 million or $100 million or something else, it's going to have to borrow a cruise-ship-load of money. Lots of people have noted that interest rates appear to be so low right now that the cost of the money is low. Borrow lots, they suggest; it's cheap and will only get more expensive.

Bond insurance, however, is the Achilles' heel of this argument. (Will Mt. Lebanon School District buy bond insurance? It appears that the answer is yes - see slide 2 in this recent presentation.) Even if bond insurance is available now, it may be expensive. More important, even if the insurance is cheap today, the original carrier may go under. In today's market, that's a meaningful risk. If the carrier goes under, then the bonds go into default. In the comments, John correctly points out that the bonds don't go into default. But if the insurance carrier fails, there is a consequence: depending on the terms of the indenture, a new carrier would have to be found, or the bonds would have to be refinanced. That means that the issuer (that is, us) would have to refinance on short notice and on potentially terrible -- expensive -- terms. (The following point is added in response to John's comment:) The collapse in the bond insurance market that many people see coming -- including bond insurers themselves -- means this: Mt. Lebanon SD's relatively placid history issuing bonds is not a reliable guide to its future.

In other words, purely in financial terms, renovating the high school may not be the bargain that it appears to be to some people. When thinking about the costs of the project, think about all of the costs.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Economy Affecting Budgets' Revenue

The poor economy that has led to massive job losses and job insecurity felt by those still employed is going to make it particularly difficult for officials to balance school district budgets this year.

And it's not only the bad news that already has been reported, but the uncertainty of how bad things could get that really puts school officials throughout the region in a bind when it comes to projecting tax revenues for next year.

"How the economy is going to go, that's the big wild card," said Mark Cherpak, director of operational services for the Steel Valley School District.

This week, Mr. Cherpak, who keeps the books for the financially-struggling Steel Valley School District where 86 percent of the students are enrolled in the free or reduced lunch program, and the finance director of the affluent Mt. Lebanon School District, reported concerns about drops in tax revenues across the board if the economy continues to falter.

Link: www.post-gazette.com/pg/09071/954894-55.stm

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Girls Basketball: Frustrating Opponents

There are different levels of frustration. There's the itch in the middle of the back that can't be reached. There's the fly in the house that can't be killed. There's that spot on a sweater that won't disappear no matter how much it's rubbed.

And there's the Mt. Lebanon High School girls' basketball team's defense. OK, so the Blue Devils have been frustrating only to opponents this season.

The latest victim was Erie McDowell, which dropped a 67-39 decision to Mt. Lebanon Tuesday night at Slippery Rock University's Morrow Fieldhouse in a PIAA Class AAAA second-round game. The victory moves Mt. Lebanon into the quarterfinals tomorrow night against State College and keeps the Blue Devils undefeated after 28 games.

Link: www.post-gazette.com/pg/09071/954951-361.stm

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PTA Volunteers Conduct Vision Screenings For Preschoolers

Brayden Wertz, 3, looked apprehensive as he was led into a small room near his classroom at Southminster Nursery School, where three volunteers sat waiting to test his vision. But he warmed up pretty quickly after the women started to play "eye games" with him, even smiling and giggling as he answered questions about pictures and letters hanging on the wall.

While Brayden thought he was playing games by naming colors and letters and objects, the volunteers were actually tracking Brayden's eye movements and scoring his answers to determine whether he passed their tests for acuity, color blindness and muscle coordination.

The volunteers are PTA members from the Mt. Lebanon schools who for more than 30 years have performed free annual vision screenings at the community's preschools even though the PTAs do not serve the preschools.

Link: www.post-gazette.com/pg/09071/955109-55.stm

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Boys Basketball: Lebo Clips State College

Mt. Lebanon's Deion Turman hit a basket and a free throw with 17.7 seconds left Wednesday night to conclude a thrilling 51-49 victory over District 6 champion State College (15-8) in a PIAA Class AAAA second-round game at Central Cambria High School.

