Saturday, April 10, 2010

School Board Should Face The Evidence that Most Mt. Lebanon Residents Oppose the High School Plan

The school board directors who support the $113-million plan to update the high school have consistently claimed that their plan reflects what the community wants. Their plan, they claim, is the result of an open, inclusive planning process that has engaged the community extensively, providing ample opportunity for everyone to express a point of view.

The critics of the plan, however, say that the planning process was flawed. While everyone may have had an opportunity to express a point of view, it was the school board alone that decided which of those views were acted upon, and which were ignored. This discretion, the critics argue, allowed those school board directors who favored a more grandiose high school to advance their plan over the concerns of the majority of Mt. Lebanon residents.

So who is right? Does the majority of Mt. Lebanon support or oppose the $113-million plan?

In a democratic society, the only way to know for sure is to vote on it. But our community has not been given the opportunity to vote. So how can we measure support for the plan?

One way is to look at a slice of our community that is more easily measured, say only those people who sent email to the school board. If we counted each person’s emailed opinion as a vote of sorts, the counts for and against the plan might tell us something about where our community stands.

School board director James Fraasch has done just that. Reviewing the email sent to the school board about the plan since January 1, 2010, he counted email from 411 residents in total. Of them, 308 were against the $113-million plan; only 103 were for it. That’s 75 percent – three to one – against the plan.

The supporters of the plan will have a hard time explaining away this three-to-one rejection of their plan. Even recognizing that email counts are likely to be a biased representation of the community as a whole, it would take a whole lot of bias to turn the school board’s claimed majority support into the observed three-to-one rejection of their plan. So this evidence makes the notion that most residents of Mt. Lebanon support the plan harder to believe.

As further evidence of broad rejection of the plan, there is the petition movement. On April 5, 2010, petitioners submitted over 3,300 signatures to the school board. Every signature represents a Mt. Lebanon resident who supports renovating the high school but rejects the $113-million plan. Has any petition movement in Mt. Lebanon history garnered such broad support in such a short time?

Again, the plan’s supporters are going to have a hard time explaining away this evidence. If the only opposition to the plan was from a few loud dissenters, where did those 3,300 people come from?

More importantly, aren’t those 3,300 people Mt. Lebanon residents? Aren’t they deserving of representation by the school board, too? Yet what action has the board taken to acknowledge or compromise with these people? Do the school board directors who support the plan think that a growing movement of over three thousand people is just going to disappear because they pretend it doesn’t exist?

It isn’t. Sooner or later, those school board directors are going to have to start treating those people like constituents.

Let hope, for our community’s sake, that they start sooner rather than later.

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18 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post Tom, apparently the community isn't split 50% for vs. 50% against as Mr. Kubit believes.
Other than the, what were there,39 speakers at the Act 34 Hearing, what poll or input shows a 50/50 split among residents?
Regardless, as I've read the bloglebo postings about the Washington Road Tif deal falling through, and I drive by the vacant lot at Castle Shannon and Mt. Lebanon Blvd. a thought occurred to me.
We hear the argument that the difference between a $75MM high school and the $113MM plan means a difference of $20/month for a $100,000 homeowner.
What I've not heard is...
what is the impact to commercial property owners?
What will it mean to the Galleria,
Rolliers, Washington Road buildings?
Could the looming tax increases play a role in the halt of the two building projects mentioned above?
Even if it doesn't... a can of paint, a pizza, an outfit from Chico's, movie tickets, office space, or just about everything in Mt. Lebanon will cost us all a little bit more eventually.
And eventually, businesses will leave for less expensive areas.
Dean Spahr

April 11, 2010 9:24 AM  
Anonymous Bill Lewis said...

Unfortunately, the school board majority is suffering from the acute malady commonly known as *don't confuse us with the facts, our minds are made up*, treatable only by removal from office.

Facts to the contrary, however, this same majority also claim they are fully knowledgeable about all the design aspects of high school, about which they will vote on tomorrow night. The district website coverage of the project features a powerpoint chart that emphatically states that the high school has been designed by the Master Design Team (MDT). It was only revealed at the last board meeting that the detailed minutes of the MDT meetings have never been distributed to the 7 nonmembers of the MDT.... minutes in which all inportant design issues, decisions and cost implications are disclosed. Furthermore, the super majority have not taken the time to review either the actual design development or the construction drawings of the high school. In essence they have been merely *checking the boxes and moving forward* without the facts expected of them by voters and vows of fiduciary responsibility. They have totally relied upon summaries by their retainers. And seemingly to their own preconceived allegiances to special interests.

