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FAQ: The Recommendation to Close Peebles Elementary School


The NA Board of School Directors is holding a Legislative Hearing on the question of closing Peebles Elementary School on Wednesday, January 30, 2013 at 7pm in the Carson Middle School Auditorium.

Eight presentations, several other communications, and a community blog are all available on this website to help those who are interested in understanding the issues related to this question. The District has made every effort to be transparent and complete in sharing the details of this study and all research with the public.

There are also rumors, misinterpretations, and high levels of emotion surrounding this issue circulating in the community. This is an important and difficult decision for the School Board to consider. It requires the perspective and input of the whole District. It is not a one school/one neighborhood issue.

The following collection of Frequently Asked Questions is one more resource to help provide answers to questions and concerns that may still exist in the community. To submit a question to be included in this collection, send it to webmasters@northallegheny.org.
 

 
FAQ

Q: WHY? What is the motivation behind this recommendation? The District won’t save enough money by closing Peebles to balance the budget. This is a high-performing school that was renovated not too long ago. This school has a lot of life in it and a lot of support from the surrounding community.

A: Closing Peebles Elementary School would be a decision to become more operationally efficient. The recommendation is based upon the fact that NASD has excess capacity in 2012-2013 at the elementary level and has had excess capacity for more than several years. 

The term “excess capacity” refers to the fact that the District has room for more students than are currently enrolled. In 2012-2013, NASD could close a small elementary school and still have 9 “spare” classrooms to work with for flexibility in the remaining six schools. Class size would not be affected.

Several demographic studies and trend analyses predict that future elementary student enrollment will be stable, at best, and most likely slightly declining over the next 10 years. If we have excess capacity now, we will most likely have more excess capacity in the future. More specifically, the decline in student enrollment is predicted to occur in the southern area of the District. Student enrollment is predicted to increase in other areas.

We have seven elementary schools, but only five small schools. Of the five, only Peebles and Hosack are located in the area of the District that has been identified as having the least / declining student enrollment growth potential. The decision to close Peebles over Hosack was based upon the fact that Peebles has no “spare classrooms” when the facility is analyzed under the guidelines of the redistricting model which allows for 4 sections of grades K-2 and three sections of grades 3-5.

Based upon the analysis of operational savings, closing Peebles Elementary School will save NASD at least $1.25M each year for the next seven years. So, will closing Peebles balance the budget? No, it will not. However, will closing Peebles make significant monies available now and over time to preserve educational programs? Yes, it absolutely will.
 

 
Q: RENTING PEEBLES - Is it true that the District has a deal in place to rent/lease Peebles? Was that the reason why the recommendation to close a school was changed from Bradford Woods to Peebles?

A: At this point in time, the District does not have a tenant for the Peebles building. We certainly hope there will be potential tenants. The location, condition, and configuration of the building would all lend themselves to future rental options, if the School Board decides in favor of closing Peebles. There has been some advance work done by District personnel in terms of the investigation of market value and a review of comparator spaces. 

However, recommending the closure of Peebles instead of the closure of Bradford Woods was not based on future rental/lease potential. As has been explained a number of times in our presentations, Bradford Woods was the first recommendation in the first report primarily because of the very high estimates related to the renovations needed at that building. Peebles was also recommended as an option in the first report. In the second report, the renovation estimates for Bradford Woods were reviewed and revised. They became a less important factor in this consideration. 

There was also a significantly expanded demographic component in the second report that established the northern area of the District – where Bradford Woods is located – as a school enrollment growth area. On the other hand, the southern area of McCandless – where Peebles is located – is not expected to produce increased school enrollment population, but rather continue to decline slightly but steadily in that demographic. This was the driving factor in the decision to recommend Peebles for closure instead of Bradford Woods. To illustrate this decline, consider that in 2006-2007, when the District last re-districted, Hosack had 407 students and Peebles had 388. In 2012-2013, Hosack has 335, Peebles has 374. When it came time to choose between Hosack and Peebles for closure, the main consideration was that Peebles is the smaller building and has no extra full-size classrooms.


 
Q: “SPARES” - What is a “spare” classroom? Where are they and why is all this talk about them so important?

A: Without getting into lengthy discussion about the number or exact location of ‘extra classrooms,’ it is a clear fact that “spare” classrooms exist. They aren’t labeled ”spares” when you visit a school and some of them may be currently empty, but some of them may not be. Enrollment in schools varies from year to year. Facilities are designed to be flexible to provide good options suited to the needs of each school year. 

