Saturday, June 07, 2008

Schenley High supporters want council hearing on school closing

I put my name to the petition at the city clerk's office this week.
Schenley High supporters want council hearing on school closing: Schenley High supporters want council hearing on school closing
Saturday, June 07, 2008 By Joe Smydo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Far from giving up their fight to save the Pittsburgh Schenley High School building, supporters are going around Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt and appealing to school board members, legislators and City Council.

They may have an ally in Councilman William Peduto, who said he's working on a plan to fund renovations to the Schenley building and redevelop the former Reizenstein Middle School property in Shadyside.

'What if we didn't borrow' to pay for the Schenley work? he said.

Schenley supporters gathered enough signatures to force council to hold a hearing into Mr. Roosevelt's proposal to close the building at the end of the school year. Council may vote Tuesday to have the hearing scheduled.
City government is so worried about abandoned buildings that it should hold the public hearing on that basis alone.

The worst and biggest abandoned building trouble spots are the empty schools. There is no plan of re-use of the schools. There is no plan of getting value or keeping value to these schools.

The empty schools are assets that are being squandered. Hell, let's not get too worked up about the empty schools because the ones that are filled with our students are getting squandered too. They are doing poorly at all aspects -- with the open schools and with the closed ones.

The most recent cost estimate, which Mr. Roosevelt released on May 19, 2008, was $76.2 million. That is not the costs to remediate asbestos. That costs includes the fix up the massive pipe organ at Schenley High School. Does Mr. Roosevelt then expect there to be a pipe organ at Reizenstein? Rather, Mr. Roosevelt is playing the taxpayers and the media like a fiddle. But his tune has gone flat now.

The cost to fix up Schenley by removal and repair of asbestos is, according to the reports that Mark Roosevelt has on his own desk, is $3.459 million. NOT $76.2 million.

Of course the district can't afford a $76.2 million fix up of Schenley. We don't want that. But we can fix some of the weak plaster there this summer and re-open that school for much, much less than what Mr. Roosevelt is trying to do.

Some other costs that Mr. Roosevelt is not talking about:

Create a grade 6 to 12 school (new school) = $11 million. Those are ex-Schenley students.

Create a grade 9 IB program at Frick, first year costs, $1-million to $2-million. Those are Schenley students.

Relocate the IB program (new school) and expand it to grades 6 to 12 in year two for a four year period at the inadequate Reizenstein building is $5-million. Those are Schenley students.

To renovate Reizenstein, now a closed school, to become a permanent home would cost, as reported in the papers recently, $35-million to $50-million. Gulp. Those are Schenley students.

Go figure. It gets worse.

The cost to relocate a one of the existing and best middle schools, Rodgers CAPA, from Lincoln-Lemington's neighborhood to downtown is $5-million. And, that makes another abandoned building in a poor, mostly black neighborhood.

Renovate Frick Middle School, an existing and very good middle school in Oakland, where my one son attends and where the other might like to go too, in two years, costs $14-million. Those are Schenley students mostly.

It gets worse still.

The soft costs for the fix-ups to the other schools are not being reported by Mr. Roosevelt and the media. And, these days, construction costs are increasing about 15% per year. Those numbers are not being told. But, those amounts are part of the Schenley fix up.

What's that about doing math and counting apples to apples, Mr. Roosevelt?

Furthermore, many asbestos and plaster repairs have been made at Schenley. Some of the classrooms have already been given new lights and a suspended ceiling. Those rooms are done!

The stair well ceiling that fell last summer was not original plaster. It was a patch. It was under the stairs where the flexing occurs due to the years of kids running and and down the stairs. The sky is not falling! The building needs a bit of touch up. There has never been an asbestos related air quality issue at Schenley, despite piles and piles of records and testing.

If Schenley was unsafe, how in the hell did they get away with having school in there this year?

Building inspections occur. The city has a department of Building Inspections and they don't like to ignore areas where our kids go.

The superintendent's spending can easily be added together to get to amounts that exceed $100-million. That's what Mr. Roosevelt wants to do. That's crazy. That must be stopped. First, we need to see the entire picture. We need a 'wholistic' view and approach.

Meanwhile, let's fix Schenley and spend $5-million to clean up the asbestos and plaster in that building forever. Done. School opens again after the summer fix up.