The devil is in the details, folks. And this is a $113 million project, the largest in the history of Mt. Lebanon.

April 11, 2010 10:19 AM  
Anonymous Pam Scott said...

Bill, Have to respectfully disagree with your statement that "Don't confuse us with the facts, our minds are made up" is treatable only by removal from office. "Don't confuse us with the facts, our minds are made up" is treatable by public embarrassment and facts which expose the faulty thinking and decisionmaking.

April 11, 2010 10:56 PM  
Blogger Matt C. Wilson said...

Bill -

Who is the master design team? None of the documents available on the mtlsd.org website actually names them. Are they like the Illumninati maybe? :)

Pam -

I respectfully dis-disagree: doesn't seem like the shame game has worked yet, at least in this case.

April 12, 2010 12:40 AM  
Blogger Matt C. Wilson said...

Joe & Tom,

Please post the following as an open letter to Kristen Linfante, of Real Lebo.

Kristen,

I'm sorry to hear that you and Elaine closed comments on your blog. I wish I could think of a way to make it work. I learned a couple cool tips from some of the comments on your site, and it's a shame to lose that. If a "ghost moderator" to act as a dreck filter would help, I'd volunteer.

Because of that, this was the only way I could think of to respond to your recent post, "Parent to Parent". I'm a parent myself - I have a 2nd grader too, at Lincoln - guess they'll probably know each other someday. Like you, I have a lot of parental concerns. I want my kids to be safe. I want my kids to get a good education - that's why I bought a house here having been a graduate myself.

Reading your post, it's clear that you have a lot of concerns about the condition of the building, and whether it's safe for students to continue using. I wonder if you read the Almanac editorial by Dirk Taylor? To me, one of the most compelling points he makes is when he says "Mathematical analysis of the CM's December cost estimate clearly shows a comprehensive renovation (including total upgrading of every architectural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and telecommunication system to 21st Century Learning Standards) can reduce the cost by nearly $30 million."

To me that's fantastic, because it goes straight to the point of upgrading the core infrastructure of the building, but it also saves the district a tremendous amount of money on the project. 25%! And that would bring our costs in line with the other districts with similar projects going on.

I hope that the district can find a plan that accomplishes the goals of updating the school, and making it safe, while still keeping as much reserve cash as they can. Because the most important goal is furthering the educational mission of the schools. And we give ourselves short shrift by overpaying on a building when what we want is good education.

I hope you no longer think of those of us who oppose the $113 million plan as saboteurs, or as people without kids in the schools, or as people who don't care about the building's safety and structural integrity. I'm not, and from reading his letters, Dirk's not either. We really do care about getting this project right, and doing the right, needed improvements to the building.

I hope we can all agree that updating the school, keeping it in a modest budget, and not impacting the educational mission, are what matters.

Yours sincerely,
Matthew C. Wilson

April 12, 2010 1:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have children in MTL schools. Just through the small research I have done with MTL web/tv mtgs you can see the plan has major flaws. Too many unanswered questions. Too many questions not asked. Since when as a district do we hold athletics to the highest priority? Are we grooming students for the NFL? I wonder how I explain to my children that through all of this disaster of a plan that we have allowed our students to fall short of our community’s expectations. Anyone checked the actual education of our students lately? Everyone should be outraged. Admin should be apologizing to the community.
What are we going to tell the students in this district when they find that other community’s curriculum surpassed us? What about when all the surrounding dists implement a FD kindergarten? Didn’t we shy away from a $800,000 bill a while ago, because we thought it was too much money? What about telling our kids that we can’t invest in new technologies, programming, fine arts etc because of the high school and our athletic facilities? Why does the board, designers and those advocating for additional athletic facilities see sports as a priority over my child’s edu? I have seen the facilities and they are hideous in some areas. It looks like the manager of facilities should be replaced immediately or the board needs to be held accountable for neglect.
Honestly, this whacked project has only made the school board look foolish, slimy and shines light on a board full of corruption. We need to get rid of the old that have been making these decisions that are unethical and lack common sense. Fin Director, if you can’t get the numbers straight or slant them for personal reasons to get a new building. Asst Super, if you can’t get all students education to the top level that they should be. Super, if you can’t get alternatives for this project. Fac manager, if you can’t get this building to safe standards for our students. Arch, if you can’t come up with alternatives, within a fair budget then everyone should be FIRED! I say the next petition is getting rid of our top directors. Ed Kubit is giving no direction. Dan and Elaine are beyond incomp. My guess get rid of these three and the administration that has drove us into this mess-now that is called a game changer!
Casey Williams

