Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Schenley asbestos findings challenged by residents - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

I went to this meeting last night. It started at 6 pm and ended past 10 pm. I've got a lot to say.

We witnessed the worse of the worse. I would have rather have been in a dentist chair than see the behavior of the school board and the top school administrators. It was painful. They got to think out loud and some of them should never do that in public.

Last night Tom Sumptner, elected school board memeber, was the captain. He took charge of the microphone, standing, writing on the big post-it notes, and proved next to nothing except how folly should unfold.

The school board and superintendent spent hours in fruitless discussion so as to rearange the chairs on the deck of the Titanic.

The highlight of the meeting was a mini presentation from fellow parent, Nick Lardis. He went 100-miles an hour to knock the school districts spin silly only to have board president Bill Isler ask if Lardis was a certified engineer. They all shot the messenger -- missing the message.

I should be clear to qualify both Isler and Sumpter as "outgoing elected school board members" because their present terms are so soiled that they'll never win re-election again.

Schenley asbestos findings challenged by residents - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Schenley asbestos findings challenged by district residents
By Bill Zlatos, TRIBUNE-REVIEW, Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Supporters of Schenley High School disagreed Monday night with officials of Pittsburgh Public Schools over the danger of asbestos in the building.

"Now, from everything I've seen in the reports and from what I know about plaster and asbestos, the building is as safe as any other Pittsburgh public school for students to be in," said Nick Lardas, 53, of Oakland.

Lardas, who runs a contracting company that specializes in historical renovation, made the comment during the school board's workshop on high school reform.

His qualifications were immediately challenged by district officials.

"Were I to hire you to tell us about asbestos at Schenley, I should be fired," said chief operations officer Paul Gill.

Gill said the district has received four reports from architectural firms stressing the risk of asbestos-containing plaster at the landmark high school in Oakland.

He said the majority of plaster samples in Schenley show levels of about 3 percent asbestos, with some as high as 7 percent. The safety threshold is 1 percent asbestos.

The school board is scheduled to vote Wednesday night on a recommendation by Superintendent Mark Roosevelt to close the school because of that risk and the estimated $76.2 million cost to overhaul the school.

"Mr. Lardas is a reputable contractor," Roosevelt said. "He is not an expert in the (asbestos) field."

Citing advice from the architects and Solicitor Ira Weiss, Roosevelt added, "It is inconceivable to me that we would be discussing to have students in the building."

Before yesterday's meeting, the Task Force for Excellence in Education at CAPA -- a parents' group -- held a news conference to discuss its opposition to the proposed merger of Rogers Middle School for the Creative and Performing Arts in Garfield with the Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, Downtown.

"It's just not a matter of packing it up and bringing it over," said Linda Doernberg, 58, of Point Breeze. She has four daughters who went to the Pittsburgh High School CAPA, three of whom went to Rogers.

Parents raised concerns about possibly cramming students into rooms, greater wear on facilities and equipment, safety and the teacher-student ratio.

Doernberg complained that a feasibility committee met just once on the merger. The school board is scheduled to vote next month.

Bill Zlatos can be reached at bzlatos@tribweb.com or 412-320-7828.
The superintendent, the attorney, Ira Weiss, Mr. Gill of the facilities side are reading from The Old Testament. Over and over and over again we've heard about the things in the past. Roosevelt calls names and dwells on things that happened last summer, last fall, last reports, last decade, last superintendent. He is Mr. Rear-View Mirror.

The board of the school district listed dozens of serious issues about how the district is failing to meet its established goals, and Mr. Roosevelt is only about to whine about how this is the cost of doing business in this city.

The engagement sucks. Mr. Lartis got the microphone and another outgoing elected school board member, Theresa Colazzi, stormed out of the room, fearing that her mind might be opened, beyond her control.

Mr. Roosevelt wants his "high school reform" to "meet the kids where they are." Somehow, he thinks boutique schools are going to accomplish that mission for the district. Pittsburgh is just bursting at the seams with 5th graders who are itching to get into a Science and Technology focused career path. Or, I.B. Or, with 2 hours of violin a day for the next seven years when you can't change majors, or University Prep.

If there is anyone in the world with fewer credentials of meeting kids in Pittsburgh "where they are," beyond Mr. Roosevelt, they must live in Antarctica.

Just for the record for those who were there. I want our kids to graduate. Yes, it is important to graduate, school board -- as that was debated a bit. And the PPS experience should aim to make lifelong learners from its students. The classroom lessons should put a value on critical thinking. The kids need to know how to better oneself, and that should be done in association with our schools -- with engagement.

Presently, the school board and the district is nothing but a waste of time and money, as proven last night in spade.