By keeping Schenley Pgh Public Schools can also sell Reizenstein. Sell it. That is valued land. That has parking. That is next to Bakers Square re-development. Reizenstein's re-used for many other mixed opportunities from business park to flex space to land for condos next to a park to extend Shadyside.

Ky keeping Schenley, Pgh Public Schools can sell the more valued property that is known as the Board of Education Building. Sell that, not Schenley High School. Move the administration and board to Langley High School, just past the West End.

There are other expenses that are not in the mix yet too, that were spent this year. They already paid big bucks for fix up of professional development spaces in what used to be Greenway Middle School (now Pgh Classical Academy Middle and the Pgh Gifted Center). A floor or two of that building has been remodeled. Those spaces are not for students, but for faculty and staff uses for in-service activities.

Gifted Education is also changing for the worse as well, thanks to Mark Roosevelt's plans. His pilot program is going to cost a few million that should not occur. Again, another successful program is being torn apart while the troubled areas of the school district are getting no attention and being ignored.

What about Vo Tech Education? They are not talking about that. We need Vo Tech in Pittsburgh. We've had plans from Dr. Martins sitting for years. He is now not with the district -- out of frustration.

The alternatives that make sense are quite simple, help educational goals and are prudent. Here is what can be done.

First, put the proposed "science and technology school" into Westinghouse High School. Westinghouse got a major fix up in recent times. Westinghouse is all about science and technology. People will go there if the program is special. There is a ton of capacity at Westinghouse now.

Don't mess with Frick Middle School. It is a good school now. Keep it.

Second, put the University Prep school into Schenley with the I.B. program. Change the existing neighborhood component of Schenley into University Prep with the partnership. Meanwhile, the I.B. aspects of Schenley can co-exist with the University Prep. That is a major advantage and why Schenley has been so successful in blending the kids together as a melting pot. All the aspects of last year's Schenley fit into Schenley -- just fix, or continue to fix, a few of the ceilings. Do it.

Rodgers CAPA was to move into the Milliones Middle School. That was the plan a couple of years ago. Rodgers can stay where it is. Do NOT move Rodgers downtown and jam the middle school students, the yellow buses and their performance spaces into downtown among the high school students. Keep Rodgers right where it is in Lincoln-Lemington. If necessary, in the course of the next three years, Rodgers could make a move to Milliones, as was the original plan.

The extra two floors at CAPA downtown that have become available due to an option in the building (above the old jazz club and next to the strip joint) can be obtained. But use the additional space to accept additional high school students to CAPA. CAPA is a great school for some kids. Accept more students into that school. Expand it. It is, by far, the best school in terms of academic performance. Grow what works.

In the future, I'd love to see another performing arts middle school in the city in the south, such as at the closed Knoxville.

Furthermore, don't go selling off the buildings that are empty at fire-sale prices. If the value isn't there -- don't do the deal. The closed building at South Vo Tech sold for $1-million. The deal had a 60-day window to close, as per the bid process. Well, it didn't close on time. Don't sell it. The buyer should be out his hand money and the district should keep that building.

South Vo Tech is worth $20-million. It sold for $1-million. They could put 20 condos in South Vo Tech for $.5 to 2-M each.

Furthermore, we need a good Vo Tech High School. South Vo Tech can be re-opened, modernized, and used as a Vo Tech. Duhh! The city was promised a new Vo Tech Program and direction when South Vo Tech was closed.

One of the new Vo Tech Programs at the new Vo Tech High School should be 'historic preservation.' Don't you think we have plenty of working laboratory spaces for learning about the building trades!

Back to today's P-G article:

Mr. Roosevelt says the district cannot afford to remediate asbestos and address other maintenance problems at the landmark Oakland school. The most recent cost estimate, which Mr. Roosevelt released May 19, was $76.2 million.

Today's P-G has the headline WVU president to quit Sept. 1. It would be nice if the P-G and Trib would spend one tenth the time on looking at Mark Roosevelt as it did in efforts to dig at WVU. Now that victory in Morgantown has been secured, I hope the educational investigative reporters show up in the halls of Pittsburgh Public Schools. Garrison got knocked off the fast track. Same too should Mark Roosevelt.

I've asked Rich Lord, P-G reporter, about Schenley. He says that he has a "life mission" to not write a word about that topic. Humm. Why is that? Some bloggers call Mr. Lord a 'battle cat." I've never heard such a weird statement about a hot topic from a journalist. Has the word been passed through the news room about Schenley's situation?

