Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Mt. Lebanon Hears School Renovation Supporters, Critics

The Mt. Lebanon School District held a public hearing last night to provide an overview of the planned $113.3 million high school renovation project and to take comments from residents.

The Act 34 hearing, which is required for all new buildings and substantial additions to existing buildings, lasted more than three hours and was moved to the high school's auditorium to accommodate a much larger audience than typically attend the school board meetings in the library.

Read more: www.postgazette.com/pg/10054/1037951-100.stm

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was able to attend the last hour of public comments. I thought I would share a note that I sent to the School Board after the hearing. My nineteen year old son loves to provide comic relief, but I think it says it all.
Dear School Board Directors,
My son graduated from Mt. Lebanon High School in June 2009. Dale and Elaine, I am sure you remember Joey. Since he is at RIT, we have been having long distant conversations about the high school renovation project, among many other things. Joe remembers wearing his coat in his US History class and knows the current condition of the high school. He sent me this link to a Saturday Night Live sketch. He hopes you take two minutes to watch it. I thought you might enjoy a recent graduate's perspective. I think Mt. Lebanon taught him well. http://consumerist.com/2007/04/snl-skit-dont-buy-stuff-you-cant-afford.html
Elaine Gillen

February 24, 2010 6:52 AM  
Blogger Dave Franklin said...

I was somewhat numb after Monday's meeting. Interestingly, one common theme that I heard was fear. I thought that was even evident from the remarks of the pro-project SB members that spoke. I was especially baffled by those who spoke in favor of the project in its current form, but who also conceded that the project would probably not improve student performance or outcomes in any noticeable ways.

However, as I ran through the speakers again in my mind I concluded that everyone is closer to consensus than they may think . Borrowing a process from the Olympics, if you throw out the high score and the low score (those who argue for either extreme), the speakers could all pretty much be lumped into 2 categories: (1) the group that wants to proceed with the project as planned, but who also expect the SB to bring it in at considerably less than $113 million and (b) those who think that the current project should be scaled back to accomplish what we need at a price that we can all afford. Then I thought, aren't these two groups essentially in search of the same thing? I didn't hear anyone say that we should do nothing, and I didn't hear anyone say we should spend $113 million.

With that in mind, I thought that the two most critical questions were not asked and answered on Monday (because questions - or at least answers - were not permitted). Nonetheless, I think it would have been appropriate to ask Mr. Celli if he can *actually build* his $113 million project for say $20-25 million less. If not, then we can't really satisfy the folks in either group, right? And the second question, would have been a follow up to Mr. Frenz (the financial advisor) -- if we were one of Janney Montgomery's financial planning clients, would he recommend that we proceed on the current path knowing all that he knows about the economic situation locally and generally?

And as for those who compared this project to their own home remodel, I have another question? Did you figure out what you could spend first and then start, or did you re-do your kitchen first and then figure out how you were going to pay for it? I don't mean that to be petty or argumentative, but again, I think we all know the answer? The analysis here shouldn't be any different. With increasing school expenses, a growing municipal deficit and an ever-stagnant (or shrinking) tax base, we cannot afford to spend beyond our means with the lofty expectation that every governmental agency, architect, contractor, subcontractor and supplier will throw us a bone . . . just because we all would really, really like a nice new building.

February 24, 2010 9:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I can't view your link, but is part of your point that it's acceptable for students to have to wear coats in school?

I'm considering a move back to Mt. Lebanon and, honestly, but for the schools I am having a hard time convincing myself that Lebo is all that different from Dormont or Castle Shannon.

Finally, I've been lurking here for a while but have not seen - not that it has not been posted, I may have simply missed it - what portion of the total tax bill (i.e., that which is estimated on the real estate listing sites) is comprised of school taxes in Mt. Lebanon? That is, if I see an estimated tax bill of $10,000, is $5,000 of that school tax, $2,000 to the county, etc.? This would give me some idea of what type of hit to expect if and when school taxes increase by 45%.

First time commenter, so I hope I'm doing this right. Many thanks.

Chris Frenie (MLHS '93)

February 24, 2010 10:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting dynamic going on with the HS project.
Two republican board members and one democrat apparently read "Don't Buy More Than You Can Afford!".
The Mt. Lebanon Republican party supports that position also.
Wonder if the democratic party will take a position on the issue?
Comments at the hearing were 50% for vs. 50% against. What to do, what to do?
Dean Spahr

February 24, 2010 10:48 AM  
Anonymous Bill Lewis said...

Dave...an excellent assessment! However, regarding your first question, I wonder if Mr. Celli would hide behind and not deviate from the CM's estimate of $113 M even though the Board particularly might like to have him do so, since a couple of them have gone public announcing expectations that the bids may come in under estimates by as much as 20% or so ? The CM has stated publicly that he is confident that his cost estimates are within 95% +/- of what actual bids will be, even taking into account recent bids below estimates on several other recent HS projects in the area. I guess some SB members believe they are better estimators than the professionals...they even claim that when the public cite the actual District budget forecast estimates prepared by the Finance Director,that the public is wrong; and, some of the SB majority's public supporters accuse the public of lying and spreading false information.

