Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How to Brew an Economic Perfect Storm in One Easy Lesson

There’s a lesson to be learned from the economic “perfect storm” that’s brewing. It’s a lesson about how to brew such storms.

It’s easy: just take a small storm and feed it.

Each time our elected representatives, at any level of government, decide to spend what they deem affordable in light of immediate circumstances, but fail to adequately consider the wider consequences of their spending, especially the consequence that a number of such “affordable” purchases can easily add up to more than can be payed for, the storm grows a little stronger. Each time our elected representatives convince themselves that this project is worth the cost but fail to consider all the other representatives who are telling themselves the same thing about their projects, the storm grows a little stronger. And each time our elected representatives tell us that they are “going to have to make hard decisions” but fail to make them on this project, passing them down the line instead, the storm grows a little stronger.

Seen in this light, the high school project isn’t the problem; it’s a symptom. It’s a symptom of the disease that plagues the way our elected representatives make decisions. And that disease is nearsightedness.

Our representatives cannot see beyond their own projects and decisions. They cannot see far enough to realize that other representatives are making the exact same decision that they are, the decision to spend boldly (not frugally) because this project is worth the cost. They cannot see far enough to realize that all projects are worth their costs to the people behind them. They cannot see far enough to realize that all projects, together, cost more than can be payed for. Each time our leaders fail to see these things, the storm grows stronger.

Out of our nearsightedness, we have brewed quite a storm for ourselves. A nearly perfect storm. It approaches. It is nearly upon us.

Still, we feed it.

Updated 2010-02-17 16:50 with minor edits for clarity.

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56 Comments:

Blogger Greg said...

The Allegheny Institute for Public Policy isn't exactly the best source for non-biased information. Their reports are consistently one-sided. It's like asking Moveon.org to do a report on George W. Bush. You know the outcome before the report is written.

Greg Daubner

February 17, 2010 7:41 AM  
Blogger Tom Moertel said...

Greg,

Are you claiming that because the Allegheny Institute is somehow biased we can safely dismiss their claims? Is the math in their policy brief wrong? Are they using the wrong sources? Is their brief's thesis, that "Mt. Lebanon taxpayers, like many taxpayers in Pennsylvania, are facing a shocking increase in school taxes over the next five years" wrong?

Or are you claiming that everything is okay, that we haven't brewed an economic storm for ourselves? Does the local, state, or federal government have excess funds we don't know of? Have our elected representatives not overreached in good times and under-cut in bad? Are our taxes are not rising faster than our incomes?

How do you think this cycle ends?

Cheers,
Tom

February 17, 2010 8:13 AM  
Anonymous John Ewing said...

Conoco, Caterpillar, BP Quit Climate Group
BP, ConocoPhillips and Caterpillar are quitting the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a group that has been instrumental in building support in Washington for capping U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases.

Maybe the board should eliminate MANN-made climate change from the high school design and get out before everybody abandons this sinking ship.

Many lawsuits are coming over the climate change falsehood!

February 17, 2010 9:30 AM  
Anonymous Bill Lewis said...

Tom,

You are absolutely correct...and this storm is brewing far beyond the borders of just Lebo, Allegheny County, the Commonwealth of PA, or even the entire U.S. -- it is a global storm with the added potential of a tsunami caused by a global financial debt earthquake. Greece may be just the first tremor.

"Governments around the world will issue an estimated $4.5 trillion in debt this year, triple the five-year average for industrial countries...with the U.S. accounting for 45% of it ", according to an article in the 2/8/10 edition of Forbes magazine...another source that Mr. Daubner would likely claim to be biased.

February 17, 2010 9:34 AM  
Anonymous David Huston said...

Does Mr. Daubner have a sister who is an elected offical in Mt. Lebanon?
Someone please clarify, who is she?

February 17, 2010 9:52 AM  
Blogger Dave Franklin said...

Greg, I would agree that the Allegheny Institute approaches each issue that it studies with a simple goal in mind. In fact, I don't think they make any effort to hide from their mission - "to defend the interests of taxpayers, citizens and businesses against an increasingly burdensome and intrusive government."

Certainly, the Policy Brief about Mt. Lebanon is geared to that mission.

If you don't support the mission of the Allegheny Institute that's fine. Personally, I didn't support them when they came out against the construction of Heinz Field and PNC Park with taxpayer dollars. Were their arguments strong and well-supported? Sure, but I disagreed with them because I'm a selfish sports fan. Wouldn't you agree that there's probably a lot of that going on here?

My point is simply this Greg - it's easy to challenge or critique the messenger or the motives of the messenger. However, it's a helluva lot harder to challenge or critique the MESSAGE. I want a glorious new high school perhaps more than I wanted those new stadiums. However, no one has demonstrated to me how the Allegheny Institute (or Fraasch for that matter) has it all wrong. Can you?

February 17, 2010 10:07 AM  
Anonymous Rob Papke said...

Thank you Bill for writing Your Opinion piece for The Allegheny Institute. You stated that this is an issue that Many school districts in our state our facing Not just Mt. Lebanon.
So lets bear that in mind.
The information is Bill's Opinion and like any citizen he is free to voice His Opinion. Why you should take comfort in his opinions is up to you the reader to come to terms with. He is not an elected official, he is just a resident like you or I.
Just because somethings appears in writing doesn't validate it as reality especially when it is dealing with PROJECTED Budgets.
This Is Bill's Opinion, Nothing More. Bill, thank you for sharing Your Opinion.

February 17, 2010 11:07 AM  
Anonymous Bob Reich, Jr. said...

Every movement has to begin somewhere. Ross Perot, who was neither a Democrat or Republican, warned us of this way back in 1992 when he ran for the Presidency. We cannot always HAVE everything we WANT. Do you not teach your children this? I have yet to meet a single soul who doesn't agree with this philosophy, and yet this boondoggle continues to move forward. We simply don't learn from our mistakes.

http://perotcharts.com/

February 17, 2010 11:22 AM  
Anonymous Kim Ressler said...

Unfortunately, one problem has been the past nearsightedness of the school boards. Many sacred cows exist in the budgets, and past maintenance has not been performed as it should have been. Additions were made onto the school that when looked at in total hurt the structure's performance. We will probably be faced with some extremely unpleasant decisions regarding our schools in the near future - it seems many here have already written off modernizing the high school.