WPIAL runner-up Mt. Lebanon (23-5) will play Erie Cathredal Prep in the quarterfinals Saturday at a time and site to be determined.

Mt. Lebanon coach Joe David is pleased that his team, which lost to Peters Township in the WPIAL championship game, is playing well at the right time of the season.

Link: www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/multimedia/s_615687.html

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Candidates File Petitions For Local Office

The following candidates have filed petitions for local office:


2nd Ward: John Daley (D), Matt Kluck (R)
4th Ward: Dave Brumfield (D), Stacey Chick (D), Dale Cowher (R), Dan Reig (R)

School Board:

Mary D. Birks (R), Electra Boyle (R), Robert Gardner Jr. (D), Dale Ostergaard (R), Jo Posti (D), Dan Remely (R), Alan Silhol (R)

NOTE: If you know the web site of a particular candidate, please let us know and we'll link it in the side column.

[Post updated to confirm that "Mary D. Birks" is the candidate.]

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Legislators Step Up To Support Governor's Schools

With 11,206 signatures on a Facebook petition and 2,674 names on paper petitions, alumni of the Governor's Schools of Excellence have added at least four legislators to those trying to save the summer programs for the state's brightest students.

At a news conference in Harrisburg yesterday, State Reps. Josh Shapiro, D-Montgomery; Matthew Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon; and Thomas Murt, R-Montgomery and Philadelphia, spoke in support of the program. Rep. Rick Taylor, D-Montgomery, was also said to be in support.

Link: www.post-gazette.com/pg/09070/954584-454.stm

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Some Lebo Residents Want 'Dry' Golf Course

Commissioners in Mt. Lebanon found themselves in a dilemma March 9, when nearly a dozen residents came to a public hearing voicing opposition to serving liquor at Mt. Lebanon Golf Course.

The problem? When officials approved the 2009 budget in late 2008, they balanced it with some $30,000 in projected revenues from serving alcohol and snacks at the municipal golf course. Commissioner Joe DeIuliis said construction proposals from companies which might convert a section of the clubhouse into a eatery, bar and swag shop are due on March 23.

Link: www.thealmanac.net/ALM/Story/03-11-ML-liquor-B

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

High School Grads Not Prepared For Basic Math, English Courses

A Team 4 investigation found that one of every three high school graduates in Pennsylvania who attended a state-owned university or community college this year was not prepared for the most basic math and English courses.

In fact, those students were so unprepared for college that they had to take special remediation classes which cost taxpayers $26 million this year -- and wait until you see the numbers for the school district where you live.

And in Allegheny County, look at the numbers for these traditionally well-regarded districts:

Pine-Richland: 21 percent of last year's graduates now attending state-owned universities or community college were not ready for college. Mt. Lebanon: 23 percent. Fox Chapel: 30 percent. In Northgate School District, the number was 41 percent. In Penn Hills High School, it was 44 percent. In Wilkinsburg, it was 67 percent.

And 53 percent -- more than half -- of all graduating seniors in Pittsburgh Public Schools were not prepared for college.

Link: www.thepittsburghchannel.com/education/18873477/detail.html

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Girls Advance In PIAA

The Mt Lebanon girls basketball team knew it had to limit Erie McDowell standout Allison Braun to continue its march toward a second consecutive PIAA Class AAAA title game berth.

And the Mt. Lebanon defense again came up big, allowing Braun to score only eight points and coming up with 14 steals, as the Blue Devils manhandled the Trojans, 67-39, on Tuesday in a PIAA second-round game at Slippery Rock University's Morrow Field House.

Mt. Lebanon (28-0) will face State College in a quarterfinal game Friday at a site and time to be determined.

Link: www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/highschool/s_615489.html

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Does Your School District Make The Grade?

Is your school district making the grade? There’s now a way to find out on NeighborhoodScout.com. The site ranks cities and towns across America for all sorts of things, including housing prices, crime rates and school districts.

