On Election Day, several high school students were seen handing out a Lower Merion School District flier that, among other things, made a case for the district's plan to build new high schools. Many citizens sees this as a violation of Act 1 (for information on Act 1, click here), which states that: "No public funds may be used to urge any elector to vote for or against a referendum or be appropriated for political or campaign purposes."
(quoted from page 44, paragraph m. of Act 1, click here to view the entire Act) because this flier was prepared and reproduced using public funds and is intended to support the budget referendum that will be required for the 2007-08 budget to cover the debt service for the New Lower Merion High School. At the November 13, 2006 board meeting, when asked why our children were asked to hand this flier out at the poles on Election Day, Board President Larry Rosenwald stated that when the children found out it was going to be distributed, they volunteered. Regardless of how this occurred, we question the wisdom of putting our children at the poles on Election Day handing out what many saw as political propaganda.
With respect to being questioned concerning Act 1, Mr. Rosenwald stated: "we have the right to distribute any accurate information that we want." I couldn't agree more, unless it violates a law. But we can leave that up to the legal scholars. I would much rather focus on the accurate information part. Because, as Mr. Rosenwald has told me publicly, "we will let the public decide who is telling the truth."
The district's flier stated: "Cost and size of the [Harriton] building are in line with projects in other high-achieving districts." (click here for district's flier) To better understand the Upper Dublin project, I refer to the School District of Upper Dublin District-Wide Facilities Task Force Report (click here for the Upper Dublin report). Page 14 lays out two options for their one high school, namely construction of a new 338,000 square foot high school for $116M and renovation/addition ranging from $52M to $108M. Page 15 goes on to state: " The majority of Task Force members favored Option 1; however, this was hedged against the District being able to come up with a plan to address the needs at the other schools in a reasonable time frame. If work at other schools has to be greatly restricted, a reduced Option 1 should be considered.
On page 15, the report goes on to state: " As a result of the high estimated cost of both major renovation and new construction, and the lack of time to comprehensively review the recently refined renovation option, the District-wide Facilities Task Force strongly recommends that the School District engage in further professional study to confirm the cost estimates on which initial projections were based, and to further review the renovation option prior to moving forward with a final decision on the renovation or new school construction option."
The fact is that Upper Dublin has chosen not to build this new high school until it refines its estimates to get a better handle on costs. This is in contrast to our Board, which made its new construction versus renovation decision on a preliminary new construction cost estimate of $150M for two high schools and now tells us that the reason the cost is up to $238M is because that estimate did not include a standard grossing factor (see Savedoff letter of September 21, 2006, click here for our rebuttal) as well as other essential cost items, such as "the temporary gymnasium and lockers, the temporary parking, and the modular classrooms," as enumerated by Mr. Savedoff during his June 19, 2006 budget hearing. In other words, we made our decision based on numbers that we knew to be incomplete at the time. Now the District wants to highlight the "high achieving" Upper Dublin School District, as an example. Certainly they are an example of what we should have done. Perhaps the citizens of Lower Merion could trust our school board had they been as judicious as the Upper Dublin board is being today.
At the November 20, 2006 board meeting, Superintendent Savedoff admitted that the school he referenced in his Election Day flier was just a "feasibility study," but he defended his comparison to Upper Dublin as an example of a school of "similar size and cost" to the New Harriton. But is it? Take a look at the 9-12 grade PDE enrollment figures for Upper Dublin (1597 students) versus Lower Merion (2468 students). Based on these PDE enrollment figures, the true comparison is that the New Harriton High School will be 328,000 square feet for 1250 students versus the proposed Upper Dublin High School of 338,000 square feet for 1600 students. The fact is that the district has been unable to identify one other school in the country that comes close to the 262.4 square foot per student figure of the New Harriton.
So, did the district distribute accurate information as Larry Rosenwald says is their right? We'll let the public decide.
Bill Manginelli, Narberth