Monday, April 25, 2011

The school board’s test begins today

Over on the Lebo Citizens blog, Bill Lewis asked me about the high-school construction bids and what they say about the credibility and integrity of the people leading our community from the school district. It’s an interesting question, and because my answer is complicated, I’m going to give it here.

When people say something that turns out to be false, it certainly ought to affect our understanding of their credibility. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t be thinking straight. It should also affect our understanding of their integrity, but in what way depends on whether we believe they believed what they were telling us.

So I’m going to tell you what I believe.

I believe that the folks on the school board are good people, trying to do a good job. Nothing I’ve seen makes me think otherwise. I also believe the same of superintendent Steinhauer.

And that’s why I believe that the project’s champions genuinely believed what they were telling us – that they could get the renovation’s price tag down to around $95 million. In my eyes, then, their integrity remains intact.

But their credibility is shot. Almost everything they said about the project’s cost has now proved false, and by such a wide margin it’s hard to believe they know where things actually stand.

In light of the bids, it seems hard to deny that our community must now pay more for the renovation – perhaps $25 million more – than we were told to expect. And, most likely, we must also accept less in return, as parts of the project get lopped off to avoid a referendum that would almost surely fail.

Therefore, because we now know the truth, the school board’s test of integrity begins today.

Faced with overwhelming evidence that their beliefs about the project were off target, what will the school board tell us? Will they tell us that everything is fine? That this renovation is “worth it,” even if it costs $25 million more than expected?

Here’s the problem with that argument: it ignores opportunity cost. If we spend $25 million more than expected on this renovation, that’s $25 million less than expected we have to invest in other things within the school district. In other words, to go forward with this renovation, we’re going to have to give up $25 million worth of real education.

Will the school board tell us that this sacrifice is “worth it”?

Or will they be willing to consider that it’s time to pause, clear our eyes, and take a fresh look at our options?

The test begins today.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thank you for posting this because I am also wondering what they will do. My hope is that they will agree that the plan needs to go back to the drawing board, rather than eliminating items to keep the cost under a referendum number thus continuing to deny our community its voice while at the same time eliminating those features previously identified as necessary for a “21st Century Learning” facility.

This truly is a juncture of paramount importance. How the school board proceeds will speak volumes given the opportunity cost of the additional $25 Million that you pointed out. Also, how will unavoidable change orders be paid for?

I also hope that the community will engage in this process and go to tonight’s meeting because how the board proceeds will have a tremendous impact on every Mt. Lebanon resident – whatever direction they decide to go.

-Charlotte Stephenson

April 25, 2011 10:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you still a key communicator, Tom?
How would that position affect your perception of what school directors and the superintendent believe?
David Huston

April 25, 2011 11:18 AM  
Blogger Tom Moertel said...

David (Huston),

I still attend the quarterly "Key Communicators" meetings that the school district holds, but I don't attend to parrot the school district's messages, nor do I think my attendance has changed my beliefs about any substantive issue such as the high-school project.

My attendance does, however, affect my ability to perceive things about the people of the school district, because it gives me the opportunity to observe them more closely, to ask them questions that I wouldn't expect to get a straight answer to in a public forum.

I will say that as a result of my attendance I think Steinhauer is smarter than most people give him credit for.

Take it as you will.


April 25, 2011 11:31 AM  
Anonymous John Kendrick said...

If it's only $25,000,000 that the Board needs then I think that Raja should just write a personal check.

I've read SSSSOOOO many articles in MtL over the years about all of these highly, highly, highly successful former residents who made billions and billions and billions of dollars - why aren't any of them sending Mt Lebanon personal checks to support this project and give back to the community?

April 25, 2011 12:12 PM  
Anonymous John Kendrick said...

Does anyone remember the alleged $8,000,000 contribution from the Athletic Community? Does anyone remember that email that said something about sitting on a pot?

If the athletic supporters were to provide $8,000,000 now then that would be $8,000,000 of the $25,000,000.

April 25, 2011 2:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also thank you, Tom, for responding to my question.

The District has a number of things to consider, publicly address and do now that bids have been opened and the results far exceed estimates and budget and reimbursement allowances under the *Taj Mahal* Act of 1973 (Act 34)...named by the PA legislature after the last Lebo HS fiasco that most don't recall....and implementing PlanCon process. The following are a few questions, answers to which the public is entitled :

1) is the low reported base bid from a bidder who has been officially determined to be the "lowest responsible bidder" by the District ? If so, by whom, what bases and when was this determination made ? Was this a sealed bid opening ?

2) it appears the bids will likely be rejected tonight. While rather obvious that rebidding will occur, will it occur rather immediately or only after rather significant redesign and scope reduction occurs ?

3) will the District be required to conduct a 2nd. Act 34 hearing by virtue of the actual bid results ? If so, when will that occur ?

4) under Act 34's provisions, an Act 34 project is subject to second hearing and referendum requirements until all construction is completed. A second Act 34 hearing is also required whenever the maximum building construction cost based on bids exceeds the maximum building construction cost based on estimates by 8% or more; however, is not this requirement based on only the "New" portion of total construction, excluding costs associated with the "Existing" portion ? If so, what was the low bid "New" cost ? Did it exceed the estimate by 8% or more ?

5) likewise, Act 34 specifies that an electoral referendum must be held on an Act 34 project if the maximum building construction cost based on bids exceeds the aggregate building expenditure standard, and must be held prior to a District entering into construction contracts and commencing work. Did the low bid cost for "New" construction exceed the aggreate building expenditure standard ? If so, by how much ? If not, by how much ?

6) how many delete alternates did the District include in the bid package, how many did the low bidder bid on and what was the cumulative $ value of the alternates bid by the low bidder ?

Lets see if alleged transparancy, credibility and integrity result in complete and honest answers to these and any other questions and concerns of the general taxpaying public.

Bill Lewis

April 25, 2011 3:00 PM  
Blogger E. T. Gillen said...

Bill Lewis,
We should all print out your questions and ask the School Board tonight for the answers. You have given them a heads up and if they have done their homework, should be prepared to have answers to your six questions tonight.
Has it been over a year already since I first said that they had a bad plan?
Elaine Gillen

April 25, 2011 3:52 PM  
Blogger E. T. Gillen said...

Hopefully the answers won't be:
At the time of question, Posti: "Is that your last question?"
After all questions asked, Peterson: "That is attorney-client priviledge, pre-decisional information to be kept in executive session."
After all questions asked, Posti: "Yes"
After all questions asked, Lebowitz: "We are in ongoing negotiations with the contractors."
After all questions asked, Remely: "We don't know at this time."
After all questions asked, Ostergaard, "Determining the lowest bidder may take some time as there are many delete alternates to consider."
After all questions asked, Cappucci: "We are still in the process of tabulating the numbers."
Elaine Gillen

April 25, 2011 3:56 PM  

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