Kids drop out. Families leave. They say the district in in declining enrollment. But they don't see themselves as the cause of that poor performance nor the outward migration of the city's residents.

It is ironic how they worry about the 'big picture' and about being 'open minded' but then storm out of meetings when a different perspective comes. They can't even add numbers nor keep time.

It took 2-hours into the meeting to the point where it should have started. No wonder the principal at Oliver can't execute a school year for seniors. They don't value time nor know how to manage it.

Reform for them sounds like "de-form" for the city.

To reform, one needs to see what is before us at present. Then chart a course for the future based upon where we are now. Mr. Roosevelt said staging the reform agenda is the hardest part of the process for him. Of course it is because he is lost on the course as to where we are today. He can't meet the kids where they are. He can't meet the citizens where they are. He can't stage a series of changes that make sense as he is clueless on what has been unfolding in this district the past years. And, he's been her for three years as well. He has no excuse.

These "Schenley supporters" who don't listen are really just city taxpayers, parents, and experts that can't be purchased. My opinion, as a parent and connected person of the community, can't be bought. I'm not for sale. My report is not able to be hired.

Only a fool like Roosevelt would stand behind experts and think that the opposition won't understand that experts can craft the reports that the one's paying the bills want them to generate.

The out of town experts are meaningless when contrasted with the un-paid, in-town, insulted yet still in your face, parents and students who pay for these schools and still show up in them day after day.

When we go away, there will be nobody to attend his boutique schools. And, many are tugging at us to just go away and allow for the collapse of the city and the school district.

When does the lesson on 'fight or flight' get taught in the science and tech lesson plans?

The fight rages on. We will win because they proved, last night, again, that they are clueless and without logic.

The building at Schenley has troubles. We understand that. Fix it. Fix it when the kids are not there.

Now we are hearing that the building was a danger and yadda, yadda, yadda -- go talk to the solictor and read from the Old Testament again. That's a rear-view mirror approach. Fix it.

Moving to the four other schools costs more. It is more expensive to not just fix it.

The asbestos that is in Schenley is just like that of the other buildings in the district. It needs to be managed. Manage it. Do the job that needs to be done. And, be honest about it.

We don't want our kids to be in a dangerous building. And, we don't want to be paying for a palace either. But most of all, we don't want to put our kids in failed buildings that cost plenty for the short term and have no upside with those investements.

We don't want to toss good money, rare money, down the drain in Reizenstein. Sell Reizenstein. That wasn't mentioned once last night. There is no plan for the long-term home for the I.B. students and the middle school ISA (Internation Studies Students).

A committee without names, without budgets and without a track record of getting anything done in the spirit of engagement in PPS, does not make for a plan.

Finally, around 10 pm last night, Randall Taylor, elected school board member, talked about some of his plans. His plans save millions of dollars. Perhaps up to $15 million in a two year period and millions each year for the future as well.

Furthermore, the Taylor plan saves good schools and helps to boost lagging schools.

Furthermore, not another board member said a peep about what he delivered.

Furthermore, there was not even a peep from the Administration about Tayor's plan. The only grunts from our paid administration was clarification that the solutions would fit and would save millions.

But, that came at the very end.

Randall Taylor's plan is to move Robotics from Schenley into Peabody. That is already happening with the Roosevelt High School Reform efforts. Plus, Taylor wants to move all the rest of Schenley's students, I.B., Spartans, ESL, etc., as well as all the faculty, staff and support people too -- into Peabody High School. Everyone in the school would go together into Peabody and join with those at Peabody now.

Peabody is a big, rehabed, building that is way under capacity. And, Peabody has the space.

Moving into Peabody means Reizenstein, presently closed, could be sold. No short term money is needed there for a temporary solution.

Moving into Peabody means that Frick does not need to change. That saves $14-million.

Moving into Peabody means that Milliones does not need to be set up as is under the present plan.

Furthermore, Taylor wants to see the extra two floors that have been purchased at CAPA be devoted to high school students. Expand the high school component there. Don't move the middle school to CAPA.

The Peabody + Schenley School gets I.B. as well as a mix of other disciplines, as a blended high school experience in an accessible space.

Plus, the science and technology programs gets into Westinghouse High School.


MK said...

While moving Schenley intact to Peabody is a better idea than carving it up, I have one question:

Have you SEEN Peabody?

It's an school planning disaster, a classic example of what's known as "defensive architecture". There are no windows, no local resources.

My brother attended Peabody in the early '90s and I went to many games and other events there. It's a depressing, claustrophobic nightmare of a building on the same level as Reizenstein, the only improvement being that it's already set up to be a high school, not a middle school.

Mark Rauterkus said...

Yes. I've been there. Yes, it is what it is. Yes, it is sorta similar to Reizenstein. But, it is about $5-M less expensive.