Perhaps education funding needs to be based on something other than property taxes. Perhaps the state and federal governments need to admit that passing the buck (or the bill) on to the local governments doesn't solve any problem beyond a campaign slogan.

I still question how much more of our tax dollars should be spent on near-sighted fixes. And I question how we can draw new families or keep families with children past middle school ages when they are faced with that building as it is. Maybe I am not armed with facts, but so much of this argument seems to be emotional anyway. And isn't buying a home an emotional decision as well as a financial one?

Congratulations to Mr. Matthews for his influence in spreading this forecast.

February 17, 2010 11:34 AM  
Anonymous John Ewing said...

Kim,Under Act 1 we can have a referendum to increase income taxes every two years.But those with big incomes own the homes that pay the most property tax.

We could ask for State money, but we are a wealthy-district so for every dollar we send to the State we get back less.

February 17, 2010 1:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's an interesting article for those visionary school board members and residents:

From a magazine on Nano Technology--
17 February 2010US Congress introduce Nanotechnology Education Act
Written by Fraser Shand Wednesday, 10 February 2010

House representative David Wu has introduced the Nanotechnology Education Act (HR 4502 IH) with the goal of strengthening the capacity of eligible institutions in the U.S. to provide instruction in nanotechnology.
The purpose of this bill is to strengthen the capacity of United States secondary schools and institutions of higher education to prepare students for careers in nanotechnology by providing grants to those schools and institutions to provide the tools necessary for such preparation.
The bill also states these goals:
In order to maximize the benefits of nanotechnology to individuals in the United States, the United States must maintain world leadership in the field, including nanoscience and microtechnology, in the face of determined competition from other nations.
To maintain world leadership in nanotechnology, the United States must make a long-term investment in educating United States students in secondary schools and institutions of higher education, so that the students are able to conduct nanoscience research and develop and commercialize nanotechnology applications.
Preparing United States students for careers in nanotechnology, including nanoscience, requires that the students have access to the necessary scientific tools, including scanning electron microscopes designed for teaching, and requires training to enable teachers and professors to use those tools in the classroom and the laboratory.
Source: Library of Congress

Hmmmm- so while we're spending $1,000,000+ dollars on a bridge to link two buildings and debating whether we can afford an annual contract to calibrate our old optical microscopes, the world maybe be passing Lebo by.
Yes, we could wait for Congress to pass this act and buy new technology for us (which we'll end up paying for any way).
Or we could be the leader in education and take the $1,000,000 bridge money and invest in the 21st century!
Use those funds to purchase electron scanning microscopes or fund sending our science teachers to seminars and workshops.
Which they could then develope into curriculum materials we might even sell to other districts.
No, we'll follow-- NO we'll do our neighbors (USC, Bethel, Baldwin) one better, and spend every $$$ we can get our hands on... on a building!
Dean Spahr

February 17, 2010 1:16 PM  
Blogger Dave Franklin said...

Rob, thanks for proving my point. Bash the messenger, but not the message. The people who consistently criticize Mr. Lewis, Mr. Fraasch, the Allegheny Institute and others - do that and then stop. Where's the other side of the coin? Can we pull off this project (that everyone seems to think is - at least in part - necessary) AND everything else on our plate, without taxing ourselves to death? If so, how? I'm not being argumentative . . . I'd sincerely like to know.

I thought the Allegheny Institute's use of the median figures was particularly helpful. It pulls a lot of us back to the reality of Mt. Lebanon and its tremendous economic diversity. We aren't a neighborhood exclusively for executives and professionals who live in $300,000+ homes. Not everyone can stomach the extra $50 a month difference that the high school advocates through around willy nilly like an old newspaper. Eventually, that $50 becomes $75 and then $100, etc. The world of bills and increased costs won't end after we cut the ribbon on Cochran Rd. Certainly, no one is projecting that our taxes will go down any time in the next decade, right?

So I guess what I'm trying to say is simply this - there are a large number of casual observers in this community who WANT to throw their support behind this project, myself included. We all WANT to be team players. Therefore, if the strong advocates want to woo us fence-sitters into the light and away from the "dark side" you should probably focus on the message and not the messengers. To date, many of us have not heard a clear recitation of how we pull all of this off without forcing (or keeping) people out due to our growing tax structure. Many more of us look at the recently published performance metrics which show Lebo as one of the Top 5 school districts in the Commonwealth and wonder whether a $100 million building is really a necessity. Trust me when I tell you, for every person here in the blog world that you may never convince, there are 100s and perhaps 1000s more who are waiting to hear the "other" game plan and decide for themselves. Please focus on the message...

February 17, 2010 2:26 PM  
Anonymous Rob Papke said...

Dave,

Very interesting comment, Dave. I thank someone for Their Opinion and you turn it into bashing. It seems like you sir are the one doing the bashing.

Very interesting comment, Dave.

Thank You for Your insight.

February 17, 2010 4:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rob, you really should read more carefully. The piece from the Allegheny Institute was not the opinion of Bill Matthews. It is the opinion of the Allegheny Institute and it's author. Information included in one paragraph was apparently provided by Mr. Matthews, and he was, therefore cited. You continue to offer your opinions, however unlike Bill Matthews, you never back them up with facts. As you said, "just because something appears in writing doesn't validate it as reality". You also continue to ignore the fact that the "PROJECTED Budgets" are supplied by the school district. Still waiting for something other than OPINION from you.
Joe Wertheim

February 17, 2010 5:04 PM  
Blogger Tom Moertel said...

Rob,

What Mr. Franklin pointed out to you, and what you seem to have dismissed, is that you characterized the Allegheny Institute piece as merely an expression of opinion when, in fact, it offers a substantive argument supported by verifiable evidence. To ignore the argument and the evidence and focus only on the opinion aspects of the piece is to ignore what is staring you in the face.

Again, the thesis of the Allegheny Institute policy brief is this: "Mt. Lebanon taxpayers, like many taxpayers in Pennsylvania, are facing a shocking increase in school taxes over the next five years." Can you offer any credible evidence to dispute this claim?

Mr. Franklin has asked you to provide this evidence. I have asked you to provide this evidence. So far, you have declined to do so.

