Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Our Penultimate Schenley Post?

Patrick Dowd and ourselves were exchanging thoughts on the closure of Schenley High School yesterday evening on the Burgh Report.

He brought a load of newly released data to our attention, in furtherance of what had been made public at the press conference.

For a moment, it felt like we really had him on the ropes.

We just got to suspecting that somewhere inside this 67 page document, Evaluation of Asbestos Containing Material Remediation and Encapsulation, the Roosevelt Conspiracy had hidden the secret evil truth of how to save Schenley at a reasonable cost.

Then the Admiral came out of nowhere.

Bram, all I can say is that, way back in my Navy days, I was the asbestos safety officer on board my cruiser. The one thing I learned is that, at the precise nanosecond that one does anything that might even potentially cause asbestos to be "disturbed" (let alone airborne), the costs become more or less impossible to either predict or contain. And if that's true in a 5-by-5 foot pump room with only one way in or out and built-in watertight doors, then a whole school would be a nightmare.

At the end of the day, we know that we need to close at least one high school, and probably even more than that. It only makes sense to close the one who's physical plant would be the costliest to repair.

What ... how did ... asbestos safety officer on your cruiser? How are we supposed to deal with that?

We are meeting with S.J. from the Save Schenley movement in about an hour. Unless she and/or someone else brings something heavy to the discussion, the Comet may have to bow out.


  1. It's not like I wanted to do it, but somebody had to and I ended up getting stuck with the job. USS Richmond K. Turner and it's contemporaries were built in the early 1960s, when they seemingly thought that asbestos everything was a damn fine idea for a warship (asbestos plates? asbestos ketchup bottles? asbestos sheets? All were probably considered at some point during the ships' construction).

    It would have been impossible to track down and replace all of the asbestos onboard that ship, which isn't that big of a deal during normal opertion. It's not like we were ripping lagging off of pipes on a regular basis. When we entered the shipyard for an extended repair period, however, everything changed. For the first few weeks, they teamed me up with some shore-duty weenie from environmental safety, and we scurried everywhere looking for lead paint and exposed asbestos. We found far more of the former than we did the latter, but I certainly dealt with more than my fair share of asbestos scares.

    Those were expensive and time consuming enough. But those instances in which we actually FOUND asbestos were huge!

    Maybe they've gotten better at dealing with asbestos today than they were 15 years ago. Maybe they can do it cheaper now. But I shudder to think how much money we spent to deal with it back then, even in well-defined and well-contained locations.

  2. Listen, even if the the numbers on Schenley are kosher, that still leaves the issue entangled with the whole High School Reform package. The expenditures the board voted on last week were for more than just Schenley. They were to begin the entire process of HS reform. For example one of the schools on the refurb list is Frick, which is to be remodeled to be a Science and Technology 6-12. The kids from Frick (at least the IB track kids) will join the IB kids from Schenley in a 6-12 at Reizenstien--also being remodeled. Milliones will be remodeled to take the neighborhood kids from the Hill. CAPA will be remodled to take the Rogers kids creating another 6-12 and there will be at least one other major refurb to create one other 6-12.

    Meanwhile all the other HS will be re-purposed to be specialty schools. Its like making them all magnet schools.

    The cost for all of this? I don't know, no one has put that forth yet but I'd imagine its going to be a lot, LOT more than the $64 mil to do Schenley the expensive way. Don't forget along with all the building remodeling costs, you have the cost of moving around equipment and books, supplies and some furniture and the organizational costs of figuring the entire thing out.

    So if we want to talk money, JUST money, then we have to talk about how expensive the project of High School Reform is going to be.

    Furthermore the district has offered none of the evidence they say exists that 6-12 does anything other than create "pedophile academies." Every parent I talk to has exactly the same reaction to that idea!

    I really believe the issue of Schenley is something of a red herring to distract us from the man behind the curtain who is massively (MASSIVELY) reconfiguring the districts schools without any evidence that it will do anything other than zero out the no child left behind act. Everyone is ignoring the radical changes that are already moving forward because they are so distracted by the Schenley issue. Yet most of the people concerned about Schenley have been talking about the bigger issues, we DO understand that we are the harbinger of things to come.

    And understand that if the data is valid and presented in good faith and shows a danger at Schenley that truly is cost prohibitive to fix, then the District should have presented that information when they got it.

    The antagonistic climate that exists lay on the shoulders of Mark Roosevelt, Patrick Dowd, and the rest of the school board who wanted citizens to just take their word that they knew best. I don't understand their reluctance. It comes across as complete disregard for the people who voted for them or in Roosevelt's case, pay his salary. The parents and taxpayers involved are not stupid, they just expect the burden of proof should rest with the public servants.