Oh, and the last time Mark Roosevelt had big news about Schenley and school reform about a month or so ago, the P-G reporter on the school beat, Joe Smydo, had a 'vacation.' The news from the sub reporter on that beat nearly made me barf. She, no rookie, took the Roosevelt news hook-line-and-sinker. It was like a flashback to the Pittsburgh Promise kickoff and the $5,000 check delivery by John Tarka with Luke Ravenstahl looming. Oh well.
Mark Roosevelt wants the school board to vote June 25, 2008 to close the building.
Mark Roosevelt could be gone by June 25, 2008. He'd flee to avoid the perjury charges for his bold face distortions, as the public starts asking these questions.
Mr. Roosevelt proposed that Schenley's remaining students be reassigned to the Reizenstein building beginning next school year. Future ninth-graders would have various options, such as attending new International Baccalaureate and university-partnership schools.
Students within Pgh Public Schools have choices now. Present ninth-graders can make some tough decisions as to where to go: CAPA (performing arts), I.B. (International / Schenley), Engineering at Alderdice, Robotics at Schenley, Classical HS at Perry Traditional, Teaching at Langley, Heathcare at Carrick, ROTC at Oliver, etc.

The choices are in the system today. They are not 'great' options. The system works for many and fails lots. But, all in all -- Roosevelt's plans often remove choices. There will be 90 kids at Milliones, a new school in the fall, only for 9th graders, that have no choice. They gotta go there. There are minority students who have the talent for CAPA, but who are on the waiting list because the quota has been reached and there is no more room there.

None choose to go to Westinghouse from around the city today. But that would change once the science and technology program is put there, if it is done right, and questions about that remain high.
Until the May 19 meeting, Schenley supporters had been lobbying Mr. Roosevelt to save the building. After his recommendation to close it, the supporters stepped up a campaign to influence other community leaders.
Perhaps the supporters were more convinced that Mark Roosevelt had a brain, a calculator and a fair grasp of logic -- until recent weeks. It makes no sense to close Schenley. None. We could see this. We would explain why -- as we did a few years ago -- and the tides would change. The good guys generally win.

Roosevelt's plan just came out in May, 2008. It isn't really a plan, but his final word was given. Now comes the time to organize before the vote. The school board has to make moves in the next weeks. Now we see that Roosevelt low-balled the numbers for Reizenstein, by about $40-million.
In e-mails, leaders of the "Save Schenley" movement have urged supporters to write to school board members, council members, legislators and even to the local foundations that support Mr. Roosevelt's work.
And in blog postings and personal meeting too.
Council has no direct authority over school affairs, and school board member Theresa Colaizzi urged council to respect the boundaries between the two bodies.
City council has some authority over school affairs. Perhaps not with CAPA's electronic sign, but that is another matter. Council cares about abandoned buildings, right? Council cares about traffic at rush hour downtown, right? How many yellow busses do you want to bring downtown each school day to drop off and pick up in the cultural district -- with middle school kids? Twenty?

Council cares about the population loss. Pgh Public Schools is shrinking by 1,500 students every year. The rate of outward migration since Mark Roosevelt's arrival has increased sharply. His Rightsized plan closed 22 schools and yanked families around, again. Many got fed up and left for suburban Pittsburgh where they don't close your school a few times in your k-12 academic years.

Council cares that the Pittsburgh Promise is only a 'cruel joke.' Those are the words of the Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Foundation as he indicated that only 20% of the Pittsburgh Public School students that go to college stay in college. Giving away college scholarships to those who can't succeed in college due to a lack of preparation is a cruel joke. People are not falling for it. Their boom is a bust! Their high school reform is a college scholarship.

Pittsburgh city council cares that taxes for city schools are about to triple. The capital costs for the district are out of hand and way over the top. The district can't open and close schools at the drop of a hat and expect the other branches of government to cut their costs by 75%. Not too long ago, city council had a capital budget that was $0. Now Mark Roosevelt wants to spend $100-million on projects that are not only not necessary but will cause great damages to the city's schools. The population base is racing to nothingness.

City council cares that the Pittsburgh Promise does not apply to kids who go to Catholic Schools nor Charter Schools nor Home Schools. Those kids and families live in the city and pay taxes.