Are you willing to stop talking about the messengers and the form of their messages and finally start talking about the content of those messages? If the Allegheny Institute is wrong, where is the evidence that says so?

You have stated your beliefs time and again. The question is, can you support them with evidence?

Cheers,
Tom

February 17, 2010 5:14 PM  
Blogger Dave Franklin said...

In keeping wth the theme, I guess I shouldn't have expected much more. I'm done.

Good luck all.

February 17, 2010 5:15 PM  
Anonymous Rob Papke said...

Gentleman,

You know as well as I, the unreliable nature of projections. Bill offered his insights and in my opinion they were his opinions.

Now I offer a challenge to you and one that I've offered to Tom : Use you considerable talents and your connections within our community to help the School Board find ways to lower the costs on the building project.
I have already sat down with Congressman Murphy and talked with him and his aides about grant money available to the district. And I have done the same with Matt Smith.
Now is the time for all of you to step up to the plate. With all of your expertise and influence surely you must be able to bring something other than what has appeared on this blog site to the process. Something that will help lower the costs to the project.

The project will continue to move forward gentleman, the question is will you have something to contribute that helps to lower the costs of the project?
Or will you continue to bash me for stating my opinion on Bill's.

February 17, 2010 6:49 PM  
Anonymous John Ewing said...

What the Allegheny Institute helped me understand is how far up taxes can really rise in Mt. Lebanon. If you think of your property tax as a percentage of your assessed value you can compare it to a Sales Tax. The extreme example form the Allegheny Institute is school taxes could be as high as 4.59% of your assessed value – the equivalent of a 4.59% Sales Tax on that assessed value every year.

The easy cut to make in a school budget is teacher professional development; teachers who lacked professional development did not educate my children and I don't wish that for your children.

The budget presented zeroed out Program Change Proposals, and cut books, supplies and equipment. These are all changes that are difficult to find in budgets so they are easier to make because they escape scrutiny.

We all know a budget forecast over a period of time can have in-flight corrections but we don’t know why the Board voted to pass a Budget that they were told would not happen. This is the second Budget the Board has passed that the Board Members say won’t happen; the first one is the Act 34 Budget.

I would rather reduce my budget by LEEDS items I don’t need than to cut good teachers or professional development, program change proposals, books, supplies, and equipment.

If we do approach 4.59% property taxes you can be sure we will hear appeals to consolidate seven neighborhood elementary schools into five neighborhood elementary schools. That will increase you class size in the elementary schools and parents will be upset. The increased class size will reduce your staffing needs making the savings look attractive to parents whose children have completed elementary school. That is not my vision for Mt. Lebanon.

February 17, 2010 6:58 PM  
Blogger Tom Moertel said...

Rob,

That's the sum of your refutation of the Allegheny Institute brief? – "the unreliable nature of projections"? Seriously?

Why do you think the school district creates those forecasts? Why do you think any business or government body creates forecasts?

Do you not understand that forecasts are created precisely because they reduce uncertainty? They allow us to harness the best information we have today to make predictions about the future.

If we don't base our decisions about the future on forecasts, what should we base them on?

Cheers,
Tom

February 17, 2010 7:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What I find curious with Rob P's comments is that he's fine with disbelieving Mr. Matthews or the ALlegheny Instuitute's reporting on the districts own forecast.
On the other hand forecast, projections, or whatever one wants to call them... by the board that the building project will come in at approx. $95,000,000 goes unquestioned.
He doesn't ask how they'll achieve that number, doesn't ask why they're asking for $113,000,000+.
And as for any of us offering suggestions... there have been plenty. In this thread, I offered one change I would make in the interest of our kids education! There are more... does Rob really want to hear about them?
Dean Spahr

February 17, 2010 7:24 PM  
Blogger Marjie said...

I want to hear them Dean. Unique forward thinking academic programming is what has always made Mt. Lebanon a "premier" district. Maintaining that level of programming is all the more difficult in the day and age of graduation exams/everyone teach the same vanilla "teach to the test" lesson. Without adequate financial resources it will be impossible.

February 17, 2010 7:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Situation developing in California school system that could easily come to roost here.
Please visit this webpage and listen to the audio.
http://www.kpbs.org/news/2010/feb/17/push-teacher-pay-cuts-during-contract-talks/
Dean Spahr

February 17, 2010 9:09 PM  
Blogger Dave Franklin said...

I know I "snipped" myself, but please indulge me.....

I think anyone who has poked, prodded, guestioned and hunted for sharper answers is DOING something for the good of the Project. I think it is very important to note that 1/3 of the Board voted against the $113 cap and every Board member acknowledged openly and publicly that $113 is too much. I think it is very fair then to ask them how they intend to build the same $113 project for considerably less. The lack of answers, however, is troublesome and results in more questions.

I have had plenty of conversations with Matt Smith, but not once has it crossed my mind to ask the Commonwealth to do more than it is already obligated to do for this project.

Frankly, I would have real concerns for the success of this project and the long term prospects for this district if our plan is to ask that the financially strapped state and federal governments bail out this tremendously fortunate community for its own overspending.

February 17, 2010 10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David--
Well put indeed!
Here's the funny thing... even if the state or feds were to contribute more... whom do they get the money from... us!
Dean Spahr

February 17, 2010 10:10 PM  
Anonymous Rob Papke said...

Gentleman,

Never once did I question The Allegheny Institute. I may of thanked Bill for writing his opinion piece for the the A.I. but please gentleman stop placing words where they have not been placed. Furthermore if I want financial advice I would seek advice from a financial analyst and not a lawyer and that is why I thanked Bill for his opinion.
If the State or Fed's have Grant money available why shouldn't we seek it out? Wouldn't you seek out Pell Grants and the like for your child's college education if it was available?
I also mentioned your considerable influence in our community which seemed to have fallen on deaf ears. What about grants from local organization or P/P Partnerships?
John FYI, L.E.E.D. Certification offers 100% State reimbursement money.
You can snipe at me all day long gentleman, go for it. But where will it get you? It is unproductive in the long run as you can be spending your time in more productive matters. Let's hear your ideas. Find corporate sponsors, corporate grants, P/P Partnerships. Perhaps the A.I. has sources. But sniping at me only make you look small.