If Mr. Celli would agree that he could "actually build his $113 million project for say $20-25 million less" this entire fiasco might come to a screeching halt and could very well be eventually settled in a court. But both sides would be initially pleased.

To Chris, the '93 grad : the school district portion of the total real estate tax bite in Lebo is 70%....the balance of the total consists of county & muni, which are close to equal and together comprise 30%, round numbers. Are you really thinking seriously of moving back here ?

February 24, 2010 2:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chris, we welcome you back to Mt. Lebanon. There are many houses on the market here and many more to come, so I am sure that you will be able to find something that you like. We all find it unacceptable for kids and teachers to be wearing coats in school. It just comes down to how much debt we are willing to incur. If you get a chance, watch the SNL sketch. My son found it while watching a documentary about the National Debt. He thought it could be applied to Mt. Lebanon, as well.
Elaine Gillen

February 24, 2010 3:49 PM  
Anonymous David Brown said...


I know that documentary: I.O.U.S.A.. I own a copy and we showed it during our MESH film series. It's important stuff. I was glad to hear that Mr. Buffet has the President's ear.


February 24, 2010 6:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


We'll be in the market for a house as soon as we get a contract on ours. The choice is Mt. Lebanon or USC, but if schools weren't an issue we'd stay in the East End. Thanks for the breakdown on taxes. It is good to know what I might be getting myself into.


You remind me quite a bit of a few of my neighbors growing up. Once their kids graduated from MLHS, suddently only two topics of conversation held their attention: where their kids were attending college and school taxes (block parties were a blast), yet few left. I never understood that. It was almost like a badge of honor to complain about the cost of educating their neighbors children, while conveniently forgetting that many others bore the cost of educating their kids.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that there is always turnover in Mt. Lebanon, but I doubt we'll see the mass exodus that you are predicting. I mean, are you planning to sell your home?

Chris Frenie

February 24, 2010 7:05 PM  
Blogger Tom Moertel said...

I'd like to second David Brown's recommendation to take a look at the documentary I.O.U.S.A. It does a great job of making our nation's financial problems approachable and understandable. Even if you normally find financial information unfathomable, give this documentary a try. It's the best I've seen at clarifying the issue.


P.S. If you're a Netflix subscriber, you can watch I.O.U.S.A. in full as part of your subscription, either on DVD or via online streaming.

February 24, 2010 7:25 PM  
Anonymous David Brown said...

My children are out of school now. But I still want to live somewhere where the children who live near me get a good education. I think that still benefits me somehow.

February 24, 2010 7:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, Dave, I.O.U.S.A. is the name of the documentary. It is excellent. And Chris, I think a hot topic in Mt. Lebanon right now would be school taxes. What is really funny is our parents are neighbors. When I lived there, we never had any block parties. So based on your comment, I am not sure who the lucky one was, you or me.
Elaine Gillen

February 24, 2010 10:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David Brown,

Agree 100% and, though I said I didn't understand, I wrote that with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. Unfortunately, sarcasm doesn't always convey in blog comments.


You are either an attorney or should have been one, as you responded to my aside but ignored my direct question ... are you planning to sell your home due to the looming tax hike?

Chris Frenie

February 25, 2010 11:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chris Frenie,
I am flattered to think that at 11:43 AM, you are asking me if I will be selling my house. Are you an interested buyer?
Elaine Gillen

February 25, 2010 12:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I've already stated that I am interested in buying in Mt. Lebanon, that I've taken the step of listing my existing home in order to do so ... what I'm asking you is whether you will be listing your house due to the coming tax hike? Yes or no.

And if you do list your home and it has 4 bedrooms and 2 full baths, I'd take a look. Why not?

I really do not and did not intend for this to be confrontational, I've simply been watching this blog for a while and am curious as to how people are truly reacting to the proposed tax hike. Are they voting with their feet or not?

Chris Frenie

February 26, 2010 4:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you saying the 113.3 million dollar high school renovation is a done deal? Making a decision to put my house on the market without knowing where I will stand financially and without getting all the costs down on paper would be like…like…the way Mt. Lebanon got in this mess in the first place. Not sure why you need to know if I am selling my house, but as soon as I make my decision after weighing all the facts, you will be the first to know.
As far as people voting with their feet, it has already been stated on Blog Lebo, one on Longuevue, for example. If you happened to go to the Act 34 Hearing last Monday, you would have heard comments about people voting with their feet. Why our own Jan Klein, a 25 year Mt. Lebanon resident, moved to Collier Township. Confrontational? I get the feeling you just want to know if I am voting with MY feet.
I hope this answers your question, because frankly, I’m done.
Elaine Gillen

February 26, 2010 4:52 PM  

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