Lebo School Board: Election Update

Dan Remely, one of the challengers vying for a seat on the Mt. Lebanon School Board, used the Comments to post a long and very thoughtful response to my Hitchhiker's Guide post, below. He also emailed the whole text to me. So that the response gets the same play as the original, here it is:

I read your article in Pittsblog, “The Hitchhikers Guide to Mt. Lebanon School District” with great interest . . . and dismay.

You open with a not-so-polite, public admonishment of Mt. Lebanon High School noting that in Newsweek it was ranked 628th on the list of “best High Schools in America” in 2003, and then boldly announced that in 2005 “it failed to make the list.” Did your pen run out of objectivity? You should have followed with an acknowledgement that this ranking is based solely upon “the total number of Advanced Placement (AP) and/or International Baccalaureate (IB) tests taken by all students at a school in 2004, divided by the number of graduating seniors” Mt. Lebanon doesn’t offer the IB test and this ranking doesn’t reflect the number of students in any of these schools that passed these tests?

Here are my thoughts on this ranking. I’ll take the students at Mt. Lebanon High School, the outstanding teachers and professional educators in the Mt. Lebanon School System, and the exceptional education that our children are afforded…and I’ll put them up against any school district in the country! Of our seven elementary schools, Lincoln is rated the best in Pennsylvania! Washington and Foster are in the top eight, and five are in the top 44 elementary schools in the State. Mellon and Jefferson are listed in the top 40 middle schools in Pennsylvania, and Mt. Lebanon High School is in a tie for the sixth best high school in this State. These ratings are based on actual scores of achievement in math and reading throughout the educational levels of our system…not just on how many took a test. Our schools and our teachers apparently educate our children exceptionally well, while some schools just sign up their students to sit for an exam. Some school districts ranked in Newsweek even pay the test fee to make sure that their rankings are supported.

[Pittsblog note: Criticism of the Newsweek methodology is well-founded.]

The budget:

Your endeavor to associate the recent effort to hold open meetings regarding the budget with some sort of an inter-galactic experience was amusing…but your demolition beams missed the point completely. While I’d like to see more of the process openly communicated, and I’m certain it will as our learning curve progresses, your efforts to ridicule this initial attempt to interact with the community are unwarranted. I, for one, applaud the Board for taking the first steps; for showing the public what an intense, soul-searching, demanding process this is; for involving the public in this effort; and most importantly, for listening to the community responses.

This open budget process showed us several things, none the least of which is that Jan Klein is more knowledgeable about this process and school budgeting than all of us put together. If you had backed off of your demolition beams and viewed the full picture, you would have noticed another development…that the Board, the Administration, the teachers, the parents, and the community can, did, and will continue to work together to insure fiscal responsibly while maintaining the absolute best educational experience for our children. Maybe it was just a small step, but this is the combined effort that will be needed in Mt. Lebanon’s future.

Do I agree with the budget? Not entirely. Do I think there are more savings to be found? Absolutely. Can the debt service be reduced? Possibly, although the more recent financings are probably at favorable rates. Older issues, if callable, may be able to be recast on more aggressive terms. We have several very experienced professionals in Mt. Lebanon who could assist and advise the Board in this regard.

My construction experience tells me that we are being taken to the cleaners. 360 of 367 change orders were never reviewed by the Board. All were under $10,000.00 so we accepted the review of these changes by our architects and construction management entities… entities that get a percentage of each dollar in every change order. Is this the fox guarding the hen house? Let’s assume that the average of those change orders was $7,500.00 each. That’s $2,700,000.00 of unplanned expense, and a percentage goes to these oversight entities. Some unplanned yet justifiable expenses are going to come to light in this manner of renovation, but better planning and job control, better analysis and understanding of the work to be done, and stricter bidding and “hold to the contract/budget” reviews, could have possibly saved a great deal of taxpayer money. Every $250,000.00 saved is 1/10th of a millage point.

Would Everett Dirkson be proud? I don’t know, but Ben Franklin would be impressed. A penny saved is still a penny saved, and they all add up to tax dollars saved. With ever increasing expenses and a relatively stable tax base, Mt. Lebanon will have to become more creative, and more demanding in our budgetary efforts.

The Contract Extension:

The public view is that the extension was negotiated by members of the Board, without professional or experienced assistance, that it was quietly bargained nine months before the current contract’s expiration, agreed to just one day prior to the Referendum Law becoming effective, and that all of this was done with little or no public involvement or counsel. Thus, the “over coffee” comments /opinions, right or wrong, are now that a teacher’s salary for nine months exceeds the average Mt. Lebanon individual income for a year; that when adjusted for twelve months some of these educators are at a higher income than the superintendent; that the salary increases, benefits and retirement packages are greater than those that their own employers afford them; and that the lesser salary increases received by the average household will nearly all be consumed by the tax increases that will be required to afford this agreement

Don’t get me wrong, I have three generations of teachers in my family and I would be the first to agree that quality teachers, such as we have in Mt. Lebanon, deserve to be fairly compensated. Teachers don’t run a school district, teachers make a school district run.

My concerns with the extension are the public’s perception of its value, the opportunities it creates to promote animosity, and its enabling of individuals to “point fingers” and belittle our teachers, regardless of the cause of the contention or its validity. Left to permeate throughout our community, as one neighbor speaks to another, these perceptions can be a distraction to the community goal of providing the very best education for our children.

So we have “labor peace,” but not “public peace.” Maybe, just maybe, if the Board had inspected those “under $10,000 change orders” and found even just 100 of them that really weren’t absolutely essential, we could have saved $750,000 or $1,000,000. These funds could have possibly eliminated the millage increase, and provided for the cost of an independent, experienced negotiator that may have saved additional tax payer dollars…and made the outcome at least believable. Right now, what we do know is that the end result was good enough to get one of the MLEA’s negotiators to sign one of the candidates nominating petition…and that’s not a perception. Energize your demolition beams!