February 18, 2010 7:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dan Miller, Commissioner writes in his newsletter:
Last year I voted against the 2010 Budget. In short, I found it woefully inadequate in addressing our economic reality.

I noted that five routine expenditures in 2011 will command an additional $3.14 million on top of our 2010 costs. This was a conservative estimate and dealt solely with increases in salary, medical, and pension costs, as well as addressing our street and sidewalk maintenance funding.

For more information on this topic click here. http://danmillerward5.com/t-minus-225-days-and-counting

It is coming from all directions. The for sale signs are starting to go up along with the ones that have been out there for months. The school board can stop the bleeding. And I hope it isn't by cutting teachers' salaries.
Elaine Gillen

February 18, 2010 8:05 AM  
Blogger Tom Moertel said...

Rob,

One more time: The thesis of the Allegheny Institute policy brief is this: "Mt. Lebanon taxpayers, like many taxpayers in Pennsylvania, are facing a shocking increase in school taxes over the next five years."

Can you offer any credible evidence to dispute this claim?

Rob, I've asked you this question before. You have yet to answer it.

Cheers,
Tom

P.S. Why do you keep claiming that Bill wrote an "opinion piece" for the Allegheny Institute? Will you look at the policy brief? It's written by Jake Haulk, Ph.D., President of the Allegheny Institute.

February 18, 2010 9:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom:
Rob, has finally contributed something I can agree with...
"You can snipe at me all day long gentleman, go for it. But where will it get you? It is unproductive in the long run as you can be spending your time in more productive matters."
Couldn't have said it better myself!
The fact that he can't even comprehend that Bill Matthews is NOT the author of the AI paper is supports his statement.
Dean Spahr

February 18, 2010 11:02 AM  
Anonymous Kim Ressler said...

Tom, I think we all, including Rob, know that taxes for everyone across the state will be rising in the next few years. I haven't noticed Rob disputing that. But we aren't solving the problem at hand - will we renovate this school for the future or not? Will we continue to donate money to local utility companies due to the inefficiencies of the structure that can be addressed through LEED goals? Will the excellent staff continue to have to work around the daily frustrations the building causes? Will the shameful inaccessability be addressed? Will we patch it up and leave the big decisions for future boards again?

So far in this thread, one suggestion for savings was removing the bridge. Yes, it does seem excessive, but it solves a site problem connecting the buildings. So, should the athletics building be relocated to a less desirable location? Or is it the goal of some posters to keep the building as it is despite its layout and inefficiencies?

This design evolved over time and seems to take into account as many issues and concerns as possible. I would love to discover savings in as many areas as we can, and I do agree with Dave that we need to question and probe everywhere. That is a wonderful service of blogs, as well as discussions with our board members and our government representatives. But my question for so many of the posters is: what do you want done to the high school, what are you willing to spend, and which of the construction goals are you willing to abandon to reach that price? (Oops, guess that was 3 questions...)

Our children will learn much from the decisions made as to what we value in their education and what sacrificies we and they will need to make. I wish I had the perfect answer to give you all.

February 18, 2010 11:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kim:
You write:
"So far in this thread, one suggestion for savings was removing the bridge. Yes, it does seem excessive, but it solves a site problem connecting the buildings. So, should the athletics building be relocated to a less desirable location? Or is it the goal of some posters to keep the building as it is despite its layout and inefficiencies?"
You seem to agree that the bridge costs are excessive, for you maybe financing that excess isn't a problem. For me and others it is! I'd like to see my tax dollars go to improving education.
You ask about moving to a less desirable location... if its a location that saves $1,000,000, serving the same function isn't that desirable?
And as for keeping the athletics in their present locations... gee our teams just won big time. Seems to be working.
Furthermore the CAC PROFESSIONALS think it can be done for less cost.
Why not hear them out?
Dean Spahr

February 18, 2010 11:27 AM  
Anonymous Kim Ressler said...

Dean, the costly bridge does solve a site issue - we can't have kids crossing the street, right? The topography and amount of available land do present major issues. And to say that the current facilities are sufficient just because the basketball teams are doing so well - seriously? It seems you haven't watched the maintenance staff struggle with the bleachers; you haven't heard the concerns about the pool for the past how-many years; you haven't visited the locker rooms in their deplorable state; you haven't had a son practice in the wrestling room....

The CAC presented a lot of ideas - some of which were discarded quite a while ago for reasons of which they were unfortunately unaware. To say that the board did not hear them out does a great disservice to them and all those who have been providing input on this project for the past four years. I do recall that a big portion of their savings proposal was to keep Building C - the building that is most reviled from folks in food-service to students to teachers. That doesn't even take into account the asbestos unknowns - didn't we learn from the elementary renovations? Building C was the one building that had no true supporters (among those who use it) from Day 1.

I am not trying to discount the talent and effort the CAC dedicated to their report. But I am frustrated that it seems that we are heading back to square one for a total redesign and this project will not move forward any time soon. The ideas presented when my daughter was in elementary school will not come to fruition before her graduation; the money we have spent on studies and research and communication will have essentially been wasted; and worst-case scenario, some major mishap does occur in the building that will need to be repaired at great cost with little return.

February 18, 2010 12:08 PM  
Anonymous Rob Papke said...

Tom,

I did read the brief and excuse me if I'm incorrect however the Doctor did thank a William Matthews for his insight. Perhaps I have the wrong Bill Matthews. Below is the except:


The projected budget scenario is not a sustainable situation. Note that over the period 2000 to
2015, the total level of real estate taxes collected based on budget forecast figures will rise over
100 percent. However, the earned income tax collections—a fairly good indicator of income
growth—over the same period will have risen only 45 percent, assuming the budget forecast is
anywhere close to accurate. In short, the expanding burden on property taxpayers is far
outstripping the ability of taxpayers to pay.*
* Thanks to William Matthews for this insight and information.

Also, You have demanded answers from me however on several occasions I have asked you to help find solutions to lowering the costs on the project both on this thread and previously on Real Lebo but I haven't heard a any suggestions from you or your readers other than removal of the bridge. Shall I start making demands of you, sir? Come on, Tom.

It appeared to me that Bill Matthews was offering his opinions in the A.I. article. You claimed I attacked the Institute when I did not. I will not expect an apology from you because I would rather see your suggestions as to how we can lower costs.