April 12, 2010 12:58 PM  
Anonymous Bill Lewis said...

To Pam & Matt,

Pam, they are way beyond embarrassment and facts. Sorry !

Matt, the MDT members are as follows based on meeting minutes which 7 school board members had not been receiving :

1)Admin - Steinhauer, Allen, Klein

2)Staff - Marciniak

3)Faculty - Davis, Haberberger

4)Board - Remely, Cappucci

5)Community - Walton

6)Arch. - Celli, Stoughton, Kerry

7)C.M. - Taormina, Damon

8)PlanCon Consult. - Jaynes

April 12, 2010 2:28 PM  
Blogger James Cannon said...

Regardless of ones opinion of the petition, such a document lacks credibility when a large number of the “signers” are either anonymous or dead. But, even if every signature was valid, the petition represents a small but very vocal fringe part of the community, hardly the majority. Under our republican form of government we elect people to represent us and to make decisions on our behalf. This does not mean that decisions will be made as a result of a poll or a petition, nor should they be. As the courts have declared many, many times, a school board is a legislative body with the power and discretion to enact certain things and has the power to tax to pay for those things. To paraphrase the courts again, if a citizen does not like something the school board does, then they should vote them out of office when they have the chance. We had a recent election where three of the people running for school board, including two incumbents, made their position on the high school renovation project very clear. They were in favor of it and are willing to spend the money necessary to attain their goals. These people were elected by all of the voters of Mt. Lebanon who cared to vote. Now comes a group of people who are obviously unhappy with the results of the election. They are attempting to coerce the members of the board by presenting a petition, which the board can and should ignore. I hope the school board shows the courage to ignore these people who obviously are motivated by their own self interest, not the interest of the children of this community.

April 12, 2010 3:16 PM  
Blogger JE Cannon said...

Classy, Dad. Very classy.

Just curious here but since the total number of votes cast in the last election are very close to the number of signatures on the petition, can one surmise that those who voted for candidates are also "fringe" or usurping the democratic process?

And the law also provides a mechanism for deciding issues like this via a vote. So why not let it happen? Hmm? My guess is because, contrary to what school board members and some members of their families keep stating, community support is NOT behind this project. In fact, this whole effort had a tiny vocal "fringe" element of the community that initially backed it. But my my, how things have changed. I guess the best disinfectant really is sunlight.

So to all the "fringe" "anti-school" nutcases out there, like me (and all of the very much alive people who signed the petition), who feel the school board has an obligation to carry out their duties in accordance with what the community wants, I say keep pushing!

April 12, 2010 3:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Mr. James "Dad" Cannon, the names that show up on the on-line petition as "Anonymous," only show up as such on the website. When someone signs the petition, they must give their full name, address, and email address for verification. Full names and addresses are being sent to Harrisburg under the Act 34 submission process. But of course, you would have known this, had you signed the petition.
Elaine Gillen

April 12, 2010 4:05 PM  
Blogger Dave Franklin said...

Mr. Cannon, in support of your position could you perhaps convince your "contact" on the SB to share with the community - as Mr. Fraasch has - the number of emails that she has received both pro and con for the Project? If the malcontents are in the cranky minority, then surely she should have 100s of cards, letters and emails in support of this project.