City council cares about ethical presentation of facts to the public from other public officials. They care about being honest and transparent. They care that the level of skepticism among locals for the governmental process is at a all-time low. They care that public trust is being flushed down the toilet because of a few patched walls in a building that will last another 100 years.

City council cares about air quality and building inspections too.
"City Council should be honest with the people and tell them [council members] have no say so in this matter. It is out of their hands," she said.

Councilman Patrick Dowd, a former school board member, agreed that council "has no jurisdiction in the matter." He said council could make a statement with a nonbinding resolution about Schenley, but said it has much research to do on the issue before taking that step.

Patrick Dowd did plenty of harm on the school board and did as much as he could to sustain the rampage that has unfolded with Mark Roosevelt. Dowd was a 'yes vote' -- without doubt -- for Roosevelt. And, Dowd was always quick to pounce on others who raised doubts, questions and ask about governmental policies. The school board has been reporting to Mark Roosevelt. It should be the other way around. Dowd helped him get his power.

There was a community driven process of high school reform -- with hand picked leaders by Mark Roosevelt. That group held secret meetings without minutes for more than a year. That group made some strong statements about the direction of the schools. They did research. They visited schools, like John Thompson used to do when he was in town, and traveled to some others. The high school reform task force made its report and it didn't mention a peep about closing Schenley High School. They knew and we all know that Schenley is one of the best schools in Pittsburgh. The high school reform report went right out the window one day. Mr. Roosevelt tossed it. He said so himself. Everything changed because he wanted to revert to the old battles from the rightsizing plan.

Within a month of Mark Roosevelt's arrival -- the first rightsizing plan was sprung onto the city. Deals had to have been crafted way back then about the building or property of Schenley. The rightsize plan was about elementary schools, not high schools, except for Schenley, for some still undocumented reasons. Schenley was saved then. Schenley has been starved since.

In the end, in 2009, we'll elect new board members. Mark Roosevelt will be gone. This plan will be re-done anyway.

Patrick Dowd needs to distance himself from his days on the school board, as does Darlene Harris. Our schools are frail. They used the school board as stepping stones, like others before them. Its politics 101.
While acknowledging the city has no direct authority in school affairs, Mr. Peduto said council has a legitimate interest in the vibrancy of the city and can influence school district affairs through zoning and planning processes. He said people in his district want the Schenley building saved.

"The structural problems that it has shouldn't be the reason for it closing," Mr. Peduto said.

Mr. Peduto said he's been working on a plan that would link Schenley's rehabilitation with redevelopment of the 13-acre Reizenstein site.

Under his plan, sale of the Reizenstein property would yield a quick burst of money to help pay for Schenley renovations. Reizenstein's conversion into a mixed-use development would generate new school district property taxes and wage taxes, which would be applied to the Schenley project.

Mr. Peduto said the school district would enter into a partnership with a private developer who would help to control costs by leveraging tax credits for historic and environmentally friendly buildings. He said he plans to unveil more plan details next week.
There was a time when some foolish parents told Bill Peduto to cool it. The school district's struggles should not be a political football. They were wrong to give him the advice to back off. Peduto was wrong to follow their suggestions.

The schools should not be political footballs. But, Patrick Down made a ground game in that realm. And, most things boil down to politics. I wish that the city schools played football within the WPIAL. That would be some interesting political football.

And that leads us to another thought from another friend. Some have told me that they feel that the Pgh Public Schools are being sent through the ringer so as to better merge the city and county. Could be. That is another theory, not mine. It has been known to happen before. Remember how Downtown got crushed for years, without simple trash pick up nor URA funds, yet 'blighted status' by design by Tom Murphy. He did that so he could get Urban Design folks here and Nordstrom. Well the upscale department store didn't move downtown -- and the only thing the city got was lots of trash for many years and the departure of Candy-Rama. Back to schools ....
Schenley supporters are calling on the school board to delay a vote on the building's closing until Mr. Roosevelt presents a comprehensive plan for high school renewal. Though he's called for overhauling district high schools over five years, he hasn't provided plans for each school, leaving Schenley supporters to hope the building still might be needed.
Here is what needs to happen. Mr. Roosevelt needs to do his homework. He is in charge of the schools and has yet to turn in his homework. Most recently he said that he never promised to deliver a comprehensive plan.

Mr. Roosevelt -- the homework is late.

Mr. Roosevelt -- we do the grading.

So far, Mr. Roosevelt, you've been a total failure.