I have never once suggested to you that I'm an economist and I haven't stayed at a Holiday Inn Express in some time nor do I play an Economist on TV. So, please stop with your demands, step up to the plate and offer something productive.

February 18, 2010 12:15 PM  
Blogger Dave Franklin said...

I can't take it anymore!!! It's not for Tom or anyone else to step up and indentify cost-saving measures. I'm sure we could all identify dozens of things that don't fall into the category of "must-haves," but what would that do to advance the ball at this stage? If there are grants out there, then I trust that the well-paid administrative staff of this district is diligently pursuing them. Individual citizens shouldn't be running around half-cocked doing this stuff for heaven's sake! We're not planning the freaking Prom . . . we're building a $100 million multi-acre facility.

Frankly Rob, I want to hear from the School Board - the 9 people who were elected to run this job. They were elected to lead and I expect them to do so. They have unselfishly invested countless hours on this project and I thank them for that. But I cannot get it out of my head that - to a person - they all took the time to tell me that IT CAN BE AND SHOULD BE built for less. Several even campaigned on the platform that they WILL cut 15% off of the current estimates. The time to start is now.

As you say, this project is moving forward . . . so I'm ready and willing to give them a shot at demonstrating that they can cut the cost as promised. They are the ball carrier now . . . let's see what they can do with it. If they want my help or the help of others, they know where to find us and I'm certain that we would all do what is asked of us.

As an aside, I would like the Board to spend an equal amount of time burying the hatchet because they clearly don't get along (or at least they don't act like they do) and that's incredibly destructive.

February 18, 2010 12:44 PM  
Blogger Tom Moertel said...

Rob,

It's getting increasingly difficult to believe that you're interested in having an honest conversation. Continually, you make claims that defy reason and then, when pressed to support those claims with credible evidence, you fail to do so. Instead, you are evasive, changing the subject, complaining that I'm making "demands."

If have demanded anything from you, it is only that you support your claims with evidence. Reason demands no less.

Your standard of evidence, however, is lacking. For example, that the Allegheny Institute cites Bill Matthew's original analysis, which any credible author would do, is not evidence that the policy brief is mere opinion, that Bill Matthews wrote it in whole or in part, or that the AI's own analysis was somehow wrong.

Another example: You just now wrote, "You claimed I attacked the Institute when I did not." First, you did attack the AI, specifically its reputation as a credible research institute, when you dismissed its policy brief as a rubber-stamped opinion piece written by someone else: "Thank you Bill for writing Your Opinion piece for The Allegheny Institute." Second, I never before claimed you attacked the AI (show me where I did). I did, however, ask you to support your preposterous claims about the policy brief being an "Opinion Piece" written by a third party.

Rob, if you want an honest conversation, one in which you feel some responsibility to make only those claims you can reasonably support, I'm all for it. If you don't want an honest conversation, however, what are you trying to accomplish?

Cheers,
Tom

February 18, 2010 1:06 PM  
Anonymous John Ewing said...

From the Commonwealth Foundation:

"The release of embarrassingly candid emails from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia has intensified, if not vindicated, suspicions that scientific misconduct has played a significant role in fueling alarmism over supposed catastrophic manmade global warming.

Just days after news broke about what has been dubbed "Climategate," Penn State University (PSU) announced that it would investigate the conduct of Michael Mann, a professor in PSU's Department of Meteorology and a prominent figure in the Climategate emails.

While PSU is to be commended for recognizing that Climategate is a serious matter and that an investigation into Michael Mann's conduct is warranted, the investigation constitutes a conflict of interest for the university. Mann's climate work brings enough visibility, prestige, and revenue to PSU to legitimately call into question the university's ability to do a thorough and unbiased investigation.

To avoid this glaring conflict of interest and ensure that the investigation of Mann is credible, the Pennsylvania General Assembly should commission an external and independent investigation into Mann's potential scientific misconduct."

The Michael Mann textbook was recently introduced into our environmental science curriculum along with the Al Gore text book. There are enough questions about university climate-change emails to call global warming into question and to question the balance of the Mt Lebanon curriculum in Environmental Science.

So when I look at what I can eliminate from our building plan to reduce costs the LEED's expenditures seem a reasonable place to ask questions.My remarks were not intended as sniping.

February 18, 2010 1:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kim:
Can't have kids walking across a street. Are you really serious?
Its OK for kids to walk in some cases a mile or more in all types of weather, but they can't dash 60 feet across Horsman Drive. People do it downtown all day long for work.
Come on open your eyes!
Besides it wasn't so many years ago that the board was willing to join with the municipality on a pool at the skating rink. Which would require students to walk down and then back up to the HS. Almost a mile round trip!
No supporters of keeping building C. Got that one wrong too. Dirk Taylor, the districts structural engineer at one time -- said there was no reason to tear down C long ago. The CAC supports saving it also. I'd say those are fairly credible supporters.
Wrong on your assumption here too.
My son did wrestle and played football so we're aware of the conditions. Not great facilities but nothing that can't be restored to "like-new" or better than new condition.
Dean Spahr

February 18, 2010 1:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kim, one more thought on kids walking.
Tell me what college or university are these kids going to go to that they won't have to walk from building to building for classes, for meals, to do research at the library and to return to their dorm?
Dean Spahr

February 18, 2010 1:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All:
I've said this before, and I will say it again continually until more folks understand the situation we're in: We are at the "tipping point" economically in the District and Municipality. Everything we're feeling and sensing now, and the resulting financial panic, is directly attributable to the declining tax streams and the increasing expenses of operating these government bodies.

We can debate about forecasts all day long. However, it's obvious that economic problems are escalating at the local and state levels, particularly. All the things which, in the past, we counted upon as "givens" are not anymore. Earned income will be down, and so will the resulting tax revenue. Benefit costs and pensions are up, and that expense burden cannot be absorbed without cutting back other items. Yet, no in office wants to admit it, let alone make prudent management choices, and explain the service sacrifices that will come about.

Here is my prediction: In a few short years, the Boards and Commissions will be forced to close schools, slash programs, and cut back on basic, expected services. You pick the cuts and closures, but they're coming. Repeat: they are coming. (Note: the District will need to cut more than $5 million in annual expenses, just to start.)

