The Lower Merion School Board is taking the final steps to begin construction of two new high schools at a projected program cost of $238 million. This and other spending decisions are projected to increase school taxes 49% by 2011. They are doing this without any credible input from the community. The Community Advisory Committee (CAC) the board formed to "advise them" on the need for one school or two was handpicked and given inaccurate information. For example, the CAC was told:
- that a PA Dept. of Ed. regulation required a site for one high school that was larger than the existing properties. No such regulation has ever existed.
- that one school would cost $131 million and two would cost $152 million. Given the duplication of common areas such as mechanical plant, cafeteria, gyms, fields, etc. this small differential was never possible. The board's current program cost of $238 million is a more accurate comparison to the $131 million one-school estimate.
- that two schools would cost only $3.7 million per year more to operate. This differential was this small because they projected nearly the same number of staff in both scenarios.
- that the combined size of the two schools needed to be 588,616 square feet. The current designs are at 666,000 square feet.
Of course, given these parameters, the committee recommended two schools. But not two schools at any cost!
The public's chance to give input is running out. The next thirty days, beginning with the Act 34 Hearing this Thursday night, is crucial. The meeting is Thursday, September 21st, at 7PM at Harriton HS. The School Board has worked hard to move the process along in secrecy. Have you heard about all the past meetings? Did the members of the CAC committee ask you as a member of the neighborhood they represented, as they were tasked to do? How did you find out about this upcoming hearing? The fact is, until we at lmsd.info, THE ALTERNATIVE INFORMATION SOURCE, wrote in the Evening Bulletin and Main Line Times about the board failing to announce the meeting on its (I think correctly it belongs to us, the citizens) website, you couldn't find it there.
Worse, the board has refused to provide properly requested information related to its Act 34 calculations that it performed to ensure compliance with the law as well as other relevant public information.
The board has told us that the costs have risen above the estimated $152 million because of delays due to community objections related to its plans to relocate the buses (not the fact that it has steadily increased the size of the schools). The board now threatens that those of us asking questions are causing more delay that will drive the costs up further. The Board and Superintendent are now telling parents that we are threatening their children's education. These scare tactics are inappropriate for a board that is supposed to serve the entire public as a whole. And they should not be tolerated as they as designed to take the heat off the real issue; educational performance.
We at lmsd.info, THE ALTERNATIVE INFORMATION SOURCE, are a non-partisan group demanding that the board be fiscally responsible, fiscally transparent, and education driven. We want excellent schools and we want the board to focus its attention and resources on education. While the board had continued to fixate on construction projects, we have seen the test scores of our children decrease, our ranking within PA decrease, and our minority education gap increase. If you read this in time, you can see the assistant superintendent deliver this unfortunate news to the board at the September 11, 2006 board meeting televised on cable channel 6. Unfortunately, you will have to call the District for air times because they have just changed the times even though at the time of this writing their website still shows the old times (perhaps this will motivate them to correct that little oversight, as well).
If you miss the TV airing, check back to lmsd.info as we intend to air it here. This news that the quality of our education is not keeping pace with other districts was delivered with no clear plan to turn it around. We praise board members Diane DiBonaventuro and Jerry Novick with at least asking the tough questions while the rest of the board had no response!
WHAT CAN YOU DO? If you feel that the community should have a say in what will be the largest school construction project in PA history, 99.05% of which will be funded with local tax dollars, you must do two things.
- Come to the Act 34 Hearing on Thursday, September 21st, at 7PM at Harriton HS and tell the board your feelings about the Harriton construction project. Whether you are for the project as currently designed or not, you should demand that the board hold a referendum to ensure that we are building what the community as a whole wants.
- After the hearing and no later than 2 pm on October 23rd, send the board and the PA Dept. of ED. a letter stating your position on the project and demanding that a referendum be held to ensure that the community agrees with the need to take on the debt necessary to fund this project.
We at lmsd.info, THE ALTERNATIVE INFORMATION SOURCE, want every citizen in the township to have a chance to be heard. The process is confusing and we will do our best to continually inform the township's citizens about the school board's actions. After the hearing, we will post a sample letter to assist those of you that wish to tell the board how you feel. Please join us this Thursday to show your support.