The determination of what rooms will be “spares” from year to year is based upon the enrollment by grade level in each building. It is the responsibility of each principal to utilize his/her building efficiently, once enrollment totals are available for the year.

In many cases, classrooms identified as “spare” this year have something going on in them. Programs, such as reading support, that are designed for smaller spaces, have gradually moved into these full-size rooms just because they weren’t being used for other purposes. That is the flexible nature of a school building. Rooms don’t sit empty.

Using the PDE standards for the dimensions of a full-size classroom, the District has audited and verified that there are 30+ ‘spare’ rooms in elementary schools this year. Student enrollment is expected to remain stable at best, but probably decline over the next ten years.

When making the decision about which school to recommend for closure, the District used 2012-2013 enrollment figures to feed into a sample design scenario for school closure. That scenario allows for four sections of grades K-2 and three sections of grades 3-5 in every small elementary building.

As a result of the analysis, Peebles is the only school that would not have a spare classroom when rolled into the model closure scenarios. This is a significant fact. All of the other elementary schools have one or more spare classrooms in this model, leaving the District with more flexibility for operational efficiencies. Therefore, Peebles became a more likely candidate for closure.



Q: OTHER CHOICES TO SAVE MONEY? If closing Peebles is supposed to help the District become more operationally efficient – it seems like there are other things that could be considered before the closing of a school. What has the District already done?

A: The District has had a budget deficit over the past several years of $8M+. To balance those budgets, these cost saving and/or revenue producing actions have been taken. This is NOT an exhaustive list. 
  • Reduction of approximately 90+ staff over the past two years.
  • Offered an Early Retirement Incentive Program (ERIP) to professional/ administrative staff. 
  • Implemented wage concessions and/or freezes across employee groups.
  • Reduction and/or elimination of school-based programs.
  • Reduction or delay in capital improvement projects and bus purchases.
  • Increases in class size across all levels and adjustments to elective courses.
  • Implementation of a student participation fee.
  • Increase in parking pass fees for NASH students.
  • Renegotiation of copy services contract and implementation of new guidelines for use of printers, copiers and paper usage.
  • Development of advertising policy and increased revenue from various forms of advertising.
  • Transition to use of electronic communications for information sharing and document storage.
  • Renewed energy and effort by the North Allegheny Foundation to increase fundraising.


 
Q: LAW SUIT - Concerns have been raised about a law suit from 1999 that involved the North Allegheny School District and Jon Thomas of Thomas & Williamson, who did the Phase 2 Report of the Demographic and Feasibility Study. Words like “suspect” and “bad faith” have been used. What is the story?

A: This is the background on the 1999 law suit: Originally, the District contracted with a company to provide Construction Management services for the North Allegheny School District elementary school renovations in the 1997-1998 timeframe. Jon Thomas was an employee of that company at the time and worked with the District during the design phase for this work. During the course of the project, Mr. Thomas left the Construction Management company that was working with the District and started his own firm. Several months after the construction projects were underway, it became evident that the elementary school renovations were falling behind schedule and other issues were arising. As a result of these problems the District dissolved their agreement with the original Construction Management company.

The District felt it was important to complete the renovation projects on time so students could utilize the elementary buildings when school opened in the fall. Due to their confidence in Mr. Thomas’ skills and his prior knowledge of the projects, the Board asked Mr. Thomas to take over the Construction Management responsibilities. After the renovation projects were completed, the District and Mr. Thomas were the co-defendants in a law suit brought by James Construction Company. James Construction was just one of more than 50 contractors involved in the renovation project. No other contractor took issue with Mr. Thomas or the District regarding this project. At the time when the law suit was filed, the original Construction Company was in bankruptcy protection.

James Construction alleged that the District and the Construction Manager accelerated the pace of the project in order to ensure that Hosack Elementary School – one of the five schools included in the renovation project – would open on time to begin the school year. The judge concluded that the North Allegheny School District and Mr. Thomas, as the District’s agent, had pushed for acceleration. Judge O’Reilly found in favor of James Construction and awarded them compensation for their claims. 

While the District does not agree with the outcome of the law suit, Mr. Thomas’ services were valued on these projects and all five schools were ultimately completed on time and on budget. The District had then and continues to have a great deal of respect for Mr. Thomas. He has worked with many area school districts and has an excellent reputation as an expert in the field of school renovation and construction projects.

Relative to the cost of the work Mr. Thomas did for North Allegheny on the Phase 2 Report of the Demographic & Feasibility Study, Mr. Thomas donated his services free of charge to complete this work. The District paid only for the cost of the services of the demographer.