And worse, when it hits, the Boards and Commissions will throw others under the bus, plus blame those in office now -- and probably the State as well.

Unless, of course, we find the "money tree" in Mt. Lebanon park.

Mark Hart

February 18, 2010 2:18 PM  
Anonymous Kim Ressler said...

My apologies, Dean - I did not mean to rile you so. It seems I was misinformed in that we were required to provide safe passage, without vehicle traffic, to all traveling to the athletics building, which involves more than the pool, during school hours - this mandated the bridge. I suppose it would be cheaper to hire a full-time crossing guard to man the crosswalk. Or, we could keep the building as you say and continue to heat other parts of the school in order to heat the pool.

As to Building C, I am not disputing the structural integrity. However, its functionality has been questioned and what distresses the building's users the most. We heat wasted space, we truck food up and down elevators, we have a library that pleases no one I know, and so on. That is the issue - and that is its very nature that the CAC was unaware of. So, to keep Building C, as you wish, it seems that we will sacrifice functionality for cost.

I am willing to compromise in areas of the building's design, but why should I be happy that my tax dollars will not go toward making the school building perform better? Yes, the students are learning much and the instructors are teaching well in the building as it is - so that makes the status quo sufficient? You are apparently content with remodeling and touch-ups (please repair the auditorium seats!) and willing to sacrifice the long-term goals. I cannot change your mind.

February 18, 2010 2:27 PM  
Blogger Marjie said...

On a narrow issue being raised, I am not sure whent hings changed with regards to students and Horsman Drive.

Back before Pennsylvania raised the age for smoking and we had a smoking area off Center Court and students were expected to act and behave like pre-college kids with maturity, the juniors and seniors had "free periods" not study halls. During the free periods you were free to go to the smoking area, take a walk down to the park, leave school grounds and go down Cochran Road to get a soda or candy at Algeos or head in the other direction down Washington Road. Many a kid, my older siblings included, spent their free period driving to MickyD's on Mt Lebanon Blvd.

The policies changed at some point while I was at the school and the expectations of our capacity to act as young adults was lessened. I do know the smoking area was closed when the state changed the age limit. Nevertheless many a time during gym class was I required to cross Horsman to get down to the field for a soccer game and I recall walking down to what is now Dixon field for a few gym classes also.

Different era, different expectations of what the kids can handle I suppose. Although I've heard rumblings about zoning but again when did that change because historically the kids were allowed to treat the high school property as a CAMPUS (ala college prepatory nature of the place). All you have to do is pull out the old year books and you see plenty of pictures of kids hanging outside during the school day in the various nooks and crannies our mish mash of a school provides. Funny thing, one of the pictures of a male student reading a book outside in one of these terrible non-common area nooks is accompanied by a quote on the value of studying and spending time alone. The school worked when the attitude toward it was one of a college prep open campus with students who were held to a certain standard of expected maturity and ability to get around and flourish on the entire campus grounds.

February 18, 2010 2:57 PM  
Blogger James Fraasch said...

Rob asks the question of what we have all done to try to reduce the coming tax increases in Mt Lebanon.

Here is my list:

1) In November 2007, just after getting elected, I met with a community foundation that has been very helpful in getting small programs funded in our schools. I asked very directly if they would be willing to set up a foundation/trust specifically for the HS project. The idea was that we could get alumni and residents or just people proud of education system to donate money to the high school project. This money could have been specifically for the athletic wing or for the arts or just for the project in general. I modeled this idea after something similar was done in State College Area School District. Through donations from wills/residents/alumni, my understanding was that SCASD had nearly $20 million in the pipeline at the time. Unfortunately, I was told that this idea was outside the scope of the organization at the time and that a plan of this type would not work through them. I included this idea in a presentation I gave to the entire board and community in January of 2008. It did not gain traction.

2) In early January 2008 I set up a meeting with Stainback Public Private Real Estate from Texas. SPPRE was a pioneer in the Public/Private Partnership arena and had done a number of partnerships around the country. The idea here was to, at the very least, get an architect on board that would do a Design/Build of our high school which would have allowed us to skirt some of Pennsylvania’s more cumbersome restrictions on prevailing wage/multiple prime laws. This conference call was attended by only three Board members and Superintendent Allison. At the January 2008 meeting I asked that public private partnerships of this kind be an agenda item for future board meetings. That idea again did not gain traction.

3) In January of 2008 I made a presentation to the Board and the community outlining a plan that would have lessened the long-term millage impact of a high school project on our residents. It included a small millage increase that would have been accumulated over 7-8 years and then split between reducing existing debt and using it as a down-payment on a major project. It included up to $15 million in repairs to the existing structure to make it safer for our staff and students. This project could have been partly funded by the State in the form of the Commonwealth’s Guaranteed Energy Savings Plan. Our architects at the time said that this version of a project would not make sense because any renovation/repair of Building B would have cost almost $30 million. I disputed this number at the time thinking that it was excessive. The new plans for building B include a like-new (much nicer than the repair I was looking for) renovation for close to $14 million.

4) I voted against both the 2008-2009 budget and 2009-2010 budget partly because, with our declining enrollment, I thought that our pupil/teacher ratio should at least remain the same. Just as I would expect us to hire teachers and staff when our student numbers increase, it is as important that we make efficiencies when we have declines in enrollment. It is difficult to attrition positions when they come open due to retirement, but it is a decision that must be made. We did lose four staffing positions to attrition in one year but our enrollment dropped almost 100% more than projected (if memory serves we projected a 60 something drop but actually lost over 100 students) and we made no additional staffing reductions based on that decline. Additionally, we have never done a zero-based budget. Many Districts do this as a means of finding cost-savings. Our municipality does it. We need to move in this direction quickly.

....continued

February 18, 2010 3:38 PM  
Blogger James Fraasch said...

continued from above...

5) I have vocally opposed every vote on a very costly high school project and given numerous, measured, data driven reasons for doing so.

6) In October of last year I opposed the floating of tax-exempt bonds a year ahead of when we actually needed the funds. First, the tax-exempt bonds carried a slightly higher cost over their life to the District than did the alternative, Build America Bonds. Second, we will accrue interest charges on the bonds while we don’t even need them. The District did float the bonds on the best possible day of 2009 for such floats. While that was good timing, nobody on this Board could tell you what interest rates would have needed to risen by in order for that move to end up in the District’s favor. If we waited six months to float the bonds and interest rates were the same, then we would have wasted all the interest payments for those six months. If interest rates rose a lot (they have only risen slightly) then it would have made sense. Time will tell if this decision was the correct one.