The Election:

I am at a loss as to why you have only received “enough information for me to make any kind of judgment” from two candidates. We, my running mates and I, have sent out two mailers with our experience, our thoughts and opinions on issues, and some of our desires for the future. These were sent to every person who has voted in most of the recent elections . . . didn’t you vote? [Pittsblog note: Yes, I did.] We have also had five neighborhood gatherings throughout the community, attended the Mt. Lebanon Republican Women’s Committee “Meet the Candidates Night,” the League of Women Voters “Meet the Candidate Night,” the Parents Learning Support Network “Meet the Candidate Night,” we have gone door-to-door to meet the public and discuss their concerns, we have advertised our personal e-mail addresses and have responded to over 100 inquiries (but none from you), and we have participated in at least two newspaper interviews. I can’t believe you didn’t have enough information. We could have set up a website, but a site can only give one sided answers to the general questions that the site creator thinks you asked, or should, or would have asked.

In a discussion of the candidates, I want to first state that I have the utmost respect for each and every one of them. Every one of us has offered our time, energy, honesty, and integrity, and promised to do our very best job for our children and our community. We don’t always agree with each other, but we listen to each others points of views and discuss the benefits of each. That’s debate, that’s democracy, and that’s good.

I’d like to review some of your information about my running mates and myself:

* Rodney Shepherd – Yes, Rodney is a dissenter, and often the only voice of prudent reason on some issues. His “No” votes also included last years budget, and much of the over budget unnecessary spending on school renovations. True, he’s quiet, but then, if your voice of reason was continuously ignored, you would likely speak less as well. The current Board keeps spending money that they don’t have…Rodney handles a lot of bankruptcy cases…I think his disagreement with the Board’s current direction has been well noted by his voting record and well founded by his experience.
* Mark Hart – Mark is a very experienced manager of businesses. True, the Steelers is a family owned business that is tied to tradition, and part of their tradition is an outstanding example of how one should give back to one’s community by offering their very best efforts and abilities to enhance that community. He learned these traditions from some of the best. There’s no tradition, however, in the present or future analytical demands on holding a salary cap (a budget) and insuring that you get the best value for the funds allowable. This is experience that we could use in Mt. Lebanon. Did you know that Mark had the responsibility for construction of the new stadium? He performed this task employing two words that Mt. Lebanon hasn’t heard in a long time…“under budget.” Mark is also the Vice President of the Board of Directors for the CCAC Education Foundation, and he is on the Advisory Council of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.
* Alan Silhol – Alan is one of the finest, most competent business/real estate attorney’s that I have had the privilege to know and to work with. Alan is in charge of a division at American Eagle Outfitters and is responsible for its budgeting and personnel. Throughout his career Alan has demonstrated exceptional professional and analytical abilities while handling everything from small local transactions to complicated international acquisitions for hundreds of millions of dollars. Alan also brings his experience as a parent of a child with special needs and his personal knowledge in this area of our educational system. Alan is a former Board Member of Outreach Teen and Family Services. Alan would help the Board with his commitment to children, his intelligence, and his business acumen.
Daniel Remely – My construction experience has involved the successful redevelopment of nearly 1,000,000 square feet of commercial properties all of which were experiencing some level of financial concern including foreclosure, bankruptcy, or abandoned and incomplete development, serious concerns with hazardous materials, and loss of reputation due to mismanagement. These efforts require the talents and commitment of many people and thus I do have experience in personnel issues. Currently, I have the responsibility for a payroll every two weeks for 40 to 65 employees, and for the livings earned by a dozen or more independent contractors and their employees. There is a tremendous difference between having to meet a payroll in a private business, and meeting it by raising taxes. I have also been a member of the South Hills YMCA Board of Management (Chairman 2003-2005), involved in the YMCA’s support efforts for Camp AIM, a camp for children who are physically and mentally challenged, and I am the Secretary of the Board of Directors of the Susan G. Komen Foundation/Pittsburgh Race for the Cure.

Mt. Lebanon does indeed need change. Progressive change. Traditions and culture are to be honored and respected by aggressively advancing the excellence of our school system. “Trust us, things will continue to go fine in Mt. Lebanon” denotes satisfaction…and when one is satisfied, one stops progressing and advancing. We owe our traditions, our culture, our children, and our community more than that.

Let’s change the way we do business. We must be more responsible and accountable to ourselves, to each other, and to the goals of our community. Let’s demand that our Board demonstrate fiscal discipline, that our administration reflect insight through an exceptional curriculum, that our educators and teachers are committed to challenge the minds of our children every day, that our citizens are involved through open communication and participation, and that we all commit to work together to support an insatiable desire to always be the best…and to never reach the rung of satisfaction.

Put your demolition beams on hold Mr. Madison, for Mt. Lebanon is a great place to live and learn…and its only going to get better!


0 Responses to "Lebo School Board: Election Update"

Search Pittsblog

About Pittsblog

Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at]gmail.com. Mike also blogs at Madisonian.net, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

All opinions expressed at Pittsblog 2.0 are those of their respective authors and of no one (and no thing) else, least of all the University of Pittsburgh.

Pittsblog 2.0 has a motto: "It's steel good in Pittsburgh." Say it aloud, with a Pittsburgh accent.

Comments are moderated.
Subscribe to Pittsblog comments


Blog Archive

Header Background

Header background images licensed from (left image) lemonad and (right image) plaskota under Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - Share Alike 2.0 Generic licenses.


Copyright 2003-2010 Michael J. Madison - WP Theme by Brian Gardner - Blogger Blog Templates, ThemeLib.com