Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thursday Status Report

The Police Department and City Council "inched toward an agreement" on domestic violence, according to the P-G's Rich Lord.

The bureau has been unable to respond to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette requests for data on the prevalence of family abuse accusations in the force.


Meanwhile, the Burgher writes an excellent post on the need for an actual written law, rather than an internal policy, even if the police and council do manage to come together philosophically.


Councilman-elect Patrick Dowd wrote a fare-thee-well and good-luck-with-all-that Op-Ed Perspective to the School Board in yesterday's P-G.

After the "anguish" and "catharsis" of voting to oust Superintendent Thompson:

The board clung to the compass of its common agenda and conducted a genuine national search.

Emphasis our own -- but unmistakable.

More importantly:

Led by Superintendent Roosevelt, this board has amassed an impressive legislative record. The board -- again a by-district elected board -- voted to eliminate the problem of excess capacity by closing more school buildings than any district in America had ever done at one time.


Given that we are still in the early phase of a much longer and larger project, the reforms both of the district and the board must continue.

Translation: Shut up and close Schenley.

As it happens, it is now looking as though Schenley will close, just not on most of those particular students and parents who are kicking up a fuss at the present moment (P-G, Joe Smydo).

Two Schenley supporters, parent Jennifer England of Greenfield and 2006 graduate S.J Antonucci of the Strip District, said Mr. Roosevelt's compromise wasn't enough.

Interesting dynamic.


The Tribune-Review editorial board cuts to the chase:

Twanda Carlisle offered no public apology for five-fingering taxpayer money in an expansive kickback scheme. She should go to jail. For a long time.

Bang. Zoom. To the moon, Alice.


  1. Actually I was sort of misquoted. The continual truncation by the press so it sounds like all i care about is not closing schenley is really getting frustrating.

    What I am really asking for, and what followed my statement was a request that Mr. Roosevelt and the Board share this phantom information they keep talking about that proves Schenley is a danger, our children are in peril and it will cost a bazillion dollars and our first born grandchildren to fix.

    Maybe that is true. But both entities have a history of wasting money on ill conceived reforms and consultants. Why are we to take them at their word that THIS TIME they really know how to fix everything. How are we to believe that THIS TIME the money wont be wasted when everything is reconfigured in 4 years because test scores are still low.

    Seriously, my 15 year old could have taken all their studies, all their reports and "information" and gotten up on their website in a few hours (depending on the number of pages). What is wrong with adding some transparency to the process BEFORE we commit spending 30 million dollars on consultants?

    One board member voted to table the motion to approve the allocation of funds (tens of millions I believe) to hire architects to start the whole project of High School reform (NOT JUST SCHENLEY FOLKS) for TWO WEEKS. TWO WEEKS. During that time they could have provided the information they have that convinces them this is a crisis. If its so compelling, we all could have gotten together and said "oh, jeez, yeah that's bad. Ok, go."

    Them refusing to even wait 2 weeks to provide parents and students and TAXPAYERS with information makes me ask are they hiding something? Maybe they aren't. Maybe they are just irritatingly paternalistic. Either way as a voter, taxpayer, and district parent I am extremely unhappy.

    Every member that voted against tabling the motion and then voted to allocate funds should be held accountable by parents and taxpayers.

  2. Jennifer -- is the argument you just described the one reported in this Trib article?

    I did not link to it because I did not really understand it, but now maybe I do. Or do I? The spending in that article only totals about $5 million.

    Just to be clear: is it your suspicion that Roosevelt et all may be trumping-up concerns like asbestos and the high cost of remediation, in order to make their aggressive agenda of consolidation more palatable to the community? At any rate, what were their stated excuses for the voting against the two week delay, and releasing the information you seek to make public?

  3. It's not about "kicking up a fuss". Schenley is an important and, to be honest, emotional issue for a lot of people, including myself. I'm surprised at Dowd. Tons of kids in his district attend Schenley to avoid the miserable failure that is Peabody. You'd think he'd put in a little more thought on the issue before he ran off to join city council.

  4. Bram,

    I cannot give you reliable numbers. I don't know if it was part of what they approved last night, but there was a list of schools slated for reform with numbers next to them in the $10mil + category. the only ones I wrote down were:

    Reizenstein $14mil
    Milliones $11 mil
    Frick $14 mil
    Peabody $3mil

    There were at least that many more on the list i didn't write down. Those may be the final cost for renovation, I'm not sure. But that begs another question.

    They are renovating those schools as part of the High School reform project (something that according to them isn't set in stone). Just how much is it going to cost to renovate all the schools to have a new program in them, not to mention the cost of actually moving and reorganizing the entire secondary school population? I'm guessing more than that $60 million price tag for Schenley.

    That isn't to say they shouldn't close Schenley and change every High School in the city. But that is a massive and radical step and a HUGE expenditure of taxpayer dollars.

    I don't think anything that radical should happen without public scrutiny. And the burden of proof should be on the school district, not the parents. In other words they should have to prove its worth it rather than parents and taxpayers having to prove its not.