In the past, Mr. Roosevelt said that the solution was to open schools from grades K to 8. Now the solution is to open schools that go from grade 6 to 12.

That's just the tip of the story.

The extended school year -- with the opening of schools in August -- is a total failure too. The ALAs (Accelerated Learning Academies) are empty in August - as they should be. Yesterday, a classroom in one of my kid's school was at 100-degrees F. In the other side, in the shaded corner, it was 95 degrees. It was cooler out doors. The same weather is expected in August.

It is too hot for Mark Roosevelt and the 'yes people' on the school board to pull the wool over the eyes of the public, our kids and our neighbors any longer.

Patrick Dowd -- speak up.


Anonymous said...

John K. says: Keep Schenley HS no matter what it costs. I'll sacrifice my Libertarian principles now and repent later. After all the school is in my back yard.

Mark Rauterkus said...

No John K, you are twisted again, as expected.

Not no matter what it costs.

It costs less to keep it open.

The expensive options where taxpayers are going to pay more are with Mark Roosevelt.

Anonymous said...

Jen's email:

It appears that the supporters of closing Schenley are organized. They have been responding to the article in today's PG. We need to do the same. We need to request that no vote to close Schenley take place until a comprehensive reform plan is in place. The stakeholders need to see where monies will be spent on programs and buildings, before a decision about Schenley can be made.

It has been suggested that everyone email every council member no later than Monday and demand that they do 2 things.

First, support the publics' call for a public hearing.

Second, request that council vote not only to schedule the public hearing as soon as possible, preferably before the board hearing on the 16th, but also require that it be televised. Council has to approve all televised public hearings.

The easiest way to contact all of council is to go to and click on the button with the city-county building on it. It will send your email directly to all city council, mayor and controller.

Also, please consider testifying at the both the city council and board meeting. Since it is not known when the council hearing will be, it may be harder to have as many supporters available to speak.

Anonymous said...

John K. says: Are you loony. If it is closed over the long term, say two years LOL it costs less because it is not being used. It is in your backyard. That is the key issue for you. Any common sense Libertarian would demand it be closed to lower and lessen the Govt costs. SUSPEND PRINCIPLES NOW, REPENT LATER!

Mark Rauterkus said...

You are twisted.

The costs for fix up are LESS than the costs to maintain the school.

Can you do math?

Anonymous said...

When IB is involved, it is never about what is "best" for the taxpayers, educational design, community or the children. Roosevelt's "plan" appears to be all about spending millions and millions on IB. When are the people of Pittsburgh going to band together and stand up against this fringe educational program? Didn't you learn from the debacle in Upper St. Clair? What is the purpose of outsourcing your kids' educations to Geneva when your walls are crumbling?

Anonymous said...

It appears that the supporters of closing Schenley are organized.

I bet they are. I also bet they are all pro-IB. Do not underestimate the "power" of these people or the extremes they will go to to get their IB way. Don't be surprised if the ACLU starts sticking its nose into the situation to demonize those of you who support restoring Schenley and accurate reporting of projected expenditures to the public.

Just an observer from afar. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Roosevelt's "plan" appears to be all about spending millions and millions on IB.

Nope. His plan is to get people to go along with the plan by making it sound like he'll really support it. But he's not. Soon the school will be smaller (by design) -- then electives and sports will be cut.

Reizenstein isn't going to be fixed and in a few years those kids will be moved to another building -- and there won't be money to fix that up either, by then.

Roosevelt will have the board spend $3M here and $5M there on all different buildings and programs month after month -- and whenever anyone complains he'll point to the inflated/fake number of what he saved by closing Schenley. It's his cover.

Anonymous said...

Keep your eye on the bouncing IB ball. Frick is not currently authorized as an IB MYP school. Schenley is authorized for the DP program. It appears as though Mr. Roosevelt is playing fast and wild in an effort to spread IB throughout the Pittsburgh public schools. According to the IBO website, only 114 students at Schenley are in the program. My recommendation to the residents of Pittsburgh is to isolate IB in Schenley as a magnet MYP/DP program and adequately repair the remaining schools, providing them with more traditional curriculum such as AP and Honors. IB is not for everyone. Allowing it to spread unchecked in what sounds like a boondoggle of a plan with fishy financials will just further strain the taxpayers and eliminate choice. When it comes to IB, there's nothing BUT fishy financials.