Hempfield Area, Seneca Valley and Canon Mac are all above the 90th percentile in the United States, meaning they rank higher than 90 percent of the districts across the country. Not every school ranks that well. Belle Vernon is in the 72nd percentile. Sto-Rox is in the 9th.

And, it doesn’t seem like money buys better schools. Pittsburgh, for example, ranked in the 22nd percentile and spends nearly $19,000 per student. “I think in many cases, the teachers are not qualified. Some don’t even speak correct grammar,” said Pittsburgh grandparent Don Saxton.

Mt. Lebanon ranks in the 99th percentile while spending $5,000 less.

Link: www.wpxi.com/news/18900273/detail.html

NeighborhoodScout.com links for: Foster Elementary, Hoover Elementary, Howe Elementary, Jefferson Elementary, Jefferson Middle, Lincoln Elementary, Markham Elementary, Mellon Middle, Mt. Lebanon High School, Washington Elementary,

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School District Hires Superintendent Search Firm

The Mt. Lebanon school board hired the superintendent search firm of McPherson and Jacobson last night to conduct the search for the district's new superintendent.

Current Superintendent John Allison, who took over the reins in Mt. Lebanon in July 2007, was appointed last week as the superintendent of the Wichita Public Schools in Wichita, Kan., near his hometown of Kansas City and near where his elderly parents live.

At last night's board meeting, Mr. Allison thanked the board and the community for the support that he received during his time as Mt. Lebanon's superintendent. He apologized for forcing the district into "the ordeal of a superintendent search" again so soon.

Link: www.postgazette.com/pg/09069/954472-100.stm

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Monday, March 09, 2009

School Board Elections Coming Up

Terms of four of the incumbent Mt. Lebanon School Directors expire this year: Alan Silhol, Dan Remely, Mark Hart & Josephine Posti.

Which of these folks, if any, are running for re-election?

Who else is running for their seats? I have heard the names of two possible challengers so far: Mary Birks, and Dale Ostergaard.


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More on John Allison in Kansas

The Wichita Eagle ran a follow-up feature on Wichita's incoming schools superintendent John Allison yesterday. Excerpts of interest to Mt. Lebanon residents include these:

In the Mount Lebanon, Pa., district, Allison has helped the budget process run smoother by educating residents and getting them involved in the process, said Janice Klein, the district's director of finance.

"People don't understand what we do," she said. "He worked to make sure he explained it and worked with the finance committee.

"It was a good process. This year is much easier." ...

His collaborative style has allowed him to have an impact on the Mount Lebanon school district in a short time, said Assistant Superintendent Deborah Allen.

Progress on a renovation plan of more than $100 million for Mount Lebanon high school is largely due to Allison, Allen said.

"The board came together in consensus for an alternative," she said. "A lot of that had to do with John's skills and abilities to work with the community and the board."

Personally, I'm a little disappointed that the writer didn't use more of the material that she gathered from Mt. Lebanon residents other than School District staff. I spoke to her for more than 30 minutes. My take: John Allison is a professional guy, and after a rough patch with the district's last hire and with the start of a controversial capital improvement project, Mt. Lebanon had high hopes that he would stay for a long time. But in a year and a half, a Mt. Lebanon outsider is going to have a difficult time doing more than unpacking his boxes and starting to learn where the bodies are buried, so to speak.

Link: www.kansas.com/news/education/story/725616.html

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Saturday, March 07, 2009

Lebo Girls Roll On

At North Hills, the WPIAL champion Blue Devils (27-0) remained perfect by defeating Baldwin (17-8) for the third time this season. Emily Miller scored 18 points and Madison Cable added 15 for the Blue Devils. Belma Nurcic scored 14 for the Highlanders. Final Score: Mt. Lebanon 51, Baldwin 39.