    They are already going ahead and hiring architects to come up with plans for all those schools. So if the plan isnt set in stone, than that might be wasted money. If it is, then they are not being honest with us.

    Another interesting tidbit I got from the meeting last night:
    They spent $17k to hire a firm to put together back to school binders this year. Then they bought hard cover three ring binders, and printed about 100pages (in color) of district information to fill the binder. Then gave one to every student. Not every family. Every student. I got two and one came by mail. That whole thing had to cost at least (conservatively) $50k and probably more like 100k (30,000 students x $2.50).

    They also hired another communications firm for $50k to make their website more accessible. The amount they are spending on consultants for all of this stuff, and to "study" reform, and create plans, is coming out of the taxpayers pockets and out of the schools themselves.

    I want to see more justification of this spending and more of what these consultants are producing for the district.

  5. Bram

    any comments on the upcoming downfall of the housing authority

  6. It certainly would have been easy for me to vote to table this 9 resolution dealing with High School Reform. I could have pushed them to the next board and let them shoulder the burden for dealing with Schenley. That is, after all, what prior board members did to me. I do not think that would be right.

    In 2002, the district hired a consultant who took over 300 samples of plaster from Schenley and determined that the plaster contained 2-6% asbestos. About a year after taking office (December, 2003), I heard in executive session that there was asbestos in the plaster at Schenley. I remember getting very upset that no one had told me and that no one had done anything about it. That was in the tumult of the superintendent change. Shortly after that, when Roosevelt arrived he worked on right-sizing and Schenley was part of the plan. Then, as now, we were worried about the plaster. Parents and other rallied to pull Schenley from the right-sizing plan and most of us believed that we had alerted the public, assured safety and would address that problem down the road.

    This summer, when the board set the superintendents performance priorities, we charged him with opening a new Science and Technology High School. We felt high school reform would be easier if we started with a new school. We didn’t necessarily want to start with our comprehensive high schools not withstanding the district’s deep and obvious issues with high school performance.

    Fast forward to early July, 2007. Plaster falls in Schenley and summer school is transferred to Peabody. The district allocates approximately $700,000 to deal with delaminating plaster. The contractor patched about 10,000 spots. Then in September (check my facts here, it might have been late August. I’m doing this from memory) more plaster delaminates. I forgot the exact size, but I thought it was about two feet in diameter. Luckily, oh so luckily, students and employees were not in the building.

    Now, at the time of right-sizing, you’ll recall we hired two consultants to give us cost estimates for premeditating the asbestos and other issues at Schenley. One returned and $80+ million figure the other a $55+ million figure. Because they were so widely varied we hired a third who gave us a number and in 2006 it came in at about $64+ million. We asked this third consultant to come back in Aug/Sept of 2007 to help us stabilize the building for the year, give us an explanation as to what was happening to the facility, and what their recommendations might be. The consultant delivered an oral report in an executive session in late October. Having heard that report, I could not, in good conscience, do anything but give the administration the authority to begin to make plans for the safety of our students.

    There were nine resolutions related to High School Reform that passed last night. One involved the purchase of a building adjacent to CAPA. The district currently owns portions of the building and to not purchase it would have been irresponsible. Five resolutions authorized the administration to work with five different architectural firms. The dollars allocated were “not to exceed” amounts, which means should plans change dollars will not be allocated. Three resolutions authorized the administration to work with three construction management firms. Again, the dollars allocated were “not to exceed” amounts, which means should plans change dollars will not be allocated.

    I know the administration will be releasing information very soon. To be honest, this is a shift from our agenda – again, we wanted to open a Science and Technology High School. We were caught off guard by falling plaster and are doing our best to respond in a responsible way that is consistent with our long-term objectives.

    Let me also say that I see two issues. Here we seem to be focused on the facility. There are very obvious and serious academic performance issues that must also be addressed.

    Good night.

  7. "It certainly would have been easy for me to vote to table this 9 resolution dealing with High School Reform. I could have pushed them to the next board and let them shoulder the burden for dealingwith Schenley. That is, after all, what prior board members did to me. I do not think that would be right."

    What, no confidence in Arnet? :)

    No, really that's a wonderful sentiment. We need more persons fired up to take care of the problems in front of us, instead of making time in office and kicking the can down the road.

    "Let me also say that I see two issues. Here we seem to be focused on the facility. There are very obvious and serious academic performance issues that must also be addressed."

    Well, the press conference just happened. It seems like it, and the information released, deal with facility issues. That is another huge discussion, one in which we would probably grouse about the air conditioning.

    My worry is the academic performance issues. I had been given to understand that the Commonwealth was near to withholding funds because of failure to meet performance standards over a period of years. Does closing and opening some new schools have the effect of "resetting the clock" and keeping the state aid? That is discouraging if that played a role in the decision making, and it harkens back to "kicking the can down the road."

    Let me know at some point if I'm way off base. Thank you very much for your input and engagement.

  8. just testing the blog response capability...