7) I was the only Board member to suggest and make a motion to more fully investigate the CAC recommendations to cost out a renovation of Building C. While some felt that the building was not good enough to be reused, the professionals on the CAC thought otherwise. A few of the members even suggested that renovations of Building C would save more than $10,000,000 off the total project cost. When you look at how much this project is set to spend on site costs alone, you can see how the CAC might have been right. Remember that at the July 2008 forum our current architect presented an estimate of $77.8 million for a renovation only option and a $118 million cost estimate for a 66/33 new/renovation option. Our design calls for a near 50/50 split renovation/new. Granted, it was a long time ago, but how many in the community would support the $77.8 million renovation now? I know I would.

I did all of the above in the most transparent fashion possible. I put it on my website and have asked for feedback all along the way.

For each of those ideas above I have been bullied by some people in this community. I have been called onto the carpet by this school board and have been asked less than politely to “fall in line”. I have received emails from prominent people within some of our local organizations asking for everything from my resignation to outright censorship of my thoughts. Being accused of being a liar (as I was by a Board member at last Monday’s meeting) is now considered a “win” for me. It is better than being accused of being Nazi-like as our school board president was at our December meeting by a very vocal supporter of our high school project.

I don’t say these things for the purpose of gaining sympathy. That is something I don’t need. The overwhelming public support of so many in this community for the ideas I have outlined above has more than made up for the vocal few who have felt the need to personally attack me for my opinions. I point out the things above because that is what this discussion has unfortunately devolved into. There seems to be no more sharing of ideas. There is this, “I’m right and you’re wrong” mentality which seems to so often grip too many of us. I am guilty of being caught up in that from time to time but it is my goal to try to bring it back to ideas. What ideas are worth pursuing? How can we advance those ideas?

Moving forward, getting back to the best ideas may be the only thing that can save us from a very frightening future.

James Fraasch

February 18, 2010 3:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kim:
There you go again Kim. You say: "You are apparently content with remodeling and touch-ups (please repair the auditorium seats!) and willing to sacrifice the long-term goals. I cannot change your mind."
Where did I say I was content with remodleing and touch-ups? The plans that I saw from the CAC folk had some extensive changes.
I think if you go back in the thread you see where my long-term "goals" reside. Read carefully my comment on Nano Technology and keeping the curriculum state of the art.
As for our kids 10,11 and 12 graders being able to cross a street--- how'd they do it back in Margie's day and who holds their hand today.
Come on Kim... get real!
Oh, one other question, this polling of studentssatisfaction with C bldg.-- when'd that occur and is it available for distribution?
Dean Spahr

February 18, 2010 3:59 PM  
Anonymous David Huston said...

How can we approve a Plancon C and D submission when the only way to reduce the maximum $113MM + 8% = $122MM project cost to $95MM is to "Work Very Hard" and "Hope"?

February 18, 2010 4:30 PM  
Anonymous John Ewing said...

I’ve suggested fund raising many times but there is a resistance to asking alumni, parents and friends to donate to the school. There are folks who want the high school to be a done deal.

This project could have been financed with donations if we had written a Strategic Plan outlining our priorities and explaining our reasons for doing projects in a specific order. Many schools with the help of qualified architects who specialize in project planning do this.

Our choice now is to engage in a dialogue that will lessen the impact of future tax increases while keeping Mt Lebanon in an educational leadership role with a cost structure that is competitive with other districts?

February 18, 2010 5:19 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Thank you Mr. Fraasch for leaving such a detailed message.

February 18, 2010 9:22 PM  
Anonymous Bob Reich, Jr. said...

The time is long overdue for someone to set up either a referendum or a statistically valid survey measuring the level of support for the current proposal. I realize that the Act 34 dog and pony show is now scheduled and it LOOKS like this thing is a done deal, but I still haven't seen the ceremonial golden shovel turned yet. (Hell, at this rate I don't know if we'll ever see the actual dirt on the Rockpile again.

As I have said before, I have no skin in this game or else I'd be a helluva lot more vocal where it counts - in person. We have chosen to vote with our feet and, God willing, 150 Longuevue will be on the market sooner rather than later. If Mark Hart's (and others) predictions are proven true there is little reason to believe that the "community" element that, supposedly, is how realtors "sell" Mt. Lebanon will exist much longer.
In fact, it's demonstrably falling apart here in front of our eyes.

But please don't mention this to any prospective buyers out there....

February 18, 2010 10:08 PM  
Blogger Dave Franklin said...

Good luck Bob. Based on earlier comments from some of your Longuevue neighbors, the streets may still be impassable for the moving truck!

And the silence after the Fraasch/Hart one-two punch is deafening.

February 18, 2010 10:55 PM  
Anonymous Bob Reich, Jr. said...

Right, Dave! Hopefully folks won't mind walking from Washington Road all the way to our house via rope bridge for the Open House.

On another note, I was just sent an amazing letter that the genius Mr. Dirk Taylor prepared for the superintendent using the ACTUAL NUMBERS from the Dick Construction Corporation. The money being wasted on this project is too overwhelming to fathom.

You folks on the school board, minus Mr. Fraasch, are better suited for Washington, DC than Mt. Lebanon.

"To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical." Thomas Jefferson

February 19, 2010 8:58 AM  
Anonymous Kim Ressler said...

Dave, I'm spent. Believe it or not, I am not convinced as to what the high school should look like in five years. I have been willing to hear all sides. And yet I keep going back to the 15 design criteria that the board came up with, which was done with much community input. Perhaps too much - we would be into some type of construction phase by now if the process had not been so long. Which of those goals are we, as a community, willing to forego? Which are each of the posters on this blog willing to forego?


I did speak up against the roof repair, Mr. Fraasch, because it appeared to me that we were just postponing the question as has been done for so long. I admit I am a bit frustrated at your latest words because you seem to discount the hours and effort other board members over these past years have spent on this issue. Perhaps your "lone wolf" stance is the right one, perhaps not. As well, when I suggested at a board meeting that our sense of community would not be enough to draw new residents, let alone keep the ones we have, I was angrily denounced by Mr. Hart. The anger and bitterness is disheartening. I have seen friends move to Upper St. Clair, South Fayette, Peters Twp. and South Park - obviously they are not the only ones considering those moves.