Also, in your passionate support for this Board please don't forget the rest of the facts. The re-elected Mr. Remely and the newly elected Mr. Ostergaard both ran - very strongly I might add - on the platform that they would REDUCE the cost of the project by as much as 15-20%. According to my calculator, 15% of $113 million is $16.95 million. I'll even share with you some pieces of an article that appeared in the newspaper shortly after the pre-election Candidates' Night:

**Dale F. Ostergaard, 53, a challenger running as a Democrat and Republican, thinks the $115 million figure can drop. "I would have considered a schematic design that would have considered a renovation-only option six months ago," he said.

** Incumbent Daniel L. Remely, a Republican, expects the cost of the high school will drop as the economy drives bids down 20 percent below original estimates. "My target is $95 million or less," he said.

Mr. Cannon, this is what these candidates said to me and several hundred other people in an open forum before the election. So please, to argue - as you and others do - that their election was somehow a mandate on a $113 million project is . . . well, simply ridiculous. Especially when you make that argument to those who chose to vote for these candidates based on those promises alone! (To his credit, Mr. Ostergaard has since voted against the $113 million cap as part of the Act 34 process.) Further, Mr. Silhol, another incumbent who strongly opposed the $113 million price tag, lost his bid for the LAST spot on the Board by a mere 33 votes. The tally? A coincidental 3,537 to 3,504. Hardly a mandate Mr. Cannon.

Based upon their campaign promises, I would take the position that the election of Remely and Ostergaard (and the ever so close loss by Silhol) as a very loud and clear vote AGAINST the current $113 million project. Heck, toss in the last place finish by big project advocate Rob Gardner and Mr. Cannon I struggle to find any validity to your argument.

April 12, 2010 5:44 PM  
Blogger Matt C. Wilson said...

Bill,

Thanks.

Hey - we just saved the district hundreds of dollars in Right to Know costs! :>

April 12, 2010 6:28 PM  
Blogger Dave Franklin said...

And one more thing, if this project really did have the strong wind of community support in its sails, I would have assumed that the recent zoning variance request would have been a slam dunk, no?

April 12, 2010 6:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just to add a little more information about who is on the Master Design Committee, this was the announcement by the District:
March 1, 2008
A master design committee has been formed to provide regular oversight of the high school renovation process. The members of the committee are: school board members, Dan Remely and Elaine Cappucci; John Allison, Superintendent of Schools; Dr. Ron Davis, High School principal; Drew Haberberger, teacher; Rick Marciniak, District Project Manager, Carol Walton, former school board member; Thomas Celli, architect, Celli Flynn Brennan. The committee has reviewed the DeJong High School Facility Study which was required as part of the state’s Plan Con process. In early March, the architect will begin to meet with department supervisors to review the DeJong study and discuss their departmental needs.

Drew Haberberger is the President of the teacher's union; at the time of his appointment he was the v.p.
Carol Walton was voted off the board. Why was she then appointed to the MDC?

Joe Wertheim

April 12, 2010 7:04 PM  
Anonymous Pam Scott said...

The only disclosure I've ever found on the District's website as to the composition of the Master Design Team is what Mr. Wertheim just posted; it can be found at
http://www.mtlsd.org/highschoolrenovation/highschoolrenovationproject.asp

The membership of the Design Advisory Committee -- aka the Design Advisory Team -- has never been disclosed publicly, even as to the number of administrative, teaching, community, PTA, technical expertise, etc. members. But as a community member of that committee, I can fully affirm Dirk Taylor's assertion in his Almanac letter published March 17 that the committee was never polled for our opinions on the five design options that were being considered two years ago. Board members not on the committee were not permitted to observe the meetings, and some of the meetings were downright surreal with how they were conducted favoring the one-sided, biased agenda of those running the meetings.

April 12, 2010 8:05 PM  
Blogger Matt C. Wilson said...

Pam,

Thanks to you too. Turns out I wasn't Googling the right phrase. You know. Gotta know the secret password. :)

It is a little weird though that this is the top (only) hit for "master design committee" when all that other stuff refers to the "master design team." Oh well.

April 13, 2010 2:17 AM  
Anonymous David Brown said...

I find it hard to believe that a zoning decision has much to do with popular opinion.

April 13, 2010 9:01 PM  
Blogger Dave Franklin said...

Ask the folks who opposed the LA Fitness project....

April 13, 2010 10:53 PM  

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