Link: www.post-gazette.com/pg/09065/953807-100.stm

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Not a Popular View, I'm Sure ...

Commissioner Dan Miller is planning to introduce a "Buy American" resolution at the next Commission meeting. Here is the full text of his blog post on the topic. Dan writes,"While Mt. Lebanon is unlikely to receive any federal recovery funds absent such provisions, there is a chance that we could."

I think that what he means is this: Mt. Lebanon is unlikely to get any federal recovery funds at all. But if we pass this resolution, then there is more than a snowball's chance that it will.

I understand the political logic. The amount of money being disbursed as part of the stimulus package has unleashed the hounds of "I've gotta get mine" all across the country.

But I think that "Buy American" provisions are a bad idea in general, and I also think that there is no evidence that Mt. Lebanon has suffered so much in particular that it needs to position itself to receive bailout money. It's not a popular view, I'm sure. But I'm a free trader. The current economic depression involves global causes (read Krugman: the Chinese who invented fire; American bond traders then played with it), global consequences (a reverse butterfly effect: falling US demand has caused millions of Chinese workers to lose their jobs) , and requires global solutions (surprisingly, I can't find an article that describes exactly what those would be).
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Friday, March 06, 2009

Leading Ladies

Dori Oldaker was pleased to become a part of WPIAL history, an achievement she said was more fulfilling because very few noticed.

"I think this means more to me because it's just accepted," said Oldaker, who secured one-fourth of a WPIAL first when she led Mt. Lebanon's girls basketball team to a WPIAL championship this past weekend, joining New Castle's Luann Grybowski, Sto-Rox's Carrie Palermo and North Catholic's Molly Rottmann as this year's winning coaches.

This was the first time since the league expanded to four classifications that all four WPIAL-winning coaches were women.

Link: www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/highschool/s_614717.html

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DA Charges Mt. Lebanon Man With Legal Deception

The Allegheny County District Attorney today charged a Mt. Lebanon man with practicing law without a license and theft by deception, saying he took a client's money and showed up in court smelling of alcohol.

E. Larry Kovel, 58, was accused of taking $2,500 in legal fees from the mother of defendant Andrew Ford who was facing charges in Common Pleas Court in January.

Police today said there have been unable to locate Mr. Kovel, who no longer resides at his last known address on Broadmoor Avenue in Mt. Lebanon. He had briefly worked as an assistant district attorney in Allegheny County several decades ago.

Link: www.postgazette.com/pg/09065/953644-100.stm

Link: www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/cityregion/s_614938.html

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Crossing Guard Finds Comfort And Purpose

When Elaine Kelly was hired as a crossing guard seven years ago at Washington Elementary School in Mt. Lebanon, she discovered two gifts she didn't know she had or needed: an uncanny ability to recall names and a renewed purpose.

"I started remembering all these names," said Kelly, 60. "They started sticking in my head. I know every kid that I cross and because it is a busy crossing, I want them to know me. I think I had help from above. Truly, I really do."

Not only does Kelly have the reputation of knowing every student's name she crosses, but according to Washington Elementary Principal Emily Kirkham, she knows the names of the students' parents, grandparents and probably their family dogs.

Link: www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/southwest/s_614280.html

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Wealth in Mt. Lebanon

mtl magazine brings information. See if you can figure out what it means.

In the March 2009 issue, "Mt. Lebanon By the Numbers" reports that the "Mean family income" in Mt. Lebanon is $127,605. What's the source? "Numbers are based on regional data and trend analysis." See page 25.

Not long ago, MTL magazine distributed a profile of Mt. Lebanon to prospective advertisers that included this line about Mt. Lebanon: "The median family income is $98,042." No source was provided. I wrote about the profile in an earlier post.

Statistics wizards in the audience will recognize immediately that mean and median are different things. Where the median is lower than the mean for the same collection of data, then you are likely to find a small number of high-end outliers. In other words, the high mean family income in Mt. Lebanon doesn't mean that we all make an average of $127,000. It means that most families make less than that, and a relatively small number of families make much more.