And Dean, yes, you have made suggestions toward curriculum and nanotechnology - what do you want to do with the building itself?

I have admitted that I don't know the answers; do any of us? Where do we go from here? What is the best use of our money, now and in the coming years?

February 19, 2010 9:17 AM  
Blogger Dave Franklin said...

And Bob please do me a favor . . . at your open house please tell Howard Hanna to leave a few copies of the latest Student Outcomes Report on the kitchen table. This report tells us that Lebo students are performing in the Top 8 in the state in every major category. You can then also leave a picture of Bethel Park's new high school and let the potential homebuyers decide for themselves which is better for their kids.

February 19, 2010 9:22 AM  
Blogger Dave Franklin said...

Kim, I totally understand your frustration. As many have heard me say here over the last few years, I think we got to this point for several reasons that certainly don't need to be rehashed here. I think some of it has to do with the fact that in our attempts to be inclusive we have fallen victim to the the old adage of having "too many cooks in kitchen". Unfortunately, when everyone gets a voice, the process drags out and grows (in both scope and price). For example, compare our never-ending process with that of Bethel Park where the community had very little, if any, involvement. That may sound harsh to many here in Lebo who think they should have the right to chime in about everything, but personally I applaud the BP board for recognizing that they were elected to lead. After all, the experts at Celli and PJ Dick certainly have the ability to evaluate, plan and propose a development that best suits our needs etc without opening every facet of the design to public review and comment. And before anyone jumps down my throat, I'm not saying that BP is perfect, but the difference in methods and what is being accomplished (and at what cost) is certainly eye opening.

Further, even if we all believe that the best long term solution is a complete $100+ million renovation/rebuild, if we can't afford it, we can't afford it. I've used this example in the past, but nearly every religious person in this town worships in a building that is older than the high school. Yet how many of these magnificent churches, with failing roofs, asbestos and aging HVACs systems have been razed or are slated to be gutted and rebuilt? Zero . . . why? Because each of them probably has a well thought out capital improvement plan and fund raising strategy in place to maintain their facilities now and beyond. Sure, all of us with kids would like a better high school now or soon, but that's not how communities work. This town was here before we came and it will be here after we are gone. I will be here and paying taxes long after my kids are out of school. Consider that trade off for a minute. Like it or not, we can't fix the mistakes of the last 10-20 years overnight by overspending. How would that outcome benefit our community in the long term?

If people are leaving Lebo or rejecting it outright SOLELY because of the condition of the high school, I haven't met one yet. I'd love to meet one. Send them my name and number, please. I'd venture that if that was a factor in their decision it was down on the list, after such things as the amount of house you can get for your money, the age of our homes and other factors. Besides, if people are really serious about education it is the results that matter and not the setting. If the best college in the country was a log cabin in Ligonier with a wood burning stove, it would still receive the most applications each year and charge the highest tuition. Do I want a perfect structure for my kids to enjoy what is already an amazing educational experience? Sure, but not at the expense of everything else. And when every Board member tells me that $113 million is too much, they obviously agree with that.

February 19, 2010 10:01 AM  
Anonymous Bob Reich, Jr. said...

Just to be clear, and Dave I believe you know this to be true, but I am not implying that we are - in any way - dissatisfied with the education that our kids are receiving at, in our case, Markham Elementary. What I am saying is that we are not going to PAY for a new high school (along, of course, with everyone & everything else) when we all know that there are no new revenue streams coming to Mt. Lebanon that are going to cover its costs. The new revenues are going to have to come from our wallets. And this wallet, in real dollars, is pulling more than it's fair share. Selfish? Maybe. But, as been stated over and over and over by folks far smarter than I, the perfect storm is brewing and we are choosing not to be a part of it.

February 19, 2010 10:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kim--
What do I want to do with the current building... renovated to like new condition, as the board outlines for the 50% renovations in the Act 34 documents.
Along these lines... get a hold of Dirk Taylor's recent calculations on the renovation numbers!
The pool should be updated, the auditorium redone, but save every dollar possible to keep the teachers and provide them up-to-date tools and supplies.
Go to the site I posted earlier on California. They are asking teachers for 8% wage cuts and voluntary furloughs. It can happen here!
We've been cutting dept. budgets for years, negelecting maintenance.
What is the cost to tear up perfectly good tennis courts and move them 150 feet? ANother million dollars?
So with the bridge and tennis courts we're talking $2 million that doesn't go to a library, science labs or teachers!
Dean Spahr

February 19, 2010 10:44 AM  
Blogger cincinnatus said...

Can someone answer a question? If all an auditorium needs is new seats, why would anyone tear down the house? Just arguing the point in a tone demonstrating contempt for common sense shows the lack of critical thought which has allowed the project proposal to grow to an untenable $113 mm. "Hey now, time to stop, look what's going down"

Steve Diaz

March 05, 2010 8:38 AM  
Anonymous Steve Diaz said...

The school board incumbents suffered a major set-back this week as the voters in the Republican primary placed James Cannon at the top of the list, by a wide margin over all of the "official" party endorsed candidates, incumbents and newcomers alike. This is a precurser of the wave of support that a true reform candidate can - and will - sweep over the transparently ineffective and misguided policies of the past.

Confirmation of the fear of the electorate comes in the paper this morning, where both Mr. Remely and Mr. Kubit are quoted in total volte-face mode, now fully critical of the very policies they adamantly and uncompromisingly pursued until the project bids came in, making fools of them all. The question for the voters is whether anything they now say about the project budget is credible given their performance to date.

Also critical at this juncture is to have the school board address how they intend to calculate the future fiscal requirements of the district given that so far they have failed - and refused when challenged - to consider the limitations of what we can afford to spend on deferred maintenance and renovation in the face of the imminent and certain huge bill coming due on the teacher pension plan. The school board must not be allowed to continue to address the renovation cost in a vacuum without keeping it in the context of the total need for extraordinary items, especially the pension debacle.

May 19, 2011 10:57 AM  

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