    And this really only begins to scratch the surface of the issues here. Its very complicated and the public should be clear on what is happening before the district wastes anymore money on reform that just boosts the districts numbers without providing substantive improvement for the students.

  3. Well, the board voted on a plan and went with it.

    How much public discussion was there before the decision? For a major re-kindling massive expltraploitation such as this, a couple months or so would have sufficed.

    So long as that happened then fine. Run for School Board next time around.

  4. Two points:

    1) That was a bit of a rimshot. Sorry.

    2) "The Plan" they voted on was Phase II Rooseveltian High School Reform. Not just Schenley.

    As I understand it, they have not held the final vote on this yet. But the presumption of its passage in February is leading the Board to make certain expenditures and investments, of which Schenley is abruptly the first due to a sudden serious asbestos outbreak.

    Do I have that all right?

  5. Having just finished my last meeting at the board of education, I am, at least for the moment, no longer a public servant.

    As a parent of one PPS alumnus and five PPS students or students-to-be, let me say that there are several issues entangled here. For the moment, let's stick to the facilities issue. Were I a board member, I would be deeply disturbed when highly professional firms approach me and tell me in no uncertain terms that students should not be in a building past a certain date and that emergency evacuation plans need to be made in case something -- plaster delamination -- occurs yet again. We can say all we want about buildings and programs, but first and foremost safety please. As a board member, if I were one, I would question the experts and look for ways to poke holes in what they are say or to find the fallacies in their logic. If, however, they present solid information and convincing arguments, I would not call them liars or say there is a conspiracies. Rather, I would focus on addressing the issues at hand.

    On November 14th, back when I was a board member, the board authorized $2.2 million for the purchase of the remainder of a building on Ninth Street next to CAPA HS. This was just the right thing to do. We also voted for additional "not to exceed" dollars for architects and construction managers to turn the remainder of that structure into a school (the district already owns part of the building and uses it for CAPA students). The remaining approximately $1.7 million is all "not to exceed" and deals with planning for construction at Reizenstein, Frick, and Milliones. Now, the board did not authorize any specific plans, but you can be certain that the first use of that money will be for emergency evacuation of Schenley should something necessitate such a move. I feel my votes on those items were consistent with my charge from the 2003 election (see my website which is admittedly very stale www.patrickdowd.org but which will be transformed in a few months).

    Please note that the plan for High School Reform has been in the works for at least a year and a half. We have had a large community-wide task force that made recommendations and we have had smaller group conversations facilitated by A+ Schools. Going forward, the board will have to vote on the necessary program pieces.

    As for the facilities and their issues, the board has also made no decisions. Jennifer asked about money and facilities and renovations. That information can be accessed at the district website (http://www.pghboe.net/pps/cwp/view.asp?A=3&Q=280661&C=53644).

  6. To those who want to bash Superintendent Roosevelt, you are missing an extremely important point.

    Mark Roosevelt and the administration are doing exactly what the board has asked him to do. Please remember, the board is the policy setting body and the administration, which is under Mark Roosevelt's direction, implements the plans called for by the board.

    The urgency and the call for reforms come from the board, which is elected by the public. If people want to object to the reforms they should address the board. The board called on the superintendent to right-size the district. The Superintendent right-sized the district. The board called on the administration to reform high schools. The superintendent is doing it. The board called on the superintendent to be more fiscally responsible and to not raise taxes. The superintendent is following that directive. The board sets the direction and the administration implements their plan designed to meet the goals of the board. If you would like to see exactly where those "orders" are look in the superintendent's contract and the annual performance priorities. I know. I wrote them on behalf of my colleagues.

    People who criticize the administration miss the fact that the board has directed the administration to do the work it is now doing.

    The accountability chain starts with the electorate and moves to the board and then to the superintendent and then across the system. If you don't like the direction, change the board.

  7. Even the panel who has had input on developing the plan was caught by surprise by the 6-12 schools. And what I saw from back in July simply recommended things like "excellence for all" and other nebulous niceties. Who is going to argue with that? NO ONE is saying we don't want reform that improves the schools for our children.

    We are saying the DETAILS of the plan were introduced on October 31 of this year. The expenditures to start the process were approved at the meeting Patrick mentioned. To say that this is to authorize "UP TO" as if this means it isn't moving forward is a bit disingenuous. No one asked for the board to just say no and keep the status quo. What we asked for was 2 weeks, TWO WEEKS, to review the information the Board and Roosevelt supposedly had for months and even years that supported the Schenley plan and to hold off authorizing any expenditure on the radical reform package until the public had a chance to comment.

    That Frick renovation is for the 6-12 school plan. They may not spend the money. But they may. and if they do, it is spending money on a very radical plan of dubious nature that has no public support. And the Milliones reconstruction is also for the plan that takes the Hill kids out of the building with the IB/IS students--essentially a resegregation of the schools.