But there is more.

According to the 2000 census, Mt. Lebanon's median household income was $60,783. Its median family income was $79,744. I posted about these statistics more than two years ago. The census data is available here.

What's going on? I assume that all of these numbers are accurate, or as accurate as they can be under the circumstances. (It is always possible that mtl's sources, whoever they are, have engaged in a bit of wishful thinking.)

[I deleted the rest of the original text of this post; Jefferson Provost's comment, which critiqued it, suggests that I should stick to reporting what I read rather than trying my hand at quantitative analysis!]

Maybe the Mt. Lebanon "Bubble" means something other than what we all thought it meant.
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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

St. Clair Hospital Launches New and Improved Web Site

From St. Clair Hospital's public relations office:

PITTSBURGH, Pa. (March 3, 2009) – St. Clair Hospital has launched a new and improved Web site (www.stclair.org) featuring a helpful and powerful Health Guide that offers a complete on-line medical resource providing reliable, easily searchable medical information to help people learn more about their health.

The new site also provides useful, easily accessible information on St. Clair Hospital physicians, advanced health care services, classes, events, health fairs, outpatient services, news and even the most basic yet essential information, such as parking and directions, to make patients’ and visitors’ experience at St. Clair as easy as possible.

The upgraded site was created with the user in mind so he or she can get the information needed with a few simple clicks.

The site’s powerful Health Guide includes 40,000 pages of information that offers Web visitors a symptom checker, health topics library, information on prescription and non-prescription medications, and a series of interactive tools and quizzes. Information from Health Guide, supported by the advice of personal physicians, helps users make more informed health care decisions and develop practical health management strategies.

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Monday, March 02, 2009

And A-way He Goes: John Allison Heads to Wichita

From tonight's Wichita Eagle:

The Wichita school board tonight unanimously chose John Allison, a suburban superintendent from outside Pittsburgh, Pa., as the district’s next leader.

The finalists for the job, Allison and Denise Wren, the Wichita district’s assistant superintendent for high schools, held question-and-answer sessions Saturday with district employees and residents.

From those meetings, Allison emerged as the best choice to lead the district of nearly 50,000 students, district officials said.

Allison is currently the superintendent of the Mount Lebanon school district in suburban Pittsburgh, Pa., but spent much of his career in the Shawnee Mission school district and earned a from bachelor’s degree, University of Kansas and a master’s degree from Emporia State University.

Mr. Allison, we hardly knew you! When you say your final goodbyes, safe travels and best wishes to you and all your family.

It will be interesting to see how the Mt. Lebanon School Board handles Mr. Allison's exit and the search for a successor.
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PIAA Basketball Pairings/Sites Announced

The pairings and sites for the PIAA basketball playoffs were announced Sunday afternoon. They are as follows:
Boys vs. Allderdice (8-1, 20-5), Peabody High School, Pittsburgh, Saturday, March 7 @ 1:30 p.m.

Girls vs. winner of Baldwin/Hollidaysburg, North Hills High School, Pittsburgh, Friday, March 6 @ 6 p.m.

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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Girls Make History With Championship Win

The Mt. Lebanon girls' basketball team won a WPIAL championship for the first time in school history with an impressive 50-24 victory against Fox Chapel tonight in the Class AAAA final at Duquesne University's Palumbo Center. The win kept Mt. Lebanon's record perfect at 26-0.

Mt. Lebanon's defense was superb, holding Fox Chapel to 10 points in the first half. Mt. Lebanon led at halftime, 25-10. Fox Chapel (20-5), making its first championship apperance, never got close than 10 points in the second half. Lauren Arbogast led Mt. Lebanon with 14 points, Emily Miller added 13 and Madison Cable 11.

Link: www.postgazette.com/pg/09059/952455-100.stm

Link: www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/s_613924.html

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